Shared from the ever so awesome Keeley Heath with the firm, Miel & Carr, serving the criminal defense needs of Grand Rapids and Stanton, Michigan.
Drones are considered efficient tools for law enforcement, but a third of Americans worry that their privacy will suffer if the unmanned devices are used regularly in U.S. skies, according to a poll. Congress has directed the Federal Aviation Administration to come up with safety regulations to clear the way for routine domestic use of the aircraft within three years. (Vanguard Defense Industries via Associated Press)
Criminal defense attorneys are obviously concerned how this new law enforcement policy will be used to conduct warrantless searches and undermine every American’s privacy rights.
What are Brady violations? “Brady” refers to a seminal US Supreme Court case from 1963; wherein, the prosecutor withheld evidence critical to the defense of the accused, which resulted in his conviction. See: Brady v. Maryland, 373 US 83 (1963). The accused, Mr. Brady, challenged his conviction – unsuccessfully. However, his case established a core due process principle that the prosecutor cannot withhold exculpatory evidence that is material to the guilt or punishment of a person accused of a crime. Exculpatory evidence is “material” if “there is a reasonable probability that his conviction or sentence would have been different had these materials been disclosed.”Brady evidence includes statements of witnesses or physical evidence that conflicts with the prosecution’s witnesses,and evidence that could allow the defense to impeach the credibility of a prosecution witness.
However, Brady violations continue to this day. The net effect is that people are wrongfully convicted and innocent people suffer imprisonment or worse. “The withholding of information favorable to the accused is abhorrent, as it violates the core principles of Brady, and is contrary to the duty of a prosecutor to seek justice—not merely convictions.” Perhaps if Brady violations didn’t happen this map would look very different.
Read more here: A Personal Reflection on Brady Violations.
Unfortunately, this happens far too frequently but oftentimes there is no record of the police interaction with the defendant. It comes down to a citizen’s word against the police. He said, she said…
Police departments like it that way. Many police departments use dashcams, but destroy the videos after 30 days. Ask yourself how that policy is justified in this technological era with digital video and harddrives with 1 terabyte or more; not to mention easy-to-use thumbdrives with 50+ GB of storage space. It’s not like the old VHS days…
Sometimes the video is “lost” or has video but no audio. Some police departments, like Taylor, MI, have started removing their dashcams from their patrol vehicles. They claim cost drives the decision, but perhaps it has more to do with the fact that video/recordings tell no lies.
You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?*
Deaundre Barnes kind of knew what the Miranda warning meant when he was arrested for allegedly stabbing a man for interrupting his argument with his girlfriend. According to the Tampa Bay Times article, when he was arrested by the police, Mr. Barnes refused to answer their questions. However, Mr. Barnes didn’t get it all right; he apparently slipped up at one time or another because the article states that he listed his occupation as “drug dealer” on some kind of paperwork. Not a smart move, given that Mr. Barnes is allegedly on drug offender probation.
The substance of Miranda is that you do not have to answer any questions by the police. Anything you say can and will be used against you in court. Many cases that come across my desk involve a criminal defendant who told the police everything. Many times those defendants are surprised to learn that the police are using their own statements against them. “I thought they were supposed to Mirandize me,” is probably the second-most common statement I hear from clients. What those clients didn’t know is that the police are free to ask any questions they want – even lie – to get answers during their interactions with suspects and/or witnesses. It is only when the police arrest someone, or a reasonable person would feel that he or she is not free to leave that the police need to Mirandize someone.
