DC misdemeanor

  • “Bitch Set Me Up:" Entrapment and Prostitution Stings in Washington, D.C.

    Marion Barry’s now infamous quote stemming from his 1990 drug possession case has been echoed by many of his fellow Washington, D.C. neighbors, albeit in a different context. These unfortunate defendants have found themselves caught up in one of the many prostitution stings conducted by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. In their infinite wisdom, the D.C. police continue to allocate their resources (your tax payer dollars), to arresting johns who get in the wrong conversation with the wrong undercover police officer (arguably there is no right conversation with any undercover officer).
    Here’s how it works: a reasonably attractive female police officer dresses in a provocative manner, (think fishnets and halter tops), and walks the streets of the city, usually in areas where prostitutes are displaying their wares. She chats up any male (generally), that comes along, turning the conversation towards an exchange of sex for money. For example:

    Undercover: Is there something I can help you with?
    Defendant: Yeah. What are you offering?
    Undercover: You can’t see what I have?
    Defendant: Yeah, yeah, what can I get?
    Undercover: How much you got?
    Defendant: $20 bucks
    Undercover: For $20 I will . . . .

    And you can use your imagination for the rest. Once the undercover officer believes, in her mind, that a deal has been made, she gives the pre-arranged signal to other officers waiting nearby. These officers come from seemingly nowhere, place you in handcuffs, and put you in the squad car. Your plans for the rest of the night changed very quickly.

    The official charge for offering money for sex is Solicitation for Prostitution. D.C. Code Section 22-2701.01 defines soliciting for prostitution as inviting, enticing, offering, persuading, or agreeing to engage in prostitution. According to the case law, some exchange conveying the nature of the act to be performed and the price to be charged is sufficient to prove the offense. Money need not actually change hands. At trial, the only evidence that is usually presented by the government is the testimony of the undercover officer. For reasons that are unclear, MPD does not have the undercover wired up for sound, so there is no recording of the conversation. That means that your Washington, D.C. criminal lawyer relies almost exclusively on cross-examination of the officer to try to win your prostitution/solicitation case. Your lawyer will attack the officer’s memory and credibility, in an effort to convince the judge that there was no agreement to exchange money for sex.

    Clients often claim entrapment by the police in prostitution cases. They argue that they were not out looking to pay for sex, and would never have done so if they were not approached by the undercover officer. That may be the case, but entrapment in Washington, D.C. is very difficult to prove. Essentially, proving entrapment requires a showing that the defendant was not ready and willing to violate the law. If the defendant was ready and willing, and police officers simply gave him the opportunity to do so, no entrapment has occurred. And the law in D.C. recognizes the ability of the police to persuade, threat, and coerce a defendant into breaking the law. As long as they aren’t engaging in criminal activity themselves, D.C. police have a lot of leeway in undercover operations.

    One can certainly questions why the D.C. police are trying to convince D.C. citizens to engage in solicitation of prostitution. But there is no question that they can lawfully do so. Your D.C. solicitation of prostitution lawyer will examine all possible defenses, including entrapment , in vigorously defending against your solicitation charge.

  • A D.C. Criminal Defense Lawyer's Perspective on MPD's Overzealous Pursuit of Prostitution Convictions

    You might be minding your own business, walking to the store or home from the bars in Washington, D.C. A barely-dressed woman walks up to you and asks you what you want, “honey.” You might decide to play along, and start talking about prices. But the next thing you know, several of D.C’s finest are jumping out of a nearby car, and placing you in handcuffs. You’ve just been nabbed in a D.C. prostitution sting.

    As a Washington, D.C. criminal lawyer who handles solicitation of prostitution cases, I am familiar with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's (MPD) tactics. With names like Operation Keep it in Doors, or Operation Lonely Hearts, the D.C. MPD has made it a priority to arrest and prosecute those willing to pay for consensual sex. These stings usually take one of two forms. First, MPD sends a female police officer out on the streets, dressed like a hooker. Her job is to approach any man she sees, and try to strike up a conversation about paying for sex. Some of these men are certainly there looking for love. Others start thinking it might be something they’re interested in once it's offered. Either way, these men end up in jail, without ever taking their wallets out or their pants down.

    The other popular sting scenario involves MPD renting out a hotel room and placing ads in certain publications. The future defendant answers the ad, and attempts to meet the prostitute at a nearby hotel. The conversation quickly turns to sex for money and officers are quickly rushing into the room. It all happens so fast, your head is still spinning as they put you into the patrol car. It’s not technically entrapment, but it’s certainly a trap.

