criminal defense attorney

Criminal Defense Attorney: A Look at Wrongful Conviction Cases and What Causes Them

According to the results of a conducted study on wrongful convictions, about 4.1% of people given the death sentence in the United States are later discovered to be not guilty of the offenses they allegedly committed. While there are no exact figures on all criminal cases with errors in convictions, reports show that the numbers are high for several reasons. An experienced criminal defense attorney is often the difference in many cases.

 

As early as the 16th century, people have been accused, convicted, executed, and then afterward found innocent of the serious crimes they were tried for. The list includes twenty people accused of witchcraft and executed by hanging in the Salem witch trials in 1692 as well as a man named Charles Hudspeth who was also sentenced to hanging for the alleged murder of George Watkins who was later found to be alive and well.

 

One of the most recent cases of exoneration from wrongful convictions involve that of a rogue lab chemist from a state-operated drug testing laboratory in Massachusetts, Annie Dookhan. She was found guilty of perjury and tampering of evidence for about 24,000 criminal convictions.

 

During her trial, she admitted the offenses she committed which include tampering of drug samples, falsification of test results and deliberately misleading case investigators. These practices were done in the nine years she was employed by the drug laboratory she was working for.

 

What Factors Lead to Wrongful Convictions?

 

Weak Legal Defense

Proving the innocence of a defendant largely depends on how a defense team collects the pieces of evidence to show the accused is not guilty of the crime or crimes in question. A reliable and effective criminal defense attorney has the skills and knowledge to ask the right questions and come up with a strong legal defense for his or her client.

 

Failure to present the case properly and insufficient legal defense can get a guilty verdict even if the truth is exactly the opposite.

 

Forensic Misconduct

As in the case of the Dookhan who admitted and served prison time for meddling with forensics, thousands of people were convicted wrongly and suffered agonizing years in incarceration for crimes they did not take part of.

 

There was also the case of FBI agent Matthew Lowry who was able to steal drug evidence from the FBI lab which he took for personal use and consequently compromised more than 150 cases and sent drug offenders to serve prison time.

 

Wrongful Identification

This is another factor that contributes to the staggering increase in wrongful convictions. Eye witnesses are vital to the solving of criminal cases such as rape, murder and robbery. While there are credible witnesses, there are those who also fail to identify the right suspect and end up pointing out the wrong person.

 

It is not unusual for some victims to falsely accuse people of committing crimes or violations without really intending to. There was a case of a rape victim, Ann Meng who identified Julius Earl Ruffin as her assailant. After twenty years, DNA evidence exonerated the accused.

 

If you or a member of your family has been wrongfully accused of a civil or criminal offense, a reliable criminal defense attorney can represent you in court and help clear your name or that of a loved one. Do not let a wrongful conviction damage your reputation and that of the people you love. Talk to a criminal defense attorney who understands criminal law and the justice system.

Risks Inherent When Relying on Public Defender’s Office

Kern County’s Public Defender’s Office appears to be pushed to the brink in terms of their ability to competently handle their caseload.

It is no secret that, over the past couple of years, a huge number of experienced and highly competent attorneys have left the Kern County Public Defender’s Office for private practice. And that Office has responded by repeatedly hiring fresh batches of new attorneys, usually straight out of law school, or with very little criminal defense experience. While this mentality certainly saves money, it leaves clients who depend on the service of the Public Defender (mainly for relatively minor offenses such as DUI, narcotics possession and sales, theft, spousal abuse or domestic violence, etc.) with added risks in their criminal cases that are already fraught with inherent potential pitfalls. Let me refer to two cases that I have handled just within the past week that prove my point:

Late last week a new client came in with a very straightforward possession of narcotics (H&S 11379 and H&S 11377) case. The case had been filed with the court in November. The client had been to court at least three separate times and each time the case was continued because she had not yet spoken with her assigned public defender, despite making numerous attempts and leaving several un-returned voice mail messages.

Another case that I inherited from the Public Defender’s Office in November when it was set for jury trial was dismissed today after only my third appearance. Not because of any magic trick or loophole that I was able to find, but rather simply because I had the time to take the extra step that the Public Defender did not.

The point is, when caseloads get so big that individual clients and cases are neglected, either in terms of client contact or preparation, it is the clients who suffer. Having an attorney who doesn’t have time to return calls and can only speak to you in court is nearly akin to having no attorney at all. Likewise, pushing a case to the brink of trial because even an experienced attorney doesn’t have the time or resources to “turn over every stone” is an unnecessary addition of risk to an already inherently risky situation.

