Articles Tagged with criminal defense

California’s domestic violence laws cover several sections of the Penal Code. At the heart of these laws is a familial or intimate relationship between the parties. The parties can be spouses, former spouses, cohabitants, former cohabitants, or be in an active dating relationship. Many times, the parties share children or one of them has children from a previous relationship.

Domestic Violence Charges

The most common domestic violence charge in California is Penal Code Section 273.5. This criminal offense is charged when an individual inflicts injury on a spouse, cohabitant, parent, or dating partner. When filing charges against a defendant in domestic violence cases, the prosecutor weighs the severity of the conduct and harm to the victim with the other circumstances of the event. The defendant may be charged with assault, if during an argument with his or her partner, he or she throws something at the other and causes an injury. If the object thrown is a mobile telephone that breaks, a charge may be added for domestic violence property damage.

Protective Orders

Victims of domestic violence can apply for emergency protective orders and restraining orders in both civil and criminal court on simple fear of a domestic violence situation. The offending partner may be ordered out of the home and restrained from any communication with the other partner. If there are children, the offending partner’s contact with them may also be prohibited during the pendency of the criminal case. Visitation and custody will be difficult to maintain during the pendency of the criminal action.

Technology and Abuse

New patterns of behavior in domestic violence cases are emerging relating to the use of technology. Many people own smartphones and smart devices at home that enable them to connect to items in the home, even if the person is not in the home. Items like cameras, thermostats, lights, locks, and speakers can be used to harass, monitor, revenge and control a domestic partner. All of these devices create logs of activity and records that are then used to support domestic violence charges.

A PERSON IN A DANGEROUS EMERGENCY SITUATION REQUIRING

IMMEDIATE INTERVENTION SHOULD CALL 911 FOR ASSISTANCE. Continue reading

Some criminal cases are not resolved at the end of the jury trial or after a plea has been entered. The defense attorney and state prosecutor can ask the court to reconsider a ruling or address a problem with the trial at the end through various oral and written motions. Some items however, can only be addressed on appeal.

Common Reasons for an Appeal

Just because you are not happy with the result of the criminal case does not mean you have a reason, or basis, to appeal. Common reasons people appeal criminal convictions are as follows:

  • Bad ruling by the judge;
  • Prosecutor failed to turn over evidence;
  • Defense lawyer made a mistake; or
  • Jury returned the wrong verdict.

What is an Appeal?

An appeal is not a new trial. Instead, it is a limited review of a problem with the conviction. No new evidence is introduced, no one testifies, and the case is not retried. Misdemeanor appeals are heard before the Appellate Division of the Superior Court; felony appeals are decided before the California Court of Appeals.

Limited Time Window to Appeal

Once you are convicted of a crime, following a bench or jury trial, you have the right to appeal. There is a strict timeline to file an appeal. You have 30 to 60 days after the conviction to file an appeal. The only exception to this rule are cases in which the defendant receives a death sentence. In California, a death sentence automatically triggers an appellate review.

What if I Pled Guilty?

If the criminal conviction is based on a plea before the trial, many times a condition of the plea agreement is that the criminal defendant waive his or her right to appeal as to the plea and sentence. You may have agreed to waive your right to an appeal if your conviction is based on a guilty plea. Review appellate options with your attorney prior to agreeing to a plea and most certainly after a conviction following bench or jury trial.

Do I Have to Pay an Attorney Again?

Keep in mind that appeals are a new case for the criminal defense attorney. Your original retainer or letter of engagement will not cover an appeal. You will need to enter into a new agreement with a criminal defense lawyer to represent you during the appeal. 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

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 signed legislation modernizing California’s sex offender registry, allowing potentially thousands of current sex offenders to be removed from the publicly accessible list beginning in 2021. The measure was introduced by Los Angeles District Attorney who noted that the registry, with over 105,000 names, has become so large and all-encompassing that it undermines the registry’s intended purpose – to assist in investigating and prosecuting new sex crimes. The current registry requires law enforcement to spend “hours on paperwork for annual evaluations of every offender,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Considering that one out of every 400 Californians is on the sex offender registry at this point, that amounts to a lot of wasted resources.

