Criminal Defense

CALIFORNIA & FEDERAL CRIMINAL LAW

The Law Office of L. Marcel Stewart provides California-wide criminal defense representation in state and federal court. Attorney Stewart uses his experience as a former federal prosecutor to develop and effective defense strategy.

CALIFORNIA CRIMINAL LAW

We represent clients charged with a variety of crimes, including but not limited to:

Drug Charges:

If you are facing drug charges, it is important to retain a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights. As a former federal prosecutor, Attorney Stewart understands issues that are critical in drug cases. If retained to handle your case, Mr. Stewart will seek the suppression of any evidence obtained in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights, move for the dismissal of charges not supported by probable cause and vigorously negotiate with the prosecution on your behalf. If the prosecution is unwilling to make a reasonable offer, Attorney Stewart is prepared to take your case to trial.

We handle California misdemeanor and felony charges drug charges, including:

•    Drug possession;
•    Drug trafficking & possession with intent to distribute;
•    Distribution and manufacture.

Violent Crimes:

Violent crimes in California range from simple assault to capital murder. These offenses can carry stiff penalties including fines, jail time and, depending on the severity of the offense, can count as a strike on your criminal record under California's Three Strikes Law. We defend clients against a wide variety of violent crime charges, including:

•    Assault and battery;
•    Manslaughter, homicide, murder and capital murder;
•    Carjacking;
•    Domestic abuse;
•    Hate crimes;
•    Kidnapping;
•    Rape and sexual assault;
•    Robbery;
•    Arson.

Weapons:

A conviction on any type of California weapons crime can carry serious penalties including fines and jail time. The use of anything from mace to assault weapons can result in a weapons charge. Moreover, the use of a weapon, such as a firearm, during the commission of a crime can significantly enhance the potential penalties. The Law Office of L. Marcel Stewart can you with any type of weapons charge, including:

•    Assault weapons;
•    Concealed firearms;
•    Felons in possession of a firearm;
•    Illegal sales;
•    Possession near school grounds;
•    Probation violations.

Sex Offenses:

A conviction for a sex office can get you labeled as a sex offender and make it very difficult for you to live a normal life. Many people don't understand how easy it might be to find themselves charged with a sex offense. Seemingly harmless acts, like urinating in public or topless sunbathing, can now carry a charge of indecent exposure or lewd conduct. These charges are considered sex offenses that might require you to register as a sex offender. We can aggressively defend you against sex offense charges, including:

•    Rape;
•    Sexual assault;
•    Statutory rape;
•    Indecent exposure;
•    Lewd conduct;
•    Prostitution.

FEDERAL CRIMINAL LAW

Federal criminal law is often more complex than state law and can involve major consequences. Federal crimes usually involve conduct or contraband, which has traveled across state lines. Attorney Stewart is familiar with the different procedural rules and can take your case to trial, or can negotiate an advantageous deal if that is the best option. It is vital to employ high quality representation as early as possible to avoid an unfortunate result. There are over 4,000 offenses that carry criminal penalties in the United States Code. The federal criminal system should not be navigated without having an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side. Some federal offenses include:

•    Narcotics conspiracies;
•    Threats against public officials;
•    Bribery of public officials;
•    Fraud via the mail system, computers, or telephones;
•    Fraud involving public and private health care facilities;
•    Possession, manufacture, or distribution of obscene materials or child pornography;
•    Money laundering;
•    Certain firearms offenses;
•    Tax evasion; and
•    All manner of computer crimes.

The Federal Criminal Process:

An informed client is key to a successful defense. Below is a general overview of the federal system:

Initially, it is important to understand that the federal system is often a sentence-driven system. Criminal defendants in this country are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, many jurors tend to look at it in the opposite fashion. Realistically, once the United States government charges you with a crime, you are presumed guilty unless and until you can prove yourself innocent. In federal cases, federal agents and prosecutors are not under the same time constraints as in state prosecutions. Federal agents tend to wait until they have an "airtight" case, usually by using confidential informants, extensive surveillance, wire taps, and other sophisticated means of obtaining evidence typically not seen in state cases.

The Investigation:

Many times, you first learn that you are being investigated when you are charged with an offense. However, it is not unusual for federal agents to try to visit with you to get a statement. At this point, the agent IS NOT YOUR FRIEND!If an agent approaches you, immediately invoke your right to remain silent and ask to speak with an attorney. This should end questioning. Then, you should immediately contact an attorney.

