United States v. Combs Shows Importance of Jacksonville Trial Attorney With Knowledge of Appeals

A recent ruling out of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago underscores why it is important that a defendant’s Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer not only be a strong trial attorney, but also have the knowledge and skills to recognize possible appeals issues.

In U.S. v. Combs, a Chicago drug dealer pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of a firearm by a felon. He was sentenced in federal court to the top of the guideline range of imprisonment — 33 months.
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On appeal, the man claimed that the judge made an error by not addressing a motion to suppress evidence of a gun in the case that the judge found was untimely. Yet by pleading guilty, the man waived his right to bring up the issue.

Jacksonville drug crimes can either be charged in state court or in federal court, depending on the circumstances. The two systems are similar, but different in that they calculate the possible penalties differently.

In state court, a defendant can be punished based on the maximum possible sentence for that charge. For third-degree felonies, the max sentence is five years; 15 for second-degree felonies and 30 to life for first-degree felonies. Judges have discretion whether to sentence someone consecutively — meaning the prison sentences are piled one after the other — or concurrently, meaning all the charges are served together.

In the federal system, there are maximum penalties based on the charge, but pre-trial officers calculate the possible prison sentence based not only on the crime, but damage done, including injury, financial damage done and the defendant’s criminal history.

That’s why you’ll often see “career criminals” go through the state system several times and then federal prosecutors seek to charge them in federal court because they are penalized more severely after picking up several convictions.

In this case, the defendant was suspected of buying cocaine, heroin and marijuana in Chicago and selling it in nearby smaller cities. An informant told officers the defendant bought and sold large amounts of the drugs and investigators followed his movements, catching him making what appeared to be a drug deal on videotape.

After a search warrant, officers found large amounts of drugs and a gun and ammunition in a house he frequented.

Just before trial, the man’s attorney sought a continuance because he said he had problems viewing the DVD and the defendant hadn’t watched it. Once he did, he requested a motion to suppress, saying the DVD and search warrant didn’t match. But while he got the continuance, the attorney waited more than two months to file the motion, even after the judge warned him that the deadline to file a motion to suppress had already gone by.

The judge denied the motion, based on the fact that the deadline for motions to suppress had passed and the attorney never requested an extension of time. The attorney admitted to botching the situation and used personal and professional excuses for not filing the correct paperwork. Yet, the judge denied the motion based on the deadline situation.

The defendant then entered a guilty plea, without reserving the right to appeal the motion to suppress denial. On appeal, he challenged the judge’s decision, yet an appeals court agreed with the judge and wouldn’t overlook the defendant’s unconditional plea and dismissed the appeal.

While many trial attorneys focus solely on that area of law, they must have enough knowledge in appellate law not to do such a thing to a defendant. Missing deadlines and then not preserving issues for appeal is tantamount to leaving a person in a raft with no paddle on a raging river.

So, while an appeal issue comes up only upon conviction, it really is critical that the lawyer for the defendant be knowledgeable in appeals issues in order to make sure the defendant has options, if needed, in the future.


The Forbess Law Firm has been aiding clients who face criminal charges in Jacksonville for more than a decade and is here to provide aggressive criminal defense to anyone accused of a crime. If you or a loved one require a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer, contact our firm today. We are available through our website or by calling us at 904-634-0900.

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