A new proposed bill in the state of California, A.B. 2466 now sits on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for his approval. The bill would redefine who is entitled to register to vote, with the intent of restoring voting rights for the many ex-offenders within the state.

Today, racial minorities remain disproportionately excluded from voting as a result of the documented bias in drug law enforcement and sentencing. The “war on drugs” and subsequent decades of mass incarceration have blocked millions of people out of the electoral process. In California prisons, three out of every four men are either African American, Latino, or Asian American. African Americans, who comprise less than 7% of California’s voting-age population, currently represent 28% of those who cannot vote because of felon disenfranchisement.

Voting rights in the rest of the country depends on the state law. For example, two states, Maine and Vermont, allows felons to vote while behind bars. Fourteen states restore voting rights after a prisoner has been released from prison.

There are currently more than 800,000 people registered in the nationwide list of registered sex criminals, and that list is growing dramatically. Even some who had denounced convicted rapist Brock Turner’s actions had questioned whether he should have to spend the rest of his life as a registered sex offender.

In states like California, Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama it is impossible for people convicted of any sex crime to be removed from the online registries showing their pictures, addresses, convictions, and probation details. Critics have stated that an ex-offender will struggle with getting a job and place to live for the rest of his or her life. Advocates for sex crime victims insist that lifetime registries make the public safer by preventing offender recidivism and giving citizens and police access to information on the whereabouts of sex offenders and precluding them from places like schools.

Brock was released on September 2 after serving only half his jail sentence (three months) for good behavior. Brock moved back to his parent’s house in Bellbrook, Ohio. It is reported that protesters demonstrated in front of the home before and after his arrival and Turner’s parents reported to police eggs being thrown at the house.

Now that Ammon Bundy, his brother, and the other co-defendants (nicknamed, the “Bundys“) involved in the destruction and occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge have been set for trial, a jury must now decide whether the defendant’s actions and intent amounted to a crime. Several defendants have already pleaded not guilty to the federal charge of conspiring to impede U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents from doing their job at the refuge through intimidation, threats, or force. Five of the seven are also charged with possession of firearms in a federal facility. Another two face an additional count of government property theft.

Legal experts have been closely watching this case because prosecutors must put to rest the crazy constitutional arguments the defendants have come up with. The trial in Portland’s downtown federal courthouse is expected to last more than two months. In order to convict the Bundy’s prosecutors must prove that two or more defendants conspired to keep federal employees from carrying out their work at the refuge by threat and intimidation charge, a federal intimidation charge. District Judge Anna Brown has already told potential jurors that the case is “all about mental state.” This means they can only be found guilty if prosecutors prove defendant’s criminal intentions. It is reported prosecutors will use defendant’s statements on social media, videos, and news conferences as evidence.

Mens Rea and Actus Reas: The Two Elements of a Crime

In Orange County, California, it is reported that the traffic light at Katella Avenue and Bloomfield Street in Los Alamitos switched from yellow to red faster than state law allows, likely causing hundreds of camera-generated tickets to be issued incorrectly, at about $500 apiece. This occurred over a 10-month period. It is an issue because the camera at the intersection photographs drivers that do not make the red light. Los Alamitos’ city manager says that about 1,000 tickets were issued at the intersection in question. At least 19 of those tickets have been tossed out of court.

It was reported last year, that the number of red light cameras being used are surprisingly declining across Southern California and most of the country.  In California, 60 cities and counties have ended red-light camera programs. In Orange County, only two cities left are using them – Los Alamitos and Garden Grove. It is cited that declining revenues, a non-supportive court system, and the increasing number of accidents are the main reason many cities have ended their red light camera programs in recent years. Interviewed city traffic engineers claim that photo enforcement is actually causing more rear-end accidents because people are scared when they see a yellow light at an intersection with cameras.

El Cajon and San Diego suspended their red light camera programs back in 2014, and the LAPD in Los Angeles discontinued their program effective July 11, 2011. California hands out harsher penalties than most states for red-light violations – from $490 to $554 when traffic school fees are included – and considers the ticket to be a moving violation.

In the ongoing saga of rape allegations against comedian Bill Cosby, California has become one of two states that has proposed a law that would extend the statute of limitations in the prosecution of rape cases. The proposed bill, which passed both houses of the Legislature, follows a new law in Nevada that increases the legal deadline for rape prosecution from four to 20 years. In California, the statute of limitations to prosecute a rape case is currently 10 years.  Almost three dozen states, including the District of Columbia, have statute of limitations on filing sexual assault charges or lawsuits.

