5 Things to Consider Before Accepting a Plea Deal

By Brett Snider, Esq.

Accepting a plea deal is often the best course of action for a criminal defendant, but no one should accept a plea bargain blindly.

Depending on the terms of your agreement to plead guilty or no-contest to an offense, you may give up your rights to change your mind or fight for your case in the future.

So before you sign a plea deal, consider these five things:

1. Take Prison or Jail Time Seriously.

If your plea bargain includes any sort of jail or prison time over one month, you should really take time to consider what that will mean. (Unlike “Real Housewives” star Teresa Giudice, who recently showcased ignorance of her own plea bargain on national television. It won’t stop her from serving time in prison after her fraud conviction.)

Remember that while incarcerated, you will need someone to pay your bills, provide childcare, and ensure that your belongings are secure. You may also lose your job if you do time.

2. You May Not Be Able to Appeal.

Many plea bargains include a waiver of appeal, which may mean …read more

Source:: Law Blog

Man Points Laser at Police Helicopter, Gets 2 Years in Prison

By Daniel Taylor, Esq.

A Texas man has been sentenced to two years in federal prison for shining a laser pointer at a police helicopter.

Gabriel Soze Ruedas Jr., 25, was arrested in 2012 after the pilot of an Austin police helicopter was forced to delay his landing. A bright laser light reflecting in his cockpit forced him to avert his eyes, reports the Austin American-Statesman.

Although they may seem harmless, laser pointer pranks against aircraft are increasingly resulting in serious criminal charges.

Pointing Lasers at Aircraft Is a Federal Crime

In case you didn’t know, intentionally aiming a laser pointer at a helicopter or any other aircraft is prohibited by federal law. Violations can be punished by a fine and up to five years in federal prison.

Federal authorities have been cracking down on those who violate the law. Earlier this year, the FBI introduced a new program that offered a $10,000 reward for those who provide information leading to the arrest of …read more

Source:: Law Blog

What Is Civil Forfeiture? Is It Legal?

By Brett Snider, Esq.

Civil forfeiture is a strange legal concept, allowing law enforcement to seize large amounts of money and even homes from persons who haven’t even been charged with a crime.

Comedian John Oliver recently took on the topic of civil forfeiture on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” revealing many of the shady police practices and procedural gaps that make the asset-seizure process seem so wrong.

But what is civil forfeiture, and is it even legal?

Legally Seizing Property

Under the rules of civil forfeiture, police can often seize personal and real property (read: real estate) when they believe it may be part of criminal activity. As Oliver explained in his vignette on the subject, police do not need to charge the owner with a crime to seize the property, and the burden is on the owner to prove that the seized property was not used for criminal activity.

You can watch Oliver’s segment here (warning: some explicit language):

The practice of civil forfeiture has been under fire in places like Nevada, where law …read more

Source:: Law Blog

Can Police Reports Be Used as Evidence?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq.

A police report is a written record made by an officer, describing an incident to which police have responded or have been involved. But can a police report be used as evidence?

When a person has been arrested and accused of a crime, a police report can be a significant source of information about the circumstances surrounding the arrest. But by definition, police reports are hearsay: an out-of-court statement, used to prove the truth of the matter asserted (i.e., to prove the truth of what’s stated in the report).

Hearsay evidence is generally inadmissible in court, as anyone who’s ever watched a television show in which the lawyers scream “Objection! Hearsay!” during crucial moments of a trial doubtlessly knows. So how do lawyers get around this hearsay presumption for police reports?

Hearsay Exceptions

Although evidence rules vary by state, there are generally numerous exceptions to the hearsay rule that allow police reports to be used as evidence in court. These include:

  • Business records. Records that are made in the normal course of “business” — which includes the records made by government agents such as police officers — are <a class="colorbox" title="CAL. EVID. CODE � …read more

    Source:: Law Blog

Philadelphia’s Pot Decriminalization Law Takes Effect Oct. 20

By Brett Snider, Esq.

Philadelphia may have just become the largest U.S. city to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot with a bill signed on Wednesday.

Mayor Michael Nutter signed the city’s marijuana decriminalization bill into law, making the possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana punishable by a $25 fine, reports The Huffington Post. Dealing or buying marijuana is still a crime, regardless of weight, but those who just enjoy getting blazed in public now have less to worry about.

Let’s get down to seeds and stems with this Philly decriminalization law.

Fines, Not Criminal Charges

Decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana isn’t the same as legalization. Save that for Colorado and Washington state. No, the City of Brotherly Love is simply taking the criminal sting out of acts like smoking pot in public or having a small amount of weed and making them infractions, not misdemeanors or felonies. Following the lead of cities like Washington, D.C., Philly is making simple pot possession more like a traffic ticket.

The bill imposes citations for:

  • Possessing less than 30 ounces of marijuana. This applies if the pot is for personal use only; it’s …read more

    Source:: Law Blog

5 Legal Lessons From Michael Phelps’ DUI

By Daniel Taylor, Esq.

Although celebrities may be immune from many of the potential pitfalls facing everyday people, being arrested for DUI is certainly not one of them.

