Month: November 2018

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Can Plea Bargains have Immigration Consequences?

A plea bargain can often reduce your charges, reduce your sentence, or result in probation instead of time in jail in exchange for a guilty plea. When you hear a favorable offer from a prosecutor, you may rush to enter your guilty plea to get your case over with. However, before you plead guilty to any offense, it is critical to discuss all of the possible implications with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. This is because a guilty plea can have many lasting effects of which you may not be aware, including drastic immigration consequences.

Any non-citizen can face serious consequences upon a guilty plea, even if you have a green card. Call Barnes Law to discuss your rights and options with a skilled criminal defense lawyer right away. If you already pled guilty without realizing the possible consequences, call to discuss whether you have options to prevent deportation.

Certain Convictions Can Lead to Deportation

Under the Immigrant and Nationality Act (INA), convictions of certain crimes are justification to initiate deportation proceedings. Such offenses include:

  • Aggravated felonies – The INA defines which felonies are considered to be “aggravated” for the purposes of deportation, including sexual abuse of a child, rape, drug trafficking, and homicide.
  • Crimes of moral turpitude – Unlike aggravated felonies, the INA does not provide a specific list of offenses that may qualify as crimes of moral turpitude, which means the offense violates the standards of the community. Such offenses can include violent or sexual offenses against other people, fraud crimes, or crimes against property such as theft.
  • Drug crimes – Both misdemeanor and felony drug-related convictions can result in deportation under the INA.
  • Domestic violence – Violent offenses against a spouse, partner, or child can lead to deportation, even for a first offense.
  • Weapons crimes – The INA allows for deportation for convictions of illegal possession, sales, or use of a firearm.

A conviction does not only refer to being found guilty at trial, as a conviction can result from a guilty plea, as well. This can be the case even if you agree to a plea bargain that does not result in a mark on your criminal record. If you undergo a period of probation or are subject to any penalties for a guilty plea, it can count as a conviction for immigration purposes. On the other hand, a pre-plea diversion program that does not require you to formally enter a guilty plea does not always count as a conviction, so this is an option your defense attorney should always explore. They should carefully examine whether a deferred adjudication or diversion program may have immigration consequences based on the type of program.

You should also realize that having a criminal record expunged at a later date will not eliminate immigration consequences. Immigration forms require you to disclose all convictions, including those that were expunged. However, if a court vacates your conviction “for cause” due to constitutional violations or a similar reason, you may be able to halt deportation proceedings stemming from that conviction.

Your Attorney Should Inform You of Possible Immigration Consequences

When you decide to plead guilty, your criminal defense attorney should make sure that you understand all possible consequences of your guilty plea, including collateral consequences. In 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that defense lawyers must inform non-citizen defendants of the potential immigration consequences and that a failure to do so constitutes ineffective assistance of counsel.

Ineffective assistance of counsel violates your Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and it is possible to have your guilty plea vacated due to this constitutional violation. If your lawyer failed to discuss immigration consequences with you when you were deciding to accept a plea bargain, you can be surprised when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers take you into custody and start deportation proceedings. In this situation, you should always discuss whether you may get your conviction set aside to halt proceedings while your attorney defends against your charges at trial. However, you only have a small window of time – until you are finished with appeals – before your case is closed and cannot be reopened to claim ineffective assistance of counsel. After learning about deportation proceedings, you should never wait to contact a skilled criminal defense lawyer to learn about your options.

If you cannot get your guilty plea set aside, you may still be eligible for a pardon of your criminal conviction. A defense attorney can advise you whether a pardon may be an option and can help you through that process. While seeking a pardon from the governor or the U.S. President can be complex and can take a long time, a successful pardon can help you prevent deportation.

Avoiding Convictions Whenever Possible

The best way to avoid deportation as a result of a criminal conviction is to avoid any convictions whenever you can. If you get charged with a crime, you need the assistance of a highly skilled defense attorney who knows how to fight to get your charges dropped or who will aggressively defend against charges at trial. While a plea bargain is a common resolution for criminal cases, it is not the only possible resolution, and immigration consequences are not always inevitable.

Our attorney at Barnes Law will investigate the circumstances of your arrest, examine the evidence against you, and develop the strongest defense strategy possible in your case. In the event the prosecutor offers a plea bargain, we will help you carefully weigh your options and advise you of all possible consequences.

Do Not Wait to Discuss Your Situation with Our Knoxville Criminal Defense Attorney The Barnes Law Firm represents criminal defendants at every stage of the criminal process. We can help clients from the moment of an arrest, during the case, and after a conviction, seeking to have the conviction expunged, vacated, or pardoned. If you need assistance with any type of criminal matter, do not hesitate to consult with us right away.

