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Murder Conviction Overturned; DA Vows Retrial

The Limestone County District Attorney has stated that he will retry a man after the defendant’s 2012 murder conviction was overturned on appeal. The appeals court stated that the jury had been improperly instructed.

41-year-old Keith George was sentenced to 50 years in prison following the 2009 shooting death of his 26-year-old nephew Rusty George at a house party in Ardmore. But an appellate court later ruled that the jury received no instructions concerning Alabama’s somewhat-maligned “stand your ground” law. How the incident began is hotly disputed and has a direct bearing on the legitimacy of Keith’s defense of self-defense. Keith claims that he was trying to stop Rusty from driving home drunk in a pickup truck, while other witnesses stated that Keith was angry because Rusty had bought the truck from Keith and that Rusty had not paid in full.

Alabama law

Alabama’s stand-your-ground law states that, in most circumstances, a person has no duty to retreat from a place that the person has a lawful right to be. Several other states have this type of law, or a similar “castle doctrine” law. In order for the defense to apply, the defendant must also establish more traditional elements of a self-defense defense:

  • The aggressor is using or about to use deadly force. A pickup truck or other motor vehicle can be considered as a deadly weapon in most instances.
  • The aggressor is using or about to use physical force against an occupant of a dwelling. The Georges were in the street, so this element is inapplicable.
  • The aggressor is attempting to commit a certain named offense, including kidnapping, first- or second-degree assault or forcible rape. Again, none of these elements apply in this case.

If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime, make sure your attorney knows about all the defenses that may be available. The attorneys at McPhillips Shinbaum have been defending homicide cases since 1978. They know the law, and they know how to sway a jury to your side. Contact McPhillips Shinbaum today to schedule your free consultation.

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Trial Begins in Alleged Toddler Murder

On August 19, 2013, jury selection began in the murder and assault trial of a teenager whom prosecutors claim shot a 13-month-old boy because the boy’s mother said she didn’t have any money.

17-year-old De’Marquise Elkins and 15-year-old Dominque Lang are being tried separately. Each of the suspects is charged as an adult and faces 17 different criminal counts, including assault and murder. Mr. Elkins’ mother is also facing charges of obstruction of justice, stemming from the same incident.

Prosecutors allege that Mr. Elkins and Mr. Lang approached Brunswick resident Sherry West as Ms. West walked her 13-month-old son in a stroller, and after Ms. West refused to comply with their demands for money, Mr. Wilkins shot the young boy in the face.

Defense attorneys respond that Ms. West had previously been involved in an insurance fraud case, and that a relative overheard Ms. West ask the life insurance company when she could expect a check. Her ex-husband, convicted felon Louis Santiago, has a very weak alibi for the shooting and police detected gun residue on his hands soon after the incident. Neither he nor Ms. West have been charged with any criminal activity.

Strategy in criminal cases

In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. Defense attorneys often try to create reasonable doubt as opposed to directly refuting the prosecutor’s case. In this instance, the defense lawyers are expected to argue that the boy’s parents may have played a role in the boy’s death. By creating confusion, lawyers hope that at least one juror will have a reasonable doubt as to the evidence. Such a strategy, colloquially referred to as the “sink and ink” defense among some criminal attorneys, is often effective, especially when the facts themselves are heavily slanted against the defendant.

For more than 30 years, the experienced criminal defense attorneys at McPhillips Shinbaum have routinely defended individuals accused of serious criminal charges, including aggravated assault, murder and rape. Contact McPhillips Shinbaum today for your free consultation.

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How to Find the Right Criminal Defense Lawyer

There were more than 190,000 crimes reported in Alabama in 2011, a seven percent increase from the previous year. In this state, a criminal conviction has severe consequences, permanently damaging a person’s reputation, career and life.  Whether you are seeking a lawyer for yourself or for a loved one, finding a good match can mean the difference between the accused spending time in jail or walking away with a not guilty verdict.

To find the right criminal defense lawyer for yourself or for a loved one, consider the following:

  • Don’t be fooled by marketing. A bigger ad doesn’t mean a better lawyer.  Some of the best criminal defense attorneys get much of their business through referrals and repeat offenders.  Don’t pick a lawyer just because of flashy ads. Select one with a solid reputation, high success rate and the time to listen to you.
  • Shop around.  You do not have to hire the first attorney you meet.  Take the time to meet with a few attorneys to see who best explains the criminal process to your understanding and with whom you are most comfortable.
  • Experience and qualifications.  Find a lawyer with at least 10 years experience handling criminal law cases. Ask prospective lawyers how many trials they have handled, particularly jury trials, which are far more complex. Even within the area of criminal defense, you will find that some lawyers have specialties. If you are dealing with a capital murder case or a felony that could result in significant jail time, don’t hire a lawyer who only has experience with petty theft.
  • You get what you pay for.  Even if the accused qualifies for a public defender, think about hiring an attorney. Keep in mind that even the best public defenders carry caseloads three times greater than recommended and don’t have the time and resources to provide the best defense.  It costs more to hire a top-notch private attorney, but freedom is worth the expense.

Although our office can certainly handle minor offenses, we focus on serious felonies including drug-related crimes and sex crimes. We have even helped save clients from execution in capital murder cases.  Your initial consultation is always free.  Call our office today to see if we are the best fit for you.

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The Criminal Process in Alabama

This past September, police arrested Deon “D.J.” Johnson, one of our state’s top 15 high school football players, on rape charges.  Unfortunately, the talented athlete’s behavior landed him in the Alabama justice system rather than on the playing field.  D.J. now joins the infamous ranks of more than 190,000 people arrested in Alabama every year.

The criminal process can be terrifying, especially for a first-timer.  Knowing what to expect helps to relieve some of that anxiety, and may assist in assuring that your rights are preserved.  Alabama Code Title 15 sets forth the laws and procedures for processing those accused of crimes:

  • Booking.  Police take you to county or city jail, where your mug shot and fingerprints are taken.  You may also be strip searched and subjected to a medical examination.
  • Arraignment.  Your first court appearance at your arraignment, you are informed of the charges against you and your bail is set.  If you have been charged with a felony, you are advised of your right to request a preliminary hearing.
  • Preliminary hearing.  This hearing involves the examination and cross-examination of witnesses and determines whether or not there is probable cause for you to be indicted, or whether the case against you should be dismissed or reduced to a misdemeanor charge.
  • Grand jury. If probable cause is shown, or if a preliminary hearing is not requested, the case is sent to a grand jury to determine if there is probable cause to issue an indictment.
  • Circuit court arraignment. If the grand jury issues an indictment, your case is sent to circuit court.  At this point, your attorney meets with the prosecutor to see if a plea bargain is available or if your case goes to trial.
  • Trial. The trial involves a jury, or if both sides agree, a bench trial is held with the judge deciding the verdict without a jury.
  • Sentencing.  If the court returns a guilty verdict, the judge determines the sentence.  Fines, probation, community service, jail time and/or restitution to victims may be imposed.
  • Appeal.  You have 14 or 42 days to appeal conviction, depending on whether you have been convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony.

The assistance of an experienced attorney is crucial throughout the criminal process.  Our firm has represented clients for a wide variety of crimes in both federal and state court. If you or someone close to you has been arrested, call our office immediately.