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Avvo Rating - 10.0 Paul Kish Top Attorney
Super Lawyers - Paul S. Kish
AV Preeminent - Peer Rated for Highest level of Professional Excellence

As part of my work being a criminal defense lawyer in Atlanta and elsewhere, I recently gave a speech to some attorneys about civil asset forfeiture, which is the legal proceeding through which the police seize and then “forfeit” property.  The seizure is often part of or accompanies and is parallel to a criminal investigation.  Some recent matters made me think more about this whole process, and how myself and other criminal defense attorneys need to do a better job in protecting not only our client’s freedom, but their property as well.

The first matter is a recent article that discusses the Supreme Court case from a month or so ago in which all nine justices agreed that the Constitutional protections against “excessive fines” means that there needs to be some proportion between the crime and the property seized by the police even if the case is in the state court system.  That was the now-famous Timbs case in which the police took a $40,000 Range Rover that Mr. Timbs had bought with the proceeds from his parent’s estate.  The State of Indiana decided to seize the vehicle through the forfeiture process simply because Mr. Timbs foolishly had a relatively small amount of drugs in his possession when he was stopped.  The article points out how the case merely means that the constitutional protection against an excessive seizure applies to all the States.  The Timbs decision did not says what is, or what is not, excessive.  The article points out that question that will be left to future rulings.  The author quotes lawyers on both sides, prosecutors and defense counsel.  A prosecutor who was quoted claimed that she gave up on seizing some property because the value of the seized item was so small that it did not justify the amount of work she was going to have to put into the forfeiture process.  As a result, she supposedly let the defense attorney get the property back for his client.   Apparently, fairness, justice and equity do not matter all that much to this prosecutor, for she is simply worried about how many hours she works. Continue reading

I am a criminal defense lawyer who practices mostly in Atlanta, but I try to keep up with other cases from around the country if they involve the federal court system where I handle the bulk of my practice.  I recently came across a case from south Florida, a case that reminded me that criminal defense lawyers need to fully understand and be able to explain to their clients that there really is no difference between “regular” evidence and “circumstantial evidence.”  The case comes out of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, where I have done hundreds of appeals in my career and where I need to go for yet another oral argument in a few weeks.

The case from Florida involved a man named Spencer Rozier.  Basically, surveillance videos and rental documents demonstrated that Mr. Rozier had a rather small unit in a private storage facility. He was the only renter, and the lease did not give anyone else access to the unit.  He was observed visiting, and was seen carrying cases of beer, soda cans and water jugs (I’ve lived in Florida, and can attest to the need for constant hydration-my friends used to comment “Paul doesn’t drink a lot, he just drinks all the time”).  The manager also saw others visit the facility along with Mr. Rozier, and these folks likewise carried boxes of beverages. The police raided the facility, discovered drugs inside that both smelled (marijuana) and which appeared to be obvious (transparent container holding cocaine, marijuana “protruding out of a bucket”, digital scales and baggies).  Mr. Rozier also had similar baggies with him when stopped by the police a month later. Continue reading

As a criminal defense lawyer who handles matters in Atlanta and elsewhere, from time to time I represent individuals and companies who are investigated, or sometimes even prosecuted, for the very esoteric crime of “securities fraud.”  Reduced to the basics, the securities laws and regulations are well-intentioned rules designed to protect those fortunate to have extra money to put into the stock market or other investments.  “Securities fraud” is when some person involved in the securities field engages in conduct prohibited by that the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”)  or Congress.  So, the key to defending against an allegation of securities fraud is to deeply dive into the words that describe what conduct is, or is not, illegal in the securities field.  Yesterday, our friends in the United States Supreme Court issued the decision in Lorenzo v. SEC.  The case turned in part on the meaning of the law that makes it a crime for a person to “…make any untrue statement of a material fact” in connection with a securities sale or purchase.  So, what does it mean to “make” a statement?  That is one of the questions the High Court answered yesterday.

