Civil Forfeiture in Alabama

Defending Civil Forfeiture in Alabama – Forfeiting Your Rights

Attorney Chase Dearman was recently published by the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice in the following articles regarding Civil Forfeiture:

SPLC, Alabama Appleseed release new report documenting widespread and unjust use of civil asset forfeiture in Alabama

Courts in 14 Alabama counties awarded $2.2 million to law enforcement agencies through civil asset forfeiture actions filed in 2015 – and in a quarter of the 1,100 cases, law enforcement sought to keep property seized from people who were never even charged with a crime, according to a report released today by the SPLC and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice.

The study – Forfeiting Your Rights – paints a disturbing picture of a legal process that was once intended to strip illicit profits from drug kingpins but has since evolved into a revenue-generating scheme for law enforcement, one that is now being widely used against people accused of low-level crimes, particularly marijuana offenses, or no crime at all.

Civil asset forfeiture has been widely condemned across the ideological spectrum as an abusive practice that deprives Alabamians of their due process and property rights. The 1,100 cases examined for the report represent 70 percent of all such cases filed in Alabama in 2015.

Two Republican lawmakers today filed legislation that would, among other reforms, eliminate civil forfeiture by linking future forfeiture actions to criminal proceedings.

“It’s time for Alabama lawmakers to place the burden where it belongs – on the government,” said Sam Brooke, deputy legal director for the SPLC. “Civil asset forfeiture is broken beyond repair. We urge legislators to ensure that only people convicted of a crime can lose their property through criminal forfeiture and to bring transparency and accountability to the forfeiture process. These reforms would protect due process rights and hold those who commit crimes accountable.”

Under current state law, law enforcement agencies can seize property on the mere suspicion that it was either involved in a crime or derived from certain criminal activity. A civil court then decides whether the agencies involved can keep it. In these court proceedings, while the initial legal burden falls on the prosecutor, the low standard of proof means that the property owner carries the burden of proving the property is “innocent” of the alleged crime.

“In Alabama, law enforcement can take and keep your cash, your car or your house – even if you are never charged with a crime,” said Frank Knaack, executive director of Alabama Appleseed. “Civil asset forfeiture turns the basic American principle of innocent until proven guilty on its head. To make matters worse, law enforcement can keep and spend up to 100 percent of the proceeds of forfeited property, no strings attached. It’s a system that incentivizes the pursuit of profit over the fair administration of justice.”

Forfeiting Your Rights profiles Alabamians whose lives have been upended through their experience with civil asset forfeiture.

Dothan resident and car dealership owner Jamey Vibbert had $25,000 seized from his bank account when prosecutors claimed that another man had used drug profits to buy vehicles from him. Even after a judge found Vibbert innocent and an assistant district attorney apologized for the charges, he had to hire a lawyer to get the money back in the civil proceedings.

“I am finally back on my feet after the several months of court proceedings and years of trying to rebuild my reputation as a trustworthy businessman,” Vibbert said.“Even after I was found innocent, I still had to hire an attorney to get my money back from the government. The system is unjust and unfair, and nearly ruined my life.”

Though rooted in centuries-old admiralty law, civil asset forfeiture gained widespread use in the 1980s and the following decades as part of the War on Drugs. Today, however, drug kingpins are rarely the target. The report found that in half of the cases examined where cash was seized, the amount of cash was $1,372 or less. Because that amount is often less than the typical cost of hiring an attorney to challenge the forfeiture, many cases go uncontested. In fact, in 52 percent of all cases filed across Alabama in 2015, the property owner did not challenge the forfeiture in court.

The original justification for civil asset forfeiture is further undermined by the fact that in 25 percent of the cases, the individual whose property was seized was never charged with a crime. And in 18 percent of the cases where criminal charges were filed, the charge was simple possession of marijuana and/or paraphernalia.

Further, based on both the limited data on race in this study and interviews with lawyers who represent clients in civil forfeiture cases in Alabama, there appear to be racial disparities at work. The report found that in 64 percent of the cases that involved criminal charges, the defendant was African-American, even though African-Americans comprise only about 27 percent of Alabama’s population.

The legislation introduced today by Alabama State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Alabama State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Birmingham) would require that the forfeiture process occur within the criminal case; ensure that innocent property owners can quickly challenge the seizure of their property; require annual, centralized reporting of all seizures and forfeitures and what government agencies spend forfeiture proceeds on; and prohibit state and local government entities from receiving proceeds from federal forfeiture actions through what is known as the “equitable sharing” program.

