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Dearman Law Firm - Life Sentence Reversed

Chase Dearman Wins Drug Trafficking Appeal, Life Sentence Reversed

On May 29th, 2020, the following Conclusion was issued from a ruling by the ALABAMA COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS on the matter of CR-18-0332 Ezingim Demetrius Earl v. State of Alabama as stating the following:

Because the affidavit lacked sufficient probable cause to support the issuance of a search warrant for apartment 206, the circuit court should have granted Earl’s motion to suppress the evidence found in apartment 206. We therefore reverse the judgment of the circuit court and remand this case for further proceedings. In doing so, we note that Earl was originally charged with nine counts but that, because Earl agreed to plead guilty to one count of trafficking in marijuana, the State dismissed eight counts. Because this Court holds that the circuit court erred in denying Earl’s motion to suppress as to the apartment, this Court is also setting aside Earl’s guilty-plea conviction for trafficking in marijuana and his resulting sentence of life in prison.

Client serving a life sentence for trafficking marijuana has conviction reversed. William K. Bradford and Mr. Chase Dearman successfully argued that the search conducted by the police was illegal. The entire ruling by the ALABAMA COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS may be read here.

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

Alabama Supreme Court

LAGNIAPPE: Judge, lawyer take war of words to Montgomery

“OK, Let me know when I can speak.”

“If you’re going to make an objection, you’re not going to speak.”

“May the record reflect that I’m not allowed to make…”

“Get him out of here. Take the lawyer out. Get out.”

“May the record reflect…”

“Get out.”

“… that I’m being ordered out of the courtroom…”

“Get out.”

“… and the judge has lost his temper…”

“Get out.”

“…. Again.”

“Get out. Take him back.”


From Lagniappe Mobile: Posted by Jason Johnson | Nov 6, 2019 | Bay Briefs

That was the official court transcript from a heated exchange in February between Mobile County Circuit Judge Jim Patterson and local defense attorney Chase Dearman after a probation revocation hearing for one of Dearman’s clients appears to have run entirely off the rails.
The incident led to Dearman being held in contempt by Patterson, and since then, the issue has been appealed, remanded, affirmed and appealed again all the way up the Alabama Supreme Court. It’s one of two cases Dearman has challenged from Patterson’s courtroom and taken up to the high court this year.

Both he and Patterson declined to speak on the record, though much has been laid out in public filings.

The contempt case started during a probation revocation hearing for one of Dearman’s clients who was allegedly found in possession of synthetic marijuana. At the hearing, Dearman objected to a patrol officer positively identifying the substance he found in his client’s car, claiming the officer had “no training in narcotics whatsoever” and that synthetic marijuana was not “regularly identifiable.”

Patterson shot down the objection and maintained the rules for a trial wouldn’t apply during a simple probation hearing, and that the officer was allowed to testify to what he found during a traffic stop. Still, Dearman wanted to object in order to preserve the issue for the record and persisted.

That’s where things seemed to go awry.

According to the transcript, when Dearman tried again to get his objection on the record, Patterson told him “there was no objection” and then repeatedly stated “the rules don’t apply” over Dearman’s continued efforts to support his position. It doesn’t appear Patterson formally overruled the objection.

Patterson later wrote that he threw Dearman out of court because he felt his conduct was “a challenge to the court’s authority” and it was necessary to “promptly punish” him for the behavior. Dearman disagreed and quickly appealed to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

That appeals court found Patterson erred because he never actually told Dearman he was being held in contempt while kicking him out of the courtroom, and because he didn’t allow him “a reasonable opportunity” to excuse or mitigate his actions. However, after it was remanded back to Patterson and a hearing was held to correct those procedural concerns, the appeals court upheld the contempt charge.

Dearman has argued he couldn’t have been challenging Patterson’s ruling on his objection because Patterson never made one saying instead that “there is no objection.” The next stop was the Alabama Supreme Court, which is currently considering an appeal of the lower appellate court’s decision.

It’s worth noting Dearman has had issues with other judges this year as well. In April, District Judge Joe Basenberg held him in contempt and actually briefly detained him for an alleged comment he made after a ruling denying a motion to adjust the conditions of one of his client’s bonds.

Basenberg claims that after his order, Dearman immediately said in open court that the court’s decision was “ridiculous” or “absolutely ridiculous.” Basenberg went on to state that “both the manner and tone of the statement displayed an extreme level of insult and disrespect to the court.”

The other case involving Patterson that Dearman has appealed to the supreme court is also pending, but it has already led to an accused murderer being released from jail. In that case, Dearman claims Patterson revoked a client’s bond “without any legal basis” over his concerns with local court funding.

That client, Calvin Barnes, was charged with murder in 2016 for allegedly killing his brother-in-law, Eric Smith. He was initially scheduled to go on trial in 2018, but was delayed on multiple occasions, some at Barnes’ request and some at the state’s. Eventually, the trial was reset for May 13 in Patterson’s court.

