D.C. Criminal Lawyer

  • 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.

  • A Matter of Trust: On Hiring a Washington, D.C. Criminal Defense Laywer

    If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve been arrested, and are figuring out what to do next. You’ve probably gone to google (or maybe Bing, but that seems unlikely), and searched for “D.C. criminal defense lawyer,” or “D.C. DUI lawyer,” or “D.C. prostitution lawyer,” etc. Chances are, pages and pages of lawyers have been generated by your search, and you have no idea where to start. Ratings and reviews are nice, but almost never tell the whole story. The lawyers’ websites probably have blogs and articles about the crime you’ve been charged with, but not much about the lawyer.  But after some looking around, you may decide to call one, two, or three of the D.C. criminal defense lawyers you find. And now the fun starts.

    Many clients who call me have a hundred questions, and want them all answered over the phone. You’ll find that most lawyers, like me, prefer not to do client consultations this way.  There are several reasons. First, criminal cases have a lot of facts, and we want to hear all of them, and probably take notes. Trying to listen and take notes over telephone can be difficult, and unclear connections make things even harder. Second, lawyers generally do not run free legal advice hotlines. Many of us offer free consultations, but this offer assumes that the person seeking our advice is serious about hiring legal representation. A person who can’t be bothered to come into my office and sit down with me for half an hour probably isn’t that serious about hiring me. They want free advice, but the reality is that free advice doesn’t pay the office rent.

    But the third and most important reason that I don’t do phone consultations is that I don’t want you to hire me before you’ve come into my office, shaken my hand, and decided whether you trust me. Hiring a criminal defense attorney could be one of the most important decisions you make in your life. Whether you face a misdemeanor like DUI or solicitation of prostitution, or a more serious felony, the result achieved in your case will have a lasting impact on your life. That result, whatever it is, will be achieved by you and your lawyer working together to make the important decisions that every criminal cases requires.

    When you sit across from me in my office, I’m going to tell you what to expect. I’ll tell you the chances of beating your case, the punishment you are probably looking at if convicted, and all the things I’m going to do on your case if you hire me. But what I tell you doesn’t mean anything if you don’t trust me. You have to trust that your criminal defense lawyer knows what he’s talking about and is going to put his full effort behind your case. You have to trust that when he tells you your chances of winning at trial are good or bad, that estimate is based on knowledge and experience.

    So my advice on hiring a criminal defense attorney in Washington, D.C. or northern Virginia, is not to hire the lawyer because they have the fanciest website. Or because they are the cheapest or the most expensive (yes, some people take comfort in being charged top dollar). Hire the lawyer who you think you can trust. Because you will be on a long, bumpy ride together.

  • A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Video Evidence in Washington, D.C. DUI Cases

    Police reports rarely paint a flattering picture of a D.C. DUI defendant. They usually describe a stumbling drunk who can’t keep his or her balance while walking from point A to point B. The officer will also highlight all the things the defendant did wrong during the one-legged stand and walk and turn tests, including raising his arms, stepping off the line, or putting his foot down repeatedly. The officer will then regurgitate that report at trial, in an attempt to show that the DUI suspect was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. While your Washington, D.C. DUI lawyer will cross-examine the police officer, and do his best to poke wholes in the officer;s testimony, evidence that directly contradicts that tesimony is much more helpful.

    Occasionally, that contradictory evidence comes in the form of video. Video can come from a few different sources, including the police station where the defendant is booked, street cameras located at the scene of arrest, or since the fall of 2014, body cameras worn by some D.C. police officers. Finding out whether video exists, and getting it from the government is one of the battles your DUI attorney will fight for you. And it often is a battle, since defense requests for the video are often met with denials that any video exists, or that it can be obtained. While station-house video will usually be turned over without too much effort, getting street camera video is another story.

