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For decades, drugs and drug use have been heavily criminalized and prosecuted across the nation. Beginning in 1971, the so-called “war on drugs,” as coined by President Nixon, represented the effort by the federal government to stop the spread of drug use. More truthfully, and far more insidiously, however, the war on drugs was the Nixon administration’s attempt to demonize his political enemies, subject them to intense police scrutiny, and prosecute and incarcerate them for low-level offenses. John Ehrlichman, a top Nixon aide, admitted in 1994 that the true intention of the war on drugs was to vilify the anti-war left and to justify intensified policing in minority communities.

War on Drugs

The War’s Tumultuous History

This underlying intention is, to some degree, present in every administration’s iteration of the “war.” Nixon’s war was waged by increasing the size and powers of federal drug control agencies, while establishing mandatory minimum sentences and no-knock warrants. These efforts effectively began the war on drugs, setting the stage for a massive expansion of drug-controlling efforts under the Reagan administration. The 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act established harsh mandatory minimums for drug offenses while creating a sentencing disparity of 100-1 for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine. This represents the racism inherent in the war on drugs and the sentencing of offenders. One gram of crack cocaine, which was predominately used in African American communities, would carry the same sentence as one hundred grams of powder cocaine, which was predominately used in white communities.

Reagan’s demonization of drug users also helped him justify the increased aggressiveness of policing tactics used in the fight against drugs. Reagan’s war on drugs saw a massive increase in the amount of militarized police gear being allocated. This trend coincided with a rise in no-knock warrants, like the kind that led to the killing of Breonna Taylor, as well as fueled an incredible aggressive policing style done in the name of stopping drug use. The increased scrutiny by police of predominately minority communities, coupled with harsh mandatory minimums, significantly increased incarceration rates and have led us to an era of mass incarceration where America incarcerates more citizens than any other country in the world. From 1980 to 1997, the incarceration rate for nonviolent drug offenses increased from 50,000 to 400,000. The war on drugs has undeniably contributed to a decades-long era of mass incarceration that disproportionately targets minority communities and harshly prosecutes offenders, charging them with long mandatory minimums for non-violent offenses.

The War Today: Changing Tides

Forty years after Reagan was elected, voters in the 2020 election, in states across the country, sent a clear message: they want the war on drugs to end. For example, residents in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota voted to legalize recreational marijuana, joining eleven other states who have also done so. Oregon voters went a step further, voting on perhaps the most radical anti-drug-war piece of legislation yet approved. Measure 110, which passed with nearly 59% support, effectively decriminalizes the possession of all illicit drugs. People caught with small amounts of cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines, for example, will be fined $100 but not incarcerated. Oregon also passed measure 109, which legalizes the use of psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, for therapeutic purposes. Similarly, the District of Columbia voted by a huge margin to approve Initiative 81, which decriminalizes the possession of certain entheogenic plants like magic mushrooms.

Voters in this election have sent an unprecedented message. The number of states with legalized recreational marijuana has increased, access to psilocybin therapy is improved in Oregon and the possession of psychedelic plants in D.C. was voted to be decriminalized. That, in and of itself, would be a historic rejection of the continuation of the war on drugs. However, Measure 110 in Oregon represents the most undeniable repudiation of the war on drugs. Voters have signaled that drug use and abuse are matters of public health and should not be dealt with by police. The people clearly believe that the demonization of drugs and drug users does not stop the spread of drugs. It only serves to subject marginalized communities to over-policing and mass incarceration. The war on drugs is far from over, but voters have signaled that the American people do not support its continuation.

While the rate of incarceration has decreased slightly in recent years, the United States still incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world. Because of this, special attention must be given to the causes of such a high incarceration rate in order to enact criminal justice reforms that effectively address the problem. A root cause of our staggering incarceration rate is the war on drugs and the predatory policing strategies it encourages.

Beginning in the Nixon administration, the war on drugs allocated more resources to federal, state, and local police, as well as established harsh mandatory minimums for drug offenses. The Reagan administration took the war on drugs even further via the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which further established discriminatory mandatory minimums. The act also increased police presence in communities believed to have more drug use, which were predominately minority communities. Thus, the policing done in the name of the war on drugs targeted marginalized communities and incarcerated offenders for outrageously long times.