The Charges:

All offenses against the United States are found in the United States Code. Charges for violating a federal law can be filed several different ways. First, a federal agent may approach a magistrate judge with a sworn affidavit accusing someone of a crime. If the magistrate judge finds that probable cause exists to believe that the accused committed the crime, he or she may sign the complaint and issue an arrest warrant.
After an individual is charged with a crime, they have the right to a preliminary hearing in which a magistrate judge determines if the charge is supported by probable cause. However, the government can avoid a preliminary hearing by obtaining an indictment from the grand jury, which is a secret group of people who have reviewed the government's evidence and decides whether or not there is probable cause to charge. If an indictment is issued, the accused is not entitled to a preliminary hearing.
Alternatively, an individual charged in a complaint can waive his right to an indictment or preliminary hearing and allow the government to charge him/her by way of an Information. The information has the same effect as an indictment. However, the government has been relieved of its burden to present evidence to the grand jury. Often, a defendant will waive Indictment or preliminary hearing if a quick resolution is contemplated and plea terms have already been worked out.

Bond:

Upon arrest, the accused learns whether the government has filed a motion to detain them pending trial. Typically, the accused would be arrested by the officers investigating the case or by the United States Marshals and transported to a federal holding facility. The accused is entitled to an immediate hearing, notified of the charges, and given a chance to seek bond. In most instances a bond will be set. However, the government may move for detention without bond based on danger to the community or risk of flight. If it does, the court will set a detention hearing within a few days of arraignment.

Trial or Plea:

Once charges are filed, a person accused of violating a federal crime can plead not guilty and dispute all charges. If you decide to fight the charges, a jury of twelve will decide whether you are innocent or guilty. If you are found not guilty, the case is over. If you are found guilty, you will have a sentencing hearing sometime after the jury verdict. However, if the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, the court will declare a mistrial. The government will have the option of retrying the case or dismissing the charges.

Another option is to plead guilty. Where there are multiple charges, this type of plea can result in some of the charges being dismissed. An accused may also decide to "plead straight up" meaning that you plead guilty as charged, without any type of deal with the prosecutor.

Sentencing:

If an accused is either found guilty or pleads guilty, the next step is sentencing. Sentencing is many times the most crucial point in a federal criminal matter. Attorney Stewart is very experienced in making sure that the sentence is calculated correctly, as well as recognizing potential factors that could result in a lower sentence.

After pleading guilty, or being found guilty after a trial, the first step is for the probation office to prepare a pre-sentence report ("PSR"), which is provided to all of the parties prior to the sentencing date. The PSR will set out a history of the offense and calculate a recommended sentence, based on the offense conduct, any relevant conduct, and the accused history of any prior state and/or federal convictions. The more prior convictions, the higher the criminal history score will be.

Once the PSR calculates a base offense level under the guidelines, a sentence can be adjusted upward or downward based on specific offense characteristics and by certain departure factors. Examples of upward adjustments include obstruction of justice, use of a firearm, multiple and/or vulnerable victims, and use of "sophisticated means" to commit the offense. Examples of downward adjustments include, acceptance of responsibility, a minor or minimal role in the offense, cooperation, and numerous other circumstances unique to the defendant, as set out in sections 5K2.0 through 5K2.23. Other mitigating factors found in 18 U.S.C. §3553 can be considered by the sentencing court and could result in a lower sentence.

When appropriate, Attorney Stewart will object to the PSR can prepare and argue those objections before the court. Additionally, a sentencing memorandum can be submitted to the court, setting out all factors that the court could consider in awarding a downward departure and/or a variance from a guidelines sentence.

Appeals:

If you are convicted, even if you pled guilty (unless the right to appeal is waived), you have the right to appeal your case. You must inform your attorney immediately after sentencing if you wish to appeal, there is a ten-day time period allowed for filing a notice of appeal. An appeal is an opportunity to tell the appellate court exactly how the trial judge did not follow the law, or what rights you were denied, including errors in sentencing. Typically, an appeal will take six months to a year to be decided. While your case is on appeal, you do not have an automatic right to be released on bond, and it is unlikely that you will be released.

The Law Office of L. Marcel Stewart has significant experience is all aspects of federal criminal litigation.

Disclaimer: The information contained below is for general guidance on matters of interest only and NOT legal advice. The application and impact of laws can vary widely based on the specific facts involved. Given the changing nature of laws, rules and regulations, there may be omissions or inaccuracies in information. Accordingly, this information is provided with the understanding that it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with a competent attorney.