This is the final installment of a six-part series on what to expect in California if you face felony criminal charges. Take a look at our past posts in the series and get to know the other steps of the felony arrest in California process.

The prior posts are:

The final step of the felony arrest process in California is sentencing. This is by far the most nerve-wracking time for people accused of crimes. By now, you have met the judge and prosecutors on your case, your attorney has kept you informed of the developments and challenges in your case, and you also have a basic understanding of maximum punishments and fines that can be assessed. What is missing, of course, is the judge’s decision.

Step 6: Sentencing

Whether you reach the sentencing phase by plea or after trial, every person charged with a felony in California will be sentenced or have punishment imposed. A sentencing hearing occurs after the trial and before the judge issues his or her sentencing decision. Some judges will provide the accused with a sentencing commitment, which is a preview of the judge’s sentencing decision; others wait until after the sentencing hearing to communicate their decision.

At the sentencing hearing, each side is afforded an opportunity to present and explain what type of sentence or sentence considerations the judge should consider when assessing punishment in the case. From a defense perspective, mitigating circumstances, prior positive community involvement, and lenient treatment are advocated. From the prosecution’s perspective, victim impact statements and harsher penalties are presented for the judge’s consideration.

After hearing both sides, the judge may sentence the criminal defendant to prison for a fixed time-period, a life sentence, or death in capital punishment cases. Other forms of permissible punishment include the assessment of fines, penalties and surcharges, and the assessment of conditions, like parole or mandatory alcohol and drug treatment. Especially in sexual assault matters, the accused person may be required to register in Sexual Offender Registries and have conditions imposed on where they may live after serving time.

Three Strikes Law

For individuals convicted of two or more violent crimes or serious felonies, a third felony conviction will automatically trigger the three strikes law. The three strikes law compels the judge to impose a life sentence, removing all other punishment options at the sentencing phase regardless of any mitigating circumstances.  

Death Penalty

A death sentence is the most severe punishment for someone charged with a felony. According to the Los Angeles Times, the California Supreme Court in August 2017 kept in place a measure passed by voters to speed up executions. Due to delays and legal challenges, the state of California has not executed a prisoner in a decade. Continue reading

This is part five of a six-part series on what to expect in California if you are arrested and charged with a felony. Prior posts are available at Step One: Pre-Arrest Investigation, Step Two: Arrest, Step Three: Arraignment and Bail, and Step Four: Pretrial Proceedings. What follows is an explanation of a felony trial.

Step Five: Trial

If a criminal case cannot be resolved in a plea negotiation or settlement, the case proceeds to trial for determination of guilt. A defendant can receive a trial by jury or a trial by court also known as a bench trial. At the conclusion of either trial, a verdict is reached and it is communicated to the accused person. The judge or jury tells the defendant that he or she is guilty or not guilty.

In a trial by jury, 12 community members listen to testimony from various people. Among the people who can testify are the victim, eyewitnesses, law enforcement personnel, medical doctors, forensics experts, and the defendant. A defendant may continue exercising his or her right to remain silent and not testify at trial. Ultimately, the decision to testify at trial is one made by the defendant’s attorney and the defendant. In addition to listening to the trial testimony from witnesses, the jury also examines evidence, makes factual determinations, and decides whether the defendant is culpable – guilty or not guilty.

In a bench trial, the judge makes all the decisions of the case. He or she listens to the evidence to decide whether the defendant is guilty or not and makes all decisions regarding the law and criminal procedure at issue during the trial.

Post-Trial Motions

If either side is not satisfied with the results of the trial by jury or bench trial, post-trial motions are available to address trial issues. A motion is a formal request to the court to address an issue that arose at trial. Motions can be made by the defendant or state prosecutor. One common post-trial motion, often filed by the defense, is a motion for a new trial. There are certain permissible reasons to obtain a new trial. There can be jury misconduct, an error of law by the court, or new evidence, to name a few of the permissible reasons. Post-trial motions must be made prior to the sentencing hearing. At sentencing, the trial judge assesses the punishment and penalties the defendant will receive.

Check back next week to read the six and last installment of this series – Step Six: Sentencing. Continue reading

We continue the series on what to expect following a felony arrest in California. What follows is an explanation of pre-trial proceedings.

Phase 4: Pre-trial Proceedings

Many felony arrests are resolved at the pre-trial phase of criminal prosecution. Although the accused person is required to attend all court conferences unless excused by the Superior Court Judge, a criminal defense attorney has many tools available to resolve the case at this stage. Common tools are court appearances (conferences and hearings), waivers, motions (requesting court to resolve a dispute about the evidence or charges between the defense and prosecution), discovery issues, and plea bargains or negotiations.