    It isn’t apparent why MPD thinks it is worthwhile to allocate resources to arrest consenting adults looking for physical companionship. And they don’t appear to be slowing down, with new solicitation arrests being made every day. Maybe there aren’t enough crimes of violence being committed in D.C. Or maybe there aren’t enough people who could use a little help from Officer Friendly. Whatever the reason, it’s hard to understand why the police are luring people to tax dollar-paid-for hotels instead of looking for real criminals committing real crimes.

    The good news for D.C. solicitation of prostitution defendants is that many D.C. judges feel the same way. That doesn’t mean that judges have the power to simply dismiss your case. They don’t. But it does mean that they will often be very willing to find that the government did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. If the testifying officer does not come across as credible, or the conversation between the undercover and the defendant is too vague, many judges are inclined to find a defendant “not guilty.” Your D.C. criminal defense lawyer will likely know which judges might be more sympathetic to solicitation defendants.

    This is not to say that all defendants who choose to go to trial on their prostitution cases will be found not guilty. They won’t. But most judges will recognize the victimless aspect of this crime, and fashion an appropriate sentence. Your defense lawyer will make a sentencing argument on your behalf, and can, in many cases, keep a defendant out of jail, and maybe even off probation.

    Washington, D.C. solicitation of prostitution cases are a waste of time and money, for the police and for defendants.

  • Abracadabra: Lost Video Appears in D.C. Simple Assault Case

    Sometimes cops are lazy. Sometimes they are sloppy. Washington, D.C criminal defense lawyers have to be prepared to deal with both. Case in point: my client was charged with two counts of assault and two counts of possession of a prohibited weapon. The total maximum penalty if convicted of all four charges would be up to two years in jail. (she had no criminal record, so probably wouldn’t have done anything close to that amount of time, but that’s not really the point). The charges stemmed from an encounter that my client had with four teenagers that began in a Chinese food carryout restaurant. My client claimed self-defense, but it was her word against four complaining witnesses. Or was it?

    As I do in every D.C. criminal case, I requested that the government disclose any video that police recovered from the crime scene. I also sent my investigator out to see if the cops missed anything. The prosecutor told me that there wasn’t any video. Well, that surprised me, because the manager of the carryout told my investigator that there had been video (before they recorded over it, as businesses always seem to do), and that the police had been given a copy. This is a pretty serious discrepancy.

    So I combed through the paperwork some more, and saw that the detective on the case had recovered video, but that he could not get it to play. He determined that the file was corrupt, and therefore, no video actually existed. I’d be a pretty bad D.C. criminal defense lawyer if I accepted that, especially in an assault case. It seemed to me that maybe the officer should at least let me take a shot at getting the the video work. And that is the argument I made on the morning of trial. The judge agreed, continued the case, and ordered the government to turn over the video file, even if they deemed it unplayable. 

    Ten minutes after I popped the video in my computer, I was watching my client being harassed by four teenagers as she tried to place a food order at the Chinese carryout. Well, that was pretty important evidence, since the complaining witnesses claimed that my client started the fight. Fast forward to trial, and the judge, as he handed down a NOT GUILTY verdict on all charges, specifically pointed to the video as the key piece of evidence exonerating my client.

    The point here isn’t that I’m a great lawyer who put on a great trial (although if you want to take that away from this, be my guest). The real point is that you can’t always trust the cops and the government to provide everything they’re supposed to provide to a D.C. criminal defense lawyer. I don’t know if the cops were lazy, sloppy, or just plain didn’t care, but their failure to do their job almost led to the loss of valuable evidence. And without that evidence, my client may have been wrongfully convicted. Your D.C. assault lawyer will need to be aggressive about making sure that the police and the government do their job, so that your lawyer can do his.

  • Arrested in DC? What to Expect, Part I

    Getting caught up in the criminal justice system can be frightening and confusing. Knowing what to expect won’t make the process any easier, but it can decrease your anxiety, and help you make better informed decisions about your case, and about hiring a DC criminal lawyer. This is the first in a two-part series that tries to shed some light on what lies ahead.

    This post deals with the path of your criminal case in the DC court system if you have been charged with a misdemeanor. If you’re reading it, you’ve probably been arrested in Washington, DC for DUI, simple assault, domestic assault, solicitation, or another garden variety misdemeanor. That means one of two things happened. One, you spent a few hours locked up at the police station in the district in which you were arrested. They fingerprinted you, took your mugshot, and gave you a citation which informed you when you are required to be in court. Then they sent you on your way. If this is you, then consider yourself lucky (or at least luckier than some).

