Homeless veterans deserve a place in the American dream

By:  Caryn S. Fennell

Managing Attorney Caryn S. Fennell, P.C.

A Family Law Firm in North Metro Atlanta


As a family law attorney I see more discord among American Families than anyone should have to witness.  Divorce, alimony, child support, custody, IRA’s, tea pots and coffee pots become the center of every controversy and before long, people who you never thought would engage in petulant arguments over things and money are suddenly deep in the throws of vicious fights over the most mundane of things all because sometimes being right is more important than doing the right thing.  For some, fighting over their share of the pie is about equality and being treated fairly as a stay at home spouse and to those people it is important that they have enough to restart their lives.  For others, it is about greed and punishing the other party for years of ill will and anger.  Sometimes I travel to the Fulton County courthouse to wage these wars on behalf of a deserving client who seeks equitable treatment from their soon to be ex, or their children’s parent from whom they seek custody.  I invariably I have to walk past rows of homeless people camped on the sidewalks completely disheveled and disconnected from society that passes them by each day.  I frequently wonder to myself where their parents are and who if anyone is looking for their lost brothers and sisters.  I wonder if anyone fought as hard for them as my client is about to fight for themselves or their children.  I wonder if they are veterans who have become a part of the lost world filled with thousands of others just like them and empty of even one government representative who cares.  Sometimes being a family law attorney brings home the truth that our society has lost its decency, particularly when it comes to the homeless, and even more so when they are our veterans.   Today, as a prior military member, I salute all veterans who served this country, and I support all organizations that seek to make a difference in the lives of those veterans who are homeless or on the verge of becoming homeless.  

The following excerpt was taken from:

http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/24/opinions/cole-homeless-veterans/index.html, Homeless veterans deserve a place in the American dream – CNN.com.  and was written by Maria Cuomo Cole.  None of the following is the product of Caryn S. Fennell or thegeoorgialawreport.com and was only fed through this page to provide heightened exposure to the issues written by Ms. Cole.  


Homeless Veterans Deserve a Place in the American Dream – cnn.com

“EDITORS NOTE:  Maria Cuomo Cole is chairman of HELP USA, a nonprofit organization providing housing and supportive services for the homeless, veterans, and victims of domestic violence. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)Karlene S. is a 35-year-old Army veteran who served as part of the post-9/11 war against terrorism. A single parent, she has three children, the youngest two diagnosed with ADHD and other ongoing special needs. She herself has health issues, including hypertension and depression. While she has tried to provide for her family by working at Target, she still cannot afford her rent.

Mr. Murray is a 50-year-old single veteran. He was in Beirut when the military barracks were bombed in 1983 and 241 military personnel lost their lives. When the bombing took place, he was on duty and was close to the barracks, but did not suffer physical injuries. Upon his discharge, he worked for many years in construction until the economic crash in 2008, when he lost his business and savings.

Maria Cuomo Cole

Deborah D. is a 47-year-old veteran who was a victim of sexual assault in the military. The single mother of two children, she strives to overcome the pain while making a respectable and successful life for herself and her family.

Karlene, Mr. Murray, and Deborah are among some50,000 veterans who are homeless, or 1.4 million who are considered at risk of homelessness on any given day, due to poverty, lack of support networks, and marginal living conditions in substandard housing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

They, and all those who put on the uniforms of our nation’s armed services, sacrifice so much to defend the freedoms that we all enjoy and take for granted. Far too many, however, come home unable to defend themselves from the ravages of combat.

The U.S. Census Bureau counts 3.6 million veterans with a service-related disability. A significant percentage are victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. It is estimated that at least 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and 30% of Vietnam war veterans suffer from these issues.

These veterans also have alarmingly high rates of depression, unemployment, divorce, substance abuse and other problems, making them all the more vulnerable to homelessness. Female veterans, in particular, are confronted with additional problems, including family reunification issues.

Yet, there is a lack of tailored programs for the growing percentage of female homeless veterans. More than 280,000 women have served in active duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and the surrounding areas, which is more than seven times the number of women who served in the Gulf War and almost 26 times the number of women who served in Vietnam.

According to HUD, nearly 10% of homeless veterans are female, and that number is expected to rise as more women serve and then return home from their deployment. Many of these women are single parents of young children — the Department of Defense reported in 2010 that 30,000 females who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan were single mothers — and the Department of Veterans Affairs found that about 20% of female Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are victims of military sexual assault.

Providing shelter to our female — and male — veterans is not enough; it is simply one step. The transition from soldier to civilian is often the most difficult part of a veteran’s life. Yet the hardships of going from combat to job application, mortgage payments and working a typical 9-to-5 job, far too often are after-thoughts on the post-military agenda. It is no wonder that long after their active tours, many veterans continue to fight to reclaim their health and well-being.

The Obama administration and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) collaborated five years ago on a grand proposal to end homelessness among the military veteran population by 2015. Since that time, substantial funding has been allocated, and programs have been established in partnership with the VA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and non-government organizations across the country toward achieving this ambitious goal. Just last year, first lady Michelle Obama stepped up the charge even further by establishing the Mayor’s Challenge, galvanizing local and state officials, non-profits, foundations and other community partners in order to increase and maximize their capacity to combat the problem.

