Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog


Medicinal Marijuana: Recent DEA Letters are in direct breach of California Medicinal Marijuana Laws

Posted on: July 27, 2007 at 4:06 p.m.

The USA TODAY recently reported that the U.S. Justice Department is unleashing a potent new weapon in its battle against California's hundreds of medical pot clinics, threatening landlords with arrest and property seizures for renting to tenants who flout federal drug laws.

Intensifying its crackdown on pot sales that are legal under California law but illegal under U.S. law, agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency executed search warrants Wednesday in raids on 10 marijuana dispensaries across Los Angeles. As agents were moving in, Los Angeles' City Council voted 11-0 to tentatively approve a one-year moratorium on more medical marijuana stores, which have exploded in number in the past two years. Federal officials estimate there are 400 storefront and office operations selling medical marijuana in Los Angeles and L.A. County, up from 20 two years ago and more than double the number at the start of the year, DEA Special Agent Sarah Pullen says. Law enforcement officials contend the sales have become a source for recreational pot users.

The most serious threat to California's voter-approved pot sales came in a letter last week from the DEA to 150 property owners or managers informing them that a tenant is operating a marijuana dispensary on the property in violation of federal law. The letter warns that California's pot law, approved as Proposition 215 a decade ago, "is not a defense to this crime or to the seizure of the property." Landlords, the DEA warned, could lose their buildings and land and face felonies with 20-year prison sentences.

"It scared the hell out of my client," said Barry Parker, attorney for property owner Kash Holdings LLC. It rents space to Karma Collective. As a result of the DEA notice, Parker said Karma Collective had agreed to close and vacate its space within a month. He predicted many other landlords would evict. "It's just too risky a situation for a landlord to take on, at the same time potentially costly," he said.

Criminal Law Blog's lawyer, firm parter David Kestenbaum, is the criminal attorney for Karma Collective. He was interviewed by the USA Today. He explained that that landlords who get such a letter have no choice but to evict pot-selling tenants: "It will effectively, in my opinion, shut down the clinics that are open and force patients

Tagged as: drug crimes defense




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




An example of Los Angeles Criminal Defense: Lindsay Lohan's Second DUI Arrest and Its Consequences

Posted on: July 25, 2007 at 1:13 a.m.

Lindsay Lohan's first arrest happened in late May 2007 during the Memorial Day weekend. She was charged with Driving Under the Influence, a misdemeanor crime. News media reported her blood alcohol to be twice the legal limit, with traces of cocaine. During the incident, papparazi taped her running from the crashed Mercedez driver's seat, and having her bodyguard then drive the car from where it was wrecked to an underground garage. Thereafter Ms. Lohan was reported to be in staying at a rehab center, and wearing a SCRAM device on her leg to monitor the existence of any measurable blood alcohol. Yesterday Ms. Lohan was arrested for a 2nd-time DUI offense, and after her arrest the police found cocaine in her possession -- which is a felony, that cannot be reduced to a misdemeanor.

What does all this mean in terms of her court cases, and criminal defense strategy? The first legal challenge is the cocaine possession because it carries the possibility of being branded a "Felon," and stiff jail or prison sentences. Criminal Defense Lawyers who operate the Law Blog typically secure a live-in drug program for clients in these type of situations for two reasons (1) to avoid any jail time and (2) to have the felony dismissed as part of the Deferred Entry of Judgement program provided for in the California Penal Code.

The other problem for Ms. Lohan is that the second time DUI carries mandatory 96 hours in jail, and a 1-year license suspension. The Law Blog would pick the weakest of the DUI cases, and work with the prosecutor and judge to plea bargain it to a reckless driving charge (to avoid a DUI conviction!). In this way, Lindsay Lohan would have one DUI, not two, on her record and could receive a restricted license after a 30-day suspension without any jail.

This "celebrity" case, however, will have substantial media scrutiny. Most likely no one within the justice system wants to go out on a limb, to give Ms. Lohan a great plea bargain or a better deal than someone else would receive (and in fact someone may want to make an example of her just as with Paris Hilton). Accordingly, the Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyers representing her definitely have their work cut out, to keep Ms. Lohan out of jail. Prosecutors could argue that Ms. Lohan is a danger, shows a reckless disregard by driving drunk twice in a short period of time, and should spend substantial custody time as just punishment.

Tagged as: counterfeit goods pc 350, violent crimes defense




How does a criminal conviction affect my Immigration Status? What if I was convicted many years ago, and only now the INS has informed me that I am subject to deportation?

Posted on: July 23, 2007 at 8:55 a.m.

