Everyone Deserves Competent Counsel

Everyone deserves competent counsel, Kennedy says after acquittal

Most of us would like to believe that if we’re wrongly accused of a crime, our chances of acquittal won’t be affected by the salary we earn or the number of friends we have in high places. In the realm of criminal defense, everyone deserves to be held to the same standards, and judged based on solid evidence and the true facts of the case. One public figure argued this point recently after being found not guilty at trial.

Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, was arrested in July 2012 on a misdemeanor charge of driving while impaired by drugs. She was witnessed swerving in her car just before sideswiping another vehicle, and was eventually found asleep in her car. Kennedy admitted to taking a sleeping pill before getting behind the wheel, but explained she’d mistaken the drug for a prescribed thyroid medication.

To avoid marring her reputation and career as a human rights activist, she turned down the plea agreement offered to her and instead elected to go to trial. It was not a decision she took lightly, considering the potential sentence of a year in jail and other consequences of a guilty verdict. As the president of the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights, she would have been unable to carry out her duties — including traveling outside the country.

Given her famous family connections, it wasn’t surprising when many said that Kennedy received favorable treatment in court. At the same time, her own attorneys argued that prosecutors wouldn’t have pushed for a trial if not for her name. Kennedy disagrees with both notions, arguing that she won her case because she was innocent and had competent attorneys representing her. During an appearance on the “Today” show, she said that everyone should have access to the same caliber of legal counsel, no matter who they are.

North Carolinians may differ over whether Kennedy was acquitted due to her name or her innocence, but one thing we can all agree on is that anyone accused of a crime deserves a fair shot at defending themselves. This means having a skilled and passionate criminal defense attorney who has the defendant’s best interests in mind. No one should feel pressured to take a plea deal for a crime they didn’t commit simply because they don’t have the financial or societal resources of a wealthy public figure.

We Are Jailing The Mentally Ill

We are jailing the mentally ill

Nobody would question that a prison will do little to nothing to resolve serious and debilitating psychiatric disorders of individuals residing there. However, prisons appear to be ten times more likely to house mentally ill individuals than are hospitals.

The Treatment Advocacy Center reports that 356,268 mentally ill individuals have been detained in state or county jails. State mental hospitals, on the other hand, only hold 35,000 patients. There are only six states in the U.S. that house more mentally ill individuals in psychiatric hospitals than in prisons or jails, and North Carolina is not one of them.

Recent trends concerning our mental health policies are not encouraging. TAC reported that available beds at state mental health agencies have been reduced by 10 percent.

Treatment for the mentally ill within the criminal justice system appears not to have kept up with an increasing population. “Inmates who linger untreated in jails and prisons become increasingly more vulnerable to their symptoms and the resulting victimization or violence,” stated one advocate for mentally ill inmates.

Conditions do not appear to be improving. There have been complaints that one prison that was created for mentally ill inmates has been overrun by rats. A Senate panel in February called for ending solitary confinement for juveniles, pregnant women and the mentally ill.

It would benefit everyone if mentally ill people find professional help. This help will often prevent these people from instead being returned to prison. Criminal defense attorneys besides representing people charged with crime often can get these individuals in touch with the resources that they need.

19 People Detained, 5 Wanted For Heroin Charges

19 people detained, 5 wanted for heroin charges

A joint investigation involving authorities across the Piedmont Triad of North Carolina has resulted in the detainment of 19 people. The investigation was a response to an increase in overdoses and deaths related to heroin use. Officials say that at least 94 people have overdosed and 11 others have died from heroin use in High Point this year, and only 40 percent of these cases involved people who live in the city.

Law enforcement agencies across the region launched the undercover investigation in May, focusing on identifying and charging individuals involved in heroin distribution in High Point. Undercover investigators allegedly purchased heroin from the accused in several locations, and two of those purchases reportedly occurred near Fairview Elementary School.

Authorities say that they have seized 419 grams of heroin so far this year, which is estimated to be worth $83,000; only 50 grams were seized in 2013. The purchases led to 24 people being charged, but only 19 people had been detained by Sept. 5. The other five were still wanted on outstanding charges. The 24 people range in age from 19 to 52 and include both men and women. The severity of the charges that they face varies from person to person and range from possession with intent to deliver or sell heroin and trafficking heroin.

A criminal defense lawyer may argue for an individual’s drug charges to be dismissed if the rights of the defendant were violated or if authorities did not have probable cause to search or detained the defendant. Otherwise, the lawyer could negotiate a plea deal to seek to have the charges and penalties reduced.

Many Ferguson Witnesses Called Before Grand Jury Deemed Dishonest

Many Ferguson Witnesses Called Before Grand Jury Deemed Dishonest.