“No criminal should be able to profit off of their crime,” Orr said. “Our laws must also protect innocent Alabama property owners. Currently, Alabama law does not provide those basic protections. Our legislation is a win-win: It ensures that law enforcement can hold the bad guys accountable, and protects the rights of innocent Alabama property owners.”

Mooney added, “Individual liberty and property rights are not adequately protected under Alabama’s civil asset forfeiture laws. Our legislation strikes an equitable balance between individual rights and public safety. It preserves the ability of law enforcement to seize and keep the fruits of crime while restoring the doctrine of innocent until proven guilty.”


On Racial Disparities

Anyone can have their assets seized under civil forfeiture. But as is generally true in the American criminal justice system, the law itself might be color blind, but that doesn’t guarantee that enforcement is.

A 2017 study of traffic stops from 16 states for which data was available showed that African-American and Hispanic drivers were more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched in conjunction with traffic stops. African Americans are also more likely than whites to be arrested for using drugs, be jailed while awaiting trial, be offered plea deals that include prison time, be struck from jury pools, serve longer sentences for the same offense, be disenfranchised because of felony convictions, and have their probation revoked.

In Alabama, African Americans make up 54 percent of the prison population3 but only about 27 percent of the state’s population. They are overrepresented in jails at roughly the same rate. And, they are four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite research showing the two groups use marijuana at roughly the same rate.

Based on both the limited data on race in this study and interviews with lawyers who represent clients in civil asset forfeiture cases in Alabama, there appear to be racial disparities at work in the use of civil asset forfeiture as well.

Because race is not routinely reported in civil cases, it is impossible to determine the racial breakdown of all individuals whose assets were subject to forfeiture proceedings. However, the study found that in 64 percent of the cases that involved criminal charges, the defendant was African-American, even though African Americans comprise only about 27 percent of Alabama’s population.

Chase Dearman, a Mobile attorney, estimates he has represented more than 50 people in civil forfeitures cases. In one of Dearman’s cases, police seized tens of thousands of dollars from a black man who had just cashed a roughly $100,000 check from a worker’s compensation settlement. The money was still wrapped in bank tape and was contained in a box along with correspondence from the attorney who had represented him in the matter. Police took the money anyway after finding illegal drugs and paraphernalia on the property. Police also took the man’s TV sets; his fiancée’s sunglasses, purses and dresses; the couple’s couches and coffee table; and two paintings off the walls. The items were all eventually returned, though not until Dearman filed a motion to hold the police department in contempt for failing to comply with the court’s order finding the property was not connected to criminal activity.

Another of his African-American clients had money, electronics, furniture and football memorabilia belonging to his cousin, a former University of Alabama football star, seized when police searched his home. Yet another had rent money taken from his wallet because police said he planned to sell pills for which his wife had a valid prescription.

“The law is not inherently racist, but I do believe the practical applications become that way,” said Dearman. “I have never had a Caucasian client who has had a narcotics officer unscrew the TVs from their walls and take them out the front door and confiscate them. However, it is a common occurrence with African-American clients.”


Police Abuses Toward Civil Forfeiture

Civil asset forfeiture is not only fundamentally unfair to property owners and a violation of their due process rights, it also perverts the basic functions of law enforcement by incentivizing officers to seek revenue instead of enforcing the law to protect the public from criminal activity. The following are two examples of agencies that seized money but apparently failed to even follow the rules of civil asset forfeiture as they are set out in current state law.

In Mobile, Alabama

For more than two decades, police in Mobile failed to follow proper procedure in seeking the forfeiture of cash taken from individuals they arrested, according to Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich, who spoke to Appleseed for this report.

When the district attorney’s office noticed this, it initiated proceedings to have the cash – some of it taken from the wallets of people who never returned to claim their property – legally turned over to the state. The prosecutor’s office’s received $162,615 of the cash.

Rich says her office has since instituted a process by which property that has gone unclaimed for five years can be legally transferred to the state if a judge signs off on it.

Despite having been called out by the county’s top law enforcement officer, it is unclear that Mobile police have reined in improper practices regarding civil asset forfeiture.

Mobile attorney Chase Dearman, who estimates he has represented more than 50 people in civil asset forfeiture cases, said he recently discovered that Mobile police were routinely executing search warrants outside the city without being deputized by the sheri to whom those warrants were directed.

An unknown number of forfeiture cases have been based on searches executed by undeputized city police. In 2013, for instance, two members of the Mobile City Police Department executed a search war- rant at the Mobile County home of William Anderson. According to court records, they found no drugs at the residence, but they did take $15,140 in cash and a digital scale. They arrested Anderson and charged him with distribution of a controlled substance based on other evidence, and commenced a forfeiture action against the money.

