Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog
     


Hate-Crime/Gang Assault Involves Juveniles

Posted on: November 11, 2008 at 12:47 p.m.

Seven teenagers in New York are accused of committing a hate-crime in which all of them ganged up in order to attack a man of Hispanic ethnicity. Seven Patchogue-Medford High School students were arraigned for a fatal stabbing authorities are treating as a hate crime. The slaying shocked the community, thrusting issues of race and immigration to the forefront of the 3,000-student school.

Hate crimes (also known as bias motivated crimes) occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her membership in a certain social group, usually defined by racial group, religion, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, gender identity, or political affiliation. Hate crime can take many forms. Incidents may involve physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, or offensive graffiti or letters

All seven students are charged with first-degree gang assault. Jeffrey Conroy, 17, is also charged with first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime.

Family and friends of two other suspects said their backgrounds made the charges particularly perplexing. Jose Pacheco, 17, is of Puerto Rican descent, according to his attorney, Chris Kirby of Syosset.

"How can it be a hate crime? My son is half-Hispanic," said a woman outside Pacheco's home, who identified herself as his mother.

Anthony Hartford, 17, has a grandmother who is half Puerto Rican, neighbors said.

"His mom is devastated; he has a Hispanic background himself," said Laurence Silverman, Hartford's Huntington attorney. "So why would he be out targeting them?"

At least one suspect has been associated with a prior crime. Christopher Overton, 16, of East Patchogue, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to burglary for his involvement in a well-publicized home invasion that left a man dead.

The other defendants in the slaying of Marcello Lucero, of Patchogue, are Kevin Shea, 17, Nicholas Hausch, 17, and Jordan Dasch, 17, all of Medford.

Some students said racism is a problem at the school. A sophomore who said she knew some of the suspects said she just learned that some Patchogue-Medford students engage in the targeted harassment of Hispanics. Superintendent Michael Mostow said the district added six guards Monday, and county police bias task force members talked to students about race.

As defined in the 1999 National Crime Victim Survey, "A hate crime is a criminal offense committed against a person or property motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against a racial group, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, or disability. The offense is considered a hate crime whether or not the offender's perception of the victim as a member or supporter of a protected group is correct." According to the FBI Hate Crime Statistics report for 2006, hate crimes increased nearly 8 percent nationwide, with a total of 7,722 incidents and 9,080 offenses reported by participating law enforcement agencies. Of the 5,449 crimes against persons, 46 percent were classified as intimidation and 31.9 percent as simple assaults. 81 percent of the 3,593 crimes against property were acts of vandalism or destruction. 58.6 percent of the 7,330 known offenders were white and 20.6 black. More than half, 52 percent, of the 9,652 victims identified were targeted because of racial group.

Tagged as: california criminal laws, juvenile law




What Constitutes Dangerous "Weapons" under California Penal Code Section 12020

Posted on: September 29, 2008 at 10:28 a.m.

Frequently L.A. Criminal Attorneys represent individuals charged with carrying a concealed weapon pursuant to Penal Code Section 12020, which includes knives, dirk/daggers, switchblades, brass knuckles, or other concealable weapons. The crime is a "wobbler" which means it can be prosecuted as either a felony or misdemeanor, and thus carries the possibility of jail and/or prison for someone convicted of violating this weapons law.

Many cases have addressed what type of objects can constitute a concealed weapon pursuant to this Penal Code provision. While the object may not appear to be a weapon in everyday use, many objects qualify as illegal concealed weapons.

Tagged as: california criminal laws, juvenile law




Juveniles Tried as Adults Face State Prison, not Juvenile Hall

Posted on: July 25, 2008 at 12:08 p.m.

Under California criminal law and procedure, an accused who is tried as an adult is typically 18 years old or older.

Individuals under 18 typically receive far more lenient treatment in juvenile court and/or a stay in juvenile hall if they are convicted. They usually do not face the risk of county jail, or prison.

However, a severely violent crime, or habitual criminal activity may persuade a judge to try a minor as an adult, which for certain crimes could lead to life in prison. This proceeding is called a "Fitness hearing."

In Oxnard, one such case involving a violent crime, which also qualified as a hate crime, may proceed in that direction. A judge has ruled that a 14-year-old who allegedly killed a classmate who was openly gay can be tried as an adult, and if convicted this individual could receive a life sentence. The alleged killer shot they openly gay student in the head, after which the boy was pronounced brain dead and had his organs donated.

A violent crime such as this is often the kind of case a judge will consider trying a minor as an adult for, in part because there may have been some pre-meditation on the boy's part. The violence coupled with the "hate crime" aspect also puts public pressure to bring about an acceptable solution.

The Los Angeles Daily News reports that hate crimes are up 28%, and a judge/jury aware of that rise may want to punish violent offenders as a message to others. Certain violent gang activity may also cause a judge to charge a minor as an adult.

Alternatively, the DA's Office can also utilize a legislated court procedure which allows it to file directly on a juvenile in adult court, without seeking to first file a Fitness Motion in juvenile. This is referred to as a "Direct Filing." With this new California law in place, a judge's discretion is completely bypassed, and the DA's Office become the arbitrer of whether a juvenile goes to adult court. Accordingly, a juvenile faces the possibility of being housed in state prison if convicted in adult court.