The expansion of mass incarceration did not end when Reagan left office, however. In fact, President Clinton expanded the era of mass incarceration and the war on drugs with the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, also known as the 1994 Crime Bill. This Act created tough criminal sentences, but its built-in incentives aimed at states proved to be the main cause of a steadily increasing incarceration rate for the following fourteen years.

The Crime Bill encouraged states to create truth-in-sentencing laws, which require offenders to serve a substantial portion of their sentence, and directly tied federal funding to tough-on-crime state laws. The war on drugs and the era of mass incarceration are characterized by increasingly aggressive policing of minority communities, coupled with harsh sentencing guidelines and the incentivization of state policies that increase incarceration.

As the prison population has finally begun to decrease, albeit slightly, the calls have grown for criminal justice reform to put the era of mass incarceration behind us. The events of the summer of 2020 have likewise increased the support for such reforms. The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Walter Wallace Jr. and George Floyd, to name a few, have forced people to come to terms with the flaws and racism inherent in the ways in which this country polices its citizens. Election Day 2020 has shown that these events have not fallen on deaf ears, and American citizens want a fundamental change in our criminal justice system.

One such victory for criminal justice reform was the passage of Proposition 17 in California. This proposition restored the voting rights for about 50,000 state parolees who completed their prison sentences. Similarly, measures in New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota and Montana legalized marijuana and Oregon voters approved a measure to decriminalize all Schedule I-IV drugs. These drug-related reforms can be seen as voters exercising their disapproval of current drug policy that has led to mass incarceration and racial disparities in our prisons.

In response to numerous incidents of police brutality, voters in San Francisco and San Diego, California, as well as cities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Oregon approved measures to increase law enforcement oversight. Additionally, voters in Michigan approved a constitutional amendment to require law enforcement to obtain a search warrant prior to searching electronic data from suspects. Lastly, voters in Utah, Nebraska, and Alabama have approved steps to remove racialized language from their state constitutions to end systemic, institutionalized racism.

This year’s election has seen historic examples of criminal justice reform. Voters have made their voices heard. The tragic police-involved killings of 2020 have put America’s criminal justice system, and the actions of our law enforcement, under well-deserved scrutiny. These measures by no means solve the problems inherent in our system. They do, however, serve as concrete steps towards addressing systemic faults, and are hopefully representative of a swing in the trend of mass incarceration, the war on drugs, and over policing.

When agencies such as the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, Public Defender Service, or even the Secret Service need crime scene evidence of guns, DNA or fingerprints processed, they turn to the Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS). The DFS is classified as an independent agency, with a director appointed by Mayor Muriel Bowser. 

The Case that Sparked the Audit

In 2015, two cases were connected based on ballistic reports of shell casings. One of Amari Jenkins, 21, who was gunned down, and one of Antwan Baker, 29, who was fatally shot three months later. By 2017, Rondell McLeod and Joseph Brown were charged with both killings based on these ballistic reports. 

Nearly 4 years later, prosecutors were about to take these defendants to trial for both shootings until a later report determined that the casings found at each crime scene were actually not fired by the same weapon. 

Four additional experts sparked an audit confirmed this new conclusion. Yet, this mistake was confirmed by at least six DFS firearm examiners. Thus, this controversial case that would take a closer look at the work of DFS. Specific DFS examiners who have been flagged throughout this auditing process have done work for these high-profile cases in the city.

The Audit Process of DFS

About six months ago, the audit process of DFS began. During this time, independent examiners audited a total of 60 cases, according to a WTOP report, to compare their findings with that of DFS. The team of independent examiners for the auditing process consisted of Bruce Budowle, James Carroll, and Todd Weller, who are all accredited in the forensic firearm field.

The shocking results found 12 cases with discrepancies, and 6 of which led to different conclusions based on the findings. More specifically, some independent examiners matched bullets and cartridge casings in certain cases where the lab examiners did not.

With similar frustration for DFS, the Defender of the Public Defender Service director Avis Buchanan and special counsel Jessica Willis expressed concern for the audit team. As members of the team have served as expert witnesses for the prosecution in the past, they believe the team has a bias to favor the government. 

Following these discrepancies, prosecutors have turned to independent ballistic examiners to maintain validity in prosecutions for the past six months. During this time, defense attorneys in the District have been inundated with documents and information surrounding the investigation as it could very well affect their cases.

