Criminal Defense Blog

A Life Sentence for a Non-Violent Drug Crime?

15July
2016

So-called “three strikes” laws or habitual offender statutes have been around for a long time.  The purpose of these laws is to keep career criminals off the streets.  Basically, anyone who is convicted of three felonies will face a long prison sentence – anywhere from 15 years to life depending on the state.  But, what happens when a non-violent crime leads to a life sentence?

A life sentence for drug possession?

Many argue that imposing a life sentence for a drug possession conviction, for example, is simply excessive.  Drug possession, as well as other non-violent crimes, are not worthy of life sentences in most people’s minds.  Consider for instance the case of Alabama resident Lee Carroll Brooker, who is currently serving a life sentence without parole for growing three dozen marijuana plants.  Some question whether this is the type of situation the habitual offender laws were created to address.

Indeed, life sentences are rare – coming in at a huge 1% of total prison sentences. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2000 the average sentence in state courts for murder was 20 years.  If you are considering the severity of a sentence, life without parole is the second worst punishment an offender can receive, second only to the death penalty.

History of “three strikes” laws in the U.S.

Washington was the first state in the nation to adopt a “three strikes” law.  Beginning in the 1990s, nearly half of the states in our country have adopted some type of “three strikes” law.  The practice of imposing longer prison sentences for repeat offenders is not really a new concept.  Judges typically take into consideration prior offenses when determining sentencing.

Even in states that do not specifically impose a life sentence enhancement for habitual offenders, their laws could still send someone away for life.  Currently, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Oklahoma all sentence nonviolent offenders to life without parole for nonviolent crimes. Mississippi alone requires life sentences for being convicted of possession for barely one ounce of marijuana.

If you have questions regarding sentencing, 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 |

Understanding Drug-Free Zone Laws and their Consequences

8July
2016

When the “War on Drugs” first began decades ago, drug-free zones were established and enhancement laws created which increased the penalties for certain drug offenses committed near schools.  Today, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted some version of drug-free school zone law.

The purpose of drug-free zone laws

Recognizing the danger that drug trafficking near schools poses to children, drug-free zone laws were established to protect children from drug activity.  The zones often extend to public parks as well.  Under these laws, anyone caught using or selling drugs within the designated protected zones faced significantly stiffer penalties than others who engaged in the same conduct outside these zones.

Different states have different laws

Drug-free school zone laws vary by jurisdiction when it comes to factors such as zone size, locations, offenses, and penalties imposed.  Some states also have restrictions on when and under what circumstances the enhanced penalties apply. In 30 states, the law defines drug offenses within the protected zone as distinct crimes with their own penalties or penalty ranges. In other states, the law imposes enhanced penalties for underlying crimes when they occur within the protected zone. This is true regardless of how far from the actual school the crime may have occurred, the fact that school children were not actually involved, or the fact that the offense did not occur during school hours.

In Alabama, if you are convicted of selling drugs within three miles of a school or university, five years will automatically be added to your sentence.  If the crime occurred within three miles of public housing, another 5 years will be added as well.

If you have questions regarding drug-free zone laws, 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 |

Probation Revocation Hearing

24June
2016

Anyone who is on probation knows that there are a number of things you must refrain from doing if you want to avoid violating the terms of your probation.  Committing another crime is the quickest and easiest way to have your probation revoked.  If you are facing revocation of your probation, you will first be given the opportunity for a hearing.  Here is what to expect.

What happens after the alleged violation?

The first thing that happens is a probation revocation hearing will be scheduled.  You will receive a summons to appear.  If criminal activity is alleged, then you will likely be taken into custody.  The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether you have in fact violated your probation.  While you are awaiting this hearing, it is very important that you continue to comply with all of the provisions of your probation.  Otherwise, you will only be adding fuel to the fire.

The probation revocation hearing

A probation revocation hearing is very similar to a trial, however, the hearing alone will not result in a conviction of any crime.  The only purpose is to determine whether or not you have breached the terms of your probation.  Unlike most trials, you will not be facing a jury, but instead a judge will listen to the evidence and make the decision.