Up until that point, the police can ask any questions they want to – but a person would be a fool to answer them. Simply put, no one is required to answer any of their questions. Instead of answering their questions, a person can respond with “Am I under arrest officer?” Chances are, if the officer wants to make an arrest, he’s already came to that conclusion long before anyone asks him, and nothing a person says is going to change his mind at that point anyway. By asking him, the person being questioned puts the officer on notice that the person knows what his rights are. If the officer responds to the question by stating that the person is under arrest, then it would be perfectly within a person’s right to ask to be Mirandized or to refuse to answer any of his questions, since we all have the right to remain silent. Once a person invokes his or her right to remain silent (something that must be done expressly), the police must stop all questioning, if that person is under arrest. If the officer tells a person that he or she is not under arrest, (understand that this could be a lie) it is still tell important to state that none of his questions will be answered. It is also important to ask politely, “can I go now?” Note: Just because a person is not under arrest does not mean that he or she is immediately free to leave. For example, if someone has been stopped for a blown tail light or for speeding, he or she can’t just drive off until the police officer has completed the traffic stop.
*The wording of Miranda rights vary depending on the jurisdiction, but the substance should remain the same. This one is used by Alaskan State Troopers.
Detroit, MI — Criminal Defense Attorney David Dunn was arrested in Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenny’s courtroom at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice on Monday. Mr. Dunn stands accused of conspiracy to commit perjury, witness interference, obstruction of justice, incitement of perjury and solicitation to commit a felony. All of the charges stem from his alleged attempts to convince a witness to commit perjury in a murder trial.
According to this MSNBC article, the Detroit Police and FBI were tipped off and began to conduct surveillance on Mr. Dunn. The article also claims that those agencies recorded Mr. Dunn trying to pay the witness to lie at trial. If convicted, Mr. Dunn could face up to life in prison.
What is perjury? Black’s Law Dictionary, the bible of legal definitions, defines perjury as the act of deliberately making a material statement that is false or misleading while under oath. It is a serious charge that impacts not only Mr. Dunn, but also the criminal defense community on the whole, the courts, and the criminal justice system.
Criminal defense attorneys abhor this kind of behavior. Our job is to seek out the truth and shine a light on it for jurors and judges alike. Often, our job is hard. People lie. They cover it up. They weave lie within lie. They try to hide their wrong-doing, to save face, to hurt someone else, to gain a tactical advantage, to win, or to cast their actions in the best possible light.
Mr. Dunn faces serious charges that could end his career and land him in jail. I do not know Mr. Dunn, personally or professionally; according to his Facebook page, we share 5 mutual friends, but I have never met him. I only became aware of his circumstances through the news media. Many of my colleagues are concerned about the allegations and the corresponding news coverage. It reminds them of a lie in a 2005 drug case that implicated former prosecutor Karen Plant, who was the prosecutor in the case, but also former judge Mary Waterstone, who presided over the case. (See ABA Journal article and The Michigan Lawyer blog). Ms. Plant ultimately pled guilty for allowing a witness to lie during a criminal trial and former Judge Waterstone was on her way to trial back in April of 2011, but I’m not sure what happened with her; nevertheless, her career and reputation suffered greatly. Mr. Dunn could share a similar fate – even if acquitted; if found guilty, he faces up to life in prison.
Criminal cases are never easy. Occasionally, in the hallways just outside the courtrooms, I hear attorneys tell their clients “it’s only a misdemeanor”; as if clients find comfort in those words. However, many clients don’t understand the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony. For some, their arrest and arraignment represent their first contact with the criminal justice system. While, it is true, in the abstract, that felonies carry more severe penalties than misdemeanors, the latter can still drastically impact people’s lives.
Misdemeanors come in many shapes and sizes; some with severe social, legal, and collateral consequences. A good example of a misdemeanor with severe consequences is the recent San Francisco Superior Court’s sentence of a 23 year-old bicyclist for vehicular manslaughter. J. Robert Mortland III, Esq. wrote about it on his blog today. The cyclist ran a red light and struck a 68 year-old pedestrian who was crossing the street with her husband. While, it was only a misdemeanor, the lives of everyone involved changed drastically. If you want to read more about the case and the cyclist’s sentence, visit Mr. Mortland’s blog here. It potentially could have been much more severe. What do you think?
