Charged With A Crime? Three Critical First Steps

If you are charged with a crime and required to attend court, chances are you will get lots of well-meaning advice from family and friends. However, in this situation it is easy to make things worse for yourself, and there are three critical steps you should take without delay.

Firstly, make sure you know exactly what you have been charged with and what the consequences might be if you are found guilty of the offence. The police will have given you or sent you a document called an “information” (in some jurisdictions this is called a charge-sheet, and may sometimes be accompanied by a summons requiring you to attend court). This document will state what the charge is, but it won’t usually say the penalty or other consequences of being convicted. Even if you have been told the maximum penalty prescribed for the offence, there are sometimes other consequences of being found guilty that are far worse than the prescribed penalty. For example, if you are convicted of a drug possession offence, you might be able to avoid going to jail, but that conviction on your record could mean you are denied entry to many countries around the world. Not a great outcome if you had plans to travel the world! Another example is where a person is charged with indecent assault or child abuse. Even if that criminal charge is dealt with by a fine or community service, it may have lifetime consequences in some jurisdictions if your career or planned career involves working with children. Being convicted of that kind of offence might mean you can never be a foster carer, a teacher, a school counsellor, or even a school janitor (for example). Therefore, a guilty verdict or plea in that situation could lock you out of some career choices forever. You should check this out before entering a guilty plea. Another issue is that sometimes people think a “first offence” rarely results in jail time. While it is true that a first offence may be regarded more leniently, many people do go to jail for first offences. This is especially true for serious drug supply offences, aggravated violence offences, and of course murder. It is therefore a good idea to ask a lawyer about the maximum penalty and other potential consequences of the charge you are facing. In my experience, young adults are particularly at risk of entering a guilty plea if they think they will only have to pay a fine, without considering the potential long-term consequences of having that offence on their criminal record. On many occasions, people in their 40s and 50s have asked for my advice about a problem arising from a conviction they got when they were in their teens or 20s. Sometimes it is possible to find solutions to these kinds of problems, but usually after 20 or 30 years it is just too late. The best time to get the best outcome is at the start when you are first charged. Even where a person is found guilty of an offence, it may be possible to obtain a discharge without conviction – so the offence is not on your record – if the circumstances justify that outcome. Knowing all the possible consequences of a conviction enables you to make the best decisions for your future.

Secondly, if you are subject to bail or an apprehended violence order (AVO – sometimes called a protection order or a domestic violence order), check the bail terms and the restrictions under the AVO. Breaching your bail can lead to it being revoked. Breaching an AVO can lead to fresh charges for the breach. For example, an AVO may ban you from contacting a specific person. If you try to contact that person, police may charge you. Then, even if you are ultimately found not guilty of the original offence, you might nonetheless have a criminal record because of the breach of the AVO. It is critical that you know and understand the restrictions imposed by your bail and AVO terms. While these restrictions on what you can do may be galling, particularly if you deny the offence that you have been charged with, the court takes bail and AVO breaches very seriously. If you don’t think the bail or AVO terms are reasonable, ask a lawyer about getting them changed. A lawyer can talk to police about the terms, and may be able to negotiate more suitable terms that make life easier for you while the case is unresolved. In some situations, police will not agree to new terms, or the court may refuse to approve new terms (even if police agree to them), and so in that situation it may be necessary to have a hearing for the court to decide what terms should apply. Remember that bail is an alternative to your being held in custody pending trial, and if the court is concerned that you might breach your bail terms it can revoke your bail. In that case, you could be held on remand in jail until your case is finished, especially if the charge against you is a serious one or the court views you as a danger to the community. Complying strictly with your bail and AVO terms is one way to convince the court that you have the ability to be a law-abiding citizen. This can sometimes make a difference when it comes to sentencing, because one of the factors that a court must consider when deciding whether to jail an offender is whether that offender is likely to re-offend if released into the community.

Thirdly, talk to a lawyer about your case and ask what steps you should take to get the best outcome. Anything you tell a lawyer about your case is covered by “legal professional privilege”, which means that the lawyer cannot be forced to tell anyone else what you have said. You should therefore trust your lawyer, and answer your lawyer’s questions truthfully so you get the best advice for your situation. In particular, your lawyer needs to be able to advise you about the chances of the charge being proved – i.e., whether you are likely to be found guilty – and how much credit you might get for an early guilty plea. Sometimes an early guilty plea can reduce the sentence by up to twenty-five percent, depending on the sentencing rules or guidelines that apply. A sentencing discount will reduce your fine or prison term, and might even make the difference between your serving your sentence in jail, or being allowed “home detention.” Getting a sentencing discount for an early plea is a reduction worth having if a conviction is inevitable anyway. A lawyer will also advise you about the prospects of defending the charge, in which case you will need help to plan your defence. Although defendants do sometimes appear in court without a lawyer, you should bear in mind that the police are very well resourced and their objective is to have you found guilty. An experienced criminal defence lawyer will have previous experience of similar cases, and will ensure that the police prove their case against you beyond reasonable doubt. Some aspects of criminal law are very complex, and a lawyer can advise you about defences that may be available to you that you might not otherwise know about. In some situations, particularly where you have never been charged with any offence before, a lawyer can suggest ways to get a better outcome. For example, you might be eligible for “diversion” – an option where you may avoid conviction by participating in a prescribed program – or in a traffic case you may get a better outcome if you complete a “traffic offender program” in jurisdictions where a program like that is available.

Lawyers know how to obtain relevant information from the police and other organisations. In some cases, police might omit to disclose facts that could be helpful to you, and a lawyer can check that all necessary disclosures have been made. A lawyer can also check whether police have followed required procedures. Discovery of a serious police error could even lead to a charge being withdrawn in some circumstances. In many cases, police lay multiple charges, and a lawyer can try to negotiate to have more serious charges dropped, or a serious charge downgraded to a lesser one.

