Tag Archives: District of Columbia

DC’s Office of Police Complaints Publishes New Recommendations for On-Body Cameras to be Worn by Police

The District of Columbia Office of Police Complaints just published new policy recommendations that would have police officers wear on-body cameras. You can find the policy recommendations here. As the Office of Police Complaints recommendations state, there was a study of the effects of the use of these cameras in Rialto, California. This study found that “the devices appeared to cut down on the number of incidents involving the use of force while also reducing the number of complaints filed against officers. Specifically, the Rialto study showed that the devices brought down the rate at which police force was used during interactions with citizens.”

This would seem to be a very positive development. I am curious about the civil-liberties groups that the policy recommendations document refer to that oppose this measure – one would think one of the most important civil liberties to be concerned about is the freedom from being beaten by the police and then being falsely charged with Assaulting a Police Officer (APO).

 

DEA Chemists: In Drug Cases, Sometimes They Just Make It Up

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

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

Who Cares Whether Urine Scores Are Reliable? DC Still Prosecuting Per Se Urine DUI Cases.

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.

Continue reading

Special Counsel’s Questionable Testimony in Support of DC’s Draconian Liquid PCP Possession Penalties

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

Police Officer’s Selective Memory in DUI Trial

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.

Continue reading

The Need For Discretion

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

Why It’s Important To Get Drug Lab Info In Drug Cases

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

In Drug Cases, Cross-Examine that “Expert”!

I was in court just before the Christmas break, waiting for a chance to talk to the clerk, and I got to see part of a colleague’s misdemeanor marijuana possession trial. I was very disheartened to see that when it came time for the DEA chemist’s testimony, the defense lawyer did not challenge her qualifications, did not challenge the identification of the seized evidence as marijuana, and did not cross-examine the chemist at all, not even to have the chemist at least list the procedures performed, etc. Continue reading

If a Misdemeanor Could Lead to Removal of a Non-Citizen, the Charge *Might Be* Jury-Demandable In DC

Recent changes in how courts view the consequences of criminal convictions for non-citizens make it imperative that criminal defense counsel not only counsel clients on the potential immigration consequences of pleading guilty, but also demand a jury trial if a conviction could lead to removal for the client. Continue reading

The “Exigent Circumstances” Exception to the Warrant Requirement in DC

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution provides that:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The requirement that police have a warrant to enter a person’s house without permission is one of our most basic freedoms. One exception to the warrant requirement is where so-called “exigent circumstances” require police to enter a residence without a warrant. In such cases, there is a “heavy burden on the police to show that there was a need that could not brook the delay incident to obtaining a warrant.”[1] The D.C. Court of Appeals has adopted a seven-factor test to determine when a warrantless entry and search of a residence will be allowed under this exception: Continue reading