Court Appearances: Preliminary Hearing, Readiness Conference, or Felony Disposition Conference

Following the arraignment, the next most important appearance is the preliminary hearing, known as a “prelim” or “probable cause hearing.” During the preliminary hearing, two issues are before the court: Is there probable cause to believe that a crime was committed; and if so, is there probable cause to believe that the defendant is the person who committed the crime. While rare, the Superior Court Judge may dismiss the charges against the accused person at this point and no further action will be required. More commonly, however, if both questions are answered in the affirmative, the Superior Court Judge will rule that the accused person must “answer for the charges.” This means that the criminal case is sent to the trial court for further pretrial proceedings, like the readiness conference or felony disposition conference.

At the readiness conference the prosecution makes an offer to the accused person to resolve the case before any other activity in the case happens. In exchange for pleading guilty, the prosecution usually offers a reduction in charges or lower sentencing recommendations. Usually negotiated in the judge’s chambers, if resolvable, the criminal defendant accepts the plea and pleads guilty to the charges or reduced charges. If not resolved, the criminal matter continues on the pre-trial track and further proceedings like waivers and motion practice occur.

Waiver of Speedy Trial Right

If you choose to fight the charges, California Penal Code states that the prosecution must bring the case to trial within 60 days of your arrest. At the readiness conference, if the offer is not accepted, the criminal defendant often waives the right to a speedy trial because it is advantageous to his or her defense. The result is that a trial takes a long time to schedule and ultimately resolve. When you waive your right to a speedy trial, the timing of the case is no longer important.

Pre-trial Motions

Pre-trial motions are a set of requests made to the trial judge, by either side, to help reduce the issues for trial. The motions include Motion to Suppress Evidence, Motion to Dismiss Information, Motion for Speedy Trial, Motion to Sever Counts or Charges, and Motion to Compel Discovery. Each of these motions have a purpose and must be made at certain times in the process or the ability to make the motion is waived because the motions are time-limited.

From a defense perspective, there are three powerful motions that can be made during the pretrial phase of the case – the motion to set aside information, the pitchless motion, and the motion to suppress. In a motion to set aside the information, the defense askes the court to dismiss one or more of the criminal charges that have been lodged. A pitchless motion asks the court for permission to review the arresting or investigating police officer’s personnel file. Defense attorneys are looking for prior complaints, excessive force, biases, or other police misconduct to taint the arresting or investigating police officer’s credibility. Lastly, a motion to suppress evidence asks the court to exclude from consideration all illegally obtained evidence. If these motions are successful, they are instrumental in resetting plea negotiations and may lead to the dismissal of all charges because of lack of evidence or credibility concerns

Discovery

Discovery in a criminal proceeding is a phase in which the defense and prosecution exchange evidence regarding the criminal case. Neither party may hide or withhold information from the other party and then attempt to present it later at trial. There is an exception for newly discovered evidence. There are strict rules and time-limits for the exchange and presentment of evidence in criminal proceedings. Continue reading

This post is a continuing series on what to expect following a felony arrest in California. The first two posts reviewed the pre-investigation and arrest phases. The next step is the arraignment and bail phase or custody determination.

Step 3: Arraignment and Bail

After arrest and booking, an accused person is brought before a Superior Court Judge for an arraignment. An arraignment is the accused person’s initial appearance in court and must occur within 24 hours of the person’s arrest. During the arraignment, the accused person learns of the charges filed against him or her by the prosecution. The accused person is read his or her rights and enters a plea or answer to the charges levied a by stating the words, “not guilty” or “guilty” when asked to answer.

Once the charges are levied and a plea entered, a custody determination is made. Usually, people are asked to pay bail or post a bond. In California bail amounts are determined annually by a schedule and set by each county. Click here for the 2018 San Diego County Bail Schedule. The purpose of a custody determination hearing is to assess whether the accused person is a flight risk. Bail is insurance to make sure the accused person returns to court on future dates. The amount of bail is determined by the seriousness of the crime, ties to the community, and prior criminal record, among other factors. The accused person will be asked to pay a certain amount of money or be released on his or her own recognizance for no money.

Bond Explained

If the accused person cannot pay the entire bail amount, he or she may seek the services of a bail bondsperson. Bail bondspersons post or pay the entire bail amount for the accused person and typically charge 10% of the bail amount as a fee for providing bond services to the accused person. The charge is also their fee and is generally not refunded, even if the underlying criminal case results in a dismissal. If you fail to appear as directed by the court at any future court date, all of the bail amount may be forfeited and you may be remanded into custody during the pendency of the criminal action.

