Articles Posted in Embezzlement

In part 1 of this article, we began our examination of what makes a felony different than a misdemeanor in Michigan. We saw that one key distinction is the maximum possible penalty that can be imposed, and that a misdemeanor can never be punishable by more than 1 year in jail, whereas a felony carries a potential prison sentence of any number of years. We then distinguished jail, where a person can be housed for no more than 1 year, from prison, where a person will usually remain for at least a year and a day. We then began to explore the differences between how a felony and misdemeanor charges are handled, at least at the early stages, in court. We saw how a felony charge is “tested” in the district court at the preliminary examination stage. We’ll pick up there:

preview-full-blog-post-8-16ac-01-2-300x166At a preliminary exam, the prosecutor will call some witnesses. This usually includes the arresting and/or investigating police officer, a victim, if there was one, and maybe a key eyewitness. Not everyone needs to testify at this phase of the case. Remember, this isn’t a trial, and the prosecutor doesn’t have to prove anything like guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but merely that there is a debatable question of fact that the defendant committed the charged crime. In that sense, “he-said, she-said” is more than good enough for a case to survive the probable cause test at this stage.

Another way to think about this is that all the prosecutor has to do, really, is show the Judge that the case against someone is not BS. In other words, unless the district Judge would feel comfortable saying something like, “this charge is baloney,” then the case will be allowed to continue to the circuit court. On the other hand, if the Judge can say something like he or she finds no evidence that a crime was committed or a law was broken (this rarely happens), or, that he or she cannot find that there is at least an open question that the person charged with the crime did, in fact do it, then the matter will be dismissed.

As Michigan criminal and DUI lawyers, my team and I deal with both misdemeanor and felony charges every day. Often enough, we’ll be asked by a client to explain the real difference between the 2 kinds of offenses. This happens a lot when the charge my client is facing is one that can be brought as either a felony or a misdemeanor, like DUI’s, embezzlement, indecent exposure offenses, as well as certain drug crimes. In this 2-part article, I will examine and provide an overview of what differentiates a felony from a misdemeanor charge.

apples-oranges-hero-188x300The one thing that most people know right out of the gate is that a felony is more serious than a misdemeanor. Few things in the law are absolute, but the idea that facing a misdemeanor is always “better” than facing a felony is one of them. Of course, the flip side is that facing a felony is always “worse,” and usually more expensive.

In Michigan, the biggest difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is the maximum amount of time a person can be incarcerated. By law, a person cannot be locked up longer than 1 year for a misdemeanor. To be sure, a person can be convicted of a felony and not be required to serve any time at all, or, he or she can be sentenced to less than a year in jail, but in no case can a misdemeanor conviction result in a sentence of greater than one year in the county jail.

The idea for this article came from my associates after a week where we saw how things go bad the minute someone starts talking to the police without a lawyer. What I want to make clear in this article is the one universal piece of legal advice that holds true in every situation: shut up. If you are being questioned by the police, always exercise your right to remain silent. In fact, of all the rights we have as Americans, none is waived so freely, so frequently, and so much to a person’s detriment, as the right to remain silent. In the real world nobody ever talks themselves out of trouble – it’s just the opposite. If you haven’t talked to the police yet, then don’t. If you already have, then we are simply left with the reality of that.

smiley-zipping-mouth-300x210We’ll begin by restating what is far more overlooked than obvious: you have an absolute right to remain silent. We’ll get into this more later, but the day before this article was written, I met with a client who hired me after he spoke to a police detective and was subsequently arrested and charged with a crime. Because he is a nice guy who has never been in trouble before, my client naively asked the detective if it was a good idea to be talking to him, and if he should get a lawyer first.  The detective, for his part, answered the question rather diplomatically, and replied, “I can’t tell you what to do.”  Of course, my client now understands that he should not have said a word.

People often feel obligated, or in some way “pressured” to answer questions when asked by the police. Most people are good by nature, and even though they may have broken a law, they don’t want to appear uncooperative, and because of that, they “cooperate” themselves straight into more trouble, only to later realize they should have just kept quiet.

