The New York Times recently reported that the city’s medical examiner’s office is launching a review of DNA evidence in some 800 sexual assault cases where the samples may have been overlooked or mishandled.
Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know that this situation does not mark an isolated incident. Unfortunately, crime labs are notoriously unregulated, and such evidence has resulted in numerous errors and false convictions over the years.
Despite this fact, DNA evidence remains a critical component of many criminal prosecutions. It’s also a key interrogation tactic used by law enforcement. In order to pressure a confession, police will often inform the accused that DNA or other forensic evidence has been used to positively link that person to the crime. To many defendants, this can seem like daunting evidence to overcome.
To be sure, it’s not an easy task to refute such evidence, but as the numerous incidents of crime lab error pile up across the country, experienced defense attorneys are tasked with challenging that evidence.
In the New York case, investigators have so far uncovered nearly 30 cases in which a technician did not detect biological evidence when it did in fact exist. In more than half a dozen of those cases, full DNA profiles were found.
While there is no evidence at this point that anyone was wrongly convicted as a result of those errors, it is not beyond the realm of possibility. That particular crime lab, which employs nearly 50 technicians, is responsible for handling some 1,500 sexual assault cases every single year. That means more than half of its annual caseload has been called into question. That’s a huge margin of error for evidence that is often held up in court as irrefutable proof of guilt.
Another recent incident of crime lab errors unfolded in Boston, where a technician responsible for testing evidence in some 34,000 drug cases leading to tens of thousands of convictions was found to have been falsifying and mishandling evidence throughout her nine-year tenure. What’s more, it turned out that she didn’t have the Master’s degree in chemistry that she had claimed. Almost every case she was involved in has since been called into question.
It would be easy to disregard these instances as isolated examples of rouge technicians. But there is more.
In Iowa, a review of criminal cases that relied heavily on fingerprint evidence has revealed that analysis of at least nine cases handled by a technician were riddled with errors. That worker had been with the agency for 16 years. So far, again there are no known false convictions, but with that lab handling 150,000 cases every year, it’s quite possible numerous convictions could be challenged as a result of this revelation.
And then there are the widespread FBI crime lab problems, uncovered last year in a series of stories penned by reporters at The Washington Post. It appears that thousands of criminal cases, both at the state and federal level, relied a great deal on forensic technician testimony that was exaggerated or forensic evidence that later proved false. In fact, these cases did result in hundreds if not thousands of convictions for serious crimes such as murder, rape, robbery and other major felonies.
As a result, the U.S. Justice Department announced last summer that it would be conducting a national review of all the cases handled by the FBI’s hair and fibers unit prior to 2000. That’s more than 21,000 cases. Officials are attempting to determine whether any of the convictions obtained as a result of this evidence were wrongful. That investigation is ongoing.
The fact is, DNA and other forensic evidence can be tough to refute, as it’s complex, technical and interpreted by those with advanced degrees.
Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers however will not be intimidated. We will work to ensure that any evidence against you is challenged from every angle possible.
The mysterious case of a missing child has suddenly taken a turn and is being investigated as a homicide, after police discovered the remains of a small child in the backyard where the child’s family used to live.
Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys know that many in the community – including law enforcement – are rushing to a quick judgment regarding the guilt of the parents.
We recognize that cases like this aren’t always what they seem, and the stakes are incredibly high.
The fact is, in many homicide cases, both police and prosecutors tend to hone in on one particular theory, and then proceed to gather facts that support that theory – rather than branching out to explore the many other possibilities of what may have occurred. In Florida and throughout the country, we have a long history of wrongful convictions for this very reason.
That’s also why it’s so critical if someone close to you has met an untimely death and you have any inkling at all that you may be suspected, to reach out to an experienced criminal defense lawyer. No matter how police or the media try to characterize it, such action doesn’t make you guilty.
And looking guilty is certainly better than being found guilty at trial.
This is especially true in cases involving infant deaths. It’s a sad and tragic fact that many infants under the age of 1 die for no medically identifiable reason. The blanket term for this is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. Not only do these instances leave parents devastated and baffled, such tragedies could leave them potentially vulnerable to criminal prosecution if the police interpret any subsequent reaction as strange, or not in line with our “normal” perception of how a person should grieve.
It doesn’t make them guilty of murder, but you may have a hard time convincing police of that – particularly absent any other explanation.
Murder, as defined in Florida Statute 782.04, is the unlawful killing of a human being. Both first and second-degree murder are punishable by up to life in prison.
In this case, the parents are accused of lying to deflect questions from friends and relatives regarding the baby boy’s whereabouts for a year-and-a-half. He was 5 months-old the last time anyone saw him.
The parents are currently charged with cruelty toward a child causing great bodily harm, and the father is also facing an obstruction of justice charge due to providing false information. Additional charges, including homicide, are pending the outcome of a scheduled autopsy to confirm the identity of the skeletal remains found in the backyard.
Although the whereabouts of the child had been questioned by officials with the Department of Children and Families for some time, police reportedly did not launch a criminal investigation until recently. It’s unclear why, especially considering that the child’s mother called the DCF hotline 15 months after the boy went missing, claiming that despite the father’s claim that the baby was being cared for by his relatives, the father refused to bring the child to see her.
The media has been critical of the fact that this phone call was not enough to trigger a criminal investigation. Police say it appeared on the surface to be a custody dispute, which is why neither they nor DCF took any action.