Tagged as: jury trial defense, juvenile law




Criminal Defense in Los Angeles: Juvenile Offenders in Adult Court Prosecutions

Posted on: July 27, 2007 at 9:17 a.m.

California Criminal Law currently allows prosecutors to directly file on juveniles 14 years old or older in adult court, for "strike" offenses. These offenses are defined as "serious or violent felonies" in the California Penal Code, in Sections 667.5, 1170.12, 1192.7.

Los Angeles Criminal Lawyers realize that these laws contradict the spirit of "juvenile jurisdiction" - to rehabilitate youthful offenders. For crimes as serious as murder, California attorneys understand that the Legislature's policy of locking up murderers trumps society's desire for rehabilitation. But what about if the offender is only 14 years old, at the time of the crime? What about offenders facing non-murder charges, such as assault, robbery, inappropriate touching, drug offenses? What about cases where the juvenile offenders have mental illness, mental defects, autism, or were physically abused while growing up? These minors would clearly be benefited by attempts to rehabilitate and do not deserve substantial prison sentences. Society should not just lock them, and throw away the key, without attempting to rehabilitate them.

Criminal Defense Attorneys in Los Angeles have noticed that the public's fear of juvenile crime has reversed the long-accepted practice of treating young offenders in special juvenile courts.
A recent report from the National Sentencing Project on criminal sentencing in California found that thousands of children annually are now being transferred "automatically," without judicial review, from juvenile court jurisdiction to adult criminal court and into adult corrections. These transfers place children into a court setting in which they are at a disadvantage at every stage of the process. Children who are incarcerated in adult facilities are at great risk. Those who are convicted but not imprisoned may still suffer long lasting negative consequences.

Typically the policy of the Los Angeles County District Attorney is to prosecute most serious cases in juvenile court first, through a "Fitness" motion. Thereafter a juvenile judge makes a determination of whether the child should be subject to adult or juvenile jurisdiction. However, the Criminal Law Blog is aware of at least one case where the DA's Office dismissed the juvenile case, and refiled the case in adult court, because the rulings were going against the prosecutors. The minor never had the benefit of his criminal defense attorney litigating a Fitness Motion in front of a juvenile judge. This type of "forum shopping" violates the fundamentals of U.S. Constitutional Due Process.

The National Sentencing Project further found that the imposition of adult punishments, far from deterring crime, actually seems to produce an increase in criminal activity in comparison to the results obtained for children retained in the juvenile system. Reliance upon the criminal courts and punishment ignores evidence that more effective responses to the problems of crime and violence exist outside the criminal justice system in therapeutic programs. Because there is considerable racial disparity in the assignment of children to adult prosecution, the harshness, ineffectiveness, and punishing aspects of transfer from juvenile to adult court is doubly visited on children of color, the study concluded.

Tagged as: california criminal laws, juvenile law




Can the police search you or your property without a search warrant? What happens if the search is illegal?

Posted on: June 10, 2007 at 9:08 p.m.

This question addresses Search and Seizure Law which provides protections to all people from unreasonable police infringement on their rights, as provided in the Fouth Ammendment in the U.S. Constitution. The bottom line in court is whether the search is legal or not. In cases where there is a search warrant, a judge has reviewed the officers' reasons for the search in advance. In other words, the judge has signed off on the search, meaning that if what the police told him under oath him is true, there is sufficient cause to search a certain location. In cases where there is no warrant, the police upon observing suspicious activity justify a search of your person, your car, or your home based on their own opinion. Because this type of search is not judicially preapproved, it receives more scrutiny from courts after someone is arrested and charged. A defense attorney files a Motion to Suppress Evidence to prevent illegally obtained evidence from being used in court against a client pursuant to the provisions of Penal Code Section 1538.5. If the judge finds the police violated a person's constitutional rights, the officers did not have sufficient cause to search you or your property. Thus the recovered incriminating evidence, ie. drugs, firearms, or any other illegal items, is excluded from court which often leads to the case being dismissed. Or, if the police stopped your car for improper reasons to later conduct a DUI investigation, the entire DUI case is dismissed.

Tagged as: faq, juvenile law, motion to dismiss unlawful police search




What defense options are available to a client facing charges in juvenile court? Can juvenile records be sealed?

Posted on: June 5, 2007 at 12:49 a.m.

California law provides that juvenile court is about rehabilitation not punishment, except in cases of serious violence such as murder and rape. Unlike adult court, all proceedings are confidential and not open to the public. The law attempts to straighten out youthful offenders through monitoring school achievement, home life, curfew, and general attitude. Essentially a juvenile court judge is a surrogate parent. Minors are given multiple chances through the Welfare & Institutions Code to have case dismissed, and charges sealed, if they follow the court's orders. A juvenile has the same constitutional rights (except a jury trial) to challenge the evidence against him in a court through cross examination, and calling own witnesses. Most minors are eligible to have their records sealed after they turn 18 years old. The exception to these flexible laws are cases of murder, rape, and the sort, wherein a minor who is at least 14 years old may be prosecuted in adult court, if the DA chooses to send him to state prison. The law feels that the seriousnes of these crimes outweighs the need for rehabilitation.

Tagged as: faq, juvenile law









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