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Plot twists of court drama, witness tampering, and shocking evidence make Margaret McLean’s novel Under Oath an exciting portrayal of the trial process, while bringing to light the sordid world of criminals and the people who keep their silence in Boston’s oldest neighborhood, Charlestown.
McLean begins the story of an infamous crime boss on trial for murdering a local artist with part of the key witness’s testimony to the grand jury. The mystery hooks readers from the start when the witness says, “But, he’ll kill me because he knows.” The story continues four months later, showing the detective and prosecuting lawyer preparing a witness to take the stand.
The best part about this novel is that it shows the trial process from different points of view. The reader is able to follow the prosecuting and defense lawyers, detective, jury, key witness, and even the defendant, getting inside their thoughts and emotions. This makes for a more accurate picture of how a trial works. One sees the frustration of the jury as the trial drags on. One can understand the struggle of the detective and defense lawyer as they work for justice and are repeatedly thwarted by hidden evidence and uncooperative witnesses. The fear and desolation of the key witness, who has to go into hiding to keep her life, is palpable as she sits in her safe house with nothing to do but chain smoke and mourn the loss of her friend, while her guilt and misery gnaw on her like a dog gnaws a bone. These insights into the lives and minds of the different players in a trial help the reader understand the complicated and exhausting process.
Underneath the drama and mystery, readers can see how a real trial might work. While court is in session each day, the process of questioning and cross-examining a witness is shown, with objections from both sides and orders from the judge peppering the procedure.The procedures for adding witnesses and evidence, when a witness does not show up in court, and the role of the jury are depicted clearly among the increasingly intense plot. Actual law reasoning is used throughout the whole book. When a lawyer objects they explain why, and when the judge either sustains or overrules it, he gives the reason. The lawyers use past cases to justify what they do, and the process for using witnesses and what constitutes a fair trial is interspersed throughout the story.
Along with the actual trial, the blatant, yet silent, crime and violence of Charlestown is shown. Many reasons why the defense team is obstructed in their pursuit of justice is because of the “code of silence” Charlestown is known for. This adds an interesting element, depicting what it means to be a resident of Charlestown and how that can affect the justice system. This turns an ordinary trial story into a moral conflict between doing what is just and protecting loved ones, and what justice actually means. The novel ultimately ends with a surprising turn of events, answering the question of what justice should be in Charlestown.
I would recommend Under Oath for anyone who is interested in the crime fiction genre.
What will the marijuana stores in Washington State really be like? The stores as authorized by Initiative I-502 are scheduled to open in June of 2014. Here is a discussion of some of the unknowns.
1. Will people really pay $12 per gram?
The State Liquor Control Board has indicated that marijuana will be sold at $12 per gram by state licensed stores. Who will pay that? At first the marijuana stores will be a novelty, but then only yuppies and tourists would pay that much. The bulk of marijuana is not consumed by the infrequent casual user. Many heavy users smoke 3 grams per day. They won’t be willing to pay $1000 a month to continue their habit; they will just continue their home gardening or will buy it in bulk on the black market.
2. Will the State prosecute home gardens?
For the State to maintain its monopoly, they will have to prosecute home marijuana gardens just as vigorously as they did pre-I-502. Except now, the State won’t be jailing you to prevent the scourge of drugs, they will prosecute you to protect their monopoly. Will the public accept this? Will jurors accept this when I-502 supposedly made marijuana “legal.” Will local prosecutors jail backyard marijuana growers just to protect the state run cartel? Wasn’t part of the motivation behind Initiative 502 to end the incarceration?
3. Will the State allow dispensaries to still exist?
It is not likely that the State will tolerate the marijuana dispensaries once the dispensaries become their main business competitors. Will the medical cannabis doctors cease to exist? Will the collective gardens likely cease to exist? Will medical cannabis have any meaning when the I-502 stores open up? Should patients be asked to spend the same for marijuana as recreational users? State legislator Chris Hurst has stated: “These dispensaries are absolutely illegal, criminal operations…What’s it going to take to shut all these down?”