As a Michigan criminal, driver’s license restoration and DUI lawyer, the whole concept of addiction is pervasive in my work. Each and every day, I deal with people across the substance abuse spectrum, including those who have alcohol and or drug problems and don’t know it, some who won’t admit it yet, but may be in the midst of struggling and/or coming to grips with their problem, and others who are in recovery. In addition, I deal with plenty of people who do not have any kind of problem, no matter how things may look in the context of any particular circumstance or case. Not very long ago, I wrote an article about how the whole court system has a pretty strong bias in DUI cases that tends assume that everyone charged with a drunk driving has a drinking problem, or at least a significantly increased risk of having one. In a very real way, this is a little more than an extension of this whole new focus on “addiction.” Addiction has become the new buzzword in criminal and DUI cases, and one of the newest marketing focuses just about everywhere. I have seen a growing number of ads on TV offering to help people break the cycle of alcohol and/or drugs. On this subject, I can speak with some real authority because I have an extensive, post-graduate University education in the field of addiction studies. Thankfully, my studies in this field predates its recent popularization.

Thumbnail image for 606e84581ee0736db8b3783711efd385.jpgThis matriculation enables me to understand substance abuse problems from the clinical side of things as well as the legal. To me, it’s kind of like having both sides of a Q-tip. It goes without saying that, for example, in a DUI or drug possession case, any lawyer smart enough to boil water wants to avoid having her client seen as having an alcohol or drug problem in order avoid as many negative consequences as possible. On the flip side, it doesn’t take a legal scholar to understand the value of shielding the client in the cloak of having a “disease” or problem when doing that will make things better in ways like avoiding jail. To put this another way, in situations like a 1st offense DUI, the goal is to avoid having the client look like he or she has any kind of problem (or even potential problem) with alcohol. In that situation, the word “addiction” is bad, because no one wants to be loaded up with otherwise avoidable classes, counseling or treatment. By contrast, in a 3rd offense DUI, the word “addiction” is useful, and will almost certainly be invoked to deflect anger from the fact that a person is a repeat offender. Instead, the idea is to have such a client perceived as more like the victim of a problem who needs (and wants) help, rather than a “criminal.” In the context of a winning Michigan driver’s license restoration case, it is essential that the person be able to prove genuine sobriety. Accordingly, anyone who wants to win back his or her driver’s license must begin the process with a solid understanding of his or her addiction, as well as recovery from it.

It doesn’t take any real degree finesse for a lawyer to take a 2nd DUI offender, for example, and tell him or her to get into counseling, and then just show up in court and try and play the “recovery” card. Unfortunately, the word “addiction” has been thrown around so much recently that it has practically lost any subtlety it used to have. The same thing happened over the years with the use of precious metal terms. At one time, having any kind of “gold” credit card (or membership or other privileges) was the best you could do. Then, gold wasn’t good enough, and we were introduced to platinum. Not long after that, when gold was forgotten and platinum has lost its luster, things went to titanium. Now, the world is focusing on addiction, and it seems like the word is being used in endless situations. The setting we’re concerned about in this article is how we can use “addiction” (including a lack of it) to make things better for people facing a criminal or DUI charge, as well as the role it plays in a successful driver’s license appeal. Let’s see how this all works in some real world situations:
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In my role as a Michigan criminal and DUI lawyer, I often wind up speaking with people whose cases are pending in courts beyond the geographic area where I practice. I have always believed that a lawyer should be relatively “local” to the court where a case is pending, and that’s why I only handle DUI and criminal cases in the Metropolitan Detroit area. In a recent conversation with a caller, the person (whose case was in a distant county) asked me whether she should spend the money for her own lawyer or just go with a court appointed lawyer. I knew that my answer was going to be “hire your own,” but I had to pause for a moment to think about how to say that without sounding “obvious.” This will be a rather short article that addresses the question “Should I spend the money for my own lawyer or just go with court-appointed, instead?”