The state’s governor, Jerry Brown, who has had a history of vetoing bills extending legal deadlines for filing lawsuits over child sex abuse, must approve or sign into law the bill by the end of the month.

This bill however, is not the only one Governor Jerry Brown must decide to veto or approve.  The California legislature, in response to the outrage over the six-month jail sentence for Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner also passed a bill that would mandate a minimum three-year sentence for those convicted of rape or sexual assault. The proposed bill would eliminate a judge’s discretion to sentence defendants convicted of such crimes to probation.  Brock Turner was released from jail earlier this month for ‘good behavior,’ after serving three months (half) of his sentence. Had this proposed law been in place, he would still be in jail.

What are Statutes of Limitations?

Every state has something called a statute of limitations, which is generally defined as the time limit for a criminal or civil action.  In other words, once a statute of limitations has passed, one may no longer be prosecuted or sued for his or her crimes. A statute of limitations typically begins to run from the date the injury or crime was discovered.

In California, the state’s code has specific time limits for specific crimes, such as fraud, injury to personal property, and malpractice. The current California statute of limitations on prosecuting felony rape and sexual assault cases is 10 years after the crime occurs, or for incidents involving minors, until they reach the age of 26. Continue reading

An animal rights activist by the name of Anita Krajnc, 48, is being tried in Canada for criminal mischief because she gave water to thirsty pigs at a traffic stop.   

Back in November 2015, Krajnc was charged with criminal mischief after clashing with the driver of a tractor-trailer transporting pigs to the slaughterhouse. She and her fellow protestors tried to give the thirsty pigs water as they were stopped at a traffic light on the way to the Fearmans Pork processing plant. The Ontario based hog farmer, Eric Van Boekel, who owned the pigs, filed a police complaint the next day. He claimed he was concerned for the safety of his product the animal rights protesters, who sometimes crowd near the large transport vehicles when they are stopped in traffic. Krajnc is the founder of an animal rights group called Toronto Pig Save. The video that went viral online shows her approaching the driver first to ask him to give the pigs water, since it was such a hot day.

Several online petitions numbering in the hundreds of thousands of signatures have already sprung up in Krajnc’s defense. Krajnc faces a maximum of six months in jail or a $5,000 fine if convicted, and she has pleaded not guilty.

Difference Between Criminal Mischief and Disorderly Conduct

Under California law, CA Penal Code § 594(a), criminal mischief, or malicious mischief, refers to the act of intentionally damaging, graffiti-ing or defacing property. You will be charged with criminal mischief/malicious mischief if you intentionally deface or destroy another person’s property without his or her permission. It does not involve taking another’s property, which is considered theft. A key element of the crime is intentional behavior, and not accidental behavior.

The majority of malicious mischief cases are prosecuted as misdemeanors punishable by a fine up to $10,000 and one year in jail if the amount of property damage is under $10,000. If property damage is under $400, the crime is punishable by up to $5,000 in fines.   

Disorderly conduct in almost every jurisdiction, is like a catch-all charge for those crimes that do not have a specific statute covering it. While disorderly conduct laws significantly differ amongst states, the crime is mainly known as “disturbing the peace.” This encompasses any behavior that causes other people alarm, anger, annoyance, or causes them to engage in unlawful activity.  California categorizes disorderly conduct offenses into five categories:

  • General disorderly conduct which includes public intoxication,
  • Fighting, noise, and offensive words,
  • Rioting,
  • Disturbing the peace on a school campus, and
  • Refusing to disburse such as during a protest.

Continue reading

NPR just published a relatively detailed story on how difficult it is to enforce DUI (driving under the influence) laws for those under the influence of marijuana. Like the rest of the nation, the state of Colorado has seen a sharp increase in marijuana DUI arrests. So far, State Patrol data illustrates that the number of citations rose from 316 in 2015 to 398 this year.

Colorado’s marijuana DUI law is modeled on the one for alcohol, which sets a number for blood-alcohol levels to determine when someone is too intoxicated to drive. For pot, that number is five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. That means it is illegal to drive if you have anything over that level. However, according to the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego, measuring a person’s THC is actually a poor indicator of intoxication. This is because unlike alcohol, THC gets stored in your fat cells, and is not water-soluble like alcohol. As a result, one can still test positive for THC even a week after consumption. This is something defense attorneys all too easily point out.

As far as policy implications, scientists at UCSD say that what cops really need is a simple roadside sobriety test.