However, three days before the trial began, Barnes made the decision to drop Dennis Knizley as his attorney and replace him with Dearman, who at the time was still in the middle of his appeals battle with Patterson over the contempt charge mentioned above. Patterson perceived the change of attorneys as an effort to delay the case and revoked Barnes’ bond despite the state never asking him to do so.

“This has the feel of the purpose to delay the inevitable. That’s what it feels like to me,” Patterson said at the hearing that day. “And so, frankly, I’m going to revoke his bond because I think — we are too broke. This circuit is too broke to [allow] another precious trial setting to pass.”

Court funding has been a significant focus for Patterson, who has drawn attention on several occasions by stating publicly that the local judicial system is “dead ass broke.” He also attempted to take legal action against the state last year to prevent money collected in local courts from going to the general fund in Montgomery — an effort that led to him being sternly admonished by the Supreme Court in June.

In the Barnes’ case, Patterson set a bond revocation hearing the day after he’d already ordered the bond revoked, which is allowed under the rules of criminal procedure. At the hearing, Patterson himself seemed to acknowledge he was getting into uncharted territory by revoking Barnes’ bond of his volition.

“I will tell you on the record that I did some research yesterday, and I don’t know that there’s any precedent for what I did. This may be an issue of first impression,” the transcript reads. “I stand on the record that I made yesterday about how this case proceeded. I stand on the record about the defendant terminating Mr. Knizley, who has an excellent reputation as attorney, on the eve of trial.”

Last month, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Patterson’s order revoking Barnes’ bond as it considers Dearman’s appeal of the decision. He has since been released from custody at Mobile Metro Jail and has a new trial date set in 2020. Dearman withdrew from his case altogether in August.


Update: After this article was published, Dearman sent the following comment on his contempt previous charge in Judge Basenberg’s courtroom.

“The law of contempt clearly states the attorney shall be given an opportunity to mitigate his actions. The reason for that mitigation is to allow things to cool down. An adversarial proceeding can make for a heated atmosphere. The actual freedom of a citizen is at stake. After five minutes, that is exactly what happened. Both the judge and myself settled down. Although I don’t believe my conduct met the definition of contemptuous, I was wrong and Judge Basenburg was right to call me out on it. I have the utmost respect for Judge Basenburg personally and as a judge.”

McAlpine, Accused Chevron shooting defendant in court

McAlpine, Accused Chevron shooting defendant in court

MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) – The two men accused of robbery and shooting three men at a Chevron gas station in July of this year were in court for a preliminary hearing on Wednesday morning. Emanuel McAlpine is charged with three counts of attempted murder and robbery. Ghacquez Ludgood is charged with robbery.

A Mobile Police detective gave testimony in court that three men were shot in the head during the robbery on July 31, 2018. Surveillance video showed a man come in and point a gun at the clerk behind the register. Police have identified that suspect at McAlpine. According to investigators, McAlpine shot the clerk in the eye and went into the back room of the store. Detectives say that’s where McAlpine brought another man up to the register and shot him twice, once in the chest and once in the face. McAlpine is then accused of trying to make a third man open the register. When that victim was unable to open the register, police say McAlpine shot him in the head.

In court testimony Wednesday, police say they got a tip from the public that led them to McAlpine. Investigators say they looked though his Facebook photos and were able to identify McAlpine by a tattoo. Police found McAlpine a few days later, but say he had another tattoo covering up the original, identifying tattoo.

Investigators say when McAlpine was questioned about the July 31 robbery and shooting, he told police he and Ludgood went to the store to confront one of the victims about an alleged rape involving Ludgood’s sister. Prosecutors and police don’t believe that is true.

“There’s absolutely no evidence that would corroborate that In any way,” said Assistant District Attorney Keith Blackwood. “We heard testimony about communications between the two defendants on Facebook. This was clearly a robbery that turned into a shooting.”

Detectives say McAlpine told them he and Ludgood conspired to commit the robbery. McAlpine told police Ludgood ran before the crime was committed.

“Just because somebody says something does not mean it’s a voluntary confession,” said Chase Dearman who is representing McAlpine. “Before it can be admitted into any trial against somebody’s guilt, it has to be proved that it was voluntary.”

Ludgood allegedly told police he bailed out of the plan before the robbery and that McAlpine acted alone.

The three shooting victims have not positively identified McApline as being the man who shot them. So far, police have been unable to find the gun used in the shooting.

A judge set bond for Emanuel McAlpine at $400,000, but 5% of that must be paid in cash. However, McAlpine will be held without bond while the court considers a motion to revoke bond in another case.

The case involving McAlpine and Ludgood will now be sent to a Mobile County Grand Jury.

Emanuel McAlpine doesn't seek bond Mobile, Alabama Criminal Defense Chase Dearman Law Firm

Suspect in Shooting, McAlpine, Doesn’t Seek Bond

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 in 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 were 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, but it also perverts the basic functions of law enforcement by incentivizing officers to seek revenge 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 sheriff to whom those warrants were directed.

An unknown number of forfeiture cases have been based on searches executed by un-deputized city police. In 2013, for instance, two members of the Mobile City Police Department executed a search warrant 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 the 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

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.

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