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In a recent case coming out of a Virginia court, the defendant’s appeal of his convictions was denied. The defendant had been found guilty of using a firearm after an altercation involving members of his family and another family with which they were feuding. On appeal, the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to support his guilty conviction. The court looked at the evidence in the record and ultimately disagreed with the defendant, sustaining his guilty convictions.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, members of the defendant’s family were shopping at a local market one afternoon. While shopping, they saw members of another family with whom they had been experiencing a custody battle. Tensions rose at the market and members of both families began fighting.

Later that day, the same members of the defendant’s family appeared at one of the second family member’s homes uninvited. A fistfight quickly ensued. The families parted ways, but after a few minutes, the defendant himself returned to the house. The fight picked back up, and the defendant retrieved a shotgun from his car.

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By Andrew Criado, Senior Attorney

The four most important words in criminal law: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. What does that mean? It means that a person charged with a crime cannot be convicted and punished unless the prosecution can prove the defendant’s guilt in court beyond a reasonable doubt. The government’s evidence has to erase all reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt. What if, at the end of the prosecution’s case, there remains some doubt about whether the defendant committed the crime? Then the charge must be dismissed. What if the prosecution proves that the defendant probably committed the crime? Then the charge must be dismissed. In a criminal case, any conclusion other than proof beyond a reasonable doubt requires that the charge be dismissed—forever.

The government gets one shot at proving its case. This concept is important because it makes clear that a criminal case is about whether the government can prove the crime rather than whether the crime actually happened. There are many cases where the evidence shows that the defendant most likely committed the crime but the charge is nonetheless dismissed because the evidence does not meet the high burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

A Miranda warning is designed to be a protection against self incrimination, that is, a protection from defendants being forced to make statements or give other information that will help the government convict them of a crime. The Miranda case says that where a person is in custody and being interrogated (asked questions) those circumstances are similar to a forced confession. For that reason, the police must first warn a person who is in custody and being questioned that they have the right to remain silent, that what they do say will be used against them in court, and that they have the right to a lawyer. Unless the warning is given, the statements made by the defendant cannot be used in court.

Why did I receive a Miranda warning? Simply, because the police hope that you will make statements they can use to convict you. It is never just to “get your side of things,” it is always to build a case against you.  At the end of the warning, you may be asked if you understand you rights and are willing to waive them. The answer should be “no” 100% of the time until you can talk to a lawyer. Any statement you make, even if you declare your innocence, can be twisted and used against you.

But what if you were arrested and never received a Miranda warning?  Does that mean the charges will be dropped? Not necessarily. First, any statements that are volunteered to the police don’t require a Miranda warning. In other words, if you tell them things without being asked a question, Miranda doesn’t apply because you aren’t being “interrogated.” This is true even if you have already said you are remaining silent and have asked for a lawyer.

by Bret Lee, Senior Attorney

Domestic assault charges in Virginia require the best defense.  Family is the most important thing for most people.  That is part of why a domestic assault charge can be so terrifying to someone who has not been in trouble before:  it cuts to the core of your personal life.  At Robinson Law, we are experienced in defending those who have been charged with domestic assault or assault against a family member. We are prepared to do what it takes to guide you to the best outcome possible.  It starts with informing you about how the case will proceed in court, how you may help us, and preparing you for the possible results of the case.

There are some common misperceptions about domestic assault charges.  The charge is brought by the Commonwealth of Virginia, not just the alleged victim.  If the victim changes his or her mind and does not want to proceed with the charge, that does not mean the case will be automatically dropped in Virginia.  In fact, the victim can sometimes be forced to testify in court against the defendant.  The charge also cannot be dropped by a civil settlement.  It is still critical to have an attorney help resolve the case even if everyone wants a dismissal, because not all dismissals are treated the same under Virginia law.

Have you ever wondered when a police officer is authorized to search you? Or if he has enough evidence against you to make an arrest? This is where the familiar terms “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause” come in to play. These concepts are fundamental in determining if and when a person can be detained for questioning, searched and arrested (seized).

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures. But what exactly does ‘unreasonable’ mean? Rather than following a neat, concise set of legal rules, reasonable suspicion and probable cause are based on the circumstantial interpretation made by the police officer(s). However, the officer’s interpretation must align with the Constitution, which is not always the case. In this week’s post I break down these two terms and provide examples through hypothetical DUI stops.

● Reasonable suspicion for an investigative stop – An officer can briefly detain a person if he has a reasonable belief that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed. The officer may also perform a limited search (frisk) of the outside of the person’s clothing if he has a reasonable belief that the person is armed. The officer’s belief must be based on facts or circumstances. In other words, an officer cannot simply “guess” or “feel” as though a crime has been, is being, or will be committed.

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