White collar crimes are becoming more common in this age of exponentially growing digital technology. Simply put: It’s become easier to carry them out.
Avoiding a conviction, however, is a different story. Law enforcement and prosecutors have become more sophisticated as well, and Broward County criminal defense attorneys know that successful representation in these cases requires a highly-skilled team of knowledgeable legal professionals.
Further, getting it right the first time around is of the utmost importance, because as the case of U.S. v. Wasilweski shows, second chances are hard to come by.
This was a federal case out of Illinois that was decided by the appellate court late last month. It involves a former assistant vice president/assistant manager at a Chase Bank branch in a Chicago suburb. This was an individual who was responsible for overseeing the everyday operations at the bank. Basically, he assigned teller safes and drawers, maintained codes for those safes and drawers and performed audits on those safes and drawers, as well as on cash dispensers. He had a key to the front door and the code to deactivate the alarm on the vault. He closed the bank every night, and he had half of a code that, when combined with one held by another employee, could open the teller cash dispensers.
One afternoon late last summer, the defendant reportedly entered the employee break room, and shut off the bank’s power for a moment, before turning it right back on again. He did the same thing about 1.5 hours later, only he didn’t turn the power back on. Later that evening, as he closed the bank, he also reportedly unplugged the bank’s master power supply boxes. He contacted the corporate office to remotely reset the alarm, but there was still no power at the facility throughout that evening – meaning there was no video surveillance inside the bank during that time.
At 2 a.m., he had returned to the bank. His PIN number was used to deactivate the vault alarm, which also protected the teller cash drawers. At that time, prosecutors say, he was able to heist $41,000 in cash. He then fled, and the next morning boarded a flight to the Dominican Republic.
There, customs officials searched his bag and found nearly $40,000 in U.S. currency. He was arrested, deported to Puerto Rico and then detained by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations. We was returned to Chicago, where he was federally charged with violation of 18 U.S.C. 656, embezzlement. He pleaded guilty last year, and was given six months of imprisonment, followed by three years of probation.
He might not have served anytime at all, but for a sentencing enhancement he received for abuse of trust. It was upon this basis that the prison sentence was challenged. The appellate court found that while such an enhancement would not apply for an ordinary teller or employee, the bank had trusted him with access to large sums of money and he was specifically responsible for keeping that money safe. As such, the appellate court ruled that the enhancement should stand.
There are all kinds of sentencing enhancements that Florida defendants can receive, meaning you will get more time behind bars than you otherwise would. Some of these enhancements include:
–Crimes committed by gang members or for the benefit of a gang;
–Crimes committed while you are on parole or probation;
–Crimes committed by a habitual offender;
–Crimes that resulted in severe injury to a victim.
Efforts by state and local officials to curb access to illegally-obtained prescription drugs in South Florida have made illicit pill sales a lucrative business for those willing to take the risk.
But as our Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers know, getting caught can come with a steep price. It is critical in these cases to secure an experienced defense team as soon as possible following your arrest.
Recently, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office reported a case out of Boynton Beach, where a married couple combined their efforts to swindle roughly 100 pain pills from two pharmacies. Now, both have been charged with trafficking in Oxycodone.
The investigation began back in September, when the 24-year-old woman called her pharmacy to request a refill on another pain medication. However, the pharmacist told her it was too soon for a refill, and that the doctor would have to approve it. The pharmacist then called the doctor – but the doctor had never heard of the woman. This lead police to get involved, as the prescription was suspected to be fraudulent.
Just a few weeks earlier, the woman’s husband had dropped of an Oxycodone prescription for his wife, which he picked up a short time later. In that case, the pharmacist called another doctor to verify the signature. As it turned out, that signature was reportedly fraudulent, as was a similar one dropped off and picked up that same day at another pharmacy.
Cases like this are not isolated in South Florida. Last month, a Lee County woman suspected in a fatal bicycle crash was later arrested by state authorities on charges of prescription fraud in Deerfield Beach. The Sun Sentinel reports that woman obtained some 12,000 prescription pain pills from a total of seven doctors throughout South Florida over the course of a year-and-a-half.
The state began its investigation shortly after the Florida Highway Patrol started its own following a fatal bicycle accident on the Sanibel Causeway. She is suspected of visiting numerous doctors for large prescription pain medication refills in the month prior to the crash.
Even more recently, a dentist from Jupiter was arrested on charges that he wrote phony prescription pain medications for patients, which he later filled himself. The investigation started last month, when a pharmacy called his practice to inquire about conflicting medications prescribed to a patient. But the office manager at the dental practice who fielded that call couldn’t find any record of the patient in question. Further, the dentist hadn’t been working at that office recently.
Further investigation reportedly revealed numerous prescriptions written in that patient’s name.
The dentist has since been charged with fraud and drug trafficking.
Such crimes can be charged federally, but under state law, they fall under Florida Statute 893.135. This law holds that anyone who knowingly sells, purchases, manufactures, delivers, brings into the state or who is knowingly in actual possession of more than four grams of any form of morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, opium or anything similar (as described in Florida Statute 893.03(1)(b) or (2)(a) commits a first-degree felony – punishable by between three and 25 years, depending on the amount of drug found and the extent of the operation.
We understand that addiction can be a powerful force, but we also know that you will need a powerful defense team to defend your chance at a better future.
Florida Criminal Lawyers