Thanksgiving week often marks the beginning of holiday shopping for many people. While Black Friday was traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year, it seems that people are taking to the stores (both online and off) earlier every year. Why wait until the day after Thanksgiving, when merchants are offering great buys earlier? At Grabel & Associates, we have a few tips to help ensure your shopping adventures are safe, and hopefully enjoyable. 15104215_s (2)

While you may be cheery and filled with the holiday spirit, would-be thieves are anxiously awaiting their chance to catch you off guard. When shopping in brick-and-mortar stores (offline), keep these tips in mind:

Shop in pairs; this makes you a more difficult target for thieves.

Try to take care of the majority of your shopping during daylight hours. Most thieves prefer to catch someone in the parking lot after dark.

Many non-profit organizations have people who ring bells and ask for donations, but be highly aware when anyone approaches you. Lots of con artists are slick and use a variety of tactics to trick – and rob – innocent victims.

Put your packages in your trunk, out of sight. A back seat packed full of shopping bags and boxes is just an invitation for burglars.

Leave the cash you don’t need at home. Bring only what you’ll need to make your purchases. In addition, leave any flashy or expensive looking jewelry at home. Thieves often target people who appear to have substantial financial resources.

If possible, leave your wallet or purse at home, and pay by credit card/check when you can.

Always pay close attention to your surroundings; being alert is the most important thing you can do to avoid becoming a victim.

Plan to shop online? You could be a victim as well. Below are a few safety tips for those who plan to do most of their shopping online this holiday season.

First of all, only shop at secure, trusted websites. Merchants who offer legitimate, safe shopping on the Internet will have a URL address in your browser that usually begins with https, instead of http. In addition, many secure websites show a padlock icon in your web browser. This simply means that all purchases made on the website are secure.

Unsecured networks put your information at risk. Many wi-fi hotspots are unsecured networks. If a password is not required to connect, do not give out any credit card, banking, or other personal information. Others who are on the network may be able to see your information.

Make sure your smartphone, tablet, or other device is “clean.” This simply means your security software, apps, operating system, etc. should be up-to-date.

Avoid clicking on suspicious links or opening questionable emails. Cyber criminals are smart; they use many tactics to gain access to shoppers’ information, so if anything at all looks suspicious, avoid it like the plague.

Keep a paper trail of your online purchases. Confirmation numbers, email correspondence with vendors, online receipts, credit card statements – all of these things can help if you are taken advantage of by a cyber criminal. Carefully review credit card and bank statements so that if anything is suspect, you can contact the company/bank immediately.

Holiday shopping can be fun and safe, but it’s important to be on your toes at all times, whether you shop online or off. The staff at Grabel & Associates wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving and safe holiday shopping season!

Recently, an Oceana County circuit court judge suspended a defendant’s driver’s license after the defendant brought an English interpreter to court in a case involving cocaine possession. Juan Leonel Estrada, a 44-year-old Hart resident, brought the interpreter to court, a move Judge Terrence R. Thomas felt wasted the court’s resources. Thomas said that Estrada was “playing a game” with him, and that he did not feel Estrada needed an interpreter. winter-road-1130317-m

Estrada was ready to plead guilty to charges of cocaine possession in exchange for a maximum of 30 days in jail, however the judge rejected the defendant’s plea because he believed the defendant had misused the process of the court and its resources. He set the case for trial, and told the defendant that he would be the one paying for a translator at trial. The judge said that between now and the trial date, Estrada might learn English. The judge believed that Estrada could speak English fairly fluently, and asked him how he got a Michigan driver’s license if he couldn’t speak English. He suspended Estrada’s driver’s license, saying that it would remain suspended until the defendant could understand English and be safe on the road.

Estrada’s lawyer said that while his client is fairly fluent in English, he wanted an interpreter because he did not understand legal language and was nervous. He went on to say that the legal vocabulary is different from the English vocabulary, to which the judge replied, “It is for everybody.”