4. Who will give the store’s legal advice?
Up until now the lawyers who have advised marijuana sellers or dispensaries have done so at their peril. The bar association frowns on lawyers assisting with the functioning of an illegal enterprise, and up until now the lawyers who have assisted are a few daring individuals who have assisted more on ideological grounds then business acumen. While it sounds exciting, the work of such a lawyer consisted mainly of reviewing business contracts, leases, assisting in payroll, personnel issues, taxes, copyrighting logos, and reading tea leaves to discern when the next federal bust might occur. Will the legal work now go to more mainstream corporate attorneys that have previously turned their nose up at such clients?
5. Will the stores sell to out-of-state users?
Will the I-502 stores attract tourists? How will Idaho feel about cars full of kids driving back from Pullman and Spokane with marijuana? Will Canadians come to Seattle to buy marijuana. Will the proximity of legal marijuana change the way the neighboring states handle marijuana criminal cases? Should the stores only sell to people with Washington drivers licenses or identification (similar to the way firearms are sold)? Will Idaho resent Washington not supporting
6. How will the marijuana stores function on the financial side?
There has been much discussion in the news about the fact that banks will not receive proceeds of a marijuana store out of fear of violating federal banking laws. Will this change? Will the stores really need to function on a cash basis? They can’t accept credit cards, or order items online? What has not been discussed is the effect of IRS section 280e. This code section means that persons in the “drug trade” cannot take business deductions for any business expenses. Think of it like this: If you run a retail store, you might sell $250,000 worth of goods in one year. However, you may just pay taxes on $50 because you have $200,000 worth of expenses from inventory, personnel, rent, supplies, and rent. IRS section 280e says that you cannot take any such deductions for selling marijuana.
7. Will all stores open on the same date?
Many local jurisdictions are imposing moratoriums on marijuana stores in their jurisdiction. These cities include Vancouver, Richland, Issaquah, Pasco, Kent, and Pullman, Washington. Other cities, like Seattle, are asking for more stores. The end result is that the first stores to open their doors could be flooded with customers from neighboring jurisdictions that prohibit the sale. After novelty of legalized cannibis wears off, the second waive of entrepreneurs could face a different market place.
8. Who will apply for licenses?
On November 18th, 2013 the State of Washington will begin accepting license applications for marijuana stores. Who will apply for these licenses? There are many backyard gardeners who have spent their lives hiding from the law and have dreamed about finally legally growing and selling marijuana. However, I-502 and the implementing regulations of the Liquor Control Board make it clear that entrepreneurs with business experience and large financial back will have the advantage. And a criminal record will hurt the chances of those applying for licenses. Will these small-time growers turn to the black market for sales? People with the marijuana grow know-how are in long supply. It is clear that these people will be working for corporations (if they are to be involved at all).
9. Not enough marijuana?
The State of Washington plans on authorizing the sale of 40 metric tons of marijuana the first year. The problem is no one knows if this is enough or too much marijuana. The black market marijuana trade was always a result of supply and demand. Marijuana became scarce, there were “dry spells” in specific locales, prices arose accordingly, and the market corrected itself when new dealers moved in. However, the new State regulated marijuana cartel (under I-502) will be operate through central planning rather than market forces. Think Soviet Russia with its 3 hour lines for bread or potatoes. When the State finally recognizes it is running short, the stores will have to order more marijuana from State licensed farms, and those crops could take a year to grow. Just look at how much bureaucracy there is in implementing I-502. The law pass almost a year ago, and the State hasn’t even printed the applications for the marijuana stores.
What do you think? Will the stores run smoothly? Will people be willing to pay $12 per grams. Will the State be able to consistently meet the supply? The truth is nobody knows just how the implementation will play out, but it will certainly be interesting to watch.
