Birmingham Criminal Defense Blog

United States v. Chychula: Grand Jury Investigations and the Obstruction of Justice

Posted in White Collar Crime

Our Birmingham criminal defense attorneys understand that being summonsed to testify at a grand jury hearing can have serious implications on both your liberty and your safety.

In United States v. Chychula, the defendant was charged with nine counts of interstate wire fraud.  According to court records, more than 60 people were victims of the fraud, totaling over four and a half million dollars.

The fraudulent scheme involved sending emails containing false investment information and soliciting wire transfers of millions of dollars from the many victims.  Prior to trial, the defendant was ordered to undergo a forensic competency evaluation where it was determined that she was mentally fit to stand trial.  She ultimately was convicted at a bench trial.

In any federal case, after trial and before sentencing, the judge will likely order a presentence investigation (PSI) and the generation of a presentence report (PSR). In this case, the PSR recommending an enhanced sentence under the federal guidelines based upon obstruction of justice allegations derived from the defendant’s own testimony during a grand jury investigation of her co-defendants.

The interesting question is why a suspect would testify at a grand jury investigation to matters that could lead to charges being filed against that person based upon that person’s own testimony.
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United States v. Smith: Specific Intent Requirement and Federal Crimes

Posted in Federal Criminal Appeals

Our Alabama criminal defense lawyers know that federal cases can involve serious penalties.

United States v. Smith is a federal criminal case involving a conviction for knowingly aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.

laserAccording to court records, authorities in Nebraska were alerted that a green laser pointer had illuminated the cockpit of a commercial airliner. The aircraft in this case was a commercial Boeing 737.  In response, the police dispatched a helicopter along the flight path of the airliner in an attempt to catch the person responsible.  When the police helicopter reached the location of where the incident was reported, an individual aimed a green laser pointer at the helicopter cockpit.

At this point, the pilots attempted to locate the person with the green laser pointer but were unable to do so and turned away. However, before leaving the airspace, the suspect pointed the green laser at the helicopter again.  This series of events repeated itself again and again until police were finally able to apprehend the suspect.  Officers allegedly caught him on the ground while shining the green laser pointer at the police helicopter.  He admitted to police that he was pointing the laser at aircraft earlier in the night but said that he thought they were too far away to actually be hit by the light.  He apparently denied pointing the light at the police helicopter.

His defense was that he could not have “knowingly” aimed the beam at the airplane if he believed it was too far away to be illuminated by the laser.  The question at issue was whether or not the statute was violated if a defendant knowingly points a laser at what he believes to be an aircraft regardless of whether the defendant actually believed the laser was capable of hitting the aircraft.  The trial court concluded that it only mattered that the laser was pointed at the plane and a belief that it was possible to hit the indented target was irrelevant for the purposes of this law.
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United States v. Rojas: The Rules of Evidence and Closing Arguments

Posted in Possession of Controlled Substance

Our Birmingham drug crimes defense lawyers know that thorough understanding of the rules of evidence is essential to proper defense at trial.

United States v. Rojas, a United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit case, involves a defendant who was indicted for distributing cocaine on multiple occasions.  The drug buys were made by an undercover agent who recorded the transactions on both audio and video.

According to court records, the recordings purported to represent cocaine being sold to the agent in exchange for cigarettes.  Witnesses testified that the agent gave the substance he purchased to a detective who performed a field test for cocaine, which tested positive.   There was also testimony that the substance tested positive for cocaine base during a full chemical analysis.  At trial, however, there were problems establishing the chain of custody of the drugs, as well as gaps in the recordings that omitted statements allegedly made by the defendant.

The court recognized several errors on the part the prosecution.  First, the government played portions of the recording for the jury during closing arguments that had not been not been admitted into evidence.

In addition to that serious error, the government also made inappropriate arguments to the defense closing argument during the government’s rebuttal.
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Alabama Women Arrested in Domestic Violence Cases

Posted in Alabama Violent Crimes

Domestic violence cases are often complicated and involve competing versions of events. These cases are even more complicated when the woman is the alleged abuser, especially if she claims that she acted in self-defense. In two recent cases, Alabama women were arrested and charged with serious crimes, including domestic violence. The cases shed light on the complexity of domestic violence cases and the need for experienced, strategic defense to prevent unreasonable or unjust penalties against alleged abusers.

