In the latest criminal justice reform to pass through the state of California, California voters have also approved Prop. 57, the Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Court Trial Requirements Initiative. The measure passed with 65% of the vote. Prop. 57 is a yet another effort by Governor Jerry Brown to lower the state’s overcrowded prison population.

What Does Prop 57 Do?

Prop. 57 would make thousands of prison inmates eligible for earlier parole if their conviction was not for a “violent crime” and allow state officials and corrections officers to give early release credit for rehabilitation. The measure also strips prosecutors of the power to decide when juveniles should be tried as adults and leaves those decisions to judges. It is estimated that 130,000 prisoners could be released.

This past election, California voters chose to join the ranks of their northern neighbors Oregon and Washington, along with Alaska, Colorado, and Massachusetts, to legalize the use of recreational marijuana. California Proposition 64, the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative (also referred to as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act), is the product of a long-fought ballot initiative. It is effective immediately, which means November 8 was the law’s date of passage.

Proponents of the ballot initiative have argued that drug charges disproportionally affect Hispanic or African-American communities, which have an arrest rate of 35% and 350% more often than whites, respectively. Additionally, California is predicted to earn $1 billion in from tax revenues. Most of that will be set aside for youth programs, cleaning up environmental damage caused by cannabis growers, and California Highway Patrol programs.

What Prop 64 Does

An investigation into voter fraud by the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office has caught the attention of the California State Attorney General’s Office for possible voter intimidation.  According to the ABC affiliate KDRV, about a week before the primary, deputies went door-to-door with loaded rifles to the homes of Asian Americans of Hmong descent threatening them with arrest for voter fraud. The county sheriff claimed that 200 voter applications looked questionable, so deputies and state investigators went to the listed addresses on the applications.  Specifically, due to poverty, many Hmong families live in the same dwelling as other families to be able to make ends meet. That makes it look like there may be a conflict in voter registration addresses.

Hmong communities have historically been the most marginalized and impoverished Asian American community in the nation. The Hmong were key allies with the CIA against the North Vietnamese and Vietcong during the Vietnam war. After the fall of Saigon, many of them were evacuated to the states, mainly central California.

Because of the door-to-door threat of arrest, many stayed home and did not vote. Immigrants who were intimidated fear deportation back to a country that wants them dead.

What is Voter Intimidation?

In what could only be described as the most divisive election in American history, voter intimidation of low-income and minority voters has been on the rise. Voter intimidation can generally be described as trying to coerce or scare someone to abstain from voting, or to vote a certain way. For example, in Virginia, it has been reported that armed militia men standing outside voting booths harassing Democratic voters may be voter intimidation. Other more institutional forms of voter intimidation include police threats of arresting people who have unpaid parking tickets, or misleading robocalls in African-American communities telling them they did not need to vote.

Yes, Voter Intimidation is a Felony

Voter intimidation in any state is a felony. Numerous federal laws prohibit voter intimidation by government officials and by private actors and in most states, those laws are reinforced by state laws prohibiting voter intimidation. Federal law prohibits government actors from discriminating against voters based on race, ethnicity, or religion. However, there is no bright line to distinguish between legitimate poll watching activities and outright voter intimidation at the polls.

Other Relevant Laws for the Election

While every person should be able to exercise his or her civic duty to vote, Californians cannot take a ballot selfie on November 8. While Governor Jerry Brown signed a new law last month making it legal, it will not be legal in time for this election. Continue reading

In a stunning loss for federal prosecutors, a jury has acquitted the leaders of the 41-day occupation and standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. The Portland jury acquitted Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy and five others of conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, 300 miles southeast of Portland. The jury could not reach a verdict on a single count of theft for Ryan Bundy.  Currently, Ammon Bundy remains in jail because he still faces charges for the armed standoff at his father Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada two years ago. The Bundys and their clan had been charged with federal conspiracy to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs by occupying the refuge.

This defeat for the prosecution was especially unexpected given the circumstances and the fact that three of the defendants chose to represent themselves without an attorney. Additionally, one juror was dismissed from the trial after another juror and defendant Ammon Bundy’s defense attorney accused him of being biased, since is a former employee of the Bureau of Land Management, the agency involved in the Nevada standoff.  The dismissed juror was replaced with a replacement juror. US Attorney Daniel Bogden in Nevada, however, said the acquittals in Portland should have no effect on the currently pending Las Vegas case for the armed standoff.

Juror Misconduct in California

In a California jury trial, there are a variety of reasons a juror may be excused or discharged from a trial ranging from death, illness, or if the juror becomes too emotionally involved or impartial to participate. While these things do not rise to the level of misconduct, California law defines misconduct as any conduct that conflicts with the judge’s instructions as to how they should perform their duties. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Speaking to people or other jurors about the case,
  • Discussing the case with a fellow juror while out of session,
  • Concealing personal beliefs that could influence impartial deliberations, and
  • Refusing to deliberate.

Jury misconduct triggers a new trial if it leads to incurable prejudice. The judge has the ultimate discretion to determine whether a juror has engaged in misconduct. He or she has the duty to investigate allegations.