To be fair though, the Kern County Public Defender’s Office does have a small core of dedicated and HIGHLY professional, experienced, and competent criminal defense attorneys and support staff; however, those attorneys are almost always assigned only the most serious and complex criminal cases.  If you or someone you know has been charged with a relatively minor offense (DUI, narcotics possession and sales, theft, spousal abuse or domestic violence, etc.), there can still be some very serious consequences.  Don’t take chances if you don’t have too! Hire an experienced and respected criminal defense attorney.  CALL THE LAW OFFICE OF JOEL E. LUECK TODAY

You Deserve to be Represented by Bakersfield’s Premier Criminal Defense Attorney

When individuals in Bakersfield are charged with any form of crime, they will need competent and professional assistance from an expert criminal attorney. The legal process is daunting to navigate, particularly for the criminal justice system.

Just as doctors specialize in medical areas, lawyers concentrate in various aspects of the law. Professional criminal attorneys know how the justice system works so that they can handle your case most effectively.

Regardless of the charge, only a professional criminal lawyer is prepared to ensure that your best interests are represented. This is why it is so important to select a defense lawyer that has experience with your particular type of case.

One place to begin your search for a competent Bakersfield criminal attorney is from the local Bar Associations. Most of these legal organizations have processes in place where people can call for a list of possible names or look for attorneys by specialty.

Another means of finding a criminal lawyer are online search databases such as those with the state bar. These databases usually have a way to enter information for location and specialty. For example, for a drunk driving charge, it is essential that you find an attorney who has experience in defending DUI cases. While family law experts are certainly competent, they usually have no trial experience, let alone the ability to handle a criminal case.

Before you contact a few attorneys to speak with, first think about the the type of outcome you wish to have. For example, if you would like to be cleared of all charges, you probably should choose a criminal attorney who has a good courtroom record of trial victories. However, if your goal is simply to negotiate the dismissal of certain charges and the best possile sentence on others, many attorneys specialize in attaining very favorable plea bargains for their clients. Any criminal defense lawyer you consider hiring should be able to show you a proven track record of both favorable negotiations and trial outcomes.

When you speak with a few lawyers, be sure to find out how long they have practiced law and how many years of experience he or she has with your particular type of case. In addition, be sure to understand the fee structure and what it includes. Many times, a criminal attorneys in Bakersfield will offer a free consultation, during which many of your questions should be answered.

Also find out who exactly will handle your case. For example, he or she may have a staff of lawyers that your case might be delegated to. The best Bakersfield criminal attorneys will handle your cases personally and provide the level of personal contact that you deserve.

For a free consultation with the premier criminal defense attorney in Bakersfield, Call the Law Office of Joel E. Lueck at (661)776-5879 and speak to a criminal defense attorney immediately!

Even Misdemeanor Offenses Have Serious Consequences

A recent article published by Slate highlights the severe consequences of misdemeanor convictions and the fact that these consequences are often unknown to the defendants even after they have entered a guilty plea. The other troublesome aspect of the misdemeanor arm of the criminal justice system, as pointed out by the article, is the fact that despite actually being innocent of the charges filed against them, many misdemeanor defendants actually plead guilty for a variety of reasons. Among them are:

  • Just to get out of jail
  • Inadequate knowledge of their rights
  • Inadequate knowledge of the evidence in their favor
  • Pressure from over-worked public defenders
  • Pressure from Judges who assume the defendant’s guilt

As the article correctly states, “The repercussions of a petty conviction can be anything but minor. These offenses are increasingly punished with hefty fines that low-income defendants cannot pay. A conviction of any kind can ruin a person’s job prospects. A petty conviction can affect eligibility for professional licenses, child custody, food stamps, student loans, and health care or lead to deportation. In many cities, a misdemeanor makes you ineligible for public housing.”

If you’ve been charged with a seemingly minor offense, take the time to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney with a proven track record of success. Hiring a private attorney doesn’t guarantee a successful outcome, but hiring the right attorney can guarantee that your rights are protected and your questions are answered.

The Benefit of Hiring a Respected, Local Attorney

In communities such as Bakersfield, many people who are faced with the need to hire a criminal defense attorney mistakenly believe that retaining a “Big City” attorney from Los Angeles gives them a better chance at successfully defending themselves.  Unfortunately, often times this could not be further from the truth.  As a case in point, consider the circumstances of Mike R., a resident of Los Angeles who was stopped in Kern County on his way to the Bay Area.  After being pulled over for DUI, Mike was also found to be in possession of Ecstasy.  He was arrested and charged with Transportation of a Controlled Substance (Health & Safety Code section 11379) and DUI (Vehicle Code section 23152) among other charges.  Due to the fact that he had a Strike Prior and had been sentenced to prison within the past five years, he was facing a potential sentence of 9 years in state prison.  Initially, Mike was represented by an attorney from Los Angeles.  That attorney represented him through the preliminary hearing stage, but in an effort to settle the case before trial, was only able to obtain an offer from the Kern County District Attorney’s Office of 4 years in prison.  Realizing that a local attorney may benefit him, Mike retained the Law Office of Joel E. Lueck and today was placed on probation and sentenced to 6 MONTHS in county jail.