An additional audit has been conducted by the American National Standards Institute’s National Accreditation Board, which has not released results. Yet, they have certified DFS’s accreditation for it to be able to operate in the District of Columbia. 

While the investigation did not find any “criminal wrongdoing,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office recommended an evaluation of “mismanagement, poor judgment, and failures of communication” within DFS. It is important that DFS is held accountable for its failure to pursue just investigations.

Bruckheim & Patel is committed to serving the D.C. community and protecting defendants’ rights. If you have been arrested for a crime in the District of Columbia or Maryland, contact one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys at 202-930-3464 for a free consultation. 

Type 1 diabetes is an incurable disease that occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin. Insulin is required to regulate blood sugar levels. Individuals with type 1 diabetes must monitor their blood sugar on their own through a combination of insulin, diet control, and medication. This leaves far more room for error, as a person with diabetes can either have blood sugar levels that are too high or too low. Both of these scenarios can have serious health effects.

Can Hypoglycemia Mimic Intoxication?

When diabetics have low blood sugar, and therefore more insulin in their blood than the carbohydrates that the insulin is breaking down, it is called hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemic symptoms mirror those of intoxication. People who do not have diabetes can still have a brief hypoglycemic episode, especially those who are on low carb diets or have not eaten recently. On the opposite end of the spectrum, people with too much sugar in their blood suffer from hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemics experience different symptoms that also can be misconstrued as effects of alcohol.

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

Symptoms of hypoglycemia include sweating, blurred vision, shaking, slurred speech, delayed reflexes, and lightheadedness. When a police officer notices these symptoms, they are likely to ask you to complete a field sobriety test. It is unlikely that a person having a hypoglycemic episode will pass these tests due to decreased ability to function.

Symptoms of Hyperglycemia

When a person has a hyperglycemic episode, the body burns fat instead of carbs to use as energy. This leads to a build-up of ketones in the blood stream, causing a distinct bad breath odor, which a police officer could misconstrue as an odor of alcohol. Additionally, people with excess sugar in the blood stream will experience rapid heartbeat, labored breathing, thirst, drowsiness, and flushed face.

Ketones can increase a breath test reading up to .06

Police officers can misread many symptoms of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia as indicators of intoxication. If this is the case, do not agree to a breath test. Ketones, which are produced during hyperglycemic episodes, are often misread by breathalyzers. Acetone, a byproduct of ketones, is released through your breath as isopropyl alcohol. The equipment cannot differentiate between different types of alcohol and will read the acetone as ethanol alcohol, which is used to make most alcoholic beverages. This can increase your breath test reading by as much as .06, which is only .02 below the legal limit.

In Maryland and Washington D.C., you are legally obligated to disclose a diabetes diagnosis and submit to a medical evaluation and complete a health questionnaire. If you did not disclose this when applying for your driver’s license, it can cause additional legal complications if you try to fight the charge based on diabetic complications.

If you have diabetes and have been charged with an OWI or DUI in Maryland or DC, your charges may be unjustified, and you should speak to a defense lawyer immediately. Our firm has experience handling DUI/OWI charges including ones with medical concerns that need to be investigated and looked at closely. Contact Bruckheim & Patel for a free case consultation at 202-930-3464.

On March 13, 2020, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, an African American EMT, was shot and killed by police carrying out a no-knock warrant on her Louisville, Kentucky apartment. The killing sparked months of nationwide outrage, Black Lives Matter protests, and calls for police reform, which resulted in the passing of Breonna’s Law, effectively banning no-knock warrants in Louisville and increasing the requirements for body camera footage for all warrants. 

However, at the heart of these protests were calls for the three officers involved in the shooting, Johnathan Mattingly, Brett Hankinson, and Myles Cosgrove, to be arrested and charged with murder. Accordingly, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron summoned a grand jury of 12 Louisville residents, to whom he would present evidence in this matter. The grand jury, then, would decide whether or not probable cause existed to charge the officers.

Finding Released

On September 23, 2020, the grand jury’s findings were released. Brett Hankinson, who had been fired from the force in June, was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment because of bullets that went into the neighboring apartments. Neither Officer Mattingly nor Officer Cosgrove were charged at all. 

