Articles Posted in Criminal Defense

There is a social contract between law enforcement and the communities in which they work, requiring transparency and trust. But that can be extremely difficult to achieve. 

Practical Implications

Roughly half of Americans say they have a declining perception of police and other law enforcement agencies primarily because of what they perceive as a lack of transparency. This suggests that agencies must shine more light on policies and procedures and give the public greater access to data and decisions made by top officials if they want the trust they need for maximum efficiency. That means agencies will necessarily incorporate clear policies designed to build visibility into the world of law enforcement: 

  • Use modern technology to track and report crime, officer response, personnel issues, and so forth.
  • Implement a civilian review board that works with law enforcement with the power to provide oversight, accountability, and updates to the public.
  • Create policies, annual reports, organizational charts, and additional data whenever possible that is available online for the public to peruse.
  • Create avenues for police accountability that make sense to the public. When it comes to use-of-force issues and the public finds particular actions questionable or inhumane, but the department stands behind them, there should be an explanation/rationale for such procedures and when or why they are deployed.  If certain officers have multiple issues one after another they should be held accountable for that. And when officers clearly lack compassion and decency, they should be removed from the force.
  • Publicize every use-of-force incident and include documentation on relevant demographic information, the type of force and reason it was used, and the officers involved.
  • Review and evaluate events that involve complicated issues and result in negative outcomes that could be prevented in similar situations down the road.

Benefits of Transparency

The fact is that the majority of information the general public receives about police actions comes from news stories.  That being said, how might transparency improve community perceptions of law enforcement?  Many stories that have gotten a lot of traction in recent years have exposed officers as ruthless, punishing enforcers who appear to enjoy their aggression toward citizens. The question is, are those isolated incidents or common practice? Transparency and accountability can answer the questions the public has about these incidents and, if effectively handled, can boost community confidence in the police. When there is a wall of secrecy around police agencies, the public can be counted on to assume the worst. 

We know there are legitimate problems in any organization and that when they are handled openly, the opportunities for remediation of policy are much more likely, satisfying the public demand for better outcomes when police deal with racial disparities, mental health issues, juvenile offenders, and other problems front and center on the public agenda. Continue reading

We have many federal agencies that are tasked with protecting the public. Outfits, including the DEA, FBI, ATF, and Federal Marshals all share that mandate. In the course of their work, however, they have been responsible for more than 150 fatalities and 80 injuries over a period of just five years. That leads to questions about just how these agencies operate. 

Minor Reforms

The Biden administration has recently addressed some of the biggest complaints law enforcement has seen, requiring the first reforms federal agencies have experienced in the past 20 years. Those reforms include: 

  • Intervention requirements for officers who observe excessive force in the field;
  • Greater requirements for body camera usage;
  • No-knock warrant restrictions.

Rules for Federal Agencies

The fact that state and local law enforcement agencies have undergone some monumental reforms in recent years has been highly publicized. But the same is apparently not true for federal law enforcement agencies. Data surrounding use-of-force incidents are heavily cloaked. We know that many local agencies have done away with the use of chokeholds and have ramped up training related to de-escalation, for example, but it is unclear how policies at the federal level have been impacted by publicized lethal force incidents in recent years. Former federal officers can confirm that there is generally little to no oversight when it comes to federal data, making it virtually impossible to understand the who, what, why, when, and how of federal shootings. What we do know is this: federal officers—and those working in tandem with them– are sanctioned to shoot at moving vehicles and often shoot suspects within seconds of an encounter. These are generally unacceptable for more local police.

Facts About Federal Law Enforcement

Just who are the people who wind up on the other side of federal officers’ weapons, and what do we know about the agencies that pursue them?

