According to news outlet ABC 10, a Carlsbad pastor named Matthew Tague, 43, has been arrested on 16 counts of child molestation. Deputies with the San Diego Sheriff’s child abuse unit has charged him with lewd and lascivious acts with a minor under the age of 14. The charges against Tague, a pastor at North Coast Calvary Chapel in Carlsbad, are not related to his duties as a pastor. Tague is currently being held in Vista Detention Facility on $1.9 million bail. He was due in court on June 2.

Once he appeared in court, he pleaded “not guilty” to charges of repeatedly molesting a female member of his congregation for two years. He also pleaded “not guilty” to charges of 14 forcible sex acts against a child. Additionally, Deputy District Attorney Patricia Lavermicocca said Tague is accused of violating a family member when s/he was 12 and 13 years old. It is reported that Tague’s wife caught him abusing the victim, and turned him in.

Child Molestation Under California Law

Not only are sex crimes taken seriously in California, but sex crimes against children are viewed upon by society as even worse. Just being accused of a sexual offense against a child can ruin your life and reputation.

There are several sections in the California Penal Code that address sex crimes against children.

Lewd or Lascivious Acts with a Minor (Penal Code § 288)

A lewd or lascivious act against a minor is defined as touching any part of the body (bare or covered) of a minor or forcing him or her to touch themselves for the purposes of sexually arousing or gratifying yourself or the victim. Subsection (a) of the statute states that if the victim was under 14, it is a felony punishable by up to eight years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.

Subsection (b) of the statute addresses lewd acts against a minor under the age of 18, by fear of duress or violence. A conviction under this subsection is also a felony punishable by 10 yrs imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.

Subsection (c) specifies that if the victim was under 14 or 15 years old, and you are at least 10 years older than the victim, you will also face a felony punishable by up to three years in state prison.

Soliciting a Minor for Lewd Purposes (Penal Code § 288.4)

Solicitation of any child under the age of 18 can either be a misdemeanor or felony, punishable by up one to three years imprisonment and a $1,000 to $10,000 fine. Continue reading

The saga of Bill Crosby’s criminal trial for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting dozens of women is finally over, as earlier this month, a Pennsylvania jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision, resulting in a mistrial.

It is reported that on the sixth day of jury deliberations, two of the 12 jurors prevented a guilty verdict. The jury reportedly deliberated for 53 hours and asked 12 questions of the court during deliberations. An anonymous juror told ABC News that 10 out of the 12 jurors believed Cosby was guilty in two out of the three counts filed against him. The third count had the vote of 11 of the 12 jurors.

During the trial, prosecutors called 12 witnesses, including Andrea Constand, the woman who first came forward with allegations against Cosby.  She endured over a week of testimony with no forensic evidence.

Constand first told police about the alleged assault in January 2005, a year after she says it took place. The district attorney at the time declined to press charges, citing insufficient evidence. She thereafter sued Cosby in a civil suit and settled for an undisclosed amount in 2006.

Judge O’Neill, the judge presiding over the trial, declared the mistrial with prosecutors announcing that they plan to retry the case.

What Exactly is a Mistrial?

In the criminal justice system, a mistrial (also called a “hung jury”) is one that is not successfully completed. In other words, the jury cannot come to a decision even when it is given the adequate time to deliberate.   

Mistrials can occur for a number of reasons, including the death of the attorney, juror misconduct, or a prejudicial error unfair to the defendant. The most common reason for mistrial is a “hung jury,” when different members cannot come to a conclusion as to the guilt of the defendant.  Either side may file a motion for mistrial, which is either granted or denied by the presiding judge.  The government can still seek for a re-trial when there is a mistrial.

Juries Must be Unanimous for Criminal Trials

In federal court, whether the trial is criminal or civil, juries must reach a unanimous verdict. In state courts, almost every state requires a unanimous verdict in criminal trials.

In criminal trials, 12 jurors has traditionally been the norm, with a few outlier states that allow for six jurors (ie. Florida allows for six-person juries in criminal trials). Continue reading

In a 6-5 opinion (United States v. Sanchez-Gomez), the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just found the San Diego District Court’s 2013 shackling policy for pretrial defendants unconstitutional- “likening the court’s policy to treating inmates “like a bear on a chain.” While it is a significant ruling, the opinion is moot for the San Diego criminal court system because it no longer has the same restraint policy from 2013. The San Diego federal court had enacted the policy after the U.S. Marshals Service cited safety concerns due to understaffing and an uptick in violence. Federal Defenders of San Diego, a non-profit which provides public defense for defendants, sued over the policy on behalf of four people charged with crimes such as illegal re-entry, drug importation, and misuse of a passport.