While this is certainly outside of the “norm” in regards to why individuals get their driver’s licenses suspended, Estrada will no doubt face extreme hardship until he does have his privilege to drive restored.

In most cases, people lose their privilege to drive because of DUI, drug offenses, reckless driving, or multiple traffic infractions. Depending on whether an individual has been convicted of a first DUI offense or is a repeat offender, his or her driver’s license may be suspended for a specific period, or revoked for many years, even life.

Living life without the privilege to drive is almost impossible, as those whose licenses have been suspended or revoked know all too well. We take driving for granted, never giving it a second thought until we can no longer jump in the car and go. If your driver’s license has been suspended or revoked for any reason, speak with an experienced Michigan driver’s license reinstatement attorney who is highly successful in having clients’ driving privileges restored.

Arthur L. Williams, a 25-year-old man charged with assault with intent to murder in a gas station shooting in September, is no longer facing charges after the alleged victim recanted the shooter’s ID, according to a news article at Mlive.com. iStock_2709890

On September 6, a shooting occurred at a Speedway gas station in Buena Vista Township. At approximately 2 in the morning, a fight took place in the parking lot near the gas pumps which resulted in the victim being shot. Buena Vista Police Detective Sgt. Greg Klecker said that upon reviewing surveillance video of the altercation, detectives saw a group of men engage in a fight after several men and women arrived in the parking lot in separate vehicles. One of the men pulled away from the crowd before firing at the victim, who fell and then got up, ran away, and eventually sought medical treatment. The suspect in the shooting fled on foot, according to Klecker.

At his preliminary hearing on November 4, the victim recanted the identification of Williams as the shooter. Others who were involved in the fight would not cooperate with investigators, so the prosecutor’s office decided to drop the charges against Williams, according to Chief Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Boyd. Williams remains behind bars on a charge related to the case after he fled from police on foot as they attempted to capture him about one month after the shooting. He is charged with felony resisting and obstructing a police officer.

Had Williams gone to trial on the assault with intent to murder charge, he may have faced up to life in prison had he been convicted. Now, he will face trial for the resisting and obstructing charge, however a trial date had not been set at the time of this report.

Michigan criminal defense attorneys know that there are many situations in which someone may be accused of a crime he or she did not commit. Why did the victim in this incident recant the identification of the shooter? Defendants are often the victims of mistaken identity. Regardless of the circumstances, anyone who is accused of a crime, no matter how minor or serious the offense may be, should work with a skilled defense lawyer whose goal is to have charges dropped, reduced, or secure an acquittal should the case go to trial. It is critical that you take action to protect your legal rights, freedom, and future.

In April of this year, 50-year-old Clifford McNeal was convicted of third-degree theft in connection with a string of burglaries in 2011 involving the theft of large construction tools and equipment from three construction companies, one owned by Ken and Lisa Steck, Christner Construction, and Batten and Shaw, Inc. shutterstock_33503131

McNeal appealed his conviction claiming that the search warrant that resulted in his conviction was not supported by probable cause. Two other men, John Wey and Michael Jones, were co-conspirators in the case. According to a news article at the Ottumwa Evening Post, Wey and Jones frequently broke into buildings to steal equipment and tools to sell. After being reported by David E. Downen of Downen Construction as one of the burglars, Jones told investigators in an interview that he and Wey frequently broke into buildings and stole tools and equipment to sell in order to support their drug addictions. Wey allegedly sold most of the stolen property to Cliff McNeal, who allegedly knew that the property was stolen.

McNeal allegedly stored the stolen construction tools and equipment in an enclosed trailer according to Jones, who said that McNeal had recently moved the trailer outside of town to a rural location. Police obtained a search warrant, however Jones admitted he did not know where the trailer actually was. Police did locate the trailer, however McNeal’s attorney challenged the search warrant, claiming it did not meet state law and U.S. Constitutional requirements regarding protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. McNeal was found guilty after the district court rejected the argument, however the appeals court reached a different conclusion.

The Iowa Court of Appeals found that the tip from Jones was not a sufficient basis for obtaining the search warrant, as it contained no suggestion that the trailer was used to hide stolen property. McNeal’s conviction was overturned, however he will now face a new trial in district court.