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana in California

Aside from normal DUIs, California is one of the many states that have a specific statute that addresses driving while under the influence of marijuana. See CA Vehicle Code 23152(e). One is considered “under the influence” of marijuana if, as a result of consumption, his or her mental and physical abilities are impaired so that he or she cannot drive like a sober person.

The tricky thing with driving while under the influence of marijuana is that there is no “per se” amount of THC in the bloodstream that can easily establish impairment unlike alcohol (.08%).  Chemical tests still cannot accurately reveal how much THC one has consumed, or how recently.  As a result, police will have to look to other factors, such as: your driving pattern, physical appearance, statements to police, and your performance on field sobriety tests.

If convicted of a marijuana DUI, one may face probation for three to five years, and six months in jail. You will also face extensive fines  and a suspension of your driver’s license. If someone is injured or killed as a result of the impaired driving, then one may be facing a felony charge punishable by state imprisonment and a suspension of a driver’s licenses for a year.    Continue reading

Last month, it was reported by CNN that the unsympathetic Dylann Roof, the accused shooter in Charleston, was attacked and beaten on his way to the shower in Charleston County Detention Center. Roof made headlines last year when he was arrested for his racially motivated massacre of nine black churchgoers at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in North Carolina.

Although he is currently in protective custody, Roof, 22, was vulnerable because only one guard was in the area and he was fetching toilet tissue for another inmate. That allowed another inmate, 25-year-old Dwayne Stafford, to run down the stairs from his cell into the protective custody unit and sucker punch Roof. It is reported the detention officer quickly responded and separated the two. There were no weapons involved, and the injuries Roof faced were minor – bruising on the face and back.

It is not surprising that the nature of his crimes make Roof vulnerable to attacks, and that is why he is under protective custody in the prison where he awaits trial. His murder trial is set to start at the end of January, and there are already three federal courtrooms dedicated to it. Roof currently faces nine counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder, and gun charges.

What is Protective Custody?

Protective custody in prison is a type of imprisonment intended to protect an inmate from harm, either from outside sources or other prisoners. Inmates have the right to request protective custody if they believe that the environment they are living in is harmful to their well-being. They can make this request at any time if they feel their physical safety threatened. Corrections officers then keep the inmate making the request locked up and unable to leave until the request is granted. The request may be granted if officials decide that the inmate is truly at risk. Once ‘protected,’ an inmate is typically segregated from the rest of the prison population.

Ideally, inmates under protective custody are housed in a stand-alone unit, with their own eating facilities, shower areas, recreation yards, and visiting rooms. Doctors and staffers visit the unit so the prisoner does not have to travel. Protective custody units have numerous cameras and guards, and can have anywhere from 10 to 100 inmates. Continue reading

On July 5, 2016, defendant David Ramirez of Yolo County, California filed a motion to suppress evidence pursuant to CA Penal Code § 1538.5 through his attorney. Mr. Ramirez is charged with possessing a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia, both of which he has claimed was discovered during an illegal traffic stop. Back in January of 2016, Mr. Ramirez was a passenger in a car that was stopped for a cracked rear taillight. The deputies allegedly questioned all the passengers including Mr. Ramirez, and they were asked to be detained for a pat-down (frisk) search. The driver and front seat passenger consented and were searched, and nothing was found.

Mr. Ramirez however, did not consent to the search (and was well within his rights not to consent). The police further pushed and allegedly stated they were only looking for weapons.  After Mr. Ramirez consented, the police then reportedly found a meth pipe, which was seized.  Mr. Ramirez has argued that his search was unlawful, and the evidence resulting from the search must be suppressed under the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine, as detailed in People v. Williams (1988).

When Does the Exclusionary Rule Apply?            

In the nearby state of Washington, a 32 year old white supremacist named David Rowe was apparently enraged at the at the sight of a black man and a white woman kissing at a bar in Olympia. Police say Mr. Rowe was recently released from the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, about 300 miles away. He was convicted in 208 for second-degree robbery. It is reported that he may be amongst the state’s homeless, who flock to Olympia for help on their way to Portland or Seattle.

Police report that he had been watching the couple, and walked up to them and without warning, yelled a racial slur and lunged at them with his knife. According to a press release from the Olympia police department, the knife went into the man’s hip, and grazed the woman. The male victim, 47, ended up chasing Rowe and knocking him unconscious on the ground when he tried to run away. After being arrested he was reported to rant about Donald Trump rallies.

Rowe was arrested and booked into the Thurston County Jail on two charges of first-degree assault and possible malicious harassment, which is the charge for hate crime in Washington state. The FBI reported 5,479 hate crimes across the United States in 2014, a 14.6% decrease from 2013.