As one of the only four states in the country that require lifetime registration for a sex crime, the database includes offenders who have not offended in decades and pose no risk to the public – but still occupy hours of law enforcement agents’ time every year and swell the sex offender registry to the point of uselessness. For example, back in the 1960s and 1970s, police commonly raided public parks to arrest gay men having consensual sex. Gay rights activists have long protested these individuals being listed next to criminals who harm children.

The new sex offender registry will be much more focused on public safety, according to Gov. Jerry Brown’s office. For the lowest-level offenses, such as urinating in public, a person may petition the court to be removed from the sex offender registry within 10 years of committing the offense. A judge will assess each case individually, with the input of the District Attorney. After 20 years, individuals convicted of more serious crimes will have the opportunity to petition the judge to have their name removed from the registry. These crimes may include rape by deception and lewd and lascivious behavior with a child under 14, according to the newspaper. In any case, the name will only be removed if the person has gone the entire period of time without reoffending.

Under the new law, the sex offender registry will also identify sex offenders by their level of risk. Sex offenders accused of Tier 1 crimes, which include misdemeanor sex crimes or non-violent felony sex crimes, will be able to have their name removed from the sex offender registry as long as they do not re-offend during that time. Sex offenders accused of Tier 2 crimes, which include violent or serious felonies, will be removed from the database after going 20 years without reoffending. Sex offenders in Tier 3 are repeat offenders, predators who have committed sex crimes against children, or participated in the sex trafficking of minors. All Tier 3 sex offenders will spend their entire lifetime on the sex offender registry. Continue reading

It has been reported that two men, Jon Ritzheimer and Ryane Payne, involved in the occupation of Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, haveviolated their release conditions by visiting the Bundy ranch in Nevada without permission. Evidently, the evidence was in Facebook photos and discovered by a federal pretrial services officer in Oregon who notified Brown. As a result, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown has moved up Jon Ritzheimer’s date to surrender to prison from Feb. 15 to Jan. 12. Ryan Payne was ordered to return to home detention in Las Vegas. Both men have been forbidden from having contact with any defendant from either the Oregon or Nevada standoff cases before their prison sentences begin.

Originally, Mr. Ritzheimer’s release condition had specified a no-travel restriction that only allowed him to travel from Arizona to Oregon for court proceedings. Mr. Payne was given permission to go from Las Vegas to Montana for Christmas after a mistrial was declared last month for the Bundy-affiliated defendants involved in the Nevada armed standoff in 2014. Neither of the men was allowed to go to the ranch. Judge Brown decided to deal with the allegations informally instead of through formal proceedings.

Violating Release Conditions in California

There are several ways a court can conditionally release you from prison or jail. You can be released on bail before your trial proceedings start, released on your own recognizance (which does not require paying bail), or you can be released on parole after you have already served some jail time.

If you have been released on your own recognizance, it means you have simply promised to attend all court dates and proceedings. See CA Penal Code § 1318. This option is saved for those who are a low flight-risk and are not accused of serious crimes. Failure to appear in court then, results in another misdemeanor if you were charged with a misdemeanor, and a felony, if you faced a felony charge.

If you have been released on bail, that can come with certain conditions from the judge, such as staying away from certain people. A violation of a bail release can result in either a warning, arrest, a revocation of bail (going back to jail), an increased amount of bail, more restrictive bail conditions, and even a contempt of court charge. Continue reading

More than 1,100 San Diego police officers are now outfitted with body cameras, and the San Diego County District Attorney’s office received more than 100,000 body-camera videos from police across the county since 2016. Body cameras were initially intended to be a transparency tool to reassure the public that their police force follows the rule of law. In other words, body-worn camera footage is now a staple of San Diego’s police force, yet members of the public have not been able to view it.

In fact, even after a trial is complete, it is nearly impossible for members of the public to access body camera footage. Police agencies claim that they withhold body camera videos from the public to preserve the accused’s right to a fair trial and to avoid tainting the jury pool.

Public Records Requests

Neither the San Diego Police Department nor the San Diego County district attorney’s office provides body camera footage through California’s open records laws. Instead, a requester has to go to the Superior Court where the trial is held, where copies of the video are kept in the evidence room. Even then, seeing the video requires a court order.

When the Evidence can be Viewed

Since police footage is next to impossible to obtain, there are only a few ways a defendant can see his or her own video.