Depending on the circumstances of the dispute and the arrest, both parties may be charged with domestic violence. Most of these cases will have he said/she said competing versions of the story and the alleged abuser can face significant challenges. Our Birmingham domestic violence attorneys are experienced in providing strategic counsel and advocacy to individuals who have been arrested and charged with domestic violence. We are also experienced in handling more complex cases involving female defendants, assault, and domestic abuse.

In a recent Dale County case, a woman was arrested for allegedly stabbing a man who escaped to the parking lot of a Baptist Church. According to reports, the male victim suffered from multiple stab wounds in the chest and back. An initial investigation revealed that the couple was in a verbal dispute and the alleged victim fled the residence. Police reports indicated that the victim traveled to the church and called 911 where he was treated for the stab wounds and other injuries. The alleged abuser was charged with Domestic Violence and Assault in the Second Degree.

In another Alabama case, a woman in Montgomery was accused of shooting her boyfriend after a dispute. The defendant was arrested and charged with Domestic Violence and Assault in the Second Degree after police responded to a disturbance. The female defendant is being held on a $15,000 bond in the Montgomery County Detention Facility.

It is unknown whether these alleged abusers will use self-defense as a defense in their domestic violence cases. Domestic violence charges and defense opportunities are the same for both women and men. In Alabama, a defendant should consult with an experienced legal advocate who can explore all available defenses. One of the most common defenses in a domestic violence case is self-defense. For women who believe that they will suffer severe bodily harm and act in self-defense, they may be able to get their charges reduced or dropped.

Domestic violence is a serious offense and a conviction can have severe penalties, including eviction, loss of custody, jail time, and a criminal record. An experienced attorney can review the facts of the case, including police reports, to determine if statutory requirements of domestic violence were met. Cases involving a serious violent crime, such as a shooting or stabbing in the aforementioned disputes, will likely carry additional charges and penalties. Any defendant should have their case reviewed to ensure they are not over-charged or over-penalized for their offense.

If you have been arrested in Birmingham, call Defense Lawyer Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

More Blog Entries:

Lethal Drug Shortage: Future of Alabama Executions Unclear, April 14, 2014, Birmingham Drug Defense Lawyer Blog

Arrested Juveniles More Apt to Offer False Confessions, Sept. 24, 2013, Birmingham Drug Defense Lawyer Blog

First Lethal Injections Since Botched Execution

Posted in Alabama Criminal Law, Alabama Death Penalty

The death penalty has been scrutinized and challenged since the botched lethal injection of an Oklahoma prisoner in April. Despite the nascent and widespread criticism of the death penalty, several states have moved forward and put prisoners to death since the horrifically bungled execution. Though it appears that many states will never abolish the death penalties, all penal systems are being forced to reevaluate methods of execution, as well as the potential likelihood of executing the innocent.
The criminal justice system has many different faces and can be unpredictable. For individuals who are facing serious convictions involving violent crimes, the death penalty is a terrifying prospect. Our Birmingham criminal defense attorneys understand the significant risks faced by our clients. We also have extensive experience navigating the criminal justice system and will explore every available opportunity to protect the rights of our clients. For individuals who are facing the death penalty or long-term jail sentences, an experienced advocate is necessary to protect your rights in the Alabama criminal justice system.

According to reports, A Missouri inmate was put to death after being convicted for the killing of two women in 1996. The execution marks the fifth this year in Missouri. Another convicted killer was put to death in Georgia this month, the first execution that has taken place since the Oklahoma case raised serious concerns about lethal injection. Florida has also followed through with legal injection execution  of a defendant who was charged with the murder of his wife and her 5-year-old son.