Anderson pushed back, and with help from Dearman, he won his case and got his money back. “We cannot agree that the good faith exception applies to permit a municipal officer to execute a search warrant directed to the county sheriff,” the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals wrote in its decision. The officer’s “reliance on what appears to be an illegal practice of the Mobile City Police Department is not reasonable.”

Drug Charge Case in Mobile Alabama Circuit Court Dismissed

Sometimes, some things are in our control. Sometimes, those things and the resultant actions are instigated by a member of the public or police that report they saw suspicious activity outside your residence.

A drug charge is a serious issue that could land you in even worse trouble. Unfortunately, an arrest can happen even on mere suspicion. When you find yourself in such a situation, you have one chance to try and make it all right; call The Dearman Law Firm.

DRUG CHARGES CASE IN POINT:

In the State of Alabama vs. Willicious Moffett, in a case where a police officer, Agent Tucker, alleged that he met with a confidential informant affiliated with the Mobile County Street Enforcement Narcotics Team in the past 72 hours, the defense sought to suppress evidence brought forth by Agent Tucker.

Drug felonies in Alabama vary in severity. However, even though the stipulated sentence may also vary, it does not mean that it cannot attract a punishment worse than what is recommended. Offences ranging from Class A misdemeanors like marijuana possession to felonies like drug distribution have seen many citizens off to jail, sometimes for long periods. Fortunately, Chase Dearman has a reputation of putting up an aggressive defense to secure the freedom of defendants.

In the case of Willicious Moffett, Chase Dearman referenced a 1990 appeal of the State vs. Nelms where an informant alleged that they had seen crack cocaine in the house of Tommy Lee Nelms at 625 WestView Drive. The defence was able to establish that the affidavit was defective. The motion to suppress was further strengthened by the fact that the affidavit’s definiteness was lacking, therefore making the search warrant null and void. The search was deemed unconstitutional on this basis and any evidence that was seized, inadmissible.

There was also a reference to the role of a search warrant in the Moffett case that quoted the United States vs. Greany case of 1991. The warrant used was not shown to be current or stale. With respect to Green, 2008, the case presented centered on an informant’s confidential information that Jeff Green was manufacturing and selling methamphetamine in his house and a shed just beside the residence. It was also established that Dothan Swat team snipers had observed continuous foot traffic between the house and the shed. In addition to that, it was established that a strong acidic chemical odor associated with methamphetamine manufacturing was coming from the house.

In this case, the Alabama Supreme Court found that the affidavit couldn’t hold any water. In the ruling, it was found that the affidavit lacked an indication of probable cause. How is this reference related to Agent Tucker and the Willicious Moffett case? Agent Tucker wrote the affidavit himself. Under the law, a police officer cannot exempt himself from the exclusionary rule to hos own actions.

Agent Tucker executing a search warrant that depends on his statement is inappropriate.

Using these arguments and references, the defense were able to show that the evidence that could have incarcerated Willicious Moffett cannot be used in a court, therefore getting the drug charge brought against the defendant dismissed.

Credible defense is not easy to out up, but as it has been demonstrated in the Moffett case. Chase Dearman does go to great lengths to try and assist clients in avoiding jail time.

RECOMMENDATIONS WHEN DEALING WITH DRUG CHARGES

Getting arrested is frustrating. Things can go from bad to worse in a matter in minutes. Here’s a few things you can do to avoid adding to your charge.

1. Talking to the police is a no-no. You are required by law to give out your names and address. Anything other that, you should not say unless in the presence of a lawyer. Worse case scenario, you say more than you’re supposed to and you aggravate your charge. Best case scenario, you play by the rules and call Chase Dearman.

2. Lying to the police will attract another charge and possibly make it worse for you in court. Giving out false information doesn’t look good when your case ends up in court. It may compromise your defense.

3. Don’t resist arrest. Things could be a lot worse. When you are under arrest, stay calm and wait until you are given your phone call to call The Dearman Law Firm. While you struggle against being arrested, you could cause harm to an officer, and that may count as assault.

4. Unless you see a valid warrant, do not accept a search on you or your premises. It is a requisite that a warrant is obtained based on probable cause. This is your right as a citizen.

5. Keep your case private. In this age of social media, anything you post, tweet, or say in the public domain can and may be used against you. Leave any details about your case out of social media.

6. Do not, under whatever circumstances, take any test. This includes polygraphs or lie-detector tests.

7. There is no charge too minor for a lawyer. Anything you do and the resultant charge will show up on records. It might get you in trouble. Whatever issue you have, always call a lawyer. They will come in handy for whatever charge.

