Right to Counsel – 6th Amendment

A criminal defendant’s right to an attorney is found in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which requires the “assistance of counsel” for the accused in all criminal prosecutions. This means that a defendant has a constitutional right to be represented by an attorney during every aspect of a criminal proceeding from the arraignment and through an appeals process. It also means that if the defendant cannot afford an attorney, in almost all instances the government will appoint one to handle the case, at no cost to the defendant.

The defense attorney’s role is of paramount importance in almost every criminal case. While specific duties of an attorney vary depending on the nature of the charges and the case, key responsibilities of any criminal defense lawyer include advising the defendant of his or her rights and explaining what to expect at different stages of the criminal process; ensuring that the defendant’s constitutional rights are not violated through law enforcement conduct, or in court proceedings and negotiating a plea bargain with the government, on the defendant’s behalf. Lastly, a defense attorney is responsible for investigating facts and the evidence presented as well as cross-examining witnesses, objecting to evidence and questions presented by the prosecution and presenting any legal defenses that may be apparent.

Courts have interpreted the Sixth Amendment right to counsel as guaranteeing the “effective assistance of counsel” to criminal defendants. It doesn’t matter whether the attorney is hired by the defendant or appointed by the government. However, questionable strategic choices made by an attorney and even serious lawyer errors, in some instances do not usually cause a conviction to be thrown out, unless it is clear that the attorney’s incompetence affected the outcome of the case.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

Advertisements

Hearsay Rule Explained

One of the most common objections used in a criminal trial is the rule against hearsay. The rule against hearsay is complex and full of exceptions. Hearsay is an out of court statement, made in court, to prove the truth of the matter asserted. In other words, hearsay is evidence of a statement that was made other than by a witness while testifying at the hearing in question and that is offered to prove the truth of the matter stated. For example, Witness A in a murder trial claimed on the stand: “Witness B (the “declarant”) told me that the defendant killed the victim.” The definition of hearsay is not too difficult to understand but the matter can become very confusing when one considers all of the many exceptions to the general rule against hearsay.

Even if a statement meets the requirements for hearsay, the statement may yet be admissible under one of the exceptions to the hearsay rule. The Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) contains nearly thirty of these exceptions. Most of them are generally available, although a few of them are limited to times when the declarant is unavailable.

There are twenty-four exceptions in the federal rules that do not require proof that the person who made the statement is unavailable. These are:

Business records, including those of a public agency

Certain public records and reports

Evidence of a judgment of conviction for certain purposes

Evidence of the absence of a business record or entry

Excited utterances or spontaneous statements

Family records concerning family history

Judgments of a court concerning personal history, family history, general history, or

boundaries, where those matters were essential to the judgment

Learned treatises used to question an expert witness

Market reports, commercial publications, and the like

Marriage, baptismal, and similar certificates

Past recollections recorded

Recorded documents purporting to affect interests in land

Records of religious organizations concerning personal or family history

Records of vital statistics

Reputation concerning boundaries or general history

Reputation concerning family history

Reputation of a person’s character

Statements about the declarant’s present sense impressions

Statements about the declarant’s then existing mental, emotional, or physical condition

Statements in authentic ancient documents (at least 20 years old)

Statements in other documents purporting to affect interests in land and relevant to the purpose

of the document

Statements made by the declarant for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment

Statements of the absence of a public record or entry

The “catchall” rule

The last exception, the so-called “catchall” rule, bears some explanation. This rule does not require that the declarant be unavailable to testify. It does say that evidence of a hearsay statement not included in one of the other exceptions may nevertheless be admitted if it meets these following conditions:

It has sound guarantees of trustworthiness

It is offered to help prove a material fact

It is more probative than other equivalent and reasonably obtainable evidence

Its admission would forward the cause of justice

The other parties have been notified that it will be offered into evidence

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

A Defendant’s Right to a Trial by Jury

One of the most important constitutional rights a defendant has is the right to have a jury of his or her own peers decide whether they are guilty or innocent of an alleged crime. Taking a case to trial is a risky proposition for those participating, especially for the criminal defendant involved in the case. If a defendant is convicted of a crime at trial, there are certain appellate rights they have. The government may also appeal a case.

In order for an appellate court to hear an appeal from a lower court the aggrieved party must demonstrate to the appellate court that an error was made at the trial level. The error must have been substantial. “Harmless errors,” or those unlikely to make a substantial impact on the result at trial, are not grounds for reversing the judgment of a lower court. Any error, defect, irregularity, or variance which does not affect substantial rights, are generally disregarded.

Assuming that there was no harmless error, there are two basic grounds for appeal. The first being that the lower court may have made a serious error of the established law (plain error) and the second being that the weight of the evidence does not support the verdict reached by a judge or jury.

Plain error is an error or defect that affects the defendant’s substantial rights, even though the parties did not bring this error or defect to the judge’s attention during trial. Of course, some plain errors or defects affecting substantial rights may be noticed although they were not brought to the attention of the court. In any event, plain error will form a basis for an appeal of a criminal conviction.

It is much more difficult to prevail in an appeal based on the alleged insufficient weight of evidence. Although appellate courts review the transcripts of trials, they almost never hear actual testimony of witnesses, view the presentation of evidence, or hear the parties’ opening and closing arguments. As a result, they are not in the best position to assess the weight of the evidence in many cases. For this reason they place much confidence in trial courts’ decisions on issues of facts. In an appeal based on an alleged insufficient weight of evidence to support a verdict, the error or misjudgment of evidence must truly be egregious for a defendant to expect to prevail on appeal.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

DNA Evidence Explained

The attorneys at SQ Attorneys handle a broad range of cases from simple misdemeanor offenses to serious felony matters. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) evidence is an important aspect to many serious felony offenses such as murder and/or rape charges. Many have heard of DNA, and may have a basic understanding, but what exactly is DNA?