Coming more than six months following Taylor’s killing, the decision recharged outrage across the country. In a press conference, AG Daniel Cameron explained that the officers were justified in using deadly force because they were fired upon first by Taylor’s boyfriend. The latter used a legally owned firearm to defend himself against what he believed to be intruders in his home after police forcefully entered in the night without announcing themselves. 

Jurors Seek Legal Counsel

Now, the situation has become mired in even more controversy. An unnamed juror has argued, via a legal motion, that AG Cameron did not, as he claims, present the totality of evidence to the grand jury. This juror alleges that the AG used the grand jury to “deflect accountability and responsibility” and that he planted “more seeds of doubt in the process.” 

Another unnamed juror has begun seeking legal counsel to come out and speak against the grand jury proceedings as well. Grand jury proceedings are generally kept secret to protect the reputation of those accused but not indicted of a crime, as well as to shield jurors from criticism or harm. Only in extreme cases do grand jury proceedings get released, like when a grand jury did not indict Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown in 2014. On Friday, October 2, 2020, AG Cameron released about 15 hours of tapes of the grand jury proceedings.

This myriad of controversy and confusion has called into question the practice of keeping grand juries secret. Regardless of this debate, however, it is crucial that everyone understands their roles and rights on a grand jury, should they be called to serve on one. 

Grand Jury Trials in DC

In the District of Columbia, to be eligible to serve on a grand jury, you must be a United States citizen, a resident of the District of Columbia, 18 years or older, and able to read, speak, and understand the English language. Disqualifying factors include physical or mental incapability, having a felony conviction or be pending a felony or misdemeanor conviction, or selecting certain answers on jury qualification forms, as each case dictates. 

DC also codifies that jurors on a grand jury will receive fees and expenses for their time served, which shall be set by the Board of Judges of the Superior Court and will not exceed those awarded in Federal court. Similarly, DC Code stipulates that individuals receiving benefits, such as unemployment, will not have those benefits affected by jury duty. Additionally, an employer may not punish, terminate, or threaten to terminate an employee who must take time from work to serve on a jury.

            

           

 

The United States Constitution delineates certain inalienable rights given to all citizens. Many of these rights specifically protect against government intrusion. In other words, they detail what the government cannot do to its citizens. One such amendment is the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by government actors, requiring there to be probable cause prior to a search and seizure. Similarly, the Fifth Amendment details the requirement of due process of law before an individual is “deprived of life, liberty, or property.” These amendments are two crucial safeguards against government intrusion and deprivation of freedom on an unconstitutional basis.

Degradation of Constitutional Protection

Unfortunately, a practice known as stop and frisk has seriously degraded the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The 1968 Supreme Court case, Terry v. Ohio, provides the legal basis for such a diminution. Terry, along with two other men, were stopped by a plain-clothes police officer after the officer believed he saw the men casing a store he thought they hoped to rob. After stopping them, the officer patted down, or frisked, the outside of the men’s clothes, which led to the discovery of weapons on two of them. The question posed to the court, then, was whether or not the search of the men and seizure of the weapons was unconstitutional because the officer did not have probable cause prior to frisking the outside of the clothes. In other words, the officer gained probable cause to seize the weapon only after he felt the weapon, which occurred following a search without probable cause.

In an 8-1 decision, the court found that the search conducted by the officer was constitutional under the Fourth Amendment, allowing the seized weapon to be introduced as evidence against Terry. The court felt that the officer had “reasonable suspicion” to believe the men were armed, and, in the interest of his safety, was permitted to frisk the outside of the men’s clothing. The effect of this decision, then, was the creation of a lower standard of suspicion to warrant a stop and frisk. The phrase “reasonable suspicion” does not appear anywhere in the Constitution, and yet, the Supreme Court has effectively lowered the bar of probable cause for a search, to an arbitrarily defined “reasonable suspicion” being required to search someone.

Legal Precedence for an Unconstitutional Ruling

Since this decision, police have taken advantage of the lower standard of proof to routinely and systematically harass communities of color. Police departments frequently impose barriers to data collection in order to conceal the predatory nature of this practice. The data that is available, however, is deeply concerning. Take New York City, for example. In 1999, Blacks and Latinos accounted for 50% of New York’s population, yet made up 84% of all stop and frisks. As the 21st century began, this trend hardly changed. While making up a similar proportion of the city’s population, Black and Latino people made up more than 80% of the 4.4 million stops between 2004 and 2012. In those same years, nearly 90% of those stopped were innocent. When these numbers are considered, it is impossible to view stop and frisk as anything other than a racially motivated terrorizing of minority communities.

