Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Confessing to a crime via social media: Is it the new social norm?

Confessing to a crime onlineWhat makes a person confess to a crime – online?

Given my background in clinical psychology, the driving force behind what makes someone confess to a crime via social media fascinates me. Take the case of Derek Medina in Florida. By now we all have heard about how Derek confessed on Facebook to killing his wife, and how he even posted a picture of her corpse.  Sharing too much on the various social media platforms is nothing new.  But just what is it that makes someone go that extra step and post online the details of their involvement in a crime?

Physical isolation.

An article in CNN Tech by Dough Gross, Why people share murder, rape on Facebook, touches on the psychology behind cases like that of Derek Medina’s.  In this article, Gross paraphrased Michele Nealon-Woods, national president of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, in suggesting that "[t]he physically isolating aspect of social media is probably part of the equation .... When we can communicate with other people without seeing or hearing them, something in the brain makes it harder to remember that there are still consequences for what we say ...."

False sense of privacy.

In general, text messaging and social media forums have created in us a seeming need to announce and share our every move and thought. This, coupled with a false sense of privacy one gets when communicating with friends (or others we have let into our social circles) via Facebook or Twitter, or some other social media, is why sharing incriminating info online is likely to be unaffected by the potential for arrest.

Recent Examples.

There are many recent examples in the news of people taking photos or videotaping their involvement in a crime and then posting it on social media.  See When oversharing online can get you arrested, by Lauren Russel on CNN Tech.  Two 2013 incidents include: 1) the two Steubenville football players who were found guilty in early 2013 of raping a drunken 16-year-old-girl, and 2) a Facebook status update posted by Astoria, Oregon resident Jacob Cox-Brown, 18, which read, "Drivin drunk... classsic ;) but to whoever's vehicle i hit i am sorry. :P"

The new social norm?

The inability to keep secret or confess one’s involvement in a crime is nothing new.  What is new is the use of social media to do it.  As Professor Susan Rozelle at Stetson University College of Law said in Russell’s article, "People have always said foolish things … but now they have the ability to say it louder and to more people."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Is there a way to stop the DOT from suspending my license before my case is over?

Possibly. If you have filed the Department of Transportation (DOT) form requesting an "administrative suspension review hearing" before the 10 day deadline, you or your lawyer will have a chance to cross examine the officer who arrested you at an informal hearing held at the DOT. If, after the hearing, the DOT decides to suspend your license, your lawyer may be able to get a court order preventing that suspension.

About a week or so after the hearing, you should receive a notice from the DOT with their decision and a form to request a judicial review of their decision. Some judges believe that the statute governing this procedure prevents them from reviewing the DOT decision before the day of the trial. This is a common misinterpretation, by lawyers and judges alike. The confusion lies in a subtle distinction in the wording of the statute.

Wisconsin Statutes § 343.305(8)(c) does indeed provide that the review shall be heard at the time of the trial. The “review” described in subsection (8)(c), however, pertains to a judicial hearing held for the purposes of determining whether to rescind or sustain the administrative suspension. A "stay," on the other hand, is a separate determination, made available to the court by subsection (8)(c)2, pending or in advance of the court's decision to rescind or sustain the administrative suspension. Subsection (8)(c)2 provides, in relevant part:

The department shall vacate the administrative suspension under sub. (7) unless, within 60 days of the date of the request for judicial review of the administrative hearing decision, the department has been notified of the result of the judicial review or of an order of the court entering a stay of the hearing examiner’s order continuing the suspension.
In other words, section 343.305(8)(c)2 acknowledges two separate mechanisms by which the court may change the status of the administrative suspension: a judicial review hearing, or a discretionary stay of the suspension.

Because the legal issues yet to be adjudicated in the underlying OWI (operating while intoxicated) charge may determine whether the suspension will be enforceable in the first place, your lawyer may be able to persuade a judge to sign a legal motion and order "staying" or temporarily preventing the DOT from administratively suspending your license until such time as a final determination may be made by the court at a judicial review hearing.

This information is not meant to serve as legal advice. You should consult with a qualified attorney before making any decisions about your case and never rely solely on information found on the Internet.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Guilty or No Contest?

Why Knowing the Difference Can Make All the Difference.

The two most common pleas a person can enter before sentencing are the guilty plea, and the no contest plea. Both pleas can seem very similar, since both result in a conviction. However, in situations where there is a victim who is injured (and who may later sue for damages), it is important to understand the distinction.