In addition to the problem of inhumane treatment of prisoners and violation of the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause of the U.S. Constitution, other advocacy groups are concerned about the secrecy related to the drug shortage crisis. Several states have run out of key lethal injection drugs since European manufacturers realized that the drugs were being used for capital punishment. Risky executions continue to pose a danger because there have been changes in the use of drugs and correctional facilities are shrouded in secrecy.

Alabama is another state that has tried to keep its lethal injection policies and drug sources secret. Currently, Alabama lawmakers have approved a bill that would keep secret the manufacturers and suppliers of lethal injection drugs. Under the bill, the state would also keep the identities of companies and individual suppliers confidential. The bill is an attempt to make sure that the state can continue to obtain lethal injection drugs from its suppliers. Alabama executes its death row inmates by lethal injection unless the inmate requests electrocution.

In the Oklahoma botched execution case, the inmate died from a heart attack 30 minutes after his execution was halted. The state’s executioners stopped the injection when they realized the mix had not been properly administered, causing the inmate extreme pain. According to the autopsy, the executioner administered the IV in the groin, an entry point that is known to be riskier and more painful. It remains to be seen whether the growing disputes surrounding lethal injection will amount to any legislative changes in Alabama or nationwide.

If you have been arrested in Birmingham, call Defense Lawyer Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

More Blog Entries:

Aggressive Prosecution of Cyber Crimes in Alabama, November 3, 2013, Birmingham Drug Defense Lawyer Blog

Arrested Juveniles More Apt to Offer False Confessions, Sept. 24, 2013, Birmingham Drug Defense Lawyer Blog

Drug Cases Backlogged Throughout the Alabama

Posted in Alabama Drug Laws

In the event of a drug arrest, officers will likely seize drugs, paraphernalia, and other items as evidence. Recently, drug cases have been piling up in Birmingham and throughout Alabama as the jurisdictions await reports from the Department of Forensic Sciences. According to reports, the backlog has been accumulating for five years. District Attorneys are frustrated that their cases are not being heard and defendants are still awaiting charges and punishment. For defendants, the drug reports are a critical element to ensure that the property seized was, in fact, an illegal substance.

Reports indicate that there are 39,000 drug cases statewide waiting to be analyzed by the Department of Forensic Sciences. There are only two analysts working throughout the 16 county area in Alabama to provide these necessary scientific lab assessments of drugs turned over for analysis. Our Birmingham drug crimes defense attorneys are abreast of developing legal issues in the state of Alabama. We are concerned with legal issues that may impact the lives of our clients and their impending criminal matters.

According to the State Forensic Sciences director, there was no lab backlog in 2009. The backlog started after budget cuts resulted in the termination of forensic scientists statewide. The budget cuts resulted in a 40% reduction of resources from the general fund. Now there are fewer employees handing the chemistry casework, resulting in a 12 to 18-month delay. Since the budget cuts, the offices are getting sent 300 cases each month that they cannot perform an analysis on. This is exacerbating the backlog that continues to grow by the month.

Alabama legislators approved a $1.5 million increase to fund the Department of Forensic Sciences; however, the budget increase will not be effective until October. The budget increase is intended to give the department the means to purchase more advanced equipment and to make necessary hires to help deal with the backlog. Ultimately, the new budget should help to prevent future backlogs in the department.

Delays vary for cases throughout the state, but there is an average of a 15-month delay for drug cases to reach a grand jury. The prosecutors must wait for necessary forensic reports, even though they cite safety concerns associated with delays. Despite prosecutor concerns, these lab reports are critical to proving drug crimes cases. Defendants who are arrested for possession, distribution, trafficking or other drug-related crimes can challenge the allegations by requiring prosecutors provide a lab report. Some prosecutors believe that even with the general fund increase it could take a significant period of time to train new scientists. A similar issue occurred five years ago with DNA cases, but now the majority of backlogged cases involve drug charges.

To streamline current cases, prosecutors and judges are seeking to determine if some defendants will plead guilty without results of these tests. Defendants should be aware that they have the right to access lab results and that they should not plead guilty without the counsel and advice of an experienced attorney. Prosecutors are relying on defendants to plead guilty without lab confirmations, which can be hugely detrimental, resulting in serious fines and penalties.

