Posts

Rebel Thinking & Defense

I am going to digress from a legal analysis this month. When not practicing law, I enjoy, among other activities, walking and gardening. Both lend themselves to listening to podcasts. One of my favorite podcasts is “Hidden Brain” on NPR. The host, Shankar Vedantam, “uses science and storytelling to reveal the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, shape our choices and direct our relationships.” You can imagine that this would be insightful to a trial attorney!

A recent episode entitled, “Rebel with a Cause” discusses the importance of being willing to break out of the norm. The old adage, “Think outside the box” has truth. The truth is that it is important to reevaluate our suppositions from time to time. Nowhere is this truer than in defending persons accused by the mighty government.

What does this have to do with me?

Recently, I was approached by a client who was represented by one of the preeminent Atlanta attorneys. The attorney had negotiated what, under nearly all circumstances, would have been a terrific plea agreement to avoid significant time in federal prison. However, the plea of guilty would result in time in federal prison, the client’s green card not being renewed, and, ultimately, deportation.

My client hired me to replace this other high-profile attorney. I looked at the case with a fresh set of eyes and found the problem. I filed a motion to dismiss the indictment. Before a United States Judge ruled on my motion, the government dismissed the charges!

Take a Fresh Look

Back to the “Rebel” podcast. There is no need to be the proverbial “bull in the china cabinet.” I have encountered those attorneys. They usually don’t last long. It is also inappropriate to be the defense attorney who is the “waterboy” for the government. Do I even have to comment on what we think of that “attorney?”

It is critical to look at every case as if it’s the first case. Bring your experience to the case. It’s invaluable to bring experience to a case. But, it’s also important to look at it and think about it as if it is the first case you have ever reviewed.

The other experienced attorney just followed the routine. He saw evidence of guilt in the form of a wiretap and phone calls. He then negotiated what would otherwise be an excellent plea disposition. However, he did not see the glaring defect in the case that would require dismissal.

In “Hidden Brain” terminology: Experience + Fresh (Rebel) Thinking = Best Chance of Success!

by John Lovell

Bestiality and Necrophilia Crimes in Georgia

by Mike Jacobs

 

Bestiality is a serious crime in the State of Georgia.

O.C.G.A. § 16-6-6:  A person commits the offense of bestiality when he performs or submits to any sexual act with an animal involving the sex organs of the one and the mouth, anus, penis or vagina of the other.

A person convicted of bestiality shall be punished by imprisonment not less than 1 nor more than 5 years.

Necrophilia is a serious crime in Georgia.

O.C.G.A. § 16-6-7: A person commits the offense of necrophilia when he performs any sexual act with a dead human body involving the sex organs of the one and the mouth, anus, penis or vagina of the other.

A person convicted of necrophilia is punishable by imprisonment for not less than 1 nor more than 10 years.

I would be happy to meet with you any time for a free consultation to discuss your case, your rights and your defenses to these allegations.

Call me at 404-581-0999 and let’s schedule a time to meet and discuss your case.

It is your life, your criminal record and you deserve the best representation possible.

Child Molestation in Georgia

by Mike Jacobs

Child Molestation is a serious crime in the State of Georgia. It is imperative that you retain a qualified attorney immediately if you are being accused of child molestation. Many allegations of child molestation are false. Even if you know the allegation of child molestation against you is made up, you still must take it very seriously and aggressively defend yourself.

O.C.G.A. § 16-6-4 defines child molestation as follows:

A person commits the offense of child molestation when such person: Does any immoral or indecent act to or in the presence of or with any child under the age of 16 years with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of either the child or the accused OR by means of electronic device, transmits images of a person engaging in, inducing, or otherwise participating in any immoral or indecent act to a child under the age of 16 years with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of either the child or the person.

Child Molestation is a specific intent crime. Whether the accused has the requisite intent when he committed the act of child molestation is up to a jury. The jury can infer the requisite intent of “arousing or satisfying sexual desires” from the commission of the act. However, proof of the accused’s actual arousal is not required. Intent can be inferred from the testimony of the victim or from the actions of the accused.

No penetration is required for child molestation. All that is required is the touching of the child’s body along with the requisite intent. It does not matter whether the child was clothed or unclothed in determining whether the act was immoral or indecent.