Bounding Over

Arraignments are handled by any judge in any criminal court. If the accused person is before a lower court judge at time of arraignment and is being charged with a felony or the misdemeanor charge is upgraded to a felony charge, the case will be “bound over” to the Superior Court for a felony arraignment. A plea is entered again and there is an opportunity to review the initial custody determination. The bail amount may be increased or decreased depending on the circumstances of the case or any new developments that come to light after the first arraignment.

If you have not hired a lawyer before your arraignment, the court will provide you with an opportunity to obtain counsel before your next court date. Continue reading

The following post is a continuation of a series on what to expect following a felony arrest in California. In the first post, the pre-investigation step was discussed and can be accessed here. What follows is a discussion about the arrest phase.

Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent

Do not talk to the police during a pre-arrest investigation without the presence of an attorney. The police are collecting information to assist their investigation. Any information gathered and collected by them will ultimately be used to support their arrest of you. Be courteous to law enforcement officials but remain firm – exercise your right to counsel and your right to remain silent.

The Arrest

The arresting police officer must have probable cause or a reasonable ground to arrest you absent an arrest warrant. Most people have a general understanding of an arrest because of exposure to arrests in movies or television shows. When the arrest is complete, you are physically restrained and become a criminal defendant.

Know Your Rights: Miranda Warnings

Miranda warnings are another part of the arrest process people are familiar with and closely associate with the commencement of a criminal case. The Miranda warning advises an arrested person of his or her right in criminal proceedings before being interrogated. Failure to properly administer Miranda warnings affects the admissibility of statements made to law enforcement officials after arrest. On television, Miranda warnings are often administered simultaneous to arrest, but in reality, the requirement is that they get administered before any questioning starts by the police. The order is not important – focus on requesting your right to an attorney and remain silent.

Know Your Rights: Ask to Speak with Counsel and Remain Silent

Ask for an attorney prior to the commencement of the police questioning or interrogation. Then, invoke your right to remain silent. When you request a lawyer’s assistance, all questioning by police should stop. Anything you get asked and answer after invoking your right to counsel may be excluded from evidence later in the criminal proceedings. The police can still question you. Always remain silent while in police custody. Limit all conversations with other police officers, jail cell or holding inmates, or other personnel in the police station. Keep in mind that telephone calls in police stations and jails are recorded. Remain silent.

Booking Process

Once physically handcuffed, you will be taken to central booking for processing. Processing means getting your photo and fingerprints taken, being searched (may include strip search), and being placed in a holding cell or temporary jail until you see a Superior Court Judge. San Diego County criminal defendants are taken to Downtown or Chula Vista; federal criminal defendants are taken to MCC. Provide answers to questions regarding your identity and identifying information, like name, address, date of birth, height, and weight. Continue reading

A felony is the most serious classification of crime with which a person can be charged under California’s Penal Code. Generally, a felony conviction carries with it a sentence of more than a year in jail or prison. Even if a person avoids a long jail sentence following a first felony conviction, any subsequent felony arrests and convictions are punished more severely under California’s Three Strikes Sentencing Law. California also recognizes capital punishment, and the most serious offenses may result in a death sentence for the accused.

The following articles in this series will present an overview of the felony arrest process in California. This brief overview contains general information about the steps that your case may take following a felony arrest. To discuss the circumstances surrounding your felony arrest, contact San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney David Boertje to obtain legal representation.

Step One: Pre-Arrest Investigation

The legal community considers felonies the most serious type of crime. Felonies are classified as violent or non-violent and involve unlawful conduct that leads to the death or serious injury of another person or damage to property. Examples of felony crimes are murder, rape, robbery, burglary, and arson. The crimes of poisoning, murdering police, witnesses, or prosecutors, or killing someone while committing a felony are eligible for capital punishment.

Some crimes come to the attention of law enforcement during a pre-arrest stage. Law enforcement officials conduct a pre-arrest investigation and contact the suspect for questioning. At the point of initial contact, no arrest has been made and no formal charges have been filed with the criminal courts against the person. In California, felony cases are heard in the Superior Court. Lower courts transfer cases to the Superior Court if misdemeanor charges are later upgraded to a felony charge.  