For more information or to speak with an experienced Birmingham defense lawyer, contact Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

More Blog Entries:

Alabama Criminal Convictions Profitable for Private Prisons, Sept. 20, 2013, Birmingham Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

Arrested Juveniles More Apt to Offer False Confessions, Sept. 24, 2013, Birmingham Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

Lawsuit Filed Over Alabama Prison Conditions

Posted in Your Rights

Alabama prison conditions have been widely criticized by inmates, their loved ones, legislators, and advocacy groups. Now these groups have joined together to file a federal lawsuit against the Alabama prison system, alleging that the state has failed to meet its responsibilities of providing basic medical and mental health care to inmates. The deplorable conditions are an affront to basic human rights and have led attorneys to take action for Constitutional violations. According to an attorney from the Southern Poverty Law Center, inmates are suffering, many of them losing lives because their needs are not being met.

Whether you are being arrested for a crime, being transported by an officer, getting booked for a crime, or behind bars, you do have rights. Our Birmingham criminal defense attorneys are experienced with helping Alabama defendants protect those rights through the criminal justice process. Law enforcement officers, state agencies, including prisons and prosecutors, have been known to violate the rights of criminal defendants. An experienced defense attorney can help you position yourself in the criminal justice system, identify violations, and take legal action to reduce your charges and penalties. In addition to providing strategic advocacy to our clients, our firm is also abreast of legal developments that impact Alabama defendants and inmates.

The lawsuit was filed by the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Center and the SPLC on behalf of 40 inmates throughout Alabama. According to the complaint, serious medical and mental health issues have gone untreated resulting in catastrophe for patients. In one case an inmate was forced to have his foot amputated because the jail did not treat his gangrene. Another died from untreated prostate cancer despite tests that indicated he had cancer markers in his system. The Alabama Corrections Commissioner has denied allegations of constitutional violations. In another case, a defendant was stabbed 15 times and was never given medical attention. A bipolar defendant cut his wrists multiple times without mental health intervention.

Under the Constitution, law enforcement officials and the prison system are responsible for the health, safety and well-being of prisoners. Courts have held that once the state takes a defendant into custody, it must also provide care to ensure that basic human rights are being met. In these cases, denying needed medical and mental health care could amount to a constitutional violation. Sadly, many of these patients are non-violent offenders who have been locked up for extended or lifetime sentences. Without proper medical or mental health assistance, they could lose their lives.

This isn’t the first lawsuit that the Alabama prison system has faced a lawsuit for prison conditions. The state was placed under a federal receivership in the 70s for crowding and lack of medical care. Advocacy groups and legislators have urged an overhaul of the prison system to prevent the federal intervention of a receivership. The Alabama prison system has double the number of inmates that it was designed to hold. Since the lawsuit, the governor has initiated a study, with partial funding from the Department of Justice to generate new ideas for a prison overhaul by 2015. It is unsurprising that inadequate medical treatment, care and denied mental health interventions are also related to overcrowding and a lack of funding.

If you have been arrested in Birmingham, call Defense Lawyer Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

More Blog Entries:

Aggressive Prosecution of Cyber Crimes in Alabama, November 3, 2013, Birmingham Drug Defense Lawyer Blog

Arrested Juveniles More Apt to Offer False Confessions, Sept. 24, 2013, Birmingham Drug Defense Lawyer Blog

Statute of Limitations and Child Sex Crimes in Alabama

Posted in Alabama Criminal Law

It is not uncommon for an adult to allege that they were abused as a child. One problem with these types of cases is that they can arise decades after the abuse has occurred. This can make it difficult to properly investigate the allegation, ascertain evidence and facts, and even find witnesses. In addition to being difficult to prove, the alleged victim will likely face harsher scrutiny for waiting so long to come forward. Some states have a statute of limitations on prosecuting child sex crimes. Though victims argue that this puts them at a disadvantage, defense experts realize that the statute of limitations also helps to prevent false accusations and extremely difficult investigations.