    Your D.C. DUI lawyer should, as early as possible, notify the prosecutor that you want the governmnt to preserve all of the video evidence that exists. This should preferably be done at arraignment, or as soon as you’ve hired an attorney, and should be in writing. Before I know whether video evidence exists in a DUI case, I hand the government a letter requesting that they preserve it. This accomplishes two things: 1) it sends a message that your DUI lawyer knows what he is doing, and hopefully spurs the prosecutor to take the necessary efforts to preserve the video; and 2) it gives your lawyer an excellent argument that your case should be dismissed if the government drops the ball and fails to preserve this important evidence.

    If video does exist, and is obtained by your DUI attorney, it may paint a very different picture of a defendant’s behavior than the one drawn by the arresting officer. Instead of a stumbling, uncooperative drunk person, it may show a defendant who stood upright, walked without stumbling, and generally showed no signs of intoxication. This is valuable evidence. Of course, in certain cases video of a D.C. DUI defendant can be a curse rather than a blessing. Sometimes a defendant appears just as described by the officer, and the video only serves to bolster his testimony. But most often, the video obtained is of a fairly poor quality, and does not either make or break your case. Nevertheless, holding the government to its responsibility to provide this evidence may result in your D.C. DUI case being dismissed, or cause the prosecutor to extend a more favorable plea offer.

    It remains to be seen whether the D.C. body camera pilot program will become permanent, and how this will affect Washington, D.C. DUI cases. While I have not yet seen it, I’m told that video from the body cameras is of a much higher quality than station house or street cameras. Whether this helps or hurts DUI defendants will likely differ depending on the case.
    Whether video evidence exists in your case or not, you want your DWI attorney to aggressively pursue all the discovery you are entitled to.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Civil Protection Orders in Washington, D.C.

    In Washington, DC, a Civil Protection Order (CPO) is very similar to a restraining order.  It is a court order that requires a person to do or not to do certain acts.  For example, if your ex-spouse is harassing or stalking you, you can file a petition with the court to order your ex-spouse to have no contact with you. 

    The person who files for a CPO is called the “Petitioner.”  The person who a CPO is filed against is called the “Respondent.”  Any person can file for a CPO if they feel like they need to protect themselves against someone they have an “intrafamily relationship” with.  In general, a CPO will require the respondent to stay at least 100 feet away from the petitioner at all times and to have no contact with the petitioner—including electronic and social media communications.  It also usually bars communicating with the person through ha third-party.  The terms of a CPO can vary depending on a petitioner’s situation.

  • Common Questions If You've Been Arrested For Washington, D.C. DUI, Part II

    You have a lot of questions if you've been arrested for DUI in Washington, D.C. or Northern Virginia. This is Part II of the answers I hope will help alleviate the confusion.

    Will medications cause me to “fail” the breath test?

    Generally, no. The breath test only measures the amount of alcohol in your blood, nothing more. So if you took pain medication, blood pressure pills, sleeping pills, etc., your breath test would not be affected in any way. However, depending on which medication you’ve taken, it may affect your performance on the Field Sobriety Tests, and your general appearance and demeanor. Be sure to tell your D.C. DUI lawyer if you took any medication prior to being arrested.

    Is there any way to avoid a D.C. DUI conviction without going to trial?

    In a very small number of cases, your D.C. DUI lawyer may be able to negotiate a diversion agreement with the prosecutor. This agreement is called a Deferred Sentencing Agreement (DSA), and is the only diversion option offered by the government in DUI cases. First, it requires the defendant to enter a plea of guilty to the charge. After the plea is entered, the Defendant must satisfy several conditions. These conditions can be negotiated, but usually include completing community service, a traffic safety program, a victim impact panel, and an alcohol traffic program. If all of the conditions are met, the Defendant is permitted to withdraw his or her guilty plea, and the DUI charge is dismissed.

    The officer who arrested me never read me my rights. Will my case be dismissed?