Francis Lorenzo was the head of investment banking at an SEC-registered firm.  He regularly sent out emails to potential investors, suggesting various stocks or other investments.  Now, here’s the key.  The information that Mr. Lorenzo put into the emails to possible clients came from Lorenzo’s boss.  In one set of emails, Mr. L. told investors that a company had over $10 million in assets, and therefore was a good place to invest.  However, Mr. L. knew for a fact that his boss was telling a plain old lie when saying that this company had $10 million.  Lorenzo knew that the company had recently disclosed that its total assets were more in the $400,000 range.  That is a big difference, meaning that if the statement was “untrue” it was also “material.”  The question from yesterday’s case was whether Mr. Lorenzo was the person to “make” the statement when he merely passed along or republished a false claim from his boss. Continue reading

I am a criminal defense attorney in Atlanta, and readers know I also handle state cases throughout Georgia and in federal criminal cases all over the country.  One of today’s tasks is to work on Jury Instructions for an upcoming case in another part of Georgia.  My client, a businesswoman, is accused of some serious crimes that arose out of an event that ended very badly.  She says she did not engage in the crimes she is accused of, and because the District Attorney is not being reasonable, we pretty much have no other choice than to go to trial and put her case in front of a jury.

Many clients are not always aware of the various tasks and prep work that are required when a criminal defense lawyer is preparing for a trial.  Obviously, the lawyer needs to do his or her homework on the facts, find out what the witnesses will say, and develop methods for attacking the witnesses for the prosecution.  The lawyer sometimes also needs to prepare his or her own witnesses.  One of the biggest tasks is counseling the accused person on whether he or she should, or should not, testify in their own defense.  The final decision on whether the Defendant should testify is completely up to the client, the lawyer can merely provide advice.  However, this often is the biggest single decision in a case, and good defense counsel always put a lot of work and thought into providing this advice to their clients.

Today, I am also working on a less well-known aspect of trial preparation: proposed jury instructions.   Some of you may know that when the evidence is finished in a criminal case, the Judge has to tell the jury his or her “instructions” or what is sometimes called the “jury charge.”  These are basically the rules that the jury has to follow when deciding if the prosecutor has met the burden of proving that the Defendant is guilty of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Internet is agog over the allegations in an indictment issued in Boston that parents and others were part of a far-flung ring to game the college admissions system so that wealthy families could get their kids into elite universities. From my office down here in gorgeous Atlanta (where Spring is just beginning) I urge everybody to calm down, take a deep breath, and let the system work before we start stringing the parents up by their thumbs.

For starters, in this and every other criminal defense case I have handled for the past 36 years, THE DEFENDANT IS PRESUMED TO BE INNOCENT!!!!!!!!!!!!! Please people, remember how it would feel if someone made accusations against you or your family.  There are merely allegations by prosecutors who have not had to have their theories tested by experienced criminal defense lawyers.  I cannot tell you how many times in my career a prosecutor or investigator told me or a Judge early on that the government had a “strong case” and had to eat those words later when the Judge and/or jury agreed with our defense and found the Defendant “Not Guilty.”

Second, the press, once again, is miserably failing in its obligation to realize that this is merely one side of the story.  One can look far and wide to try and find a story where some journalist casts a critical eye on all of the prosecution’s claims, which it bears repeating, have not been tested in court.

Oh weary reader, whether here in Atlanta, throughout Georgia or anywhere else in these United States.  You know how I go on about various aspects of federal crimes, criminal defense, criminal appeals and post-conviction matters, and the job of being a criminal defense lawyer.  Today I want to talk about what happens when a person is thinking about changing the criminal defense lawyer who is currently representing them.

