Articles Tagged with California criminal defense attorney

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

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

San Diego’s crime rate has continued its two-year decline, leading the city to the lowest crime rate in almost 50 years, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. Overall, the newspaper reported a 7% decline in crime between 2016 and 2017. This followed a 2.3% decline between 2015 and 2016. According to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, the drop in crime rates was the result of increased trust between the community and the police officers along with an increased use of crime data and technology, which enabled the city to allocate its resources more efficiently.

The largest drop in crime rates in the city was among some of the most violent crimes, to the delight of San Diego residents. Murder rates fell a full 32% between 2016 and 2017, with only 34 homicides reported in the last year. The other two crimes with the largest drop include burglary, dropping 20%, and vehicle theft, with 12% fewer in the same time period. Overall, violent crime fell 2% and property crime fell 8% between 2016 and 2017.

According to the Mayor and the police department, the sharp reduction in homicides, including murder and manslaughter, may be attributable to “Shotspotter,” a new technology that “automatically informs police officers when shootings occur,” according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. After crime data revealed that the southeastern communities of San Diego, including Lincoln Park, O’Farrell, Skyline, and Valencia Park, were most likely to experience gun violence, the “Shotspotter” system was set up in the area. Since 2016, there have not been any deaths by gun violence in those areas. The Chief of San Diego Police attributed the drop in property crime to an undercover operation lasting eight months last year, leading to the indictment of 60 San Diego residents.

San Diego is not the only city in the area, or in the state of California, to see a reduction in crime rates. Escondido, notably, saw a 21% decline in the overall crime rate during the first half of 2017, the time period with the most recent data available according to the newspaper. According to Escondido Lt. Ed Varso, most of that reduction consists of a 24.2% reduction in property crimes caused by the police departments “proactive stance” to California’s criminal justice reform initiatives stemming from the passage of Proposition 47, which was approved by California voters in November 2014.

Proposition 47 significantly reduced penalties for non-violent, low-level crimes that occurred in the state of California, including shoplifting, grand theft, receiving stolen property, forgery, fraud, writing a bad check, and personal use of most illegal drugs. The reduction only applied to those crimes of theft below $950. The law, which went into effect in January 2015, allowed over 1 million Californians to change past felony convictions to lower-level misdemeanors.

The other nearby cities of Vista, Carlsbad, Chula Vista, El Cajon, and Oceanside saw a reduction in the crime rate, albeit a smaller one, when comparing the first half of 2016 and the first half of 2017. Continue reading

In a remarkable story reported by the Voice of San Diego, neighbors reportedly called the police on a home in Chula Vista 53 times before Border Patrol and the San Diego County Sheriff’s department stumbled upon a human smuggling ring. The city had been getting reports for over five years and still failed to uncover the ring.

Back in November of last year, police pulled over a vehicle for a taillight infraction, without suspecting that anyone involved was guilty of other crimes. Panicked, the passenger took off. The chase led them directly to a home where police and border patrol responded to a request for backup. They happened upon a human smuggling event taking place right in the driveway.

Police records show that 53 calls have been made on that house. The neighbors have reported everything from grand theft, assault, child abuse, and domestic violence. The Police Department says they did not have any indication a human smuggling ring had been operating throughout that time, which is why nothing was done about it the first 53 times. Both Border Patrol and the Police Department ended up making 12 arrests that day, most of which were undocumented immigrants. Nine were taken by Border Patrol. Three of them face alien smuggling charges, while the other six are being held in federal custody as material witnesses in the smuggling case.

However not everyone is convinced that it was sheer chance. Ginger Jacobs, an immigration attorney, said she is not familiar with this incident but has seen other cases in which immigration officials used traffic violations to stop and detain undocumented immigrants. Jacobs said it is not uncommon for Border Patrol to look for people as part of an immigration sting by looking for their cars. The two agencies have flatly rejected that they were looking for a reason to pull the suspect over.

Immigration Pretext Traffic Stops

Traffic stops motivated by immigration status seemed to have surge since Trump took office, all the way from California to states like Georgia. In fact, the Supreme Court has already partially upheld an Arizona law requiring police to make reasonable attempts to determine an individual’s immigration status if there was reasonable suspicion s/he was unlawfully present in the U.S. See Arizona v. U.S. 132 S. Ct. 2492 (2012). The police can currently pull you over for almost anything they deem legitimate (ie. tinted windows, texting while driving, etc.). While local police do not have jurisdiction to enforce immigration status, they can detain you long enough to call ICE or border patrol over to investigate you further. Continue reading

In 2017 alone, the California legislature passed nearly 900 bills that Gov. Jerry Brown then signed into law. Most of them take effect in January 2018. Here is a summary of the key criminal law changes that will take effect this year:  

  • No California school employee can carry a concealed weapon onto campus. Before, school officials had discretion over the issue.
  • Anyone who “willfully records a video” of a violent attack as an attacker or accomplice and streams it online on sites such as Facebook could receive tougher punishment.  See A.B. 1542.  The new law does not require a judge to hand down the tougher sentence, and applies only to the 23 existing crimes in California identified as “violent” felonies.
  • No juvenile offenders will have to serve life without parole and those already behind bars would become eligible for release after 25 years. This reform is intended to ease punishment and fines for young people.
  • Counties may no longer charge fees to a family for everything from detention to monitoring of juveniles. This old policy was criticized for disproportionately affecting low-income communities of color.
  • It is now a misdemeanor to openly carry an unloaded long gun in public unincorporated areas outside of incorporated cities that are deemed by counties as not appropriate for such firearms. This law was requested by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to expand state law that already bans openly carrying handguns in areas outside cities.
  • Californians convicted of crimes that require them to get rid of their firearms must now prove they have done so before their court cases can be closed. This change is due to Proposition 63, a ballot measure that passed last November. The measure was obviously opposed by the NRA.
  • Assembly Bill 41 would require law enforcement agencies to report to the state how many sexual assault kits they collected and have examined, and how many they have not. Agencies also have to explain why a rape kit was not tested. This law was opposed by the Sheriffs Association that claims testing every single rape kit will be a financial and resource burden to the state.

Continue reading

In San Diego, criminal charges were filed against a a La Jolla couple accused of maintaining dangerous, substandard living conditions at a Mid- City apartment complex they own. This was announced by the City Attorney’s Office earlier this week. John and Mahin Nobe, who currently face 10 criminal charges, are repeat offenders who have been previously prosecuted for similar violations and for leasing to illegal marijuana dispensaries. Amongst the charges are misdemeanor charges of providing inadequate heating and improper wiring as well as permitting an infestation of vermin and visible mold growth on their property.

Prosecutors allege that the couple’s Rex Avenue apartment complex in Mid-City was leased in July, August, and September to seven Congolese refugee families with young children. The apartments were rented for up to $2,250 a month. The families complained about the substandard conditions, but their requests were ignored. A city inspector with the Code Enforcement Division of the Development Services Department found numerous violations, including mold, rodent and roach infestation, inadequate heating, inadequate sanitation, improper electrical connections and a lack of proper fire exits and fire extinguishers. It is also reported that the inspector found junk outside the building. The apartments were also illegally converted from two-bedroom apartments into three or four-bedroom units.

The City Attorney’s Office, Administrative Law Judge Michael Scarlett ruled in an administrative ruling that the property was substandard under city and state codes and considered a public nuisance earlier this month. The judge ordered the couple to reimburse the city of San Diego $34,278 in relocation benefit payments advanced by the city to the seven families. They were also assessed a civil liability of $10,000 for their failure to pay relocation benefit payments directly to their tenants. They were also ordered to reimburse the city for the $6,845 in investigation costs.

Criminal Liability on Landlords

California Law requires landords to ensure that certain conditions are met to make the living space habitable and safe for tenants. These conditions ensure proper electric, gas, and plumbing utilities as well as getting rid of fire hazards. Landlords are also legally obligated to secure the premises in order to prevent foreseeable criminal acts in the area, such as robberies or thefts.  This means locks and appropriate security.

Lastly, S.B. 655, which was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in 2015, makes it a misdemeanor for a landlord to fail to provide things such as inadequate heating or failing to remediate a mold problem. Continue reading

A San Diego sheriff’s deputy is under criminal investigation, as three additional women now have come forward with legal claims alleging that he improperly groped them under his color of authority. Deputy Richard Fischer has been placed on administrative leave while Sheriff Bill Gore and investigators conduct separate internal and criminal probes of the accusations. It is reported that 10 women have accused Fischer of sexual misconduct.

The county of San Diego now faces one filed lawsuit and two legal claims, which are required to be filed in advance of civil litigation as a result of the allegations. The accusations, one of which dates back two years, could cost the county millions of dollars in legal settlements. All three women are being represented by San Diego attorney Dan Gilleon. According to Gilleon, the three victims spoke out after being inspired by each other.

The latest allegation comes from a San Marcos woman, whose claim was filed on behalf of her by attorney Gilleon. According to this claim, the deputy hugged her without consent and grabbed her buttocks. According to the claim, Dep. Fischer tried to kiss her. The claim seeks more than $6 million, plus “punitive damages against Dep. Fischer in an amount sufficient to punish him and his evil conduct, and to deter others from doing what he did.” It also references another lawsuit filed earlier this month, resulting from a groping incident in 2015.

Three of the women said in a joint interview Wednesday that they are angry and frustrated that Fischer has yet to be arrested, and in addition, is not even facing charges. There is the underlying concern that the officer is being protected by the sheriff and District Attorney Summer Stephan.   Defendant Fisher has not responded to requests for comment.

Claims Against San Diego County

Before a lawsuit is filed against the county, claims against the county must be completed in accordance with the California Government Code, sections 900-915.4.  The county then has 45 days to process and investigate your claim. The result of the claim may result in a settlement offer or a formal denial.

If the settlement or claim does not give the victim what he or she wants, the victim has a right to file a civil lawsuit against the county. Most of the time, that is the only way to obtain justice against police misconduct. Continue reading