A statute of limitation is a law that prevents prosecutors from bringing charges if the crime was committed more than a specific number of years ago. Statute of limitations are intended to ensure that convictions are based on physical and eyewitness evidence that has not deteriorated over time. Once a statute of limitation has passed, a prosecutor can no longer pursue that case. Our Birmingham sex crimes defense attorneys are experienced in providing representation to the accused and dedicated to staying abreast of legal issues that impact the lives of defendants in Alabama and nationwide.

Depending on which state an alleged victim reports a sex crime, the results will vary. For example, in the state of Virginia, there are no statute-of-limitations laws in child sex crimes cases. Last year a former teacher was sentenced to 43 years in prison for crimes that allegedly took place in the 1960s and 1970s. Though some see the statute of limitations as reigning in an already burdened criminal justice system and preventing frivolous lawsuits, victims see the statutes as severely limiting their rights. This case could potentially have a wider impact if Alabama follows the trend in abolishing civil statute-of-limitations in child sex crime cases.

In New York, victims’ rights advocates are fighting for a bill that would give them the right to file lawsuits against their offenders. The law would also eliminate all civil and criminal statutes of limitations for sex crimes against minors. The bill has passed four times in the state Assembly, then stalled in the Senate, but victims’ rights advocates plan to push the bill forward again this year. In addition to eliminating the statute-of-limitations, the bill would give victims a one-year window to bring claims in older cases of abuse. Critics of this window say that it would be difficult to prosecute and defend older victims.

In recent years, other states have dropped their statute-of limitations, including Illinois and Florida. Under Alabama law, there is a three year statute of limitations for felony sex abuse and for misdemeanor sexual abuse; however, there is no statute of limitations on rape cases in Alabama. Individuals who are under investigation of child sex crimes or who believe they may be charged with a crime should consult with an attorney about the specifics of their case. Charges and penalties will vary and it is important to have a comprehensive understanding of your rights under Alabama law.

If you have been arrested in Birmingham, call Defense Lawyer Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

More Blog Entries:

Lethal Drug Shortage: Future of Alabama Executions Unclear, April 14, 2014, Birmingham Drug Defense Lawyer Blog

Arrested Juveniles More Apt to Offer False Confessions, Sept. 24, 2013, Birmingham Drug Defense Lawyer Blog

Summer Music Festivals and Drug Crimes Defense

Posted in Alabama Drug Laws, Possession of Controlled Substance, Possession of Marijuana

Music festivals in Alabama and nationwide are a convenient and fun way for young people to listen to their favorite bands over a few days or an entire week. Some of these festivals will also involve camping or overnight parties that include alcohol and drug use. While concert-goers should make safety a priority, they should also be concerned about potential criminal liability when attending a concert. Law enforcement officials are often present, even undercover, at festivals and could be targeting attendees who are suspected of possession, distribution, or trafficking.
spring break

In a recent case, an Alabama man was arrested at the Gulf Shores Hangout music festival in May. He was charged with possession of MDMA pills, as well as a small amount of marijuana. MDMA, or mollies, are a common party drug  at music festivals. Possession can carry serious fines and penalties for those charged with intent to distribute or distribution. Our Birmingham drug crimes defense attorneys are experienced in providing strategic advocacy and counsel to individuals who are charged or arrested. We also want to raise awareness for concert-goers this summer to remember that “open-air” festivals do not mean free-for-all. Law enforcement officials are watching and waiting to make drug-related arrests.

Often there will be security guards patting down concert-goers to prevent them from bringing in guns, drugs, paraphernalia, or other prohibited items. Individuals who get past the security team with Mollies, marijuana, cocaine, or other drugs may use it as an opportunity to sell to attendees inside the festival. According to Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office, officers were prepared at the concert to make a number of arrests while monitoring the show. This means that anyone who is suspected of using drugs, possession, distribution, trafficking, or other drug-related crime could be arrested, charged and face serious penalties under Alabama law. Remember that Alabama also has some of the most severe penalties for non-violent offenders.