U.S. District Chief Judge Barry T. Moskowitz decided to defer to the marshals on security, allowing the default policy to be the use of five-point restraints — leg and hand shackles connected by a belly band — during routine hearings. Now, overturning the lower court, the 9th Circuit ruling would only allow for shackling if it would serve a compelling purpose. The majority opinion found that “a blanket policy applied to all defendants infuses the courtroom with a prison atmosphere.” Rather, the higher court noted that each defendant must be assessed on a case-by case basis on whether they should be shackled on both the hands and feet. The judges noted that the “constitutional liberties” of defendants must be defended.

Your Constitutional Rights

It is widely accepted that pretrial detainees have the same rights as convicted prisoners.

You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect in a courtroom. While the U.S. constitution does not explicitly use these words, the 14th Amendment guarantee to due process denotes that even  defendants have the right to fairness, dignity, respect, and privacy within our criminal justice system. This concept of human dignity is one that has been refined by the courts in its interpretation of the constitution.  The Supreme Court in Deck v. Missouri held that the use of visible shackles during jury proceedings would prejudice the jury against the defendant. The recent 9th Circuit ruling clarified the scope of the right to dignity to pretrial proceedings.

Your are also presumed to be innocent until found guilty. See Taylor v. Kentucky, 436 U.S. 478, 98 S. Ct. 1930, 56 L. Ed. 2d 468 (1978). The 9th circuit clarifies that shackling before a defendant is even convicted or sentenced weakens that presumption. Continue reading

In the latest of the terrifying bills that have come out of our current Congress, Republicans in the House and Senate recently introduced two companion bills they are calling the Back the Blue Act of 2017, to keep up with the Trump Administration’s rhetoric of “law and order.” S.1134 was introduced by John Cornyn (R-Tex.), and is co-sponsored by 15 senators, all Republicans.  H.R.2437 as introduced by Ted Poe (R-Tex.), and includes five co-sponsors, also all Republicans.

What the Bills do

The bills would create a new category of federal crimes for killing or attempting to kill a state or local law enforcement officer who works for a police agency that receives federal funding. It in effect treats all local police agencies as federal agencies because nearly all police agencies already receive some sort of federal funding. The bill would also allow for the federal death penalty in such cases, and it would impose limits on the ability of defendants to file habeas petitions in federal court after they have exhausted their appeals.

The bill would also make it a federal crime to “assault” any police officer, bringing a federal mandatory prison sentence of two to 10 years.

Additionally, the bills would allow a district attorney to overrule local officials if he or she did not like the way those officials were handling a case involving a police death. As it stands, the language of the proposed legislation explicitly authorizes federal prosecutions in cases where  “the verdict or sentence obtained pursuant to State charges left demonstratively un-vindicated the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence.”

Qualified Immunity

It has always been the case that police actions are covered under qualified immunity, which means that in order for a victim’s lawsuit to proceed, the plaintiff in a civil rights lawsuit must show that not only were his or her rights violated, but also that a reasonable police officer should have known that the actions in question were a violation of the Constitution (essentially that the police intentionally violated his or her rights).

Under the language of this proposed bill, police would only be liable for out-of-pocket expenses and not statutory punitive damages, such as in instances of Section 1983 lawsuits under the Civil Rights Act. Lastly, the bills would bar plaintiffs from recovering attorneys fees under Section 1988 of the Civil Rights Act.

The bills are being opposed by civil rights and accountability groups nation-wide. Continue reading

In Alameda county, California lawmakers are considering a contentious bill that would end lifetime registration for certain sex offenders. The lawmaker who introduced the bill, Nancy O’Malley, and the District Attorney of Alameda County’s intent is to save the state money, since it is extremely expensive to monitor sex offenders.

Senate Bill 421 would reorganize the sex offender registry into a tiered system and group existing registered offenders into three categories based on the severity of their crimes. A certain number of offenders would be dropped from the list as soon as 2018. “There are people who are still registering who are now 80 years old and they register every year because when they were 18 years old they exposed themselves, there’s injustice in some of that,” says Ms. O’Malley.

The bill passed the state Senate’s Committee on Public Safety on last month. Proponents of the new bill say that lightening the work load of law enforcement will give them more time to focus on high-risk offenders that actually need monitoring.

Currently, a state tax force has 2,500 sex offenders to keep track of. There is currently an estimated 104,000 registered sex offenders statewide.

Potential Changes in California’s Sex Offender Registry

Most U.S. states already have a tiered system for sex offenders. But under current California law, all sex offenders have to register with law enforcement for the rest of their lives, no matter if they committed a nonviolent misdemeanor crime like indecent exposure (ie. urinating in public) or a violent felony rape.

