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A Criminal Defense Law Firm

Trial Boot Camp Day 1: Welcome to the Jedi Academy

Jedi Mind Trick
The first day of the Bill Daniel Trial Advocacy Program is complete and the staff didn’t waste anytime putting us to work. The program has a Star Wars theme this year so they started the day with a short introduction where the staff described what we’d be doing for the next few days using a lot of Star Wars references. By the time we leave we are all supposed to be Jedi masters.

As I mentioned before the program acts as a trial so the lessons are organized in the same order that an actual trial plays out. We started with sessions on developing your theory of defense for your case then we moved to jury selection. I found this section particularly useful because jury selection is one of the most challenging aspects of a trial and its something I’ve always worried about. The instructors gave a presentation on techniques to use when questioning potential jurors then volunteers were brought in to serve as jurors and we were able to see the techniques in practice.

After jury selection the next phase of a trial are the opening statements. Our homework for the first night (yes we have homework) was to draft an opening statement for our case. It’s only the first day and the program is already really intense and shows no signs of easing up.

I’ll be back tomorrow with an update on Day 2.

Associate Heading to Trial Boot Camp

I’ve been selected to participate in the 15th annual Bill Daniel Trial Advocacy Program. The program is put on each year by the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (GACDL) and it begins Wednesday, September 10th in Athens.

The Bill Daniel program isn’t your typical legal seminar. GACDL only selects 30 attorneys to participate each year. Instead of just a series of lectures the program is essentially a jury trial. We were all given a hypothetical case problem to study and we will be in charge of representing this hypothetical defendant at his trial. Some of the best trial lawyers in the state will be coaching us through each phase of the case. It’s a very intense program. We’re all required to stay in the same hotel and essentially eat, sleep and breath this trial for the four days we’re there.

I’m looking forward to this unique opportunity to improve my trial skills. I’ll be updating this blog as I work through the program. Stay tuned.

Georgia’s Move Over Law carries stiff penalties

WSB-TV Channel 2 recently covered a driver who is fighting a ticket he received for violating Georgia’s “Move Over” law. Here’s a link to the story:

Georgia’s “Move Over” law requires drivers approaching a stopped police or emergency vehicle to move over at least one lane. If drivers cannot move over due to traffic conditions the law requires them to slow down to a speed below the posted speed limit.

We get a lot of calls from people charged with violating this law and most of them have never heard of it. Courts prosecute these cases aggressively, usually requiring fines in excess of $700, defensive driving school and even probation. A conviction for violating this law will also put points on your driver’s license which will likely result in higher car insurance premiums.

The news story suggests that the State maybe changing the law to add clarification to the speed element, but it appears this law is here to stay so drivers need to be aware of it and be extra careful when approaching a stopped police or emergency vehicle.

If you receive a ticket for violating this law or any other moving violation it’s important that you contact an attorney to discuss the effects it could have on your license and minimize and negative impact.

Michael A. Burns, Jr.

Saying Goodbye

Today is officially my last day interning at The Semrau Law Firm. This month has been a journey filled with tasks ranging from completely updating the website and social media to writing a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court. I started off this internship thinking I would be getting coffee and making copies for everyone in the office, but that picture was completely obliterated as soon as I walked in the door.

The first day I walked into the office, Scott and I sat down and he gave me a to-do list with at least fifteen different assignments ranging from updating all the website content to writing a daily blog to enhancing all our social media. And on top of this list, every day I came to work Scott and I would spend the morning in court, and then in the afternoon he would give me at least three more tasks to complete. These tasks ranged from researching information for clients to calling different lawyers to set up appointments. But the most interesting, and probably most difficult, was when he asked me to write a Cert Petition.

