Criminal Defense Blog

Immigration Status and An Arrest


How an Immigration Hold may Affect your Criminal Case

The number of criminal defense matters that now involve some type of immigration issue have seen an increase in recent years.  If you have a criminal matter and need legal assistance, and you also anticipate immigration issues arising as well, it is important to discuss those issues with your criminal defense attorney early on.  Here are some things to consider.

What it means to be placed on an Immigration Hold

A common issue that arises in state law criminal defense matters involving foreign nationals is the immigration hold.  An immigration hold is placed on those who have been accused of a crime and held in jail.  When a foreign national is being held in state or federal custody, they will likely be placed on so-called “immigration hold.”  This hold instructs the jail to not release the person, but instead to transfer them to federal custody at the end of the jail term. When the Department of Homeland Security places this type of hold on someone, state law enforcement agencies are obligated to comply.

Return to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

If you have been placed on immigration hold that means, after you go through the state court criminal proceedings, you will be placed in custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  This is true, regardless of whether you are convicted, acquitted, or the case is dismissed.  ICE is the part of the federal government which handles immigration enforcement. Once in their custody, you could be tried by an immigration court and involuntarily deported.  Depending on the circumstances, you could be voluntarily deported or permitted to stay in the United States.

The primary reasons for immigration holds

There are three common reasons foreign nationals who find themselves in jail might be placed on immigration hold. If you are undocumented (or suspected of being undocumented) or otherwise illegally present in the U.S. you may be placed on hold.  If you have committed a crime that would make you deportable from the United States you may be placed on hold, even if you have a visa.  Another common reason is having a prior or pending order of removal on your immigration record.

If you have questions regarding immigration holds, or any other criminal defense matters, please contact Ketcham Law for a consultation by calling us at (205) 296

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Police Searching Cell Phones: Legal or Not?


Before a police officer can search a suspect’s cell phone, they typically need a search warrant or probable cause.  Since most people use their phones to document and communicate various aspects of their daily activities, and their lives in general, privacy becomes an issue.  A common legal issue that arises, especially when someone is suspected of a crime, is whether the police officer automatically has probable cause to search a cell phone for evidence of the crime, or whether there must a more specific connection between the suspected crime and the phone.

State laws widely differ on this issue

As with nearly all criminal laws, each state has its own statutory laws, as well as its court-established case law that governs searches and seizures and probable cause.  On the specific issue of when a cell phone can be searched without a prior search warrant being obtained, the law varies as well.

A specific “nexus” may be required

For example, in Massachusetts, a specific “nexus” is required. Specifically, the Massachusetts Supreme Court determined that even in cases where there is probable cause to suspect someone of a crime, police are not allowed to seize or search his or her cellular telephone to look for evidence unless they have information establishing that specific evidence is likely to be found there.  Many other courts have ruled that the mere fact that a suspect owns a cell phone doesn’t provide probable cause to search the phone.

But what constituted a sufficient “nexus?”

An Arkansas court found a sufficient nexus between a suspect’s cell phone and a homicide based on the fact that the suspect was in possession of the phone on the day of the shooting; he was “working with at least one other person when the homicide was committed”; and a confidential informant provided information suggesting the defendant’s involvement in the homicide on the day it was committed. Through this evidence, the court inferred that the phone had been used to communicate with others regarding the shooting.

The state of the law in Alabama

In Gracie v. State, the Court of Criminal held that the State is not required to first obtain a search warrant before conducting a search of a cell phone seized pursuant to a warrantless search. The Court reasoned that, because the cell phone was immediately associated with the arrestee’s person, police officers have the authority to search its contents.

If you have questions regarding warrants, probable cause, or any other criminal defense matters, please contact Ketcham Law for a consultation by calling us at (205) 296-4233.

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Alabama’s Criminal Sentencing Guidelines


Alabama made some significant changes to its criminal sentencing guidelines a few years ago, in an effort to address the overpopulated prison system.  For one thing, Alabama’s habitual offender laws, which historically led to long sentences after two or more prior felonies, will no longer mean nonviolent offenders will automatically spend decades in prison.

The presumptive nature of the new guidelines

The guidelines are considered to be “presumptive” which means they should be applied unless compelling reasons are found to deviate from them.  Regardless, because Alabama has the most overcrowded prison system in the country, something has to be done. Also, the goal of the sentencing commission was to eliminate as much unnecessary disparity in sentencing and provide more uniformity statewide.