These efforts have had a profound impact: Veteran homelessness has decreased by 33% since 2010, according to HUD. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio reported recently that the city has already achieved reductions of 75% since 2012 and is on track to fully ending veteran homelessness by the end of the year. To do so, New York is set to receive another $4 million as part of a new federal allocation of $65 million in funding aimed specifically at rental assistance and associated clinical services for veterans at risk of becoming homeless.

While admirable, and certainly newsworthy, the primary objective cannot simply be about ensuring that “every veteran who has fought for America has a home in America,” as President Obama has stressed. The real issue is about providing a place in America for every veteran who has served her.

To help do so, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald announced earlier this year nearly $93 million in Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grants to community-based organizations across the country. The SSVF program has been instrumental in ensuring that veterans in marginal housing conditions and those who have slipped through the safety net can be spared homelessness through innovative prevention programs.

HELP USA, the organization I am privileged to chair, has housing developments with essential SSVF-supported services for veterans in six cities, including specialized family therapeutic counseling targeted to female veterans addressing issues of family reunification they need so badly. Today, the organization is the single largest provider of homelessness services and rapid re-housing in New York City, and has achieved encouraging outcomes from prevention interventions including rental assistance, employment, and access to health care, child care and mental health services.

What we and others who have been committed to solving veterans’ homelessness have found is that an integrated and holistic model of housing, counseling, employment and family services helps create a sense of pride and dignity that can only come from independence and stability. This investment of financial and human resources has ensured that more than 80% of veterans and families in our program remain in stable housing for at least a year after they receive assistance.

On Memorial Day, we must make our own “investment.” We must start by remembering that homeless and at-risk veterans need more than just shelter. We must give them the tools to empower themselves and reclaim the self-worth and dignity which comes from occupying a place in the American dream. It is a dream they fought so hard to defend for the rest of us.

The FBI admits flaws – AGAIN

By:  Caryn Fennell

Managing Attorney Caryn S. Fennell, P.C.

A Family Law Firm in North Metro Atlanta.

The FBI admits flaws – AGAIN!  When will they get it right?  The following story is reposted from The Washington Post from author Spencer S. Hsu on April 18, 2015.  Spencer S. Hsu is an investigative reporter, two-time Pulitzer finalist and national Emmy award nominee.  In my opinion, this story speaks for itself, and needs very little commentary from little ole’ me.   However, for effect, I will add that when I was in the 9th grade, my American Government teacher, Mr. Shaw, told the class that only three percent (3%) of the population in American prisons were comprised of the truly innocent.  Of course, this was before DNA, and all other forensic developments, yet I still found his statistic nearly impossible to believe.  I remember troubling over his commentary for years, because I lived in Florida and I simply could not embrace the idea that in a country not far removed from the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the seething vitriol emanating from the South, that only three percent of our American citizens were wrongly imprisoned.  It seemed a naïve proclamation from such an astute professor.  Within time, my suspicions proved true as technology exonerated thousands of innocents.  However, in a country where sometimes the need to win supersedes common sense and morality, we still find corruption running rampant in our justice system.   Do these people ever think to themselves, “how many others shall be harmed by the real perpetrator after I succeed in incarcerating the wrong person for a crime they did not commit?”  Twenty-six of twenty-eight analysts or ninety-five percent (95%) of these FBI agents not only got it wrong, but intentionally failed to get it right. 

FBI Building


”By Spencer S. Hsu April 18 

The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers  (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.

The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.

The FBI errors alone do not mean there was not other evidence of a convict’s guilt. Defendants and federal and state prosecutors in 46 states and the District are being notified to determine whether there are grounds for appeals. Four defendants were previously exonerated.

The admissions mark a watershed in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals, highlighting the failure of the nation’s courts for decades to keep bogus scientific information from juries, legal analysts said. The question now, they said, is how state authorities and the courts will respond to findings that confirm long-suspected problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques — like hair and bite-mark comparisons — that have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than one-quarter of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989.

In a statement, the FBI and Justice Department vowed to continue to devote resources to address all cases and said they “are committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance. The Department and the FBI are also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis testimony, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science.”

Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, commended the FBI and department for the collaboration but said, “The FBI’s three-decade use of microscopic hair analysis to incriminate defendants was a complete disaster.”

“We need an exhaustive investigation that looks at how the FBI, state governments that relied on examiners trained by the FBI and the courts allowed this to happen and why it wasn’t stopped much sooner,” Neufeld said.

Norman L. Reimer, the NACDL’s executive director, said, “Hopefully, this project establishes a precedent so that in future situations it will not take years to remediate the injustice.”

While unnamed federal officials previously acknowledged widespreadproblems, the FBI until now has withheld comment because findings might not be representative.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a former prosecutor, called on the FBI and Justice Department to notify defendants in all 2,500 targeted cases involving an FBI hair match about the problem even if their case has not been completed, and to redouble efforts in the three-year-old review to retrieve information on each case.

“These findings are appalling and chilling in their indictment of our criminal justice system, not only for potentially innocent defendants who have been wrongly imprisoned and even executed, but for prosecutors who have relied on fabricated and false evidence despite their intentions to faithfully enforce the law,” Blumenthal said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), urged the bureau to conduct “a root-cause analysis” to prevent future breakdowns.