A Cert Petition is a document a losing party files with the Supreme Court, in our case the Georgia Supreme Court, asking the Court to review the decision of a lower court. It includes a list of parties, a statement of the facts of the case, the legal questions presented for review, and arguments as to why the Court should grant the writ. One afternoon Scott dropped me off at the office and told me he had a Cert Petition due at five that night and I was going to write the first draft. He gave me all the previous briefs and documents and the court’s decision and told me to see what I could do in an hour. I have never heard of any other intern my age getting remotely close to being assigned a project like this. When he first told me what he wanted me to do my jaw dropped, but once I calmed down a bit I realized this was one of the most amazing opportunities I could ever have at this age. As the nerves faded away I began to write, and soon realized I was learning more about the law by doing than I ever would by watching or researching. This was just one of the crazy, but amazing, tasks Scott gave me.

One thing I learned about writing is that under all the fancy lawyer words and legal phrasing, we always need to ask: “What was unfair? – What happened to the client that was unfair?” In this case our client appeared at his arraignment, requested an appointed lawyer and was denied. He was immediately arraigned pro se, without a lawyer. At no time did our client waive his right to counsel nor did the Court make an inquiry into the reason why the Defendant did not have counsel. Once the Defendant hired us, the judge said it was too late to file any motions. According to O.C.G.A. 17-7-110, all motions in a criminal case must be filed within ten days of arraignment. We argued that the judge should’ve given our client an extension since the arraignment was legally insufficient without a waiver a counsel, and therefore, the mandate should not have been imposed on our client. We thought it was unfair to require a non-lawyer with a high-school education to write and file his own legal pleadings. Honestly, our client didn’t even know what a “Motion” was supposed to do. We argued that telling the client that he was supposed to file his own motions within 10 days was the same as telling a drowning man that he might want to take swimming lessons! That doesn’t sound fair at all. Now we have to wait for an answer as it usually takes eight or nine months to get a response from the Georgia Supreme Court.

To finish up my last blog post, I want to give a huge thank you to everyone who helped me along the way. Like Scott puts it, being a lawyer isn’t rocket science, but from my experience, I promise you it isn’t as easy as it looks. First, I want to thank Scott for giving me this incredible opportunity. Throughout the month everyone in court kept reiterating how lucky I was to have an internship with Scott, and they were right. I have learned more than I could ever have imagined. I know his goal was to deter me from ever even consider law school, but he did the opposite. It was so interesting to get a back stage look at what lawyers do, and I can’t wait to continue down my pre-law path. Second, I would like to thank Michael. Along the way whenever anything got a little too overwhelming Michael would always step in and help. I would have never been able to make it through all my to-do lists without his help. It was also fascinating to shadow Michael a few times and hear his perspective on being a defense lawyer. Third, I would like to thank Tomeca for all of her help along the way, especially answering all my inane questions. Whenever I had a problem, I knew I could count on Tomeca to know the answer and not get annoyed with how ridiculous I sounded. I don’t think I could’ve made it through this month without her help. Fourth, I would like to thank our officemates Cleve and Pam, and everyone else I met this month who offered me advice and an invitation to reach out to them in the future. This month has been one of the most fascinating months of my life and I can’t thank The Semrau Law Firm enough.

HOW DID YOU DO THAT? Client Charged with 1700 Pounds of Weed Serves No Prison Time

17 grams is misdemeanor probation. 17 ounces is a felony with some jail-time. 170 pounds sounds like a Cheech and Chong movie. 1700 pounds of marijuana is just crazy and surely sends you to prison – even in Oregon. Right? So check out this police report and read how our client got less than half the sentence of his co-defendant and no time in prison.

Police report

Many factors influence the outcome of a case and the strategies that defense attorney’s use to represent their clients. We always preach that a great defense starts early and stays on course. To that effect we made it clear that our client had no knowledge of the drugs in the other car and was therefore completely innocent of the offense. To rebut this defense, the prosecutor presented the actions of the co-defendant, matching green saran wrap found in our client’s car, an electronic scale, a backpack full of cash and a drug ledger found in our client’s car as evidence demonstrating his participation in the trafficking conspiracy. As to the co-defendant pointing and motioning at our client we argued “so what.” All he did was indicate that he was following our client. Even if our client was the lead car, there is no proof that he had any knowledge of what was in the van following him. The police officers also found an electronic scale and the same green saran wrap used to store the marijuana in our client’s car; however, the car was registered to another person and it did not actually belong to our client, so it is uncertain if those items were our client’s belongings. We argued that this evidence represented a mere “snap-shot” rather than a more thorough time-line that would be necessary to demonstrate where the drugs came from and where they were going and consequently the depth of involvement needed to prove our client’s knowledge and intent to participate in the conspiracy.

