Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

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

Your first court appearance: The Arraignment.

Posted on: July 23, 2007 at 12:14 a.m.

In criminal cases, the first court appearance is called an "arraignment." The court advises a defendant of the pending charges, and asks for a "plea." At this time, the defendant can ask for a continuance to study the case and consult with an attorney. In this case, arraignment will be put off to another day, so that the defendant will be ordered to return to the same courtroom on a future date. On the other hand, the defendant can enter a plea of "not guilty." If this happens, the case will be sent to another courtroom for pretrial conference, on a future date. Finally, a "guilty" plea may be entered, and defendant will be sentenced to the terms laid out by the court. The guilty plea is done in open court, on the record. Once taken, a plea of guilty is almost impossible to undo. You have tread very carefully if you are not represented by counsel at the time of an arraingment.

Tagged as: california criminal laws, federal law and defense

California Supreme Court: Applying the Cunnigham holding to California's sentencing laws

Posted on: July 21, 2007 at 9:55 a.m.

The California Surpeme Court held that as long as just one of the aggravating circumstances relied upon to impose an upper term has been established by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge

Tagged as: federal law and defense, vandalism pc 594

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

Can a criminal defense attorney be ordered to testify against a former client?

Posted on: July 15, 2007 at 10:55 a.m.

Typically lawyers do not testify against clients. That is based on the attorney-client privilege, which protects all communications between a lawyer and his client. If a lawyer were forced to testify, the level of confidentiality between criminal attorneys and their clients would be violated, so that clients would not feel free to tell their lawyers everything, which could of course affect the lawyer's ability to effectively represent the client. Recently, in the Phil Spector case, a criminal defense lawyer was ordered to testify. Why? The criminal attorney witnessed a defense criminalist remove a piece of evidence from the crime scene, and fail to turn it over to the police.

Spector's former L.A. criminal defense lawyer maintained that ethical obligations prevented her from taking the stand against her former client. The criminal attorney then reversed her position a day after the state Supreme Court rejected her appeal of contempt of court charges and sided with a judge who had promised to put her behind bars if she did not testify. As a result, this L.A. criminal attorney spent 30 minutes on the witness stand, recounting what prosecutors say was the destruction or concealment of crime-scene evidence by Dr. Henry Lee, the famed forensic scientist working for the defense.

The reason the testimony was allowed was that the criminal defense attorney's observations were not communications between her and her client. Further any privilege claims were waived when she had testified to the removal of evidence from the crime scene weeks earlier in a court hearing outside the jury's presence.

Tagged as: counterfeit goods pc 350

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

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