    Contrary to what many people believe, not having your Miranda rights read to you does not result in your case being dismissed. The purpose of Miranda rights is to advise defendants of their right to remain silent. When the police fail to do that, any statements made by that defendant cannot be admitted into evidence at trial. So if you admitted to having four shots after you’ve been arrested for DUI, but the officer never read you your rights, then that statement may not be used against you if your case goes to trial. For more on Miranda rights, read my previous blog post here.

    Why did I get arrested even though I passed the Field Sobriety Tests?

    Well, chances are there is a difference of opinion between you and the police officer as to whether or not you passed the FSTs. As a D.C. DUI attorney, I’ve had many clients tell me that they did very well on the FSTs, only to read a very different story in the officer’s police report. The problem is that it takes very little to “fail” these tests. For instance if you raise your arms during the walk-and-turn test, sway on any of the steps, and step off the line even once during the nine steps, the officer will call this a failure. Fortunately, at your trial, your DUI lawyer will have the police officer point out all of the good things you did correctly during the tests. “Failure” of the tests in the officer’s mind may not be failure in the judge’s or jury’s minds.

    I took the breath test, and my results showed a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .08 or over. Am I automatically guilty of DUI?

    Few things are automatic in DUI cases. Although a test score of .08 or higher creates a presumption that a defendant was driving under the influence, the prosecutor has get this test result admitted into evidence. Your D.C. DUI lawyer will put a lot of effort into preventing that. That means requesting pages and pages of records of the testing machine to ensure that it was working properly. It also means making sure that the testing officer followed all the required procedures before, during, and after the test. Even the smallest error or oversight can cast doubt on the validity of the test, and keep the judge from admitting it into evidence.

  • 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.

  • Drug Possession/Distribution

    Possession of a controlled substance (cocaine, heroin, prescription drugs, etc.) in Washington, D.C. is usually punished as a misdemeanor, and carries a penalty of up to 180 days in jail, or a $1000 fine, or both. However, possession of liquid PCP is a felony, and carries up to 10 years in prison. As of 2014, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana in the District of Columbia is legal for those 21 or older. In Virginia, even simple possession of a controlled substance is a felony.

    In both Washington, D.C. and Virginia, possession with intent to distribute (PWID), or distribution of a controlled substance is a felony, except for certain quantities of marijuana.

    First time offenders convicted of simple possession generally do not receive jail time, but those convicted of PWID or distribution could see significant prison time, depending on their criminal record and the circumstances of the case. Certain cases may be prosecuted under Federal law, which often means significant mandatory minimum prison sentences.

    While proving simple possession in court may offer few challenges to the government, PWID and distribution cases often can be more difficult to prove. Your Washington, D.C. area criminal defense lawyer will analyze the facts of your case, and prepare a defense to these very serious charges.

    Attorney Jay Mykytiuk of JPMLegal  has experience in defending both Federal and State drug offenses in Washington, D.C. and in Northern Virginia.

  • From Bad to Worse: DC Unemployment Insurance Fraud

    Imagine you have just been laid off from your job.  Your mind races and you think “how am I going to pay my rent, my car payment, and other bills.”  Luckily, you can obtain unemployment benefits within the District of Columbia to keep you afloat while you look for another job.  

    A few days later, you find some temporary work but the job only lasts for a couple of weeks, so you continue to collect unemployment benefits.  A few months later, you find a part-time job but the money you make does not cover your bills, so you continue to collect unemployment benefits.  One-year after you were laid off, you find a new, full-time job, but you still need some unemployment benefits for a little while until you are firmly able to pay all of your bills, so you continue collecting. Finally, the day comes when you have paid off all of your bills and you are secure in your new job. You are back on your feet, and no longer need unemployment benefits.

  • Ins, Outs, and What Have Yous: Collateral Consequences of a Washington, D.C. DUI Conviction

     

    Being arrested for DUI in Washington, D.C. is a miserable experience. It usually starts with a night in jail, followed by a trip to the impound lot to retrieve your car. Next comes your first trip to court, (maybe ever, for some) during which you are confused and perhaps a little frightened. Depending on your individual facts and circumstances, you may be subject to certain release conditions, including drug testing, substance abuse counseling, and/or weekly reporting to pretrial services. Now it’s time to find a D.C. DUI lawyer, and choosing the right one can be a daunting process. 

