November 19, 2007

The case of Genarlow Wilson

The case of Genarlow Wilson is provides yet another reason that the general public should never blindly trust the government. This is true regardless of how strongly state legislators emphasize that their main goal is to protect their constituents from injustice and cruelty, including those constituents who happen to be accused of committing a crime.

Genarlow Wilson was convicted by a Georgia jury of aggravated child molestation for the crime of receiving oral sex from a consenting 15-year-old at a New Year’s Eve party. For this action, he received a mandatory state prison sentence of ten years, of which he served two. One of the ironies here is that, according to the applicable laws in Georgia at the time, if he had had sexual intercourse with the consenting 15 year old, he’d be facing only a misdemeanor. The other irony is that the state intervened and changed the law, defining underaged, consensual oral sex as a misdemeanor, but refused to grandfather Genarlow Wilson in. So he sat in prison.

Finally, on October 26, 2007, the Georgia State Supreme Court ruled that Genarlow’s 10-year term amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment,” and he was released after serving two of his 10 years in prison.

This is a very straightforward illustration of the peril of trusting the government in an unchecked fashion. I have been practicing criminal defense for nine years, and the assumption is always that the state is righteous, and my client is dreadfully in the wrong. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant; the important part to remember is that thorough, consistent checks on the state are the only way to ever come close to having a fair criminal justice system.

November 18, 2007

Mike Nifong and The Duke Lacross Case

Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong stated publicly that a small group of lacrosse players from Duke University raped a woman. After putting these young men and the University through a living hell, it was Nifong who was the ultimate wrong doer. He has had his bar license taken from him and he, himself, is facing criminal charges. Don’t fool yourself. The Nifong problem is not isolated to Durham, North Carolina. Quite often, I find reasonable doubt that is clearly obvious in a court file provided by the prosecutor; however, the young and inexperienced prosecutor, fueled by their need for trial experience and/or directed by a supervising district attorney looking to make a name for him or herself pushes the case to trial. Regardless of what the underlying reason is, the issue is people’s lives. Things happen. People make mistakes, whether they are the a private person or public employees like law enforcement detectives, police officers and/or criminalists. D.A.’s should focus on the facts. If there is a questionable issue in a case the case should be either dismissed or reduced to give a wake up call to a person who MAY have made a mistake. What shouldn’t happen is a case being pushed to trial when the facts are questionable or reasonable doubt exists from the facts. Either way, if you are the unlikely sole looking at criminal charges, you better be ready to fight like hell.

November 14, 2007

Right To Remain Silent

Your right to remain silent is probably one of the most well known rights we enjoy as Americans; yet, at that time when that right is most important, nobody asserts it. In fact not asserting and remaining silent is better than giving a false statement thinking that is going to get rid of the cops. It’s just not true. Your right to remain silent rises and falls with you everyday. The belief that the more you cooperate by way of giving all the facts surrounding your pending arrest just following the very arrest that triggered the police contact is a risky idea. If you may be guilty of something, most likely those cooperative statements are going to bring you down by a DA or jury. If you think it is a good idea to lie than you may have been better with the truthful, cooperative statements when you get to jury and the different jury instructions you could run into. The best thing to do is exactly what the right says you can do: Remain silent; yet, polite about it!

November 11, 2007

Former Orange County Church Pastors Decline DA’s Plea Deal

Two former pastors of an Orange County church turned down a plea deal to serve a three-year prison term on charges of grand theft and conspiracy to commit fraud. According to an article in The Orange County Register , Richard and Philip Cunningham – father and son – turned down a plea bargain on the felony counts for which they could’ve faced up to six years in state prison.

Richard Cunningham was the founder of the Calvary Baptist Church of Yorba Linda in 1971 and his son, Philip, became the church’s senior pastor about 12 years ago. Both pleaded not guilty to the felony counts and a trial date is yet to be set, the Register reported.

However, this is not the Cunninghams’ last chance for a plea deal. The judge in this case has asked for a report from the county Probation Department, which will present the bulk of the evidence in favor of and against the two former pastors. For example, it could contain statements from those who support them as well as those who consider themselves their victims. When this report is presented at the next pre-trial hearing, both sides will have one more chance to work out a plea deal.

Prosecutors allege that the two have taken more than $3 million from the congregation and a school that is affiliated with the church. According to the article, the Cunninghams have since returned that amount of money to the church. Defense attorneys maintain that the losses that are being alleged are highly inflated and this is an attempt to take advantage of the Cunninghams.

An allegation of fraud or grand theft, as in this case, could have extremely serious repercussions including prison time. Our Orange County Criminal Defense attorneys take the time to listen to your side of the story. We conduct our independent investigation thoroughly. We have former prosecutors and former police investigators on our side. These are people who know how a prosecution compiles its case and what facts and details are missing or weak in that case.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a grand theft or fraud, call us for a free consultation. We will schedule an appointment to meet with you right away and find a way to get you the best possible result, be it reducing the charges, fines/penalties or getting you acquitted.

November 9, 2007

Not Guilty Plea Entered In Fatal San Fernando Valley Road Rage Crash

Two men have pleaded not guilty to charges that they caused a fatal San Fernando Valley road rage crash that killed a 5-year-old boy and seriously injured the boy’s mother and infant sister, according to an article posted on KCBS TV’s Web site .