“It is critical that the Bureau identify and address the systemic factors that allowed this far-reaching problem to occur and continue for more than a decade,” the lawmakers wrote FBI Director James B. Comey on March 27, as findings were being finalized.

The FBI is waiting to complete all reviews to assess causes but has acknowledged that hair examiners until 2012 lacked written standards defining scientifically appropriate and erroneous ways to explain results in court. The bureau expects this year to complete similar standards for testimony and lab reports for 19 forensic disciplines.

Federal authorities launched the investigation in 2012 after The Washington Post reported that flawed forensic hair matches might have led to the convictions of hundreds of potentially innocent people since at least the 1970s, typically for murder, rape and other violent crimes nationwide.

The review confirmed that FBI experts systematically testified to the near-certainty of “matches” of crime-scene hairs to defendants, backing their claims by citing incomplete or misleading statistics drawn from their case work.

In reality, there is no accepted research on how often hair from different people may appear the same. Since 2000, the lab has used visual hair comparison to rule out someone as a possible source of hair or in combination with more accurate DNA testing.

Warnings about the problem have been mounting. In 2002, the FBI reported that its own DNA testing found that examiners reported false hair matches more than 11 percent of the time. In the District, the only jurisdiction where defenders and prosecutors have re-investigated all FBI hair convictions, three of seven defendants whose trials included flawed FBI testimony have been exonerated through DNA testing since 2009, and courts have exonerated two more men. All five served 20 to 30 years in prison for rape or murder.

University of Virginia law professor Brandon L. Garrett said the results reveal a “mass disaster” inside the criminal justice system, one that it has been unable to self-correct because courts rely on outdated precedents admitting scientifically invalid testimony at trial and, under the legal doctrine of finality, make it difficult for convicts to challenge old evidence.

“The tools don’t exist to handle systematic errors in our criminal justice system,” Garrett said. “The FBI deserves every recognition for doing something really remarkable here. The problem is there may be few judges, prosecutors or defense lawyers who are able or willing to do anything about it.”

Federal authorities are offering new DNA testing in cases with errors, if sought by a judge or prosecutor, and agreeing to drop procedural objections to appeals in federal cases.

However, biological evidence in the cases often is lost or unavailable. Among states, only California and Texas specifically allow appeals when experts recant or scientific advances undermine forensic evidence at trial.

Defense attorneys say scientifically invalid forensic testimony should be considered as violations of due process, as courts have held with false or misleading testimony.

The FBI searched more than 21,000 federal and state requests to its hair comparison unit from 1972 through 1999, identifying for review roughly 2,500 cases where examiners declared hair matches.

Reviews of 342 defendants’ convictions were completed as of early March, the NACDL and Innocence Project reported. In addition to the 268 trials in which FBI hair evidence was used against defendants, the review found cases in which defendants pleaded guilty, FBI examiners did not testify, did not assert a match or gave exculpatory testimony.

When such cases are included, by the FBI’s count examiners made statements exceeding the limits of science in about 90 percent of testimonies, including 34 death-penalty cases.

The findings likely scratch the surface. The FBI said as of mid-April that reviews of about 350 trial testimonies and 900 lab reports are nearly complete, with about 1,200 cases remaining.

The bureau said it is difficult to check cases before 1985, when files were computerized. It has been unable to review 700 cases because police or prosecutors did not respond to requests for information.

Also, the same FBI examiners whose work is under review taught 500 to 1,000 state and local crime lab analysts to testify in the same ways.

Texas, New York and North Carolina authorities are reviewing their hair examiner cases, with ad hoc efforts underway in about 15 other states.”



Caryn Fennell – The Parent / Child Relationship

Change the World by Changing how we Parent our Children:  Parenting first, friendship second…. 

By:  Caryn Fennell

Managing Attorney Caryn S. Fennell, P.C.

A Family Law Firm in North Metro Atlanta.

This is unconscionable, but it is also the unfortunate result of modern day parenting where mothers and fathers are more  concerned with being friends to their children, than with being a parent.   As a Family Law attorney, far too often I see the entitlement theory squarely at work among the youth of America.  As I recall, this started twenty years ago when it was no longer acceptable to challenge children with lessons of respecting authority, losing gracefully, sportsmanship, hard work, appreciation, true accountability and frequent use of the words “thank” and “you.”  Instead, we are now culturally infused with the outcome of friend to child relationship instead of the parent to children relationship.  The parent to child culture embraces the paradigm where discipline and accountability is taboo and spoliation is en vogue.   We have created entitled youth and common courtesy evaporating as the generations evolve.  This shift from parent to friend has given us neighborhoods full of youth who genuinely believe they are the center of the universe and expect or demand the fruits of the labor, without the labor.  This parent shift has eroded the faith of community leaders, employers, school administrators and others who interact with these generations of youth.  Something has to change, starting with the parent / child relationship.

I was raised with a healthy fear for disrespecting my elders, and a wealth of appreciation.  Thoughts of dishonoring my family never entered my mind.  Hard work was without question and my expectations  for promotions, raises and advancement at work was commensurate with my effort and performance.   This was because my moms and my dad were laser focused on being my parents first and friends second.   I subscribe to the “traditional” values of child rearing, with clearly defined parent / child roles and responsibilities.  This has nothing to do with religion, politics or endorsing a “stay at home” parent philosophy.  It has to do with what works.  What works is a parent acting like a parent and expecting children to engage with them as respectful, honest, courteous and hard working youth.  What works is my parent’s child rearing program where they consistently provided love, courtesy, structure, discipline, consistency, respect, and accountability.  While we were given nothing except the necessaries, we wanted for nothing, most importantly, our “parents.” We earned our rewards and privileges, which is the gargantuan difference between being raised in the 70’s and 80’s versus in the 90’s and 2000’s.   We need a global parenting 180, with a focus on instilling a healthy respect for honesty, hard work, love, grace, courtesy and accountability.

If we want to change the world, we needs to change the way we parent the world.


Mom loses 5 kids over sex party with daughter’s friends:

Reposted from USA Today, Michael Winter, USA TODAY6:28 p.m. EDT April 16, 2015

“A 35-year-old Georgia mother has lost custody of her five children after being arrested for allegedly hosting a party for her teenage daughter and partaking of booze, pot, sex, a hot tub and naked Twister.

Rachel Lehnardt was charged with two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor for the party at her home in Evans, an Augusta suburb. She was arrested Monday after her new Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor alerted the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday following a meeting with Lehnardt, according to the investigation report.

The sponsor said Lehnardt, who is divorcing her husband, an Iraq war veteran, told her she had lost custody of the children — ages 4, 6, 8, 10 and 16 — at an emergency hearing April 6 after he learned about the recent party. The sheriff’s report did not indicate when it occurred.

The children were with their father one night when the 16-year-old daughter texted her mother to ask if she and some friends could come over “to party,” according to the sponsor’s account.

“Come on, let’s party,” Lehnardt replied.

The teens drank alcohol and smoked marijuana, Lehnardt said she joined them playing naked Twister, her sponsor told investigators. She then had sex in the bathroom with an 18-year-old boy, the report said.

The sponsor said Lenhardt later recounted waking up at 3:30 a.m. to discover her daughter’s 16-year-old boyfriend having sex with her.

He is not facing charges because “there is no evidence of rape” because Lehnardt “refuses to discuss the case,” Capt. Steve Morris told the New York Daily News.

Lehnardt, who works in an Augusta bridal shop, had been attending a sexual-addiction workshop at her local Mormon church, the sponsor added.

She was released after posting a $3,200 bond.”


Georgia mom of five Rachel Lehnardt was arrested after throwing a party for her teenage daughter at her house and allegedly having sex with an 18-year-old. Credit: Courtesy Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.




Undercover sting: FBI agents posed as Internet repair – CNN.com

Re posted by Caryn S. Fennell, P.C. from CNN.com


Undercover sting: FBI agents posed as Internet repair – CNN.com.

As a Criminal Defense Lawyer, all too often I see the protections of the Fourth Amendment go out the window in criminal investigations and prosecutions.  The Fourth Amendment is one of the cornerstones of our Constitution that should never be side stepped for any reason.  It protects every person on United States soil from illegal searches and seizures, such as those outlined in this article.  No matter how distasteful someone’s conduct, and no matter how unlawful or dangerous someone’s decisions, we are all supposed to be protected  from government actors who violate the Fourth Amendment to obtain an arrest.  While officers can lie to suspects to obtain information, they cannot gain access to someone’s home, including a temporary home in a hotel, by deceptive means and without a warrant, as doing so violates the protections of the Fourth Amendment.  These officers clearly had no grounds to properly obtain a warrant because they lacked the ability to state with specificity the nature of  the suspected acts and persons involved. so, instead of operating lawfully by refraining to access this hotel room until obtaining a valid warrant, the cheated and deceived their way inside so they could try to find evidence to support their hunch.  They were solely on a fishing expedition, which is unlawful.  

Most likely, the Supreme Court of the United States will weigh in on this case and I would be surprised if they find that the agent’s conduct was lawful.  Unfortunately, I could be wrong about how the Supreme Court will rule as the Fourth Amendment seems to carry less weight than at any time in our Country’s history.  Ironically, the Second Amendment receives more of a liberal interpretation than the Fourth Amendment, meaning we can own our weapons but cannot protect ourselves from unlawful conduct of our Law Enforcement Officers.   The more we side-step the Fourth Amendment, then the more cases like this will make it to the news.  Eventually, the pendulum must swing back to center and we, as citizens must insist that the protections of the Constitution must outweigh the law enforcement officer’s need for an arrest.  

Caryn S. Fennell 

Death row inmate freed after 9 years in Texas prison – CNN.com


Death row inmate freed after nine years in Texas prison

LINK:  Death row inmate freed after 9 years in Texas prison – CNN.com.

Credit to:

By Michael Martinez, CNN

updated 8:03 PM EDT, Wed October 8, 2014
Reposted by Caryn S. Fennell, Attorney at LAW:  [Someday we will properly advocate and litigate all criminal cases for the right reasons, not for self-satisfaction or public accolades.  The more we draw attention to the injustices then the more likely attorneys and their investigative teams will discern between persecution and prosecution.]
Manuel Velez, who the ACLU says is

Manuel Velez, who the ACLU says is “far from the only innocent person to receive a death sentence”


Velez’s initial court-appointed attorneys failed to discover that evidence, and “after his conviction, Manuel received the death penalty, largely because a state prison expert presented false testimony to persuade the jury that Manuel would pose a danger to society if given life without parole instead,” the ACLU said.(CNN) — An intellectually disabled construction worker was freed Wednesday after nine years in a Texas prison, including four of them on death row, after his initial conviction for murdering a year-old infant was overturned.  Manuel Velez, whose IQ is 65 and who is functionally illiterate in his native Spanish as well as English, was convicted in Brownsville in 2008 for murdering the year-old son of his then-girlfriend. But the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Velez in his appeal, said Velez was 1,000 miles away working construction in Tennessee when the child was injured.


On Wednesday, an ACLU attorney described Velez, now 49, as an innocent man who was put on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. “Manuel never belonged in prison, let alone on death row waiting to be executed. He is indisputably innocent,” Brian Stull of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Capital Punishment Project said in a statement. “My joy for him and his family today is tinged with sadness for the years our criminal justice system stole from him, all because he was too poor to afford better counsel than the lawyer the state appointed to him. “We should be ashamed of the errors that put Manuel on the brink of execution. He is far from the only innocent person to receive a death sentence,” Stull said. Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz called Stull’s statement “factually inaccurate and full of half-truths.”


“Nowhere near the child”

Attorneys for the ACLU contended that prosecutor’s medical expert’s records showed “clear proof that the head injuries the baby sustained occurred when Velez was nowhere near the child,” the ACLU said. During the trial, Velez’s court-appointed lawyer also failed to “discover and present the testimony of the many witnesses who said the girlfriend threw, hit, and dropped the baby and abused her children, while Manuel was never physically rough and always peaceful,” the ACLU said.

Velez’s attorney also “bungled his challenge to the typewritten statement that police persuaded Velez to sign, which said he had mistreated the child,” the ACLU said. In fact, Velez was unable to read the statement, written in English, as he is functionally illiterate in both English and Spanish, the ACLU said. Also, Velez’ primary language is Spanish, and he is a seventh-grade dropout, the ACLU said.


Child’s mother pleaded guilty

The child’s mother, Acela Moreno, also was indicted for intentionally or knowingly causing the death of her son, Angel, by striking the boy’s head with a hand or unknown object or against a hard surface in October 2005, according to court papers provided by the ACLU. Moreno accepted “a plea bargain offer” and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of intentionally or knowingly causing bodily injury to her son, and she was sentenced to 10 years in prison, the court papers said.

In exchange for the reduced charge, Moreno agreed to testify against Velez, but stated that Velez didn’t strike her son on the day he was rushed to the hospital, where the child died two days later, the documents said.  A jury convicted Velez of capital murder and sentenced him to death. An appeals court reversed the death sentence but affirmed the conviction in 2012, the court papers said. Saenz, the district attorney, said the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected all but one of the Velez legal team’s claims of 45 points of errors in the conviction. That one point of error was the testimony by A.P. Merillat, a prosecution expert on the death penalty.


‘Ineffective’ defense attorneys

Merillat, a former police officer, was condemned by Texas’ highest criminal court in 2012 for giving false testimony, the New York Times reported.  “In October 2008…Mr. Merillat testified that after 10 years of serving life without parole for Capital Murder, an inmate could gain a less restrictive classification from the Texas Department of Justice Institutional Division,” Saenz said in a statement.


“In September 2005, Texas Department of Justice Institutional Division changed its regulations and no longer allowed for a less restrictive classification for inmates serving life without the possibility of parole in Capital Murder cases. Based on that testimony, and based on that alone, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the punishment of Manuel Velez,” Saenz said. In 2013, Judge Elia Cornejo Lopez granted Velez a new trial “on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel because of the actions and conduct by both Hector Villarreal and O. Rene Flores,” the court papers said.  Villarreal was deceased at the time of the ruling, and Flores wasn’t immediately available for comment Wednesday.


Prosecutor’s response

The ACLU continued to criticize prosecutors Wednesday, saying that “after Velez’s conviction was overturned, and in the face of overwhelming evidence of his innocence, the State refused to dismiss the murder charge against him unless he took a plea,” the ACLU said.

Velez pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of injury to a child “rather than face a new trial that could be plagued by the same injustices that sent him to death row,” the ACLU said.

But in his statement Wednesday, Saenz pointed out that “at no point did any court, trial or appellate, or any jury make any finding that Mr. Velez was actually innocent of murdering Angel Moreno.

“In fact, every time the issue was brought up, it was found to be without merit. It was and continues to be the position of the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office that Manuel Velez did contribute to the death of Angel Moreno, and he was and is being punished for that crime,” Saenz said.


Forsyth deputy shot, suspect dead, courthouse evacuated | www.ajc.com

Authored by:  Caryn S. Fennell, Attorney at Law

This is where I work.  It is where I go to stand up for those people who cannot stand up for themselves.  It is where we gather to unravel the legal woes that cause people hurt and sadness or that relieve their hurt and sadness.  It should be a place where we feel safe when making the types of arguments that require us as lawyers to reveal the depth of someone’s abuse, corruption, deception, manipulation, harm or other bad conduct.  It is where we negotiate, mediate, contemplate and mitigate on behalf of our clients and where we strive to encourage others to lay down their emotions and anger in order to find the middle ground.  This should be a safe place for all who enter, whether clients, members of law enforcement, Officers of the Court, Court Administrators, Clerks, Janitors, Judges, prosecutors, defenders,  tourists, bystanders, witnesses, and any other person who walks the halls.   Those who come here may not always agree with the outcomes, but our Judicial system is one of the greatest in the world and it should never be disgraced with such vile conduct as that displayed today in Forsyth County.  Thank you to the currently unnamed Deputy who was alert enough to hear the chaos and confront a man with enough bombs and ammunition to cause very serious consequential damage.  The next time I walk in those doors I will be sure thank every officer in that building for having the courage and willingness to act with pure selflessness, and always for the greater good of those who walk through those doors.  Today I appreciate every Law Enforcement Officer as they all have very difficult and often thankless jobs.  

Forsyth County Courthouse

For more information follow the one of these links:

AJC:  Forsyth deputy shot, suspect dead, courthouse evacuated | www.ajc.com.

CNN:  www.cnn.com/2014/06/06/justice/georgia-courthouse-shooting/index.html?hpt=hp_t1






Are the Contents on my Phone a Private Matter?

Author:  Caryn S. Fennell

The United States Supreme Court heard arguments last month about whether law enforcement officers shall be permitted to search the contents of an arrestee’s cellphone incident to their arrest.  The questions before the Court shall set the boundaries of warrantless searches and test the true parameters of the United States Constitution, particularly the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees protection against illegal searches and seizures.  The issues of searching cell phone incident to arrest are have proponents and opponents on both sides of the political aisle.  SCOTUS’s decision will likely turn on whether a cell phone is similar to a wallet or purse, thus subject to a standard inventory search upon arrest, or if the cellphone is tantamount to a person’s home or personal computer, with heightened expectations of privacy for the extensive contents and information contained therein, thus first requiring a law enforcement officer to obtain a warrant before performing a search.  

United States v. Wurie, the police arrested the defendant after they saw him sell drugs. They searched his flip phone, finding a phone number identified as “home.” They used the number to find his residence, which they subsequently searched, finding drugs and a gun. In Riley v. California, the defendant was stopped for driving with expired tags. A search of the car turned up two guns, and the defendant was arrested. The police search his phone, finding photographs and call records that helped to link the defendant to a shooting. In both cases, the defendants argue that the cell phone searches violated the Fourth Amendment.

The Supreme Court has long held that law enforcement officers may search arrestees incident to their arrest without a warrant. This is permitted so that officers can prevent the destruction of evidence and uncover weapons, and the search authority extends to items within an arrestee’s immediate control.   See, e.g., Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752 (1969). The issue in the two cases before the court is whether cellular phones – and by extension, other portable electronic devices like tablets and laptops – may be searched pursuant to this rule, or whether they should be treated differently because they can contain mountains of personal information, far more than can be wedged into a wallet or a purse.

 The Court will likely render a decision before in August, 2014

Jury rules in favor of ex-ethics chief; awards $700,000 judgment | www.ajc.com

By Aaron Gould Sheinin , The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Stacey Kalberman was unfairly forced from office as retribution for investigating Gov. Nathan Deal’s 2010 campaign, a Fulton County jury ruled Friday.  The jury, after deliberating 2 1/2 hours ordered the state to pay the former ethics commission director $700,000.  Jurors began deliberations midday Friday.

See more here:  Jury rules in favor of ex-ethics chief; awards $700,000 judgment | www.ajc.com.



Georgia law goes after left-lane lingerers, we cheer – Autoblog


Georgia drivers are going to face a new law on the Peach State’s roads, as a bill aimed at left-lane hogs has received near unanimous approval in the state’s House of Representatives, passing 162 to nine.

The bill, colloquially called the “slow-poke” bill but officially known as House Bill 459, makes it a misdemeanor to hold up faster moving traffic by sitting in the inside lane of a freeway. Yes, a misdemeanor. The bill was introduced by Representative Bill Hitchens, a former state trooper.

Reposted from www.autoblog.com.

“My reason for doing this is more for an educational opportunity for people who don’t understand you’re not supposed to ride 55, 60 mph in that left lane when you’ve got 15, 16, 17 people lined up behind you,” Hitchens told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s website.

According to The Athens Banner-Herald, drivers spotted by police slowing up traffic could face ‘stiff penalties, with up to a $1,000 in fines and 12 months in prison. “I always say it’s the manners your momma should have taught you; if someone pulls up behind you, you move to the right and let them by,” Hitchens toldMyFox Atlanta.

The bill still needs to pass the state senate before it can be signed into law by the governor.

see the full story below.

Georgia law goes after left-lane lingerers, we cheer – Autoblog.