Your rights at a probation revocation hearing

By law in most states, a defendant is granted certain privileges at a probate revocation hearing.  As a defendant, you are entitled to legal representation by a criminal defense attorney.  You can also present your own evidence and witnesses, as well as testify on your own behalf.  Another major difference between a trial and a probation revocation hearing is that the prosecutor is not required to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  Only a preponderance of evidence is required.  For this reason, you should not face a probation revocation hearing alone.

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

Posted in Uncategorized |

Criminal Law Defenses

18June
2016

Just as there are a wide variety of criminal charges in Alabama, there are also a variety of defenses to those criminal charges.  Basically, a criminal defense does one of three things: (1) it challenges the identity of the person who committed the crime, (2) it questions whether the elements of the offense have been met, or (3) it argues that the defendant’s actions were justified for some reason that makes those action lawful.

What is a justification defense?

A justification defense is basically a way to take what would otherwise be considered criminal conduct and explain why, under the particular circumstances, it should not be punishable.  In most cases, this involves a situation where the actions were taken to protect someone.  The most common example of a justification defense is “self-defense.”  However, duress and necessity can also be the basis of a justification defense.

The legal concept of self-defense

Self-defense is most likely the most widely known justification defense. When this defense is offered, the defendant is admitting the unlawful actions, such as intentionally injuring someone, but that person was actually the aggressor.  The defendant would argue that the actions were taken because he was in fear for his life and trying to protect himself.  This defense is not always successful.  In most cases, the key is to show balance.  The amount of force used in defending oneself, for example, must be only what was reasonably necessary.

Defenses of duress and necessity

Also recognized as justification defenses are duress and necessity. Duress is when another person threatens or unduly pressures someone into committing a crime.  This defense can be tricky because, if there was any way the defendant could have reasonably refused the defense may not work.  Necessity is similar except that the forces compelling the defendant to act are physical or natural, as opposed to the threats of another human being.

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

Posted in Uncategorized |

Drug Possession Charge in Alabama

10June
2016

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.

Unlawful possession in Alabama

Unlawful possession charges in Alabama are either based on the possession of a controlled substance or marijuana.  There are two separate sets of statutes that govern unlawful possess, depending on which type of drug is involved.  Controlled substances are identified in the Alabama Code.  The mere possession of one of those listed drugs is considered a Class C felony in Alabama.

Controlled substances not limited to illicit drugs

Charges for possession of a controlled substance are not limited to the types of illicit drugs that most people think of when it comes to drug possession.  While cocaine and methamphetamines are certainly considered controlled substances, certain prescription medications qualify as well.

Therefore, obtaining or attempting to obtain a controlled substance or prescription medication by fraud, deceit, misrepresentation or alteration of a prescription is also a Class C felony.  In other words, unlawful drug possession includes illegal drugs as well as legal medications which are illegally obtained and possessed.

The punishment for unlawful drug possession

Alabama’s drug possession charges are Class C felonies, which means they are punishable by 1 to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $15,000.  Also, felons lose their right to vote and possess firearms.  You could also lose your driver’s license for a period of time.

Deferred prosecution or drug court may be an option

Most Alabama counties offer some form of deferred prosecution or drug court based on the premise that drug offenses can be correctable. In most cases, in order to be eligible for drug court, the drug possession charge must be your first criminal charges. Under most Alabama County drug Court systems, you would be required to undergo drug treatment, testing, education, and other monitoring for a certain period of time between six months and a year. If you successfully complete the program your charges may be dismissed.

If you have questions regarding unlawful drug possession 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 |

Hangout Musical Festival Arrests

27May
2016

Hangout Musical Festival Arrests

This May thousands of music lovers flocked the Gulf Shores for the annual Hangout Musical Festival.  What is always a great time for music and fun in the sun also usually comes with numerous drug related arrests.  This year there were over 100 reported arrests as a result of the festival. Many of these arrests were for felony unlawful possession of a controlled substance (UPOCS) and public intoxication.