DNA is the basic building block of life. The information encoded in all organism’s DNA acts as a blueprint for the organism’s biological development and functioning. DNA exists in the cells of all living organisms, and by testing the DNA found in a person’s cell, scientists can come up with a DNA profile for that individual. Only one-tenth of 1 percent of human DNA differs from one individual to the next and, although estimates vary, studies suggest that forensic DNA analysis is roughly 95 percent accurate.

Only until the mid-1980s did DNA profiling of individuals came in to existence. An English scientist by the name of Dr. Alec Jeffrey’s, discovered that certain areas of the DNA strand contain patterns that repeat many times. The number of these repetitions varies between individuals and Dr. Jeffreys developed a test to measure the variation in length of these repetitions. Using this test, Dr. Jeffreys found that he was able to identify individuals by comparing samples of their DNA. This test that Dr. Jeffreys developed became known as restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP), which was commonly used in examining DNA evidence in the mid-1980s.

RFLP is an accurate and reliable test, but it requires a relatively large amount of DNA to work. Laboratories now use tests based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method, which allows for testing on very small amounts of DNA from biological samples. Today, a small amount of DNA can be tested through PCR in providing evidence within a crime scene.

Investigators can collect DNA evidence from a number of different sources. Almost any biological evidence can contain DNA, although not every sample contains sufficient amounts of DNA to enable DNA profiling.

Forensic investigators analyze the biological samples to get a DNA profile of the individual(s) that the samples came from. If investigators already have a suspect in mind, they can collect samples to compare to the evidence collected at the scene. There are also databases of DNA profiles that investigators can use to identify suspects by comparing the database information to the DNA profile obtained from the biological evidence.

Assuming that investigators properly collect and handle biological evidence and that the forensic scientists employ accepted methods and conduct the analysis correctly, DNA evidence is extremely accurate. It is a defense attorneys job to carefully analyze and investigate whether or not DNA evidence was properly collected. The chances of one individuals DNA profile matching another persons are extremely small but there continues to be quite a bit of debate about this.

Compared to fingerprinting or eyewitness testimony, which both can be inaccurate, DNA evidence is a highly effective way to match a suspect to biological samples collected during a criminal investigation.

Because of its accuracy, criminal lawyers increasingly rely on DNA evidence to prove a defendants guilt or innocence. DNA evidence has exonerated people through post conviction analysis of biological samples. Since DNA analysis didn’t exist until recently, a reexamination of evidence collected during older investigations can reveal that the DNA profile of the person convicted of the crime does not match the DNA profile from biological samples collected at crime scenes.

Errors in the collection and/or handling of the biological samples used for the DNA analysis can result in the exclusion of DNA evidence at trial. Similarly, if a lab contaminates the biological sample or is found to use unreliable methods, a judge may reject the DNA evidence at trial.

When challenging DNA evidence, defense attorneys will usually focus on the behavior of the investigators and forensic analysts in an attempt to cast doubt on the results of DNA profiles, rather than attack the reliability of DNA profiling as a whole. A well-known example of this is the defense strategy was used in the O.J. Simpson trial.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

Probation Instead of Jail

So you have just been placed on probation? Has your lawyer advised you on what probation is and what will be required of you? Probation is the suspension of a jail sentence that allows a person convicted of a crime a chance to remain in the community, instead of going to jail. Active probation requires that you follow certain court-ordered rules and conditions under the supervision of a probation officer. Typical conditions may include performing community service, meeting with your probation officer, refraining from using illegal drugs or excessive alcohol, avoiding certain people and places, and appearing in court during requested times and for many alcohol/drug related crimes, you may be required to submit to random urine analysis tests. But how long will this last?

Typically, the amount of time you are on probation depends on the offense and laws of your state. Typically, probation lasts anywhere from one to five years in Washington state, but can last longer and even up to life depending on the type of conviction, such as drug or sex offenses.

A person who is placed on probation is usually required to report to a probation officer and follow a variety of conditions during the probation period. Specific conditions may include: 1) meeting with your probation officer at set times; 2) appearing at scheduled court appearances; 3) paying probation fees and restitution to the alleged victim; 4) avoiding certain people and places and not traveling out of state without permission from your probation officer; 5) obeying all laws and committing no new law violations and 6) refraining from illegal drug use or alcohol use )if ordered) while also submitting to random drug and alcohol testing. These are just some examples of what is required of one while on probation. There can be many other conditions. Typically, the conditions imposed relate to the type of criminal offense. For example, a judge may require you to submit to periodic drug testing or attend a drug rehabilitation program for a drug-related offense.

So now that you are on probation, you may ask what the consequences are if you happen to violate any of the conditions? Probation violation occurs when you break any of the rules or conditions set forth in the probation order at any time during the probation period. When a potential violation is discovered, your probation officer has the discretion to simply give you a warning, or require you to attend a probation violation hearing. If a judge determines that you violated your probation, you may face additional probation terms, heavy fines, a revoked probation, jail time, or more.

During a revocation hearing, the prosecuting attorney must show that you, more likely than not, violated a term or condition of your probation using a “preponderance of the evidence” standard. Generally, you have a right to learn of any new charges against you and to present evidence in court before a neutral judge that may support your case and/or refute the evidence brought against you. You may want to consult with an attorney or other legal professional regarding the rights available to you in your particular state.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.