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Scott Peterson became a well-known name when he was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife Laci in 2002. He was facing the death penalty for the murder. Recently, the California Supreme Court overturned his death penalty sentence. According to Justice Leondra Kruger, the trial judge dismissed jurors who were opposed to capital punishment. Discharging prospective jurors was not the right course of action. What should have happened is that these individuals should have been questioned further on their views.


The highest court in the state still maintained the guilty verdict of Peterson’s trial and indicated that prosecutors retained the ability to retry him for the death penalty. Not only did Peterson bring up the unfair removal of some jurors, but he also said that the immense amount of publicity that was put on his case before he went to trial precluded fairness. His trial was actually moved to San Mateo County because a judge said that there was no way he could see a fair trial if it took place in Modesto. Peterson’s lawyer said that there still was no fairness in San Mateo County, where a substantial number of jurors interviewed said that they believed he was guilty. For this reason, his trial should have been moved again to an area where there was not such rampant bias.


Despite the arguments surrounding the trial’s publicity, the court said that it would be difficult to find an area that had not already heard about the case so continually moving it would not have made a difference. The amount of attention that Peterson’s trial received was on the level of O.J. Simpson and the Manson family. 


Prosecutors are determining what course of action to take. They have not come to a decision on whether they will try him again for the death penalty or just allow him to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. One of the considerations that is going to factor into their decision will be the opinions of Laci’s family.


The Disappearance of Laci Peterson


Laci Peterson was 27 and only a month away from her due date when she went missing on Christmas Eve. According to Scott Peterson, he was fishing in Berkeley at the time of her disappearance. A search for her went on for four months, until a portion of her body and that of her unborn son was spotted by a passerby who was out on a walk. They were found on the rocky shore only a few miles from the location Scott Peterson said he was fishing. Laci’s family was supportive of Scott initially, not suspecting him. But when his mistress, Amber Frey came forward and admitted that she was dating him, that changed. Scott appeared to try to flee but authorities found him in San Diego county with bleached hair and $15,000, where they arrested him.

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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

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

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

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

What is Voter Intimidation?

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

Yes, Voter Intimidation is a Felony

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

Other Relevant Laws for the Election

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

In Orange County, California, it is reported that the traffic light at Katella Avenue and Bloomfield Street in Los Alamitos switched from yellow to red faster than state law allows, likely causing hundreds of camera-generated tickets to be issued incorrectly, at about $500 apiece. This occurred over a 10-month period. It is an issue because the camera at the intersection photographs drivers that do not make the red light. Los Alamitos’ city manager says that about 1,000 tickets were issued at the intersection in question. At least 19 of those tickets have been tossed out of court.

It was reported last year, that the number of red light cameras being used are surprisingly declining across Southern California and most of the country.  In California, 60 cities and counties have ended red-light camera programs. In Orange County, only two cities left are using them – Los Alamitos and Garden Grove. It is cited that declining revenues, a non-supportive court system, and the increasing number of accidents are the main reason many cities have ended their red light camera programs in recent years. Interviewed city traffic engineers claim that photo enforcement is actually causing more rear-end accidents because people are scared when they see a yellow light at an intersection with cameras.

El Cajon and San Diego suspended their red light camera programs back in 2014, and the LAPD in Los Angeles discontinued their program effective July 11, 2011. California hands out harsher penalties than most states for red-light violations – from $490 to $554 when traffic school fees are included – and considers the ticket to be a moving violation.

Last year California became the third state in the country to pass legislation (Assembly Bill 96) making the ivory market there illegal, which is one of the three largest ivory markets in the United States. However, in December of last year, a “nonprofit” called the Ivory Education Institute, swiftly filed suit in California Superior Court claiming that the bill is preempted by federal law, violates the dormant commerce clause, and also constitutes a taking by effectively destroying the market for ivory in California. The case is currently making its way through the court system.

Compliance with Wildlife Laws: It is a Crime to Own, Sell, or Transport Ivory Products in California

While A.B. 96 is a new take on banning a wildlife trafficked product, most people do not realize that ivory is already illegal to purchase or own in California. This means that it is a crime to own ivory-based products.