Sentencing worksheets: the pros and cons

One of the key differences in the new guidelines is that judges in most cases are expected to use a predetermined worksheet to guide their decisions about whether prison will be ordered and, if so, how long the sentence will be.  Prosecutors and judges are not all happy about this aspect of the guidelines because they feel it removes the court’s discretion. However, judges are allowed to deviate from the guidelines if they can show a compelling reason to do so.

How the worksheets work

The worksheets which outline the defendant’s criminal history and prior sentences are generally to be filled out by prosecutors meaning more work for them.  These tally sheets record the defendant’s prior offenses, the nature of those offenses and prior sentences and then assigns points for the current offense and adds in any additional offenses to determine a length of sentence. Basically, more convictions lead to more points which equates to more jail time.

If you have questions regarding sentencing guidelines, or any other criminal defense matters, please contact Ketcham Law for a consultation by calling us at (205) 296-4233.

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Trafficking vs. Distribution


Is There a Difference Between Trafficking and Distribution?

A common question clients have is what is the difference between drug trafficking and drug distribution?  Basically, drug distribution refers to the selling, delivering, or providing of a controlled substances illegally. This charge is often used if someone tries to sell drugs to an undercover officer. Drug “trafficking,” on the other hand, generally refers to the illegal sale and/or distribution of a controlled substance. Put another way, distribution involves the movement of drugs and trafficking is determined by the weight of the drugs – no movement is required.

Specifics about drug distribution

Essentially, if law enforcement catches you attempting to move drugs in any manner, you could face distribution charges.  What some people don’t realize is that you don’t have to be caught in the act of actually exchange money for drugs in order to be charged with distribution.  In fact, if you are found carrying a large quantity of drugs or a substantial amount of cash, you could be charged with possession with the intent to distribute.

Federal laws on drug trafficking are comprehensive

Under federal law, drug trafficking charges can include charges for manufacturing, distributing, as well as possession with the intent to distribute.  It all depends on the amount or weight of the drugs found. Drug trafficking charges do not necessarily involve crossing state or national borders, contrary to what many believe.  Yet, when drugs are moved across borders, it is more likely that federal law enforcement will get involved.

Ultimately, if you are facing any type of drug charges, you need to seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney.  You could be facing serious jail time. If you have questions regarding drug trafficking or distribution, or any other criminal defense matters, please contact Ketcham Law for a consultation by calling us at (205) 296-4233.

Posted in Drug Possession, Drug Trafficking, Marijuana Offenses |

Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance (UPOCS)


It is basically understood that owning or possessing a controlled substance without justification or permission, can be a crime in Alabama – specifically, unlawful possession of a controlled substance. This crime is typically when an individual is found with marijuana cocaine, methamphetamine, oxycontin or other narcotics.  What some people forget is that prescription medications can also qualify as controlled substances.  So, if you have possession of a prescribed narcotic without a valid prescription or justification for having it, you could be charged will illegal possession.

3 Forms of illegal drug possession

A drug possession charge in Alabama can be more complicated than you think.  There are many nuances that most people are unfamiliar with.  It is not as simple as having drugs in your possession.  So, if you are facing a drug possession charge, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney representing you. One key element that must be shown is possession.  There are 3 ways to analyze this element.

Knowing possession of a controlled substance

In order to be guilty of the crime of unlawful possession a controlled substance, the person must knowingly and intentionally have control of the controlled drug. This means that a prosecutor only needs to show that the accused knew the drugs were present and intended to use or control them. On the other hand, it is not necessary to show that the accused knew it was a controlled substance or that having it was illegal in that particular situation.

Actual or constructive possession of a controlled substance

The term “possession” technically means that a person has personal and physical control over the controlled substance. That “possession” can be actual or constructive, which can mean that the drug is on their person (i.e., in their pocket) or in the trunk of their car or hidden in their apartment.

Shared possession of a controlled substance

Unlawful possession over a controlled substance does not have to belong solely to the accused.  Put another way, you can still be convicted of possessing a controlled substance if it can be shown the accused had at least partial control over the drug. A most common example is when two roommates share an apartment in which the police found the illegal drugs. Yet, more must be shown than merely that the two roommates lived in the same home.  Instead, each defendant must have had control over the drugs or made incriminating statements about them.

If you have questions regarding possession controlled substances, or any other criminal defense matters, please contact Ketcham Law for a consultation by calling us at (205) 296-4233.

