Articles Tagged with DC Superior Court

This is the final part of a three part series on DC gun laws.  In the first part, I discussed the current state of DC gun laws and how its important to challenge current gun charges on the basis of the law’s unconstitutionality.  The second part discussed the process for attempting to withdraw a guilty plea on a gun conviction under the District’s old law and weighed the pros and cons of trying to withdraw a guilty plea.  This final part discusses the class action lawsuit filed by Scrofano Law PC and the Law Office of William Claiborne.

In Smith et al v. District of Columbia, we argue that after Palmer was decided, the District government should not have continued to prosecute gun offenses.  We argue that the government’s prosecution of unconstitutional gun laws violated plaintiffs’ Second Amendment rights.  In addition, we argue that the seizure of guns violated the plaintiffs’ Fifth Amendment rights.  As previously discussed, a typical scenario that occurs in the District of Columbia is a law abiding out of state resident visiting the District who is unaware of the District’s draconian gun laws gets pulled over for a minor traffic violation.  That person tells the law enforcement officer that she has a gun in the vehicle—as one is typically trained to do in gun safety courses.  Then, the officer arrests that person and charges them with a felony gun crime.

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gun-1503923There has been a lot of news lately regarding DC’s gun laws.  If you have been convicted in the District of Columbia for carrying a pistol, unregistered firearm, or unregistered ammunition prior to October of 2014, there may be a legal remedy available to get your conviction overturned.  Part I  will discuss the current state of the District’s gun laws and how you may be able to get your conviction overturned.  Part II will discuss the pros and cons of trying to get your conviction overturned.  Finally, Part III will discuss a class action lawsuit filed by Scrofano Law PC and The Law Office of William Claiborne III on behalf of folks who were prosecuted in DC under the city’s unconstitutional gun laws.

In July of 2014, a federal judge in the District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the city’s “carrying a pistol” statute was unconstitutional.  At that time, the District maintained an absolute ban on the carrying of a pistol.  No mechanism existed to obtain a concealed carry permit.  In Palmer v. District of Columbia, Judge Scullin ruled that right to bear arms articulated in the Second Amendment of the Constitution extended beyond the right to self defense in the home and to “carry” as well.

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engine-start-button-1445913-mThe penalty for second offenses in the District of Columbia for DUI’s and DWI’s include a mandatory minimum jail term of ten days. It’s the only misdemeanor crime in the District of Columbia that carries mandatory minimum jail time. To give you a sense of how serious DC treats DUI second offenses: you could be convicted of assaulting a police officer and destroying property while possessing illegal drugs and the judge could still give you straight probation. On the other hand, you could have a DUI conviction from 14 years ago and get convicted for another DUI where you got pulled over for failing to use a turn signal and blew a .09. In the latter scenario, the judge must sentence you to at least 10 days in jail. The judge will also likely sentence you to a period of supervised probation for one year or more.

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beer-delivery-system-1-1246534-mI usually advise my clients to enroll in a private alcohol program after getting arrested for a DC DUI or DWI. For most people who get arrested for DUI, the police will release them at the station after several hours with a Citation to Return to Court. The citation gives them a date is for the Court to arraign the person on the charge of DUI and any other additional charges based on the police officer’s allegations.  At the arraignment, the prosecutor from the Office of the Attorney General will ask for several release conditions. The standard release conditions include (1) do not drive without a valid permit; (2) do not drive after the consumption of drugs or alcohol; and (3) report to the Pretrial Services Agency for a full screening and assessment. In almost all DC DUI cases, traffic judges in Superior Court will agree with government’s request and impose those conditions.

Now, the first two are no brainers and easy to comply with. Do not drive without a valid permit is just what it means. If you have a valid license, drive all you want. If you don’t, then don’t drive. If you get caught driving with a suspended license while under that release condition, you can not only get arrested for operating after suspension but also be charged with contempt of court. This condition is particularly important where the person’s license gets suspended as a result of the DC DUI arrest. The second condition is also an easy one. If the person has even one sip of alcohol or ingests any type of drugs, do not drive.

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There are a lot of important qualities to look for when hiring a criminal defense lawyer.  You want an attorney who truly cares about their clients.  Its important for a criminal defense lawyer to have a strong and aggressive personality.  Trust me, the government will literally run you over in a criminal case and not think twice about it if you let it.  You absolutely want someone who is strong and willing to fight.

However, in my opinion, the most important thing to look for is an attorney who will be completely honest with his clients.  For example, in the District of Columbia Superior Court almost all first offenders can get probation in DUI cases so long as nothing in the arrest triggers mandatory minimum jail time (for example, a breath score above .20 triggers mandatory minimum jail).  If you walk into a DC DUI lawyer’s office having blown a .14 as a first offender with no other criminal history, no car accident, or other aggravating circumstances and he or she tells you that you could be facing serious jail time, walk out.

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DC Gun Lawyer

A common, unfortunate scenario that often occurs in the District of Columbia because of its strict gun laws, goes something like this:

Average out-of-state, law abiding citizen with no prior criminal record travels through or to the nation’s capital. We will call him John.  John commits one of the hundreds of possible District of Columbia traffic infractions while driving.  And this traffic infraction could involve something as innocuous as hanging something from the rear view mirror or having window tint that is too dark.  One of the dozens of law enforcement agencies that has jurisdiction in the District pulls the person over.  We will call him Officer Friendly.  Officer Friendly either asks Johns: “Do you have any weapons in the vehicle” or John, accustomed to the laws of his home state, voluntarily announces to Officer Friendly that he has a firearm in the vehicle.  John then tries to show Officer Friendly his home state concealed carry permit for his lawfully registered firearm.  In John’s mind, all of this is no big deal.

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489547_cocaine_stripesA big story in the news today was last night’s arrest of Republican Congressman from Florida Trey Radel for possession of cocaine in DC.  Congressman Radel is a freshman tea party congressman who represents the 19th congressional district which covers Naples, Fort Myers, and Cape Coral.

He was arrested after he purchased about 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover law enforcement officer.  In DC, possession of cocaine is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000.00 fine.  Unlike most people arrested in DC, Congressman Radel immediately plead guilty at his first court date.  I did not realize what had happened until I walked into court this morning and saw the media frenzy outside the DC Superior Court.

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When I recently attended the Trial Lawyer’s College, I had the opportunity to meet and get to know a number of great criminal defense lawyers from across the country.  I got to know criminal defense lawyers from California, Georgia, Ohio, Nebraska, and Indiana, among other places.  With the exception of a Marine Corp JAG officer who represents detainees at Guantanamo Bay and lives in northern Virginia, I was the only DC area criminal defense lawyer at the College.  The trip shattered a number of assumptions that I had brought with me.

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I had always viewed the DC as a progressive and enlightened jurisdiction—especially compared to “tough on crime” southern states.  I recognized DC had its problems but thought they were trivial compared to states like Florida and my home state of Texas.  We have local judges appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate—not elected and subject to the whims of popular opinion.  We have a strong defense bar even for people who cannot afford an attorney.  We have more former criminal defense lawyers on the bench than most jurisdictions.  Most judges in DC take the view that treatment rather than incarceration is the most effective way to curb drug abuse.

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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.

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