Seizures or forfeitures of property by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are on the increase in Washington State. The motives of WDFW seem to be: 1) revenue generation, 2) increasing punishments beyond what the legislature will approve, and 3) punishing sportsmen who “hamper” investigations by exercising their right to remain silent. Either way, the law isn’t being applied fairly.
WDFW forfeiture Law
Department of Fish and Wildlife Forfeitures are governed by RCW 77.15.070. This statute provides that Fish and Wildlife agents may seize boats, airplanes, vehicles, and other articles they have probable cause to believe have been used to violate fish and game rules and regulations.
The statute does not apply to “inadvertent” violations. This statute comes to a surprise to many sportsmen, and if the statute is read literally, the Fish and Wildlife Department could seize a yacht for someone fishing without a correct license. Unfortunately this is just the kind of overreaching criminal defense lawyers are seeing around Washington State.
Who is targeted by WDFW
As a lawyer defending WDFW violations in eastern Washington, I have seen good people lose their pickup trucks and boats for minor violations. The game agents do not seize all such vehicles. For now it is usually just few select cases. If the matter is a minor violation and the person is cooperative usually their property is not seized or forfeited. Unfortunately, in the mind of WDFW agents, being “cooperative” means waiving your right to remain silent, ratting out your friends and family members, and allowing the agents to search your vehicle or home without a warrant. Being an outspoken critic of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife certainly doesn’t help either.
Entrapment and undercover agents
When we think of undercover investigations we normally think of the FBI or DEA investigating major criminal networks. However, the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife has increasingly used this tactic to investigate even minor violations of the Fish and Game code in RCW title 77. More disturbingly, many of these investigations are what we call “reverse stings.” A reverse sting operation is when the government agents approach a citizen and offer them money to commit a crime. The department claims they are narrowing in on people they believe are already breaking the law. In my experience defending people accused of fish and wildlife violations, the undercover agents will go to great lengths to pose as a law-breaker, often breaking the law right in front of the citizen to try to seem convincing. For example, I have cases where an WDFW agent will drive up with an open container of beer in his car. Some of the behavior amounts to entrapment.
Fighting a forfeiture or seizure
Fighting a forfeiture usually means hiring an attorney. Often times the game department will not follow the correct procedure when seizing the property and a person can fight the forfeiture on technical grounds. The lawyer for the game department is the Attorney General’s office. Through emails I have received through public records requests, it appears that WDFW has to pay for the time of the attorney general that assists with the forfeiture, and this can be a lot of money. However, the game department will usually spend large amounts of money to wear down the owner of the property. This is a common theme in WDFW cases. The department seems to have limitless resources even when investigating a misdemeanor. When an defense attorney is hired, he or she will usually request that the matter be heard in a court of law rather than have the matter heard by a WDFW administrative law judge. If an attorney prevails on a forfeiture case, the citizen can seek to have his or her attorney’s fees reimbursed if the court finds that the seizure was not “substantially justified.”
Although a fish and wildlife attorney may help in individual cases, it may be that the state legislature should address this matter. Should the state legislature in Olympia try to curtail the power of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to seize property? What do you think? For further information see here and here.
Schapelle Corby is being considered for parole, but are the conditions fair? Should she be expected to admit to something she didn’t do? Schapelle Corby, unjustly convicted of smuggling drugs into Bali in 2004, may be eligible for “parole” and may be able to return to Australia in 2018.
A meeting between the Kerobokan Jail Corrections Board and jail officials took place recently to discuss the possibility of releasing Corby on parole. Two other meetings, first between Justice Ministry officials in Bali and then between officials in Jakarta, must be held before the decision on her release can be finalized. This process could take several more months. When Corby is granted parole, she will be required to serve her time at her sister’s house in Bali.
