Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Medical Marijuana: Still a Mystery

Posted on: December 2, 2008 at 2:44 p.m.

In Los Angeles and in California, drug defense attorneys are constantly battling with the state and federal governments to get a clear sense of what the drug laws actually say in regard to medical marijuana. Recently, some medicial marijuana defense attorneys attempted to bring this issue before the current United States Supreme Court in order to get some clarification. Unfortunately, however, the Court wasn't interested in the issue.

More than three years after Garden Grove police seized a small amount of medical marijuana from a chronic pain patient, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider the city's argument -- which divided California's major law enforcement organizations -- that it should not have to give the medical marijuana back.

Advocates cheered the development as a step forward for medical marijuana users to get their "medicine" back from police. "This is our biggest legal victory to date, and we're very glad it's now become final," said Joe Elford, an attorney with Americans for Safe Access, an Oakland-based medical marijuana advocacy group.

City officials expressed disappointment and said their position was never to challenge the constitutionality of California's medical marijuana law, only whether police could be forced to return the drug.

California, one of 13 states that had declared medical marijuana to be legal, has as many as 300,000 valid medical marijuana patients. A litany of the state's major law enforcement organizations opposed the return of the defendant's marijuana, including the California State Sheriffs' Assn., the California Police Chiefs Assn., the California Peace Officers' Assn., and the California District Attorneys Assn., along with 15 cities or counties. But Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown supported the defendant.

California's medical marijuana law, called the Compassionate Use Act, has often been challenged, or completely ignored, by Federal authorities. However, this particular issue was a state matter. The challenge in the the Supreme Court choosing not to hear the matter is that it leaves a chasm between the state and federal law, leaving defendants to twist in the wind.

Proposition 215 was passed by the voters in California in 1996, commonly referred to as the Compassionate Use Act. That was followed 8 years later by Senate Bill 420, enacted in 2004. These two propositions have been codified in the California Penal Code section 11362.775 et seq. The federal government does not recognize this law, and thus sales of medical marijuana under the federal system are criminalized. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Police Department has decided not to enforce the medicinal marijuana laws of California.

Tagged as: california criminal laws

Plea Bargaining: Guilty Pleas that are Not Knowing Voluntary or Intelligent

Posted on: November 30, 2008 at 1:45 p.m.

Plea bargaining is an integral part of the American criminal justice system. Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyers and prosecutors rely on the process both in state and federal courts to resolve over 90% of criminal cases, without a jury trial. The process is essential to the proper functioning of the system, as there are simply insufficient court resources to provide a jury trial to every single defendant charged with either a misdemeanor, DUI, or felony offense.

A plea bargain is like any binding legal contract. The prosecutor and the defendant, through the assistance of his lawyer, agree on terms that they must honor in the future. But what about a siuation where a defendant feels that he was not adequately represented by his lawyer during a plea bargain with the prosecutors? What if the defense lawyer did not do an adequate investigation or the prosecutor withheld favorable evidence? The defendant would have an argument that his plea was not knowing or intelligent because it was based on improper advice or prosecutorial misconduct.

Withdrawing from a plea bargain does not get rid of all the criminal charges. It simply means the defendant can now contest the charges with a jury, and the prosecution is not bound by the lower sentence it had offered the defendant as part of the plea bargain.

A recent example from the Los Angeles criminal courts comes from a well-known federal case dealing with illegal wiretapping by a private investigator. A well-known movie director was able to argue that he can withdraw his guilty plea to an information charging him with making false statements to a federal agent. After the plea, and conviction, he was facing a four-month prison sentence.

The appeals court ruled that a reasonable person in defendant's position would not have pled guilty if he had been properly advised by counsel as to the possibility of suppressing the evidence incriminating him in the Anthony Pellicano wire-tapping scandal.The Defendant, who directed such films as Predator, Die Hard, and The Hunt for Red October, falsely told agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations that he had hired Pellicano as a private investigator one time in connection with his divorce, but had no knowledge of Pellicano

Tagged as: california criminal laws, vandalism pc 594

Gang Allegation Penal Code Section 186.22 Dismissed on Appeal

Posted on: November 29, 2008 at 3 p.m.

Under California law, the state and police use the gang allegation aggressively in prosecuting cases of robbery, murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and other serious felony crimes. Penal Code Section 186.22 is the legal vehicle to add substantial prison time, even for participants that had just collateral involvement. The legislature's viewpoint is that if the suspect is a gang member, he must be punished just as severely as the shooter, because he is part of the same criminal organization. Needless to say, once juries hear about gang membership and the gang's prior activities, the jurors have a hard time hearing about defense evidence of innocence or guilt by association.

Recently an appellate court dealt with the issue of what constitutes a "criminal street gang" in violation of Penal Code Section 186.22. The court concluded that a finding that a group to which a defendant belongs is a "criminal street gang" cannot be based solely on the relationship between that group and a larger criminal organization.