Adding to the already substantial amount of controversy surrounding the Michael Brown shooting, a new report from CNN shows that many witnesses changed their testimonies during questioning and others admitted to lying about even observing the shooting. Although most witnesses attempted to tell the complete truth, the prosecution is under scrutiny by some for calling upon a large amount of dishonest witnesses.

One of the witnesses claimed Michael Brown was shot at point-blank range while on his knees. Upon questioning, however, it became clear that the only true aspect of the story was that he was shot at point-blank range. Another witness lost her credibility when it was discovered she made a racist post online on the day of the shooting and that it was physically impossible for her to be at the location of the shooting when it took place.

Some individuals are suggesting that the prosecution brought forth dishonest witnesses in order to avoid accusations of omitting evidence, which is not uncommon in controversial cases such as this. Others are accusing the prosecution of calling upon untrustworthy witnesses to try and avoid the indictment of Darren Wilson.

A legal analyst for CNN says that even though the prosecution may have been better off choosing a different strategy, the decision to exonerate is likely justified. Plenty of credible evidence was still presented before the grand jury despite many of the witnesses being deemed untrustworthy.

Whether a criminal defense trial is taking place in Missouri, North Carolina or anywhere else in the United States, the parties involved are expected to provide credible information at all times. A legal representative may work to obtain credible witnesses on behalf of their client.

Basketball Player Arrested

Basketball Player Arrested For Gun Charges In Raleigh

Law enforcement authorities reportedly arrested a NC State University basketball player on Jan. 5 around 1 a.m. The player, who is a guard on the men’s team, was charged in connection to an incident in which a car was struck by pellets.

According to reports, the incident occurred in the 7700 block of Crocker Drive. The player, who had transferred to NC State from West Virginia, was charged and arrested along with another man whom police allege also participated.

Officers claim the two men shot a pellet gun at a vehicle in which another person who was known to them was located. The vehicle reportedly sustained damage from the pellets. The basketball player was charged with discharging a firearm and carrying a concealed weapon, and the other man was charged with discharging a firearm and causing injury to personal property in the incident. The school indicated the basketball player had reported his arrest to them. The school is awaiting the results of the court proceedings in relation to the young man’s case.

College students who are charged with committing crimes may be forced out of school, lose scholarships or the ability to represent their college on athletics teams. In addition to facing potential criminal penalties, including such things as a jail or prison sentence and fines, the person who is charged may endure collateral consequences for having the conviction long after it occurs. Those with a criminal record often have difficulty with finding jobs, housing and employment. People who are charged with crimes may want to get the help of an attorney in mounting a criminal defense to the charges. In some cases, even when the facts seem hopeless, a criminal defense attorney may be able to locate witnesses and identify defenses that others do not immediately recognize.

The Danger Of False Confessions

The danger of false confessions is very, very real

In a criminal trial, prosecutors must prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It is the highest evidentiary standard, and some pieces of evidence hold more weight with jurors. “I did it” is one of the most powerful pieces of evidence, but is it reliable?

False confessions are the basis of many wrongful convictions. It is difficult for many people to understand how someone could confess to a crime they know they did not commit. A research study published in the journal Psychological Science shows how susceptible the mind can be to outside influence, even pushing people as far as to believe they actually committed a crime that never happened.

Sixty university students participated in the study. Researchers surveyed the students’ caretakers to gather information about their childhoods. Researchers then told the students two different stories. One story actually happened when the students was anywhere from 11 to 14 years old.

The second story was false. It involved either an emotional event or a crime that never happened, but the researchers wove into the tale some true details about their lives at the time.

The students were then asked to retell the stories immediately and again in two more sessions. The interview sessions were always friendly. When students could not remember aspects of the story, researchers helped them use memory-retrieval techniques.

At the end of the study, 71 percent of the students who were told the tale about the false crime were convinced it actually occurred. Over 50 percent of the students who were fed a story about a violent crime, like assault, believed they had committed it during their childhood.

The tactics the researchers used mimicked those police frequently use in interrogations, like feeding bits of truth to suspects. False confessions are not as difficult to create as one might think.

The Perks Of A Plea Bargain

The perks of a plea bargain

While a plea bargain may often be considered an admission of guilt, there’s more to the purpose of accepting a plea bargain than North Carolina residents may think. A plea bargain may be helpful to not only the defendant but the prosecuting attorney and judge, too.

Individuals may know that a defendant who accepts a plea bargain may be able to complete a shorter prison sentence than if they ere to go through an entire trial. However, a plea bargain also shortens the amount of time and lowers the expenses that a defendant would have to pay for a defense attorney, assuming that the lawyer is not a court-appointed attorney.