     

    Once you have a D.C. DUI attorney, the first thing you will want to know is whether you are going to jail. That’s understandable, since most people arrested for DUI in D.C. have never spent a day in jail, and the very prospect may be inconceivable.  Whether jail time is a possibility in your case depends on many different factors. Those include whether you have been convicted of DUI in the past, whether there was an accident, whether anyone was injured, whether you took a breath or urine test, and most importantly, whether the government can prove that you were driving under the influence. But while most defendants worry most about jail, there are other collateral consequences of a DUI conviction that are more likely and very burdensome.

     

    What defendants also worry about is whether a Washington, D.C. DUI conviction will cause their driver’s license to be suspended. The short answer is yes, but it’s more complicated than that. When you are arrested for a DUI in Washington, D.C., the arresting officer usually submits notice to the DMV informing them of your arrest. If you are licensed to drive in D.C., you have 10 days to request a hearing at the DMV. If you do not request a hearing within the 10 days, your license will automatically be suspended.  If that happens, it will be difficult to undo it, even if you are found not guilty of DUI. The length of the suspension depends on whether you also refused to take a breath test or submit a urine sample.  The normal suspension in D.C. for a first DUI offense is 6 months. But if it is found that you refused to submit to a chemical test, the suspension will be for one year.

     

    If you are licensed in a state other than Washington, D.C., you have 15 days to request a hearing at the D.C. DMV. If you fail to do so, or if you are eventually convicted of DUI, the D.C. DMV can only suspend your privilege to drive in the District, not your driver’s license. However, most states will also suspend your license once your conviction is reported to them by D.C. Although occasionally drivers slip through the cracks, you can generally count on your license eventually being suspended if you are convicted of a Washington, D.C. DUI.

     

    Perhaps the most pernicious hidden cost of a Washington D.C. DUI conviction is your time. Those convicted of a D.C. will, in almost every case, be placed on supervised probation. Conditions of probation will include attending a Victim Impact Panel, completing an on-line Traffic Safety Program, and a series of Traffic Alcohol Program classes. In addition, your probation officer may determine that you need additional alcohol and/or drug counseling. All of this takes time away from your job, your family, or whatever else you'd rather be doing.

     

    Suffering a Washington, D.C. DUI conviction has significant consequences beyond potential jail time. Because the stakes are so high, your DUI attorney should make sure you understand the implications of taking a plea deal or going to trial.

  • 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.

  • No Permit/Operating on a Suspended License

    It is illegal in Washington, D.C. to operate a motor vehicle after your driver’s license has been suspended or if you do not have a valid driver’s license at all.  Whether you are charged with driving without a valid license, or Operating after your license has been suspended or revoked, depends on the facts of your case. If your license is suspended in Virginia or Maryland, you will be charged with No Permit if stopped in Washington, D.C. If you have a D.C. license that is suspended, or has been revoked, you will be charged with Operating after Suspension or Revocation.

    There is a significant difference between the penalties of No Permit and Operating after Suspension/Revocation. The charge of No Permit carries a maximum penalty of up to 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. If you are charged with Operating after Suspension or Revocation, you face up to one year in jail and/or a $2500 fine. In addition, your license will be suspended for six months.

    You may be convicted of Driving after Suspension/Revocation even if you were not aware that your license was suspended. Simply being aware that you failed to pay a traffic ticket which led to your license being suspended is enough to sustain a conviction. Never having received notice of the violation may be a defense in front of some judges, but usually only if you still have the same address that is reflected on your driver’s license, or properly notified the DMV of your new address if you have moved.

     Your Washington, D.C. traffic lawyer will advise you of any other possible defenses you may have to either No Permit or Driving after Suspension or Revocation. 