Criminal convictions may cause direct and grave consequences to someone's immigration status. The INS guidelines are very detailed and complex, and the Criminal Law Blog frequently confers with immigration law specialists to properly advise its clients. Before any plea-bargaining is done, the Law Blog discusses with clients their immigration status. Often the Law Blog will seek charges that are not considered by the INS as moral turpitude offenses (ie. subject to deportation), and to convert any possible custody time to community service work.

In Los Angeles, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department responsible for running the jails verifies immigration status upon receiving an inmate. As a result, as soon as an inmate is in custody (even if charges are later dismissed), an "immigration hold" may be placed subjecting him or her to deportation proceedings. As a result, the inmate may be deported from the United States after the INS picks the inmate up from Sheriff's custody. The saddest part is that the inmate may be innocent of all charges, and still be deported because his immigration status is questionable.

Deportation is preventable. If a defendant has financial resources, it is important to bail out immediately after an arrest. In Los Angeles County, a defendant is tranferred into Sheriff's custody from the arresting agency's jail within 48 hours of arrest, which is typically right after the arraignment. Subsequently, a criminal disposition may be reached in court without jail time. An immigration hold in Sheriff's jail is avoided, as the accused is out on bail and his immigration status is typically not checked within the court system.

Another issue frequently encountered with Immigration and Criminal Court: An old conviction has raises a red flag with the INS, causing the agency to start deporation proceedings 10-15 years later, against someone who has led a trouble-free life for many years, working, raising a family, and being an overall model citizen. The Criminal Law Blog's Attorneys have represented numerous clients in this situation. There are numerous legal mechanisms to vacate a prior conviction, including using a "Writ of Corum Nobis". The typical argument to attack the conviction focuses on explaining to the court why the client was not properly advised of immigration consequences at the time of the plea, many years earlier. Another option is to attempt to re-negotiate the old charges with the prosecutor's office, to seek an agreement that the crime of moral turpitude dismissed, and substitute in its place an offense that is more innocuous in the eyes of the INS.

Los Angeles Criminal Lawyers must examine immigration consequences of every plea deal, before advising a client to take it.

Tagged as: california criminal laws, immigration consequences




What is a preliminary hearing?

Posted on: July 23, 2007 at 8:29 a.m.

In California criminal courts, preliminary hearings are formal court hearings where the judge determines if there is probable cause to hold the defendant to answer for trial, on charges filed in the Felony Complaint. The hearing is only available if felony charges are filed (and not in misdemeanor prosecutions). It is a "mini-trial," where prosecutors present witness testimony establishing a crime was committed, and how the defendant is responsible.

A criminal defense lawyer may use the hearing as a vehicle to:

(1) determine how strong the case is against his client - are the witnesses credible? were there problems in the investigation? should he advise the client to settle the case in the trial court?

(2) test out the defense theory of the case through extensive cross-examination, and by possibly putting on affirmative defense witnesses to establish the defendant is not guilty.

The only drawback to presenting defense witnesses at such an early stage of criminal proceedings is that, if the case is not dismissed, prosecutors have a chance to preview the defense and fix their proof problems before trial through additional preparation and investigation.

In sum, the preliminary hearing may lead to charges being dismissed, or may inform experienced defense counsel that plea-bargaining is the best strategy in the trial court. Finally, if the judge finds there is probable cause for the charges in the Complaint, the case is sent to a trial court for arraignment on charges the prosecutor files in an Information, which is the trial court's formal document listing criminal charges.

Tagged as: california criminal laws, federal law and defense




Small theft from a store: Petty Theft v. Burglary

Posted on: July 23, 2007 at 12:26 a.m.

California law defines a burglary as entry into a building with the intent to steal. Even if nothing is taken, a burglary is committed when the entry happens (with the intent to steal or commit a felony inside the store). For example, prosecutors may argue that someone entering a store with a booster bag (one with false bottom), and scissors, shows premeditated conduct to steal at entry, and thus even if something under $50 is taken, the criminal conduct is a burglary. A burglary is a wobbler which means it could be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Compare this to a Petty Theft, a violation of Penal Code Section 484. This crime is a misdemeanor. Anytime a theft occurs of items under $400 - California law deems a violation of this statute occurs. So, if there is no evidence of premeditation before entry into the store, a defendant is usually charged with a Petty Theft offense. If Defendant tells the police or store personnel that he or she planned the theft, a Burglary will also be charged.

Tagged as: california criminal laws, federal law and defense, theft, white collar crime fraud theft laws




California's Medicinal Marijuana Law is rejected by the DEA

Posted on: July 17, 2007 at 10:13 a.m.