Line 1.3.jpgThe way for me to put it came quickly; just tell the truth – the unvarnished truth. Sometimes, we try to be diplomatic when we answer a person’s question. If someone asks how you like his or her new car, and even if you didn’t, and you also thought the color was horrible, you wouldn’t just bluntly say so! Can you imagine responding, “I think it’s kind of ugly, and man, that color looks like puke!” Instead, you’d probably just say something like, “Oh, wow, it’s nice and roomy.” My point, skipping all pretensions of diplomacy, is this: If you can, you should always hire your own lawyer. Let me explain why:

When I get back to my office and one of my staff tells me about a caller who is considering hiring me for a drunk driving or criminal case, but already has a lawyer, my gut reaction is 1 of 2 things: If the caller had hired the lawyer, chances are he or she doesn’t like what they’re hearing, and expected a better outcome; in other words, there’s a good chance that person is just someone else’s unhappy customer. Sometimes, of course, the person can be right and the old lawyer may just not be up to the task, or he or she is getting exactly what they paid for by hiring a “cheap” lawyer, but for the most part, in those situations, the problem is the client’s unmet or unrealistic expectations, rather than any supposed under-performance of the lawyer. I am rarely enthused about or interested in these cases, and most often decline to get involved unless the caller has made an obvious mistake by doing something like hiring the family friend lawyer who isn’t experienced with the kind of case at issue, or employed some kind of bargain, cut-rate lawyer who answers his or her own phone. Court-appointed lawyers, however, are an entirely different matter…
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In some of my criminal law, DUI and driver’s license restoration articles, I have gone beyond a mere discussion about “the law” and have tried to pull back the curtain a bit, so to speak, in order to help the reader understand the real working role of the lawyer, and not just in the sense in some way that amounts to nothing more than an excuse to say “call me!” If we’re going to be brutally honest, all doctors, dentists, lawyers and even funeral directors are in business. At the end of the day, every professional offers his or her services to make a living. Sure, most of us really want to help people, but you’re not much of a professional at anything if you’re not success driven. For my part, I want to receive a rewarding fee for what I do, and in exchange feel like I’m providing a top-notch service to my client. I want to be the best at what I do. And while this all sounds great, what does it mean, and why should any of this matter to you?

Ing.1.2.jpgIf you are looking for a lawyer for a DUI or driver’s license restoration case, then you already know that the field is crowded, and there is a lot to sort through. The same thing goes for anyone facing a criminal charge and looking for a criminal lawyer. Beyond your own inquiries, you may get recommendations from friends and family. In the strongest way possible, I’d advise against just “jumping” at anyone’s recommendation, even if the lawyer who gets the endorsement is me. You should always check around on your own, read articles, see what kind of information any given lawyer has posted, and then make some phone calls. There simply is NO downside to being a smart consumer and doing your homework.

There’s an old saying to the effect that “information is power.” Actually, it’s not. At best, information is only potential power. Any real power comes from using that information to your advantage. If you go back through my blog articles, for example, especially many of those written earlier, I examine just about every legal situation a person could possibly face. Therefore, when I say “information,” I mean a lot more than meaningless prattle about being “tough” or “aggressive.” Labels, especially those we use for ourselves, fall far short of any kind of useful information. One of first things you should look for in the search for a lawyer is genuine value, and not just in terms of cost, or price. “Value,” in this sense, means importance to your life. What is the value of being able to breathe? That’s not something on which you put a price. What’s the value of winning back or keeping your driver’s license, or keeping a criminal conviction (perhaps for something like possession of marijuana) off of your record? And there’s more…
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Over the last few years, I have had an increasing number of clients retain me over the phone, before they ever even meet me or come to my office. This article, like the previous, will be another departure from my usual informational installment, because instead of talking about Metro Detroit-area DUI cases or Michigan driver’s license restoration appeals, I will examine things from my side of the desk, and the somewhat new way that I’m being hired. What’s so interesting to me is that I had nothing to do with this. I never “offered” it as an option. Instead, it grew out of this blog, more than anything else, and is really a thing of its own creation.

phoner1.2.jpgMy website and this blog contain a lot of genuinely useful information about DUI, driver’s license restoration and criminal cases. In the criminal setting, I have a rather eclectic concentration in DUI (drunk driving), DWLS/DWLR, embezzlement and indecent exposure cases. I publish 2 articles every week, and I examine my subjects in careful detail. I write about things like the stress a person arrested for a drunk driving goes through, the experience of getting sober, and how that’s a necessary requirement to win back your driver’s license, and how embezzlement cases and indecent exposure cases work in the real world. I don’t write to impress other lawyers; my goal is to speak through the written word with the same conversational voice I have if I’m sitting across a table from someone. Apparently (and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being rather proud of it), a lot of people identify with this.