Michigan criminal appeals attorneys know there are numerous grounds for appealing a conviction or sentence, whether a search warrant was obtained without probable cause, certain evidence should have been suppressed, witness testimony was allowed that should not have been, or errors were made in the criminal justice process by police, prosecutors, or others. There are individuals who sit in jail/prison cells today who are innocent of the crimes they have been convicted of.

Anyone who feels he/she has been wrongly convicted should consult with an experienced and capable Michigan criminal appeals lawyer who is highly skilled and familiar with the appeals process, and what is required for the best chance of winning.

On Friday morning November 14, a deadly accident on US 84/285 in Santa Fe took the life of 40-year-old Celeste Maestas. Investigators weren’t certain at first who caused the crash, however they suspected 59-year-old Jimmy Griego, whose vehicle was found pulled off on exit 177. Griego allegedly left his SUV and walked to a nearby casino, according to eyewitnesses. Griego has pleaded guilty to DWI on four occasions since 1985, according to news reports at KRQE News 13. bottles-02-300370-m

The crash occurred around 10:30 a.m., when police received reports of a Ford Explorer driving in a reckless manner and almost hitting other motorists. It was just minutes later when a crash involving two vehicles happened near the Buffalo Thunder Casino. Celeste Maestas lost control of her Chevy Impala and collided with another vehicle after she crossed into the southbound lane. She died at the scene.

At the time, police were uncertain of whether Griego was involved, however he was arrested and charged with felony DWI. His license had also been revoked. Days later, deputies learned that Maestas swerved to avoid hitting Griego on Friday, as he was driving recklessly. Her attempt to avoid Griego’s vehicle resulted in her crashing into another car before her own vehicle slammed into a concrete barrier. Griego now faces charges of vehicular homicide in addition to DWI.

In the state of Michigan, vehicular manslaughter is not a charge all motorists face when a fatal accident occurs due to poor judgment, however it is a common charge when a victim dies in an accident because another motorist was drunk or otherwise impaired, or driving in a reckless manner. The criminal penalties for those convicted of vehicular manslaughter vary depending on the offender’s criminal history and other factors. Regardless, the punishment is severe and may include fines of up to $20,000 and/or a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Every DUI arrest is serious, even when it is a first offense. In cases where a defendant is simply arrested for driving under the influence, a conviction will result in possible jail time, steep fines, driver’s license suspension, a criminal record, community service, and more. No matter how minor the situation may seem, DUI is a serious matter that can affect your freedom, career, and future. Fight charges of driving under the influence by hiring an aggressive Michigan DUI defense lawyer.

Recently, a Marshfield, WI woman was arrested for allegedly using drugs in her hospital room the day after giving birth, according to a news article at WAOW ABC 9. 34-year-old Reva Martinez gave birth at St. Joseph’s Hospital, where the Marshfield police chief said employees smelled a burning odor coming from one of the labor and delivery rooms. ambulance-1334534-m

According to Police Chief Rick Gramza, the infant was in the room when police discovered the burnt smell was oxycodone. Martinez is accused of having drugs in her room, along with spoons containing white residue, syringes, and other drug paraphernalia. Others in the room at the time of the discovery included the baby’s father and his friend, however police were not certain whether they were also using drugs.

Hospital employees were concerned about the potential danger to the baby, who was placed under protective custody by DHS (Department of Human Services). The infant was still in the hospital on Monday. At the time of news reports, no charges had been filed against Martinez, however police are urging prosecutors to charge her with neglecting a child, possession of narcotic drugs, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Possessing narcotic drugs that have not been prescribed to an individual by his/her physician is a serious criminal offense. Today, many people abuse oxycodone, morphine, and other narcotic drugs often given for pain. These medications are highly addictive, which is why they are listed as Schedule II drugs by the CSA, or Controlled Substances Act.