Search Warrants

During the pre-arrest investigation stage, police officers or detectives may seek a search warrant. A search warrant permits the police to search a suspect’s home, business, or personal property for evidence in support of their investigation. If you consent to a search of your person or property, the police do not need a search warrant to search you because your consent means you have given the police permission to search you or your property. Absent express consent from you, the police officers must first obtain a search warrant before they can search your home, business, or property. Continue reading

As Attorney General Jeff Sessions prepares to sue the state of California over its so-called “sanctuary state” policies, which prevent local authorities from complying with some requests by federal law enforcement agents, research suggests that crime and immigration may not be correlated. In fact, research shows that immigrants may commit fewer crimes overall.  While crime rates in California remain low, some types of crime – notably, violent crime – have begun to see an upswing in recent years.

Attorney General Sessions, along with President Trump’s administration, have routinely linked crime with immigration, especially unlawful immigration. According to President Trump, “Many aliens who illegally enter the United States… present a significant threat to national security and public safety.” As California moves to protect its residents living in the state without proper documentation, its politicians disagree with the President that illegal immigrants are more likely to cause crime or commit crimes.

In the debate between the President and the country’s most populous state, evidence appears to back California’s position. In an analysis by the San Diego Union-Tribune, the results of three studies showed that immigrants committed less crime. According to one study, which analyzed incarceration demographics in 1980, 1990, and 2000, native-born individuals are anywhere from two to five times more likely to become incarcerated than immigrants. Speculating about the causes, the conservative-leaning CATO Institute said the severity of punishments, including likely deportation for minor crimes, may be the reason for the lower crime rate among immigrants.

California, a state flush with immigrants, is currently enjoying a historically low crime rate. However, violent crime is increasing throughout the state – a full 3.7% in just the last year, according to the newspaper. At 444 instances of violent crime per every 100,000 California residents, this is still a marginally low number – and a far cry from the rate of 1,104 violent crimes per 100,000 residents seen in the state when crime peaked in 1992. Some critics have retorted that the low crime rate is more likely caused by crime that increasingly goes unreported or criminal justice reform, which decriminalizes some types of formerly criminal behavior.

In contrast to the violent crime rate, California’s property crime rate fell roughly 3% last year.  San Diego did not mirror the state’s crime trend with both the violent crime rate and property crime rate both dropping last year. Only Los Angeles County and Kern County saw an increase in both crime rates.

As further evidence that immigration does not cause an uptick in crime, the San Diego Union-Tribune cites the relative safety of border cities. If immigrants caused more crime, then cities with more immigrants, such as those on the border, should have higher crime rates. According to the newspaper, the opposite is true. Border cities are generally safer – both San Diego and El Paso, Texas are some of the safest cities in the country. Continue reading

Crimes against the elderly are increasing at a disturbing rate in San Diego, California. In 2016, the last year with data available, the violent crime against elderly San Diego residents increased 13%. This accounts for 780 violent crimes against the vulnerable senior citizens living in San Diego – 14 homicides, 24 rapes, 205 robberies, and 537 aggravated assaults, according to CBS 8. In total, elder abuse cases, which include other types of elder abuse such as financial abuse and mental suffering, increased by 39% between 2015 and 2016.

The rise in elder abuse is especially problematic as San Diego increasingly becomes a destination for retirees. According to CBS, the number of San Diego residents over the age of 65 is expected to increase by 23% by 2050. Currently, only 13% of San Diego County residents are over the age of 65.

Because more elderly residents could mean more elder abuse, San Diego is proactively trying to protect this vulnerable group of people. The District Attorney’s office, responsible for prosecuting crimes, gathered several government agencies, including the Aging and Independent Services, and created the “San Diego County Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Blueprint.”

The Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Blueprint is meant to identify the unique needs and challenges faced by the elderly. According to Sheriff William Gore, these unique considerations include various health challenges, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, as well as any other related disorders or cultural issues. Then, the local government’s plan-of-action will implement “best practices” for handling these problems by looking at how other local governments and states handle the same issues.

San Diego County urges anyone who believes they may be a victim of elder abuse, or knows of someone who may be a victim, to call Adult Protective Services at 800.510.2020. In 2017, the hotline received 14,700 referrals and handled almost 10,000 cases. According to Adult Protective Services, this represents an increase in the number of callers, though the number of callers in previous years was not available. According to the agency, financial abuse was the most common form of elder abuse. Financial abuse occurs when an elderly person’s property or assets are being misused – typically through fraud, trickery, force, or threats of force. Mental suffering and physical abuse were listed as the second and third most common complaints, according to the agency.

