Articles Tagged with Criminal Defense

Owner and founding attorney, Joseph Scrofano discusses how the firm bills clients with flat fees. When you are under investigation or facing a criminal charge, uncertainty is everywhere. Its uncertain whether you may go to jail or lose your license or be put on probation. At Scrofano Law PC, whether it’s a DUI case or a serious felony, we charge flat fee billing. In a case evaluation, each attorney will go over the facts of your case and determine a fee based on a number of variables, including, among other things, the complexity of the case and the likelihood the case will go to trial.

Once the fee is set, you will never be billed again for the same matter. If you have questions about your case, our attorneys will take the time needed to make sure you understand all your options whether in person, over the phone, over email, or even over text message. The amount of time you spend with your attorney will not increase the bill. At Scrofano Law PC, we want you to have certainty in a very uncertain time for you. If you are someone you know is under investigation or facing a criminal charge, contact Scrofano Law PC for a full case evaluation.

This post is the final part in a three part series that answers frequently asked questions for folks arrested for DUI and DWI in the District of Columbia.

What are the chances this case will just get dropped?

Unfortunately, the chances that the DC Attorney General’s Office will drop a DC DUI or DWI is basically zero.  As I have previously stated, the DC OAG treats DUI cases like murder cases.  Whether its the fact that the local government gets more federal money the more DUI convictions they get or because they have such limited jurisdiction to prosecute crimes in DC, I don’t know.  But I can tell you they will not just drop it.  Accordingly, its important you hire an experience DC DUI attorney who will fight to protect your rights.

This blog is the second post in a two part series that sets out to answer some of the frequently asked questions for DC DUI arrests.

What will happen to my driver’s license if I am arrested for DUI or DWI in DC?

The answer to this questions depends on whether you have a DC driver’s license or an out of state license.  First and foremost, if you have a DC driver’s license and you get arrested for DUI or DWI, you can lose your license just for the arrest.  Its important to request a hearing with the DC Department of Motor Vehicles (or “DMV”) within ten business days of your arrest.  Doing that will stop the license suspension from taking effect.  It will then be up to a hearing examiner at DMV to decide whether to suspend the license or not based on the testimony of the arresting officer.  At the very least, requesting the hearing will at least postpone the license suspension.  If convicted for DUI, you can lose your DC license for six months to one year.

And what if I have an out of state license?

People with an out of state license who get arrested in DC for a DUI or DWI have fifteen calendar days to request a hearing.  Its important to request that hearing even with an out of state license because the person arrested can lose their driving privileges in DC.  What that means is even if you have a valid out of state license, if you get pulled over in DC, you could be arrested for Operating after Suspension (or “OAS”).  OAS itself is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and/or a five thousand dollar fine.  Depending on your home state laws and regulations, you could also lose your license.  If convicted for DUI, most out of state DMV’s will suspend the person’s license as well.  Most times it depends on whether the appropriate paperwork gets sent from DC to the out of state DMV.

The police never read me my rights, can I get my case dismissed?

Even if the police officers do not read you your rights, the government can still prosecute you for any crime.  Police officers are supposed to advise people of their rights upon making an arrest.  If they fail to do so, and they elicit incriminating information from someone who is in custody, there may be a remedy at trial.  The potential remedy would be having  your DC DUI and DWI lawyer file a motion to suppress any statements.  If the motion is successful, then the government could not use the statements made while in custody against you.

What should I look for in selecting a DC DUI and DWI lawyer?

The consequences for a DUI conviction can involve jail, probation, fines, loss of driving privileges as well as a number of other collateral consequences including exorbitant insurance premiums.  Accordingly, its important you look for a DC DUI lawyer with experience trying cases in DC Superior Court who is familiar with the process and the players, including judges and prosecutors.  Its important to have someone who will focus on your case and be responsive to your questions and concerns.  These cases mostly follow similar patterns and an experienced DUI lawyer can typically give you a range of possible outcomes from best case to worst case scenario.  Finally, you want a DUI lawyer who will fight to protect your rights.

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file291260895708In August of 2012, the District of Columbia City Council amended the city’s DUI laws to include increased maximum penalties, increased mandatory minimums, and a whole host of other changes.  One important change that’s not talked about a lot is the change to the city’s hit and run laws.  Most people think if you are involved in an accident its okay just to leave a note with your information (if you hit a parked car by accident) or to exchange information on the scene.

DC’s current hit and run laws require when you are involved in an accident, you must not only stop and exchange information but also call the police and wait for the police to arrive on scene.  That means if you stop and exchange information, that is not enough.  You could exchange insurance information, leave the scene, and later be charged with leaving after colliding.  Leaving after colliding is a misdemeanor traffic offense that carries a maximum penalty of 90 days and/or a $500.00 fine (if property damage occurs) or 180 days and/or a $1,000.00 fine (if personal injury occurs).

The Attorney General’s Office prosecutes DC leaving after colliding charges aggressively.  If, as I have blogged about before, the OAG treats DUI’s like murder cases, leaving after colliding (or “LAC”) are their armed robberies.  The OAG does not typically offer diversion in LAC cases although they will do under some limited circumstances.

green-alcohol-cocktail-1422791-mThis blog is the third and final part in a three part series discussing the standardized field sobriety tests (or “SFST’s”) that officers administer during DC DUI traffic investigations.  The first part dealt with the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (or “HGN”), which is the follow the pen test.  The second part discussed the Walk and Turn Test, which is the walk the line test.  This part discusses the One Leg Stand Test.