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Did the police violate your rights during a traffic stop in Tennessee?

Police officers have sirens, flashing lights, badges, and handcuffs, so they can pull you over or arrest you whenever they want, right? Wrong. Under the law, people in the United States have rights that protect them from the unreasonable actions of police officers, and officers must act within the confines of the law. However, this does not mean that officers do not abuse their authority and violate the law – and the rights of the public. 

When police violate your rights, it can have a significant impact on a subsequent criminal case if you face charges. You should seek help from a criminal defense attorney who can identify whether the police violated your rights at a traffic stop and how to use that violation as part of your defense.

No Justification for a Traffic Stop

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects you from unreasonable search and seizure, which includes unreasonable detention or arrest. Because of this protection, police must have justification to pull you over – specifically, reasonable suspicion that you have violated the law in some way. It could be as simple as failing to signal for a turn, but there has to be some violation. If an officer has no reason to believe you violated the law, the traffic stop itself violates your rights.

Too often, however, officers will act with racial bias or will pull people over late at night on the off chance they may be intoxicated (without observing any signs of impaired driving). Many traffic stops may be unlawful and may violate your Fourth Amendment rights.

Unreasonable Search of Your Vehicle

An officer can conduct a search of your vehicle if they have a search warrant, if they have probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime, or if you consent. You always have the right to deny a search request and if you do so, an officer who stopped you will need to demonstrate probable cause for the search (since they usually will not have a search warrant for a vehicle they just pulled over).

Probable cause is a higher standard than reasonable suspicion and must be based on factual information. Officers cannot simply say they had a hunch you had drugs in the car – they must show reason on which to base their suspicions. If police officers arrest you, they can perform a search incident to arrest, but they cannot search closed compartments of your car or anywhere that would not hold evidence of your offense. You would be surprised how many vehicle searches violate a driver’s rights, and any evidence stemming from the unlawful search should be suppressed.

Failing to Read Your Rights

If police arrest you or simply tell you that you are not free to go, you are considered to be in police custody for the purposes of the law. If police want to ask questions of someone in custody, they must first read the suspect their Miranda Rights. These rights include the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present under the Fifth Amendment. It is a violation of the Constitution if police ask you any questions in custody without informing you of these rights.

Police Brutality

Police cannot use force whenever they want to. The law allows officers to use a reasonable amount of force to make an arrest or defend themselves from imminent harm. When determining what amount of force is “reasonable,” officers should consider the circumstances, including:

  • The severity of the suspected offense
  • The potential threat of the suspect to the community
  • Whether the suspect was trying to resist arrest or flee

When the circumstances do not warrant using force – such as when a suspect is not resisting – officers who use force engage in unlawful police brutality.

In recent years, much attention has been focused on the unjustified use of deadly force by police. There are specific circumstances under which police have the right to use force they reasonably know will cause severe or fatal bodily harm. Such circumstances include when a suspect poses the threat of serious harm to the officer, or when a suspect who creates a threat to others is fleeing. Police are not allowed to shoot at someone who is running away if they do not pose a threat. Unfortunately, you only need to read the news to see that officers can use unjustified and unlawful force and deadly force against citizens.

Your Rights after Police Misconduct

If police officers violate your rights, you can seek relief in various ways. First, if you are facing criminal charges after a traffic stop arrest, a skilled criminal defense lawyer can examine how to use any police misconduct as part of your defense. Some examples include:

  • If police pulled you over without reasonable suspicion, any information, evidence, or arrests stemming from the traffic stop are unlawful
  • If police illegally searched your car, any evidence they found should be suppressed from your case
  • If police failed to read your Miranda rights, any answers you gave to their questions should be suppressed

Often, raising constitutional violations can result in the dismissal of your charges. You need an attorney who understands how to identify when police violated your rights.

If you were the victim of police brutality, you have the right to file a lawsuit under federal law, 42 U.S. Code § 1983. You can seek damages for physical injuries, monetary losses, and emotional distress stemming from the brutality. Family members who lose loved ones due to police brutality also have the right to sue for their losses.

Our Knoxville Criminal Defense Lawyer is Here to Help At Barnes Law, we regularly represent criminal defendants who had their rights violated by police. We know how to raise violations as part of a comprehensive defense strategy. We defend against every type of criminal charge, from traffic offenses to violent crimes.

