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.

Arrested for stealing $5.05 worth of candy and soda, a 24-year-old man from Portsmouth, Virginia, Jamycheal Mitchell, has allegedly been starved to death by prison guards. Mitchell has been repeatedly diagnosed with psychotic and delusional disorders, has allegedly been left to starve in squalid prison conditions. His aunt, Roxanne Adams, has filed a lawsuit against the prison.

It is reported that his medical records show that he died of a “heart condition “accompanying wasting syndrome of unknown etiology.” The lawsuit alleges that “jail staff had allegedly denied him many meals, cut off the water to his cell and left him naked with no bedding or shoes as he smeared feces on the window of his urine-covered cell.” He had lost 40 pounds in his time in Hampton Roads Regional Jail, and was “nearly cachetic.” The lawsuit also alleges that inmates pleaded with guards to help Mitchell, to no avail.    

The 112 page complaint identifies 39 defendants, including the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, the state Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services and the private prison health care firm, NaphCare. Adams is demanding a jury trial and $60 million in damages for wrongful death. The prison is not commenting on the suit.

According to Graham Barlowe, the Special Agent in Charge of the Sacramento office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, guns are considered just as valuable as cash or jewelry in a home break in. While referring to a recent string of robberies in our state’s capital Barlow stated, “Cash is extremely valuable because it can get you a number of things, but of the commodities that we find that people that are involved in criminal activity are looking for, guns are very high on the list.” At least seven gun stores have been targeted for burglaries in that area this summer.

It is reported that over 34 guns are reported lost or stolen in California every day, adding up to more than 12,000 guns a year. These stolen guns are likely used for future robberies, homicides, or gang activity. In fact, most of the guns being sold in the streets illegally are probably stolen guns that were legally purchased.

Click on this data analysis to see how many guns were reported lost or stolen to California law enforcement agencies from 2010-2015.

A Wisconsin Appeals Court recently released two decisions to try the two 12-year-old girls, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, in the “Slender Man” case as adults. For those of you who have not heard of this case, two girls in 2014 admitted to leading their friend into the woods along Interstate 94 and stabbing her 19 times as a means to please the “Slender Man,” an Internet horror meme. Amazingly enough, the two girls have stated that they believed in the existence of this fictional horror character.

The origins of Slender, as Weier called him in interviews with police, can be traced back to a photoshop contest on the Something Awful forums in 2009. A graphic artist inspired by the authors H.P. Lovecrqaft and Stephen King and horror video games like Silent Hill, manipulated an image to show a tall, thin humanoid lurking behind children. The internet then crowd-sourced the story behind Slender Man, making him a legend or ghost story for impressionable minds to believe.

Rolling Stone has come out with an article on how absurd it is to try two 12-year-olds as adults when it is clear there may have been underlying mental illness causing them to believe this story.  Morgan Geyser believed she would get to go live at Slender Man’s mansion if she killed her friend, and that he would harm her family if she did not go through with it. She had also been diagnosed with early onset schizophrenia.

Incompetency and Adolescents in Trial

Juvenile courts exist because it has long been understood that children are less culpable for their actions than adults. Research shows their brains are not finished developing, and they are immature.

In California, A.B. 2212 was signed into law on September 22, 2012. It added §709 in the CA Welfare and Institutions Code. It sets forth basic procedures to follow when a minor’s counsel or the court expresses concerns over a child’s competency to stand trial.

A minor is incompetent to proceed if s/he:

  • “lacks sufficient present ability to consult with counsel and assist in preparing his or her defense with a reasonable degree of rational understanding; or
  • lacks a rational as well as factual understanding, of the nature of the charges or proceedings against him or her. See Protocol for Competence in CA Juvenile Justice Proceedings.

Incompetency is not an affirmative legal defense. It does not speak to one’s mental state during the crime, it only speaks to whether they can understand their proceedings. It is common practice to treat a defendant until s/he is competent enough to prosecute.   Continue reading

In the saga of the Bundy wildlife refuge occupation, Federal prosecutors in Oregon filed a trial brief outlining their case against the occupiers. Prosecutors noted that that evidence teams recovered more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition. Defendants have claimed they were exercising their first amendment rights, but government prosecutors have rejected these defenses.  They note that “Taking a gun into a government office is not First Amendment protected activity.”

The Rights Enumerated in the Bill of Rights are Not Unlimited

The first 10 amendments in the U.S. Constitution is also called the “Bill of Rights.” But constitutional rights are not absolute, and do not automatically have a legal defense for a crime by simply citing a constitutional right.  In fact there are plenty of restrictions that have been imposed on other rights by the Supreme Court.    

