A month after a Fort Worth federal jury found him guilty, a judge sentenced 51-year-old Michael Webb to life in prison.
According to evidence presented at trial, Webb approached the girl and her mother on a Ryan Place street. He overpowered the girl’s mother, put the 8-year-old in his car, and travelled to a nearby motel. An officer questioned Webb in his room, but did not find the girl. A subsequent informer’s tip caused police to visit Webb again. They found the girl in a laundry basket.
“A dangerous predator is spending the rest of his life behind bars because law enforcement and citizen volunteers worked tirelessly to safely bring the victim home,” declared FBI Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno.
Procedural Issues in Violent Criminal Cases
Frequently, these prosecutions involve either search and seizure issues or Miranda issues. The above case may have involved both.
Generally, officers must have search warrants before they enter dwellings or seize evidence. A warrant alone is not enough. That warrant must be based on probable cause. An informer’s tip may constitute probable cause, but it is rather shaky.
Alternatively, officers could rely on a narrow search warrant exception. Some recognized exceptions include:
Consent: Owners, or people with apparent ownership authority, may consent to property searches. There is a difference between consent, which is a voluntary affirmative act, and assent, which is like opening a door for an officer.
Plain View: Additionally, officers may seize any contraband they see in plain view. Partial plain view situations, like the handle of a gun protruding from under a car seat, are in a grey area.
Exigent Circumstances: If police respond to the scene of a disturbance, like a fight or a gas leak, they may sweep through the building to make sure everyone is okay. While inside, they may seize any contraband they see in plain view.
Miranda warnings, such as the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, might be an issue as well. Legally, officers must give these warnings when custodial interrogation begins.
“Custody” means the suspect does not feel free to leave. Most people do not feel free to leave as soon as they see flashing lights in their rear view mirrors. “Interrogation” does not necessarily mean asking relevant questions. Experienced officers know how to extract damaging information from suspects without asking questions or by asking seemingly innocent questions.
These defenses are legal defenses. So, the Michael Webb judge probably considered them in an earlier pretrial hearing.
Effective Assistance of Counsel
The Sixth Amendment does not just guarantee the right to a lawyer. It guarantees the right to an effective lawyer. It is difficult, but not impossible, to win criminal appeals based on the ineffective assistance of counsel.
It may be hard to believe, but the failure to call witnesses or cross-examine witnesses is usually not ineffective assistance of counsel. These lawyers might over-rely on the presumption of innocence, but that is not incompetence. That’s just faulty strategy.
Typically, ineffective assistance of counsel arguments are effective if the attorney was impaired in some way. Generally, that means substance abuse, but it could also mean fatigue or extreme overwork. Additionally, if the attorney had a professional impairment, like a suspended law license, that might be grounds for a successful appeal as well.
Violent crimes are quite serious, but defenses are available. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Fort Worth, contact Herreth Law. We routinely handle matters in Tarrant County and nearby jurisdictions.