At The Dearman Law Firm, there’s not a criminal case we won’t handle. From drug felonies to all other criminal charges, give us a call and set up a free consultation.

Chase Dearman of the Dearman Law Firm is a Mobile, Alabama criminal defense attorney handling state and federal criminal cases in Mobile County, Baldwin County, and South Alabama. He has successfully defended countless clients in trials and appeals on all manner of criminal charges.

CONTACT CHASE DEARMAN AT THE DEARMAN LAW FIRM
(251) 445-6997

Federal Drug Charge

Civil Asset Forfeiture in Alabama: Blurred Lines

Officer Jimmy Bailey accompanied by Officer Carlos Watson entered the residence of Mr. William Anderson with a search warrant and seized in total, $15,140 found in Mr. Anderson’s boot wrapped in a plastic grocery bag and a digital scale on Feb 27th 2013. The two Mobile City officers arrested and charged Mr. Anderson with distribution of a controlled substance based on an investigation carried out by the two officers.

According to Officer Bailey, William Anderson testified that the money seized was from pushers who sold marijuana for him. In addition to that, $10,000 of the seized money was to be used to purchase additional marijuana to sell.

However, in a testimony during trial, William Anderson said he did not remember the conversation concerning the $15,140, with Officer Bailey. Although Bailey said that he had recorded the conversation with Mr. Anderson, there was no record of it admitted into evidence as it had not been submitted to the Defense counsel, Mr. Chase Dearman of the Dearman Law Firm.

Although the State of Alabama vs. William Anderson did go to trial, this isn’t always the case in a state touted as having the worst laws in the United Stated when it comes to civil asset forfeiture. It was also aptly named Policing for profit. Under the civil forfeiture practice, officers could seize a residents’ private property and in most cases, not charge or convict the property owners with any crime. Owners can and usually do permanently lose their property without being guilty of any crime.

Under civil forfeiture, it is not the owners that are guilty; it is the property that is guilty until the owner can prove that it is not. The basis of it is simple while at the same time being mind boggling. If an officer of the law has preponderance of the evidence that suggests your property was used or will be used in a crime, the officer may confiscate it. To that end, the State of Alabama vs. William Anderson case is unique as it lists the owner as the defendant when really, civil forfeiture cases list the seized asset as the defendant as in $3,011 in United States currency vs. the State.

This brings to the fore, not only the credibility of such a law but why it is so common place. By law, officers are not required to be accountable for how much they seize. In Alabama, law enforcement can keep 100% of all seized assets and that creates an enormous incentive for even more aggressive seizures based on more flimsy reasons. In Williams’ case, no drugs were actually found at his residence. Given this kind of incentive and the level of unaccountability, the laws that govern civil asset forfeiture might remain a grey area. In 8 years, from 2000 to 2008, the state of Alabama received more than $40 million in unaccounted equitable sharing proceeds, with figures fluctuating. Federal forfeiture law doesn’t make it any better with equitable sharing. Under the arrangement, state officials can hand over forfeiture prosecutions to the federal government and then receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds — even when state law bans or limits the profit incentive. In the same 2000-2008 period, equitable sharing payments have doubled to $400 million. Seized assets can be sold off by law enforcement agencies, and with the figures not showing up on any audit reports, the proceeds from seizures are used to fund purchases that are in no way related to law enforcement, as in the case of a Texas police station that used monies from seizures to buy margarita machines.

While the initial precedent for the set up of civil asset forfeiture was to cripple large scale criminal entities by diversion of resources in the war on drugs, law enforcement agencies have flipped the law on its head, making it a cash cow that most residents would rather not follow up on as lawyer fees for the procedures for the legal regaining of the seized property is too costly, most times exceeding the value of property. For residents like Williams Anderson the cards have been stacked too high against them.

However, there is hope. In William Anderson vs. State of Alabama, the defense challenges the authority of Officer Bailey and Officer Watson to conduct a search and seizure operation, as Officer Bailey had not been deputized by the sheriff, which would give him authority to conduct the search citing United States vs. Martin, 600. F.2d 1175 (5th Cir 1979) “a search pursuant to an Alabama warrant executed by a municipal officer in cooperation with county sheriff’s deputies was valid even if the deputies were present merely to legitimate the search” In this case, the warrant was not issued by a district court judge, not a municipal judge, and it was directed to the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office.

It is also interesting to note, that Officer Bailey, during trial did admit that the residence of Mr. Anderson did not exist within his Mobile city limits jurisdiction.

