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Burlington County, NJ Law Blog

Friday, January 23, 2015

New Jersey Basketball Player Arrested for Domestic Violence


How Can Criminal Convictions and Charges Impact Your Life?

A former, once promising NBA prospect and Bergen Catholic hoops star, Sean Banks, was arrested in January on domestic violence charges.
Read more . . .


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Five Men Arrested in Alleged New Jersey Drug Ring

What type of charges could you face if you sell drugs to an undercover police officer?


Law enforcement usually invests a lot of time and resources into the investigation of drug conspiracies.  These investigations often involve the use of undercover tactics and can go on for years.  As such, authorities have already compiled a great deal of information and evidence before even making an arrest in these types of cases, making them difficult to fight.  Recently, police arrested five men in New Jersey who are accused of participating in a drug ring as a result of this type of investigation.

The New Jersey State Police, in conjunction with the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, arrested Juan Gutierrez-Valencia in July after he agreed to sell two kilograms of methamphetamine to an undercover officer and showed the officer the drugs.  He then tried to run, driving his car in the direction of police causing them to shoot him in the arm.  Authorities found large quantities are drugs and a stolen handgun in the car.  He has been charged with a number of serious drug crimes including possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, conspiracy and gun charges.

Four other men allegedly involved in the same operation were arrested the next day after two of the men agreed to sell an undercover officer a large amount of heroin out of a residence.  The police searched the house finding large quantities of drugs and tools for distribution.  All four men in the house were arrested.  The same two men who agreed to sell the drugs to the officer in this incident are also charged with selling drugs to another undercover using a runner earlier in the year.  

Depending upon the degree of the crimes each of the men are charged with, they could be facing up to 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.  All of the men are Mexican and could be deported if found guilty.  State officials have commented stating that they will continue to aggressively pursue drug traffickers and distributors in the state of New Jersey.  

Drug crimes are quite common but are often serious and can lead to long prison sentences and high fines.  As many arrests are made after long term investigations, defendants require an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent them against the sometimes overwhelming evidence.  The Burlington, County New Jersey criminal defense attorneys at Sitzler & Sitzler can help.  If you have been accused of a drug crime or any other type of crime call us at (609)267-1101 today.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Warrant Requirement to Obtain Cell Phone Records Challenged in New Jersey

Can the police obtain cell phone records without a warrant?

Many of us rely on our cell phone everyday to stay connected.  While we think that our use is private, there is a record of almost everything we do on our mobile devices, including calls and internet use.  If we are accused of a crime, these records can be obtained by the police and used against us.  A pending New Jersey case might play a role in lessening the requirements that must be met in order for law enforcement to obtain these records.

Currently in the state of New Jersey, law enforcement must obtain a warrant in order to request the telephone billing records of a suspect or defendant.  This means that the officers must seek a judge’s approval before obtaining records of this kind.  In a recent case involving a young Asbury Park man accused of cocaine distribution, the New Jersey Attorney General is attempting to eliminate the warrant requirement for telephone billing records.  The Attorney General’s office wants to replace the warrant requirement with a provision making a grand jury subpoena enough to request these records.

A warrant requires probable cause meaning that there must be reason to believe that a crime has been or is being committed.  In order to obtain a grand jury subpoena, the standard is much lower.  While this would make it easier for law enforcement officers to do their job, it is no doubt an infringement on the persons Constitutional privacy rights.  Also, unless the person is indicted, there would be no way to tell what information law enforcement received from these records.

The Attorney General’s office is relying on recent cases finding that a grand jury subpoena is enough to request other types of evidence.  But, up to this point, the warrant requirement for cell phone records has been affirmed.  It is also worth noting that new encryption efforts by some cell phone and internet companies might make this case irrelevant, as the providers would refuse to give up the information even when faced with a warrant.

If you have been accused of a crime involving cellular billing records, the Burlington County, New Jersey criminal defense attorneys at Sitzler and Sitzler can help.  For a free consultation, call us at (609)267-1101 today. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

New Jersey Man Appealing Marijuana Conviction After Serving Sentence

The drug laws in this country are constantly changing.  Marijuana, which has been decriminalized for a number of years, has been legalized for medical and even recreational use in some states.  In other states, people have done, are doing or are facing hard time for crimes involving the drug.  Some individuals, like a controversial New Jersey man, are challenging their convictions.  

Edward Forchion, a.k.a. N.J. Weedman and past Congressional hopeful, is a Rastafarian who was arrested for possession of marijuana in 2010. During a traffic stop, police found one pound of the drug in the trunk of his car and arrested him for possession.  He served nearly nine months in jail as a result of his conviction but has decided to continue his appeal nonetheless.  