So much so, in fact, that some years ago, it became clear that my “voice” was reaching people in a way that when they’d call my office, they were more than content to book appointments without ever talking to me first. That was certainly different, at least back then, because lawyers essentially thrive with the understanding that the way to get clients is to bring them in for the free consultation and have them “sign up.” In other words, the object of getting a new caller on the phone is to get him or her to agree to come in and “discuss” the matter further. That was never the way I operated, anyway, because I always preferred to do all my consultation stuff over the phone. I’ve been fortunate enough throughout my career to be too busy to have time to bring people in just to “kick the tires.” If you’re looking to hire a lawyer, we’ll answer your questions right when you call; there will be none of this “come on in so we can talk about it” stuff…
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1. Michigan DUI for Someone who lives in Another State
This week’s first article addressed the situation where a non-Michigan resident is charged with a drunk driving crime here, in Michigan. I handle a lot of these cases, and that almost without exception, I am able to arrange things so that my client will only have to come back to Michigan 1 time to handle the entire case. I called this “one and done.” We noted that it is still important to assess the evidence in the case to see if the whole thing can be dismissed, even though that isn’t the usual outcome. We next answered “What is going to happen to my driver’s license?” I pointed out that no state can take any action against a license issued in another state. Michigan, therefore, cannot do anything to a driver’s license issued by a different state. We saw, however, that the state of Michigan will typically restrict a person’s ability to drive within its borders for a while. We defined “restricted” to mean that a person can only drive for work, school, medical treatment, something the court requires and AA or other support group meetings. Your home state may take action against your license. All fines and costs will need to be paid on the court date. We concluded by noting that there is virtually ZERO chance of getting any jail, and that if things are handled correctly, the “one and done” means you go home either without any probation conditions whatsoever, or, perhaps, only the requirement that you complete a class in your home state and send proof back to the court. My goal is to work it out so that my client goes home without any kind of obligation to the court, probationary or otherwise. Here are the more important points from the Michigan non-resident DUI article:

  • I can arrange things so that your whole DUI case is handled in 1 day
  • Very often it can be all wrapped up in just 1 morning
  • We need to make sure the case is “solid” before we move ahead and finalize things
  • Whatever happens, the state of Michigan can’t do anything to your driver’s license as long as it was issued by another state
  • The state of Michigan can temporarily restrict your ability to use that license here, within its borders
  • Your own state may or may not take actions against your license based upon a Michigan DUI conviction
  • You will have to bring enough money to pay all fines and costs on your court date
  • There is virtually ZERO chance of any jail time
  • If things are handled correctly, you can leave for home without any kind of probation or other obligation to the court.
  • I call this “one and done.”

 

Now, on to the embezzlement/false pretenses article…
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As a Michigan criminal defense lawyer, I have developed a fairly robust embezzlement/ larceny by false pretenses practice. I handle embezzlement and false pretenses cases brought in the Metro-Detroit area, meaning anywhere in Macomb, Oakland or Wayne Counties. While I have handled cases of all sizes, many of them have been high dollar cases involving hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I have written a number of articles on this subject that address the mechanics of an embezzlement charge and examine things like the first call from a corporate official and/or a police detective through the interrogation process. There is, of course, a lot to all of that; anyone who even thinks that he or she may face an embezzlement or false pretenses charge would be well advised to read those articles. Perhaps the most significant thing to be learned from them is to keep quiet and not talk. Ironically, however, many people discover what I’ve written after they’ve been questioned and have already made self-incriminating statements.

despair 1.2.jpgTo be clear, just remaining silent is no sure-fire way to make a potential embezzlement or false pretenses charge go away. In most cases, the investigation that leads to someone calling the police is usually rather thorough, and it frequently resembles the old notion that if you follow one single thread, you find a whole big mess. The reality is that most embezzlement and/or false pretenses cases aren’t based upon false charges, although the amount of money that winds up being claimed by the “victim” is often grossly overstated. The sentiment there is that the aggrieved party (victim) might as well throw in the kitchen sink, because there isn’t likely to be a very deep pool of sympathy for the person who gets charged. I understand that side of things, but I also know, from extensive experience, about the other, human side of story from the person accused of the crime. Facing an embezzlement/false pretenses charge can bring a sense of despair.