The appeal judge, Judge Thomas brought to the light the illegality of the practice during the appeal hearing when he said, “…Officer Bailey’s reliance on what appears to be an illegal practice of the Mobile City Police Department is not reasonable in light of the statutory directive of section 15-5-7 that a search warrant be executed by the officer to whom it is directed or at his or her direction and in his or her presence.”

He continues, reversing the judgment of the trial court and remanded the cause to the Mobile Circuit Court for entry of a judgment that conformed to that opinion, adding that since the currency seized at Mr. Anderson’s residence was illegally obtained, the currency could not form the basis of a forfeiture action.

With Alabama among some of the states with the worst civil forfeiture track record, a number of reforms have been suggested by the Institute of Justice.

  • Law enforcement should be required to convict people before taking their property
  • Forfeiture revenue must be placed in a neutral fund, therefore police and prosecutors are not paid on commission.
  • Assets that have been seized should be accounted for.
  • Equitable sharing be abolished.
  • Providence of a lawyer to owners challenging asset forfeiture.
  • Placing the burden of proof on the government to prove the owner is involved in or aware of criminal activity.

References

ALABAMA COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS – William Anderson v. State of Alabama Appeal from Mobile Circuit Court (CV-13-900819) – http://www.dearmanlawfirm.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/court-appeals-anderson.pdf

Asset Forfeiture Abuse – https://www.aclu.org/issues/criminal-law-reform/reforming-police-practices/asset-forfeiture-abuse

Brendan Kirby(June 2015) When cops seize money or property in Alabama, it’s owner’s burden to prove he’s innocent – http://www.al.com/news/mobile/index.ssf/2015/06/when_cops_seize_money_or_prope.html

John Kramer (March 2010) Alabama Earns “D” In “Policing for Profit” Report – http://ij.org/press-release/alabama-earns-acanadacana-in-acanapolicing-for-profitacana-report/

Chase Dearman of the Dearman Law Firm is a Mobile, Alabama criminal defense attorney handling state and federal criminal cases in Mobile County, Baldwin County, and South Alabama. He has successfully defended countless clients in trials and appeals on all manner of criminal charges.

CONTACT CHASE DEARMAN AT THE DEARMAN LAW FIRM
(251) 445-6997

Mobile County Court Courtroom

LAGNIAPPE: Rare conviction does little to console family of texting-while-driving victim

Connie Hamilton was in slow motion.

From the moment she heard the news about her 24-year-old daughter, Randi Hamilton — who had been rushed to the emergency room at University of South Alabama medical center minutes earlier — she didn’t feel like she could move at normal speeds.

“I knew she was really bad … then the emergency room doctor came in and knelt down, took my hand and I knew what he was going to say,” she said. “When that doctor told me that she didn’t make it, it just was slow motion right after that and I don’t remember when I came out of [it].”

Randi was on her way to one of her final classes as a student at the University of South Alabama when she was killed as a result of a collision caused by a Mississippi man who Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich said was “fixated” on his phone at the time of the crash.

The former Theodore High School cheerleader was thrown from her truck before her body hit a pine tree and landed in a driveway. Connie Hamilton was later told by witnesses that homeowners in the area formed a prayer circle around her.

“That made me feel a little bit better knowing she didn’t die alone out there,” Hamilton said. “I have a really hard time, even now, believing she’s gone. It’s just hard for me to believe and every day I just trudge on.”

Randi was just three weeks from graduation and along with her aunt had been planning a party in anticipation of the big day. In one of the toughest situations her mother had to take on, those plans had to be scrapped for a funeral.

“I was — I had family around me that helped me, that told me what to do,” she said. “Pretty much they had to tell me what to do.”

Randi’s sister, Samantha, joined their mother in wanting to do one last thing for her. Connie said they wanted to dress her “to a ‘T’” for the funeral, but when it came time for the service at Travis Road Baptist Church, they decided to close the casket.

“We just had to do that,” Hamilton said. “I think back on it now and it’s hard for me to even think about that because of seeing your child in a casket. Nobody should ever have to do that.”

Family life
Connie Hamilton divorced when Randi and Samantha were young, so for much of their life it was just the three of them together in Theodore. As typical siblings growing up, Randi and Samantha didn’t always get along. Connie Hamilton said once both of them moved out on their own, though, they grew closer.

“They had just started getting into that, which was really, really nice to see,” she said. “It’s really satisfying as a parent to see them finally getting along with each other and really enjoying each other’s company.”

The relationship between the three women meant a lot to Samantha as well, as detailed in her impact statement given to Circuit Judge Robert Smith at the sentencing hearing of the Mississippi man convicted of manslaughter for the crash that killed her sister last week in Mobile.