During the One Leg Stand Test, the police officer will instruct the person suspected of driving under the influence to hold one leg six inches above the ground and count aloud.  The officer will instruct the person to count in the thousands (i.e. “one thousand one, one thousand two, etc.”).  The counting will go for thirty seconds but the officer will not inform the person how long to count in advance.  Like with the HGN and Walk and Turn, the officer looks for specific cues of impairment.  For the One Leg Stand Test, the four cues are:

  • If you sway while balancing;
  • If you use your arms to balance;
  • If you hop to maintain balance;
  • If you put your foot down.

In my opinion this test is particularly problematic for individuals–intoxicated or not.  Try standing on one leg for a full 30 seconds with your foot exactly six inches from the ground without at least using your arms to balance.  This task can prove difficult for a completely sober person.  Now imagine doing the test late at night on the side of the road with at least two police officers surrounding you, police lights flashing, cars speeding by, and with the knowledge that failure to successfully complete this test could land you in jail.  In addition, the shoes you wear, how much you weigh, and whether you have any physical health problems can all impact your ability to do the test.

Like with the other SFST’s, the officers investigating DC DUI’s are not trained to interpret an individual’s nervous or anxious behavior as an impediment to successfully completing the test.  In addition, like with the other SFST’s, the officers do not tell the person what cues of impairment they are looking for.  And, again, like the Walk and Turn Test, this test requires that a person exhibit unusual physical movements to somehow prove their sobriety.  For example, if you saw someone standing on the street standing with one foot raised six inches, you would probably wonder what they were doing.

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This blog is the second part of a three part series discussing the standardized field sobriety tests police officers will administer as part of a DC DUI and DWI traffic stop.  The first part discussed the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (or “HGN”).  This part discusses the second test, which is the walk and turn test. alcohol-1342726-m

The walk and turn test requires that you walk nine steps heel to toe along a straight line, pivot three steps to turn, and then walk nine steps back heel to toe.  Police officers, who are certified to administer this test by NHTSA, look for eight cues of impairment during this test.  Like with the HGN test, the officers do not tell you what the cues are and they are the sole judge of whether you pass or fail the test.  The eight possible cues are:

  • If you cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions;
  • If you begin before the officer finishes the instructions;
  • If you stop while walking to regain balance,
  • If you do not touch heel-to-toe while walking;
  • If you step off the line;
  • If you use your arms to balance while walking or standing;
  • If you make an improper turn at the end of the first nine steps;
  • If you take an incorrect number of steps.

The main point of this test is to determine whether you can listen to instructions and follow them.  Supposedly, the ability (or inability) to perform this test is evidence of alcohol impairment.  However, in trial, I have asked police officers to step off the stand during cross-examination and asked them to perform the walk and turn test and have, on more than one occasion, witnessed the officer screw up the test.  Why?  Because they drank alcohol before taking the witness stand?  My impression is that they are nervous to do the test in front of the judge (note the irony).

In DC DUI and DWI investigation, officers are not trained to look for or interpret an individual’s nervous behavior as a possible cause for the inability to perform this test satisfactorily.  Often times, as well, police officers fail to give the instructions properly but, because no independent mechanism exists to verify the accuracy of the testing, it does not matter and they will make the arrest anyway.

Officers are trained to find an actual line on the ground (like a line on the sidewalk) when they administer the test in a DC DUI traffic stop.  However, they often just ask you to use an “imaginary” line.  The type of shoes you have on can impact your ability to perform the test.  Knee injuries, obesity, and whether the ground is at an incline can all negatively impact your ability to perform the test.  Police officers who administer this test are supposed to ask you if you have any health problems that could impact your ability to perform the test.  However, most people, whether they have health problems or injuries, simply don’t know what type of injuries would impact their ability to do this test.  I have never heard of any real life scenario where someone is required to walk heel to toe.

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My first job out of law school was a clerkship for Judge Natalia Combs Greene in the DC Superior Court.  I think most young lawyers who clerk immediately out of law school have good experiences and learn a lot.  I think that I personally had a special experience clerking for Judge Combs Greene.  Throughout my two years with her, she treated me like an equal.  She valued my opinion even when I strenuously disagreed with her.  In fact, I think she liked it when I disagreed because it helped her work through difficult decisions to argue both sides of a particular issue.  She taught me immeasurable lessons about trial advocacy, the court system, and lawyering.  Without having clerked for her specifically, I would have never had the courage to start Scrofano Law at such a young age.

Judge Combs Greene started as an Assistant United States Attorney (“AUSA”).  In other words, she began her career as a prosecutor.  She was an AUSA before the DC City Council eviscerated the right to a jury trial.  In her day, misdemeanors were jury demandable, so she gained a ton of jury trial experience—unlike today where a charge is only jury demandable if the maximum penalty is more than 180 days in jail.  She left for private practice in California and ultimately returned to United States Attorney’s Office where she was eventually appointed as the Director of Training.  In that position, she was responsible for training the new AUSA’s.  I think that was a testament to her trial skills that they asked to run the training program for new prosecutors.  From that position, then-President Clinton appointed her as an Associate Judge to the DC Superior Court.

She announced her retirement this year and her last day is September 30.  The DC Judicial Nomination Commission, which is an organization that selects three nominees for the President to choose one for appointment, is seeking comment on the 18 attorneys who have applied to serve as her replacement.  This process has sparked some debate in the DC criminal defense community as to what qualities make a good judge.  That discussion has stirred some strong feelings in me about who should serve as her replacement.  I have unique insight into what qualities she personally brought to the bench and cannot help feel invested in who replaces her.