Another factor that influenced our defense, and the prosecutor’s actions, was the fact that this case involved marijuana and not a more dangerous drug like methamphetamine, heroine or crack-cocaine. Because it was not a more dangerous drug, the laws and prosecution are much more lenient. For example, if a person is caught in possession of 25 Lbs of cocaine, the mandatory minimum sentence is 25 years in prison. However, 25Lbs of marijuana has a 5 year mandatory prison sentence. And even though marijuana is still very illegal in Georgia, our Judges and Prosecutors watch the news and see what is happening in the rest of the country. Decriminalization and legalization of marijuana have recently become major topics of debate. The most recent development in this debate came last week when Brooklyn, NY District Attorney announced that his office will no longer prosecute offenders with less than 25 grams of pot and no prior criminal record. Almost half the states in the US have some law legalizing marijuana in some form. And of course as of last week you could walk into a store in Washington State and purchase 10 different kinds of weed. Although the fight to legalize marijuana has not made much progress in Georgia, the passage of laws elsewhere has definitely had an effect.

Lastly, we were able to delay prosecution of our client until the Co-Defendant’s case was complete. Especially in State Courts, where resources often run thin, once one co-defendant is convicted of a charge, there is less energy devoted to the remaining co-defendants.

So, at least three factors worked to our advantage. In the absence of a strong case, and considering new attitudes toward marijuana, at least one client charged with 1700 pounds of weed will avoid prison. Ultimately the charge was reduced to possession with intent and we had a very happy client. Even when a case appears open and shut it is always a good idea to hire a lawyer to review the evidence. You never know what kind of defense they might uncover.

Scott Semrau is a Marietta Criminal Defense Lawyer. He accepts all DUI, Misdemeanor and Felony Offenses. The Semrau Law Firm is a Cobb County criminal defense law and personal injury law firm.

Best Lawyer Movies

My favorite lawyer movie is Legally Blonde. I especially like the outburst from the boyfriend.

New Law Will Keep Mug Shots Off The Internet

Last Tuesday, a law went into effect stating that no law enforcement agency or agent is allowed to “post booking photographs to or on a website.” Before this law was passed, local sheriff’s offices and other law enforcement agencies would post mug shots or their websites and companies would download them en masse. Not only would this photograph be floating around the internet, but the company that posted the unflattering picture might refuse to take it down unless you pay a few hundred dollars.

Republican state representative from District 111, Brian Strickland, authored a bill that will make it much more difficult for this practice to continue. Previous legislation was introduced in 2013 allowing people to write to companies asking for their images to be taken down at no cost; however, many of these companies are overseas so congressional action has no impact.
The new law explains that law enforcement agencies now cannot post mug shots except on internal web sites. If anyone wants a particular mug shot, they must make a request from the law enforcement agency and promise in writing that the image will not be posted online or published in a magazine.

The law also states that if any person “knowingly makes a false statement in requesting a booking photograph,” they will be guilty of a violation of Code Section 16-10-20. This is a felony offense and can result in a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

This along with 13 other laws went into effect July 1st. Visit the official Georgia website to read about the other laws including the Georgia Safe Carry Protection Law and the Slow Poke Law.

Best Lawyer Movies

We are posting our favorite lawyer movies. If you have one let us know and we will post it!

My favorite lawyer movie is My Cousin Vinny. I particularly like his opening statement.

Best Lawyer Movies

We are posting our favorite lawyer movies. If you have one let us know and we will post it!

My favorite is: LIAR LIAR I especially like the weight and hair testimony.

Best Lawyer Movies

Watch Scott’s favorite here and comment your favorite to be posted next