Student’s lawsuit against parents for support loses 1st round in court – CNN.com

Author:  Caryn S. Fennell, Attorney at Law:  Caryn S. Fennell & Associates

It is unbelievable what our family law courts have become.  And, the lawyers that lend such incredibility to our practice with these suits are a large part of the problem.  This adult’s suit  against her parents should have been dismissed  as it sets bad precedent.  This permits children to be unruly at home, truant at school, run away from home and then return to the cash well for financial support because they have not graduated high school.  This is a classic issue of children wanting to live like adults but not wanting to act like adults.  Parents should be allowed to emancipate children who leave home without substantiated allegations of harm  and deprivation first.


Student’s lawsuit against parents for support loses 1st round in court – CNN.com.

Felony Frankfurter Thief: A story that is only newsworthy because it is so ridiculous!

Author:  Caryn S. Fennell, Attorney at Law:  Caryn S. Fennell & Associates

Need I say more than I did in the the title?  When a man is charged with a felony, punishable by a year or more in prison for an offense for a $1.49 piece of meat.  He has a $4,000.00 bond, has likely cost the county $73.00 per day to house him, and has cost the County even more money to book and process him.  Of course he will probably need an attorney appointed to him on the County’s dime as he is likely indigent.  SCORE = $2,500.00 + to the county and $1.49 in restitution to the convenience store.


Read more: http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/Blog/2014/02/21/Indiana-man-faces-felony-theft-charge-for-allegedly-stealing-hot-dog/1001393017410/#ixzz2uB1r0RQ9






Affluenza Defense: Creative or Conniving?

Author:  Caryn S. Fennell, Attorney at Law:  Caryn S. Fennell & Associates

Just when we thought we heard it all comes the Affluenza Defense.  Some say this is creative, other say it is conniving.  I say it is an example of how money buys influence and results.  Obviously, only the uber wealthy are privileged enough to muster a creative defense as it is not exactly a fitting for the impoverished.  The real questions are whether this defense creative or conniving and does it prevent accountability or promote the proper administration of criminal justice?

“According to police, the defendant’s “blood-alcohol level was three times the Texas legal limit when his pickup slammed into a group of people who were helping a woman with a stalled car last June. The driver, Breanna Mitchell, and bystanders Brian Jennings, Hollie Boyes and daughter Shelby, were killed. Nine others were injured.”

See more about the 10 year probated sentence handed down this young man:



Fourth Amendment Overview: Protections Against Unlawful Search and Seizure

Author:  Caryn S. Fennell, Attorney at Law:  Caryn S. Fennell & Associates

Search and seizure is a process used by law enforcement to search a person or the confines of their property (automobile, residence, business, cell phone, etc.) in connection with a crime, and then confiscate all evidence in support of that particular crime.   The general rule of thumb in the United States is that a law enforcement office or their agents must obtain a warrant before engaging in a search or seizure, unless one of the many exceptions applies to the circumstances. 


Specifically, the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution provides that:

“it is the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”


Searches occur when an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy is breached.  Reasonable expectation of privacy can be subjective or objective.  A subjective expectation of privacy is based in the individual’s opinion about their privacy.  An objective expectation of privacy is based in what is generally recognized by society as being private.   The Fourth Amendment only applies where there an individual has a subjective expectation of privacy but there must also be an objective expectation as not all individuals have reasonable, subjective opinions about what should be considered as private.  Some examples of where the Fourth Amendment applies are residences, hotel rooms,  private sector businesses buildings, public restrooms, phone booths, etc.  However, it is important to note that there is no expectation of privacy where things are held out for public consumption or view, such as garbage left on the street, or marijuana growing in the front window of a home that can be easily viewed from the sidewalk or that is not only viewed by enhanced surveying equipment or in places considered “open fields” such as barns and other outbuildings.

Seizures occur when there is a reasonable interference with an individual’s rightful ownership interests in the property occurs.   Seizures can include a wide array of property, such as cell phones, bodily fluid, clothing, wallets, weapons, or other possessions not abandoned by the owner.


One myth about the Fourth Amendment is that law enforcement can never conduct a search without a warrant and if they do then the evidence obtained is inadmissible.  Another myth about the Fourth Amendment is that if incriminating evidence is obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, then the case against the defendant must be dismissed.


The truth about the Fourth Amendment is that searches and seizures may be conducted without a law enforcement officer first obtaining a warrant providing a valid exception to the warrant requirement applies.  Furthermore, even if an officer violates the Fourth Amendment, the evidence collected that is subject to the violation must be deemed “poisonous” by a Court of competent jurisdiction upon the motion of defendant or the defendant’s attorney.  If the Court deems the evidence poisoned, then all evidence that arose as a result of that illegal search and seizure shall also be suppressed.  This is the “fruit of the poisonous tree” theory.  However, just because evidence is suppressed does not mean the case shall be dismissed.  If the prosecutor can prove their case against a defendant without the evidence that was suppressed, then the case will likely proceed against the defendant under the alternate evidence.

If you feel your Fourth Amendment Rights were violated then seek legal counsel immediately to ensure your rights to challenge the evidence against you is preserved.