Although Corby is eligible for parole, the process has been slowed due to a strict set of conditions recently instated by the Indonesian government concerning serious crimes, including drug smuggling. These conditions include agreeing to become a “justice collaborator,” admitting guilt, and showing remorse. The prison has already sent a letter to the corrections board, saying she has “demonstrated good behavior while in prison.” Corby has also acquired letters of support from the Australian government, the head of the village where she will be serving her parole, and her family.
Also needed for Corby’s release from jail is a ministerial decree. This approval from the Justice Minister, Nugroho, can take at least two or three months to get, sometimes longer for foreigners. Her lawyer is also waiting for a letter classifying Corby’s immigration status. She could need a “stay permit” to reside in Bali, which is needed before she can apply for parole. Corby does have a choice regarding her sentence. If she stays in jail for the rest of her sentence, she will be free to go back to Australia by 2015. However, neither of these choices satisfactory for someone who is innocent of the crime she accused of committing.
In order to be released on parole, “moral and religious training” is mandatory. This is to help integrate Corby into society and help her learn to “obey the guidance process.” Corby has also signed a document stating that she will not commit any crimes, use or distribute narcotics, and that she will report to the Corrections Board every month. Parole officers will also make surprise visits at her home in Bali. She will also report to Australian Consular officials in Bali. Considering that many details prove Corby’s innocence were covered up mostly by Australian authorities, it does not seem fair that Corby is being forced to admit to something she did not do. These details include the Australian government not using legal authority to push for the forensic and DNA tests that would further prove Corby’s innocence, and the suppression of a recording of two criminals discussing details of the marijuana drug ring in the Sydney airport. It seems as if the Australian government is more concerned with hiding the evidence that a serious drug ring is based in their airports than in rescuing their own citizen from wrongful imprisonment.
What do you think about this case?
As a defense lawyer in Spokane, I have noticed that the atmosphere surrounding the Delbert Belton murder has left everyone a little bit on edge.I have had clients contact me wondering how this atmosphere could affect their case. Kenan Adams-Kinard and Demetrius Glenn are two black teenagers accused of bludgeoning to death an elderly white man while he sat in his car.
Usually when an attorney speaks of a “lynch mob atmosphere” he is speaking metaphorically. However, in every news story online, there are comments calling for Kenan Adams-Kinard and Demetrius Glenn to be dragged out into the street and hanged (along with Obama, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.) I keep waiting for someone to post a comment: “Let’s give Demetrius Glenn and Kenan Adams-Kinard a fair trial, and punish them severely if convicted!” I guess that is what I feel should be done.
Can’t people be furious over what happened without making it a racial issue? Once again this is the internet at its worst. Four years ago I wrote that “The Klan used hoods to protect their anonymity. Today the bad apples… are anonymously attacking… in the comment sections…” The situation hasn’t really improved. However, some online newspapers do a better job than others when it comes to screening and deleting comments. Some online papers have resorted to turning off comments altogether for certain articles.
After a large crowd gathered and was shouting at Demetrius Glenn while he was being transported, the staff of the Spokane County Jail decided not to risk moving Kenan Adams-Kinard. The jail staff later made the move but did it late at night when no one was around.
In 2003, high school sophomore and promising football star Brian Banks was arrested for the rape and kidnap of classmate Wanetta Gibson. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, with the requirement to wear an ankle monitor and to register as a sex offender upon release. His trial and imprisonment, however, were based upon the lie of a fifteen-year old girl who was afraid of her mother finding out she was sexually active.
Banks was arrested in the summer of 2002. During class, he met Gibson in a remote corner of the school where they engaged in sexual activity, without having sexual intercourse. Afterward, they parted ways, on good terms, said Banks, and returned to class. However, Gibson, worried that her mother would discover that she was sexually active, told a classmate that she had been raped. They went to school authorities, and by the end of the day, Banks had been arrested.
