September 10, 2013
Two years ago, the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services took steps to ensure that fewer Virginians will be misidentified as criminal suspects in eyewitness lineups. The agency acted to limit misidentification primarily because the people of Virginia can only truly have faith in the criminal justice system if it prosecutes individuals fairly and if prosecutions are informed by accurate information. When an individual’s criminal defense is unjustly influenced by eyewitness misidentification, no one benefits.
Unacceptably, only a few police departments in the whole of Virginia have adopted the agency’s model since it was released two years ago. Out of 144 police departments and law enforcement agencies throughout the state which have written policies on suspect identification, only nine have adopted the low-cost misidentification prevention model. Over 100 more have failed to even write up policies on the issue, even though all law enforcement agencies were instructed to create them by the Virginia General Assembly eight years ago.
Suspect misidentification by eyewitnesses to criminal acts is a serious problem in Virginia. Of the 16 wrongfully convicted men set free by the state in recent years due to DNA evidence that proved their innocence, 13 were misidentified by witnesses in either lineups or photographs prior to their wrongful convictions.
At this point, the model is voluntary. But if police departments continue to fail to implement the model, lawmakers may become compelled to make the model mandatory procedure. Understanding the potential consequences of inaction and yet failing to act on this critical issue is simply unacceptable at this point in time.
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Many suspect lineups remain flawed across VA,” Frank Green, Aug. 26, 2013
July 2, 2013
Newly released federal data suggests that a disturbing trend has developed in regards to drug arrests in America. The data indicates that in 2010 alone, black Americans were arrested for simple possession and related marijuana charges at rates between three and eight times higher than white Americans were. This data is particularly disturbing given that the rates at which black and white Americans tend to possess and use marijuana are roughly the same.
Federal law only recently began to address the racial disparity in sentencing for cocaine-related offenses. It now seems that reform is needed in other areas of federal drug law enforcement. If a primary goal of the criminal justice system is to be consistent in application and general enforcement of the law, then these statistics strongly indicate that some mechanism within the system is broken and doing a disservice to the system’s larger goals.
After reviewing the data, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) constructed a report analyzing it which was released this month. The lead author of the work is the director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. He recently explained that “We found that in virtually every county in the country, police have wasted taxpayer money enforcing marijuana laws in a racially biased manner.”
As the public’s attitudes toward marijuana shift in favor of legalization in certain contexts, legislators and law enforcement will likely slowly begin to focus away from cracking down on offenses like simple possession. But for many reasons, this shift in focus does not delegitimize the fact that reform is needed urgently. Any time one population is held accountable for criminal activity in far greater numbers than another population similarly engaged in illegal behavior, discrimination threatens the integrity of the system as a whole. For that reason alone, this issue is in need of immediate reform.
Source: The New York Times, “Blacks Are Singled Out for Marijuana Arrests, Federal Data Suggests,” Ian Urbina, June 3, 2013
May 16, 2013
Some laws are crystal clear, while others are riddled with nuance and exceptions. When it comes to laws involving intimacy, most crimes are fairly obvious. Adults may legally engage in consensual sexual encounters, provided that both parties are of sound mind and are not related closely by blood. Generally, sex crimes all exist in scenarios that do not meet those specific criteria. However, it is possible that even certain consensual encounters between adults will now be considered criminal in Virginia.
Many educators, legislators and judges are concerned about the increasing number of sexual relationships forming between Virginia’s teachers and students. As a result, the State Crime Commission is even going so far as to study the potential implementation of laws that would prohibit consensual sexual relationships between teachers and students who are aged 18 or older.
The logic behind this proposal is that the power dynamic between educators and students, even if they are no longer minors, makes their sexual relationships inherently unequal. This inequality may potentially breed corrupt teaching practices and cause the students to be taken advantage of.
The Commission will likely weigh this issue over the course of the next several months before making any recommendations to lawmakers. It will hopefully consider not only the best ways to protect students but also the general predictability and consistency of the state’s criminal legal code. When you start to narrow the ability of adults to make their own decisions about who they may and may not be intimate with, you restrict freedom of choice and diminish the concept of personal accountability. Moving in this direction should not be a decision considered lightly.
Source: NBC12.com, “Commission to study toughening child sex laws,” Brent Solomon, May 8, 2013
April 16, 2012
Virginia’s recently-passed ignition interlock law has set off a debate between groups battling drunk driving and those that represent offenders about whether the new law goes too far.
An ignition interlock system works by disabling the car if the driver has been drinking. A car with an installed ignition interlock will not start if the driver blows into an attached Breathalyzer and registers a certain level of alcohol on his or her breath. To discourage a friend from taking the test for the driver, the system requires that the driver blow into the device at random times while the vehicle is in motion.
The new law, which takes effect in July, will require virtually all first time DUI offenders-whether they were highly intoxicated or just slightly over the legal limit-to install ignition interlocks in their cars. The former law only required repeat offenders and those with a blood alcohol level above .14 to install ignition interlocks.