“My heart breaks due to this tragedy,” Samantha said. “For the rest of my life, we will both cry for Randi. We will cry together and we will cry separately.”

In the statement, Samantha described long, “unbearable” nights and how she has cried in bed for two years thinking of her lost sister.

Plans for the future
Like most college seniors, Randi was looking forward to graduation and had been starting to research future employment leads as a biomedical major with a marketing minor. As a vet tech for much of her early working life, Randi was hopeful she would secure a job as a pet pharmaceutical sales representative. She had found a job opening with a new company in Daphne and had filled out an application before the wreck.

“That application was found on her bedside table,” Connie Hamilton said. “She was intending on faxing it that week.”

An alumnus of USA herself, Hamilton said she knew how it felt to have a degree in her hands and wanted Randi to graduate.

“Just to have that diploma in your hand and know this is something you achieved yourself,” she said. “I really wanted her to feel that and she never did. She never got the chance.”

Randi was always the type of person looking for the next adventure, her mother said. It didn’t have to be all that exciting; in fact, it could simply be the next holiday on the calendar, but Randi was always in the mood to plan for it. She was planning for bigger life events following graduation as well.

“She was looking forward to starting a family,” Hamilton said. “She and her boyfriend had plans of getting married.”

In her impact statement, Samantha also mentioned her sadness over never being able to become a maid of honor for Randi, nor Randi returning the favor “when I make the step to become a wife.”

First-of-its-kind conviction
The driver of the truck that hit Randi’s vehicle, Jonathan Mikael Raynes, was later charged with and convicted of manslaughter as a result of the wreck — a conviction Rich called a first-of-its-type case in the state.

Raynes was sentenced on April 6 by Judge Smith to 10 years split with two years to serve in prison and two years’ probation. The other eight years were suspended, meaning if Raynes violates the terms of his probation he could serve more time.

During the hearing, Rich asked for a 10-year sentence split to serve five years, arguing Raynes had a number of recent traffic citations and had been involved in a wreck in Louisiana before the Mobile case went to trial.

Raynes’ attorney, Chase Dearman, did not return a phone call to his office this week requesting comment for this story. The case is being appealed and while the appeal process takes place, Raynes is out on a $60,000 bond.

While Rich told Smith the eyes of the community were on him as he sent a message with the sentence, Dearman argued his client’s actions merited only probation and no jail time.

“Jonathan was in a car accident … and the jury found him guilty of looking at his cell phone,” Dearman said. “I’m guilty of that…. There is absolutely no reason why probation or front-end diversion type of sentence won’t work.”

Dearman also told the judge that his client, who doesn’t speak well in public, was sorry for what happened to Randi. Several witnesses spoke on Raynes’ behalf during the hearing, including his father, a neighbor and the preacher at his church near Purvis, Mississippi.

After Smith ruled, Hamilton said she hadn’t thought much about the sentence.

“I’ve never been focused on the sentence for him,” she said. “I wanted the felony conviction that would stay with him the rest of his life because this will stay with me the rest of my life.”

While Rich said she believes this is the first conviction in the state for the relatively new texting law, it doesn’t mean district attorneys will seek the same charges under similar circumstances.

“This was an extremely egregious case,” Rich told a gaggle of reporters following the sentencing. “He uploaded pictures of himself to the phone while driving … and toggled on social media between women he wanted to meet.”

She added her office would be willing to help teach other prosecutors in the state how to successfully bring and win similar cases in the future.

A growing trend
During the hearing, Dearman brought up how common it is to see drivers texting while traveling various thoroughfares around Mobile. Rich also made mention of how common it has become, in asking Smith to make an example of Raynes. For her part, Connie Hamilton said she hopes Randi’s death can serve as a reminder to area drivers to stay off phones while driving.

“Seriously, it’s not worth it,” she said. “It’s not — nobody should have to bury their child and it’s just not worth it. You know it doesn’t matter what the phone call is, or what you’re doing with your phone. Wait until you’re not behind the wheel to do it.”

With the proliferation of smartphones and the sheer number of vehicles on the road, Hamilton said she doesn’t believe the problem will go away.

“You see young people these days and they’re so attached to their phones,” she said. “I don’t see that getting any better. I don’t see people shying away from their phone.”

In 2015 Alabama State Troopers wrote 682 citations for texting while driving, trooper spokesman Cpl. Jess Thornton said. Since the law was enacted in August 2012, more than 1,400 tickets have been written.