  • While all law enforcement operations must conduct a risk assessment prior to attempting an arrest, the bar for federal agencies is much lower than for state and local agencies.
  • Over 40% of these suspects have been charged with violent crimes, including rape, murder, and armed robbery.
  • Accidental victims who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time account for about 10% of shootings.
  • Between ten and twenty percent of those shot by federal agents and/or cooperating local agencies were wanted for just low-level charges such as simple parole violations.
  • About two in ten had warrants related to felony gun or drug possession, and in some instances, these suspects fired on officers first.
  • 49 officers were shot, six of whom died.
  • Multiple officers fired a weapon in roughly half of all shootings.
  • US Marshals are not expected to engage in de-escalation tactics prior to using lethal force.
  • US Marshals’ operations resulted in the majority of fatalities.
  • To date, no Marshals have ever been prosecuted following a shooting incident.
  • One in ten gun fights occurred during daylight hours in high-traffic areas.
  • One fatal shooting actually occurred when officers killed a pall-bearer while performing his duties at a funeral.

Continue reading

A crazy election year is ahead, making it a good idea to take a look at voter fraud issues that could lead to some real problems for individuals who are charged. 

Voter Fraud Facts

The truth is that the majority of Americans do care about election integrity and believe that fraud of any kind is wholly intolerable.  That may be why voter fraud is tremendously rare in the United States, according to numerous studies, despite claims to the contrary by some. Claims floating around charging that the 2024 presidential election is “rigged” are unfounded, as the number of fraud cases related to voting is minuscule and would not impact election results.  Here’s what we know about recent cases of such fraud:

  • According to one study, the probability of non-citizen voter fraud is zero.
  • Only 31 credible cases of voter fraud related to impersonation occurred between 2000 and 2014 across the country.
  • The actual rate of voter impersonation is no higher than 0.003%.
  • Most questionable issues can be traced back to a clerical error of some kind.
  • In the 2016 election, there were just four cases of documented fraud.
  • Mail-in votes have been determined to be just as secure as in-person votes.
  • In multiple studies, the majority of voter fraud claims have been found to be meritless.

Examples of Voter Fraud

In the event someone did decide to try to commit voter fraud, there are a number of ways to attempt to break the law (although safeguards usually prevent success):

  • Voting or registering, or trying to do so, in the name of someone else or of a fictional person and forging a signature;
  • Interfering with mail-in ballots;
  • Voting despite ineligibility (such as due to citizenship status, felony status, or age);
  • Casting more than one ballot in the same election;
  • Voting in the name of someone who has died;
  • Changing the information on someone else’s registration form or throwing it away because you do not like the party they are associated with;
  • Buying, threatening, and/or selling votes;
  • Being paid to vote in a particular way;

Examples of Voter Fraud by Officials

  • Manipulating voting machines;
  • Trying to determine who someone has voted for;
  • Manipulating ballots by throwing them out, changing them, or casting ballots in the name of other voters.

Examples of Fraud by Campaigns or Candidates

  • Using taxpayer money to campaign;
  • Secreting the names of those who pay for advertising;
  • Campaigning within 100 feet of a polling location.

Penalties for Voter Fraud

While voter fraud is extremely rare, when it does occur, offenders can look forward to the possibility of serious penalties, including thousands in fines and years behind bars, depending on the charges.  Continue reading

Solitary confinement: while proponents claim it is the only way to control the most violent prisoners, the fact is that in the states that have abridged the use of solitary confinement, the rates of violence have really declined. 

Life in Solitary

American prisons are confining tens of thousands of inmates to years, and sometimes decades, in solitary confinement. Oftentimes, these prisoners receive subpar services to address mental health issues that brought them to prison in the first place, so those conditions become markedly worse with their time in solitary. And what groups are disproportionately represented in solitary confinement? Not surprisingly, people of color and trans individuals.

The Cost in Humanity

Long periods of isolation and forced idleness deprive prisoners of the basic human interactions and productive tasks that are needed to sustain mental health, healthy relationships, and pro-social thinking. In solitary confinement, people have no opportunity to use or develop important life skills, such as learning how to take turns, mediate differences, deal with frustrations, and find common ground. Instead, these prisoners’ potential for growth is overshadowed by depression, panic, paranoia, self-mutilation, and a disturbing rate of suicide.  These mental conditions are often side-by-side with worsening physical conditions, including hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease.

After Prison Release

When inmates who have spent lengthy stays in solitary confinement are eventually released, they are at a statistically higher risk of a life of crime and substance abuse than their peers, making them at a higher risk of rearrest. 

