Blog Archives

Howell teen pleads guilty to vehicular homicide in crash that killed friend, injured three

An 18-year-old Howell man admitted smoking marijuana and drinking before driving a car on March 21, causing an accident that killed a Freehold man and injured three people.  Michael Woehrle pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide, assault by auto, driving while intoxicated and violating the state’s driver’s license rules. His car collided with a car heading north on Route 9, killing his passenger and injuring the three occupants of the other car.

Story is here.

Belmar Criminal Defense Lawyers

Charges filed in crash that killed Manchester mother

Jean Paul Forde of Martin Drive in the Whiting section of Manchester, faces charges of death by auto and assault by auto for the May 30 collision that killed Colleen Guierro of Second Avenue in Manchester, according to Jackson police Capt. David Newman.  Forde was allegedly driving at a high rate of speed while under the influence of alcohol, when he lost control of a 1998 Honda Accord and crashed into the 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt driven by Colleen Guierro, who was pronounced dead at the scene. Forde is charged with vehicular homicide, assault by auto, driving while intoxicated, reckless driving and failure to maintain a lane.

Man accused in crash that killed officer appears in court

Lamont Gadson is charged with leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in the death of another, a second-degree offense that carries a prison term of five to 10 years upon a conviction. Gadson also is charged with driving with a suspended license, resulting in a death, a third-degree offense carrying a potential prison term up to five years upon a conviction.

 “Authorities said 36-year-old Angelo Vasile, a Beachwood resident and a six-year veteran of the police department, was off-duty and riding a motorcycle south on Route 9 near Central Avenue in Lakewood shortly before 3 a.m. on Saturday when he was struck by a car that allegedly was driven by Gadson. Authorities said Gadson fled the scene, and his 2000 Mitsubishi Gallant was found abandoned nearby.”

Gadson was arrested Saturday on warrants for unpaid traffic fines issued in Howell. Gadson was released after posting $1,000 bail, but was arrested again Thursday after an investigation revealed he was driving the car that killed Vasile.

Story is here.

Driver can expect serious charges after fatal crash

Brent Burke of Barnegat, New Jersey was headed north on Route 9 in the area of Bayshore Drive when he crossed the center line and veered into oncoming traffic.  Burke’s Dodge Dakota collided head-on with a Chevy Trailblazer driven by Stephen Len, also of Barnegat. The impact sent Len’s vehicle into northbound lanes where it struck a car driven by Steve Catranis  of Waretown.  Catranis and his wife, Julie Catranis, were both airlifted to hospital where Steve Catranis died.  Julie Catranis is listed in critical condition.

Barnegat police reported that Burke fled the scene following the crash.  He was later found and cited for driving under the influence.  He can expect vehicular homide charges to be filed on Monday and, based upon a number of factors including his BAC, he will likely be charged with aggravated manslaughter.  If that happens, he’ll need a good attorney to secure a good plea. 

These cases are very tough to try and the the State will get a flight charge if the case goes to trial.  As a result, the jury will hate him even more than they already do.  We’ll have to see who he gets as an attorney.

Charges upgraded to aggravated manslaughter after victim of March crash dies

These cases are tough.  Unlike other violent cases, you can’t blame the victim.  However, your own client is rarely a horrible person.  However, one stupid night can change the lives of many.  Even worse, the dividing line between aggravated manslaughter and vehicular homicide are unclear.  However, the difference in terms of sentencing is huge.

In this case, Clifford Cooley, Brandon Bullock, and David Colvin, all from Rahway were charged in connection with a March 23rd crash that injured Nicholas Phan-Tran of Edison.  Phan-Tran was in a coma since the accident and died last week. As a result, the charges were upgraded.

The story is here.

As predicted, charges upgraded in American Idol case

As I predicted a few hours ago, Daniel Bark is now facing some additional charges aggravated manslaughter, death by auto and eluding police, all related to the death of American Idol contestant Alexis Cohen.  His bail is now set at $150,000. 

I think the Agg Man charges are going to be tough for the State to prove here because Bark was not arrested until the next day.  Thus, it will be tough for the State to prove that he was highly intoxicated which is usually required for an Agg Man charges in this context.  Thus, my guess is a plea is eventually worked out for about 10 years. 

Story is here.

Charges could be upgraded in case involving death of former American Idol contestant Alexis Cohen

Former American Idol contestant Alexis Cohen struck by a car as she was killed on Saturday while walking near the intersection of Bay Boulevard and Dupont Avenue in the beach town of Seaside Heights.  Police allege that 23 year old Daniel Bark struck her with his car causing fatal head, chest and abdomen injuries.

Bark fled the scene and was arrested at 6 p.m.  on Sunday in Atlantic Highlands which is about an hour or so north of Seaside Heights.  He is in jail on $35,000 bail.

Right now he is only charged with reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident.  My guess is that Bark was at intoxicated to some extent so I expect that homicide charges will be filed shortly.  As a result, his bail will be much higher. 

This is going to be a high profile case and everyone will be watching what happens due to the American Idol connection.  As a result, Bark needs an attorney that will hit the ground running and start preparing for trial today!  That is his best hope to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.

Story is here.

Robert Higbee trial on June 2

Robert Higbee took the stand today which was expected.  I think he did really well, although he had it rather easy from what I saw.  I also think it was the right move and that he was obviously well prepped. 

I think the prosecutor really missed the point on cross.  In fact, it was hardly a traditional cross, even for a prosecutor.  Prosecutors generally seem to yell at defendants on cross but this prosecutor didn’t even do that.  If I had Higbee on cross, I would have probably ripped him apart and made him look horrible in front of the jury. 