For all the legal and technical analysis we can undertake regarding an embezzlement or false pretenses charge, the real bottom line is that if you’re facing one, you need to save your skin. I can write endlessly about rights and evidence and the burden of proof and hearings and legal arguments, and all of that kind of stuff, but at the end of the day, what matters most is what does, and even more so, what does NOT happen to you. This is particularly true when a person has, in fact, actually taken money or property, and then gets found out. I know that many people in these situations have labored under a desire, if not a belief, that they would find a way to pay the money back, or otherwise make things right.

This is an important, but often overlooked reality, because in the majority of cases I have handled, the person charged feels absolutely horrible. I have seldom dealt with anyone who didn’t feel a profound sense or remorse when things get discovered. In fact, one of the more common issues in an embezzlement or false pretenses case is that the person facing the charge or charges can become seriously emotionally overwhelmed. While this does not “fix” the case, or make it go away, an important part of my job is to use that genuine remorse in order to negotiate a better break from the prosecutor, and then later, to convince the Judge to take it easy on my client.
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As a Michigan embezzlement lawyer, I have a somewhat unique criminal practice. Unlike the more “traditional” criminal attorney who handles a wide range of cases, I concentrate in just a few sub-specialties, one of which is embezzlement. I believe that in order to effectively handle an embezzlement case, a lawyer has to understand the client’s side of things every bit as much as he or she must know the law. Unless the evidence in a case is so completely lacking that the Judge is about to dismiss it for being so weak, it becomes imperative for me to get the prosecutor and the Judge to see my client’s side of things, as well. This is a difficult, but necessary task.

Let’s be clear about that; there isn’t exactly a large pool of sympathy to tap into for a person charged with this crime. If a lawyer simply accepts that as the whole reality and tries to plow forward anyway, he or she will have little or no chance to make things better for the client. This is a key point for me. While being “tough” and “aggressive” are necessary qualities to being an effective criminal lawyer, they are far from enough, and even farther from being the most important, in the typical embezzlement case. A bouncer at a bar is tough, but you wouldn’t place your future in his hands. A used car salesman is normally aggressive, but that same skill makes him little more than annoying.

Real World 1.2.pngBy contrast, intelligence, experience, skill and tact are far more important qualities to successfully resolving something like an embezzlement case than just being “tough” and “aggressive.” This is particularly true when a person (or a lawyer) thinks those are the best terms to describe him or herself. Here, you need the finesse of a skilled tactician rather than the bang of a dull hammer.

In that regard, it is usually the first order of business for me, in resolving an embezzlement charge, to blunt, or soften, the intensity of the ire normally felt by the victim that in turn is incorporated in the prosecutor’s case. In other words, I have to calm things down a bit. I have to “mediate” things so that my client gets through the case intact. Most of all, I have to keep my client out of jail. When these cases start, the police and prosecutor’s side is usually a bit “hot.” I need to cool things down before we start off.

To be sure, some embezzlement cases “sound” strong, but lack enough evidence to convict a person. In those cases, fighting, and being “tough” and “aggressive” are important. However, one of the ironies of my practice is that, despite having published a number of articles that clearly advise anyone contacted by a detective (or a company lawyer, or loss prevention officer, or anyone asking questions, for that matter) to simply exercise his or her right to remain silent, many people find me, and those articles, after they’ve spoken to someone, or even written out a statement. While these admissions are not necessarily carved in stone, the reality is that they often come in circumstances where the other evidence is pretty strong, anyway.

If you’re reading this and you’ve already admitted to something, you can take comfort in the fact that, in all the countless Michigan embezzlement cases I’ve handled, I’ve never had one where the only, or even the best evidence was the person’s own statement or admission against self-interest. In other words, while it’s better to remain silent, I’ve never seen anyone get convicted ONLY because he or she admitted something. Even so, if you haven’t yet been charged, do yourself a favor and don’t say anything. Often enough, I’m hired early on and I can be the “heavy” who asserts my client’s right to remain silent to the police, or other inquiring party. This is one less uncomfortable thing my client has to deal with.
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