Current California law allows the purchase and sale of ivory imported prior to 1977, but it has been nearly impossible to enforce any bans because most people cannot tell when and where a piece of ivory was procured. In fact, last year, the Natural Resources Defense Council commissioned a study concluding that 90% of the ivory for sale in California was probably illegal under existing law. Many ivory dealers have been falsely aging their ivory to make it appear to look old.  

AB. 96 closes the ‘1977’ loophole by banning the “sale, offer for sale, possession with intent to sell, and importation with intent to sell “[any’] ivory of elephant, mammoth, narwhal, whale, walrus, and hippo.” It also includes rhinoceros horn products. Fish and Game Code §2022. This has the effect of banning nearly all ivory going in and out of California. The law also increases penalties to up to $50,000 or twice the value of the goods, “whichever is greater,” and up to one year imprisonment. The law contains limited exceptions for antique musical instruments that have proper documentation showing they’re old and antique objects comprised of less than 5% ivory.

While A.B. 96 is one of the most monumental laws to protect endangered species, California also has some pretty strong anti-poaching laws. Poaching is defined as “the illegal take of fish and wildlife” which can occur during or out of hunting season, or fishing. For example, the penalty for poaching deer in California is a maximum of six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine. Continue reading

A federal judge, Irene Berger, sentenced former Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship, to one year in prison and a fine of $250,000 for his role in one of the deadliest mine explosions our nation has ever witnessed. The judge said Blankenship was part of a “dangerous conspiracy,” and it is the maximum penalty she could have doled out for a misdemeanor conspiracy to violate mine safety standards charge. The judge had already ruled that Mr. Blankenship would not have to pay $28 million in restitution to Alpha Natural Resources for cleanup costs.

The explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine (owned by Massey Energy) occurred six years ago on April 5, 2011. It killed 29 men, and Massey Coal was found responsible for the explosion by a state-funded independent investigation. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in its final report concluded that immense safety violations contributed to the disaster, and handed out 369 citations, assessing $10.8 million in penalties. The disaster was the worst we have seen in four decades.

Mr. Blankenship was convicted last December by a federal jury on one misdemeanor count of conspiring to violate federal mine safety laws, while being acquitted of more serious counts of lying to investors and regulators. Blankenship had maintained no culpability throughout the trial and investigation process, while his attorneys contended he should receive probation and a fine, at most. While it was the maximum sentence available, victims of those who were killed contend that the punishment still does not fit the crime.

Mr. Blankenship is the first chief executive of a major U.S. corporation to be convicted of workplace safety related charges following an industrial accident.

Criminal Penalties for Workplace Safety Violations

The example above is just one illustration of how one disaster can touch upon the criminal law, wrongful death, and employment law fields. Under both federal and state law, employers are required to provide a safe working environment for employees. There are strict penalties for violations.

California specifically allows for criminal prosecutions arising out of workplace deaths.  Specifically, Section 6425 of the California Labor Code authorizes penalties for supervisors who have responsibility for the “direction, management, control or custody of others” to be fined up to $100,000 and imprisoned for a year when there is willful violation of any occupational safety or health which results in the death of any employee. See CA Labor Code §  6425. The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration maintains a list of significant violations that have been cited on their website. Additionally, the California Occupational Safety and Health Act is stronger than the federal OSHA law and also provides for steep penalties. Continue reading

In an unprecedented case, Apple, the ever-popular electronics company, has argued that the FBI is violating its constitutional First amendment rights. In a 36-page legal brief submitted in the District Court: Central District of California, Apple made its first formal rebuttal to a court order ordering Apple to code a software that would make it easier for the government to crack open the phone of the San Bernardino gunman, Syed Farook.

Apple’s legal team, led by George W. Bush’s former solicitor general, Theodore Olson, claims that computer code is speech, which cannot be compelled. Compelling Apple to write a code it does not want to violates the first amendment. Moreover, Apple has accused the federal government of being indifferent to privacy concerns and being dishonest in how legally valid the request was.