    The unlucky were not released from the police station, but were transported to the courthouse lock-up. There, you were penned up with 40 or more other arrestees for many hours in dehumanizing fashion, while you waited to be brought before a judge for your arraignment. While you were probably worried about how dangerous the person next to you might be, what you remember most about the experience is the smell.

    For those lucky enough to be released on a citation, your next step is appearing in court on the date and time indicated. At your arraignment, you will either be given a court-appointed counsel, or told that you do not qualify for a free lawyer based on your income. If you are given a lawyer, or have one with you, the court clerk will read the charge or charges against you, and your lawyer will enter your plea of “not-guilty.” Whether you intend to ever enter a guilty plea in your case, you will NEVER do so at the arraignment. After entering your not-guilty plea, the judge will to do two things: 1) set your next court date, known as a “status” date; and 2) advise you of your release conditions.

    Following your release conditions are very important. They may include confirming your address, drug testing, staying away from a particular individual or location, or all of the above. You will immediately report to the pretrial services office following your arraignment. They will answer any questions you have about your conditions. Not following the conditions imposed by the court could result in you being held in jail while your case is pending.

    At your status hearing, normally one of two things occurs. You accept a plea offer from the Government, and plead guilty to what you’ve been charged with, or to a lesser charge. Or you schedule your case for trial. Whether you plead guilty or go to trial is one of the most important decisions you will ever make, and your D.C. criminal lawyer will advise you on the pros and cons of both choices. Prior to your status hearing, your attorney will meet with you to discuss your case, and evaluate your chances of obtaining a successful outcome at trial. In some cases he will contact the prosecuting attorney and attempt to negotiate a favorable plea agreement or dismissal. Your lawyer will advise you on the best course of action, based on his or her experience, the plea offer, and the facts of your case. But ultimately, the decision to plead guilty or go to trial is yours, and yours alone.

    If you choose to plead guilty at the status hearing, it is likely that you will be sentenced on that day. The prosecutor will ask the judge to sentence you in accordance with the plea agreement. Your lawyer will also recommend a sentence, that will likely be more favorable to you than what the prosecutor is requesting. The Judge will consider both sentencing arguments, and impose whatever sentence he or she feels is appropriate, based on the facts of the case and your criminal history.

    If you choose to go to trial, it will likely be scheduled within 45 to 60 days from the status hearing. During that time your lawyer will prepare your defense, which includes writing any necessary motions, interviewing witnesses, and preparing cross-examination questions. Trial preparation is the key to giving you the best chance of obtaining a not-guilty verdict. Choosing a DC criminal lawyer who understands this, and is willing to put in the necessary time and effort on your case will give you your best chance at a favorable outcome.

  • Bad Words and Where They Often Lead: D.C. Threats & Simple Assault

    Stick and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. While that may be true on the playground, Washington, D.C. lawmakers see things a little differently. In the District of Columbia, the law recognizes that words have power, and words that threaten others can be very powerful. Consequently, when you use words intended to communicate threats to others, you could be facing misdemeanor and even felony D.C. Threats charges. 

    To convict you of misdemeanor or felony threats, the government must prove that you (1) intentionally (2) communicated threatening words to another that would (3) cause a person to reasonably believe that they would be seriously harmed if you carried out your threat.

  • Breaking Bad: Self-Defense in Washington, D.C. Assault Cases

    While there is no such thing as a typical D.C. assault, “victims” are rarely bystanders who are randomly assaulted by strangers. No, most clients looking for a Washington, D.C. assault lawyer were 1) involved in a domestic situation, or 2) in a bar or club fight. While a domestic assault, by definition, involves people who already know each other, a bar or club fight usually involves strangers. And often lots of alcohol.

    Especially in Washington, D.C., assault lawyers represent clients who went looking for some fun, but found legal trouble instead. Whether in the bars of Adams Morgan or the clubs on K Street, a disagreement or misunderstanding with a fellow reveler often leads to punches thrown and blows landed. Washington Metropolitan Police are summoned, witnesses are questioned, and arrests are made. By the very nature of these incidents, witnesses and participants are generally unreliable historians, and what police are told is rarely the whole story. But because that can be difficult to figure out, the wrong person is often arrested.

    Your Washington, D.C. criminal assault lawyer will likely be very familiar with the theory of self-defense. It is the most common defense to assault charges, and probably the most successful. That’s because almost all bar and club fights may start with one person throwing a punch, but end with two or more people getting involved in the fracas. When everyone who saw the fight is intoxicated to some extent or another, determining who struck first is virtually impossible. Police understand this, so sometimes they simply arrest the person who isn’t bleeding. Sometimes that’s right, but not always.

    To prove self-defense in a Washington, D.C. assault case, evidence must be presented at trial that the defendant actually believed they were in imminent danger of bodily harm and that belief was reasonable. In addition, the amount of force used by the defendant must also be reasonable. In order to successfully put on self-defense, all of the elements must be met. For instance, if a drunk moron gets in your face and gives you a shove while in line for the bathroom, you probably have the right to push him back, and maybe have the right to punch him. But you don’t have the right to break your bud-light bottle on the table, and stick it in his throat. That’s not reasonable. You may have had a reasonable belief that you were in danger of bodily harm, but you got a little carried away on the response.

    The beauty of self-defense is that, if your Washington, D.C. criminal defense lawyer manages to elicit any testimony that supports the theory, it becomes the government’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you weren’t acting in self-defense.  If the prosecutor fails to do so, the judge must find you not guilty.

    Another common defense to Washington, D.C. assault cases, and related to self-defense, is “defense of others.” What this means is that if you have a reasonable belief that someone else is in danger of imminent bodily harm, you have the right to defend them. So if that drunk moron gets in your girlfriend’s face, and you think he’s going to get rough, then you have the right to jump in. The elements of proof are the same for defense of others as they are for self-defense. And again, the burden shifts to the government if any evidence is introduced that suggests your actions were in defense of others.

     

    Bar and club assault cases are the some of the hardest cases for the government to prove. The drunker the witnesses were, the less reliable their testimony is. Your D.C. assault lawyer will exploit this fact, and hopefully create enough reasonable doubt to win your case.

  • DC Hit and Run Lawyer

    Otherwise known as “hit-and-run,” Leaving After Colliding may be charged in Washington, D.C. when a driver who has been in an auto accident which causes property damage, injury to a domestic animal, or personal injury, leaves the scene without waiting for police to arrive.

    In cases of property damage only, the law requires the driver to stay on the scene until police arrive, and exchange information with the other driver or drivers. If the owner of the vehicle or domestic animal is not present, the driver must provide the required insurance and identifying information to law enforcement or the 911 operator. Failure to do so may result in a jail sentence of up to 30 days, and/or a $250 fine.

    When someone suffers a physical injury as a result of the accident, the driver must ensure that any necessary medical treatment is provided. He or she must also wait for law enforcement and provide insurance and identifying information. The penalty for failure to do this is up to 180 days in jail and/or a $1000 fine.

    Because drivers suspected of Leaving After Colliding are often tracked down some time after the actual accident, police often contact the alleged driver by mail, and request that the suspect voluntarily visit the police department for questioning. Because any statements made by you will be used against you in court, no suspect should ever comply with this request before contacting a D.C. traffic lawyer with experience in defending leaving after colliding charges.

  • DC’s New APO Law Gives Defendants A Fighting Chance

    Until recently, the District of Columbia’s Assault on a Police Officer (APO) statute was broadly applied to include, not only physical assault, but also resisting, opposing, impeding, intimidating, or interfering with a police officer.  Raising your voice to an officer, wiggling while being handcuffed, or refusing to move because you believe the police stopped you unlawfully—these have all been reason enough to land you in legal trouble.  Essentially, any behavior other than complete submission and silence could lead to an APO arrest.

    An investigation conducted by WAMU 88.5 and the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University revealed that from 2012 to 2014 the District charged APO nearly three times as much as other cities with the same size population.  It also revealed that approximately two-thirds of the people arrested for APO were not charged with another crime.

  • Fight or Flight? Defense of Others in DC Assault Cases

    In any threatening situation—whether it be a threat against you, a loved one, or a complete stranger—you are faced with the choice to either fight the threat or flee the situation.  Fortunately, District of Columbia law recognizes, not only a right to defend yourself from harm, but also the right to defend others from harm.  Your Washington, D.C. assault lawyer should be very familiar with this right, and prepared to use it as a defense in your D.C. assault case.

  • Gone in 60 Seconds: DC Council Considers Impounding Vehicles in Solicitation of Prostitution Cases

    Washington, D.C. Police continue to crack down on prostitution, and their efforts are being supported by D.C. Councilman, Jack Evans. In the month of July, 2015 D.C. police have arrested more than 30 people in prostitution stings. All the arrests appear to have been men allegedly seeking sex for money, otherwise known as solicitation of prostitution.