The Los Angeles Times reported today that the DEA has sent out letters to 150 Los Angeles landlords that they risk arrest and the loss of their properties if they continue renting to cannabis dispensaries.

The two-page letter sent last week by Timothy J. Landrum, DEA special agent in charge of the Los Angeles office, has whipped up worries among landlords and dispensary operators in a region that has seen a proliferation of the businesses in the last two years.

"I'm devastated," said Lisa Sawoya, who left her lucrative job selling high-tech hospital equipment to open a dispensary 18 months ago in Hollywood. "My landlord believes in cannabis as medicine. But they're taking the letter very seriously. So I'll be closing my doors at the end of this month."

Sarah Pullen, a DEA spokeswoman in Los Angeles, said the purpose of the letters was to "educate" property owners at risk because they were housing marijuana dispensaries.

"By renting their property to individuals violating fed drug laws, they are in and of themselves violating federal law," Pullen said. "These are definitely meant to serve as a notice. What might happen as to the continuing investigations, we'll just have to see."

The DEA move has focused entirely on Los Angeles. Activists suspect that the logistics and timing

Tagged as: drug crimes defense, federal law and defense




Should a criminal case be filed in Felony or Misdemeanor court? Top L.A. Prosecutors disagree in advance of upcoming Election.

Posted on: July 15, 2007 at 10:38 a.m.

During a drunken rampage at a Los Angeles hotel in 2005, off-duty Yuba City Police Officer Jesus Barrios groped the breast of a female colleague and pointed his .40-caliber service weapon at guests in the lobby.

When Los Angeles police arrived, Barrios led them on a brief chase and had to be physically restrained. A test later revealed that his blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit.

The evidence was made even stronger when investigators found that images of Barrios menacing guests and staff had been captured on hotel video cameras.

Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo's prosecutors (Responsible for Misdemeanor Prosecutions) wanted Barrios to be charged with a felony, such as assault with a deadly weapon, which could have sent him to state prison.

As Calfiornia law prevents the City Attorney's Office from prosecuting more than misdemeanors, the case was referrred to Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, whose office decided it was not serious enough to warrant a felony charge. In a memo outlining his decision, Cooley's office noted that the police officer had been drunk, had not said anything threatening and that events had unfolded "so quickly." The case was passed back to Delgadillo, who filed a series of criminal misdemeanors and obtained a guilty plea that put Barrios in a rehabilitation center for up to 18 months.

Lawyers in Delgadillo's office point to the Barrios case

Tagged as: federal law and defense




Should I just go to court and plead guilty, with the help of the public defender, or just by representing myself?

Posted on: July 10, 2007 at 4:38 p.m.

Any decision to enter a plea in a criminal case should be very seriously considered. Often the consequences of a criminal conviction, even a misdemeanor such as a DUI, may impact someone's life for years to come. For example, a truck driver convicted for a first time DUI loses his privilege to operate a commercial vehicle for a year -- which translates a one year loss of income! Another example, a person pleads guily to a theft crime, and finds out years later that his or her hopes of becoming a U.S. citizen are destroyed. Finally, you must financially qualify as low-income to receive the legal services of the Public Defender's Office. If you do not financially qualify, you must hire your own attorney or represent yourself. In sum, before going to court, the Criminal Law Blog advises possible clients to not just take what appears to be (on the surface) the easy way by pleading guilty on the first court date, without the assistance of a qualified criminal defense lawyer.

Tagged as: california criminal laws




Charges in State Court v. Federal Court

Posted on: July 1, 2007 at 8:25 p.m.

Federal court cases are typically investigated by federal agencies, including the FBI, DEA, Customs, Treasury, and other federal agencies. Sometimes state and local agencies also file charges in federal court if the offenses involve major quantity of drugs, weapons or other contraband. The federal government has more resources to prosecute cases, including special units to prosecute drugs, fraud, and violent crimes. While the state and local government also has special units, they have fewer prosecutors, with larger case loads. Also, local law enforcement does not have nearly an many resources to complete investigations with as much thoroughness as federal law enforcement. For the most part, it is definitely in a criminal defendant's interest to be prosecuted in state, rather than federal court. The state of California's sentencing system has more flexibility in terms of alternative sentencing options than the United States Sentencing Guidelines. In one large drug cases, a criminal defense attorney had his client cooperate with the police in exchange for the case to be presented to the state, rather than federal authorities for prosecution

Tagged as: california criminal laws, federal law and defense, high profile defense




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