UPOCS and Public Intoxication in Gulf Shores

While most all people know that possession of substances like Ecstasy, Cocaine, Molly, and LSD are illegal, many of these charges were a result of individuals having prescription Adderall in their possession.  Just because you have a prescription for Adderall does not mean you can carry the pills on you if they are not in the prescription pill bottle.  This can be a costly mistake to make. While a UPOCS charge is much more serious than a public intoxication charge, the charge of public intoxication is not one to take lightly.  This can be costly and remain on your permanent criminal record if not handle correctly.

Hangout Music Festival Arrests 

If you were arrested in Gulf Shores during the Hangout Festival you should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible about your pending criminal charges.  Call Ketcham Law today and speak with our criminal defense lawyer about your UPOCS, public intoxication, or any other criminal charge you face. Call 205-296-4233 and get the legal counsel that you can not afford to lose.

Posted in Drug Possession, DUI, Marijuana Offenses, Underage Drinking |

Alabama’s Driving Record Point System

20May
2016

Most states enforce a penalty point system of some type when it comes to traffic offenses.  Points are generally applied to a driver’s record after certain driving offenses, which may expire after time.  If a maximum number of points is reached, the person’s driver’s license may be suspended or revoked.  Alabama’s driving record points system serves to keep track of infractions and hold Alabama licensed drivers accountable.

Alabama’s points system in general

If you receive a ticket for reckless driving, you will receive 6 points on your record.  Speeding 26 mph or more above the speed limit, results in 5 points added to your record.  Driving on the wrong side of the road or illegally passing another vehicle earns you 4 points.  Following too closely is worth 3 points on your record.  If you want to see a comprehensive list of points, click here.

What happens when you receive too many points on your record?

Driving record points can lead to suspension, revocation or cancellation of your driver’s license, as well as community service, fines, reinstatement fees and possibly mandatory completion of traffic school or a defensive driving course.  Also, receiving too many points or having your license suspended could potentially result in higher rates for car insurance coverage.

How long could my licensed be suspended?

The length of your driver’s license suspension in Alabama is based on the number of points received during a set period of time. Length of suspension is as follows:

  • 12 to 14 points within 2 years: 60 days.
  • 15 to 17 points within 2 years: 90 days.
  • 18 to 20 points within 2 years: 120 days.
  • 21 to 23 points within 2 years: 180 days.
  • 24 points and more within 2 years: 365 days.

If you have any questions about the point systems, please contact Ketcham Law. We would be happy to look into the points status against your license and whether or not you are looking at getting your licenses suspended.

If you have questions regarding your driver’s license, or any other related legal matters, please contact Ketcham Law for a consultation either online or by calling us at (205) 296-4233.

Posted in Uncategorized |

Alabama CDL

13May
2016

Alabama Commercial Driver’s License

Whether you are starting a new job that requires you to drive a commercial vehicle or you just started a new business, in order to drive a commercial vehicle in Alabama, you must first obtain an Alabama commercial driver’s license (CDL).  The specific classes of CDL licenses are different from one state to the next, as are the requirements to obtain one. Here is what you need to know about obtaining an Alabama CDL.

Alabama CDL Classifications

The type of CDL you need depends on weight and cargo.  Alabama classifies commercial vehicles that require a CDL to drive as follows:

Class A: Operate vehicles weighing more than 26,001 pounds that tow trailers or other vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds

Class B: Operate vehicles weighing more than 26,001 pounds and tow trailers or vehicles that weigh less than 10,000 pounds

Class C: Operate vehicles that can transport 16 or more people or vehicles that transport hazardous materials

Basic requirements for obtaining a CDL in Alabama

To qualify for a CDL in Alabama you must be at least 18 years old, pass a vision exam and obtain a medical certificate. If you plan to haul materials across state lines, however, you must be at least 21 years old, pursuant to federal regulations.  Much like a standard license, CDL applicants must also pass both a written knowledge exam and a driving test. The CDL driving test has three parts: the pre-trip vehicle inspection, a basic control skills test, and the on-road driving exam. Remember that the driving test must be taken in the same type of vehicle as the class of CDL license you are trying to obtain.