Forchion is being assisted by an attorney but proceeding with his case pro se and has based his appeal on various points.  He claims that the New Jersey medical marijuana law is in direct conflict with the criminal law.  He also alleges that the marijuana laws cause discrimination as four times as many African Americans face convictions for marijuana as compared to Caucasians.  Forchion has also added that his conviction should have been stayed when he was receiving medical treatment and even a claim juror bias relating to his Congressional bid.  

The New Jersey criminal law still holds that possession of marijuana is illegal and it is unlikely that anything but legislative action will change that in the near future.  Whether or not that will happen is unclear.

Drug crimes, even those involving marijuana, are serious matters and can lead to long sentences.  If you have been arrested for or charged with a drug crime it is important that you consult with an attorney right away in order to preserve your rights.  The Burlington County, New Jersey criminal defense attorneys at Sitzler and Sitzler can help you.  Contact us at (609)267-1101 for a consultation today. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

New Jersey Drug-Trafficking Ring, Including Former County Officer, Arrested

Forty people were arrested in southern New Jersey in the bust of a drug trafficking ring that distributed heroin and crack cocaine throughout the state.  The raids netted ringleaders, dealers, users, and a former police officer and her husband.  

A months-long investigation led to the execution of five search warrants in several New Jersey locations.  State, county and local law-enforcement officials were involved, as well as the DEA.  Officials announced the seizure of three vehicles, 8,000 bags of heroin, 1,000 bags of crack cocaine, and ten pounds of marijuana, as well as cash and firearms.  Though the network was based in Camden, New Jersey, the drugs sold by the ring are said to have reached buyers in Burlington, Gloucester and Ocean Counties.

Former Camden County Police Officer, Ashley Bailey, allegedly warned members of the ring when they were targets of law enforcement and shared confidential information from department briefings.  She faces a sentence of as much as 30 years for official misconduct, weapons possession, conspiracy, and terroristic threats.  Her husband, charged with conspiracy, was also involved in the drugs ring and is the brother of one of the ring's leaders.  

Three leaders of the organization could receive 20 years in prison.  Charges against them include leading a narcotics trafficking network, conspiracy, possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance (CDS), and possession with intent to distribute a CDS.  One also faces a charge of attempted murder for a shooting in April.  A fourth is still at large.

Nine others face lesser charges, including conspiracy, possession of a CDS, and possession with intent to distribute. Seventeen drug buyers were charged with possession or other offenses, while eight more were charged with attempted possession and other crimes.

Though the drugs seized are said to have a street value of approximately $85,000, investigators believe the ring took in as much as $1.2 million annually.  One leader of the network is said to have sold about 5,000 bags of heroin or cocaine weekly.

The roundup is a reminder to everyone involved in illegal drugs, from kingpins to dealers to users, that an arrest is always a possibility.  For some, the penalties may be ruinous.  Whatever your role or level of participation, if you are swept up in a drugs bust, you need expert, effective criminal defense counsel on your side.  The Burlington County, New Jersey criminal defense attorneys at Sitzler and Sitzler have extensive experience with drug arrests of all kinds and can help you make the best of a challenging situation.  For a free consultation, call us immediately at (609) 267-1101. 

 


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Death of Mayor's Son Could Involve Drugs and Lead to Homicide Charges

Police have arrested a man whom they suspect of involvement in the death of William Akers, son of the mayor of Seaside Heights, New Jersey.   

Responding to a call, they found the victim unconscious, surrounded by narcotics and drug paraphernalia.  Interviews with witnesses, acquaintances and family members led investigators to Jason Brinson, whom they have charged with possession of narcotics and possession with intent to distribute.  They did not specify publicly exactly what types of drugs were found at the scene. 

The toxicology tests that are underway will help investigators understand how Akers died.  If it emerges that he died of a drug overdose, additional charges could be brought.  New Jersey has a "Strict Liability for Drug-Induced Death" law, which allows prosecutors to charge someone who manufactured or sold certain dangerous drugs with homicide if those substances result directly in a drug user's death.  Drugs covered by the statute include heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines. 

Before any strict liability prosecution could proceed, the medical examiner would have to rule that the death was drug-induced.  A spokesman for the prosecutor's office declined to say whether Brinson supplied drugs to the victim or whether the two just used them together.

Drug possession and drug distribution are serious crimes potentially involving long prison terms.  As this incident shows, the penalties can escalate when a drug user dies.  If you are a suspect in a drugs case, or if you have been arrested, experienced defense counsel can advise you on how to get the best possible result and avoid making a difficult situation worse.  The  Burlington County, New Jersey criminal attorneys at Sitzler & Sitzler have expertise handling all aspects of drug crimes and the charges that may result, including homicide.  Call us at (609) 267-1101 for a free confidential consultation or request a consultation online.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Traffic Stop of Burlington Man Leads to Drug Arrest

A routine traffic stop is often the first stage in an arrest for serious drug offenses.   The recent arrest of a Burlington man for a traffic violation is a case in point.  Police pulled him over for speeding, only to discover the smell of burning marijuana in the car.   They went on to find cocaine, marijuana supplies, packaging equipment, and a substantial quantity of cash.  The speeding ticket became an arrest for drug possession, and distribution, and the driver was jailed with bail set at $50,000.