California

Here in California, the governor has vetoed attempts to limit solitary confinement. Lawmakers attempted to create the following limits on the use of solitary:

  • A limit of 15 consecutive days;
  • A maximum of 45 days in a six-month time span;
  • Limited to inmates between the ages of 26 and 60;
  • Inappropriate for individuals with disabilities.

Despite saying no to these proposed restrictions, Governor Newsom has committed to working with the Department of Corrections to come up with acceptable reforms. Meanwhile, the state lags behind other states in recognizing the dangers of solitary confinement and implementing changes that would benefit both prisoners and society at large. Continue reading

The holiday season may bring to mind visions of sugarplums and Christmas carols for lots of people, but for retailers, the focus has to be on theft. It is the busiest shopping season of the year, and merchants know that shoplifters are out in full force. Most retail theft—roughly 80%– occurs during the holidays. In fact, shoplifters in 2023. That estimate is up 6 percent from 2022. 

Penalties for Shoplifting

When shoplifters are caught and prosecuted, they could face some pretty stiff criminal penalties in California, including fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 and imprisonment from a couple of months to as long as 3 years, depending on the value of merchandise stolen and other factors.

If you have been charged with vehicular manslaughter or vehicular homicide, it means that, as the person charged with the crime, you have been deemed responsible for someone’s death.  While you certainly did not intend for things to turn out this way—you were behaving foolishly, and things got out of control—someone is dead, and the state is devoted to making you pay. 

What is Vehicular Manslaughter?

Negligence is the underlying principle of vehicular manslaughter charges. It involves drivers who do dumb things behind the wheel when they should know better. Maybe a driver drove too fast through a neighborhood or on a freeway. Perhaps someone juiced the gas in order to get through an intersection even though the light had turned red. Or possibly a driver took just a few seconds to type out a text message while behind the wheel. Drivers who take these kinds of chances can be dangerous on the road, and when their behavior results in a fatality, criminal charges are likely to follow. A misdemeanor conviction could mean up to 12 months behind bars. However, vehicular manslaughter could be charged as a felony if gross negligence is found to have occurred.  In that case, the penalties are much stiffer—up to six years in state prison. Your driver’s license could also be revoked for three years.

Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

When someone is under the influence of alcohol exceeding state limits of 0.08% (or 0.05% for individuals under age 21) or is under the influence of mind-altering drugs, and that person winds up in an accident that kills someone, they could wind up facing misdemeanor or felony charges,  depending on the level of negligence associated with the accident. Under the best of circumstances, a guilty verdict could result in anywhere from a year to three years in the county jail. Felony charges could land a suspect in prison for as long as 10 years.

DUI Murder

California law gets even more punitive when repeating DUI offenders are involved in fatal accidents or when previous DUI offenders have been advised as to the dangers of driving while drunk (the Watson Advisement). The law is based on a case involving a drunk driver–Watson– who killed two people as a repeat DUI offender.  It has set a precedent in California that means individuals in circumstances similar to Watson’s can be charged with second-degree murder, which could put offenders in prison for 25 years to life.

What a Conviction Could Mean for You

How does life change for someone charged with these kinds of crimes? Despite feeling overwhelming angst at having had a part in someone’s death, the courts will further punish offenders found guilty. Imprisonment for any length of time could change life forever, impacting family relationships, current and future employment, and quality of life for you and your family.  Without question, a strong defense is essential going forward.  Continue reading

Just because you disagree with the police about whether or not you deserve to go to jail, it does not mean you have an equal say in the matter. As officers attempt to handcuff you, your first instinct may be to resist their efforts. Maybe you can think of 20 excellent reasons that cops are out of line or have the wrong guy, but none of those reasons give you the right to fight back against officers who are trying to cuff, transport, or book you into jail. You are much better off cooperating and getting your comeuppance in court—because if you get charged with resisting arrest, the consequences may not be very pleasant. 

What Does Resisting Arrest Look Like?