CDL issues of concern in Alabama

Having a CDL makes receiving any traffic ticket or criminal charge much more serious.  State law and Federal regulations prohibit CDL holders from participating in driving schools or diversion programs, thus making the situation much more difficult to overcome. If you are a holder of a CDL and have been charged with a crime or received a traffic ticket, then you must consult with an attorney.  The consequences can be life altering if you are not careful.

For more information regarding Alabama CDL Requirements visit the Alabama Department of Public Safety website.  If you have questions regarding CDL licenses in Alabama, or any other related legal matters, please contact Ketcham Law for a consultation by calling us at (205) 296-4233.

Posted in DUI, Uncategorized |

Domestic Violence Charge

6May
2016

Domestic Violence Charge In Alabama

If you have been accused of domestic violence, there are steps you can take to defend yourself.  Unfortunately, there are far too many false domestic abuse accusations made to law enforcement.  Although we are all supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, that may not seem to be the case when it comes to domestic violence or assault.  These charges can be successfully defended if you know what to do.

Hire an attorney who specializes in domestic violence

If you have an attorney with experience in handling domestic violence cases like yours, you will have a better chance of mounting a successful defense.  There are so many potential defenses to domestic violence and assault, but they may not apply to your specific case.  So, discussing your case with an attorney who specializes in domestic violence cases is a wise move.

Was it self-defense?

Depending on the facts of your case, you may be able to prove that you acted out of self-defense or out of the need to protect a child. If it was necessary to take physical action in order to protect yourself or someone else, then it would not be considered domestic abuse.

Technical or constitutional grounds for defense

Another possible defense is based on constitutional grounds. If it can be shown that the arresting officer did not read your rights before questioning you or they conducted an illegal search and seizure of any kind, then may have grounds to have your case dismissed. Certainly, if there is evidence that the assault did not actually occur, you will have a strong defense.

Minimizing potential penalties

In some cases, the evidence may be hard to refute or explain, but if you can show that the act of abuse and violence was an isolated incident and will never become a pattern, you may be able to minimize the consequences.  Everyone can lose their temper as long as it does not become a pattern. There are options for minimizing the penalties, such as agreeing to probation, anger-management counseling or some type of alternative court program.

Abide by any court orders while the charge is pending

One of the most important things you should do is abide by any orders issued by the court while your case is pending.  This usually includes a “no contact” order.  With more serious domestic violence charges, the court will demand that you refrain from contacting the alleged victim. Regardless of whether you may want to try to mend things or explain your side to the victim, it is critical that you refrain from doing so at all costs.

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

Posted in Domestic Violence |

Witness Testimony

22April
2016

Can a Witness Testify Against Me by Skype?

This may have been a strange question a decade or so ago.  But in this day of smartphones and tablets in the hands of nearly everyone, it actually poses an interesting question.  It is interesting because of the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment which guarantees you the right to “confront” a witness testifying against you.  But what does that actually mean?

The Guarantees of the Sixth Amendment

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, commonly referred to as the Confrontation Clause, states that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”  The term “confronted” can be a little vague when you start asking whether the person has to be confronted in person.  Many state courts demonstrate a preference for live face-to-face testimony. But this issue is not entirely black and white.  Consider the exceptions made for child victims, for instance, who are allowed to testify via closed-circuit video in order to spare them the stress of testifying in the courtroom with the accused.

There must be exceptional circumstances

Most courts are of the opinion that the right to confrontation provided by the Sixth Amendment is not absolute.  However, the requirement of face-to-face testimony cannot be easily overcome.  Instead, the prosecution must be able to show exceptional circumstances that warrant a departure from in-person testimony.  The most widely recognized exception if where “denial of such confrontation is necessary to further an important public policy and only where the reliability of the testimony is otherwise assured.”

The requirements of the Confrontation Clause

The Confrontation Clause not only guarantees examination of the witness, but it also includes other requirements, including:

  • that the witness statements are given under oath
  • that the witness submits to cross-examination
  • that the jury can observe the demeanor of the witness in order to assess credibility

Regardless, courts pretty much agree that confrontation through a video monitor is not the same as physical face-to-face confrontation.

If you have questions regarding any criminal defense matters, please contact Ketcham Law by calling us at (205) 296-4233.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized |