Birmingham Criminal Defense Blog

Alabama Offenders Forced to Commit Crimes to Pay Court Fees

Posted in Alabama Criminal Law, Alabama Criminal Procedure

A recent study shows that Alabama residents have committed crimes just to pay their court fees. In the state of Alabama, fee structures mean that offenders pay for the system. This can mean unmanageable fees and fines for those who are already struggling. According to reports, not only have the collections fallen short of predictions, but offenders who are bound by court costs are often forced into other crimes just to pay off their debts. A recent study performed by the Jefferson County community program,  Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities (TASC), found that the policy leaves offenders bogged down by debts they cannot pay.

When faced with a choice of a burdensome court debt that could land defendants back in jail, many of them are forced to commit crimes to pay to feed their children and pay the court. Our Birmingham criminal defense attorneys are committed to seeking justice for our clients and their families. In addition to providing strategic defense to our clients, we are also abreast of legal issues that impact the lives of residents. One way to prevent the exorbitant court costs that fund Alabama’s criminal justice system, is to defeat the underlying charges.

The study, called  The Burden of Criminal Justice Debt in Alabama, shows that former defendants who have struggled to pay court costs have turned to payday loans, family members, and even crime to get ahead. Data showed that 55% had to borrower money from family or friends. Six out of ten offenders had to choose between court costs and necessities, including food or medical bills. Others admitted to selling drugs, stealing, gambling or prostitution to pay their court costs. The survey assessed the payment history and records of 900 non-violent offenders who were on probation or supervision throughout Alabama. In addition to struggling to get jobs, many of these defendants are also struggling to get out of debt. They have court costs and fees that they cannot pay off which in turn has led to additional crimes, and naturally, more victims.

The cycle is simple, but detrimental to the residents of Alabama. Not only does it prevent convicted offenders from getting ahead, but it also increases the risk of crimes. Crime leads to debt and more crimes which can result in prison and high-costs for the state, not to mention the number of victims, including individuals, families and businesses. In the end, it is the taxpayers who end up footing the bill for the debts.

In the event that a debtor cannot pay the court, they will return to jail. The report indicated that 18% of Alabama offenders were forced to return to prison for failure to pay court costs. In some counties that number was as high as 63%. This system disproportionately impacts the poor who already struggle to find employment. Paying high court costs can prevent them from ever buying a car or getting a job. In the worst cases, court costs leave them unable to care for their families.

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

Lack of Role Models Leads to Juvenile Crime

Posted in juvenile defense

Juvenile crimes are often relatively minor, including petty theft or property damage. But others can be far more serious, including violent crimes or sex crimes. For juveniles arrested and charged, the damage of a criminal record can be lasting, reducing educational opportunities and making it more likely that the youth offender will land in prison later in life. New research shows that the number one risk factor leading juveniles to criminal activity is the lack of role models. According to recent reports and a panel discussion that took place in Montgomery, children who do not have proper role models including parents, relatives or community mentors may be likely to lose hope and commit crimes.

In the event of a juvenile arrest, defendants should consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. In addition to challenging the underlying charges, an experienced advocate can help reduce penalties and pursue alternative sentencing options. Our Birmingham juvenile defense attorneys are experienced in representing defendants charged with crimes ranging from shoplifting and robbery, to property crimes, violent crimes, and sex crime.

A recent panel discussion focused on curbing juvenile crimes focused on prevention. The panel included members from the Central Alabama Community Foundation, Hope Inspired Ministries, and the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office and the Montgomery Police Department. What is happening in Montgomery is also a reflection of the juvenile crimes being committed in Birmingham. According to many of these groups, one way to reduce juvenile crimes is to help them find resources and mentors.

One of the high risk indicators for juveniles is the lack of a father in the household. Other high risks include having a family member, including a father, who is already in jail. Many at-risk juveniles will be approached to sell drugs or join gangs. Without a role model helping them make decisions, they may not understand the importance of education, or the risks of turning to a career criminal life. According to the Montgomery district attorney, recent homicides in the state have involved teenagers under the age of 17. This points to the reality that teenagers are becoming involved in serious crimes at very young ages.

In the state of Alabama, two recent homicides involved teenagers under the age of 18. In the first, a 13-year-old was charged with capital murder. In another case, a 15-year-old was charged with the murder of another teenager. Often in these cases, youth are becoming involved in petty theft and other criminal activity when they are even younger. Without hope or role models, many of these juveniles lose sight of any real future opportunities. According to panelists, juveniles are also committing crimes at an even younger age. One way to prevent these crimes is for mentors and after school programs to play a role for children as soon as possible.
For juveniles in Birmingham and throughout Alabama, understanding the risks is important to prevention. Those who have been charged should also seek out legal support and counsel to help them preserve their rights and future opportunities.