It’s easy to forget about real life drama these days when everyone is talking about the Bachelor and why bachelor Ben Flajnik’s chose Courtney Robertson over Lindzi Cox; or, why Randy Moss gets to sign a new one-year-deal for something he didn’t do, e.g., he didn’t play last year; or even, how JonBenet Ramsey’s father finds shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras” disturbing. Yet, I hope people remember that their lives can change in an instant. All it takes is one missed opportunity, one wrong decision, or one false accusation to bring someone face-to-face with the criminal justice system. Then, reality t.v. or the “Hunger Games” premiere will pale in comparison to their real life drama.
If you’re facing criminal charges, or the police are investigating you for some reason, call an attorney who concentrates his practice in criminal defense. Even if you are only being charged with a misdemeanor; you don’t want to get a one-year-deal for something you didn’t do.
The Monroe Evening News recently reported that “irregularities” were found in the Monroe County Road Commission’s accounting records. While the article did not elaborate on what the irregularities were, it did state that both the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office and the Michigan State Police were conducting an investigation. The article also stated that the employee connected with the accounting issues had been fired.
The road commission opted to have the state police and the county prosecutor to investigate instead of paying an outside firm to do an audit of its records. Robert “Mickey” Duffey, the board chairman of the road commission said it was a cost saving measure. However, it is more likely that the road commission considers the irregularities to be evidence of a crime; which means, the road commission not only wants to save money, it also wants to find more evidence to prosecute the individuals involved.
Perhaps, the Michigan State Police and the Monroe County Prosecutor will find evidence of embezzlement, misappropriation of funds, or some other fraudulent schemes to deprive another of honest services through bribes or kickbacks. Hopefully, those agencies will go over all of the road commission’s financial records with a fine-toothed comb and bring to light any corruption. In doing so, I hope all the parties involved remember that our system of justice provides that people are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Sometimes the police find evidence (or what appears to be evidence) that upon first glance looks incriminating, but further investigation reveals that it is not. To borrow a metaphor from a talented and passionate criminal defense attorney, Alona Sharon of Royal Oak, MI, the crime the police are investigating is one big puzzle. There are lots of different pieces; there are big ones, little ones, some with male parts, others with female parts, and the one thing they all have in common is that when put together – correctly – they form a picture. When the police finish their puzzle, they should know who committed the crime, how it happened, where it happened, and to whom it happened. In short, they should know the truth.
There are basic rules to puzzle-building. First, you frame the picture by putting together all of the pieces with straight sides on the outside. Then, from this frame you work your way inward. You make sure you have all of the pieces. You make sure all of the pieces go to that puzzle. You also make sure they really do fit together. If they don’t, and you just mash them together, your picture will be distorted. It takes patience, focus, an open mind, attention to detail, and the ability to admit when this little piece here doesn’t really go where you thought it did, even when you really, honestly believed that it did.
Sometimes, the people conducting a criminal investigation face tremendous amounts of pressure to solve the crime. Their bosses put pressure on them, the victims and the victims’ families put pressure on them, their peers put pressure on them, the public puts pressure on them, and they put pressure on themselves. It’s easy to succumb to that pressure. They want to do a good job, but they just start mashing pieces together that don’t fit. Maybe they started off wrong by starting on the inside instead of making sure all the pieces with the straight sides are on the outside. Maybe they got a bad puzzle box with pieces from different puzzles in it. Who knows how it happens, but it happens; when those pieces get mashed together, even if most of them are right, the picture comes out all wrong. It’s not the truth.
If you are being investigated regarding accounting “irregularities” or some other crime, hire an attorney who will make sure the picture on the puzzle looks the way it’s supposed to look. You don’t want to go from being an unnamed person in a newspaper article to being a headline, or worse yet, behind bars. Just remember, if the police question you, or want to question you, you have the right to remain silent. That means, shut your mouth. Don’t say anything, except, “Thank you, officer. I appreciate what you are doing. But, I have the right to remain silent and I am exercising that right.” Nothing else you say, or are going to say, will help you.
Finally, if you have any leads into the Monroe County Road Commission accounting irregularities, please call the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office at (734) 240-7600 or the Monroe Post of the Michigan State Police at (734) 242-3500.