Alabama and out of state residents who are traveling for other festivals should be wary of potential liabilities when crossing state lines. In the event of drug charges or arrest when out of state, a local attorney can help review your case and protect your rights. In addition to drug crimes, concert goers may face any number of other criminal charges. At the Hangout Music Festival in Alabama, drinking and drug-related charges included, 13 charges for possession of a controlled substance, 10 for possession of marijuana, five for public intoxication, and four for possession of drug paraphernalia. Other attendees were charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, obstruction of justice, and felony possession of marijuana.

If you were stopped in a vehicle, or searched while at a music festival, remember that you do have rights. The Constitution protects you from unlawful infringement of your 4th Amendment rights. As with any drug defense investigation, an experienced attorney can review the circumstances of your arrest, identify any illegal conduct by the officers, and seek to suppress any evidence against you when necessary.

If you have been arrested in Birmingham, call Defense Lawyer Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

More Blog Entries:

Aggressive Prosecution of Cyber Crimes in Alabama, November 3, 2013, Birmingham Drug Defense Lawyer Blog

Arrested Juveniles More Apt to Offer False Confessions, Sept. 24, 2013, Birmingham Drug Defense Lawyer Blog

“Operation Red Tide” Drug Raids Target Convenience Stores

Posted in Alabama Drug Laws

Increasing attention from state and federal law enforcement is spotlighting the synthetic drug trade and massive raids are taking place in Alabama and nationwide. According to local news reports, an ongoing operation known as “Project Synergy” by the DEA is aggressively targeting individuals and organizations involved in the designer drugs trade. In Alabama, the operation and raids are taking place statewide and have been deemed part of the “Operation Red Tide” effort. Both state and federal agencies are targeting convenience stores and other shops where synthetic drugs are sold, resulting in arrests, and serious felony drug charges.
Synthetic drugs include a range of classes from stimulants to hallucinogens. Manufacture, distribution, and use of synthetic drugs is on the rise. The DEA asserts that it has identified between 200 and 300 new designer drugs since 2009. Our Birmingham drug crimes defense attorneys are abreast of the drug-related legal issues that impact Alabama residents. As defense attorneys, our priority is offering strategic representation to those who are charged and arrested and ensuring that citizens are aware of their rights, from search and seizure, through arrest and adjudication.

At least 200 locations that allegedly sell synthetic drugs will be searched. These raids are taking place throughout Alabama by the DEA in a joint operation involving the Customs and Border Protection, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement as well as the FBI and local agencies. The IRS and Homeland Security investigations are also involved. Officials claim that targeting synthetic drug distributors goes beyond individual safety and low-level drug crimes. The federal agencies allege that the sale of these drugs is also going to support terrorist networks and could threaten the security of the United States.

According to the DEA, those who sell synthetic drugs are often from places like Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and other countries where they send the money back home. Synthetic drugs are smokable products and marketed as legal. They produce a high similar to smoking marijuana and contain synthetic stimulants and hallucinogens, including bath salts. According to officials, the drugs mimic the effects of LSD, meth or cocaine and have catchy names like “Purple Wave” or “Vanilla Sky.” The DEA reports that synthetic drugs are manufactured in China and have caused significant health and safety risks for users. The agency has documented high rates of abuse, addiction, overdose and ER treatments related to synthetic drug use. Those who have used synthetic drugs report that they experience reduced perception and motor control, paranoia, and even violent episodes.

Now state and federal owners want to target the alleged source, including convenience store owners and operators. According to the DEA, those who distribute synthetic drugs can make a significant profit, especially when bought at low rates overseas and distributed in the United States. The profit margin can be as much as $1,000 for a kilogram purchased and  sold for $200,000. The federal operation and raids were initiated in December of 2012. This has already led to 227 arrests and 416 search warrants in 35 different states, including Alabama.

If you have been arrested in Birmingham, call Defense Lawyer Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

More Blog Entries:
What Constitutes an “Assault With a Deadly Weapon” in Alabama, Jan. 31, 2014, Birmingham Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

Arrested for Obstruction in Alabama, Mayor Cries Foul, Sept. 3, 2013, Birmingham Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog