Archive for the 'felony' Category

Think Before You Tweet

by Sarah Blalock

Think that all your Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, and Myspace updates could never cause you any trouble?  Think again.

Thanks to the recent release during a lawsuit of several internal documents from the United States Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service, we now know that the government is using social networking sites to investigate cases of all types.  According to an recent article in the Detroit Free Press by Associated Press writer Richard Lardner  (http://freep.com/article/20100316/NEWS09/100316040/1320/Careful-New-Facebook-friend-might-be-the-feds), agents are even going so far as to go undercover on these online sites in order to gather information about suspects or witnesses in criminal cases.  

While this is something that may just now be becoming public knowledge, the fact that law enforcement officers look to social networking sites such as Facebook, Myspace and Twitter to assist in their investigations is old news to those of us who defend people involved in computer-related crimes.  In fact, here at the Law Offices of Raymond A. Cassar, it is standard procedure for us to ask our new clients about their accounts on social networking sites, in order to be best prepared to handle their cases.  It is almost a given in this day and age that the prosecutor and police will be searching for our clients’ Facebook pages to see if they contain any incriminating evidence. 

Government agents, probation officers, and prosecutors can either go undercover by submitting a “friend request” on sites like Facebook, or by “following” a person on Twitter.  Once the agent is accepted as a friend or follower, they will have full access to the person’s page, and any posts or photos there.  Agents can pose as underage girls or boys in order to catch a person they believe is an online predator, or they can seek out photos of a person engaged in illegal activity such as drug use or underage alcohol use.  Often, agents don’t even need to go undercover – they simply have to click on the person’s social networking page.  Once they do, if the page is not set to private, they have access to a virtual goldmine of personal information.  Even if one’s profile IS set to private, police and probation officers may be able to access their information through a friend’s page that isn’t private – it all depends on how diligently they are willing to search.

In Michigan, the use of social networking sites for this type of investigation is of particular note.  If prosecutors can tie the commission of a crime to a person’s computer use, the penalties are even higher than they would be if that crime were committed “in the real world.”  Use of a Computer to Commit a Crime is a common felony charge in Michigan that can apply to all types of criminal cases – from Solicitation of a Minor to Fraud charges.  Use of a Computer to Commit a Crime can drastically raise the stakes and the potential penalties for anyone who is charged with that offense in conjunction with any other criminal charge.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing things about this new trend is that so many people feel “safe” online on social networking websites.  Because they have to approve or deny “friend requests,” many people generally feel that the information they are posting will only be disseminated to people they know and trust.  Lardner’s article, however, is a harsh reminder that when you are online, you are never truly private. 

So the next time you think about updating your Facebook status, or posting a new Tweet, think very carefully about what you are about to say.  “Big Brother” could be watching…

Sarah Blalock is an attorney at the Law Offices of Raymond A. Cassar, a Detroit Area Criminal Defense firm. Mr. Cassar has twenty years of experience in State & Federal Court. His office is happy to give advice regarding criminal matters. You may learn more about Attorney Raymond Cassar and Attorney Sarah Blalock by visiting : http://www.crimlawattorney.com/

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Arenas sentenced

Well, Judge Morin from the DC Superior Court imposed his much awaited sentence on superstar Gilbert Arenas today.  As mentioned in the earlier post, Arenas faced charges on one count of a felony gun possession of an unregistered firearm in DC.  Prosecutors had asked for a three months jail sentence for Arenas, whose sentencing guidelines were 6 to 24 months in jail due to his two prior misdemeanors on his record. 

Ultimately, Arenas was sentenced to two years probation, which includes 30 days in halfway house and 400 hours of community service. He is also required to register as a gun offender and donate $5,000 to fund for victims of violent crimes. Arenas appeared to be remorseful and told Judge Morin that “every day [I] wish this never happened.”  Arenas’ attorneys sought to avoid any jail time by seeking  probation and community service, arguing the incident was a misguided prank with no intention to harm anyone. Further arguments on Arenas’ behalf were  that the guns were unloaded, that Arenas’ lighthearted comments about the incident were misinterpreted, and that he’s a good role model who excelled at community service throughout his good fortunes in the NBA.

Finally, for those out there who choose to take advantage or are forced to go down a plea deal route, it is very important to note what Judge Morin pointed out during his sentencing.  He said that an important factor was that he truly believed Arenas was remorseful.  Acceptance of responsibility is a huge factor taken into account by virtually all judges in every jurisdiction.  Accordingly, prior to every sentencing hearing, a good criminal defense attorney will prepare their clients, and make sure that they understand all the factors that will be addressed and taken into account by the judge.

Attorney Raymond Cassar is a Detroit Area Criminal Defense attorney who has twenty years of experience in State & Federal Court. His office is happy to give advice regarding all criminal matters. You may learn more about Attorney Raymond Cassar and his team of attorneys by visiting his website at:  http://www.crimlawattorney.com .