If I am the prosecutor, I pull every, single stop that Higbee ever made and question him about a wide variety of them.  I also get into the number of times he has pulled people over, all of his training, etc.  The goal here is to show that out of all of his stops, this is the most stress-free, routine stop he has ever had.  Thus, the story about him having this laser focus is garbage.  In addition, I understand that he teaches other troopers, so how can someone of his training and experience screw up and not be aware of the possibility of a stop sign?

The prosecutor can then wrap this up by arguing that he screwed up and he tried to cover it up.  Sure he is an honest, nice guy but his world was crashing around him and he has never been in this situation before.  He had to lie and he thought that no one would look into it because he didn’t know the black box existed.  Luckily for Higbee, I’m not the prosecutor on the case.

Man gets 13 years for DWI death of 88 year old

While this wasn’t my case, I did work on it as my firm represented the client.  It was a tough case as the case was stacked against the client.  Nevertheless, we did a great job by getting the plea down. After all, the client killed one person and seriously injured another.  Since he already had 18 months in jail, he should get out of prison in about 8 years or less. 

This is the type of case where we really don’t make any money because we wind up doing 3 times the amount of work than what we are paid for.  However, when it comes to criminal defense, you set a fee and after it is paid, you forget about whether you were paid enough to fight for the client.  We turned this case upside down, reviewed 1000’s of pages of documents, filed over a dozen motions and did a ton of research. 

In the end, the client thought that it would be best to accept this deal.  If he went to trial, he would have had to spend more time in jail to wait for a trial while he was risking a lot more time if convicted.  I’m really happy we can get this deal for him.

Story is here.

At the very start of his trial, is Robert Higbee in trouble already?

Anyone else catch the beginning of the Robert Higbee trial on TruTV (Court TV) this week?  A friend of mine was a guest on Thursday so I DVRed it and watched it this weekend.  Since the trial is in New Jersey, I’ll have to keep an eye on it.

After just a few minutes, I wound up screaming at my TV like some crazy sports fan.  I live, sleep, eat and breathe criminal defense.  So, when I see a total miscarriage of justice, I get emotional. 

Robert Higbee is a New Jersey State Trooper that is on trial for vehicular homicide for killing two teenage girls after he hit their minivan at about 65 mph.  The focal point of the case is the fact that the Troop car’s “black box” shows that he blew though a stop sign even though he had indicated that he thought that he stopped and looked both ways. 

From the very beginning, this looks like a weird trial.  The prosecutor’s opening statement included a power point presentation that had some type of graph that was compiled from the data off the black box.  The prosecutor explained what everything meant and thus, what the black box showed.  In other words, the prosecutor presented evidence to the jury that only an expert can present way before the expert even testified.  So what do we need the expert for? 

Opening statements are just a preview for what each side expects to show, not the whole case in Cliff Notes style.  I just don’t see how any of that was admissible and I hope I just missed the objection from Higbee’s attorney.

The first witness was Caesar Caiafa, the grandfather of the two girls.  He had nothing to say about the accident because he didn’t see it happen.  So why did he testify?  Because the prosecutor knows that this trooper is a good guy.  He said as much in opening.  Thus, he has to play the sympathy card hard and early.  I don’t really take issue with his tactics as they will play any card they can.  I have a real issue with his attorney and I really hate to Monday morning quarterback another attorney.

However, this grandfather had nothing to say.  I mean nothing.  First off, I would have asked for a proffer.  After reviewing the discovery, it should have been clear that he had nothing to add.  The proffer would confirm this so a motion in limine (to exclude his testimony) would have been made.  Now maybe that was done and it was denied.  However, I still say you have to renew the objection. 

This grandfather was permitted to cry several times, talk about the lives of the two girls, how he found out about the accident and the fact that he restores old cars.  Ok great, does any of that prove or disprove any facts of this case?  No. 

I heard the commentators and hosts on TruTv say that you don’t want to object and have the jury hate you.  While there are occasions when that may be the case, this was not one of them.  This guy’s life is on the line!  You have to stand up for him!  Besides, there is a very simple solution.  “Objection, Judge, can I have a side bar please”.  You then go up there and say that you not only object to the testimony but you ask for a mistrial and if the mistrial is denied, you ask to strike his testimony and a proffer for what else he will say”. 

My advice to new attorneys is as follows:

The judge’s decision with all of that is less important than the application itself.  If you are denied across the board, you have at least set up a great issue for an appeal.  Then, when the witness is done, you advise the court that you have an issue to address before the next witness comes up so a short break would be great. 

When the jury leaves, tell the judge that you want to renew your objection and application for a mistrial and you want to put it on the record.  This should be more than just a few sentences.  Explain what you are objecting to and why and ask for a mistrial, not just a motion to strike.  The NJ Appellate Division treats applications for mistrial different than objections, but don’t overuse it.   Highlight the testimony that was objectionable, or in the case like this where it all is, group it together and don’t pull punches.

In this case, you have to tell the judge that the testimony about the lives of the girls, the crying, the events of that night that the witness saw and the fact that he restores care is nothing more than sympathy evidence that is not only irrelevant, but is specifically designed to compensate for the lack of evidence and prejudice the defendant.  This evidence will distract from the facts of the case and get the jury so upset that they will convict the defendant on sympathy alone without considering the evidence.

I’m sure all of this sounds really cold, but as a defense attorney, you have to fight for your client regardless of what anyone may think about you.  The  wife of the main witness in one trial I had asked me how I live with myself after I called her husband a crook who should be the one on trial in front of the jury and a packed court room.  I explained that I am a hired gun and my clients expect my best at all times.  She did tell me that I did a very good job though.  By the way, the verdict in that case was not guilty with only a 90 minute deliberation.

Story on the first day of trial is here.