Posted in Drug Possession, Marijuana Offenses |

Do I Need A Criminal Defense Lawyer?


Why You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer

In order to have a balanced and fair justice system, defense attorneys are a necessity.  Their goal is to aid in keeping innocent people from going to jail, but more importantly, to safeguard the constitutional protections of the accused, making sure that due process of the law is provided before a person’s freedom is taken away.

The goal of criminal defense

You know the rule: “innocent until proven guilty.”  Essentially, this means that everyone is entitled to certain legal protections, even those who have been accused of committing a crime.  Law enforcement certainly has substantial resources at its disposal, as do criminal prosecutors.  Likewise, every individual who is charged with a crime has the right to a proper criminal defense.  The area of criminal defense law governs the legal protections of those individuals.  Without these protections, there would be no balance of power within the justice system.

A defense lawyer has certain duties to the client

Be assured that just treatment for a criminal defendant will depend as much on the skill of the defense attorney, as it will on the protections provided by the law.  The defense attorney has a duty to understand and properly utilize the applicable constitutional guarantees, to the advantage of his or her client.  It is the job of the prosecutor to present evidence to support the charges against the criminal defendant.  The defense attorney has the duty of ensuring that the evidence presented was obtained in compliance with the various laws and rules of court.  Criminal defendants also have a right to a public trial, and in many cases, the right to have their guilt or innocence decided by a jury. The constitution also provides the right to confront adverse witnesses, and to subpoena the appearance of favorable witnesses, as well.

If you have questions regarding the role of criminal lawyers, or any other criminal defense matters, please contact Ketcham Law for a consultation by calling us at (205) 296-4233.

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DUI in Alabama


In Alabama, drunk driving is the single largest cause of motor vehicle related fatalities each year.  Many drunk driving cases lead to DUI’s.  You may be familiar with the terms DUI and DWI, but wondering what is the difference between the two?  In reality, these are two very closely related criminal charges. Here is what you need to know.

It is called a DUI in Alabama

Driving Under the Influence (DUI), like Driving While Intoxicated/Impaired (DWI),  is a criminal charge committed when a driver operates a vehicle after the consumption of alcohol, drugs or intoxicants or other kinds.  It is well known that increased alcohol levels in the blood stream diminish mental acuity, reaction time and motor skills. This effect directly reduces the driver’s ability to control the vehicle safely.  However, alcohol is not the only substance that causes these issues.

Some states have a broader definition

Nine states have enacted laws that address other types of driving impairments apart from drugs or alcohol.  For example, in New Jersey, a driver that has been without sleep for 24 hours is considered to be driving recklessly, in the same class as an intoxicated driver.  Similarly, in Arkansas, if a driver is involved in a fatal accident and has been without sleep for 24 consecutive hours, they can be charged with “fatigued driving,” which is a class A misdemeanor.

Penalties for DUI in Alabama

There are different possible sentences for a DUI conviction in Alabama depending on your criminal record.  On the first conviction you can face up to one year in a county or municipal jail, however, there is no minimum mandatory jail sentence.  For a second conviction you could face a minimum of 48 hours and up to one year in jail, plus community service.  After four or more convictions, you can be charged with a Class C Felony with a sentence of 1 to 10 years.

Points will also be added to your driving record and your license will be suspended or revoked, if you are convicted of a DUI in Alabama. The number of points assessed, depends on the severity of the offense and the number of prior convictions.

If you have questions regarding a DUI in Alabama, or any other criminal defense matters, please contact Ketcham Law for a consultation by calling us at (205) 296-4233.

Posted in DUI |

Federal Penalties for Drug Manufacturing


You may not have realized but Alabama law is not the only source of criminal penalties for drug charges.  In particular, criminal charges for manufacturing illegal drugs can come from both the federal and state government.  It depends, oftentimes, on the seriousness of the offense or the scale of the drug operation.

When does a drug charge become “federal?”

There are a few surefire ways to end up in federal court on a drug charge.  First, if you are arrested by a federal officer, such as a DEA agent during a drug bust, then your charges will most likely be federal.  Another example is committing a crime on federal property, such as a national park.  Another way you may end up in federal court on a drug charge is if someone informs on you.  If there is someone who is facing their own federal drug charge, they may be given some form of leniency if they identify someone else involved in drug crimes.  Most important to remember is, just because you may be arrested by local police doesn’t mean law enforcement cannot make an agreement to hand you over to the federal authorities.

