The lesson from the jury was clear: while they believed that there were too many discrepancies and inconsistencies in the police officers’ stories to convict our client of evidence tampering (whew! one felony avoided), they couldn’t go the rest of the way to believing that the police officers planted drugs on the defendant (damn, a felony possession conviction). It’s not surprising really. We all want to believe that the people entrusted to protect us are good and honest.
Sometimes, they’re not, but it’s a world where you need video to prove police misconduct or it didn’t happen. This is one of the reasons Scott Greenfield’s “But for Video” series is so powerful. It’s difficult for even the most open-minded to believe some of the things on these videos and even more difficult to fathom why. Sometimes police officers do misbehave, but trying to prove misconduct without really compelling evidence is often a losing proposition.
Edit: I think the above is a little too pessimistic. Yes, you want to go into trial with your eyes open, but sometimes the trial gods smile on you. In this case, we didn’t get a total win, but we were able to get a not guilty verdict on a felony charge that would have otherwise led to a consecutive prison sentence. The client was actually happy about it – he is now eligible for a probation sentence instead.
I have written before how in criminal drug prosecutions, the government analyst should be cross-examined and their case file and other information should be requested to prepare a defense case. A colleague sent me a great example of this effort paying off.
D-L Color Test of Three Suspected Marijuana Samples
A chemist at the DEA Mid-Atlantic Laboratory wrote in a report that three samples suspected to be marijuana turned purple in a Duquenois-Levine color test. The problem is that the picture of the test (not included in the report but in the analyst’s case-file) showed only one sample that might conceivably indicate the sample was marijuana (and even that one is weak). Continue reading
Posted in Criminal Law
Tagged DC, District of Columbia, Drug Cases, Evidence, Jury Trials, Maryland, Misdemeanors, Pre-trial, Scientific Evidence, Trial, Trials, Washington
Even though everyone in the DC government, from the DC Council to the prosecutors at the Office of the Attorney General, knows that alcohol in the urine has a “loose correlation” to intoxication, that urinalysis is unreliable, people are still regularly prosecuted and convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) base on their urine scores.
Back in June of 2011, DC Chief Toxicologist Lucas Zarwell of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, stated under oath to the DC Council that urine testing cannot reliably determine impairment or blood alcohol levels. In response to a question from council member Phil Mendelson, Mr. Zarwell testified as follows:
MENDELSON. How accurate is urine testing for measuring blood alcohol content?
ZARWELL. It’s not.
Posted in Criminal Law, DUI
Tagged DC, District of Columbia, DUI, DWI, Evidence, Jury Trials, OWI, Pre-trial, Scientific Evidence, Trial, Trials
I was consulted on a case the other day where a person had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession (of something that’s not marijuana) over his lawyer’s warnings that it make him removable. The judge also (post-Padilla) made sure that the person knew that there could be immigration consequences. But all the person could hear was that the prosecutor would be asking for probation if he accepted the plea deal (which was also the likely sentence even after trial).
So you can guess what happened. After an ill-advised trip abroad, the person received a Notice to Appear in immigration court. As a legal permanent resident with medical issues, he was eligible for cancellation of removal (which he ended up getting, with a sympathetic judge). But it could easily have gone the other way. Cancellation is a discretionary remedy, which means that the judge could have denied it if he had a good reason to do so. Continue reading
Unlike every other drug you can (illegally) possess in the District, the D.C. Council has made possession of any amount of liquid PCP a felony punishable by up to 3 years and/or $3000 fine.* In part, this was because the D.C. Council felt that PCP is a more dangerous drug than other so-called “hard drugs,” in that the Council believes that:
Although a person might commit a crime related to heroin or cocaine (usually a robbery to obtain the money to purchase the heroin or cocaine), individuals often commit crimes because they are on PCP. PCP give users the feeling of strength and invulnerability.
Obviously, the D.C. Council has collectively forgotten the ’80′s and the heyday of powder cocaine. Anyway, the D.C. Council then goes on to list several bizarre crimes committed on PCP as testified to by Patricia Riley, special council to the U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ms. Riley testified that:
A friend I talked to about this testimony this morning remembered a case where a man stabbed his girlfriend 57 times. I remember a case where a woman put her baby in the microwave and turned it on.
There was no support or testimony about any actions Ms. Riley may have taken to verify that these acts actually occurred. Unsupported urban legends don’t belong in sworn testimony to the D.C. Council. Continue reading
A colleague recently asked me whether the DC post-and-forfeit procedure after arrest is properly considered a conviction under federal and immigration law. The simple answer is that the post-and-forfeit procedure does not equate to a conviction. Continue reading
I am working on an appeal from a DUI conviction. I enjoy reading other lawyers’ trial transcripts seeing what works and doesn’t and coming up with ideas for my own trials. In DC, first offense DUI defendants are not entitled to a jury trial, which can be frustrating as many judges will accept what police officers say as gospel, even when obviously “shading the truth” (that’s just a nice way of saying lying). Rarely, however, do I see an officer make it so obvious as the following when responding to questions about the procedures he followed in giving the Field Sobriety Tests:
A. Are we going to go back and forth with another smoke screen? . . . You know, we’re going to go back and forth with these smokescreen questions. I’m just going to tell you I don’t recall.
Not law-related. Continue reading
Recently, in browsing a well-known local lawyer’s website, I found the following “News” article on their blog:
Attorney X convinced a [local] prosecutor to dismiss Armed Robbery charges, all felonies, and all gun charges, despite the defendant being caught nearly red-handed with a shotgun in his fleeing vehicle.
The defendant plead to Second Degree Assault, a misdemeanor, giving him a strong chance to avoid certain deportation that he would have faced with any felony or gun charge. He will be eligible for parole in one month.
While there may be some ethical concern over publicizing past successes without adequately informing potential clients that there is no guarantee of such success in any particular case, that is not my main concern. The biggest problem with this self-serving news article is that it may harm the client in the future. Continue reading
Posted in Criminal Law, Immigration
Tagged Crime Involving Moral Turpitude, Criminal Immigration, DC, District of Columbia, Felonies, Immigration, Immigration Court, Maryland, Removal Defence, Washington
To live up to its name, forensic science must conform to the scientific method, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.” The scientific method seeks above all to prove or disprove hypotheses through testing in order to determine whether a particular conclusion is reliable. If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that forensic science often falls short of this ideal. But we as criminal defense lawyers can’t expose these failings without better information on lab procedures. I have written about cross-examining drug experts here. Continue reading