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District attorney misconductAll lawyers are held to strict ethical standards and bound by laws in California. District attorneys are no different. Prosecutors are required to turn over any and all possible exculpatory evidence upon receiving it and discovering its useful nature to the defense. This can include anything, ranging from:

  • Investigator notes
  • Interrogations
  • Witness testimony
  • Audio and video records

Based on the Brady v. Maryland case (Brady v. Maryland 373 U.S. 83 (1963)), this is commonly referred to as “Brady material.” In the Brady case, the Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors must turn over evidence that could help the defense or be used to attack the credibility of a witness. So what happens when district attorneys fail to follow this procedure?

District Attorney Misconduct in Orange County

This situation of district attorney misconduct recently came to light in Orange County. Deputy District Attorney Erik Petersen, who was assigned to felony cases in the North Justice Center, reportedly used misconduct in several high profile cases.

Most of this alleged misconduct surrounded the use of jailhouse informants, who are inmates that investigators use to get a confession from the suspect while being held in custody. When the inmate hears a confession from the suspect, he will inform prosecutors. The use of jailhouse informants is not illegal. However, it is not allowed when the suspect is represented by an attorney because it can be considered a form of interrogation, and the suspect has a right to an attorney during an interrogation.

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leaf blower movie theaterFalsely yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theater is one of the few items not covered under free speech laws in the U.S. This act could cause an entire audience of people to act in fear and could bring great harm to movie-goers. But shouting “fire” isn’t the only act in a movie theater that could lead to criminal charges.

Incidents of shootings at movie theaters have been in the news lately, striking fear in those who go to watch movies. Most notably, the massacre in Colorado during the opening of a Batman movie has led theaters to take increased security measures. Regal Entertainment Group has begun checking bags before people can enter the theater.1 Playing on this fear, pranksters recently took a leaf blower to the movies, and the noise caused a major scramble that could lead to criminal charges for the people who only thought they were pulling a harmless prank.

When a Prank Becomes a Crime

The incident occurred recently at a theater in Newport Beach. Four teenagers interrupted a late night showing of The Gift by turning on a leaf blower inside the theater. The action caused a commotion in the movie theater, with some suffering minor injuries as they scrambled toward the exit.2 The teens likely intended no harm, but authorities took the incident seriously enough to issue a warrant for their arrests. After turning themselves in, police are considering exactly what charges to levy on the four individuals.

Because of the uniqueness of this act, authorities are unsure exactly how to approach the situation. Since three of the alleged perpetrators are minors, the case may be sent to juvenile court. Many times, less serious charges brought upon juveniles are resolved informally through counseling, curfews and other measures that do not involve spending time in custody.3

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Immigrants ArrestedThe Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) recently conducted a large-scale operation across the southern half of California, taking more than 240 immigrants into custody.1 According to officials, the vast majority had been previously convicted of felony or sexual abuse related crimes.2

The operation was in part a reaction by the federal government to changes in how local authorities are handling their interactions with immigrant populations, along with recent high profile incidents involving undocumented immigrants committing serious crimes.3

It is important to note that ICE has emphasized they are only targeting individuals with criminal records, making it important for you to hire effective legal counsel if you are facing criminal charges.

Why Large Scale Sweeps Will Likely Continue

In the past, federal immigration officials relied on local law enforcement to hold immigrants after a criminal conviction under a system known as detainment. The result of this program was the deportation of many immigrants who had only been convicted of minor or non-violent offenses.4

The program spurred protests by immigrant rights activists. In reaction, the California legislature passed a bill barring the practice except in instances of violent or serious crimes.5

This created a new problem for federal immigration officials. No longer could they rely on local jails to hold immigrants until they could be picked up by federal agents. So, they developed and implemented a new system known as the National Fugitive Operations Program (NFOP).6

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After seeing crime decrease for many years in California, violent crime rates are on the rise in 2015. In fact, the city of Los Angeles reported an overall 12.7% increase in crime with violent crime seeing a 20% increase so far in 2015.1

Possible Causes of Crime Rate Spike

Violent Crime Los AngelesPossible contributing factors leading to increasing crime are a higher prevalence of gang participation in crime, the trickle down effects of Proposition 47, as well as rising drug use and homelessness.

Proposition 47 was a recent legislative initiative where non-violent dug offenders were released from prison early in exchange for rehabilitation and probation. City officials suggest we could be experiencing the side effects of having an influx of ex-convicts now free who are turning back to crime. Criminologist Peter Moskos explains that though it is possible that these individuals maybe partially responsible for a rise in property crime, it is unlikely that Prop 47 releasees are attributable to violent crime, and in either case, it is too early to tell.2

Police Misclassification of Crime

Statistics never lie, but depending on what is reported, the truth of numbers can be seriously misleading. For example, according to one article, the Los Angeles Police Department misclassified 1,200 incidents of felony assault as misdemeanors in 2014, which made it mistakenly appear as if violent crime was declining.3 This blunder alone may explain a significant portion of the rising crime statistics.

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The city of Richmond, California has started a unique program to attempt to decrease gun violence. The program is run by a government agency called Richmond Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS) and targets a small “focus” group of 50 or so individuals who are at “high risk” of gun violence. Officials work with the group to prevent predicted dangerous behavior.

Crime to Shoot Guns in the AirAs an incentive to shoot guns, members of the focus group, called “fellows,” receive a monthly stipend of between $300 and $1,000, depending on how successful they are in the program. The program lasts for 18 months and fellows can receive the stipend for up to half of their time. The ONS staff works with the fellows on a “life map” of goals, and to achieve personal stability before the age of 25.

According to ONS Director Devone Boggan, the agency is tasked with “identifying the city’s most lethal young men and asking them to partner with us in a very unique way to help us do something we cannot do with them…eliminate gun violence.”1 One media outlet calls the unique approach an inoculation against violence as a disease in which the most dangerous carriers are identified and targeted, allowing for community stability.2

The Results of Paying for Peace

While the program is too new for its effectiveness to be thoroughly evaluated, since its inception in 2007, the murder rate in Richmond has decreased significantly. Murders have dropped from 47 homicides per 106,000 residents to less than 15 murders per 100,000 residents, lower than it has been in more than 30 years. The National Council of Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) found that the work of the ONS, coupled with other factors, was a significant contributing factor in the decline.3

According to the NCCD, of the 68 high risk individuals to go through the ONS program, 94 percent are still alive, 84 percent have not received gun injuries, and 79 percent have displayed no gun-related activities.

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Few inconveniences in life are as annoying as receiving a traffic fine. Sure, you know you’ve done something wrong; but the crime seems so small, and the fines so large. Many will simply sigh and relegate themselves to paying the fines. Others refuse to pay their fines.

Traffic Ticket CaliforniaIt would be nice to think of these people as some sort of traffic fine vigilantes, refusing to pay out of disgust for the seemingly disproportionate punishment. However, many who receive traffic fines cannot afford to pay them.

Often, they must commit to payment plans, but hiccups in employment or financial troubles can create a snowball effect. Once you are delinquent on a traffic fine, collection agencies will start to tack on fees. They will alert the DMV, who will suspend your driver’s license. This makes earning money to pay off the fines nearly impossible. All the while, your total fines continue to increase.

It is no surprise, then, that traffic fines tend to impact low-income and minority Californians the most. In an effort to curb the problem, Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law an amnesty program for old traffic tickets which will run from October 1, 2015 through March 31, 2017. If you have unpaid traffic fines making life difficult for you, you may be eligible for the program.

The Ins-and-Outs of California’s Traffic Ticket Amnesty Program

Beginning October 1, 2015, you will be eligible for the program if you have an unpaid ticket which was originally due on or before January 1, 2013, but have not made payment after June 24, 2015.

The program allows you to reduce your fine amount by 50%. If your yearly income is 125% or less than the federal poverty level, then you will qualify to have the ticket amount reduced by 80%. For a single person, this amount is $14,712. For a family of four, this is $30,312. Along with the discount, you may be eligible to have your driver’s license reinstated.

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concealed carry murderAccording to a recent report by the Crime Prevention Research Center, the number of concealed carry permits issues in the U.S. has jumped from 4.6 million to 12.8 million since President Obama took office. Yet, the number of murders across the country has fallen. The report reveals that since 2007, the murder rate has dropped about 25 percent, from 5.6 per 100,000 people to 4.2.

Not only has the amount of concealed handgun permits increased, the number is rising year by year. Between 2013 and 2014, more than 1.7 million new concealed carry permits were issued, a 15.4 percent jump over permits issued from 2012 to 2013. Some say these statistics prove that most people own firearms for protection, not to commit crimes.1

However, a report by the Violence Policy Center finds that concealed handguns were involved in 561 incidents across the country that resulted in 743 deaths, with 259 of those incidents being ruled as self-defense.2 The center reported that the ratio of criminal homicide to justified homicide is at only 38 to 1, meaning that for every 38 murders, only 1 is deemed justifiable homicide.

California Homicide Statistics

In California, murder rates have significantly dropped along with the rest of the country. Between 2007 and 2014, the number of homicide crimes involving handguns dropped from 1,619 to 763.3 The number of individuals obtaining concealed handgun permits has also followed the national trend upwards, possibly as a result of several counties dropping the “good cause” standard that required persons to demonstrate a special need before they could obtain a permit. About 70,000 people in California have concealed carry permits.4

The jump in permit applications may be attributed to social unrest, caused in no small part by the riots that have occurred across the country. Interestingly, the number of women and minorities seeking concealed carry permits has jumped significantly since 2007. In fact, concealed carry permits have increased by 270 percent for women while permits for men have increased by only 156 percent.

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Any time Timmy fell into the well, we could count on his dog Lassie to alert the proper people in order to save him. However, Lassie was a TV character. What happens when dogs are counted on when someone’s life is on the line in real life?

The accuracy of drug-sniffing dogs used by police has come into question of late. A recent court ruling could help create the foundation necessary to eliminate the use of drug-sniffing dogs by law enforcement.

Inaccurate Dog Becomes Convicted Man’s Best Friend on Appeal

Drug DogsIn August 2015, a U.S. Court of Appeals decision challenged the accuracy of drug-sniffing dogs. The ruling, carried out by Chicago’s 7th District U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, found that the results from drug-sniffing dogs may not be legally admissible as the basis for a search.

The decision was a result of an appeal by Larry Bentley Jr., who was previously found guilty of drug possession. A drug-sniffing police dog was used to justify a search of Bentley’s car, and police found 20 kilograms of cocaine inside. The dog in the case in question, named Lex, was shown to identify the presence of drugs in 93% of cases. He was proven to be wrong 40% of the time.1

The court ruled that if the drug search and subsequent conviction had relied solely on evidence derived from Lex’s detection, it could have caused the conviction to be overturned.

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Residents of Los Angeles County may soon be subject to additional gun regulations under a local ordinance that would require handguns to be stored at home in one of two specific ways. While proponents of the measure say it will protect citizens from gun violence, opponents of the potential ordinance say the new rules simply serve as tools for disarming lawful gun owners.

Gun Storage Law CaliforniaThe potential new law would require that all handguns be disabled with a trigger lock or stored in a locked container unless the gun is on your person or under your control.1 Though law enforcement would not conduct compliance checks, if a handgun is unsecured in a home and police officers are summoned to that home for some reason, the gun owner could face charges. In fact, if the proposal becomes law, anyone who is found in violation could face misdemeanor charges that carry up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

The measure is similar to a San Francisco ordinance under which no gun owner has been prosecuted, but one that has been challenged in court. This proposed law would be in effect within all cities in Los Angeles County. Be aware that California currently has a separate law for improper storage of a weapon.

California Felony Gun Storage Laws (PC 25100)

California has strict gun storage laws if violated. California Penal Code Section 25100 says that if a child or an individual who is prohibited from possessing a firearm gains access to your firearm and carries that firearm into a public place or inflicts injury to themselves or others with that firearm, you could face felony charges for “criminal storage of a firearm.”

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Inmates Right to VoteWhen Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bills 109 and 107 in 2011, more commonly referred to as “prison realignment”, many expected sweeping changes in the way that California dealt with its prison population. The legislation was part of an effort to reform the way that non-violent and non-sex o ffenders are sentenced for their crimes, as well as how they are supervised post-release.1

There is a new, somewhat unexpected outcome of the prison realignment legislation; thousands of California prisoners are regaining their right to vote. As a result of a legal battle fought on behalf of prisoners by the ACLU and decisions made by Secretary of State Alex Padilla, nearly 60,000 convicts will be eligible to cast a vote in upcoming elections.

These changes could affect the rights you have if you are charged with a crime in California. While many will regain the right to vote, many will not, and you should stay informed about the possible ramifications of a criminal conviction. The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich are here to help you understand these changes in California law.

Why Many in California Will Now be Eligible to Vote

A major part of the prison realignment legislation involved changing where low level criminal offenders would serve their time. As part of an effort to reduce the state prison population, prisoners convicted of non-serious and non-violent crimes would now serve their time in county jails.2

As a result, once these prisoners are released they no longer are on state parole (a system of post-release supervision whereby parolees are subject to a number of conditions such as police searches and drug tests).3 Instead, these offenders are released into a program known as county-level supervision.

This is where things get interesting. The Constitution of California mandates the “disqualification of electors while mentally incompetent or imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony.”4

A judge ruled in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in 2014 that prisoners sentenced under realignment are not in fact on parole and are eligible to vote. By the time the case was appealed, Alex Padilla had begun his term as the new Secretary of State and decided to drop the appeal. As a result, nearly 60,000 former prisoners regained their ability to vote.

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About Wallin & Klarich

Wallin & Klarich was established in 1981. Over the past 32 years, our law firm has helped tens of thousands of families in their time of legal need. Regardless of whether our clients faced criminal or DUI charges, the loss of their driving privilege, or wanted to clean up their criminal record, we have been there to help them.