The charges against Banks were two counts of forcible rape and kidnapping, and his bail was set for one million dollars. As his family was unable to pay this large amount, he waited for his trial in jail for a year. When it was time for him to go to trial, his lawyer told him that he would not get a fair trial: he was a black teenager and was over six feet tall, weighing over two hundred pounds, and the jury was likely to be all white. He pled no contest, avoiding a maximum of forty-one years in prison, but was sentenced to seven years, despite there being no evidence against him other than Gibson’s word. Steve Meister, former LA County sex crimes prosecutor, said that he wouldn’t have even filed a case against Banks. There was no DNA evidence, Gibson’s statements were inconsistent, and the classmate she had confided in about the rape admitted that Gibson later told her that she had lied.
Banks ended up serving only five years in prison, but was required to wear an ankle monitor and register as a sex offender. He appealed to the California Innocence Project to help him reverse the court’s ruling and clear his name, but there wasn’t enough evidence to prove his innocence. Then one day five years later, Gibson sent him a friend request on Facebook. He consulted a lawyer, and sent her a message asking why she was contacting him. She wanted to “let bygones be bygones,” Banks said. His lawyer set up a meeting with Gibson that they secretly recorded, and she admitted that Banks had never raped her. She also said that she would help him, but she didn’t want to have to pay back the 1.5 million dollars she received from the school for a lack of sufficient security.
With the help of the California Innocence Project, Banks went to court for the second time on May 24, 2012. The tape of Gibson’s confession provided enough evidence for Banks to be exonerated. “To have this finally be over with, to finally have my name cleared and have my life back and also reflect on everything I’ve been through,” said Banks. “It’s been a 10-year struggle, so I’m happy to be free now.”
The California Innocence Project, founded in 1999 at the California Western School of Law, helped Brian Banks when he thought there was no hope. Most recently, Brian Banks has signed with the Atlanta Falcons playing football again. You can read Brian’s story and the stories of others who have been wrongfully convicted at www.californiainnocenceproject.org.
What are your thoughts on this case?
How accurate is the breath test instrument on DUI arrests? What if the result is .10 or .11? Does that mean you are automatically guilty? What is the margin of error?
There are many things that can effect the breath test accuracy. Let’s take a look at them one by one.
There are certain contaminants that can effect the accuracy of the breath instrument. Acetone is one of those contaminants. Acetone can be present on a person’s breath if they are diabetic or if they are fasting. Exposure to certain paint thinners and chemical can also effect the breath instrument. There are studies that show false readings as high as .40 for contaminates. (The legal limit is .08.) DUI lawyers often see this in cases where people work around chemicals.
There are also certain breathing irregularities that can throw off the breath test by as much as 16 percent. Holding your breath prior to the breath test can increase the alcohol reading, while hyperventilating can decrease the alcohol reading. The temperature of your breath can effect the reading too, and the warmer the breath, the higher the alcohol reading. A fever can cause an elevated breath test as well, as can asthma, emphysema, or other such lung diseases.
If a person has alcohol present in their mouth, this can throw off the breath test result dramatically. Alcohol can be caught in chewing tobacco and even in dentures or other dental work. Mouth alcohol can also be a result of vomiting or belching, or a breath spray or mouthwash.
Keep in mind we are discussing the BAC instrument that DUI suspects blow into at the jail or police station. The little portable instrument you blew into on the side of the road is not admissible.
A lot of times people think that a breath test result over .08 means that their case is over. In reality there is a lot that a DUI lawyer can do, particularly with the help of a expert witness.
For more information, visit our webpage. Steve Graham does DUI case in Spokane and the surrounding counties of eastern Washington.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that “detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.” That is to say that people have to make split second decisions when they act in self-defense. This is what Spokane plumber Gail Gerlach did when he saw the man stealing his Chevy Suburban turn his arm around like he was pointing something at him.
In hindsight, we now know that the man was unarmed. Washington law states “A person is entitled to act on appearances in defending himself, if that person believes in good faith and on reasonable grounds that he is in actual danger of great personal injury, although it afterwards might develop that the person was mistaken as to the extent of the danger. Actual danger is not necessary for a homicide to be justifiable.” It is believable that Gail Gerlach saw a threatening gesture. Gerlach’s wife also saw a gesture from a different angle.
Under the law of Washington State, it is not Gerlach’s job to prove self-defense. The prosecutor’s job is to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.
The police are challenging that Mr. Gerlach could have seen the driver make such a gesture. The media reported that the detective said: “I was only able to see small portions of the front seat and believe it would not have been possible to see anybody’s actions as they turned around and shifted their arm over the top of the seat. If anything would have been visible of the driver, it would simply have been the top of his head sticking up over the top of the head rest.” However, is a person turns around to shoot, “over the seat” is exactly where his hand would be pointed.
Gail Gerlach’s supporters posted a photo online of the windows look like on a similar Suburban with factory tinted windows.
Apparently there wasn’t a consensus in the prosecutor’s office to charge. The Spokesman-Review quoted the elected prosecutor as saying “One police officer and one deputy prosecutor thought that it was a murder… The others ranged in opinion from manslaughter to no charges at all.”
If you can’t get a room full of prosecutors to agree that a crime was committed, how will you get 12 jurors agree to convict a man?
It seems to me that this charge is a waste of tax payers money.
For people interested in helping Gail Gerlach, please see his Facebook Support Page. I just made a small donation.
What do you think about this case? Have prosecutors typically charged police officers when they make poor judgment calls?
I-502 and marijuana decriminalization in Washington State has had a dramatic impact on the courts system for marijuana. But what has changed in Washington State for the simple possession of small amounts of ecstasy (MDMA), cocaine, ketamine, LSD, or psilocybin?
Arrests continue for concert goers for even a small amount of those club drugs. The possession of MDMA, ketamine, LSD and psilocybin in any amount is a felony punishable by a standard range of 0-6 months in jail and up to a $10,000 dollar fine. As a criminal defense lawyer who works in Grant County, I have seen jail sentences up to 90 days even for individuals with no felony priors. After I-502 passed last November, I wondered what the summer might bring for drug arrests in Grant County (specifically at the Gorge). The concert season this summer kicked off with the Sasquatch! Music Festival, with three days of indie rock, alternative and hip hop. When the court opened up on Tuesday morning (after the long weekend), there were numerous arrests for possession of such drugs as MDMA, ketamine, LSD and psilocybin. When I was there I asked some people if the police were issuing citations for using marijuana in public (in infraction under I-502) but no one reported seeing any such cases. Since such tickets don’t bring a risk of jail time, it is less likely for a criminal defense lawyer to be involved in such cases.
The police claim to have as a priority cases of possession with intent to deliver, or delivery of a controlled substance. However, the people selling such drugs can be hard to catch, and the jail roster is made up mostly of simple possession cases. At the Gorge, concert goers are often detained by the staff security. Criminal defense lawyers often see reserve officers deployed, as well as fulltime commissioner law enforcement. If there is any silver lining, it seems that by the time the charges make it to court, the officers’ memories are so poor that they don’t recall one case from the next. The reports on these Grant County cases seem so rushed, that criminal defense lawyers are often able to pick the cases apart.
When I talked to some people that had been arrested for possession of drugs, it almost seemed like marijuana decriminalization in Grant County freed up the police to crack down further on instances involving MDMA, ketamine, LSD and psilocybin. Should the legislature really make it a felony to possess even small amounts of such drugs? It seems like the passing of I-502 was not motivated by any sense of libertarianism, nor of a sense that drug abuse should be addressed as a public health issue. Rather I-502 was passed mostly out a desire to bring in more tax revenue.
For more info on drug cases in Grant County, see: http://www.grahamdefense.com/Grant-County-Criminal-Lawyer.aspx
Because every criminal defense lawyer likes to see his name in print…