If passed into law, S.B. 421 would create a tiered system for sex offenders:

  • Tier 1: Misdemeanor or non-violent sex offenders would have to register for 10 years.  This encompasses situations like when a young college student has too much to drink and exposes him or herself publicly.
  • Tier 2: Convicts who committed serious or certain violent offenses would have to remain on the list for 20 years.
  • Tier 3: Violent high-risk sex predators will remain on the list for the rest of their lives.  This includes sex offenders who violated Megan’s Law.

A sex offender’s removal from the registry would not be automatic. Offenders who qualify for removal would still have to petition the court and have their application reviewed by their local district attorney, who has to consider factors like the risk of re-offending. Continue reading

According to California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the over four million traffic tickets handed out to the state’s drivers each year should no longer be criminal charges. If other lawmakers agree with her, California drivers would spend less time in court and would no longer face fines of up to $300 and possible license suspensions for failing to show up for a hearing.

A panel called the Commission on the Future of California’s Court System has recommended this traffic ticket proposal in an attempt to improve Californian’s interactions with the judicial system. Ms. Cantil-Sakauye wants the Judicial Council to study and report on the proposals by September in the Fall.

The traffic proposals are the latest response to the slew of driver suspensions brought on indirectly by the court system’s financial deficits. California courts have been padding their budgets by adding surcharges to traffic tickets — $490 to the standard $100 fine for a minor violation. When drivers miss payment deadlines, they face additional penalties and license suspensions. A statewide report in 2015 found that 4.2 million Californians had their licenses suspended between 2006 and 2013 for failing to pay traffic fines and penalties. Poor people were hit the hardest.

Under this proposal, traffic infractions would be moved to the civil court system. If a driver fails to show up in court, the judge can decide whether the law had been violated, but he or she could no longer impose a fine of up to $300 for nonappearance or suspend the driver’s license.  However, the proposal would not eliminate license suspensions for failing to pay fines and penalties for the original offense. The proposal would need to be approved by the state legislature and the governor.

State senator Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) has a new bill, SB185, that would prevent the state from automatically suspending licenses of drivers unable to pay fines for minor traffic tickets and would require courts to base fines on drivers’ ability to pay

Legal Implications

By switching out of the criminal law system into a civil one, it is now easier for the state to prove a violation. For criminal cases, prosecutors have to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  The switch to a civil system means prosecutors only need to prove guilt by a “preponderance of evidence,” meaning that over 50% of the evidence points to the defendant’s guilt. Continue reading

In a tragic turn of events, seven adults were shot at a University City apartment complex pool party earlier this month. One woman named Monique Clark was killed. Witnesses say that  49-year-old Peter Selis, a resident at the upscale La Jolla Crossroads complex, never even left his pool chair when he opened fire on a birthday party.  The question left in everyone’s mind is whether Selis was motivated by race, something that the witnesses and survivors of the shooting believe to be true. All the victims of the mass shooting were people of color – four black women, two black men, and one Latino man.  

The three police offers who arrived at the scene shot and killed Mr. Selis. The preliminary investigation revealed that Mr. Selis is a car mechanic at a Ford dealership, and a 2015 bankruptcy filing illustrated that he was under crushing debt.

Hate Crimes

According to the FBI, a hate crime is a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”

Hate crimes are the only criminal case in which prosecutors are required to prove a perpetrator’s motive at trial. Typically, the defendant’s mens rea, or criminal intent, is all that is needed to prove guilt. This means that the perpetrator’s state of mind must be an element of the crime; he or she must have taken action intentionally to pursue a criminal result. For example, if a gunman opens fire on a crowd, prosecutors must prove that he intended to pull the trigger (the action) and shoot people to harm them (the criminal result). With hate crimes, prosecution must prove that the perpetrator had the mens rea  to shoot people, but that he or she was also motivated by the victim’s race, gender, or religion.

As a result, hate crimes are extremely difficult to prove even if the crime of shooting is considered by some to be a ‘slam dunk’ case. The mere difference between the race of the offender and the victim in and of itself, absent of any other objective bias indicators, is unlikely to result in a conviction. Usually there must be more evidence to examine the surrounding circumstances. This may include statements the suspect made prior to the crime, which do not exist in the case of Mr. Selis.

A total of 84 “hate crime events” were reported in 2016 in San Diego. Continue reading

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Tamila E. Ipema issued a court order that the San Diego County District Attorney, Bonnie Dumanis, must return $100,000 of seized assets back to a medical marijuana businessman and his family. Over a year ago, DEA agents raided James Slatic’s business, but did not charge anyone with a crime. They used sledgehammers to break open the front door of Med-West Distribution, Slatic’s business that supplied a collective of medical pot shops with cannabis oils used for vaping as well as marijuana-laced edibles, topical creams, and other products. The agents seized all of the inventory, business records, and just over $324,000 in cash (a separate forfeiture proceeding for those funds is ongoing).