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

Alabama Legislature Shuts Down Sex Offender Reform Camp

Posted in Sex Crimes

Sex offenders face some of the most significant penalties in Alabama and nationwide. Anyone convicted of a sex crime will not only face immediate penalties such as fines or jail time, but will also be forced to register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law. Registry as a sex offender restricts the ability to work certain jobs or live in some neighborhoods. It could also limit the ability to see children or other family members. For many, a sex offender conviction can mean a lifetime battle against the stigma.

Understanding the tough situation faced by many sex offenders, an Alabama pastor set up a reform camp to help society’s unwanted sex offenders. The camp was recently shut down by the Alabama legislature after a law made the refuge illegal. Our Birmingham sex offender defense attorneys are dedicated to helping individuals accused of sex offenses protect their rights. In addition to providing informed and strategic counsel to those accused of sexual abuse, our legal team is abreast of legislative changes that may impact the rights of defendants in Alabama and nationwide.

With the help of inmates, the pastor raised a chapel and parked campers and recreational vehicles to house the men. Since the structure was built, the pastor housed more than 50 convicted sex offenders. This month, the camp shut down after the Alabama legislature passed a law that rendered the refuge illegal. Now the pastor is forced to make the men leave. While the case has raised Constitutional questions about the intervention of the state in the pastor’s religious belief, shutting down the refuge is also creating a hardship for sex offenders who may not have anywhere else to go.

Alabama, like most states, restricts the areas where sex offenders are required to live. Registered sex offenders are not allowed to live within 2,000 feet of a school or day care. They are not able to work or hangout 500 feet from parks, athletic fields or some businesses. This leaves many convicted offenders with a difficulty getting work or finding a place to live. In addition to avoiding certain public and private locations, offenders are also required to report to authorities where they plan to live after release. This means that prisons or jails often hold convicts who can’t prove that they have a legal place to live.

According to records, no one living at the camp has since been arrested or charged with sex-related crimes. One of the problems with forcing the sex offenders out of the county is that they have nowhere to go. Legislators say that having so many ex-convicts with a similar criminal record is a public safety threat. The legislators also claim that the pastor does not have the specialized training or credentials to help deal with them.

The idea came to the minister when he realized that many of the men being released had no place to go. His idea of a sex offender refuge was away from schools or day cares. Many of the prisoners who resided at the camp helped construct the church and all who lived on the refuge were forced to abide by rules, including no smoking or drinking. The men were also not allowed to be charged with any more sex crimes or go back to prison. According to the minister, helping the men was a calling and allowed him to live out his faith. Sex offenders are those rejected by society and need help the most.

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

Alabama Leading Nation in Addictive Painkiller Prescriptions

Posted in Possession of Controlled Substance

Prescription painkillers and addiction are driving an underground market that can leave doctors, patients, as well as illegal users susceptible to criminal charges. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alabama has the highest rate of painkiller prescriptions in the country with 143 prescriptions per 100 people. Other medical and public health officials are concerned that over-prescribing is leaving Alabama residents vulnerable to long-term addiction to narcotics including Loritab, Vicodin, Lorcet, and Oxycontin.
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Analysts
say that the one common ingredient in all of these painkillers is hydrocodone. For those who legitimately need painkillers, over-prescribing could threaten their availability. Doctors with legitimate cause and patients who rely on painkillers could also face criminal investigations or liability. Our Birmingham prescription drug defense attorneys understand the complexities involving painkillers and criminal liability. While we understand the dangers of over-prescription and illegal sales and distribution, we are also committed to preventing the legal rights of individuals under investigation and charged with crimes. Our attorneys are abreast of the legal trends that impact our clients and the citizens of Alabama.

In many cases, patients who have become reliant on painkillers will continue to return to their doctors to increase a prescription or to refill a prescription. Some patients will “doctor hop” and obtain multiple prescriptions from different doctors to meet their needs. Experts suggest that the problem is two-fold: patients are getting refills and increased prescriptions even when they may not be necessary. Doctors could also be using prescriptions as a way to increase office traffic. According to a representative from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the increased demand is actually from individuals who are not using the prescriptions for a medical reason, but to get high or because they can sell them on the black market.

The new data is an analysis of records collected in 2012. Public health professionals are hoping to use the data to make a difference in reducing the number of prescriptions in the state of Alabama. As with any policy change, medical professionals must weigh the pros and cons of cutting off or reducing painkiller prescriptions. For those who legitimately need medication, cutting off a prescription could have severe and painful consequences. Though the number of painkiller prescriptions in Alabama remains high, the number of overdosed has decreased, though this also has been linked to a rise in heroin abuse.

Individuals who have been arrested or charged with painkiller possession or illegal distribution should consult with an experienced advocate as soon as possible. Criminal charges related to prescription medication can be severe and often impact those who were acting innocently. Doctors and patients could face serious criminal penalties without representation. Drug crimes charges can be challenged on a violation of 4th Amendment search and seizure law. If you believe that you, your vehicle, home or office were illegally searched, an attorney may be able to get that evidence suppressed and your charges dropped. Individuals who have a legal prescription and have been charged with a crime should consult with an experienced defense attorney.

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

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.
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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

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