The latest celebrity to face drunken driving charges is 18-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, who was arrested and charged with DUI Tuesday after being pulled over for speeding in a Maryland tunnel, reports ESPN.

What legal lessons can be gleaned from Phelps’ (latest) DUI arrest? Here are five:

  1. Prior DUIs convictions can mean increased penalties. Repeat DUI offenses can result in increased criminal penalties. In Phelps’ case, he was arrested 10 years ago for another DUI in Maryland, and pleaded guilty in exchange for being granted probation. While it’s not yet clear how that will affect his latest DUI case, in general, a prior DUI can potentially affect one’s ability to receive a similar reduced sentence for subsequent DUIs.
  2. High BAC can also lead to increased penalties in some states. According to ESPN, Phelps’ blood alcohol concentration was measured at 0.14 percent, well above Maryland’s legal limit of 0.08 …read more

    Source:: Law Blog

Michael Dunn Guilty of 1st Degree Murder in ‘Loud Music’ Shooting

By Brett Snider, Esq.

Michael Dunn has been found guilty of first-degree murder for the fatal shooting of a teenager in 2012.

Jordan Davis, 17, was shot and killed by Dunn, 47, over claims that Dunn feared for his life, with the teen’s loud music and threats allegedly prompting him to pull the trigger. According to Jacksonville’s First Coast News, a Florida jury on Wednesday found Dunn guilty of first-degree murder, taking only a fraction of the time to deliberate as Dunn’s first trial jury had done.

Now that Dunn is a convicted murderer, what punishment lies ahead?

Sentencing Still to Come

This is now the second time that Michael Dunn has stood trial for Davis’ death, but the first time that a jury has reached a verdict on his first-degree murder charge. As you may recall, the first trial ended in a mistrial because jurors could not come to a decision on whether Davis’ killing was first-degree murder; they were, however, able to convict Dunn on three counts of attempted second-degree murder for shooting at Davis’ friends.

Dunn has not …read more

Source:: Law Blog

What Counts as Criminally Lewd Behavior?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq.

You may have heard the term “lewd behavior” in connection with someone being arrested for doing something somewhat less than decent.

But you may not know what criminally lewd behavior actually is. Lewd is typically defined as involving or being sexual conduct that is considered indecent or offensive. But at what point does someone’s sexually indecent or offensive conduct run afoul of state or federal laws?

What actually counts as criminally lewd behavior?

Indecent Exposure

The classic criminally lewd conduct is exposing one’s genitals in public. Most states have laws that make this sort of lewd conduct a crime, such as New York’s public lewdness statute that makes it a crime when a person “intentionally exposes the private or intimate parts of his body in a lewd manner or commits any other lewd act in a public place or in private premises under circumstances in which he may readily be observed from either a public place or from other private premises, and with intent that he be so observed.”

Peeping Tom

Another well-known …read more

Source:: Law Blog

Calif.’s Fair Sentencing Act Treats Crack Like Cocaine

By Brett Snider, Esq.

California has eliminated the sentencing differences between crack and cocaine offenses, as Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California Fair Sentencing Act into law on Sunday.

The Act, also known as SB 1010, mirrors the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which narrowed the gap in federal law between the punishments for crack and cocaine offenders. But California’s law goes further, treating cocaine and “cocaine base” (read: crack) the same in terms of punishing drug convicts.

What does this change mean for drug offenders in California?

Higher Penalties for Crack Eliminated

Criminal laws in California and throughout the nation have been amended over the last few decades to address what many saw as a serious criminal threat — crack cocaine. Because of the laws specifically targeting crack, it was possible for a crack dealer to serve substantially more time in prison and be subject to criminal forfeiture for selling half as much crack (by weight) as a dealer selling powder cocaine. As Slate notes, this had the perverse effect of imprisoning more blacks for cocaine-related crimes, which many attribute to the …read more

Source:: Law Blog

Okla. Beheading Suspect Charged With 1st Degree Murder

By Brett Snider, Esq.

An Oklahoma man has been charged with first-degree murder for allegedly beheading a co-worker from whom he sought revenge.

Alton Nolen, 30, was charged with murder in Cleveland County, Oklahoma, on Tuesday in addition to two assault charges. Prosecutors allege that Nolan beheaded his coworker after being suspended from work; the FBI is looking into possible ties between the gruesome act and terrorism.

Now that Nolen has been charged with first-degree murder, what’s next for the Oklahoma beheading suspect?

Death Penalty ‘Highly Likely’

Oklahoma is one of several states that punishes certain severe crimes with the death penalty. The Associated Press reports that Cleveland County Prosecutor Greg Mashburn stated it was “highly likely” that he would seek the death penalty against Nolen, “but would confer first with [the victim's] family.”

Typically defendants are not eligible for the death penalty unless certain aggravating factors are met by their crimes. In Oklahoma these factors include:

  • Previous violent felony convictions;
  • Killing or creating risk of death to more than one person;
  • Killing for hire or paying for a killer-for-hire;
  • Killing a police officer or guard;
  • Being a continuing threat to …read more

    Source:: Law Blog