Judges may support plea bargains to help keep an already hectic schedule moving along in a timely fashion. Conscious of overcrowding in prisons, judges may also be receptive to the idea of plea bargains allowing individuals to be processed out as opposed to being held for a lengthy trial.

While it may seem most likely that the prosecuting attorney would be the first to be disappointed by a plea bargain, that’s not always the case. In some instances, a prosecutor will accept a plea deal in exchange for information or testimony that could be used against a co-defendant, sometimes one with a bigger involvement in the case.

For citizens who may be interested in finding out the pros and cons of accepting a plea bargain, an attorney might be able to help. An attorney could give advice on whether it would be more beneficial to plead not guilty or attempt to pursue a plea bargain and could additionally help form a strong defense.

Right To Counsel May Not Include Right To Pay Counsel

Right to counsel may not include right to pay counsel

In a case currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, the government has argued that its interests in obtaining recovery of government funds obtained through fraud takes precedence over the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. If the Supreme Court takes the case, North Carolina criminal defendants may find themselves without the ability to pay for the counsel that the Sixth Amendment gives them the right to retain.

The owner of two healthcare companies is accused of paying bribes to patients to sign up for care they did not need or did not receive. At the same time as the criminal indictment, the government filed a civil action to freeze all of the defendant’s assets up to $45 million, the total amount of allegedly fraudulent payments received. Because the defendant’s net worth was less than $45 million, the asset freeze left her broke and unable to afford counsel.

The trial judge concluded that civil forfeiture laws allowed the government to freeze tainted funds received as a result of the fraud scheme as well as untainted assets from other sources that could later be used to substitute for the tainted funds if the defendant was eventually convicted of fraud. The Court of Appeals upheld the judge’s decision, and the defendant appealed to the Supreme Court.

The case highlights the government’s aggressive use of civil forfeiture statutes as a tactic in prosecuting fraud cases. The government claims the primary interest is preserving assets so that funds can be recovered in the event of a guilty verdict. The defendant claims that the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee to counsel protects her right to retain untainted assets to hire a lawyer for her defense. A decision in favor of the government could result in more criminal defendants accepting plea agreements, assuming that without effective counsel, the chances of acquittal are slim.

Mentally Ill Is Not The Same As Insane

Mentally ill is not the same as insane

On July 20, 2012, a man reportedly walked into a theater in a Denver suburb and opened fire on the audience. In the course of a few minutes, he killed 12 people and injured 70. During his murder trial, his attorneys have admitted that he committed the shooting. However, as in North Carolina, Colorado law allows someone charged with a crime to potentially escape capital punishment by pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.

Not all states allow an insanity defense. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 90 percent of the defendants who raise the insanity defense do suffer from some form of mental illness. However, the defense works in only one out of four cases in which it is tried.

Part of the explanation lies in the difference between being mentally ill and being insane. Many people, in prison and out, suffer from mentally illness, yet a much smaller number are insane. The M’Naghten test is most commonly used to determine insanity. The question the jury must answer is whether the defendant knew right from wrong at the time he or she committed the act.

Although used rarely, the insanity defense does work sometimes. For the man in this case, the jury’s decision regarding his mental state at the time of the shootings could be the difference between capital punishment and life in prison. Because the insanity defense presumes that the defendant actually committed the act, a criminal defense attorney will likely consider whether or not to use the defense very carefully.

Supreme Court Overturns 1984 Sentencing Law

Supreme Court overturns 1984 sentencing law

On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a 1984 law known as the Armed Career Criminal Act was unconstitutional because it was too vague. The ruling is likely to have an impact on cases in North Carolina and throughout the country.

The law stated that an individual would receive a mandatory sentence of 15 years for a third violent crime. Tough-on-crime bills such as the ACCA have been increasingly under fire due to overcrowding in prisons and the way that they remove the latitude of judges to decide on a case themselves. However, the problem the court had with this law was not its severity but its lack of clarity.

According to the law, previous offenses that introduced a serious risk of physical harm could be counted in the three strikes. This led to some courts treating prior convictions as violence even when no violence occurred. In some cases, this uncertainty has resulted in individuals accepting plea bargains. In this case, the judges were examining the conviction of a man for possessing a sawed-off shotgun who was facing a 15-year sentence even though his felony was not specifically mentioned in the law. The Supreme Court concluded 8-1 that the law was unacceptably vague.

The overturning of this law may have implications for individuals facing charges for violent crimes. They will no longer be subject to this potential automatic 15-year prison term. Individuals who are facing charges for a violent crime may wish to consult an attorney. A plea bargain may still be a good strategy for an individual, or the individual may wish to plead not guilty and go to trial.