The indictment does not have to allege the specific details of the child molestation. It can use general language of the statute.

Child molestation can also be performed by the electronic transmission of images of a person engaging in, inducing or otherwise participating in any immoral or indecent act to a child under the age of 16 years old with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of either the child or the accused. All that is required is that either the accused or the alleged victim resides in the State of Georgia.

The punishment for child molestation is a mandatory of 5 years to 20 years in prison. If it a second conviction for child molestation then it can be life in prison or a mandatory 10 years up to 30 years in prison.

If someone is making an allegation of child molestation against you, it is imperative that you do not talk to the police, do not talk to the person who is accusing you of child molestation and call us.

Time is of the essence to properly investigate the allegations.

I would be happy to meet with you any time for a free consultation to discuss your case, your rights and your defenses to these allegations.
Call me at 404-581-0999 and let’s schedule a time to meet and discuss your case.

It is your life, your criminal record and you deserve the best representation possible.

First Offender Sentencing in Georgia

First offender treatment is available in Georgia for anyone who has not been previously convicted of a felony and is not charged with a serious violent felony. Serious violent felonies are murder, felony murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery. Anyone charged with one of those offenses is automatically ineligible for first offender unless the charge is reduced to a lesser offense.

If a defendant receives first offender treatment, it can be both a blessing and a curse. If there are no issues during the period of probation, then no official conviction will ever be reported and the record itself will seal from public view. However, if the defendant commits a new offense while on probation or has any issues at all, then the judge has discretion to revoke the first offender status and re-sentence the defendant up the maximum sentence allowed by law.

While serving the sentence which will undoubtedly involve a period of probation, the defendant is not technically convicted of a crime but still cannot possess a firearm. After successful completion, all gun rights are restored.

Finally, first offender status can be granted retroactively if the defendant was eligible for first offender treatment at the time of the original plea but was not informed of his or her eligibility. Still, there is discretion, and the judge must find by a preponderance of the evidence that the ends of justice and the welfare of society are served by granting retroactive first offender status.

If you are charged with a crime in Georgia, then you should always consult with an attorney as to whether you are a candidate for first offender treatment. If you have already pled guilty, then you should still reach out to discuss whether you can receive retroactive first offender treatment. Give us a call today at 404-581-0999.

The “Safety Valve” Alternative to Mandatory Minimum Sentencing in Federal Court

by John Lovell

I recently wrote about mandatory minimum sentences in federal court. There is a means to be sentenced below the mandatory minimum sentence, the “safety valve” provision.

First, let me tell you what the safety valve is not: It is not a first offender statute similar to the Georgia statute where, when certain conditions are met, there is no conviction on the record of the beneficiary. A federal conviction, with rare exceptions, remains a federal conviction for life.

Safety valve is only available for certain narcotics related crimes.

There are two benefits obtained from safety valve in United States District Court: 1) A two level reduction in the sentencing guidelines, and 2) “Permission” for a United States District Judge to sentence below the guidelines.

There are five requirements to be granted a safety valve:

(1) No more than 1 criminal history point under the sentencing guidelines (you will need to consult an attorney as calculation of criminal history points can be tricky. For instance, one could be on probation for shoplifting a $25 pair of sunglasses while committing the crime charged in federal court and not be eligible for safety valve);

(2) The accused “did not use violence or credible threats of violence or possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon (or induce another participant to do so) in connection with the offense;”

(3) The “offense did not result in death or serious bodily injury” to anyone;

(4) The accused was not a leader or organizer of the offense; and

(5) the person told the prosecutor all that he knows about the offense.

The last requirement can be tricky. The person seeking safety valve must meet with the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) and, usually, one or more agents (the case agent) and tell them everything they know about the case. Technically, it is not “cooperation,” but, in practice, it often becomes cooperation. The AUSA and case agent are permitted to ask questions. They may ask for names, locations, and endless other details. If, at sentencing, the AUSA tells the judge that you were not truthful, and the judge believes the AUSA, safety valve must be denied. Of course, a zealous attorney will assist in proving that the statement was truthful where facts demonstrate that it was truthful. However, the best practice is to not participate in the safety valve unless you are prepared to tell the complete truth.