Guilty? No Contest? What’s the difference?

In a nutshell, the basic difference under Wisconsin Statute Section 971.06 is this:

  1. Guilty plea: the defendant admits that he or she committed the acts alleged by the prosecution.  Guilty pleas are the most common type of plea in Wisconsin.
  2. No Contest plea: the defendant does not admit to the facts alleged by the prosecutor.  However, he or she also does not dispute that the jury could find him or her guilty  - if the case went to trial.

Put another way, when you enter a plea of guilty, you are admitting that you did the crime. When you enter a plea of no contest, you are essentially admitting that a jury could find you guilty based on the evidence the State has against you, but you are not going that one extra step and admitting that you actually did it.  So why doesn’t everybody plead no contest then? Simply put, not all judges accept no contest pleas. Why? Because they feel going that extra step is necessary to show that you truly acceptance responsibility for your actions.

What does this mean for you?

The significance of this distinction is that anyone who files a civil lawsuit against you for the same conduct as that in the criminal case, cannot use the conviction in your criminal case as evidence of guilt in the lawsuit.

If the crime to which you are pleading involves a victim with injuries or damaged/stolen property, it is better to enter a no contest plea to prevent your conviction from being used as ammunition against you if you get sued.

The bottom line.

Remember, both the guilty plea and the no contest plea will result in a conviction.  But a no contest plea is the better plea to enter in situations where a victim could later sue for damages in a separate civil suit.

This information is not meant to serve as legal advice. You should consult with a qualified attorney before making any decisions about your case and never rely solely on information found on the Internet.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

MILWAUKEE WAUKESHA OWI DUI DWI Drunk Driving Defense Attorneys Lawyers | DOT Administrative Suspensions | Occupational Licenses | OWI Medical Professionals

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Arrested for Drunk Driving? Facing OWI DUI DWI Charges?

Don't let a drunk driving charge ruin your life. Get the aggressive, experienced defense you deserve!
Defending preople facing drunk driving charges is a highly technical and specialized area of practice. It requires thorough knowledge of the relevant legal standards, the trial and pre-trial procedures governing the admission of evidence, and a thorough understanding of the rates of alcohol absorption, distribution, elimination, and alcohol's effects on the human body. It also requires a working knowledge of the various devices used by police to test and measure the level of alcohol in the body, and how to discredit and expose field sobriety tests for what they really are — nonscientific, highly subjective and unreliable tests designed for failure. To fight your case head on, you need a lawyer well versed in these areas, and one who knows how to win these types of cases.

Achieving Superior Results
We are passionate about what we do and it shows. Attorney Sydne French has fought and won hundreds of drunk driving cases for Wisconsin and Illinois drivers (facing Wisconsin OWI charges) in courts across the eastern border of the State of Wisconsin. She is known for negotiating significantly reduced charges, penalties, and dismissals.  Check out our Winning Cases News Room and see some of the extraordinary results we have achieved for our clients.    

Contact us today or Visit Our DUI OWI DWI Defense Attoneys webpage to schedule a free no-hassle consultation with Sydne in our Waukesha office or Milwaukee office.  We can also schedule a consultation by phone if you like.  Whatever is most convenient for you.

MILWAUKEE WAUKESHA OWI DUI DWI Drunk Driving Defense Attorneys Lawyers | DOT Administrative Suspensions | Occupational Licenses | OWI Medical Professionals

Friday, May 29, 2009

What will I get for a 3rd OWI?

There is no short answer for this question. Sentencing of OWI cases depends upon many factors. There are sentencing guidelines in place, however, that judges follow when sentencing individuals for OWIs. The guidelines are different for each county in Wisconsin. The guidelines for any given county are based on a chart divided into two columns (mitigated or aggravated) and several rows (level of blood or breath alcohol content). Generally speaking, the higher the alcohol content, the more severe the penalties. Each case is different and there are other factors that guide a judge at sentencing. Sentencing is a complex process that no individual or attorney should take lightly. Every attempt should be made to mitigate or downplay the negative facts of your case, and identify and emphasize the positives.

This information is not meant to serve as legal advice. You should consult with a qualified attorney before making any decisions about your case and never rely solely on information found on the Internet.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

We all want the same thing -- Justice.

