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Arson Defense Lawyer on Fire in Court


Earlier this year, in March of 2017, a Miami defense attorney was on fire in court—literally. As he began his closing arguments defending a man accused of arson in front of the jury, Attorney Stephen Gutierrez’s pants burst into flame.

His closing argument specified his client’s car spontaneously combusted and was not intentionally set aflame; during this time, the attorney had been fiddling in his pocket. As he was about to address jurors, smoke began billowing out of the same pocket.

He rushed out of the courtroom, leaving everyone stunned. Jurors were ushered out, after which Attorney Gutierrez returned unharmed, his pocket singed. He insisted the scene wasn’t a staged defense demonstration gone awry. Instead, he stated his e-cigarette had had a faulty battery, which ignited in his pocket.

The attorney was representing Claudy Charles, a 48-year-old man accused of intentionally setting his car on fire in South Miami-Dade. Jurors convicted Charles of 2nd-degree arson after the incident. However, a Miami-Dade circuit judge, Michael Hanzman, told the defendant he might want to consider hiring a new lawyer.

Hanzman appointed a public defender to represent Charles, and prosecutors will have more time to investigate Attorney Gutierrez to determine whether or not the fire was a stunt. Hanzman gave Charles until May 5 to consider whether he wanted to take a plea deal rather than pursuing a new trial, which would include 2 additional charges that had been dropped in the prior proceeding. The plea deal included 18 months in prison if Charles accepted the guilty verdict.

If you’ve been accused of a crime, don’t hesitate to call one of our skilled Bergen County criminal defense attorney. The Law Offices of Joseph R. Donahue, LLC is a firm dedicated to defending the rights and freedoms of our clients. Our founding attorney, Joseph R. Donahue, is a former prosecutor who has a thorough understanding of the inner workings of a prosecutor’s office. We will work to get your case dismissed or get an acquittal when possible, but if this is not achieved, we will prioritize minimizing any criminal or collateral consequences through all possible legal means. Let us see what we can do for you.

Call (201) 574-7919 or fill out our online form to schedule your FREE case consultation today.

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