Earlier this year, a federal jury in Las Vegas refused to convict defendants from the Bundy clan for their alleged roles in armed standoffs. In another stunning setback to federal prosecutors, the jury acquitted Cliven Bundy, Ricky Lovelien, and Steven Stewart of all 10 charges, and delivered not-guilty findings on most charges against Scott Drexler and Eric Parker. Back in 2014, Cliven Bundy made national headlines after his family engaged in an armed standoff with federal agents when they tried to take his cattle that were illegally grazing on public lands. Some of the charges the defendants faced included threatening federal officers and brandishing a firearm against them.

Prosecutors began retrial in July after their first attempt to prosecute resulted in a failure to reach a jury verdict against Drexler, Parker, Lovelien, and Stewart. The judge then ordered Lovelien and Stewart to be freed immediately and declared a mistrial for Drexler. Only defendants Gregory Burleson of Phoenix, Arizona, and Todd Engel of Idaho were found guilty on some charges. The initial prosecution concentrated on six of the least culpable of the 19 defendants charged in the case. 17 co-defendants still remain in federal custody with the release of Lovelien and Stewart.

Back in November of 2016, a Portland district court jury also acquitted Ryan Bundy and five of his alleged co-conspirators of his federal charges of theft and impeding federal workers from their jobs on an Oregon wildlife refuge.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas confirmed that it will push for retrial for a third time in an attempt to convict Drexler and Parker, who are accused of taking up arms against federal agents. This pushes back the other criminal trials for the 11 defendants who are currently awaiting their court dates.

Jury Acquittal and Jury Nullification

Jury acquittal, also known as jury nullification, occurs when a jury renders a unanimous “not guilty” verdict. It is based on the legal concept that jury members vote “not guilty” if they do not support the government’s law, or do not believe it is constitutional or humane.

Acquittal is different from a hung jury, also known as a mistrial, which occurs when jurors simply can not reach a unanimous verdict to reach a guilty or not guilty conviction.

Typically in criminal trials, a unanimous jury is required if the jury is comprised of six people.  However, California is different from most states in that all jurors have to agree in a criminal trial, even if it is a 12-person jury. Continue reading

A couple in San Diego, Carlos Nieblas-Ortiz and Martha Valenzuela-Luna, were reportedly stopped by two deputies in Mission Valley for a cracked windshield. They had their two children with them, one of whom is currently a DACA recipient. Once they were stopped, they were turned over to federal immigration officials. Nieblas-Ortiz said deputies never asked them for their immigration status, and did not issue a citation, but they were prevented from leaving.  Instead, deputies called U.S. Border Patrol, and the family was forced to wait over an hour.  Nieblas-Ortiz was released on bail, but he has told Telemundo 20 he is still not sure about whether they will be deported.

Mr. Ortiz’s attorney states that his client had presented his license and was not issued a ticket.  Instead, officers called immigration officials on them without informing them what was happening.

This incident has sparked some questions regarding police protocol. On January 25, 2017, Donald Trump issued an executive order authorizing local law enforcement agencies to deport undocumented immigrants who have criminal records. Many living in San Diego County feared that local law enforcement officers would be called to enforce federal immigration law even though San Diego County Sheriff’s Department (SDPO) has already stated they will not be stopping and arresting people based on immigration status.

The SDPO claims that in this case, deputies saw the low-riding truck in Mission Bay, a familiar spot for traffickers to unload drugs that will then get picked up by other cars, so this was a narcotics and therefore, a criminal case.

Do You Have to Provide ID? How Long can You be Detained?

Immigration and criminal law interactions are getting more heated and confusing than ever.  Being in the country without documentation is currently not a criminal act that California police departments are actively enforcing. Police may not arrest someone soley for refusing to show ID, as long as the request for ID is not reasonably related to the scope of the stop. However, what is “reasonably related” has never been clearly defined. For example, if you were pulled over for a traffic violation, then police have the right to ask for your ID since your right to drive is related to having a driver’s license/ID.

How long police can detain someone without formal charges has also not been clearly defined. The litmus test is typically “as long as it reasonably takes to conduct the investigation.”  However, police will argue that an hour’s wait for immigration officials is reasonable, as they cannot control the wait time. Continue reading

In a 4-3 decision by the California Supreme Court, it has been held that California judges have broad authority to refuse to shorten the sentences of “three strike” inmates, despite the revisions to the “Three Strikes Law” with Proposition 36. Proposition 36 was first passed in 2012 to allow three-strike offenders to receive sentence reductions if their third offense was neither serious nor violent. The law provided an exception for judges if they believed an inmate to be an “unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.”

However, two years later, Proposition 47 which was passed in 2014, reduced the penalties for a number of drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Under that law, inmates can be denied a sentence reduction only if they posed an unreasonable risk of crimes including murder, a sexually violent offense, child molestation, or other crimes punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Court Opinion

In the case at hand, The People v. Valencia; The People v. Paul Chaney, led by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, ruled that the definition of ‘safety risk’ does not apply to three-strikers who have been sentenced to 25 years to life for repeated crimes. In other words, it has become harder for three-strikers to get sentence reductions. It would “result in the release of more recidivist serious and/or violent offenders than had been originally contemplated under Proposition 36,” the opinion says. The Chief Justice also noted in her opinion that Prop. 47 would not affect three-strike prisoners nor amend the resentencing criteria governing the Three Strikes Reform Act, since it only lowered nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors.

This ruling comes as a result of the criminal appeals filed by inmates David J. Valencia and Clifford Paul Chaney, who were both sentenced to 25 years to life under the three-strikes law and both eligible for reduced terms. Valencia’s criminal history included kidnapping, making criminal threats, and beating his wife. Chaney’s record included armed robbery and three convictions for driving under the influence. In Valencia’s case, a judge refused to reduce Valencia’s sentence, calling him a threat to public safety, in particular, to women. Another judge denied Chaney’s resentencing application, concluding he was likely to drive again while intoxicated. Both inmates had argued that the previous judges should have based their decisions on the narrowed definition of ‘safety risk’ after Propositions 36 and 47 have passed. Continue reading

It has been reported throughout the years that minor drug offenders or registered marijuana businesses were being targeted by police, but now, it seems that marijuana attorneys who represent those in the marijuana businesses are now coming under fire from law enforcement.  Last month, attorney Jessica McElfresh, an experienced attorney in cannabis law, had her hearing in San Diego district court. She is facing multiple felony charges for allegedly hiding hash oil from city inspectors on behalf of her client, James Slatic.

Back in May, D.A. Bonnie Dumanis filed a slew of criminal charges, alleging that Slatic and his business partners were illegally manufacturing and selling hash oil across the country.  Specifically, McElfresh is accused of hiding the evidence from city inspectors during an April 2015 inspection of her client’s facilities in Kearny Mesa.

However, what most attorneys are concerned about is arguably the most sacred right in the legal profession – attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors want access to all of her records, not just the ones pertaining to the charges McElfresh is fighting. There is a particular email in question that prosecutors are using to accuses McElfresh of conspiring with her client. However, McElfresh has counseled hundreds of clients, and now those records are in front of prosecutors.

The Ethics of Marijuana Law

It has long been debated whether an attorney can take on a client in the medical cannabis business. While recreational marijuana will soon be legalized in California, it is still a Schedule I drug under the federal Substances Control Act punishable by jail time. A June 2015 ethics opinion from the Bar Association of San Francisco (Opinion 2015-1) has concluded that representation of such businesses is legal if the lawyer advises clients to adhere to state regs and discourages illegal conduct. For example, aiding a client through a business permitting process is lawful representation that does not breach ethics rules.

Attorney Client Privilege

Every state bar has a rule that protects attorney-client privilege. In California, ABA Rule 3-100 specifies that conversations and information given by a client as it pertains to professional legal advice are protected as “confidential” and inadmissible in court. However, that same rule also specifies that a lawyer’s communications with a client are fair game if they were made with the intent of committing or covering up a crime. In the scenario above, the judge claims that McElfresh’s communication(s) fall under this narrow exception. Continue reading

A video that has made its way through social media of a San Diego police canine biting an unarmed man in handcuffs has caused outrage. The footage, posted by Facebook user Angel Nuñez, shows the dog latched on to the man’s arm for at least 30 seconds while one officer works to unlatch the animal’s jaw. However, two additional cops were holding the man who was being bitten. The victim could be seen screaming as he was being bitten.

The man was eventually arrested on suspicion of charges that include robbery, battery, and being under the influence of drugs. San Diego police claim that the use of the dog adhered to the department’s policy.

When Does a Dog Bite in California Reach Criminal Status?

California has strict dog bite laws that have huge consequences and liability for the owners of dogs that bite. By statute, the state is a strict liability state, meaning the owner of a dog strictly is liable for any dog bite from the moment that ownership begins—with some narrow exceptions, such as when the dog is provoked. See CA Civ. Code § 3342. This means that the owner of a “dangerous dog” can be sued for civil damages from the dog bite victim.

However, what most people do not know is that criminal charges can be filed as a consequence of a dog biting someone, in addition to a civil lawsuit. Specifically, California dog bites may fall under the category of criminal if the dog falls under the state’s legal definition of “dangerous” or “vicious.” California law defines a “dangerous” dog as one that has bitten someone without being provoked, killed or injured another animal at least twice within a three year period, or has acted aggressively towards a person (causing that person to defend him or herself) at least twice within a three-year period. Dogs that are owned by someone with a conviction of a dog-fighting charge may also be considered vicious.

Dangerous dogs that were not reasonably restrained that kill someone may cause their owners to face felony criminal charges. You may face a misdemeanor criminal offense if your dog was not reasonably restrained and it injured someone.

In sum, police can still charge you with criminal charges if your dog bites, injures, or kills someone. These criminal charges range from criminal negligence to second degree murder. Under state, county, and city laws, dog owners can still go to jail for having a dog that bites someone. Continue reading

California corrections officials on Friday began accepting public comments on the new set of proposed regulations that have overhauled the state parole system. See Proposition 57, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016. State regulators gave the guidelines initial approval in April. They have been used to implement Proposition 57.

Last November, California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 57 (64% to 35%) which would emphasize rehabilitation and incentivizing inmates to play a role in their own rehabilitation through credit-earning opportunities for sustained good behavior. Proposition 57 also allows the state Board of Parole Hearings to grant early release to those convicted of nonviolent crimes, and allows the moves up parole consideration of nonviolent offenders who have served the full-term of the sentence for their primary offense and are not determined to pose a risk to their community.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) issued a Public Notice on July 14, 2017 which begins the public comment period for a minimum of 45 days. This would allow the public to submit comments regarding Prop. 57 through mail, fax, and email. Changes to the credit system began in May and the new parole eligibility requirements took effect this month. Final approval is expected in the fall.

However, the rules have come under fire from law enforcement and prosecutors who have largely opposed Proposition 57. Specifically, they are concerned that Proposition 57 did not include language exempting sex offenders from the process.

Parole Conditions

Regardless of who is eligible to be released and when, all inmates released from a California State prison are subject to conditions of parole that must be followed. Some parolees also have special conditions of parole which must also be followed.

General conditions that apply to all parolees include:

  • You and your residence and your possessions can be searched at any time of the day or night, with or without a warrant, and with or without a reason, by any parole agent or police officer. See CA Penal Code § 3067.
  • You must report to your parole agent within one day of your release from prison or jail.
  • You must always update your parole agent with updates to your address and phone number.
  • You must notify your parole agent within three days if the location of any job changes.
  • You must get permission from parole agent for permission to travel more than 50 miles from your residence.

Continue reading

A graduate student at Cal State San Marcos accused of rape has filed a federal lawsuit, alleging the university violated his rights to due process through an unfair investigation. The student, who is not identified by name in the suit, was attending a study abroad program in Germany in 2016.  Last October, he learned that a fellow student in the program had accused him of rape. However, no criminal charges were ever filed even though the university launched its own investigation.

His degree and transcripts were placed on hold once the investigation started. Allegedly, the school did not provide him with the report or his accuser’s statements or other documents. He was found guilty by the university of sexual misconduct in March. The lawsuit now argues that by withholding his academic credentials, without giving him the chance to defend himself, the university breached his constitutional rights to due process under the fifth and fourteenth amendments. In other words, he is alleging that his procedural due process has been violated because the school’s ‘procedure’ denied him access to anything regarding the accusations against him.

Officials for Cal State San Marcos pointed to the university’s policies under Title IX, which forbid discrimination in education. This means the school must create and sustain an educational environment free of sexual violence and misconduct.

This is not the first time that universities in California have come under controversy for their handling of sexual assault allegations. Back in 2015, a California court ruled that the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) acted improperly while adjudicating a sexual assault case, noting that the student was not allowed to findings of the university or cross-examine his accuser. Also in 2015, San Diego State University reversed the suspension of a male student after finding allegations of sexual misconduct against him were unsubstantiated, and he sued the school.

Due Process in Schools

Students facing possible suspension or expulsion from public colleges and universities are entitled to due process protections because their liberty and property are at stake, and because public schools take money from the state, making them state (government) actors, to an extent, in a disciplinary proceeding. This means at an absolute minimum, students in campus disciplinary cases are entitled to have notice of the charges against them, an explanation of the evidence against them, and an opportunity to defend themselves in the process, such as hearings.  See Goss v. Lopez, U.S. Supreme Court (1975).

When a school denies you your right to due process, this can be used as a defense to a suspension or expulsion decision. Continue reading

Months after the criminal trial of the nine defendants involved in the Oregon Wildlife refuge standoff were acquitted, it has been reported that F.B.I. agent W. Joseph Astarita, 40, has been indicted on five counts regarding the lethal shooting of Lavoy Finicum. The agent is now being accused of lying about firing two shots at Finicum. He is being charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and three counts of making a false statement. Astarita has pleaded “not guilty” on all charges and will remain out of custody pending trial.

Astarita is accused of firing twice at Finicum but missing him. The indictment says Astarita, who served as a member of the elite FBI Hostage Rescue Team, “falsely stated he had not fired his weapon during the attempted arrest of Robert LaVoy Finicum, when he knew then and there that he had fired his weapon.” He is accused of lying to three supervisors in the F.B.I. for not alerting the Oregon investigators or the FBI’s Shooting Incident Response Team that he fired his weapon.

It was state troopers, and not the F.B.I. that fired the three lethal shots that killed Finicum.

This criminal indictment stems from an 18-month-long investigation by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Justice.  However, the Oregon Attorney general stated that this indictment still does not change the findings that Oregon State Police were justified in using deadly force against Finicum.

What is Obstruction of Justice?

Obstruction of justice can be generally defined as interference with the administration of criminal investigation. It can consist of bribery, murder, intimidation, lying—anything to hinder the criminal investigation process. The crime is covered by different federal and state statutes.

In 2016, a study conducted by researchers at Bowling Green State University and funded by the National Institute of Justice found that police officers are getting arrested around 1,000 times per year. larmingly, 41% of the total crimes were committed while on duty, concluding that police, breaking the laws they are supposed to be upholding, is not that uncommon.

CA Obstruction of Justice

Section 148 of the California Penal Code makes it a crime to willfully “resist, delay or obstruct” a cop or first responder in the performance of on-the-job duties, which includes lying to an officer in an investigation, providing misleading information, destroying evidence, etc.  If convicted you face a $1,000 fine and a year imprisonment.

One of the most important questions that could come up in an obstruction of justice charge is whether the police violated your Constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure. Continue reading

Earlier this month the criminal trial of Jacob Paul Skorniak, 51, started in San Diego Superior Court. Skorniak is accused of kidnapping and raping a 21-year-old German exchange student he met in Pacific Beach during New Year’s celebrations. He is also accused of using a knife to attack the victim. Skorniak has testified that it was consensual, but the young woman, who has since returned to Germany, has chosen not to return to San Diego to testify at the trial. She was reportedly initially cooperating with the prosecution. Even without victim testimony, the jury ultimately found Skorniak guilty of the charges of rape, kidnapping with intent to commit rape, and sexual penetration of an unconscious person.

In his case, Skorniak actually recorded the crime he committed and it was played for the jury. The victim also inadvertently dialed her cell phone during the assault and her parents answered in Germany. Her father testified that he screamed into the phone until the line went dead.

Everyone knows that being accused of rape is a serious matter. While there may be legal defenses in a situation, we will seek to explain the type of evidence that typically goes into a rape trial.

What if There is No Victim Testimony?

Usually, the most compelling evidence at a rape trial is the testimony of the victim. There is no law mandating that victims of sex crimes have to testify. Prosecutors may still decide to prosecute even without the victim’s testimony if there is other evidence that makes them think they have a case. They will also consider witness testimony as evidence to bring to trial.

What Kind of Evidence is used in Rape Cases?

Statistically speaking, the vast majority of rapes are committed by persons known to the victim.  Therefore, the identity of the person is usually known. However, prosecutors also have to rely on other evidence to prove that the accused committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This includes physical and forensic evidence, such as bruises and cuts on the victim, torn clothing, and DNA evidence or other witness evidence. Continue reading

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