The law can be tricky to enforce, though, Thornton said, because it’s not illegal for a driver to be on his or her phone; the driver has to be texting.

CORRECTION: The original version of this article misidentified the judge presiding over the manslaughter case.

Via: Lagniappe written by Dale Liesch.

Mobile County Courthouse

Defense Begins For Turtle Creek Apartments Murder Suspect

MOBILE, AL (WALA) – 20-year-old Terri Grant and 19-year-old Jordan Johnson were back in court Wednesday morning for an arraignment hearing.

Grant and Johnson are accused of killing 31-year-old Kahled Al Mashni Saturday, March 26 at the Turtle Creek Apartment Complex.

Tuesday a judge set bail at $250,000 dollars each. Grant pleaded not guilty. Johnson said his family is still working on getting an attorney.

The state asked for $200,000. Wednesday the judge added a $25,000 cash component after the state said it had a photo of Johnson holding firearms and thousands of dollars in cash.

Chase Dearman, attorney for Grant argued that she was not a flight risk, nor a danger to the community. He said Grant grew up in Mobile County and was medically discharged from the National Guard.

The courtroom was tense Wednesday morning. Family of the victim muttered things under their breath as Dearman spoke for his client.

Tuesday, a brother of the Mashni said they’re asking for justice.

A preliminary hearing will be held April 15.

Content via: Fox10 Video via: Local15

Chase Dearman is a Mobile Alabama criminal defense attorney handling state and federal criminal cases in Mobile County, Baldwin County, and South Alabama. He has successfully defended countless clients in trials and appeals on all manner of criminal charges.

CONTACT CHASE DEARMAN AT THE DEARMAN LAW FIRM
(251) 445-6997

Mobile County Court Courtroom

Dearman Defends Second Day In Texting And Driving Manslaughter Trial

Testimony continued today in the trial against 23-year-old Jonathan Raynes. Raynes is charged with one count of manslaughter in the death of 24-year-old USA Student Miranda Hamilton. The prosecution says that Raynes was using social media and dating applications while driving. They say his negligence on the road caused this fatal accident.

The accident happened on April 14th, 2014 in front of the Learning Tree on Lott Road. Raynes hit Miranda Hamilton’s green F150 head-on with his white Dodge truck. Hamilton was ejected from her vehicle and later died.

The prosecution called on six witnesses to testify about what occurred before, during and after the fatal crash.

The first witness to take the stand was Charlie Winsted. Winsted and his wife Michelle both worked at the Learning Tree and were heading to work the day of the accident. Winsted testified that his wife stopped their black Honda Accord on Lott Road while waiting to make a left turn into the Learning Tree’s driveway. He says that he saw Rayne’s Dodge pick-up approaching their car from behind at a very fast speed before seeing him clip the back of their car before swerving into the other lane and hitting Hamilton head on.

Mobile County Court CourtroomAnother witness on the road at the time, Clayton Wiley said he was driving behind Raynes and witnessed the fatal accident.

Both drivers said they believe Raynes was speeding at the time of the accident.

Miranda Hamilton’s boyfriend at the time of the accident, Christopher Lowry also took the stand. He testified that he arrived on the scene after Hamilton had already been transported to USA Medical Center. He says that he walked to her flipped truck and took her purse and her phone. He says that he has those still today because it’s all he has left to hold onto.

Via: WKRG

 

Chase Dearman is a Mobile Alabama criminal defense attorney handling state and federal criminal cases in Mobile County, Baldwin County, and South Alabama. He has successfully defended countless clients in trials and appeals on all manner of criminal charges.

CONTACT CHASE DEARMAN AT THE DEARMAN LAW FIRM
(251) 445-6997

Fairhope Man Acquitted of Capital Murder; Dearman Continues Legal Defense

Fairhope resident Bruce Keishawn Salter, 26, was acquitted of capital murder charges Feb. 3 after spending 954 days in jail awaiting trial for his connection to the 2013 murder of another Fairhope man, Donald Howard.

After a seven-day jury trial at the beginning of this year, a Baldwin County jury returned a unanimous not-guilty verdict in Salter’s case, which included charges of murder during a robbery, murder by a deadly weapon and tampering with physical evidence. Salter was originally arrested on Oct. 8, 2013, and indicted on six counts, including capital murder and tampering with evidence.

Howard died Jan. 14, 2013, after being shot multiple times and robbed of money, a cell phone, a pocket knife and a red bandana.

Last year attorney Chase Dearman filed a federal complaint against Baldwin County District Attorney Hallie Dixon seeking injunctive relief against the capital murder charges Salter faced, arguing Dixon did not honor a proffer agreement with Salter for his cooperation in building a murder case against Immanuel Charles Jenkins, who was later found guilty of Howard’s murder.