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The Basics of a Self-Defense Claim in Tennessee

Most people know that they have the right to defend themselves from harm. However, the law does not allow you to justify violence by claiming self-defense in any given situation. It is important to understand the basics of self-defense under Tennessee law, both to prevent criminal charges and to defend against them.

The following is a brief overview regarding how Tennessee treats self-defense. To discuss how the law may apply to a specific situation, please contact Barnes Law directly to consult with an experienced Knoxville criminal defense attorney.

How a Self-Defense Claim Works

Claiming self-defense means that you admit that you acted in violence toward another person, but you claim that you had legal justification for the violence. This is a common claim when someone is accused of assault or murder, and they allege that the harm was necessary to protect themselves from violence. There are some requirements for when you can lawfully claim self-defense:

  • You were not engaging in illegal activities at the time
  • You had the right to be in that location at that time
  • You had a real honest belief that the threat of bodily harm was imminent and that your actions were necessary to protect you from the imminent harm
  • Another reasonable person would have also feared imminent harm and believed the actions were necessary under the same circumstances

It is important to emphasize that you must prove you feared imminent harm, such as someone coming at you aggressively, swinging a punch, or driving toward you in their car as if to hit you. Self-defense would not be justified if someone threatened later violence against you. For example, if a person at a bar said they were going to fight you outside in 20 minutes, you would not be justified in using violence right then to prevent later harm.

In most cases, the other person must be the initial aggressor in the situation. If you push someone and start a fight and they push you back, you cannot lawfully continue to use violence to protect yourself from them. One exception to this requirement is if the other person substantially escalates the violence. If you push someone and then they pull out a gun, you can then protect yourself from deadly harm. Additionally, you may be able to claim self-defense if you start a fight, try to retreat from the fight, and the other person continues to act violently and pose an imminent threat of harm. If the other person is the initial aggressor, however, there is no duty to retreat before you act in self-defense in Tennessee like there is in some other states, due to the “Stand Your Ground” law.

Using Deadly Force in Self-Defense

In some cases, an act of self-defense may cause or threaten death to another person. Deadly force is only justified to protect against serious bodily harm or death. For instance, if someone swings a punch at you, the law does not allow you to shoot or stab them to protect yourself. The deadly force must be proportional to the harm feared.

Tennessee does have a law called the “Castle Doctrine,” which allows people to use deadly force under certain circumstances to protect themselves in certain locations. The Castle Doctrine is based on the idea that your home is your castle and you should be able to protect yourself in your home and similar location. The Castle Doctrine creates a legal presumption that self-defense may be justified if someone forcibly enters the following locations:

  • A home that you own, lease, or in which you are an invited guest
  • A business establishment that you own or in which you work as an employee or an agent of the owner to protect the premises
  • A building or dwelling of any kind with a roof over it that is intended for use by people, including mobile homes and tents
  • Any type of motorized vehicle designed for people to use on public roads to transport people or items

In order for the Castle Doctrine to apply, you must be lawfully in the location and you must know or reasonably believe that the other person unlawfully entered. The law does not permit deadly force in the following situations:

  • The victim of the deadly force had the right to enter the home or location
  • The victim of the deadly force was trying to remove a child or person over which they have legal custody or guardianship
  • The person using deadly force was engaging in unlawful activity or using the building to conduct unlawful acts
  • The victim of the deadly force was a law enforcement officer entering the building or operating a roadblock or traffic stop as part of their duties as an officer, and the person using force had reason to believe the victim was an officer

If someone has the right to enter a home or building, the Castle Doctrine does not protect you if you use deadly force against them. You also cannot provoke the person into entering the home of using force. Deadly force is never warranted to protect items of personal property or to get a trespasser off a property if they are not trying to enter the building or its dire

Claiming Self-Defense

A successful self-defense claim requires careful strategizing and presentation of evidence. If police arrest you, it may be tempting to tell them you acted in self-defense right then and there. However, if you cannot later prove self-defense, your claim may be used as an admission of a violent act. Instead, always call a criminal defense lawyer before answering any questions or making any claims to police or prosecutors.

Find Out How Our Knoxville Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help You At Barnes Law, we regularly represent clients facing violent criminal charges, identifying all possible defenses such as self-defense claims. After an arrest, it is always wise to exercise your right to an attorney immediately and contact our office for assistance. We can also help if you already face criminal charges and will work to reach the most favorable outcome possible.

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How does evidence get suppressed?

To get a criminal conviction at trial, a prosecutor must present enough evidence to convince a judge or jury that the defendant is guilty of the specified offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Because this is the highest burden of proof in the U.S. justice system, it often requires a substantial amount of evidence to meet. Law enforcement can provide evidence from investigations and the prosecutor can present the evidence in court.