I fortunately get many calls from people about their criminal cases.  Some want a little free advice, some are looking to hire an attorney for the first time, and some are dissatisfied with the way their current attorney is handling the matter.  Here and here are posts I have published on questions that clients might want to ask when first deciding on whether they should hire a particular criminal defense lawyer.   Continue reading

The federal Court of Appeals here in Atlanta (technically, called “the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit) has its main office and courthouse a few blocks from me here in downtown ATL.  I do lots of cases over there.  Like many criminal appeals, I usually request what is called an “oral argument” when I take a case that is in the Eleventh Circuit.  I spent some time today getting ready for an upcoming oral argument, and wanted to discuss a little bit about this and the appellate process in general.

Many people do not realize what happens in a criminal appeal.  For one thing, the lawyer needs to very carefully winnow down and reduce the issues to only those that have a reasonable chance of success. I often need to take quite a bit of time helping clients (and their families) understand that the appeals process is generally not the court where we argue that the accused person did not commit the crime.  Instead, we are generally focusing on whether an “error” was committed at some point, either by the police, the prosecutors, the Judge or even the previous lawyer who handled the case.  Here is a more thorough explanation of the appellate process. Continue reading

This Friday in Atlanta there is the 26th annual seminar here in Atlanta for criminal defense lawyers.  I was asked to talk about civil asset forfeiture, and how that often accompanies or is parallel to a criminal case.  Here is the paper that is the subject of my presentation. Asset Forfeiture in Criminal Cases

As readers who waste some of their lives reading this blog know all too well, we have two court systems in this country where criminal cases arise: the federal system that is in all 50 states, and the separate systems used in each of those 50 states (plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and a few other smaller locations).  Asset forfeitures arise in both federal criminal cases as well as the counterpart state criminal matters that I regularly handle in the Georgia court system. While there are many parallels, there also are some differences. Continue reading

The morning Atlanta paper had a story about an investigation regarding alleged securities fraud in which a very good local attorney who I know was quoted.  That lawyer basically said that his client had not done anything wrong.  Good for him, sometimes an attorney needs to be proactive in defending his or her client, both from the investigation and from adverse publicity.

However, I have another matter where we convinced the government that they should not seek criminal charges against my clients, we worked out a civil settlement in which my clients agreed to pay money but did not agree they did anything wrong, and the prosecutors just issued a lengthy and over-the-top press release announcing the civil settlement.  My clients and I are trying to decide whether to make a public statement in light of this press release.

I have written previously on how the modern “press” often avoids its responsibility in such matters by simply repeating whatever press release is issued by law enforcement agencies and prosecutors offices.  Old-fashioned journalists used to try and get both sides of a story prior to publication, and a few of those reporters still exist.  However, in modern times that is becoming more and more rare.

I am handling a criminal appeal that arose out of a high-profile murder prosecution here in beautiful Atlanta, Georgia.  The case was brought to me long after the trial and “direct appeal”, at a point when the client was down to his last “post-conviction” effort, which in some jurisdictions is called a “habeas corpus petition.”  I took over the case, convinced the Judge to let us re-work the issues, and then appealed the revised claims up to the United States Court of Appeals, whose main office is a few blocks from where I sit at my desk most days, also in Atlanta. The Court of Appeals just announced that they granted my request for “oral argument”, which they grant in very few cases nowadays.  The underlying murder was a very high-profile matter handled in the Fulton County court system many years ago.  After the direct appeals, the case worked itself in the federal court systems for a final effort to obtain post-conviction relief for my client.  I want to talk for a little bit about handling these high-profile matters on appeal or in the post-conviction arena many years after the crime took place.

I get calls and messages on a regular basis from family members who, years later, want me to challenge the conviction or sentence imposed on a person serving a lengthy prison sentence.  This is often very difficult, because the court systems have erected rules over the years that make it increasingly difficult to bring such challenges.  First, most courts now have time limits that severely limit when such challenges can be raised.  Furthermore, even if we get the challenge into court within these timelines, we then have the problem that previous lawyers on the case might not have raised or preserved the best issues.  If the better claims were not properly preserved by the earlier lawyers on the case, the prosecutors will respond to my efforts with all kinds of rules for kicking such issues out, rules called “waiver”, “default” and the always-difficult “harmless error” principle. Continue reading