    Councilman, Jack Evans, in an apparent effort to further humiliate solicitation defendants, has proposed a measure that will allow MPD to tow and impound the vehicles of those arrested for solicitation. Referred to as the “Honey I Lost the Car,” bill, it will only require that MPD officers determine that there is “probable cause” to believe that the car was used by a so-called john. Evans reportedly indicated that the purpose of the bill is “to deter people from trying to pick up prostitutes because they would be embarrassed to lose their car for the crime.”

    Washington D.C. would not be the first city to enact such a measure to deter solicitation of prostitution. Like in those cities, prostitution defendants could have their car towed and impounded even before they are found guilty of a charged crime.  In fact, even if the case is dismissed or you are ultimately found not-guilty by a judge, you would still lose your car.

    Evans’s proposed bill is just another battle in D.C.’s recent escalation of the war on prostitution. Although the murder rate in D.C. will likely rise for the second consecutive year, MPD continues to allocate resources and man-power to combat consensual sex among adults.  Instead of deploying more patrols to high crime areas, MPD is placing sex ads on the internet and lying-in-wait at tax-payer-paid-for hotel rooms for men who answer the ads.

    Solicitation of prostitution charges expose a defendant to up to 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.  Even just an arrest for solicitation will usually stay on your record for at least two years, and a conviction may have to be disclosed on a job or other application. Add the expense of a lawyer, the social stigma, and perhaps soon, a lost automobile, and the consequences of getting caught up in an MPD prostitution sting can be devastating.

    There are a couple of common misconceptions that seem to be shared by solicitation defendants I have represented. The first, is that an undercover police officer has to reveal her identity if asked. Where this rumor got started, I’m not sure, but it is completely FALSE.  Police officers are absolutely not required to tell you that they are police officers, even if asked. They are told to lie, they are trained on how to lie, and they will always lie. Their lies are not a defense, and asking them whether they are police will not, in any way, protect you.

    The second defense that is usually misunderstood by solicitation defendants is called entrapment. I’ve posted a blog on this before, but it’s worth repeating.  Just because an undercover police officer approaches you and asks you “what you want,” does not mean that you have been entrapped. A person is entrapped if law enforcement officials induce a person to commit a crime which he would not otherwise have committed. Entrapment does not occur if the person is ready and willing to violate the law, and the police merely afford an opportunity for him to do so.  The theory is that if a defendant is not inclined to have sex for money, they will just say no, when asked. Should undercover police officers approach citizens and offer sex for money? Not in my opinion. But does the law allow it? Unfortunately, yes.

     

    While entrapment is not usually a viable defense, there are other defenses to solicitation charges. Each case is different, based on the individual facts, and some are more easily defended than others.

  • Is This Thing On? The "Just Joking" Solicitation of Prostitution Defense

    Generally, when you tell a joke that no one gets, the worst that usually happens is you have to explain the joke. Embarrassing? Maybe.  But when you joke around with an undercover Washington, D.C. police officer posing as a prostitute, the consequences of being unfunny can be more severe. In the case of one defendant, it meant being arrested and charged with solicitation of prostitution. 

    As a Washington, D.C. solicitation of prostitution lawyer, I meet with a lot of clients who have been caught up in D.C. prostitution stings.  Until recently, I thought that I had heard every defense. However, a recent defendant offered an explanation I haven’t heard before: He was just joking.  Was this a new defense for me? Yes. But was it a legally sound defense? Absolutely. And the government was not amused.

  • It's Alive, Alive: D.C. Superior Court Judge Shows that 4th Amendment Still has Teeth

    It’s no secret that if you get pulled over by the police in Washington, D.C., the officer likely has more on his mind than a broken taillight or an illegal turn on red. If police officers observe any traffic infraction, no matter how small, they have the right to pull you over and write you a ticket. And once they have you lawfully pulled over, the police are almost always looking to turn a traffic stop into a full-blown arrest. But despite what many officers might think, making a lawful traffic stop does not give them carte-blanche to investigate matters unrelated to the original purpose of the stop. 

  • Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places: MPD Continues to Target D.C. Prostitution

    A Washington Post article today confirmed what Washington D.C. Solicitation of Prostitution lawyers already knew:  that the D.C. police seemingly have unlimited resources to direct towards their war against illicit sex. Not satisfied with simply getting prostitutes off the streets, MPD has brought their fight behind closed doors, setting-up johns with fake sex ads, and arresting them in local hotel rooms.

    Reportedly, sting operations in the Thomas Circle neighborhood alone have resulted in 50 arrests for solicitation of prostitution this winter. Other operations in other Northwest D.C. neighborhoods have had similar results.  The Post quoted an MPD Commander who stated, “We could probably do this every weekend and get the same numbers.” And although they probably could, the question is whether they should.