Evidence can come in many forms, including:

  • Physical objects
  • Photographs
  • Witness statements
  • Video or audio recordings
  • Digital data
  • Scientific findings

The law in the United States does not allow all types of evidence to be submitted in court against a defendant, however. There are many protections for defendants in place and rules of evidence that dictate when evidence can be lawfully obtained and presented in court. When illegal evidence comes against a defendant, it can often lead to a wrongful conviction. For this reason, it is imperative to have a highly skilled criminal defense lawyer handling your case who knows how to get evidence “suppressed.”

Motions to Suppress

The suppression of evidence occurs when a judge rules that certain evidence should not be submitted at trial. In order for a judge to rule on such an issue, a lawyer must often file a motion with the court asking for a ruling. A motion to suppress is the catalyst that can lead to the keeping evidence out of your criminal case.

In order to succeed on a motion to suppress, your attorney must present sufficient factual information and apply specific laws to those facts to convince the judge that the evidence is illegal. Law presented in these motions can include case law, state or federal rules, or often, the Constitution of the United States. These motions must be persuasively drafted with sound legal analysis and reasoning.

The prosecution can respond to your motion to suppress with their own arguments in favor of the evidence. In some cases, the court will hold a motion hearing during which both parties will argue their case. The judge will then rule on whether the evidence should be suppressed or not.

The Importance of Evidence Suppression

Often, the suppression of the right evidence can lead a jury to acquit you at trial, or even to the dismissal of charges before a trial ever happens. A common example happens in drug-related cases. In order to convict you of drug possession, the prosecutor must usually prove that police found a controlled substance. They cannot simply tell the jury you had cocaine – instead, they should have the evidence tested and present test results as proof that the substance in question was cocaine.

If police officers obtained the drugs unlawfully – which is more common than you may imagine – a defense attorney can file a motion to suppress the illegally-obtained drug evidence. If the motion is successful, the prosecutor can no longer use that drug evidence to prove that you possessed drugs. This is often the main piece of evidence in drug cases and without it, the prosecution usually knows it cannot prove the drug charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, they may often dismiss the charges then and there. This is only one of many examples of how the suppression of evidence can prevent a conviction.

Common Reasons to Suppress Evidence

As part of the discovery phase of a criminal case, your attorney will obtain and analyze all the evidence the prosecution plans to use against you and how the evidence was obtained. An experienced attorney should be able to identify when there is reason to file a motion to suppress.

Some examples of evidence commonly suppressed include:

  • Evidence obtained by an unreasonable search in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights
  • Evidence obtained due to an unlawful traffic stop or arrest, which constitutes an unreasonable seizure in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights
  • Confessions obtained without proper Miranda warnings in violation of your Fifth Amendment rights
  • Confessions obtained by coercion or physical force
  • Evidence that constitutes hearsay without a valid exception under the Federal Rules of Evidence
  • Evidence that is not relevant to the case at hand
  • Evidence that is unreasonably prejudicial to the defendant
  • Evidence that is not reliable

The question of reliability often arises in criminal cases, as prosecutors often try to admit evidence based on questionable science. This can include evidence involving fingerprints, bloodstain patterns, eyewitness identifications, or DNA. For example, for decades, many people took the witness stand and claimed they were “experts” in analyzing blood spatter and giving their opinion on how the crime occurred. However, in recent years, scientific studies have cast substantial doubt on the reliability of blood spatter analysis and claim such “experts” led to many wrongful convictions. In this day and age, defense attorneys regularly question a prosecutor’s blood spatter testimony and seek for it to be suppressed.

In addition, defense lawyers know that forensic labs can make many mistakes that lead to unreliable testimony. This is common in DUI cases in which a blood test showed a defendant had drugs in their system or a blood alcohol content (BAC) over the legal limit. Labs may mislabel or switch samples, store them improperly, fail to record results right away, use uncalibrated testing equipment, and make many other mistakes that should render their testimony and the test results unreliable for admission at trial.

Contact a Knoxville Criminal Defense Attorney for Help Today

There are many, many other types of evidence that should be suppressed from criminal trials. The problem is that unrepresented defendants often do not realize when evidence against them is unlawful or how to go about getting it suppressed. Suppressing key evidence is only one of many defense strategies we regularly pursue at Barnes Law. If you were arrested or face criminal charges, you should not wait any longer to call a skilled Knoxville defense lawyer for a free consultation. The sooner Barnes Law starts working on your case, the sooner we can start building the most effective defense strategy for you.