A few days after the raid, the District Attorney’s office also froze Slatic’s personal bank account, along with the accounts of his wife and two stepdaughters, alleging that the money was illegal drug profits. They took $55,000 from Slatic’s account, $34,000 from his wife’s account and more than $5,000 each from the couple’s two daughters. The money was not formally seized until months later. Dumanis has used state and federal civil asset-forfeiture rules for years to confiscate millions of dollars from drug suspects.

Lawyers for Mr. Slatic argued that that money should be returned because it was not part of Med-West’s funds. Mr. Slatic wrote in a statement: “It’s about time. We did nothing wrong. My business operated openly and legally for more than two years; we paid taxes and had a retirement program for our 35 employees.” The District Attorney’s office has argued that they do not have to return the money until 12 months after money is formally seized, not 12 months after it is actually seized.

Formal Procedures of Civil Asset Forfeiture

Civil asset forfeiture occurs when the government (ie. police) literally seizes someone’s property without compensating them, based on the suspicion that the property was used in connection with criminal activity. The government has to follow certain procedures before it can declare forfeited property.

Schedule I substances (drugs) can be seized by policy without any formal petition of forfeiture. See CA Health and Safety Code § 11475.  

When police seize personal property worth less than $25,00 they must give notice of formal forfeiture proceedings to all property owners. See CA Health and Safety Code § 11488.4(j). You must be given an opportunity to file a claim if you recieve this notice, which must be filed within 30 days of the received notice.

California law prohibits police from keeping seized cash and property valued at less than $40,000 in federal cases without obtaining a criminal conviction. Continue reading

A young man named Juan Manuel Montes Bojorquez, 23, who may be the first “dreamer” to be deported under the Trump administration, has filed what could be the first “dreamer” lawsuit against the administration in San Diego federal court. The lawsuit demands the government release information about his case under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), to find out why he was deported.

Mr. Montes was deported back to Mexico after being stopped by a border officer on a bike in Calexico on February 17th. He did not have any ID on him when he was detained. It is reported that Montes was not given an opportunity to see an immigration judge or attorney, and that he was escorted across the border in Mexicali without the copies of the papers that he signed. After he was removed to Mexico, the lawsuit claims that Montes was robbed in Mexicali at knifepoint of a suitcase of clothing. He snuck back in to the U.S. the next day with his wallet, and then turned himself to CBP. He was detained once again and deported back to Mexico. Montes has been living with family in Mexico since.

According to his attorneys, Mr. Montes came to the U.S. when he was 9 years old and since 2014 has been able to legally live and work in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. According to the Department of Homeland Security, his DACA status had expired, and an illegal entry into the U.S. and a prior conviction for theft put his status in question. Montes has a minor traffic offense and one misdemeanor offense.

It is reported that California is easing back into executions for convicted criminals on death row, after not having executed anyone in over a decade. California has a sordid history with the death penalty. The process is extremely delayed, with inmates waiting on death row for decades before dying of natural causes instead of being executed. The state has held no executions since 2006, and only 13 since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978. However, the list of death row inmates is twice as many as any other states, up to 749.

California voters voted for Proposition 66 last November, which would keep the death penalty intact and also reform the state’s capital punishment system by speeding up executions. In 2012, voters also rejected Proposition 34 and Proposition 62 in 2016, which would have permanently repealed the state’s death penalty. Voters in a few Southern California counties are also electing district attorneys who put more people on death row. The people of California have definitely spoken: They want to speed up death row, not eliminate it, despite the data that shows it is racially discriminatory. However, it would take an execution a day, every day, for the next two years in order to empty the state’s death row backlog.

Crimes Eligible for Capital Punishment in California

There are several statutes that touch on capital punishment in the California Penal Code. CA Penal Code § 187 addresses “special circumstances murder” which includes:

  • More than one murder conviction;
  • Murder by bomb or poison;
  • Murder of a cop;
  • Murder involving torture;
  • Murder involving gang activity; and
  • Murder involving another serious felony (ie. rape).

California law also provides for the death penalty if you are convicted of:

  • Treason against the state;
  • Perjury causing the execution of another innocent person;
  • Intentionally interfering with preparations of war.

Lastly, CA Penal Code § 190.3 sets out a list of aggravating factors that allow a jury to determine whether a defendant should get the death penalty. For example, juries may consider the circumstances of a crime, such as if the acts were particularly egregious. They can also consider other past violent criminal activity that is not connected with the crime at hand (ie. domestic violence).     Continue reading