    As noted in the Post article, a prostitution arrest can have devastating consequences, even without a conviction. Many D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virginia citizens caught up in MPD’s sting operations had no prior criminal convictions, or contact with the criminal justice system. But one arrest may result in a lost job, lost spouse, and lost self-respect. And with the wrong judge, it may result in the temporary loss of freedom.

    Police acknowledge that, as D.C. neighborhoods become more gentrified, roaming prostitutes have been replaced with restaurant-goers and window shoppers. The result is that the sex trade has moved behind closed doors, into local hotel rooms. But for MPD, gone does not mean forgotten, and out of sight is not out of mind. And that apparently means fighting an unending battle against consensual sex, wherever it may lead.

    While technically the police may not be engaging in entrapment, some of those arrested are wondering why the D.C. police are luring otherwise law-abiding citizens to hotel rooms to face shame and humiliation. The debate about legalized prostitution is almost as old as the profession itself, and I won’t rehash it hear. But D.C. voters may start to wonder whether a law that makes criminals of a large percentage of the city is a law worth having. D.C. residents made their voices heard on legalization of marijuana, and perhaps they will speak on prostitution in the future.

    In the present, however, those looking for love on internet sites like backpages and craigslist are just as likely to find arrest and jail. The penalty for solicitation of prostitution in Washington, D.C. is up to 90 days in jail, or a $500 fine or both. Add legal fees, and lost wages, and a sexual solicitation arrest is a pricey experience. While some prostitution defendants may be eligible for Deferred Prosecution Agreements, (case dismissal after completion of community service), others with prior criminal records may not be so lucky.

    Because the consequences of a prostitution or sexual solicitation conviction can be serious, consulting a D.C. criminal defense lawyer is a good idea. Even if you’ve walked into a hotel room in response to a prostitution add, the government must still prove that you actively solicited sex. Whether they can do that depends on the specific facts of your case, and your D.C. solicitation lawyer will discuss with you your chances of winning at trial.

  • Oops: The Defense of Accident or Mistake in D.C. Assault Cases

    In the District of Columbia, if you are arrested for any type of assault crime, the government must prove that you acted intentionally.  While the government does not have to prove that you intended to injure the alleged victim, it does have to prove that you intended to commit the threatening act. Fortunately, the law recognizes that sometimes accidents happen.

    Under the law in the District of Columbia, one of the defenses available to a client facing assault charges is accident or mistake.  By asserting either of the defenses of accident or mistake, you are admitting that you struck the complaining witness, but that the contact was accidental.

  • Playing Nice: Judge Confirms That D.C. Bouncers Must Keep Their Hands to Themselves

    At 6’ 3” and weighing in at 415 pounds, the bouncer needed every inch of the witness box. To say that he was a big guy doesn’t nearly paint the picture, but I’m a D.C. criminal defense lawyer, not a novelist. So, he was a big guy. But don’t call him a bouncer, because as he pointed out to me during cross-examination, he finds the term “derogatory.” He prefers, “security.” Fair enough.

    In Washington, D.C.,” “bouncer” certainly is a derogatory term, mostly because they have a reputation for getting a little handsy. And by getting handsy, I mean pummeling D.C. club goers who get a little too drunk, rambunctious, or simply in the way. It’s well known and accepted that bouncers, er, club security officers are there to toss unruly patrons out on their ears. It’s what they do. But what gives them the right to do it? In a recent simple assault trial, I argued that nothing gives them the right. And the judge agreed.

    My client was on trial for assaulting the aforementioned 415 lb. bouncer and his bouncer buddy, while he was being “escorted,” from a Washington, D.C. club. My client was arguably drunk, but not unruly, and he hadn’t been fighting. The bouncer testified that my client threw a punch at him, nicking his chin. The security footage supported this accusation, so game over, right? Not so fast. Because the video also showed what the bouncer meant by “escorted.” As my client moved towards the door, the bouncer shoved him, not once, not twice, but three times. He’s a bouncer doing his job, so what’s the big deal? Well, the big deal is that each one of those shoves constitutes an assault by the bouncer, on my client.

    Self-defense is probably the most common defense in assault cases. A Washington, D.C. citizen has a right to defend himself against physical attack. The test is whether the attacked person believed that he or she was in imminent danger of bodily harm, and whether that belief was reasonable at the time. The amount of force used to defend oneself must also be reasonable.