Similar cases are reported all over New Jersey.  A Trenton man was stopped for squealing the tires of his Lincoln when he saw a police car getting close to him.  The police found crack, a digital scale, and other drug paraphernalia. He was arrested for careless driving and for drug manufacturing, possession, and distribution.  His bail was $35,000.

Usually, police need a search warrant to search a suspect's property, but at a stop for a traffic violation, probable cause, some noticeable evidence indicating that the suspect is engaged in criminal acts, is all the police need.  The sight or smell of drugs may be sufficient, as are other suspicious circumstances.

Some suspects react by trying to flee the scene or destroy evidence.  A New Jersey man who tried to get rid of a cocaine packet during a traffic stop had a felony count of tampering with physical evidence added to his charges, though he was allowed to plead down to attempted tampering.  He received a year in jail.

If you are stopped for a traffic violation that turns into a drug arrest, you need effective, experienced criminal defense counsel.  A criminal lawyer can advise you on whether the police followed procedure and whether the search was legal or in violation of your constitutional rights.   The skilled attorneys at Sitzler & Sitzler have expertise traffic stops, drug arrests, and all other areas of criminal representation.  Contact us today for a consultation by calling (609)267-1101.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Burlington County Theft Puts Spotlight on School Employee's Criminal Record

Despite his criminal conviction for theft, Fardarie Mitchell was able to work for the Willingboro, New Jersey School District, first as a security guard, then as a crisis intervention counselor.  He is now alleged to be the thief behind the disappearance of 12 iPads from a Burlington County elementary school. 

A criminal conviction would, ordinarily, have disqualified him from employment, but an old loophole in New Jersey State law allowed him to stay under the school district's radar.  The law has since been changed, and future employees may not be so lucky.
 
When he applied for a job as a security guard in 2002, Mitchell was fingerprinted as part of a criminal background check.  He passed and was hired.  State law at the time required that fingerprints be destroyed after a background check.  After 2003, the law permitted fingerprint records to remain on file for use by law enforcement.

In 2010, Mitchell was convicted of third-degree theft.  Because his fingerprints had been destroyed in 2002 under the old law, the New Jersey state police did not find them in their files or notify the school district.

Though Mitchell had held different positions during his career, he never changed school districts, so he was never required to undergo a new background check that might have exposed his 2010 conviction.

For employees with a criminal record, the case is a reminder that arrests and convictions can be discovered years later, particularly now that the loophole that benefited Mitchell has been closed.

One possible solution is expungement.  The New Jersey Criminal Code allows someone arrested or convicted of a crime to apply for removal of a criminal record from law enforcement and court files.  There are some exceptions—certain crimes cannot be expunged, and for some jobs, an applicant must still disclose past encounters with the criminal justice system.

If you are an employee or a job applicant concerned that a criminal conviction, recent or long ago, could prove damaging to your career, expert counsel can advise you on the best way to go forward.  The criminal law attorneys at Sitzler & Sitzler have extensive experience with the New Jersey expungement process and can help you get results.  For a consultation on your matter call (609)267-1101. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

New Trial for Convicted Murderer After Judge's Misstep in Jury Selection Probe

Saladin Thompson had been serving a 67-year sentence for the 2005 murder of one person and wounding of two others.  Now the New Jersey Appellate Division has granted him a new trial, because the trial court failed to examine allegations of racial discrimination in the jury selection process.

Prosecutors had used nine peremptory challenges to disqualify jurors at his trial.  Seven of the nine involved African Americans.  In the end, the jury panel that heard the case included five African Americans.

In 2010, the Appellate Division ordered the lower court to undertake a fact-finding hearing on the peremptory challenges.  The judge was supposed to follow a three-step procedure spelled out in a 1986 New Jersey decision, State v. Gilmore.  In its latest ruling, the appellate division concluded that, in the fact-finding hearing, held in 2011, the judge overlooked a critical step.  

First, according to Gilmore, there must be a prima facie case of discrimination by the prosecutor in jury selection.  In the Appellate Division's view, this requirement was met.  

Second, the prosecutor must be allowed to explain each of peremptory challenges.  In the 2011 hearing, the prosecutor did that, giving a variety of non-discriminatory reasons for its challenge of each juror.  