In fact, in 2013, a federal judge agreed and ruled New York City’s stop and frisk policy unconstitutional. Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the NYPD’s use of this tactic violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. Judge Scheindlin pointed to the overt racial discrimination taking place under the guise of stopping and frisking. This case clearly shows that the use of stop and frisk can, and should, be challenged in court as a way to prevent racial profiling and disproportionately aggressive monitoring of minorities.

The Time To Act Is Now

Now, our firm believes, is the time to critically examine stop and frisk within the District of Columbia. Through an extrapolation of data released by MPD, the publication of which was systematically slowed and concealed, it has been discovered that there are 19,000 stop and frisks per year in DC. Importantly, 93% of those stop and frisks were carried out on African Americans, who make up nearly half of the District’s population. Additionally, between 2013 and 2017, African Americans were arrested at ten times the rate of white people.

One unit in the MPD in particular is responsible for a vast majority of these stop and frisks: The Gun Recovery Unit (GRU). The GRU employs about 20 to 30 officers at any time, and its deployment is disproportionately carried out in predominately black wards. The Unit does not, as the city has claimed, patrol the whole city, but is instead hyper-focused on communities of color. Every aspect of the GRU is, by design, intended to intimidate civilians into consenting to a search for which the officers do not have probable cause. The uniform of the GRU, consisting of tactical gear, is meant to instill more fear than the standard uniform for an MPD officer. Even the flag of the GRU conveys the intentional intimidation of the District’s citizens. The flag centers a skull and cross bones, with a bullet hole in the forehead, as well as the slogan “vest up one in the chamber,” which clearly indicates an aggressive, ready-for-action attitude.

The tactics of the GRU reflect the aggressiveness of their appearance and banner. Utilizing “jump outs,” the GRU will drive around in unmarked cars with multiple officers, and then literally jump out of the car and surround groups of, typically, young African American males, who they then try to intimidate into consenting to a search. The GRU does not even concern itself with obtaining reasonable suspicion, let alone probable cause, prior to a search, and its officers frequently fabricate facts surrounding searches.

Our litigation firm Bruckheim & Patel, in conjunction with The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, is in the midst of a class action lawsuit against MPD for its illegal use of stop and frisk, particularly from the GRU. MPD has engaged in rampant racial profiling and heinous violations of the constitutional rights of DC’s residents, and we hope to once and for all end the predatory nature of the GRU and stop and frisk.

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.

It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” -RBG

 

On September 18th, 2020, the country mourned the loss of cultural and political icon, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg was only the second woman to serve on America’s highest court. One of the nation’s strongest advocates for a variety of issues, from women’s rights to same-sex marriages to abortion rights, Justice Ginsburg was a titan for equality. Since her appointment to the court by former President Bill Clinton in 1993, Justice Ginsburg has written powerful decisions for landmark cases, while often writing equally poignant dissents.

Ginsburg played a significant role in the fight for gender equality long before her appointment to the Supreme Court. In 1972, she began working at the ACLU and helped create the Woman’s Rights Project. Ginsburg played an integral part in arguing cases such as General Electric Co. v. Gilbert (1976), which led to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and Frontiero v. Richardson (1973), which created a heightened level of scrutiny to be applied to gender discrimination cases.

Three years following her appointment to the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg wrote the decision in United States v. Virginia. This case struck down the Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admission policy through the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and is perhaps Justice Ginsburg’s most famous decision for the advancement of gender equality.

One of her most scathing dissents came in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007), in which a Goodyear employee sued the company, alleging that she was receiving a lower wage because of her gender. Offering a harsh rebuke of the court on an all-male 5-4 split, Justice Ginsburg showed powerful support for the end of the gender pay gap. Justice Ginsburg penned an equally compelling dissent in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (2015). In another 5-4 split, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot require certain for-profit corporations to pay for contraceptives for their employees. Justice Ginsburg’s dissent outlines the consequences of woman being discriminated against because they have different religious views than their employer.