The point is that although every county is bound by the laws of the State of California, each county interprets and applies those laws differently.  Having an attorney who practices in the community and has a proven track record of success is what those charged with crimes should look for, rather than falling prey to the mistaken belief that an attorney from Los Angeles is their best option simply based upon the location of their office.

LAPD Plan to Lessen Impound Fees on Unlicensed Drivers Stymied

The LA Times is reporting that a California state agency has issued an opinion causing the Police Commission to put on hold a vote to alter how the LAPD treats impounded vehicles of unlicensed drivers.  Under current California law, vehicles of unlicensed drivers can be impounded, and if they are, they must remain in impound for 30 days, often costing the owner of the vehicle in excess of $1,000.  LAPD Chief Charlie Beck had hoped to lessen that financial impact by allowing certain drivers to retrieve their vehicles as early as the next day following impound.  However, the Police Commission now believes Beck’s plan may run afoul of state law.

The real issue here is the impact of exorbitant impound fees on undocumented residents who cannot obtain a valid California driver’s license.  Many times, these residents obtain a valid driver’s license from a neighboring state, but because they reside in California, they nonetheless are in violation of California Vehicle Code Section 12500, requiring residents of California to have driver’s licenses issued by this state if they wish to drive.  Furthermore, the Vehicle Code allows law enforcement to impound vehicles involved in a violation of section 12500.

Chief Beck should be applauded for attempting to address the obvious issue this creates with good drivers, who are insured, but nonetheless undocumented residents.

Former LAPD Detective on Trial for Murder Shows Why Suspects Should NEVER Talk to Cops

Former LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus is currently on trial for the 1986 homicide of her former boyfriend’s wife.  The story of how the cold case was cracked is a case-study in police investigation and interrogation.  The lesson to be learned, especially from the interrogation of Lazarus, is that interrogating officers often know answers to questions they pose to suspects and often have enough evidence for an arrest even before the questioning starts.  If this is the case, their goal becomes to secure a confession, not determine the truth and they will “lie, cheat, and steal” to get it … all of which is perfectly legal.

Watch an ABC News story on the case here.

Man Acquitted by Jury, Still Sentenced to 15 Years

The South Florida Sun Sentinel is reporting that a man acquitted in two separate jury trials of fondling pre-teen girls has been sentenced to fifteen years in prison based upon the same evidence which amounted to a violation of his probation. The case underscores the very real possibility of being sentenced on a probation violation despite being found not guilty of the same conduct by a jury. The legal basis for such an outcome lies in the different standards of proof applied to jury trials versus that applied to hearings on violations of probation. While the standard of proof in a jury trial is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” in order to be found in violation of probation, in Florida, as in California, the prosecution bears the much lower standard of proof known as “preponderance of the evidence.” Additionally, whereas convictions on new law violations generally are determined by a jury, violations of probation (even if based upon the same evidence) are decided by a judge.  In essence, while a jury may acquit a defendant based upon a failure of the prosecution to meet the higher standard of proof, a judge considering the same evidence may still nonetheless conclude that the lower standard of proof has been met and thus sentence a defendant based upon a violation of his pre-existing probation.

Jailers More Likely to Use Force on Mentally Ill Inmates

The LA Times is reporting that deputies in LA County jails are more likely to use force on mentally ill inmates than other prisoners. According to a report by the Sheriff’s Department, although inmates classified as mentally ill make up only 15% of the inmate population, approximately one-third of deputy use-of-force cases involved those inmates.

Although mental illness issues often lead to violent outbursts necessitating use of force, the report highlights the need for better training for law enforcement when it comes to identifying and dealing with mental health issues in detainees. As stated by Peter Eliasburg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, “You have to be on guard that some of them behave differently and they often do things that if they didn’t have mental illness, it would be a real true sign of aggression … . But if you’re sensitive that this is an inmate with mental illness, you realize it’s not a deliberate attempt to incite.”

Study Shows Wrongful Conviction Rate of Up To Six Percent

As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a comprehensive study by the Urban Institute has found that wrongful conviction rates in violent felony cases is as high as six percent. Samuel R. Gross, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and a former criminal-defense lawyer, attended the presentation made by the Urban Institute in November and said that “this is a very big surprise. I would have guessed an error rate of 1 or 2 percent. Six percent is surprisingly high.”

Given the fact that the study focused on only violent felony cases, and that those are the types of cases that the most prosecutorial resources are devoted to, it is likely that the rate is even higher for cases that don’t rise to the level of “violent felonies.”

Download the report by clicking the link below.

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