As experienced Michigan drug crime attorneys, we know that those found guilty of illegally possessing oxycodone face serious criminal penalties. The possession of less than 50 grams of oxycodone will leave those convicted facing a maximum of four years in prison, and/or fines of up to $25,000. While the news article did not indicate how much oxycodone was found, the amount of drug in a person’s possession is often a factor in the punishment he or she will face.

If you have been arrested for possession of narcotics or any offense involving illegal drugs or substances, consult with a qualified Michigan drug crime defense lawyer immediately in order to protect your legal rights and freedom.

On Friday evening November 14, 26-year-old Jakita Brown was arrested following an accident in Terre Haute in which she rear-ended a pickup truck. According to the Indy Star, three children were riding in Brown’s vehicle when the accident occurred. Police suspected her of driving drunk, and took Brown to the Vigo County Jail. beer-on-ice-174675-m

Brown was driving a 2004 Hyundai SUV when she struck a GMC pickup stopped at a red light, according to preliminary investigations. The force of the impact resulted in the pickup truck being forced onto U.S. 41, however no injuries were reported.

The trooper who arrested Brown noticed signs of intoxication and an odor of alcohol. A breath test also indicated Brown’s BAC to be .248, more than three times the legal limit in Indiana of .08. Brown’s three children who were in the vehicle at the time of the accident include a one-month old, a 5 year old, and a 7 year old. She faces preliminary charges of three counts of neglect of a dependant, three counts of operating while intoxicated-endangerment, operating while intoxicated with a passenger under 18, driving without a valid driver’s license, and other traffic infractions.

The children were checked by emergency medical personnel at the scene of the accident before being released to the custody of their father.

Driving while under the influence of alcohol is a serious crime in every state today. While the penalties may include jail time, fines, driver’s license suspension, community service, and other punishment depending on whether it is a first, second, or subsequent offense, putting children’s lives in danger makes the situation far more serious.

Anyone who is suspected of driving under the influence should consult with an aggressive and capable Michigan DUI defense attorney before answering police questions. Even if you were not involved in an accident and have no passengers in the vehicle with you, the consequences are serious. You have legal rights that must be protected. Invoke your right to remain silent, refuse roadside breath tests, and contact a lawyer immediately.

Motorists across the U.S. are arrested every day for driving on a suspended driver’s license. As experienced Michigan driver’s license reinstatement attorneys, we understand there are emergency situations in which you feel you have no choice but to drive. However, many people whose licenses have been suspended get back behind the wheel when there is no emergency. This is not a good idea, for a number of reasons. freeway-6663-m

A driver’s license may be suspended due to DUI, failure to pay child support, a drug conviction, or even multiple traffic infractions/tickets. Regardless of why your license was suspended, you should avoid driving until your driving privilege has been restored. You may be thinking, “But I won’t get caught.” That is what most people whose licenses have been suspended thought, before they were arrested for driving on a suspended license. When you take the risk and drive without a license, you have to remember that you are not the only one in control of your situation – other motorists are out there, too, and you cannot control their actions.

Think of all of the possible scenarios if you were to get out and drive illegally. You could be pulled over for something you aren’t even aware of, such as the fact that a turn signal or brake light isn’t working. If your vehicle should break down and you pull to the side of the road or interstate, a police officer could possibly pull over to help – and find that your license has been suspended.

While the above situations may be unlikely, it could happen. More likely is that you swerve just a little while texting on your cell phone (which is also against the law), and get pulled over. Or, another motorist could rear end you at a stoplight, or back into your vehicle in a parking lot. There are countless things that could happen, and if any one of them do, you will find yourself facing an even longer suspension period.

The fact is, driving on a suspended or revoked license in Michigan is a criminal offense. This means that you could face penalties that include fines of up to $500 and possible jail time. These penalties apply to first-time offenders; repeat offenders face penalties that are even harsher.

Don’t take the chance. If your license has been suspended, discuss your situation with a highly skilled Michigan driver’s license restoration attorney who will help you get back behind the wheel – legally.