Note: This article relates to the situation after you have been charged. If you have not yet been charged, you should ensure that you get legal advice before talking to police or making any admissions.

Crime Scene Forensics – Studying Soil Samples

If you are a big fan of the CSI or Forensic Files TV shows, you may have seen the TV scientists analyze soil samples that were found at the scene of a crime. These were soil samples that were perhaps found on the victim’s shoes but no where else to be found in the immediate vicinity of the crime scene. They could be soil samples embedded in the tire tread of a car that is suspected to be used in a crime.

Soil is not just plain dirt. It is a conglomerate of several things. They include minerals, plants, animal matter, and tiny particulates of synthetic products like glass, paint, asphalt, cement, and other things. The contents of soil are not uniform wherever you go. They differ from one place to another. Soil found on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland has different components from soil found on the beach in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The first step involved in analyzing soil samples is visually and microscopically inspecting the soil to make determinations of acidity, consistency, color, and mineral content. Next, the forensic scientist looks for any foreign objects such as plant materials like leaves or animal material like hair, teeth, or nails. For instance, finding evidence of beachfront sandy soil on the carpets of a suspect’s car can contradict his statement that he had never been to the beach on the day the crime was committed. Similarly, finding horse dung in a soil sample could suggest that the soil came from a horse farm and not from the suspect’s backyard.

Further forensic chemical analysis can determine whether two samples share the same chemical properties. Using X-ray diffraction, the criminalist can examine and compare the minerals that are present in soil samples. Gas chromatography/Mass spectroscopy (GC/MS) can be used to identify many individual components in a soil sample. Another laboratory technique called differential thermal analysis is useful. The premise behind differential thermal analysis is that soils release and absorb heat at varying rates. In this analysis, a soil sample is heated, and the point at which the soil breaks down, melts, or boils is recorded. These results are then compared with the same thermal properties of other soils to determine whether or not they are consistent enough to be considered a match.

Forensic laboratory science can be a powerful tool when solving a serious crime such as murder.

The next time you watch your favorite CSI or Forensic Files TV show, you will have a better understanding of why soil samples are important in the investigation of a crime.

Beware of Removable Media Place in Cyber Crime

Even something as big as a global meeting of nations could have its share of cyber mischief, and innocent-looking USB thumb drives and smartphone rechargers could be the crime tools. Not all malicious threats are clear to notice as DDoS (distributed denial of service). The G20 Summit was held in St. Petersburg on September 5-6, 2013 with a group of finance ministers and central bank governors of 19 countries and the European Union. Specifically, they were Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the European Union, represented by the President of the European Council and by Head of the European Central Bank. Russia took the G20 presidency on December 1, 2012, a first for the country. The major categories of thought and planning are Business 20, Think 20, Civil 20, Youth 20 and Labor 20.

At the September 2013 summit, heads of state and their teams were given USB thumb drives with the ability to copy sensitive data from the laptops that they were inserted in. Reports also noted that the representatives received smartphone recharger gifts that could have covertly looked at their emails, SMS and phone calls. Was anyone purposefully trying to spy on the G20 participants? If so, who was responsible?

The “spying” campaign was first noticed by Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, noted the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. It covered the story on its front page. Mr. Van Rompuy ordered analysis of the USB pen drives and other devices by both intelligence experts in Brussels and Germany’s secret service. The Brussels component declared that the allegations were not true and that there was nothing wrong with the gift devices.

How can thumb drives and smartphone chargers be used to hack devices that access the Internet? In fact, they are responsible for some cyber attacks offline! Kaspersksy noted in August 2013 that it is “becoming more and more common for attackers to find new ways to infiltrate your devices, like through your removable media.” Removable media includes readers, writers, and drives.

Every optical disc (Blue-ray disc, DVD, CD), memory card (CompactFlash card, Secure Digital card, Memory Stick), floppy disk, zip disk, magnetic tape, disk packs, VHS tape, USB flash drive (also called ), external hard disk, digital camera, printer, smart phone and other external or dockable peripheral that are easily removed or inserted into a system is removable media. They all are capable of infecting, copying, and spying on the system and network if they have the right compromising file on them. If they can store media, that media could be a malicious threat.

Some best practices to use when using USB thumb drives or other removable media:

1. Set up automation of scans the second items are plugged into a device.

2. Regularly update device OS (operating systems). Updates are available for Mac, Windows, Android, Linux and other operating systems. Set up the updates to occur automatically or to even do so manually at least once per day.

3. Know what is behind the Facebook, Twitter or other social network chat, wall, timeline or private message attachments and links. One good tip is to hold one’s mouse over the link without clicking to see a preview of what is there.

4. Removable media for personal needs should stay separate from those of crucial business needs. Music and video files that are downloaded from websites, forums and file sharing sites should never be mixed with crucial data.

Keep in mind: even reports on Edward Snowden’s 2013 activities show that he used a flash drive when he downloaded NSA data. The USB stick was also the vehicle of two other famous cyber compromises, the devastating malware, Stuxnet worm, and the data exfiltration vector associated with the Flame virus. The removable data was plugged into a computer, secretly collects data based on certain keywords. The stolen documents are then hidden in a secret folder on the USB drive until it connected to any Internet-enabled computer again. Then, the documents automatically sent to certain IP addresses of the originating perpetrators for their purposes.

Like DDoS attacks, compromising removable media are often a cover for or part of other fraudulent activity such as the stealing of sensitive documents, extortion, and ransom and not just childish mischief.