The best advice: Seek the advice of an attorney with extensive experience in federal court.

The Commerce Clause to the United States Constitution and Criminal Law

I am interrupting my review of sentencing law to write about the “Commerce Clause” of the United States Constitution. Recently, I listened to an excellent podcast on the Commerce Clause. I encourage you to listen to is here.

The commerce clause is the legal fiction used to grant the federal government virtual unfettered jurisdiction in matters traditionally reserved to the states. The producers of the podcast at More Perfect note that the Commerce Clause was used effectively during the civil rights era to bring freedom to the oppressed. What they did not have time to develop is that the commerce clause has since been used to lock up a disproportionate number of African Americans. Until relatively recently, crime was largely a matter for states. Today, the federal government has gone beyond its traditional role to prosecute street-level, hand-to-hand drug sales, local fraud, and a host of other crimes that do not have a meaningful impact on interstate commerce.

Since the federal government got involved in the prosecution of what was typically thought of as local crime, the number of persons incarcerated in federal prisons has risen drastically. For instance, from 1980 to 2015, persons incarcerated in federal prison increased from 22,037 to 185,917, a 743% increase. Federal incarceration for drug offenses during the same period is even more severe with a 1826% increase. This prison growth occurred while the U.S. population increased by less than 50%. And, with over 10,000 attorneys, DOJ is the world’s largest “law firm!”

So, while most Americans were pleased to see the federal government use the commerce clause to desegregate the south, today it is frequently used as a means of inserting the federal government into local criminal matters. You will have to read my recent blog on mandatory minimum sentences to appreciate the impact of the federal government being involved in low-level and local crimes.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences in Federal Court

by John Lovell

If you’ve been charged with a federal crime in the state of Georgia, many federal crimes require a “mandatory minimum” sentence. Mandatory minimum sentences reflect a “one-size-fits-all” form of justice. It is the legislative and executive branches of the government imposing arbitrary sentences without information pertaining to the person convicted or the specifics of the crime. Mandatory minimum sentences strip the judge hearing the case from deciding what is a just and fair sentence.* Mandatory minimum sentences range from 2 years to life without parole. Families Against Mandatory Minimums has compiled a list of crimes and mandatory minimums. These mandatory minimum sentences are not just unique to federal crimes in Georgia, but are mandatory all across the country.

There are some ways to avoid mandatory minimum sentences. First and foremost, don’t commit a crime that exposes you to man mins! Obvious, right? If you are charged, seek an attorney who is familiar with federal law. I have seen many an attorney counsel a client to plea guilty, unaware of the mandatory minimum sentence. I have seen this where a life sentence was imposed. There are few circumstances where a person would voluntarily agree to be sentenced to life in prison, particularly for a drug offense.

Also, it may be possible to negotiate a plea to a charge that does not require a mandatory minimum sentence.

Finally, learn whether an exception applies that allows the judge to NOT impose a mandatory minimum sentence. Next month I’ll write about the most common exception under federal law, the “safety valve.”

*One of many examples: I had the privilege of representing a young man on appeal who received a mandatory life sentence for delivering drugs. There was no dispute but that he was a “mule.” I did not represent him at trial but read the transcript of the sentencing hearing where the conservative, George W. Bush appointed judge, described the mandatory sentence as “savage, cruel and unusual.” I filed a federal habeas motion and was able to get the young man’s sentence reduced to a term of years where he will, in the coming years, be free and not lose his life to a mandatory minimum sentence.

Sentencing Guidelines in Federal Court in Criminal Cases

Perhaps the biggest difference between defending a criminal case in federal court versus trial courts in Georgia is the sentencing guidelines. The federal sentencing guidelines manual is complex, it includes over 500 pages of rules and formulas.

Often, to determine whether to go to trial, a person accused of a federal crime must be informed of the likely outcome of a plea and of trial. This is how one makes an informed decision. I have practiced as a federal prosecutor and private attorney since 2000. I have seen changes that have significantly affected the sentencing guidelines. The most significant change came in 2005 when the Unites States Supreme Court found that the guidelines would no longer be deemed mandatory (the “Booker” case). Prior to Booker, judges were largely compelled to follow the guidelines. Federal judges lacked discretion to determine what is a fair sentence. Lawyers were left to argue for a sentence within a narrow “guideline range.”

