Early this March, a criminal defense attorney was making his closing argument when his pants caught fire—literally. The attorney, Stephen Gutierrez, was arguing his client’s car had spontaneously combusted and was not deliberately set on fire when smoke began billowing out of his pocket. According to the attorney, an e-cigarette battery had caught fire. However, the defendant he was representing, Claudy Charles, requested another lawyer.
Charles likely did so at the suggestion of Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman, who had recommended he consider a new attorney. Gutierrez agreed to the change, saying he no longer wanted to be a distraction in the case, as the incident grabbed international attention.
Hanzman appointed a public defender to represent Charles. The defendant couldn’t afford to hire a private attorney as he has not drawn a paycheck from his job at Playa Largo Resort since being jailed on arson charges.
Prosecutors were allowed more time to investigate Gutierrez, as people believed his accident to be a stunt gone wrong. Miami-Dade state attorney’s office was investigating the incident and had until mid-May to conclude its inquiry.
Charles asked for a new trial because of the incident, but prosecutors offered him a plea deal instead—accept the guilty verdict and serve 18 months in prison. Hanzman gave Charles until May 5th to consider the plea deal or pursue a new trial.
If you are facing criminal charges, talk to our skilled Virginia Beach criminal defense lawyer. Attorney Yates has more than 30 years of legal experience to offer your case, and he is also board certified as a Criminal Trial Specialist. He has the expertise you need to get the best possible outcome from your case. Let us see what we can do for you.
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