Drug manufacturing charges under federal law

Under federal law, it is illegal to manufacture, sell or possess illegal substances, just as it is under applicable state law.  If you participate in any part of the manufacturing process you have committed the offense of drug manufacturing. So, this could include mixing chemicals together, so-called “cooking” meth, planting or cultivating the seeds to grow marijuana or even merely supervising the manufacturing process in some way.  Also, you can be convicted even if you only possessed the equipment for manufacturing, though you never participated in the process, but you knew it was used to do so.

The federal penalties for drug manufacturing

The federal penalties for drug manufacturing are rather severe, depending on the type and amount of drugs that are involved.  With cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine, you can get anywhere from 10 years to life, depending on the amount.  If the charges involve death or serious injury in connection with the drugs that were manufactured, then a fine of between 2 and 4 million dollars could be added.  Sentences can also be greatly increased if a firearm was possessed or used in the commission of the drug offense.

If you have questions regarding drug manufacturing charges, or any other criminal defense matters, please contact Ketcham Law for a consultation by calling us at (205) 296-4233.

Posted in Drug Possession, Drug Trafficking, Marijuana Offenses |

Cultivation of Marijuana


Cultivation of Marijuana Plants in Alabama is Illegal

Regardless of the push for legalized marijuana across the country, in Alabama, cultivation of Marijuana is a criminal offense.  This is true even if you grow the plant in your backyard or basement and even if it is for personal use.  Although some states may be close to decriminalizing marijuana, Alabama is not one of them.  So, remember, if you grow marijuana for yourself on your own property, then you could end up in prison for a minimum of 3 years and fined up to $25,000.

Alabama imposes mandatory sentences

Alabama imposes mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana related offense, which means that if you are convicted, the judge has no choice but to sentence you to the mandatory minimum.  The judge can impose a higher sentence, as well.  Conviction of a federal offense carrying a mandatory minimum means you are not be eligible for parole.

Cultivation is a felony

Cultivation of marijuana in Alabama is considered a felony. Depending on the amount of marijuana involved, you could be facing anywhere from 3 years in prison to life and fines from $25,000 to $200,000.  These mandatory sentences are based on the weight of the raw plants in their entirety.  Also, a conviction in Alabama also brings with it the suspension of your driving privileges for six months.

Seek the assistance of a criminal defense attorney

Drug charges are taken extremely seriously in Alabama.  So, if you are facing marijuana cultivation charges, you should contact a skilled criminal defense attorney who has experience with handling drug charges of all types. Since the penalties for drug charges in Alabama can be severe, a drug crime defense lawyer can help you work towards the most favorable outcome possible.

If you have questions regarding marijuana related charges, or any other criminal defense matters, please contact Ketcham Law for a consultation by calling us at (205) 296-4233.

Posted in Drug Possession, Drug Trafficking, Marijuana Offenses |

Alabama’s Expungement Law


Retroactive Application of Alabama’s Expungement Law

Alabama’s new expungement law provides that certain components of your criminal record can be expunged or erased. Not everyone is eligible and not every crime is covered, but your Alabama criminal defense attorney can explain the requirements to you.

Retroactive application of the Alabama expungement law

The 2014 Alabama expungement law applies to all misdemeanors and non-violent felonies that were resolved in favor of the defendant. This is true, regardless of how old the case is because the law has retroactive application. For instance, if you were accused of marijuana possession when you were a college student in 1970, you can apply for expungement under the new expungement law.

How long does the expungement process take?

Every case is different, but it normally takes 30-45 days to obtain all of the necessary records and then draft and file the petition with the court.  Typically, it takes 45 days from the filing of the petition for it to be granted by the Court.  However, if there is an objection to the petition, then the process will take longer.

You should hire a lawyer to assist in obtaining expungement

Generally speaking, it is always best to have a criminal attorney represent you in all aspects of a criminal proceeding.  There is so much at stake that it would wise to have someone with experience at your side.  Even with something like a Petition for Expungement, there are technical requirements which, if not properly adhered to, your petition could easily be denied.

If you have been charged with a non-violent felony, a misdemeanor criminal offense, a traffic violation, or a municipal ordinance violation, the record may be expunged.  If you have questions regarding expungement, or any other criminal defense matters, please contact Ketcham Law for a consultation by calling us at (205) 296-4233.

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