The complaint, which is pending in federal court, says the agreement was breached on June 24, 2013, when Salter was arrested and charged with capital murder. The District Attorney’s office believes Salter did not tell the whole truth during the investigation.

Salter was alleged to have driven Howard to the 7700 block of Parker Road, where Howard was killed.

Dearman said Salter and Howard were riding to a different location when Jenkins called and told them to come to the home on Parker Road. Dearman said they pulled the car up beside a vehicle parked in front of the location, and Salter jumped out to urinate. According to Dearman, while Salter was out of the car, Jenkins shot Howard five to six times. Dearman said Salter did not see the killing but did see Howard slumped over in the car.

Dearman said Jenkins pointed a gun at Salter, telling him to get Howard out of the car, at which time they took the man’s body to the back of the residence. When the pair noticed Howard was still alive, Dearman said Jenkins fired a final shot to the back of his head. Salter took a red bandana and $24 out of Howard’s pocket and Jenkins took a phone and pocket knife.

Shortly after the killing, Salter contacted Dearman to tell the story, and they relayed the information to the Baldwin County District Attorney’s office. Investigators used information provided by Salter to arrest and charge Jenkins in the case. Dearman said had Salter not come forward, investigators would not have known a crime occurred.

Dearman said throughout the life of Dixon’s proffer agreement with Salter, his client was truthful and helpful to investigators. However, Dearman acknowledged that in Salter’s initial interview, he did not tell the investigators about the $24 he took from Howard’s pocket and the final shot to Howard’s head.

In trial, prosecutors argued Salter knowingly set up Howard, then lied to investigators about his involvement. Salter’s attorneys said their client’s story never changed and evidence proved his innocence. They also questioned why prosecutors sought a capital murder charge when evidence showed the defendant didn’t fire a shot.

“Legally, aiding and abetting allows for a broad reach, but in a capital murder charge it is statutorily limited to the actual killing itself,” attorney Grant Gibson said. “To charge someone with capital murder, under the theory he aided and abetted when the evidence did not show that, was a strange tactical decision.”

Following his release from jail, the District Attorney’s office hit Salter with another three-count indictment for an unrelated incident. According to the new indictment, Salter faces charges of attempted murder, discharging a firearm into a vehicle and reckless endangerment. Court records show Salter now awaits a bond hearing for those charges later this month.

Jenkins was found guilty of murder Oct. 2, 2015, and sentenced to life in prison in the Bibb County Correctional Facility.

The Baldwin County District Attorney’s office did not return calls requesting comment before press time.

Original article: Lagniappe Mobile

Chase Dearman is a Mobile Alabama criminal defense attorney handling state and federal criminal cases in Mobile County, Baldwin County, and South Alabama. He has successfully defended countless clients in trials and appeals on all manner of criminal charges.

CONTACT CHASE DEARMAN AT THE DEARMAN LAW FIRM
(251) 445-6997

Mobile County Courthouse

Dearman Defends Alleged Texting And Driving Manslaughter Case

The Dearman Law Firm is currently defending an accused man on charges of Manslaughter related to texting and driving in Mobile County Court in Mobile, Alabama. This case is developing and details will emerge as they are available.

Chase Dearman is a Mobile Alabama criminal defense attorney handling state and federal criminal cases in Mobile County, Baldwin County, and South Alabama. He has successfully defended countless clients in trials and appeals on all manner of criminal charges.

CONTACT CHASE DEARMAN AT THE DEARMAN LAW FIRM
(251) 445-6997

Baldwin County Courthouse, Bay Minette, Alabama

Dearman Wins Capital Murder Jury Trial in Baldwin County

Baldwin County Courthouse, Bay Minette, Alabama

Baldwin County Courthouse, Bay Minette, Alabama

After a seven day jury trial at the beginning of 2016, a Baldwin County Jury returned a unanimous verdict of “Not Guilty” to all counts in the indictment in the case of State of Alabama v. Bruce Salter, CC-2013-1961. Dearman’s client was charged with Capital Murder while committing Robbery in the First Degree; Capital Murder and Shooting into an Occupied Vehicle and Tampering with Evidence.

Chase Dearman is a Mobile Alabama criminal defense attorney handling state and federal criminal cases in Mobile County, Baldwin County, and South Alabama. He has successfully defended countless clients in trials and appeals on all manner of criminal charges.

CONTACT CHASE DEARMAN AT THE DEARMAN LAW FIRM
(251) 445-6997