Lastly, Apple has claimed that the order violates its fifth amendment due process protections by leaning too heavily on the archaic 1789 All Writs Act. Essentially, the Act allows courts to issue whatever legal orders they need to issue in order to do their jobs. See 28 USC §1651.  Essentially, the company claims that forcing them to write a special code for the FBI is burdensome, illegal, and unfair.

As if this year’s race to the White House could not get any more dramatic or contentious, Kansas City police in Missouri pepper sprayed a group of protestors outside Donald Trump’s rally.  According to the Kansas City police, they did it to break up two large groups of people who were ready to fight. They also claimed that they arrested two people for failing to follow the law.  Meanwhile, inside the event, Trump was continually interrupted by protesters, who were quickly escorted out by police. The move by police marks yet another moment of conflict at a Trump rally. Chaos ensued earlier in the same week when he canceled his campaign stop at the University of Illinois in Chicago after protesters flooded the pavilion.

Pepper spraying protestors is a rare occurrence when it come to presidential campaign events, but it is becoming more and more common in this election cycle. This week, the NYPD pepper sprayed a crowd of protestors that were marching towards the Trump International Tower. There were thousands of protesters walking from Central Park to the Trump tower.

Trump has said during his Kansas rally that he wants charges filed against all the people protesting him. In addition to police force, his rallies bore witness to violence in Arizona and Ohio, and his campaign is notorious for violent and racially charged rhetoric.

In the latest incident of controversies involving the San Diego Police Department and accusations of bias against minorities, several community leaders protested at the preliminary hearing of Robert Branch at the Hall of Justice Thursday, March 10. Back in May of 2015, 25 year old Robert Branch, a security guard at the time, was accused of assaulting a sheriff’s deputy Paul Ward after an apparent road-rage incident.  Ward is described as a “loose cannon,” by his colleagues.

During the incident in question, Ward allegedly swerved to block Branch’s car from passing on an El Cajon onramp, sending Branch’s car into the shoulder lane. Ward then followed Branch for nearly ten miles. When Branch exited near San Diego State University, Ward pulled over Branch’s car in an unmarked and unidentified police vehicle. He was not in uniform, so Ward began recording with his cell phone. That led to Ward trying to restrain Branch, and Branch was charged with resisting arrest. Branch subsequently filed a civil suit for illegal detention.

Protestors with the National Action Network has accused District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis of selective prosecution of minorities intended to further her political ambitions.  

Resisting Arrest in California

Under California Penal Code § 148(a)(1), one may not willfully resist, relay, or obstruct an enforcement officer or emergency personnel from doing their job/ performing his or her duties. This is a vague definition which often leads to false allegations. Oftentimes, a cop will charge you simply for being dismissive, uncooperative in their eyes, or rude.

A conviction of resisting arrest is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.

Legal Defenses

Similar to battery on a peace officer, physically resisting an unlawful search, arrest or detainment or defending yourself against excessive force is does not constitute resisting arrest. Likewise, reasonable self-defense against excessive force does not constitute assault or battery on a police officer. Another legal defense is that it was a false allegation. You will need to prove that you did not intend on obstruct a cop’s duties.

Because these type of cases often turn to ‘he said/she said’ against police, it is always recommended you record your encounters with police (you do not even have to tell them you are recording if you fear retribution) and gather witnesses. Continue reading

In our neighboring state, a 26 year old Oregon hunter named Brennon D. Witty has plead guilty to illegally shooting a radio-collared gray wolf in Grant county. He was out hunting for coyotes on private property when he shot and killed the radio collared wolf named OR-22. While gray wolves are currently delisted under the state of Oregon’s Endangered Species Act (ESA), gray wolves still remain protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Additionally, the shooting happened one month before the wolves were delisted under the state ESA. As a result, Mr. Witty has pled guilty to the “taking” of a threatened or endangered species. Because of a plea deal, a companion charge of hunting with a centerfire rifle with no big game tag was dismissed.

Witty was fined $1,000 and ordered to pay $1,000 of restitution to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The rifle he used to illegally kill the endangered wolf was confiscated by the state. He faces zero jail time.

It is a Federal and State Criminal Offense to Kill Endangered Species

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