A federal judge ordered a Jackson County man to spend the next fifteen years in a federal prison after he was sentenced under the federal armed career criminal law.
According to court documents, Commerce Police Department officers responded to a shots-fired call in 2019. At the scene, they found several .40 caliber shell casings. A witness pointed investigators to the defendant. When they apprehended him, he was carrying a .40 caliber pistol. “The Commerce Police Department was honored to work with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in an effort to hold [the defendant] accountable for his actions. [He] has routinely reoffended upon returning to our community. The opportunity to prosecute this case through Project Safe Neighborhoods will aid us in our efforts to keep Commerce a safe community to thrive in,” said Kenneth Harmon Jr., Chief of Police, City of Commerce.
Project Safe Neighborhoods is a joint enforcement program spearheaded by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Georgia. According to a press release, it “focuses on prosecuting those individuals who most significantly drive violence in our communities.”
Heightened Enforcement Campaigns and Procedural Defenses
Efforts like PSN are very common in criminal law. STEP campaigns (Strategic Traffic Enforcement Program) are even more common. Usually, STEP campaigns have catchy marketing nicknames, like “drive sober or get pulled over” and “click it or ticket.” These efforts come in various shapes and sizes. But they all have certain things in common. Chiefly, these campaigns usually involve substantial government grants to cove added expenses, like officer overtime. To justify the expense, supervisors often encourage officers to issue as many citations as they can during the campaign. Such pressure often causes officers to take shortcuts.
These shortcuts, which a Marietta criminal defense lawyer can exploit in court, include lack of reasonable suspicion for a stop and failure to properly Mirandize a suspect.
Reasonable suspicion is basically an evidence-based hunch of criminal activity. Officers need this level of proof to detain motorists or criminal suspects. Admittedly, that’s a very low standard of evidence. But it does prevent officers from profiling individuals. Officers must administer the Miranda warnings, including the right to remain silent, before they begin custodial interrogation.
Back in ye olden days, a heightened enforcement campaign almost created a presumption that a procedural defense applied. These procedural defenses could easily prompt judges to throw cases out of court. But a pair of recent Supreme Court rulings have changed the landscape.
The reasonable suspicion case is 2016’s Utah v. Strieff. Officers were watching a suspected drug house in Salt Lake City. They didn’t see Streiff go into the house, but they did see him come out of it. They stopped him, found out he had outstanding warrants, searched him, found some drugs, and arrested him.
Before we get to the holding, let’s look at reasonable suspicion. A large number of people going into a house, not staying long, and leaving usually indicated the dwelling might be a drug house. All those people are probably not going inside to borrow a cup of sugar. So, if officers saw Strieff behave in this manner, they probably would’ve had reasonable suspicion to detain him. But they only saw him leave.
Nevertheless, the Supremes ruled that officers had reasonable suspicion for the stop. In other words, the aforementioned evidenced-based hunch is now basically just a hunch. That’s a subtle difference. But it could make a tremendous difference in a criminal case.
The Miranda case is 2010’s Berghuis v. Thompkins. Van Chester Thompkins was a suspect in a Michigan shooting. He came in for questioning, police read him his rights, and he said basically nothing for the longest time. Finally, officers appealed to his (admittedly limited) religious scruples, and he confessed.
A sharply-divided Supreme Court ruled that Berghuis waived his Fifth Amendment rights. Simply remaining silent isn’t enough. Suspects must affirmatively assert their rights, such as the right to remain silent or the right to a lawyer. So, unless suspects say something like “I’m asserting my Constitutional right to remain silent,” anything they say could be used against them.
Are Criminal Records Admissible in Court Cases?
Technically, criminal records are inadmissible in criminal court cases. But some back doors are available, and smart prosecutors know how to use them.
Criminal records are admissible for sentencing purposes. This exemption includes both pretrial settlement negotiations and post-trial sentencing hearings.
However, not all crimes are created equally. Out-of-state DUIs are a good example. Prosecutors could use these prior cases to enhance a current DUI sentence. But many states have lesser-included DUI offenses, such as OWAI (operating while ability impaired). The elements are different. So, these matters are not prior DUIs and cannot be used as such.
During trial, federal and state rules prohibit lawyers from using prior criminal records to prove the defendant is a bad person. So, if prosecutors use these convictions for another purpose, the judge will allow it. Technically, the jury isn’t supposed to consider prior convictions as evidence of guilt. But a Marietta criminal defense lawyer cannot defuse this bomb once it goes off.
“Have you heard” and “did you know” questions are one example. Many defendants think calling character witnesses is a good idea. It normally is a good idea, if the defendant has no skeletons in the closet.
Assume Bill testifies that Michelle is a good person. During cross-examination, the prosecutor could ask Bill “did you know that Michelle has a prior DUI” or “did you know Michelle is a convicted felon.” The prosecutor doesn’t care how Bill answers. What’s important is jurors now know Michelle has a criminal past.
So, if your Marietta criminal defense attorney refuses to call character witnesses on your behalf, your lawyer isn’t being difficult. More than likely, your lawyer is trying to protect you. People normally assume that leopards don’t change their spots. In other words, if you did something bad before, you’re probably going to do something bad again.
It’s getting harder and harder to defend criminal cases. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Marietta, contact the Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We routinely handle matters in Cobb County and nearby jurisdictions.