Today, federal judges have discretion and the lawyers advocating for clients are critical. A lawyer who has mastered the guidelines must first strive to place a client at the lowest possible guideline level. Then, the skilled attorney can argue for a “reasonable sentence” below the sentencing guideline range.

If you’d like to read the federal sentencing guidelines for yourself, they may be found at https://www.ussc.gov/guidelines.

The sentencing guidelines are one of the two most critical factors in determining what a sentence will likely be. The other is mandatory minimum sentences. I will discuss that in my next blog.

Trials in Federal Court

by John Lovell

For my first blog with Peach State Lawyers, I’ll address trials in federal court. Because every client is cloaked in a presumption of innocence, I start with the view that the government has made an error in charging my client. My concern is based on my experience – the last three cases I tried in federal court resulted in acquittals for all or the most serious charges. The three trials resulted in acquittals for 1) murder and a gun possession charge, 2) two counts of attempted murder and a parallel gun possession charge for each count, and 3) four counts alleging the production of child pornography.

All three clients knew they were innocent of these charges and told me they wished to go to trial. After evaluating the government’s cases, I agreed with them and prepared for trial. The murder acquittal is an example of how we defend serious charges. In this case, we had more than a mere attack on the credibility of the government’s witnesses, we put up a case for innocence that was stronger than the federal government’s case. Together with my investigator, we discovered the person who committed the murder. We found witnesses who saw the murder and they were more credible than the “snitches” who testified with hopes of getting themselves out of trouble.

Not every case is appropriate for trial. However, a skilled attorney advises a client whether the case is triable.

When searching for an attorney in federal court, ask direct questions such as:
• How many cases have you handled in the courthouse where my case will be heard?
• How many trials have you represented a client as first chair (not as an assistant)?
• What were the outcomes of the cases you tried?

If an attorney tells you of terrific outcomes, ask to see proof. It is your duty as a person defending his freedom to find out which attorneys are marketing geniuses and which are skilled trial attorneys (some are both). The attorney focused on marketing may not have the skills to represent you in court. Even if the case is not a case that should be tried, you do not want an attorney negotiating for you who has a reputation of avoiding trials. You want an attorney who brings credibility to the table! After all, this may be the most important decision you make.

Peach State Lawyer Welcomes John Lovell to Our Blogging Team

I’d like to introduce a new member of our blogging team, John Lovell. John has practiced criminal law for a quarter century as an Assistant DA in New York and Atlanta. He also worked for 6.5 years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta. For over 11 years now he has zealously defended the accused. A recent successful case John handled typifies his work ethic.

The United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, the top federal court covering Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, awarded John’s client a new appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. This will almost certainly result in a new trial. In 2009, his client was convicted of murder in Coweta County. However, she did not receive the trial the United States Constitution requires.

John accepted the case after his client had lost a trial and lost on appeal. 99+% of the time, the case is over at that time. However, as John looked closely at the record in the case, it became apparent to him that critical testimony was presented to the jury without his client having access to her attorney. John raised this issue in a habeas proceeding in Georgia. The judge who heard the evidence ordered a new trial. However, the state appealed the decision to the Georgia Supreme Court. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled unanimously that John’s client was not entitled to a new trial and that the conviction would stand.

John and his client did not give up. John was convinced that the unanimous Georgia Supreme Court was unanimously wrong. There was only one avenue available … an “appeal” to federal court using a mechanism called the federal habeas corpus. The federal habeas corpus is a mine field. The rules seem designed to exclude cases from the courts. The slightest mistake results in the case being forever dismissed. John had to flawlessly follow the rules and meet every deadline just to have his client’s case heard.

The battle wore on through federal court going all the way to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (one court below the U.S. Supreme Court). After reading his brief and hearing John’s arguments, the 11th circuit granted his client a new direct appeal which, based on the law in Georgia, should result in a new trial.

John began representing this client in 2011. It has taken six years to get a favorable result that will stand. John showed persistence on behalf of his client, a trait we pursue at Peachstate Law.