The First Amendment prohibits the impediment of the free exercise of religion, speech, press, the right to peaceably assemble or the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.  Specifically, it says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

However, the Supreme Court over the years has placed many restrictions on these rights. You are free to exercise your religion for example, but not if it involves human and animal sacrifice.  One’s free speech may also not be protected if it falsely defames someone’s reputation, incites violence, threatens someone, reveals a trade or military secret and threatens national security, or if it is deemed to be obscene. When, where, and how speech is expressed is also restricted. The government has put limitations on who can speak, such as students, prisoners, and government employees. It can also restrict your speech if you are blocking a public throughway (ie. street) while doing it. While determining limitations on speech, courts must carefully weigh the value of protecting speech against the countervailing public interests, including public safety.   

The second amendment has been mostly invoked in the gun-rights debate as the “right to bear arms” and has been interpreted to include for the purposes of self defense. It states “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

While the NRA would have you believe otherwise, the second amendment is also limited. You cannot point a loaded gun at someone or use it to threaten them, for example. The case of District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 specified that we have a constitutional right to use firearms for self defense in our private homes. But the opinion did not suggest that right extended to other areas. Continue reading

While the nation is on edge from the high profile killings of unarmed citizens and police in Dallas and Baton Rouge earlier this year, the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) is currently trying to investigate whether a shooting death of Officer Jonathon DeGuzman, 43, was a deliberate act. It is reported that DeGuzman and a cohort stopped someone in the Southeast part of San Diego, which ended in a shootout. DeGuzman died in the hospital.

At the same time as tensions between citizens and police are high, statistics obtained by KGTV San Diego show that between January 2013 and July 2015, the numbers of assaults on officers increased.  According to the news report, there were 252 assaults in 2013 and 319 in 2014. From January 2015 to July 2015, there were 254 reported assaults on officers, which is more than half of the assaults in all of 2013. The report was intended to identify the situations that are currently most dangerous for cops, and can be found here. However, other national studies shed doubt on KGTV’s study, concluding that fatal shootings of officers have actually decreased over the previous few decades

Crimes Against Police (“Peace”) Officers

As one could imagine, crimes against police officers are not treated like any other crime, even if the attacker did not know the victim was a police officer.  San Bernadino County, for example, has its own “Crimes Against Peace Officers Prosecution Unit” dedicated to prosecuting crimes against police.

Under CA Penal Code § 148(a)(1), it is a misdemeanor punishable by one year imprisonment and a $1,000 fine just to resist arrest or ‘impede’ an officer from doing his job. Moreover, you can be charged with assault on a peace officer under CA Penal Code § 241(c) for threatening harm.  It is a crime punishable by one year imprisonment and a fine of $2,000.   

It is a first-degree attempted murder charge punishable by a minimum 15-year sentence (and up to a life sentence) if the crime is committed against a peace officer. Lastly, it is an aggravated penalty to kill a cop trying to fulfill his police duties in California. It is also punishable by the death penalty. Continue reading

Riverside, California, is home to the West Coast terminal of trucking company CRST, located just off Interstate 215, where a woman named Cathy Sellars has filed a lawsuit against CRST for sexual harassment. Over the last 20 years, hundreds of women have brought gender discrimination lawsuits against the trucking industry. It is reported by the EEOC, that an average of one of six of those claims involved race-based harassment.

The trucking incident is still currently 95% male. The few women in the industry allegedly suffered from everyday harassment, from catcalling to rape. Sellars reportedly suffered instances of sexual harassment, assault, and intimidation from her trainer during her first few weeks as a truck driver for CRST. She says she reported the incidences of harassment with human resources for CRST on the phone, and called her trainer’s dispatcher, but failed to get the help she needed.  She also says she would be catcalled at the truck stop, with the on-duty terminal manager at Riverside ignoring the behavior of male drivers.

Catcalling and Sexual Harassment: Free Speech, or a Crime?

While it is obvious that sexual assault (grabbing, flashing) is a serious crime, most states vary on public comments and gestures. Some have considered catcalling protected under the first amendment if it does not arise to a true threat. Simply put, it is not a crime to be a rude person.  In other states however, behavior like catcalling is illegal under the broad legal definition of “lewd conduct.” In California, catcalling and verbal sexual harassment can still be considered a crime by way of different laws. The state has more protective laws against gender-based harassment, and currently has six laws that protect against verbal harassment:

  1. Disorderly conduct- this includes explicit sexual comments or solicitations or obscene gestures. See CA Code, Title 15, Chap. 2 § 647.
  2. Any harassment at adult education schools– including loitering or catcalling on campus. See CA Code, Title 15, Chap. 2 § 647(b).
  3. Harassment on public transportationSee CA Code, Title 15, Chap. 2 § 640.
  4. Vagrancy near a school- including loitering near campus. See CA Code, Title 15, Chap. 2 § 653(b).
  5. Public nuisance- this includes those who routinely harass passerbys at the same street corner. See CA Code, Title 10, §370-372.
  6. Unlawful assembly- California law defines this as whenever two or more persons assemble together for an unlawful or lawful act, in a boisterous or tumultuous manner.  See CA Code, Title 11, §407-409.

Continue reading