    In my D.C. assault case, once the gargantuan bouncer began shoving my much smaller client, my client had the absolute right to physically defend himself. To the law, and to the judge, the fact that the bouncer was hired by his employer to do exactly what he was doing makes no difference. Bouncers have no special authority to put their hands on customers. The law treats them no differently than the clerk at the counter at your local convenience store, or the waiter at your favorite restaurant. Can you imagine either of the those employees attempting to physically remove a customer or diner? Of course not. If they want someone to leave their place of business, then can ask, they can demand, but they can not physically do it themselves. Their remedy is contacting the police. That is the same remedy available to a club bouncer.

    While the judge delivered her not-guilty verdict, she made it very clear that she recognized that the punch thrown by my client was an act of self-defense, in response to the bouncer’s repeated shoving. Given the size of the bouncer, the punch was a perfectly reasonable amount of force. Hopefully the message that bouncers cannot assault customer with impunity was loudly and clearly received. More than likely, it was not.

  • Sticker Shock: The Cost of a Washington, D.C. Criminal Defense Lawyer

    You may have noticed that finding how much a criminal defense lawyer costs is one of the few things that’s very difficult to find on-line. And you aren’t necessarily going to get the answer by reading this blog. Even as I write this, I’m not sure that writing about the cost of a D.C. criminal defense lawyer is a good idea. It’s a subject few lawyers feel comfortable talking about with clients unless those clients are sitting across from us in our offices. And to be honest, it’s my least favorite part of a consultation. Watching a potential client’s eyes widen in disbelief when I tell them how much their DUI or Solicitation of prostitution defense will cost them gives me no pleasure. Quoting the cost of a serious felony or a Federal criminal defense is even less pleasant. Because the truth is, D.C. criminal defense is expensive, and nobody likes to pay for it.

    No matter how serious the criminal charge, one of the first questions a potential client asks me on the phone is, “what is your fee.” And that makes sense, because 1) you probably have never hired a lawyer before, and have absolutely no idea how much one costs; and 2) you want to know how much this is going to hurt. The truth is, no one expects to be arrested. No one has a rainy day fund set aside for the possibility of getting an assault charge from a bar fight, a DUI on your way home from an Arlington bar, or a panic-caused hit and run. Most Americans have no savings and very little room left on their credit cards. So of course they’re worried about the cost.

    But providing a quote for a Washington, D.C. or Arlington DUI, or a Virginia Grand larceny case is almost impossible to do over the phone. That’s because the facts of every criminal case are different, and the facts determine how much work your defense lawyer will have to do. And the amount of work your lawyer has to do determines the cost of a quality criminal defense. Think of it this way: if you got in a car accident, and wanted to know how much it’s going to cost you to get your car fixed, you can’t just call up your local auto body shop and get a quote. You’ve got to bring the car in and let them have a look. Does it need new parts? How many and which ones? Is there damage to the frame or undercarriage? Every car accident is different, just like every case is different. To give you a quote, I’m going to need to look at the car first.

    That being said, it’s not impossible to give you a price range on many cases. I know that I will likely charge between $1500 and $2000 for a Solicitation of prostitution defense. Because a DUI in Washington, D.C. is a lot of work, I will likely quote you between $2500 and $4000. But throw in a second charge of hit and run, (D.C. calls it Leaving after Colliding), and it might be as much as $5000. Defending a Civil Protection Order (this is not criminal, but read why it might as well be) will cost probably costs between $1500 and $3000.

    Most lawyers can estimate the costs of a misdemeanor defense, because these cases tend to be more predictable. But if you have a Washington, D.C. or Northern Virginia felony, the nature of these cases make guessing difficult and a little reckless. Felony jury trials are time and labor intensive and you can expect to pay upwards of $10,000 or more. Sometimes much more.

    I suppose the conventional wisdom advises against having written this blog. But if having an idea of what it will cost to hire me to defend your D.C. area criminal charge reduces your sticker shock, I think it’s probably worth it. I’m a fan of full disclosure, especially if it saves us both some time.

    Now I know that most clients’ first question is what their defense will cost them. But the question they don’t usually ask, even though they’re probably thinking it, is “what do I get for my money.” When you buy a car, you get to drive it home. When you buy a new phone, you get to stare at it while you walk down the sidewalk bumping into people. But what you get in a criminal defense is slightly more intangible. Your attorney will never promise you a result. Even if it was ethically permissible to tell you that your money would buy a not-guilty verdict or a dismissal, any lawyer who made that promise would be lying more than half the time. What you get is the best result that lawyer is capable of getting you. What you get are honest opinions about what your likely outcome is. What you get is someone to guide you through the dauntingly complicated criminal justice system, and some hand-holding if you need it. And hopefully, you get a lawyer you can trust.