Michigan DUI defense attorneys know that anyone can be arrested for drunk driving, regardless of whether an individual is a celebrity, doctor, attorney, factory worker, or CEO of a large corporation. Recently, two people who many are familiar with from television have been arrested for DUI. winery-2-774816-m

Delvin Choice, a contestant on the reality TV show “The Voice” who made it into the top eight last season, was arrested on Saturday morning in South Carolina for DUI. Choice was pulled over by highway patrol and taken to county jail. According to news reports, it was his first DUI offense. He was released later the same morning.

Others who watch the show “Cake Boss” on TLC are probably familiar with Buddy Valastro, star of the show. Valastro was arrested early Thursday morning, November 13, after police noticed a yellow Corvette driving erratically. According to TMZ, Valastro was in Manhattan when police noticed him “weaving” on 10th Ave. Upon pulling him over, police claimed to smell a strong odor of alcohol. He also allegedly failed several field sobriety tests, and was taken to jail. News reports do not indicate whether it was Valastro’s first DUI offense.

No one expects to be pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence, particularly when they have had only a drink or two – but it happens every day. With the holidays just around the corner, it is likely there will be even more arrests as people attend holiday parties and other festivities. Drinking is part of our culture, a way to relax and have a good time with others, or unwind after a stressful day at work. Unfortunately, if you are caught operating a vehicle while under the influence, you could face fines, jail time, a permanent criminal record, driver’s license suspension, and more.

It is also important to note that you do not have to have a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of more than the legal limit of .08% to be arrested for a drunk driving offense. In Michigan, an individual may be arrested for OWVI, or Operating While Visibly Impaired, regardless of the results of breath/blood tests. This charge is based purely on the opinion of the police officer, who may feel that an individual is obviously impaired and unable to safely operate a vehicle. While not as serious a charge as DUI, it is still important to fight the charge in order to protect your reputation and career.

Regardless of the offense you have been charged with, consult with a capable Michigan DUI defense lawyer who will review the facts of your case and work with you to determine the best way to proceed so that the damage to your life is minimized. Ultimately, the best outcome is to have charged dismissed, however there are other options when this is not possible.

On Wednesday November 5, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals sent the murder case of Alfred Dewayne Brown, a man convicted in the 2003 death of a veteran Houston Police Officer, back to the lower court for a new trial. Brown allegedly shot Charles R. Clark during the course of a burglary at a check-cashing store. Now, Brown’s 2005 conviction and death sentence have been thrown out by the appeals court because of new evidence that has come to light, evidence that was allegedly withheld by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. A Student’s Guide to the Law of the Land and The Supreme Court Pic

Devon Anderson, District Attorney in the case against Brown, said in a statement that their office discovered that material information was not provided to the defense at trial. Their office agreed that the defendant should receive relief in order for justice to be served, however she did not reveal whether the state would try Brown again for the murder, or dismiss the case.

Brown has always insisted that he was not at the check-cashing store when the officer was shot, that he was at his girlfriend’s apartment. While his defense lawyers did not present evidence to support his claim, Brown said that he had made a landline call that could prove his innocence. Brown appealed his conviction once and lost, however a private law firm took over in 2007 and began a search for evidence that would support their client’s alibi.

Last year, a Houston homicide detective was cleaning out his garage when he discovered a box of old documents from Brown’s case. In looking through its contents, the detective found a phone record that supported Brown’s claim that he had made a land line call from his girlfriend’s apartment.

Michigan criminal appeals attorneys know that it is rare that a murder conviction and sentence are thrown out by an appeals court, however in this case it is evident that errors have been made which could have affected the outcome of the case.

Those who have been wrongly convicted or who feel that mistakes were made such as the exclusion of vital evidence will want to consider an appeal. Appeals court judges review all of the details of a case in an effort to determine if the defendant’s rights may have been violated, or errors made by anyone in the judicial system (attorneys, judges, even jurors). If you have been convicted of a crime, it does not mean you have no more options. Consult with an experienced and capable Michigan criminal appeals lawyer who can help determine if you may have grounds to appeal your conviction and/or sentence.