Brian Barnes, 44 and 19-year-old Armando Ayon both face one count of murder and vehicular manslaughter and three counts of reckless driving, the article states. In addition, officials have charged Barnes with three counts of leaving the scene of an accident. The Oct. 9 incident reportedly began when the two men got in a fight as they were each driving in their respective vehicles.

Suddenly, they started driving erratically and were weaving in and out of traffic at a high rate of speed – reportedly between 50 and 90 miles per hour, all the time trying to cut each other off, police said. The incident came to a tragic end when Barnes suddenly hit the brakes and Ayon in an attempt to avoid his vehicle, slammed into the rear of a parked car. That car in turn plowed into another vehicle crushing the boy, Ayman, his sister Ikra Arif and their 31-year-old mother, Syeda Arif, officials said.

The injured were then transported to a local hospital. Ayman died and his mother and sister reportedly suffered critical injuries. Both men are being held in lieu of $1 million bail. There is no question that these are grave charges and if convicted, both men face some serious prison time.

The best thing anyone charged with a serious traffic-related crime or driving-related crime can do is to hire an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who can thoroughly investigate the case including detailed reconstruction of the accident. We are in a unique position of successfully handling vehicular manslaughter cases both as prosecutors and defense attorneys. We also work with some of the top collision and alcohol experts in the state. We have former district attorneys and former police investigators on our team.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a Southern California driving-related crime call us for a free consultation right away. We have one goal and that is to get you the best possible result on your case and keep you out of jail.

November 6, 2007

Teen Arrested On Suspicion Of Hacking Orange County’s 911 System

A 19-year-old man from the state of Washington was arrested recently and faces numerous felony charges including those involving illegal computer access of Orange County’s 911 System, according to a news report posted on the NBC Web site .

Snohomish County resident, Randall Ellis, is believed to have gotten into the Orange County’s 911 System and placed a false report of a fatal shooting and threats at a couple’s Lake Forest residence. Ellis was 18 years old when he allegedly pulled this out-of-state prank, reports the article. Ellis’ actions reportedly resulted in a SWAT team being dispatched to the Lake Forest home and causing the couple to be put in harm’s way. Authorities also believe Ellis to be responsible for more pranks in other states that were also 911 response related.

Prosecutors are obviously taking this prank very seriously. Ellis being currently held without bail and Deputy District Attorney David Demurjian promising to seek a bail amount of at least $500,000. Ellis, if convicted, could be looking at spending up to 18 years in prison.

People tend to pull such pranks possibly with a false sense of security and the belief their actions will be untraceable. But that almost is never the case. Farrah Emami of the D.A.'s office points out in the article that the origin of Ellis’ false report was traced back using forensic computer technology by the investigators from the district attorney's High Tech Crimes Unit and sheriff's investigators.

High tech or computer crimes are serious offenses. Those alleged of hacking into bank and credit card accounts and other databases containing people’s private information stand to face many years in state or federal prison – depending on who indicts the suspects. At the same time, these are complicated crimes. Many times, it’s not as black and white as the DA makes it out to be.

There are gray areas and it takes an experienced criminal defense attorney, who has both the experience as well as the technical and investigative expertise to get to the bottom of these cases. If you or a loved one has been charged with a computer crime or a high tech crime, it would be in your best interest to contact a Southern California criminal defense attorney who specializes in these types of crimes. It could make the difference between an acquittal and doing hard prison time. Call us right away to discuss your case.

November 3, 2007

Arson Tip Reward Increased in Santiago Fire

In a recent display of their resolve and commitment, authorities have bumped up the reward for assistance and promised to track down the people responsible for causing the Santiago Fire in Orange County. According to an article in The Los Angeles Times , the reward for any leads that would bring about a conviction has now grown to $285,000.

FBI Special Agent Herb Brown is quoted in the article as stating "The FBI will bring to bear all of its national resources . . . to make sure that we track, apprehend and put this person or persons behind bars where they belong." The Santiago Fire that is believed to be the result of arson, was ignited at two points of origin at about 6 p.m. Sunday on the west side of Santiago Canyon Road, the newspaper reported.

The fire alarmed residents and officials alike with its ferocity and speed - burning down three miles in the first fifteen minutes of being reported. It finally had spread over 27,000-acres, injuring four firefighters, gutting 22 homes and buildings and causing damage to 20 more. According to the article the radio station KFI-AM (640) has contributed $100,000 to the reward amount, while a number of law enforcement agencies have given the rest of the money. The Orange County Fire Authority confirmed the total amount.

It is very obvious arson is an extremely serious offense and one that exhausts resources and causes hardship all around. Additionally, officials often face the burden of dealing with copycat Orange County arson acts. Orange County and much of California threatened almost year-round with blazes will have very little sympathy for arsonists and we agree these criminals should be held accountable.

However, as experienced Southern California Criminal Defense Attorneys we have seen numerous occasions where situations such as the above pose problems. Officials under intense pressure and media scrutiny to solve the case, speed up their investigations often, at the expense of the truth. We hope authorities take their time to look into the facts of the case and don’t act in haste.

Hundreds of people lost their homes in last week’s wildfires. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.