  • Taking the Gloves Off: Good Things Can Happen When You Go To Trial

    While serious felonies get all the press—think armed robbery, rape, murder—a criminal defense lawyer in Washington, D.C. spends the bulk of his time defending misdemeanors. These include assault, domestic or otherwise, driving under the influence (DUI), hit and run, solicitation of prostitution, petty theft, drug possession cases, and the like.  For many defendants, this is their first contact with the criminal justice system. That’s good, because first time offenders, if convicted, are very often sentenced to probation.

    But for many defendants, jail time isn’t their only, or even primary concern. A criminal conviction can result in termination of employment and can make finding a new job difficult. Many Washington, D.C. employees have security clearances, and a criminal conviction may cause that clearance to be revoked. And finally, there is a psychological component to having a criminal conviction that many people have trouble dealing with.

  • The Straight Dope: What You Need To Know About Washington, DC Drug Laws

    In the District of Columbia, there are three types of drug offenses: possession, possession with intent to distribute, and distribution. Your Washington, D.C. criminal defense lawyer should be familiar with all three.

    Possession of a controlled substance is charged if a person is accused of simply having drugs.  There are two types of possession under DC Drug laws: actual and constructive.  Actual possession is when a person is caught with drugs on his or her person.  For example, if you are arrested for any reason and during the search incident to arrest a cop finds a bag of cocaine in your pocket, you will likely be charged with possession.

  • The Wide Variety of D.C. Assault Crimes

    Did you hear about the peanut who walked into a bar?  He was assaulted.

    In all seriousness, Washington, D.C. assault charges are no laughing matter. Being charged with an assault can have serious legal implications.  Being convicted of assault may land you in jail. Under D.C. law, there are at least 10 ways you can be convicted of assault. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

  • This is Not a Golden Ticket, Charlie: The D.C. “Hit and Run Letter” and What to Do About It

    If I had a time machine, I would use it for two things. First, I’d travel back to 1919 and stop the Red Sox from trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees. That’s a no-brainer. But after that, I’d go visit all of my D.C. Leaving after Colliding clients who spoke to the police before they contacted me, and talk some sense into them.  And maybe I’d shake them a little.

    Leaving after Colliding is the official name in Washington, D.C. for what is commonly referred to as Hit and Run. It occurs when a driver strikes another person, car, or dog then fails to immediately stop and render aid and/or exchange insurance information. As any D.C. criminal lawyer can tell you, it is a common occurrence in a city filled with busy streets and people in a hurry. What is also a common occurrence is that a witness to the accident gets either a license plate number, or some information about the vehicle that allows the D.C. police to identify it. Let me be clear: the information provided to the police by the witness or video almost always identified ONLY the vehicle involved, NOT the driver behind the wheel. Is this important? You bet it is.

    In order to prove that a defendant committed hit and run, or Leaving after Colliding in Washington, D.C., the government has to prove, not just what vehicle was involved, but who was actually driving it. If a witness saw only the car, but not who was behind the wheel, the government has no way to prove its case. So how do the D.C. police try to solve this not-insignificant problem? Well, they send you a letter and ask you to come on down and prove their case for them. And the thing is, many Leaving after Colliding defendants do just that.

    Top five reasons people follow the instructions on the Hit and Run Letter, and walk into a police station:

    5.  They always do what the police ask.

    4. They want to confess.

    3.  They want to convince the police that they were not driving the car.

    2.  They think that if they help the police, the police will help them.

    1.  They think they have no choice.

    Well, if you just want to make the police happy or want to get something off your chest, then I can’t help you. But I can tell you that 1) you will not convince the police you were driving the car, unless you are throwing someone else under the bus; 2) the police will not help you, unless you need help being arrested; and 3) you certainly do have a choice, and are under absolutely no obligation to respond to the Hit and Run letter.

    It is easy to see why many people follow the instructions in the Hit and Run Letter, since it tells you that “you are to appear at the police station.” It even gives you a date and time, and gives you a list of things that “YOU MUST BRING.” The police use that forceful language on purpose, because they want to scare the suspect into compliance, and are banking on the belief that most people don’t know their rights. And much of the time, they’re right. But now you know. You're welcome.

    If you receive a Hit and Run letter, or have already been charged with Leaving After Colliding, you should contact a D.C. criminal defense lawyer immediately. Don’t let the police scare you into helping them do their job—which is arresting suspects like you. Attorney Jay Mykytiuk has experience in defending Washington, D.C. Leaving After Colliding charges.