DNA reveals wrongful convictions
Edwin Meese, 75th Attorney General of the United States, once said, “If a person is innocent of crime, then he is not a suspect.” (1) If that’s so, how do you explain the fact that 174 wrongfully convicted inmates have been exonerated since 1989? Forensic DNA testing has provided scientific proof that wrongful convictions are not isolated or rare events. But “DNA exonerations alone do not solve the problem - they [merely] prove its existence and illuminate the need for reform.” (2) Many factors lead to wrongful convictions: things like false confessions, snitch testimony, unreliable microscopic hair comparison testing, and, the big one, mistaken eyewitness identifications. How do we know this? Through pioneering efforts by organizations like the Innocence Project.

The Innocence Project had its beginnings in 1992, when attorneys Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld founded a small, non-profit legal clinic and criminal justice reform organization, whose sole mission was to secure the release of wrongly convicted people through DNA testing. Since then, the Innocence Project has developed into the Innocence Network, a group of law schools, journalism schools, and public defender offices across the country that assist inmates trying to prove their innocence. (3)

Wisconsin joined this national network when in 1998, UW law professors Keith Findley and John Pray co-founded the Wisconsin Innocence Project, or “WIP.”(4) WIP is part of the Frank J. Remington Center at the UW Law School. WIP provides legal assistance free of charge to inmates in criminal cases where DNA testing of evidence can yield conclusive proof of innocence. Approximately 20 students handle the casework under the supervision of clinical instructors and staff attorneys. Most of WIP’s clients are indigent and have exhausted all other legal avenues for relief. The only hope they have left is that biological evidence from their cases still exists, and that this evidence is suitable for DNA testing.

In addition to our efforts to free innocent inmates, WIP has partnered with State legislators and the Attorney General to introduce legislation and law enforcement policy guidelines that will improve the criminal justice system. Our partnership with Representative Mark Gundrum in the Wisconsin Legislative Task Force resulted in new legislation that will improve investigation techniques such as the electronic recording of interrogations. And we worked together with Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager to bring about a new statewide model policy for improving police procedure in eyewitness identifications.

But there is still much work to be done. WIP’s greatest goal is that our efforts will raise awareness and concern about the failings of our criminal justice system because when the system fails, everyone loses. Individuals falsely accused and convicted will more than likely spend a decade or more behind bars before gaining their freedom. Children will grow up without parents; marriages will likely dissolve. We all pay for this egregious mistake because, lest we forget, the real perpetrator is still out there. Our goals are not altogether inconsistent with those of law enforcement. After all, we want the same thing—justice. But let’s make sure that the system works, well enough at least to catch the right person.

Some say that the exoneration of innocent people is proof that the system works. “If that were true, then justice is not being administered by our police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, or our courts. It is being dispensed by law students, journalism students, and a few concerned lawyers, organizations, and citizens” long after years of damage have been done. (5) Wrongfully convicting individuals is the bane of our society, one that adversely affects all of its citizens, whether directly or indirectly. “The possibility of a loved one languishing in jail or, worse [yet], being put to death for crimes they did not commit, should be intolerable” to us all. (6) As future jurors and voters, and as responsible citizens, we should, we must insist that the criminal justice system be held accountable for administering justice with integrity, fairness, and impartiality.

(1) Barry Scheck, Peter Nuefeld, Actual Innocence, Preface, Doubleday, 1st ed., Feb. 2000.
(2) Innocence Project Home Page, available at: http://www.innocenceproject.org/
(3) See About the Innocence Project, The Innocence Project, available at: http://www.innocenceproject.org/
(4) See The Wisconsin Innocence Project, available at: http://www.law.wisc.edu/fjr/innocence/index.htm
(5) Causes and Remedies of Wrongful Convictions, Innocence Project, available at: http://www.innocenceproject.org/
(6) About the Innocence Project, Innocence Project, available at: www.innocenceproject.org/about/index.php

Speech presented to the Madison Civics Club on February 25, 2006 by Attorney Sydne French.

Sydne French is a native Californian. She hales from the University of Wisconsin Law School and she graduated magna cum laude from the University of California, at Berkeley, with a major in clinical research psychology. Since coming to Wisconsin, she has represented criminal defendants in the Criminal Appeals Project, the Milwaukee Public Defender’s Office, and the Wisconsin Innocence Project. Her work has earned her the Baldwin Award for Excellence in Criminal Law.