Ginsburg was, importantly, part of a 5-4 majority in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in a huge victory for the LGBTQ+ community. “We have changed our idea about marriage,” Ginsberg said during oral arguments. “Marriage today is not what it was under the common law tradition, under the civil law tradition.”

While her passing is devastating, it comes just two months before one of the most contested presidential elections in history. The vacancy on the Supreme Court will present a deeply polarizing issue, providing Republicans a chance to have six conservative Justices on the court. President Trump has already shown his eagerness to replace Justice Ginsburg with a more conservative Justice, which would tilt the ideological balance of the court for years to come. Trump has already had the opportunity to install two conservative judges to the court.

Much is at stake with the nomination of a new Supreme Court Justice, including reproductive rights, voting rights, criminal justice reform, immigration, and healthcare. In any event, the legal community and beyond are mourning the loss of an incredible jurist, a powerful leader in the fight for gender equality, and an inspiration to many.

 

 

As the ongoing pandemic rages across the world, people in every state in the United States are required, or have been required, to stay home as much as possible to slow the spread of the deadly Coronavirus. Being confined in the home has posed a litany of added stressors, including financial problems and mental health deterioration’s. 

The additional problems and sources of stress, as well as the nature of being home far more than people are used to, have contributed to a subsequent rise in domestic violence (DV). Police have seen varying degrees of increases in DV calls across the nation, some as high as 20%. This trend is no different in the DMV. DC law enforcement has spoken about the fear of a rise in DV during the lockdown since March, and national trends seem to affirm that concern. 

DC Domestic Violence Laws

The District of Columbia Criminal Code details what would constitute an arrest for DV as follows:Domestic violence - DC

“A law enforcement officer shall arrest a person if the law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that the person: committed an intrafamily offense that resulted in physical injury, including physical pain or illness, regardless of whether or not the intrafamily offense was committed in the presence of the law enforcement officer”. 

The term “intrafamily” refers to a domestic partner, which can be defined as “a spouse, lover, sibling, parent, child, or roommate”. The aforementioned definition of DV in DC would constitute simple assault, which is defined as “a misdemeanor offense involving either the threat of force or the actual use of force”. 

           

Standard of Proof for DV Simple Assault

 As with any criminal case, the government must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In the case of a DV simple assault case, the government must prove the following three elements:

  1. Either that the defendant intended to use force or violence against the other person or that he/she intended to put that person in fear of immediate injury.
  2. That the defendant’s actions were intentional and not the result of a mistake or accident.
  3. That at the time of the alleged incident, the defendant had the “apparent ability” to injure the other person.

Potential Punishments if Convicted

The maximum penalties for sentences for DV cases are the same as other simple assault cases, 180 days in jail and/or $1000 fine. However, judges typically sentence DV cases harsher due to their proclivity to reoccur. As with other cases, the Court will view a variety of factors when determining sentencing. Notably, however, many diversion options typically available to first-time offenders are not available in DV cases. 

There may be an option of a Deferred Sentencing Agreement (DSA) which would entail the defendant entering a guilty plea, and then being given a particular amount of time to complete a set of requirements, which may include anger management training, mental health evaluations, or completion of a Domestic Violence Intervention Program. 

Contact our Attorneys Today

 If you have questions about DC’s domestic violence laws or require legal representation, reach out to Bruckheim & Patel to speak with attorney Sweta Patel or Kelsey Penna at 202-930-3464.  

Are accountability and transparency the solution? Or is policing as we know it an outdated approach to public safety?

On Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers arrived at the 200 Block of Orange St SE in response to an Instagram live stream of multiple individuals in a vehicle brandishing firearms.

One of the individuals in the vehicle was 18-year-old Deon Kay, a Black male who ran away from the car when the officers arrived on scene. When Officer Alexander Alvarez saw that Mr. Kay had a gun in his hand, Alvarez immediately shot Mr. Kay in the chest as Kay threw his firearm away from himself into a grass field. Deon Kay was soon transported to the hospital, where he later died as a result of the shooting.

In June earlier this year, the D.C. Council passed an emergency police-reform bill that requires the MPD to release the body-worn camera footage of officers involved in fatal shootings within five days of the event. The bill also requires MPD to make public the names of the officers specifically involved. Within this bill, the victims’ families can choose whether or not the videos should be made public.