  • If the prosecutor uses the body camera footage as evidence to try to obtain a conviction or compel a plea deal. The footage gets shared as part of the discovery process.
  • Prosecutors may share the tape during trial as part of the evidence.
  • If the District Attorney releases the video. The SDPD last year released a policy that provides a path for releasing videos of officer involved shootings in cases where no charges are being filed against the officer. This policy states that the district attorney has to by default release the video.
  • If you file a citizen complaint against the cop. The police may be willing to release it to prove their innocence.

Continue reading

The San Diego Union Tribune reports that there has been a sharp spike in the use of police dogs in San Diego, and this has raised questions about how and when officers call on the dogs to quell dangerous situations. Police officials say canine units help de-escalate situations and prevent the elevated use of force, but some recent high-profile biting incidents have prompted complaints from community members, lawsuits for excessive force, and a large city settlement.

Specifically the number of suspects bitten per year has risen sharply from 15 in 2013 to 86 in 2016. The number of times officers deployed a canine increased from 1,778 to 3,222 over that time. This increase in usage of canines has occured despite an overall decrease in crime and drop in emergency responses by the Police Department. The police department claims that there has been a continued rise in the number of dog bite incidents involving suspects with mental illness and suspects who have been using drugs or alcohol.

Additionally, the number of canine units slowly increased from the initial 14 in 1984 up to 20 in 1990, and then has more than doubled to 44 units in 1991.

Last July, a YouTube video went viral of a man being bitten while handcuffed. It is predicted that a lawsuit will be likely. Last December, the city of San Diego paid out $385,000 after a dog bite left one man’s leg badly damaged.

Last year, Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman ordered a review of canine policies and training to include more role-playing activities and emotional intelligence components. However, there are currently no plans to shift away from having police physically remove dogs from suspects during a biting incident.

When are Police Dogs Considered Excessive Force?

There are still limits to the injuries police dogs may inflict in the course of their duties.  California has fairly strict liability laws for dog owners, but there is an exception for police dogs in certain circumstances. For example, dog bite statutes might still apply when a dog bites an innocent bystander or witness to a crime.

The use of a dog in the course of police activity can be unreasonable when the nature and quality of the intrusion is not justified. When it is unreasonable, it can result in a 4th Amendment or 8th Amendment violation, which gives rise to civil damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Continue reading

This past summer, the California Supreme Court ruled in San Francisco that a menacing nonverbal gesture does not qualify as a criminal threat under state law. The court issued its ruling in the case of a Riverside County man, Mario Gonzalez, who was accused of making threats with hand gestures toward an off-duty police officer while he was sitting at a restaurant patio with four friends, back in 2013.

Gonzalez was accused of making a “JT” hand sign, which was a symbol of a California gang known as “Jackson Terrace,” and then used his hands to simulate a gun, which he pointed at the cop and his friends. The officer claims the gesture frightened him, and Gonzalez was charged by the district attorney with five counts of making a criminal threat.

CA Penal Code § 422 – 422.4 is the state statute that governs criminal threats. It was last amended by the Legislature in 1998 to include electronic threats. California law makes it a crime to “threaten death or serious bodily injury with a statement “made verbally, in writing or by means of an electronic communication device.”

Justice Carol Corrigan wrote in the court’s ruling that the phrase “made verbally” refers to actual words, written or spoken, and not to gestures. “Nothing in logic or reason allows us to interpret “made verbally” to include nonverbal conduct,” she wrote. This is not the first time that Penal Code § 422 has been found to be lacking clarity. The court noted it would be up to the state’s legislature to include symbolic nonverbal gestures to make menacing hand gestures a crime.  ee  People v. Gonzalez, No. S223763, 2017 WL 2376597, at *1 (Cal. June 1, 2017) quoting People v. Scott (2014) 58 Cal.4th 1415, 1421.

As a result, the criminal threat charges were dismissed.

The Current Standard for “Threats”

Criminal threats can be either a gross misdemeanor or felony in California, depending on the circumstances and severity. Prosecutors have the discretion to decide. The standard test is that they must prove the person you ‘threatened’ had a reasonable fear for his or her safety under the circumstances.   

This means, for example, if a person responds by saying “I’m not scared of you,” that would be helpful for your defense. Continue reading