Discussing the disturbingly high rate of elder abuse in San Diego and the government’s comprehensive response, District Attorney Summer Stephan told CBS News, “Our society will be judged on how we treated our most vulnerable, including our children and our seniors.” Continue reading

California appears to be on the cusp of initiating a statewide reform of their bail laws. The state’s notoriously high rates for bail have put it first in the nation, with an average bail of almost $50,000 per person accused of a crime. Critics of the current system argue that the high costs are unjustified and essentially jail individuals because they are poor. The sky-high bail rates increase the populations of an already-overcrowded jail system at no small expense to taxpayers. According to a study by the UCLA School of Law, California jails 59% of all people accused of a crime in the state at a cost of roughly $204 per day. Nationwide, only 32% of individuals accused of crimes are held until their trial, and the average pretrial supervision program costs a mere $15.

The state’s ineffective bail system gained national attention this month when an elderly man in San Francisco was held on a $350,000 bail, despite being accused of minor crimes. The San Francisco resident, Kenneth Humphrey, was accused of stealing $5 and a bottle of cologne. In response, the police charged him with robbery and residential burglary because he allegedly stepped into his neighbor’s room to take the cologne and $5 bill. Unable to pay the $350,000 in bail, Humphrey spent 250 days awaiting trial in San Francisco County Jail.

After a panel of state appellate court judges ordered a new bail hearing in January, the judges did not mince words in their condemnation of Humphrey’s treatment. “A defendant should not be imprisoned solely due to poverty,” the Court said. Humphrey’s treatment was the “antithesis” of the Constitutional protections of liberty and due process. Advocates point out that when impoverished people are held for long periods of time awaiting trial, they not only lose their jobs, but they are also more likely to accept a plea deal – even when innocent – just to be released from jail. While a plea deal results in being released from jail, the person accused of the crime will likely no longer have his or her job. Even worse, with a criminal record, it will be more difficult to locate employment.  

Before the court ruling, California followed a complex bail schedule and algorithmic risk schedules, described by the UCLA School of Law as “opaque.” According to the same study, the for-profit bail industry’s powerful lobbying arm is behind the high bail fees, high prison rates, and ultimately high spending on imprisoning people who are presumed innocent under the Constitution of the United States. Now, according to the judges, prosecutors and judges must take “ability to pay” into account when determining bail.

That argument resonated with California Attorney General Becerra, who said, “Bail decisions should be based on danger to the public, not dollars in your pocket.” The Attorney General joins a growing chorus of California politicians seeking to abolish “cash-only” bail; that list includes Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom, Sen. Kamala Harris, and California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakaueye. According to the three-judge panel in Humphrey’s case, legislation is desperately needed. Thankfully, California has drafted a bail reform bill already in SB 10. All they need to do is sign it.   Continue reading

Gov. Jerry Brown continues his push to overhaul California’s criminal justice system by announcing an additional $50 million in funding to rehabilitate former inmates. The $50 million in funding would expand job training for inmates while they are incarcerated and then help the inmates locate employment upon their release from state prisons. Currently, the state of California only spends $106 million in rehabilitation and reentry programs.

For advocates of criminal justice reform, the roughly $150 million on rehabilitation services is not nearly enough to tackle what has become a serious problem in the state. Of the 36,000 California prisoners released in the last year with data available, a full 46% were convicted of another crime within just three years. According to Assemblyman Tom Lackey, “That’s a very miserable number. It indicates that the efforts as currently constituted, are not being as successful as they need to be.”

Lackey has introduced a new bill in the state Legislature which would require the state’s inspector general to evaluate the effectiveness of all of the state’s rehabilitation programs and report back to the Legislature every 10 years. According to Lackey, this will not only improve the lives of California inmates by providing effective rehabilitation opportunities, but it will also ensure California is spending its money wisely.

Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer agrees with Lackey about the need for accountability concerning the state’s rehabilitation efforts. Both legislators said they would like to see an investment in education as part of the broader shift to reduce recidivism. Gov. Brown’s proposal does not propose any new funding for education.

Between the Democratic Governor and multiple Republican legislators, it appears a bipartisan consensus is emerging over the need to help former inmates integrate better into society. The only problem is how exactly to fix the problem and how much money should be spent. In a state with a projected budget surplus of $6 billion over the next year, proponents of rehabilitation reform state the Governor’s new funding is not a “dramatic” change to money spent on rehabilitation programs and fail to include programs for inmates once they are outside of prison.

Further, considering Gov. Brown proposed budget for the next year includes $12 billion for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, a full 9% of the state’s budget – the $50 million increase appears to be more of a wink to a large problem than a serious attempt to solve it, according to critics of Gov. Brown’s allegedly mixed record on criminal justice reform. Of the $50 million being proposed for rehabilitation efforts, more than half will be spent on “training inmates to become firefighters.” Continue reading