Third, the judge is supposed analyze the circumstances behind each challenge and state reasons for agreeing with either the prosecutor or defense counsel.  In 2011, the judge failed in this and, instead, according to the Appellate Division, accepted the prosecutor's reasons "wholesale."

Now, seven years after the original trial and conviction, the Appellate Division has found that it is too late to remand the case for further hearings on jury selection.  Thompson will receive a new trial.

The case is a lesson in the important procedural requirements that prosecutors and judges must meet during a criminal trial.  A judge must review the prosecutor's peremptory challenges thoughtfully and thoroughly to ensure that the defendant receives a fair trial.  It is the job of defense counsel to make sure the prosecutor and judge do not take shortcuts.

The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Sitzler & Sitzler fight hard to make sure that a case is tried on the merits and that prosecutors are not allowed to pack the court with unsympathetic jurors.  If you have been accused of a crime or worry you might be, call (609) 267-1101 today for a free consultation.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

New Law Aids New Jersey Job Applicants with Criminal Records

A conviction for a crime, even a minor offense or youthful mistake, can result in a criminal record that lasts a lifetime.  It can hinder job applicants when applying for a position and block them from pursuing some careers entirely.  Often the only solution is to try to obtain an Order of Expungement of the criminal record. 

A new law recently signed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie makes it a little easier for those with a criminal history to apply for work.  The Opportunity to Compete Act or “ban-the-box” bill restricts employers' inquiries into applicants' criminal backgrounds, at least in initial interviews or questionnaires.  

An employer may still make inquiries later in the job application process, after the initial interview.  At that point, there are no restrictions on what an employer may ask concerning one’s criminal record, though the employer may not ask about convictions expunged or erased by a pardon.  Also, if it is the applicant who raises the issue of a criminal conviction during the initial phase of a job application, the employer may inquire further. 

Still, the new law would prevent employers from instantly disqualifying an applicant who answers “yes” when asked if he or she was ever convicted of a crime. 

Employers who violate the act would have to pay civil penalties for each violation -- $1,000 for the first, $5,000 for the second and $10,000 for the third and subsequent violations.  

Even under the new law, an expungement or pardon might be the only way to prevent inquiries into one's criminal past at some point during the application process.  There are some professions for which even expungement may not be effective.  In some instances, an attorney may recommend a "Certificate of Rehabilitation." 

A record of arrest or conviction, even for a seemingly minor traffic offense or a juvenile crime, can negatively impact your future.  For advice on how to remove it from your record or minimize its impact, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Sitzler & Sitzler.  They have expertise in all areas of criminal law, including expungement of offenses from your record.  Contact us today for a free consultation.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bad Rap? Convicted Man Gets New Trial Because of Prosecutor's Use of Song Lyrics

A Burlington County man convicted of attempted murder will get a new trial, thanks to a unanimous ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court.  Rapper and drug dealer Vonte Skinner had appealed his conviction on the grounds the prosecution unfairly used his violent rap lyrics at trial to influence the jury.  The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling that the lyrics were highly prejudicial and had no evidentiary value.

Skinner had received a 30-year sentence for the 2005 shooting of Lamont Peterson.  Shot in the head, neck and torso, Peterson survived but was paralyzed from the waist down.  The two men had been associates in a drug-dealing operation in Willingboro, New Jersey.  Accused by the victim, Skinner admitted being present at the shooting but denied firing the shots.  The gun used was never recovered.

During the trial, prosecutors asked a police officer to read from thirteen pages of violent rap lyrics that Skinner had written at least four years before the crime occurred.  The Supreme Court rejected the prosecution's claim that these lines were evidence of the defendant's state of mind.  They cited Bob Marley's song "I Shot the Sheriff" and Edgar Allan Poe's "'The Tell-Tale Heart" to make their point that artistic expression should not be considered proof of an actual crime.  The court opined that, though irrelevant to the case, some of Skinner's rap lyrics might be so distasteful to jurors that they would be more inclined to vote for a conviction.

A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union praised the decision for its thoroughness and hailed it as a victory for free speech.  The court's detailed opinion could have an impact on the thinking of courts in other states.  There are currently about twenty similar cases around the country involving prosecutors' use of rap lyrics to buttress their cases against criminal defendants.

The case also is also a reminder that, when charged of a crime, a defendant may find that his entire life is on trial.  Only a vigorous and pro-active defense can prevent prosecutors from bringing in inflammatory but irrelevant information to get a conviction.  The experienced Burlington County, New Jersey criminal defense attorneys at Sitzler & Sitzler fight hard to make sure that a case is tried on the merits and that prosecutors are not allowed to poison the minds of jurors.  If you have been accused of a crime or worry you might be, contact us at (609)267-1101 today for a free consultation.


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