Remedies

If misconduct is found, a judge may discharge the tainted juror, discharge the entire jury, declare a mistrial, or admonish the jury. Continue reading

A month after the national news broke that 5,300 Wells Fargo employees were fired for opening two million phony accounts, the California Department of Justice just announced it is investigating the bank on allegations of criminal identity theft over the creation of these accounts. The California DOJ sent over a search warrant to Wells Fargo’s San Francisco headquarters on October 5. The New York Times, through a public records request, has discovered that California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, in the final weeks of a run for U.S. Senate, has joined the growing list of public officials and agencies investigating Wells Fargo for the scandal.

Harris’ office has demanded the bank turn over the identities of California customers who had unauthorized accounts opened in their names, information about fees related to those accounts, the names of the Wells Fargo employees who opened the accounts, the names of those employees’ managers and emails, and other communication related to those accounts. The search warrant says that there is probable cause to believe Wells Fargo violated two sections of the state penal code — one outlawing identity theft, and the other outlawing the unauthorized use of personal information. Both are felonies.

It is unclear whether Harris will be pursuing criminal charges against individual bank employees or the bank itself. Federal regulators had revealed last month that bank employees had been secretly creating unauthorized bank and credit card accounts without their customers’ permission or knowledge since 2011. The phony accounts earned the bank boosted fees and sales figures to make the bank more money and to make employees bonuses. The bank has agreed to pay $185 million in fines along with refunding their customers $5 million.  $50 million of those fines were paid out to Los Angeles County.

California governor Jerry Brown just signed into law A.B. 1671, which would punish the dissemination of secret recordings with health care providers. The bill was sponsored and lobbied by Planned Parenthood in response to the videos released by the Orange County-based Center for American Progress last summer. It is reported that the bill was intended to protect them after the scandal involving the organization’s alleged sale of fetal body parts from abortions.

Last year, the Center for American Progress released a video featuring high-ranking Planned Parenthood employees haggling over prices for fetal specimens as well as describing altering abortion procedures to obtain more intact fetal body parts for tissue procurement agencies. The video has been alleged as fake by Planned Parenthood, but spread like wildfire on the internet.

Because it is already illegal in the state of California to record someone without consent, the bill had been opposed by many civil liberties groups. The ACLU of California wrote a letter opposing the bill early in the legislative process, arguing that it was unconstitutional because it was a content-based restriction on speech.

It recently made national headlines that a creepy clown craze has swept the globe. Across the nation, police have received reports of people in creepy clown costumes trying to lure children or scare people. While the state of California seems to have escaped it the past several months, creepy clowns have official hit Southern California. Through a series of Facebook and social media posts, it was announced that clowns would be visiting Los Angeles County schools, including Pasadena and Whittier.

In Fontana, California, a 14-year-old high school student was arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats against students on social media. The teen had taken “a scary clown picture” under the name of “FontanaKillerClown” and posted it on Instagram. He was arrested at school and booked into a juvenile detention center. In Glendora, California, police also arrested a 19-year-old man on suspicion of making threats against his old high school through social media accounts dedicated to clowns. The Temecula Valley Unified School District also suffered threats through social media that the schools in the region were going to be shot up by clowns. Lastly, the LAPD has reported that there have been pranksters that have threatened the general public with violence by dressing up as clowns and following/chasing them with kitchen knives.   

While some think dressing up as a scary clown and scaring people is a funny prank, law enforcement certainly does not think so. The wave of clown terror is affecting actual clowns who depend on their profession to pay the bills, and also has the potential to affect the way the nation celebrates Halloween. It is not recommended that you dress up as a clown or any other objectively scary character to threaten or scare people.

Laws that Pertain to Halloween Pranks

  • Criminal threats: You may not realize it, but even dressing up and chasing someone with a knife can constitute a criminal threat. All that is required is that the victim feared for his or her life or safety. See CA Penal Code § 422.
  • Vandalism: Vandalism does not have to involve breaking something or graffiti. Toilet papering and egging your neighbor’s house can still result in criminal charges. See CA Penal Code § 594.
  • Trespassing: If you enter someone else’s property with intent to damage that property (ie. throw eggs), you may also face criminal trespass charges. See CA Penal Code § 602.
  • Restrictions on Sex Offenders: Some states have restricted registered sex offenders from passing out candy, etc. on Halloween. California allows police to do checks to make sure some registered offenders are inside their homes with the lights out.

Continue reading

This November, California voters will choose whether they want to legalize marijuana. California Proposition 64, the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative (also referred to as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act), will be on the state’s November 8, 2016, ballot as an initiated state statute.  

However, it is reported by the San Diego Union Tribune, that non-citizens, immigrants, legal and undocumented alike, and green-card holders may still face legal consequences for using marijuana. This includes having their citizenship blocked or getting deported and not being allowed back into the country. This is because despite potential state law being enacted, using marijuana is still illegal under federal law. This affects immigrants who are trying to attain citizenship through the federal process.

Currently, almost 13% of San Diego county residents are not U.S. citizens. This is much higher than the national average, which is 7%.    

Current California Marijuana Law

Currently, possession of marijuana for personal use only carries a maximum of six months in jail. See Ca. Health and Safety Code 11357.  Often defendants will plead down to that charge instead of pleading guilty to a charge of ‘marijuana possession for the purpose of sale,’ which carries a three-year prison sentence. See Ca. Health and Safety Code 11359. However, pleading guilty to either crime is still a deportable offense if you are a non-US citizen.

Under federal law, the federal Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) allows for the deportation of non-U.S. citizens if they have violated the Controlled Substances Act.  See INA § 237(a)(2)(B)(i); 8 USC 1227(a)(2)(B)(i). This is why it is extremely important for all non-citizens facing criminal charges to hire an attorney who can strategize the best defenses for his or her specific situation.

Back in 2015, Assemblywoman Susan Eggman proposed Assembly Bill (A.B.) 1351, which would allow immigrants facing minor drug offenses to enter a drug diversion program in lieu of the standard criminal process. It would have made it so that immigrant defendants with no previous history of drug crimes would be allowed to enter a drug treatment program and undergo drug counseling before they enter a plea. If they successfully finish the program, drug charges are dismissed, leaving no criminal record to taint their immigration process. However, the bill has not yet been passed into law. Continue reading

Last week, Divergent actress and activist Shailene Woodley was arrested for criminal trespassing while peacefully protesting the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. This was confirmed by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department and also posted on the actresses’ Instagram feed.

Woodley had tried to film and live-stream her incident on Facebook, which has been viewed by over two million viewers on social media. At one point, an unidentified officer could be seen telling Woodley, “We can’t talk right here, but you’re going to be placed under arrest for criminal trespassing.” The actress claims that even though she was “trespassing” like every other protestor, she was the only one being arrested because she is “well known.” The Morton County Sheriff’s Department told Us that Woodley, however, was among 27 people arrested “for the same infraction” at the protest on Monday, October 10, 2016. There were reportedly 125-150 people protesting, and Woodley was arrested at about 12 pm.

The contentious Dakota Access Pipeline has faced hundreds of protesters, a Native American camp-in, and legal action. A federal judge on Sunday rejected the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for a permanent injunction to block the planned pipeline, which disturbs the tribe’s burial grounds and tribal lands. The 1,170-mile, $3.7 million pipeline would be responsible for transporting 470,000 barrels of oil a day.

Criminal Trespass in California

The crime of criminal trespass is codified in CA Penal Code § 602. Criminal trespass is generally defined as entering or remaining on someone else’s property without permission or right to do so.  The statute sets out dozens of situations in which you may face a criminal trespass charge.

Forms of criminal trespass include:

  • Unlawfully entering property with intent to interfere with a business (See § 602(k));
  • Entering farm areas with animals (See § 602(h));
  • Showing up at an ex-partner’s workplace after threatening him or her;
  • Entering closed and restricted land (See § 602(o));
  • Refusing to pay and leave a motel See § 602(s));

Prosecution of a criminal trespass means that beyond a reasonable doubt, a prosecutor has proved you willfully entered or occupied someone else’s property without the consent of the property owner, with the specific intent to interfere with a business or property. You must have interfered with one’s property rights.

It does not matter if you were exercising your First amendment rights in protesting. You will still face the charge if your actions interfered with a business or obstructed the property. Under state law, the crime is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 base fine. Continue reading

In the latest controversy surrounding Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, the New York Times reportedly published Trump’s tax documents without his permission. The story that ran concluded that Trump declared $916 million in losses in 1995. This amount is large enough to wipe out more than $50 million a year in taxable income over a span of 18 years.

While Trump has obviously threatened legal action against the media outlet, legal experts are saying that there is no clear-cut criminal case against the newspaper. For one, it is not clear who leaked the information. The Times claims it received the documents anonymously in the mail. If this source was accurate, the Times should be protected on First Amendment grounds, since they did nothing illegal to obtain the information. Being a media outlet, the Times has a defense in that its job is to report on matters of public concern.

Trump has so far been the only presidential candidate that has refused to turn over his tax records. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, has stated that Trump refuses to turn over his taxes because he has paid none. It is reported that he has stated “That just makes me smart.”  The Times presented the leaked documents to Jack Mitnick, who was Trump’s accountant for over 30 years. Now retired, he has verified that the documents appear to be authentic copies of portions of Trump’s returns.

Consequences of Tax Evasion in California

Tax evasion is considered a white collar crime, even if it seems as though many corporate conglomerates seem to get away with it. Tax evasion in California is a serious crime subject to serious penalties.

Under California Revenue and Taxation Code §19706, it is illegal for any person or employee of a corporation to: knowingly fail to file any tax return or falsify information to evade taxes, or to willfully and intentionally make false statements on a tax return. Underpaying taxes, which is still considered tax evasion also includes but is not limited to:

  • Not reporting all income earned;
  • Failing to file a tax return;
  • Lying or making false statements on a return;
  • Claiming to be a resident of another state to avoid California taxes.

Violation of the California tax code is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $20,000. Continue reading