As a result of the new law, about four times the number of people will be required to install ignition interlocks. Each offender will have to pay for the installation, which is not cheap-about $480 for a six-month installation.
Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving contend that ignition interlocks reduce repeat offenses. Such groups say that the 274 alcohol-related motorist deaths and 5,500 injures during 2010 warrant the tough measures.
However, public defenders and some lawyers say that the law goes too far. They contend that the new law will encourage more cases to go to trial, taxing an already overburdened court system. In addition, they say that the interlock installation and maintenance fees will disproportionately affect low-income drivers.
Source: “Is Va.’s ignition-interlock rule for first-time DUI offenders too tough?” Justin Jouvenal, The Washington Post, 4/8/12
February 28, 2012
First-time driving under the influence (DUI) offenders could soon be forced to install an ignition interlock system on their cars. The Senate recently passed House Bill 279, which extends current ignition interlock requirements to those who’ve been convicted of only one DUI.
Virginia requires an ignition interlock device for repeat DUI offenders — those who’ve been convicted two or more times. But that may soon change. Based on statistics from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), an ignition interlock system could affect nearly 30,000 people in Virginia, at least that was the number of convicted DUI offenders in 2010.
An ignition interlock system essentially disables a car if the driver has been drinking. A car equipped with ignition interlock will not start if the driver blows into the attached Breathalyzer and registers above a 0.02 BAC. The driver will also be required to blow into the device at random intervals while the car is in motion.
If the interlock system does detect alcohol in the driver’s system, after a retest to confirm, the car’s horn will sound and the lights will flash. The ignition interlock system is intended to notify law enforcement that someone is getting behind the wheel despite being impaired.
This is the sixth year in a row that an ignition interlock law has come up in the Virginia legislature. The bill was modified to apply to first-time DUI offenders only if their blood-alcohol concentration was 0.12 or greater. The Senate rejected the change and the bill, as-is, has now passed both the House and the Senate and is headed to Governor McDonnell’s desk.
Source: Loudoun Times, “Senate requires ignition interlocks for drunken drivers” Brian Hill, February 26, 2012
January 31, 2012
By now most have heard about the allegations of sex crimes against former Penn State defensive coach Jerry Sandusky. Many may also be thinking twice about how they judged whether Joe Paterno was also to blame, at least in part, for not doing more to stop the alleged sex abuse.
Sandusky himself faces 40 counts of child sex abuse, stemming from incidents between 1994 to 2009. But Paterno, who passed away from cancer during the course of the release of information and subsequent investigation, was never criminally charged. But, he did lose his job, one that he’d held for over 40 years, as the football coach at Penn State.
As a reminder, it’s a cornerstone of our criminal justice system that one is innocent until proven guilty, something that criminal defense lawyers across the country fight for daily.
Unless you are tried in the court of public opinion, that is. Paterno was considered just as guilty, by many, as if he’d committed the alleged sex crimes himself.
Whenever a sex crime is alleged — including child pornography, rape, incest, statutory rape or an internet-related sex crime — the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney cannot be understated. Many are quick to condemn those accused of sex crimes, particularly those involving children, before all the facts are laid out in a court of law.
It is true that children need and deserve to be protected. But it is also true that people need and deserve to be protected from false or overstated accusations. And a civilized society has no room for an intolerance of both the criminal justice system and the presumption of innocence.
July 29, 2011
Charged with taking more than $10,000, a Richmond police officer was indicted July 20, for money he diverted from the Richmond Coalition of Police, Richmond Police Athletic League and a fundraiser for a fellow officer. Earlier this year, the Goochland County Treasurer, admitted to the local Sherriff that she had taken up to $135,000 from the County. A former employee of the Richmond school district plead guilty to stealing $15,000 of federal grant money intended for the Even Start education program.
While none of these individuals’ thefts come anywhere near the $50 million Ponzi scheme of Bernie Madoff, they are all examples of white collar crimes happening right here in Richmond. Whether out of an intention to deprive or because they did not understand that what they were doing was wrong, each act was a white collar crime: embezzlement.
What is Embezzlement in Virginia?
Embezzlement, generally, is the wrongful or fraudulent use, disposal or concealment of funds in any form that were received for someone else, for an employer or that were otherwise entrusted to the person who wrongfully used them. Embezzlement is deemed to be larceny by Virginia statute and is punished accordingly.
Embezzlement is one of a variety of crimes considered to be a ‘white collar crime.’ Other white collar crimes include securities, wire, bank or computer fraud; identity theft; theft of government property by fraud or deception; and computer hacking.
When Do You Need a Richmond Criminal Defense Attorney?
If you’re being investigated for embezzlement, it’s very likely that you know the investigation is occurring. You should not wait until you are charged with a crime to contact an attorney. Anything that you share with the police may eventually be used against. The best thing you can do is to remain silent and contact an experienced Richmond white collar crimes defense attorney as soon as possible.
It’s important to start building your defense as soon as the police begin building a case against you.
Source: Ex-Richmond school employee embezzled grant money for needy families; Goochland County can recover embezzled funds through bond, insurance; Richmond police officer indicted in embezzlement case