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Biker doesn’t want to be called ‘Fat Dog’ in court

July 15, 2009

Biker doesn’t want to be called ‘Fat Dog’ in court

If Jeff Garvin “Fat Dog” Smith has to stand trial in federal court on charges of illegal possession of body armor, he doesn’t want to be called by his unflattering nickname in front of the jury.

The Mount Clemens resident and reputed president of a motorcycle gang has filed a motion in U.S. District Court asking for federal prosecutors to remove the alias from an indictment and not use it in court.

“The use of the alias ‘Fat Dog’ in the indictment is not related to the charge stated in the indictment and is not necessary for

the identification of Mr. Smith,” public defenders Andrew Wise and Bradley Hall wrote in the motion.

References to Smith as “Fat Dog” are “likely to substantially prejudice Mr. Smith in the eyes of a jury should the case go to trial,” the defense team added.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment, but one former federal prosecutor said including an alias is often a deliberate attempt to tarnish the defendant’s reputation for the jury.

“I will tell you the government’s answer to this is using the nickname is to provide a precise identification of the defendant,” said Detroit defense attorney David Griem, who formerly worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“But as a defense attorney I will tell you that these aliases aren’t necessary. The real reason is to convince the jury right off the bat that you’re dealing with motorcycle gang members or unsavory individuals.”

Smith, 54, described in court documents as a self-employed process server and investigator, is due in court on Tuesday for a plea hearing on the body armor charges.

If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Smith is the national president of the Devil’s Diciples motorcycle club in Clinton Township, a biker group that deliberately misspells its title.

He also is a close friend of Paul Cassidy, who recently retired as a judge in New Baltimore’s 42-2 District Court and is under federal investigation for alleged misconduct.

Smith was one of 18 bikers named in a grand jury indictment in April accused of using telephones to set up drug deals. Those charges were later dropped by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but federal prosecutors did not drop the body armor charge against Smith.

Smith has a prior felony conviction for a shooting several years ago and is banned from having the body armor, according to court records.

Court documents show the two body vests were found during a search of the house Smith shares with his mother in Mount Clemens during the execution of a search warrant on the drug charges earlier this year.

Smith’s attorneys, in their court filing, say the term “Fat Dog” has no bearing on the case. Federal prosecutors have not yet filed their response.

The origin of the nickname is not known, but is presumably a reference to his physical appearance. Others in the gang have aliases in the indictment such as “Bear,” “Space,” “Gun Control,” “44,” and “Slomo.”

The Web site www.motorcyclephilosphy.org states nicknames generally develop from a biker’s habits or characteristics. If a biker wants a nickname to stick, then he or she should always introduce themselves solely by that title and not their real name, the Web site advises.

The defense team’s motion states the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in past rulings has “strongly disapproved” of using aliases in indictments. An alias should only be used when it is relevant to identifying a defendant in court, their motion says.

Griem, the former federal prosecutor, said the use of the alias is a common one that should be challenged by competent defense attorneys.

“The trial playing field should be even, but both sides try to tilt in their favor,” Griem said. “The government has so many advantages that tilting the playing field is inappropriate and unfair.”

The defense team also has filed a motion asking for the body armor charges to be dismissed. Among the reasons they cite are past court rulings that stated the Second Amendment to the Constitution upholding the right to bear arms protects “weapons of defense” such as the body armor.

They claim Congress’ decision to ban violent felons from possessing defensive body armor violates Smith’s constitutional right to defend himself. Federal prosecutors have not yet responded to that motion.

The State of Michigan will insist that, as a motorcyclist,  you protect yourself with a helmet but other protections are against the law? Read on. Make the determination that if you are an ATGATT rider that this case may pave the way with your body.

Assuming that many of the latest technologies employed in safety gear are similar.  A guess at what you are wearing the gear for could catch you a felony case.

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