The recent court case of United States of America v. Combs shows why a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney with knowledge of the appeals system is critical.
In this case, out of Chicago, the defendant eventually pleaded guilty to one count of possession of a firearm by a felon, but that was after his attorney made several mistakes. And those mistakes at the trial level, in turn, led to him being denied at the appellate level.That’s why hiring a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer who can avoid mistakes that can hurt the client beyond the criminal stages is important. Whether a person is charged with gun crimes in Jacksonville or drug charges, procedures must be followed in order to make sure the defendant’s rights are upheld at every stage of the case.
This defendant was sentenced to 33 months in prison by a federal judge after pleading guilty. On appeal, however, he argued that a motion to suppress should have been heard, but after making an unconditional plea, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals denied his motion.
This case comes down to the inactions of the man’s public defender, who failed to properly and timely file a motion to suppress gun evidence seized by federal investigators during the course of their investigation.
The case started with a drug informant who told Drug Enforcement Administration agents that the defendant was selling heroin, cocaine and marijuana in southern Illinois. The informant, who had been arrested, told investigators the man typically picked up drugs in one city where he was living and sold them at their homes of his relatives in St. Louis.
The agents had the informant call the defendant and arrange a cocaine purchase. With agents watching, the defendant stopped in the parking lot of a casino and got a black bag from a man waiting there. He was followed to his house and went inside with the bag. An hour later, a surveillance video captured a meeting at his mother’s house in St. Louis where the defendant said he had just gotten 2 kilograms of cocaine and had heroin for sale, though the informant didn’t make a purchase.
After obtaining a search warrant, investigators found 650 grams of marijuana, a handgun and ammunition at his house. The man was indicted and later arrested.
As the case progressed and the trial approached, the defendant’s attorney asked for a continuance, saying he was having a difficult time watching the video footage provided by prosecutors. He had gotten several DVD copies of the video, but was unable to correctly view it.
After finally getting a working copy of the footage, the attorney told the judge a week before trial, the client wanted him to file a motion to suppress evidence based on allegations that what was viewable on the video was different than the search warrant affidavit.
The judge agreed to a continuance, but noted in an order that the deadline to file motions to suppress had elapsed and no extension to that date had been sought by the defense. After waiting more than two months from that order, the public defender filed a motion to suppress and never tried to extend the deadline for motions.
The defendant, after watching the video, argued that the footage didn’t corroborate the affidavit’s statement that he received a black bag at the casino parking lot. He also said that the affidavit misled the judge by saying agents were watching him “from a vantage point on the ground,” though they used a helicopter as well.
But the judge denied the motion, noting that the deadline had passed by and the attorney didn’t seek an extension of time. The judge opined that it had given plenty of time, hints and “blunt invitation” to seek an extension, but his attorney failed to do so. The lawyer acknowledged that he had no excuse for why he didn’t do it.
Faced with a difficult decision, the defendant entered an unconditional guilty plea, though he didn’t reserve the right to challenge the motion to suppress denial. The appeals court upheld the judge’s decision, saying that because he entered an unconditional plea — throwing away his rights to appeal that decision — the court can’t overlook that and take up the issue.
This is an unfortunate case because the defendant obviously didn’t get the best advice and suffered for it. While it’s unclear from the court documents how much responsibility the prosecutors had in providing poorly working DVDs, the attorney had to admit fault in order to try to get the motion heard on behalf of the defendant.
While it didn’t work in the long run, he again failed to work out a conditional plea that would have allowed the defendant to appeal the motion to suppress ruling. That’s why it’s important that a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney have knowledge of the appeals process in order to ensure their rights are upheld at all stages of their case.
If you need a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call Mussallem and Associate, PA at 904-365-5200 for a free consultation.
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