Contested Versus Uncontested Divorce: A General Overview

Author:  Caryn S. Fennell, Attorney at Law:  Caryn S. Fennell & Associates

In Georgia, there are two types of divorces, uncontested and contested. The main difference between the two is whether the parties are able to reach a Settlement Agreement resolving all issues related to the marriage, including Custody, Division of Debts and Assets, Alimony and Child Support.


In a truly uncontested divorce, the parties agree on all elements of the dissolution of the marriage and do not require a court to intervene. This agreement can come at any stage of the divorce process, including before the divorce litigation is filed.

More often, the parties do not reach an agreement until after litigation is filed and sometimes require mediation before they reach a full and complete agreement. Once the agreement is reached, then it is memorialized in a Settlement Agreement that is signed by the parties and filed with the Court. Once signed by the parties, the Settlement Agreement is fully enforceable and un-appealable unless under very extreme circumstances that shall not be reviewed in this Guide.

If the parties have minor children, then they must also file 1) Financial Affidavits, with supporting income documentation, 2) a Parenting Plan that is also signed by the parties, 3) a Child Support Worksheet that complies with the Georgia Guidelines for Child Support, 4) certificates of completion for of the Divorcing Parents Seminar, and; 5) if required by the venue, then the parties must also file a Child Support Addendum.

After the agreement is reached, the parties may ask the Court to grant them a final decree of divorce either through a hearing or by motion of the Court, depending on the preference of the Court. If the documents are in proper form, then the Court shall grant the decree of divorce. One of the major benefits of this strategy is cost. However, it is not unusual for even an uncontested divorce to be costly to the parties, but it is not nearly as expensive as full litigation and the expenses of trial.


Logically, the opposite of an uncontested divorce is a contested divorce. A divorce can be either fully contested or contested in part. A fully contested divorce is one where the parties are incapable of agreeing on anything without judicial intervention.  Divorces contested in part are those where the parties may settle certain aspects of the divorce, but the balance of issues are litigated through to trial and determined by a Judge or Jury.

Uncontested can be very costly, damaging and highly emotional due to the nature of the conflict between the parties. They usually take months, if not years to complete and result in neither party being truly happy with the outcome.  In the end, the Judge decides how to split up the assets, how much alimony is to be paid, if any, who shall have primary custody of the children and how legal custodial rights shall be shared, if at all. More often than not, most people who pursue a divorce all the way through to a trial are never pleased with the results, which makes the idea of an uncontested divorce a far more attractive option.


Any good attorney will advise their client to never settle on a deal that is patently unfair to their client.   However, if they are worth the retainer paid and are truly client-centered versus money-centered lawyers, the same attorney will never advise a client to litigate a case that can or should be settled prior to trial. The benefits of settlement or an uncontested divorce are immeasurable. They are best explained through a discussion of the consequences of contested divorces.

One main consequence is the harm to any children of the marriage. Children are often wedged between feuding parents and used as pawns to punish each other.  Even those parents who try to keep their children out of the middle of litigation do not fully succeed. Publicly airing each other’s dirty laundry, falsely accusing each other of misconduct, or fighting about the minutia can leave children scarred for life.  Another consequence, aside from the extraordinary costs of litigation, is that it is always a gamble to leave the decisions about custody, assets, and other matters to a Judge to decide.

More often than not, after months of years of fighting and thousands of dollars on legal expenses, neither party is happy with the decision of the Judge. Thus it is better to settle on your terms than to be forced to accept those of the Judge. There is no doubt that there are rare occasions when it is worth fighting over issues of a divorce. But is it best to choose those fights wisely, as more often than not, being right is not nearly as important as doing the right thing for everyone involved.

Author:  Caryn S. Fennell

Huge Win for Father’s Rights in Fulton County – $195,000 Attorney Fee Award

Author:  Caryn S. Fennell, Attorney at Law:  Caryn S. Fennell & Associates

A Fulton County Judge, the Honorable John J. Goger,  oversaw a child custody battle over an 11-year old child, righted a profound wrong on December 19, 2013 when he boldly awarded the child’s Father and Defendant in the action over $195,000.00 in attorney fees.  The Court issued his Order against the mother for what he stated to be a horrendous abuse of process by the mother for making and pursuing false child-abuse and molestation allegations against the Father.

The court wrote, “While this Court notes that efforts to level the playing field are generally viewed favorably in the context of domestic cases, there never should have been a playing field to begin with in this case.”

False allegations of child molestation, child abuse and domestic violence are becoming more prevalent in child custody cases as a tool to win custody and other benefits.  Such allegations are very difficult to defeat and require the skills of a very tenacious and knowledgeable lawyer who is not afraid of aggressively taking on the accuser.  Such allegations are all to easy to make as they are nearly impossible to disprove and there are very little, if no consequences or accountability for the accuser.  Unfortunately, the fear of possibly punishing someone who makes a valid claim of abuse controls how society handles false accusers.   Until the pendulum swings back to center, and more Judges like Judge Goger start holding false accuser accountable, then such claims will continue to saturate Georgia Courts.

Kudos to Judge Goger for forcing the pendulum back to center!


For more information see the following media report: ” title=”Mom Must Pay $195,000 in Fees for Custody Battle in Fulton County” target=”_blank”>