Every scenario is different, so drawing a picture of resisting arrest is a little bit complicated. The legal definition refers to willfully delaying, resisting, or obstructing a peace officer, public officer, or EMT as they are attempting to do their duty. It can include disrupting or impeding communications over a public safety radio frequency and certainly includes any attempts to disarm an officer of the law. Now, some of this could be interpreted differently by various stakeholders in different situations. Does heckling and name-calling fall under the statute? What about running or hiding from an officer? What if you are a bystander who argues with the cops? The shades of gray involved could make a prosecution a challenge when an adept defense is launched.

Defending the Charges

Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible to demonstrate that a defendant had no intention of interfering with an officer’s duties. Another tact might be asserting that there were no legal grounds for your arrest or that there was an unlawful use of force against a suspect who simply tried to mount a reasonable defense. Finally, it is possible the allegations of resisting arrest were concocted to begin with.

Penalties for Resisting Arrest

The penalties for resisting arrest are pretty consequential: a guilty verdict could land you in jail for a year in addition to $1,000 in fines. If a weapon is involved, penalties increase substantially. That could have significant implications for family relations, employment, and your future in general. Continue reading

Are you facing domestic violence charges even though you are the real victim of abuse? If so, you are looking at some serious legal penalties. If prosecutors have it backward, and the violence in your relationship is directed at you, proving otherwise could be a tough job. But oftentimes, when heterosexual couples have violent relationships, men are often assumed to be the aggressor. But is that always accurate? The truth is that men do wind up on the receiving end of family violence more often than some people realize. 

DV Charges

Spousal abuse is a crime, and if you have been wrongly accused, you should absolutely fight the charges. Otherwise, the consequences could be life-changing, including:

  • Impacting your ability to secure employment;
  • Destroying your right to own a gun;
  • Paying substantial fines (as much as $6000 for a first offense);
  • Going to jail (up to four years, depending on charges).

Bias Against Men in DV Cases

When we hear about domestic violence, women are usually thought of as the victims, which is accurate in many instances—but not always. As unlikely as it may sound, men are victims of DV, too. They often fear they will not be believed if they report it or try to get help. Unlike women, men know many people will think of them as pathetic and feeble, if not as a liar.  Especially when a man is physically larger and stronger than his intimate partner, some will find it difficult to believe he is being abused. Even so, men do experience violence from domestic partners with alarming frequency, and they often cannot get the help they need because of societal bias:

  • There are hundreds of studies substantiating that when relationships are violent, women are equally likely to be the aggressors. Studies reveal that roughly 40% of reports of serious violence involving former or current partners are filed by men, usually involving an attack by women. 
  • In spite of these facts, when police are called to intervene in a domestic dispute, they are more likely to arrest both individuals only if it involves same-sex couples. When police are called to cases involving heterosexual couples results in men being arrested.
  • Women are much more successful than men in securing protective orders.
  • Mock juries who witness DV scenarios are more likely to assign blame to men than to women when presented with violent scenarios, regardless of which partner is the perpetrator of that violence in the scenario.

Violence Against Men is Real

Any violence in a relationship is very serious. The Centers for Disease Control reports that between 10% and 15% of males surveyed say they have experienced serious violence at the hands of an intimate partner. What kind of violence are we talking about?

  • Hair pulling;
  • Punches and/or kicks;
  • Being burned;
  • Being slammed against a hard surface;
  • Being struck with a heavy object;
  • Suffocation and choking;
  • Being beaten;
  • Being threatened with a knife or gun.

Continue reading

The media was all a-flurry when news of Judge Tanya Chutkan issuing a partial gag order on former president Donald Trump in prior to his scheduled D.C. trial. Mr. Trump naturally cried foul, claiming the deep state and the White House is trying to rob him of his right to free speech as he jockeys for another stint in the white house. So, what do we know about gag orders in general, and Mr. Trump’s in particular? 

What is it?

First up on the docket: what is a gag order? In terms of criminal trials, a gag order is a court-issued decree that impacts a person’s ability to discuss a case. While they usually are issued to defense attorneys who may be inclined to sway public opinion on a case with slanted media interviews, in Mr. Trump’s case the order was directed at both the attorneys and the defendant himself. That is because Trumps’ social media and news presence is so pervasive, and because his social media posts, in particular, have been pretty inflammatory.