Gilbert Arenas sentencing

Gilbert Arenas is a three-time All – Star point guard in the NBA for the Washington Wizards.  However, today in DC Superior Court he will find out his sentence that will be imposed on him by Judge Robert E. Morin.  The question is whether Arenas will be sentenced to do jail time or get probation and community service for his one felony count of violating the District of Columbia’s strict gun laws.

The basic facts of this case are simple and unfortunately very foolish. Arenas and Crittenton were playing cards and got into a heated verbal joust while flying back from on the team plane on December 19, 2009.  Two days later, Arenas brought his guns to the locker room and in his words “played the prank” on Crittenton by placing the guns on the latter’s chair with the sign, “Pick 1.” Additionally, Crittenton then retrieved his own gun and ensured that Arenas knew he had a “piece” of his own. (Crittenton pleaded guilty in January to a misdemeanor gun charge and received a year of unsupervised probation.) Subsequent, Arenas entered a guilty plea on January 15th. 

 The maximum term for Arenas’ crime is five years. The sentencing guidelines for someone with his record call for 6-24 months, although those guidelines also allow for probation. The reason his guidelines start at 6 months is that Arenas has had two prior misdemeanor convictions for gun related crimes.  The sentencing guidelines take into account both prior record variables as well as offense variables to increase one’s guideline.  The top of one’s sentencing guideline may not exceed the top of the statutory penalty. Perhaps most important, Arenas’ sentence could determine whether the Wizards will attempt to void the remainder of his six-year, $111 million contract. 

Prosecutors demand a sentence of three months in jail.  Part of their argument is that Arenas’ showed a carefree type attitude throughout the proceedings, that he knew that bringing the guns to the locker room was illegal, that he has a prior gun charge and that he “joked about the incident to large groups, and stated that he did nothing wrong and felt no remorse,” according to assistant United States attorney Christopher Kavanaugh.

The defense has made good arguments to counter on behalf of Arenas, and attempt to persuade the Judge to grant Arenas probation and community service in lieu of a jail sentence. The crust of the defense argument is that Arenas played a much misguided prank but he had absolutely no intent to harm anyone.  Additionally, the guns were unloaded, the media misinterpreted Arenas’s light hearted comments regarding the case, and that he has been a positive role model for the community with much community service and charitable donations through NBA Cares and other charitable organization.  Finally, the defense argues that Arenas was confused about the DC’s complicated gun laws and that through his suspension the rest of the 2009-10 season he was already punished with the tens of millions lost in earnings and endorsements. 

The arguments put forth by both sides are fairly persuasive on their face.  The defense team is making the type of arguments that defendants should expect their clients to put forth in all types of cases.  Lack of prior history, positive impact on the community prior and subsequent to the offense, remorse for one’s actions after entering a plea deal are all factors that a well-trained criminal defense attorney should use to craft a persuasive argument on their client’s behalf at the sentencing hearing.   

Attorney Raymond Cassar is a Detroit Area Criminal Defense attorney who has twenty years of experience in State & Federal Court. His office is happy to give advice regarding criminal matters. You may learn more about Attorney Raymond Cassar and his team of attorneys by visiting his website at:  http://www.crimlawattorney.com .

Roethlisberger follow up….

Well, despite “Big Ben’s” (Roethlisberger’s nickname in NFL circles) getting lawyered up with a famous Atlanta attorney, Ed Garland who is known for representing Ray Lewis in the shooting in 2000 and the rapper TI, mistakes were already made prior.  Reports have come out that confirmed that Roethlisberger volunteered information to the police on the night of the alleged incident on March 5th.

The thought process for Roethlisberger must have been that he was being accused of something he did not do, forcible rape, and therefore he told police the truth as he saw it: no sexual intercourse happened.  HOWEVER, what Big Ben failed to understand is something that most people fail to understand: sexual assault does NOT always mean forcible rape.  In lay people’s terms, sexual assault seems to always be tought of as rape.  The harsh reality is that sexual assault allegations are MUCH MUCH broader than forcible sexual penetration.  “Simple” touching or contact can very well enable prosecutor’s offices to charge sexual assault, and few people out there may realize that.

In MI, Criminal Sexual Conduct in the 2nd degree is simply satisfied with a touching for sexual gratification.  Those are very broad terms, and one, whether a lawyer or not, can easily picture situations where the argument can be made the sexual contact/touching/brushing was done for “sexual gratification.”  Unfortunately, few people realize that concept, and it appears that Ben Roethlisberger may have made that mistake.  Depending on what statements he made to the police, he may have well incriminated himself despite proclaiming his innocence from forcible sexual intercourse.

Attorney Raymond Cassar is a Detroit Area Criminal Defense attorney who has twenty years of experience in State & Federal Court. His office is happy to give advice regarding criminal matters. You may learn more about Attorney Raymond Cassar and his team of attorneys by visiting his website at:  http://www.crimlawattorney.com .