The justices overturned the special-circumstance finding that a convicted murderer killed his victim as part of gang activity. The court said there was enough evidence to prove that defendant's group, the STP, was a criminal street gang, but that jurors may have

Tagged as: california criminal laws, gang allegations

Major Auto Theft Ring Exposed

Posted on: November 28, 2008 at 4:56 p.m.

Between movies such as Gone in Sixty Seconds and video games such as Grand Theft Auto, automobile and vehicle theft is almost seen as a romantic profession. However, law enforcement sees auto theft as a serious theft crime with serious consequences, and Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys know that defending auto theft crimes is a challenge.

Recently, the Los Angeles Police Department's specialized auto crimes unit has broken up a San Fernando Valley auto theft ring in which seven young men were stealing vehicles and possibly transporting them to Mexico. In addition to the auto thefts, the group of male friends ranging in age from 17 to 20 also allegedly committed home burglaries in the Canoga Park, Reseda, Tarzana and West Hills areas of the San Fernando Valley, authorities said, adding that some of the crimes extended into Ventura County.

The thieves returned to many of the victims' homes after stealing their vehicles and took items such as credit cards, jewelry, laptop computers and digital cameras.

A theft crime is a criminal act of taking another individual

Tagged as: california criminal laws

Crime of Arson: California Penal Code Section 451(a),(b),(c),(d),(e)

Posted on: November 20, 2008 at 11:20 a.m.

Criminal defense of arson charges in Southern California courts revolves around (1) questioning the identity of the suspect - how is he linked to the fire (2) establishing intent - was the fire started intentionally or accidentally and (3) reviewing the other legal elements required for prosecution pursuant to Penal Code Section 451.

The wildfire that began in the Santa Barbara area earlier this month was apparently an act of accidental arson. The fire that destroyed scores of homes in Montecito and Santa Barbara was caused by a group of young people who had built a bonfire.
A group of 10 young men and women described by authorities as locals went to the Tea house, an abandoned mansion, for a bonfire party. They told Santa Barbara County sheriff's investigators that they had put the fire out before they left that night. But authorities believe the fire continued to smolder before breaking out into fire when winds swept in Thursday afternoon. Last year, officials arrested several people who allegedly started a bonfire in some caves above Corral Canyon in Malibu, where flames burned dozens of homes.
Arson is a serious matter, especially in Los Angeles where the yearly fires cost millions of dollars in damage, as well as the lives of some home owners. Arson is a serious crime, and the laws hand down stiff penalties to individuals who commit the crime, whether purposefully or accidentally. Criminal defense attorneys who defend arson cases often have to dig through piles of facts, research and so forth to find out exactly what the prosecution will portray as the truth.
Under the criminal law of most states, arson is committed when a person intentionally burns almost any kind of structure or building, not just a house or business. Many states recognize differing degrees of arson, based on such factors as whether the building was occupied and whether insurance fraud was intended.
To enforce state fire and forest laws, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's 300 plus officers are busy year round investigating fire causes, interviewing witnesses, issuing citations and setting up surveillance operations. Additionally, law enforcement staff provides assistance when requested by local fire and law enforcement agencies in arson, bomb, fireworks, and fire extinguisher investigations, as well as disposal of explosives. Office of the State Fire Marshal Arson and Bomb Specialists provide fire and bomb investigation services to state-owned facilities, and provide assistance to local government fire and law agencies. The Department's investigators have a very successful conviction rate.
Criminal defense attorneys who defend those accused of arson understand that the laws governing arson are strict and harsh. According to California Penal Code 451.5. (a) Any person who willfully, maliciously, deliberately, with premeditation, and with intent to cause injury to one or more persons or to cause damage to property under circumstances likely to produce injury to one or more persons or to cause damage to one or more structures or inhabited dwellings, sets fire to, burns, or causes to be burned, or aids, counsels, or procures the burning of any residence, structure, forest land, or property is guilty of aggravated arson if one or more of the following aggravating factors exists:
(1) The defendant has been previously convicted of arson on one or more occasions within the past 10 years.
(3) The fire caused damage to, or the destruction of, five or more inhabited structures. (b) Any person who is convicted under subdivision (a) shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for 10 years to life. (c) Any person who is sentenced under subdivision (b) shall not be eligible for release on parole until 10 calendar years have elapsed.

Tagged as: arson pc 451, california criminal laws

Budget Cuts Affect Crime Prevention Budgets

Posted on: November 18, 2008 at 11:45 a.m.

Throughout Southern California the latest economic hardships have begun to affect crime prevention. Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys have seen a drop in police budgets, crime prevention budgets, gang prevention budgets and so on. Belt-tightening has already begun in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, which have both been particularly hard hit by the recession.
The millions of dollars in budget cuts throughout California, such programs as child abuse prevention are being cut. The Los Angeles Times reports that Orange County alone is cutting $5.2 million from the sheriff and coroner's budget and $4.3 million from the public defender's budget. That means that while there may be less law enforcement officers to arrest people, once arrested there will be a much lower level of criminal defense provided by the county.
Now, more than ever, it's imperative to find adequate Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys throughout Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Gabriel and other counties in Southern California. If you believe that criminal charges are about to be filed against you, it is always to your benefit to speak with a reputable criminal defense attorney. Even if criminal charges never get filed by the District Attorney, you will benefit immensely from the advice and guidance of a skilled defense lawyer.
Kestenbaum, Eisner & Gorin, LLP is a Southern California criminal defense law firm that is dedicated to providing reliable legal representation for clients located throughout Los Angeles and surrounding counties. Our reputable lawyers have over 50 years courtroom experience, and specialize in all criminal and DUI matters. Martindale-Hubbell, a national lawyers' review company, has recognized year after year that we are a "Preeminent Law Firm," designating it to be a Top 5% U.S. Law Firm. When our clients decide to retain our services, they can be confident that they have hired a knowledgeable, distinguished, and tenacious legal team that will place every effort into helping them avoid a criminal conviction and keep them out of custody.

Tagged as: california criminal laws

Actor Involved in Murder and Burglary

Posted on: November 17, 2008 at 11:11 a.m.

An accused low-level mob associate who was convicted earlier this year of killing an off-duty police officer during a botched burglary was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The co-defendant, a former "Sopranos" actor, goes on trial this week.
The murder was committed two years ago, but the lead defendant wasn't convicted of the violent crime until October. The two men were accused of braking into a Bronx apartment to steal prescription drugs after a night of drinking at a strip club. The off-duty officer cam to investigate and was shot in the heart. The off-duty officer fired back and wounded both men.
The actor, Lillo Brancato, was the star of Robert DeNiro's "A Bronx Tale" and has had many parts in movies since then. Over the years, many celebrities have faced various criminal charges and needed experienced violent crime defense attorneys. Criminal defense attorneys who work on high-profile violent crime trials, such as the OJ Simpson trial and the Scott Peterson murder, know the challenges of defending someone whose name is widely known.
In Los Angeles, violent crime defense attorneys regularly defend celebrities and well-known personalities in all manner of offenses, including DUI, theft, violent crime, domestic violence and drugs.
As Former Los Angeles Prosecutors, our firm specializes in aggressive Criminal Defense work in Southern California Courts - in the area of Violent Crimes. We promise that only the three firm partners work on your case, rather than young attorneys, contract lawyers, or case managers. Our law firm has been recognized as a Top 5% U.S. Law Firm based on peer reviews from other attorneys, judges, and prosecutors, in the area of legal ethics, professionalism, and judgment. We have more than 50 years experience in defending all criminal matters.

Tagged as: counterfeit goods pc 350, jury trial defense

Resisting Arrest v. Fighting with the Police: California Penal Code Sections 148(a) and 69 Discussion

Posted on: November 17, 2008 at 2:24 a.m.

Penal Code Section 69 and 148(a) both make it unlawful to fail to follow lawful police orders. The former is a felony which carries the possibility of prison, while the latter is a misdemeanor that usually results in a defendant having to perform community service. The big difference between the criminal charges, as the case below demonstrates, is the use of force by a defendant.

The Court of Appeals ruled in a recent case that a Defendant who claimed he resisted police officers because their efforts to subdue him during an arrest caused him pain was entitled to an alternate jury instruction on a lesser charge that did not involve use of force or violence (Penal Code Section 148) The court concluded that the trial judge must instruct on both theories because a jury could reasonably have found defendant guilty of the lesser offense if it believed his testimony. The Appeals Court thus conditionally reversed the convictions for forcibly resisting the officers (Penal Code Section 69).

Defendant was apprehended in November of 2006 by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department who were responding to a report of a prowler in San Pedro. After a citizen told the first officer on the scene that a man matching the prowler

Tagged as: jury trial defense, motion to dismiss unlawful police search

Child Pornography Charges Penal Code Section 311.11 - New Case Ruling

Posted on: November 17, 2008 at 2:12 a.m.

As child pornography prosecutions have become more visible in Southern California courts, Los Angeles Criminal Lawyers should be aware of a recent decision in this area.

The Ninth Circuit concluded that the seizure of child pornography and other evidence of an elderly man

Tagged as: child pornography pc 311_11

Federal Crimes Defense - Trafficking of Cigarettes, RICO, Conspiracy Laws

Posted on: November 17, 2008 at 2:02 a.m.

While the sales of cigarettes appears to be a mundane activity, some businesses attempt to avoid paying government taxes on the import and sales of cigarettes. The federal and state government then steps in to enforce the tax laws and prosecute the violations including RICO and conspiracy criminal laws.

Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorneys should be familiar with a recent decision in the area of Cigarette Trafficking, which dealt with an exemption to the enforcement of the tax laws. Members of the Yakama Indian tribe in Washington may be exempt from prosecution for trafficking in contraband cigarettes, but they face racketeering charges if they conspire with nonmembers to do so, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled. Recognizing that an 1855 treaty prevented the government from prosecuting Roger Fiander for transporting cigarettes without state tax stamps, the court nevertheless upheld Fiander

Tagged as: california criminal laws, high profile defense

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