Why Trump’s was a “Partial” Gag Order

Yes, Mr. Trump is running for president. He has the right to make speeches, to complain about the opposing party, and to denigrate the current man in the White House, not to mention the justice department. What he cannot do, according to the judge, is disparage prosecutors, court employees, or witnesses, or any of their families. Since former Vice-president Mike Pence is both a witness and a political foe, specific instructions were given as to the kinds of comments Mr. Trump can make about Mr. Pence. Criticisms about Pence’s political platform: okay.  Suggestions Pence should not testify at trial or cannot be trusted to tell the truth: not okay.

Why Courts Impose Gag Order

There is nothing new about issuing a gag order in a criminal trial. In fact, you could almost say they are routine in cases where a judge would like to limit public discourse on a pending trial. And why would they want that? Some cases are so volatile that there is a concern that either witnesses will be influenced, or even intimidated, or that the jury will be tainted. In the case of Mr. Trump, the judge specifically noted that the integrity of court proceedings was at risk without the partial gag order. And as far as free speech is concerned, the court must consider the right to a fair trial and the safety of everyone just as much as it weighs one’s right to speak out in public.

What if a Gag Order is Violated?

Any time someone chooses not to adhere to a judge’s decree, it could mean trouble, and that is the case with gag orders, too. Typically, offenders could find themselves facing court admonishment, fines, and loss of liberty.  Mr. Trump has been warned of those possibilities, including the potential of house arrest or time behind bars. Continue reading

Society has struggled with how to deal with the most deviant criminals for centuries. The question of justice becomes more complex than ever when juvenile offenders are involved.  Sadly, it’s a dilemma that is more and more frequently upon us: 

  • 17-year-old Jonathan Rojas is accused of engaging in a shooting spree that killed one person and wounded another in Greenfield, California;
  • A 14-year-old and a 16-year-old are accused of firing into a stopped vehicle, killing the driver and wounding a passenger, in what is believed to be a gang shooting in Los Angeles, California;
  • A juvenile has been charged with murder following reports of a family disturbance in Culver City, California;
  • A 14-year-old has been arrested in connection with a murder in Boyle Heights, California, and is suspected to have participated in no fewer than six additional homicides.
  • A 15-year-old has been arrested in connection with the murder of a Japantown security guard in San Francisco, California;
  • Four teens were arrested and charged with murder after the fatal gang-related shooting of a 16-year-old in Escondido, California.

Clearly, teens are connected to serious crimes more and more of late, with some facing penalties in the juvenile system, and others being tried as adults. 

Why Teens Commit Serious Crimes

Unquestionably, the depravity of these cases and others like it is stunning. It leads us, as a society, to ask how we should address children who engage in such activity. Perhaps we start by trying to come to some understanding of who teen killers are and the multifaceted environments that often produce them.

In a recent study, researchers concluded that oftentimes, young offenders grow up in homes in what they call disordered neighborhoods. These children generally have easy access to firearms and frequently have extensive exposure to violence during their formative years. Consequently, their compromised home lives drive young people to behave in foolish, passionate ways, reacting to the situations they find themselves in.  They fail to process their actions in relation to potential consequences. Rather than the myth of the “super predator teen,” researchers believe reckless morality-stripped teens are born of treacherous family and neighborhood norms.

 That, combined with myriad research surmising that the human brain does not fully develop until roughly age 25, leads to some of the horrendous criminal outcomes we see involving juveniles and is precisely the reason the Supreme Court cited as it eliminated the death penalty for juveniles in 2005, and why a sentence of life without parole is only rarely handed down to juvenile offenders still today.

The Teen Brain and Criminal Penalties

Further studies confirm what is quite obvious to the casual observer: teens crave peer approval and pursue reckless actions in their quest for that approval. Combine this with the inability to balance risk and reward, along with a shaky personal history, and you wind up with juveniles in the criminal justice system. These facts make it imperative that the expectations for teen criminals are tempered when facing courtrooms and justice systems designed with adults in mind. That is not to minimize the anguish of victims; it simply recognizes the reality of the science behind teen behavior. Continue reading

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