Due to this new policy, two videos of the incident have been released. The first version, which lasts a little more than four minutes, begins with a narration, giving details as to where and why the police were responding to the scene. Then, Officer Alvarez’s body-worn camera footage shows the shooting and follows Alvarez as he looks for the firearm thrown by Kay immediately after. The video concludes with a slow-motion playback of the shooting, which more clearly shows Mr. Kay brandishing a firearm before he is shot. The second video released by MPD is unedited and about 11 minutes long. It is the full body-worn camera footage of Officer Alexander Alvarez.

While the emergency police-reform bill promotes accountability and transparency among law enforcement agencies, it by no means solves policing issues in America. The video shows Deon Kay brandishing a firearm before Officer Alvarez fatally shots him. Still, critics ask why Kay had to die instead of attempting to de-escalate the situation.

Amid the strong and ever-growing Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, the death of Deon Kay drew public outrage. A BLM organizer, April Goggans responded to the event saying, “This is the systematic way that MPD operates and polices black bodies. They see him; they jump out, they barely stop the car and run after him.”

The American Civil Liberties Union went public to criticize the officer’s quickness to shooting Kay instead of making any attempt to de-escalate the situation before fatally shooting him. The executive director of the ACLU’s District of Columbia branch, Monica Hopkins, said,

“The D.C. police department’s approach to gun recovery has been dangerous and ineffective for years. The tragic shooting and death of 18-year-old Deon Kay is the logical conclusion of a policy that not only meets violence with violence but actually escalates and incites it — especially in our Black communities.”

At-large Councilmember David Grosso went to Twitter to say, “The police killing of #DeonKay is a tragedy, and my heart is with his family and loved ones. The community and public deserve answers and accountability on MPD’s actions in this incident. His death is a failure of our outdated approach to community safety.”

It is time for the MPD to consider a new approach to keeping communities safe instead of making the people of the communities they police feel unsafe. While the emergency police-reform bill is an attempt, it is a mere band-aid that cannot truly heal a broken and outdated system.

During divorce, there are many things up in the air; property, child custody, new living arrangements, but one thing has become a contentious issue in divorce proceedings is pets. When looking at the role of pets during a divorce, DC and Maryland law both treat pets as property. Due to this characteristic, many courts and lawyers believe that it is best to settle the pet custody on your own or through your personal attorneys. It is normal for many to come to an agreement about their pet outside of court, since very rarely does a case pertaining to pet custody actually go up in front of a judge.

Pet custodySome factors to be considered are: will there be shared custody or some sort of visitation schedule, who will be paying bills pertaining to the pet, and who gets to make important health decisions for the pet. When answering these questions lawyers believe that it is the most important to consider what is in the best interest of your pet, rather than solely focusing on your spouse. It has been proven that the stress of separation can also be felt by your pet, so it is best to maintain a similar daily routine to what your cat or dog has currently. It is also vital to consider who can take best care of your pet by looking at things like who has a better schedule to take care of the dog and take them on walks. Looking at who your pet is better bonded with is worth considering. Oftentimes, one spouse had full ownership of the pet before marriage, the animal is kept with them after divorce.

Lawyers often encourage clients to keep their pets with their children. During a  divorce in D.C., the pet can be of comfort for your children during these trying times. Some also believe that it is best for the pet to stay with whoever gets the home.

Avoiding Future Difficulties

There are many ways to avoid pet custody issues in the future. Lawyers recommend starting a paper trail, by putting everything in relation to your pet in your name from the bills to the pet’s registration papers. You can avoid any questions of who will get the pet in the future since according to the law you are the owner of the animal. It is also recommended to include a pet in a prenuptial agreement if possible to avoid any arguments in the future.

Divorce proceedings are often very emotionally charged as many consider pets to be part of the family, which makes proceedings even more difficult. It is understandable as we view our pets as our children. The best way to settle a dispute over pet custody is by having a candid conversation with your divorce attorney.

Contact Our Attorneys Today

If you have questions about your options during this time, reach out to Bruckheim & Patel to speak with attorney Sweta Patel or Kelsey Penna regarding a consultation about your DC or Maryland divorce or custody issues at 202-930-3464.

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