  • Not Guilty: This is Why We Try Washington, D.C. DUI Cases

    At first glance, the facts looked bad. The Officer’s police report indicated that the client had red, bloodshot eyes, and smelled of alcohol. On the Field Sobriety Tests, the defendant “failed” the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test and the officer stopped the Walk and Turn Test for the “suspect’s safety,” after she stumbled and almost fell. In court, the arresting officer testified that the defendant smelled of alcohol, and used the car for balance. He believed she was drunk, so he placed her under arrest, and gave her a breath test back at the station. How surprised do you think the officer was when the breath test came back with a 0.0 reading? Maybe a little?

    But because PCP was found in my client’s car, a blood test was also taken that came up positive for PCP. However, for some reason or another, the government never introduced the test results at trial. Instead, they chose to rely on the testimony of the officers on the scene regarding my client’s behavior. But here was the government's problem: the arresting officer continued to assert that my client seemed to be under the influence of alcohol, even though the breath test clearly showed otherwise. Although the prosecutor was trying to make a case for DUI PCP, the officer didn’t seem to be on the same page. When cross-examined, the officer admitted that he didn’t witness one single symptom of PCP usage displayed by my client.

    In my closing argument, I urged the judge to find my client not guilty of DUI, based on the 0.0 breath test score, and the lack of testimony that my client showed any signs of having used PCP. And she agreed. What the prosecutor thought was a slam-dunk case, turned out to be a surprising loss. And this is why it often makes sense to go to trial on Washington, D.C. DUI charges.

    While the choice to accept a plea offer or go to trial belongs solely to a defendant, your D.C. DUI lawyer can help you make an informed decision based on his or her experience with these types of cases. Facts that often look bad can result in not guilty verdicts in certain cases. This is often caused by prosecutors having too many cases to pay attention to the details of yours. But sometimes your lawyer will urge you to take a case to trial just because you have nothing to lose. Prosecutors rarely make a plea offer in a Washington, D.C. DUI case that is compelling enough to take. Sometimes, mandatory minimum jail times make it a no-brainer that a case should be tried. And even if the offer includes no jail time, your D.C. criminal lawyer will likely know whether your judge would even consider a jail sentence if you lost at trial.

    Of course, the facts and circumstances of each case are different. That means that going to trial or taking a plea offer is a personal decision made after consultation with your DUI attorney. Defendants often have personal reasons why they might wish to take a plea offer, and your lawyer will respect those. In addition, a plea offer will occasionally be good enough to consider, making a trial an unnecessary risk.

  • 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.

  • Round 2: Fighting a Civil Protection Order Extension

    A year ago, you were brought to court by an ex spouse or significant other, or perhaps a family member. Maybe you consented to the entry of a Civil Protection Order (CPO), or maybe the judge entered an order after a hearing.  One year has almost passed, and you’ve done everything the order required. You didn’t harass, assault, threaten, or stalk the petitioner. You stayed 100 feet away from her and didn’t contact her in any way. Yet a couple weeks before the order was set to expire, you are served with a motion to extend or modify the CPO. And it begins again. . .

    Washington, D.C. law allows a petitioner to seek up to a one year extension of an existing CPO for “good cause.” In determining whether good cause exists to extend a CPO, the Court must consider the history of the relationship between the parties, and balance the potential harm that each party may suffer if the Court grants or denies the motion. Cruz-Foster v. Foster, 597 A.2d 927 (D.C. 1991).

    So how does the court go about, as a practical matter, determining whether it should extend a Washington, D.C. CPO? First, they look at the underlying facts that caused the petitioner to seek the CPO in the first place. The court will look to see if there were any violent acts perpetrated by the respondent against the petitioner. If so, was it a pattern or history or an isolated incident? Was there stalking? How long did it last, and what did it include? Obviously, the more serious the acts that caused the original petition to be granted, the more likely the relationship history will be a factor in issuing a CPO extension.

    But history is not the only factor to be considered by the judge. What the parties have been up to since the original CPO has been issued will also matter.  Any violation that occurred during the year since the original CPO was issued will weigh heavily in favor of granting an extension. Even violations that have not previously been brought to the court’s attention will count against you in the extension hearing.  If the court finds that the respondent violated the CPO in any way during the first year, it is likely that the court will find “good cause” to extend it.

    Finally, the court will consider the “balance of the harms” if it decides to grant or deny the CPO extension. For instance, if the respondent will lose his job if the CPO is extended, the court will consider this factor in favor of denying the extension. However, if the court feels that the petitioner will be placed in danger if the extension is denied, it will almost always extend the CPO.

    Petitioners will often make very creating arguments when seeking CPO extension. In one of my recent Washington, D.C. cases, the attorney for the petitioner used my client’s compliance with the original CPO as reason to extend the CPO. Her “logic,” was that since my client was in compliance with the CPO, it must have acted as a deterrent against his behavior, and should therefore be extended. As I pointed out in my written opposition to the extension, extending a CPO because it worked so well, means that a respondent’s compliance with the CPO actually counts against him. The faultiness of this reasoning boggles the mind, and still makes me scratch my head.

     

    While “good cause,” is a low bar that needs to be met to obtain a CPO extension, it still prevents the court from simply rubber stamping an extension request. The petitioner will have to prove his or her case at a hearing, and convince the court that the extension is supported by the law. Since an extension means that a respondent in a small city like Washington, D.C. will have another year of hoping to avoid walking into the same restaurant or grocery store as the petitioner, putting up a fight may be warranted. The consequences of violating a CPO are too serious to take lightly.

  • 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.

  • Stuck in the Past: Why MPD Refuses to Record Sexual Solicitation Arrests

    Everything is recorded. There are cameras on street corners and in every store. Almost every man, woman, and child has a cell phone that takes crystal clear HD video. There are dash-cams in many city’s police cars, and some D.C. police have started wearing body cameras, joining a national trend. Audio and video equipment is tiny, and relatively inexpensive. Yet despite the prevalence of recording technology and the obvious value this type of evidence has, guess how many MPD prostitution arrests I’ve been able to look at or listen to. The answer is zero. Nada. Zip. While it may be the closing days of 2014, MPD continues to conduct prostitution sting operations as if it were 1914. When I try a solicitation of prostitution case in a D.C. court, I half expect to find sawdust on the floor and a spittoon in the corner. 

    There are few types of D.C. criminal cases that would benefit more from audio recording evidence than solicitation of prostitution. The D.C. code makes it unlawful for any person to engage in prostitution or to solicit for prostitution. What that means is that the prosecution must prove that a defendant either offered a prostitute money for sex, or a prostitute offered sex for money. Obviously then, the outcome of a sexual solicitation trial is determined by the conversation that took place between the defendant and the undercover officer. Despite this being the primary and all-important evidence in a prostitution case, the D.C. police do not record the conversation.

    So how is a case prosecuted? What evidence is presented? Well generally, your D.C. solicitation of prostitution lawyer will receive a police report of only a couple paragraphs. These paragraphs consist almost entirely of the conversation between the defendant and the undercover. Of course, the defendant doesn’t help write the report. It is based solely on the memory of the undercover officer. Why is that a problem? Well, for one thing, an undercover may make a dozen arrests on a night. That means that they’ve had a dozen conversations during which they try to lure (is this entrapment?) a defendant into offering money for sex. And that doesn’t include the conversations that don’t lead to arrests. You try talking that much, then try to remember exactly what was said. Can’t be done.

    Most undercover officers in prostitution cases claim that they write their reports right after the arrest of an individual prostitute or john. While one may be skeptical of this claim, it doesn’t change anything even if it’s true. That’s because an undercover dressed like a hooker and spending her shift walking around in high heels and fishnet stockings has one goal, and one goal only: make sexual solicitation arrests. So every conversation she has is heading in one direction, and she’s going to think it went in that direction whether it actually did or not. Human memory is bad, and it gets worse when you have a preconceived notion.

    The easy solution to the dubious recollection of a goal-oriented police officer is to have that officer wired with a recording device. But MPD doesn’t see this as a problem, because they would rather have their officers testify from memory, than watch cases fall apart with exculpatory audio recordings. At trial, your D.C. criminal lawyer with experience in prostitution and solicitation cases will help expose weaknesses in the government’s case. He or she will attack the memory of the testifying officer, and question the absence of a recording. After consulting with your lawyer, you may decide to tell your own version of events. Without an audio recording, the judge will have to decide guilt or innocence based on the credibility of the witnesses. Unfortunately, this is the best we can do until MPD joins us in the 21st century.

  • The Devil is in the Details: Deferred Sentencing Agreements in Washington, D.C. Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Cases

    In general, plea offers made in Washington, D.C. DUI cases aren’t worth the paper they‘re printed on. They essentially consist of inviting the DUI defendant to plead guilty to DUI. For a first offense without an elevated blood alcohol content or the presence of illegal drugs, the prosecutor almost always indicates that they will be seeking probation. That’s great, since no one wants to go to jail, but in reality it’s very unlikely that a D.C. judge is going to impose jail time on a run-of-the mill first offense DUI, anyway. Therefore, a plea offer that has the DUI defendant pleading guilty to DUI and the government asking for probation, isn’t really much of a plea offer at all. It offers virtually no incentive for a defendant to plead guilty early in the case, and almost every serious DUI lawyer will urge his client to reject the plea and schedule the case for trial.

    Occasionally, however, the facts of a particular D.C. DUI case are such that a plea agreement is worth seeking and/or considering. For a first time offender, the most desirable disposition may be what is called a Deferred Sentencing Agreement (DSA). Offered only in certain cases, a DSA allows a DUI defendant to avoid a DUI conviction if he or she accomplishes the tasks outlined in the agreement. Usually this includes the completion of community service, a Victim Impact Panel, an Alcohol Safety Program, and a contribution to the Victim of Violent Crimes Fund.  If the DUI defendant successfully completes everything, the case is dismissed.

    There are several important things to know about a DSA in Washington, D.C.  First, it requires a defendant to enter a plea of guilty to DUI. After the plea is accepted by the court, the case is continued for sentencing for one year. It is during this year that the DUI defendant will complete the requirements of the agreement. If successful, when the defendant returns to court after the year elapses, he is permitted to withdraw his guilty plea, and the government dismisses the DUI case. If the defendant fails to complete the tasks, or is rearrested within the year period, then he or she will be sentenced on the DUI, and will have a conviction.

    DSA’s are only offered in a small percentage of cases, and often your Washington, D.C. DUI lawyer has to convince the prosecutor that your case merits such an offer. Since D.C. prosecutors are generally overburdened and therefore not always good communicators, this sometimes means multiple emails and phone calls are required from your DUI lawyer. In addition, a DSA is almost never available to defendants who refused the breath test or who blew over a .10. Finally, in almost no cases are defendants with previous DUI convictions eligible for this agreement.

    Even if a DSA is offered to a Washington D.C. DUI defendant, you and your lawyer need to decide if this agreement is right for you. Although a defendant who successfully completes the agreement does not have a DUI conviction on her record, there still may be consequences. Depending on your occupation, the entry of a guilty plea (even if it is eventually withdrawn), may cause problems with your employer. In addition, if you are licensed to drive in the District of Columbia, the guilty plea may or may not trigger a driver’s license suspension. The D.C. DMV is inconsistent about when they do or do not issue a suspension, but I tell all of my DSA recipients to be aware of the possibility.  Finally, failure to complete a DSA essentially means that you have plead guilty and been sentenced on a DUI. So defendants should think long and hard about whether they will be diligent enough to reap the benefit of the agreement.

    Like with any plea agreement, whether to enter into a DSA requires an in-depth understanding of the facts of your case and the possible consequences of your decision.

  • 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.