Articles Posted in Criminal Defense

Criminal defense in California is a complex area of legal practice with numerous misconceptions that are often held as popular belief. The majority of people arrested for their first criminal charge have no experience with the criminal justice system and, therefore, routinely rely on what they’ve seen on television and in movies. Much of what is popularized in TV and film is embellished, which further adds to the myths and misconceptions about the criminal justice system and more specifically, the California criminal justice system. One of the most common myths involves what happens if the police fail to read you your rights.

What is the Miranda warning?

Derived from the landmark United States Supreme Court ruling in the case of Miranda vs. The State of Arizona, the “Miranda Rights” as it has come to be known as are the Constitutional rights you maintain while in police custody. Among your rights, you have the right to an attorney and a right to remain silent. The common misconception among many people is that if the police fail to read them their rights or Miranda warning, it serves as a legal basis for all charges to be dropped. This is not the case as it is not uncommon for police officers to make arrests without reading a suspect his/her rights. The legal technicality with respect to the Miranda warning is simply based on whether you have been placed under arrest and whether the police interrogated you while in their custody. A Miranda violation would exist if you were placed under arrested and questioned by police without first being read your rights. However, if no interrogation or interview is conducted while you’re in police custody, the Miranda rights become a nonissue.

According to data collected in 2015 by the California Highway Patrol on hit and run collisions throughout LA County, there were almost 30,000 hit and run cases reported. Therefore, it should not be surprising that hit and defense accounts for a very large portion of our criminal defense firm’s case load. The following are the most common questions posed to us by our clients charged with hit & run in Los Angeles County:

Is it still a Hit & Run if I’m not at fault for the collision?

Yes. Responsibility or liability for a collision is not a factor. Whether you are deemed at-fault or not, you are required to remain at the scene of a traffic collision to provide proof of financial responsibility under California Vehicle Code statutes 20002 and 20001.

The California criminal offenses of “assault” and “battery” are commonly used interchangeably. However, each offense represents two different yet closely related violent crimes. The crime of assault is described under California Penal Code statute 240 as an unlawful attempt, with present ability, to commit a violent act upon another person. Conversely, described under California Penal Code statute 242, battery is a willful and unlawful use of force committed upon the person of another. Therefore, while the definition of both offenses sounds very similar, the distinguishing characteristic between the two is that the crime of assault does not require any physical contact, whereas the crime of battery does. In other words, assault can be accurately described as an attempted battery.

Are Assault & Battery Felony or Misdemeanor Charges?

Violent crimes can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors in California depending on factors such as a person’s prior criminal record, whether a weapon or firearm was used, and the extent of the victim’s injuries. While seriously injuring another person would clearly rise to felony conduct, it is possible to be charged with a felony crime without causing injuries or even making physical contact with another. Raising your fist at another in a threatening manner would constitute a misdemeanor assault. However, raising your fist with a knife in your hand in a threatening manner would constitute a more aggravated form of assault – assault with a deadly weapon. Defined under California Penal Code statute 245(a)1, assault with a deadly weapon is a wobbler offense which can be prosecuted as either a felony or misdemeanor.

Living Torah Center Chabad, a Jewish synagogue in Santa Monica, has experienced its share of anti-semitic acts over the past couple years ranging from a man interrupting a service by yelling, “Heil Hitler” to a letter containing an anti-semitic message left in the synagogue’s mailbox. The most recent incident was discovered by a Rabbi who arrived Christmas morning to the repugnant sight of feces and food smeared across the entrance. Synagogue officials believe the vandalism to be racially motivated and although Santa Monica Police Department has not officially classified the criminal act as a Hate Crime, detectives have not ruled out the possibility as their investigation continues.

In California, the property crime of vandalism is typically prosecuted as a misdemeanor offense under Penal Code statute 594(a) and is described as defacing with graffiti or an inscribed object, damaging, or destroying real or personal property that is not his or her own. However, vandalizing a building owned and occupied by a religious institution primarily used as a place of worship can be charged as felony vandalism under Penal Code 594.3(a), thus increasing the punishment range. In addition, a Hate Crime special circumstance allegation would further enhance sentencing.

Charged or investigated for vandalism?

Comedian and actor Katt Williams has followed up his recent spate of arrests by not appearing in court for an incident involving a police chase. On November 25, 2012 Williams led police on a chase through Sacramento while riding a three-wheeled motorcycle on the wrong side of the road. He was arrested on December 8, 2012 for that incident but was released after posting bail.

He was arrested again on December 28, 2012 for child endangerment after police found large quantities of illegal drugs and weapons in his home. All of his four children were taken away. According to a news report in The International Business Times, Williams was arrested the night of January 8, 2013 at his Los Angeles home for failing to appear in court in connection with the Sacramento incident. He is being held on $105,000 bail.
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The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is currently enforcing a zero-tolerance policy regarding misconduct. According to a news report in The Huffington Post, this policy involves the creation of “teacher jail,” in which teachers are reassigned to office or administrative duty until their investigation concludes.

Officials say there are nearly 300 teachers who are currently collecting pay but are not being allowed to actually teach because of pending investigations. Many of these teachers were reportedly involved in alleged incidents as minor as tapping a student’s stomach or grabbing a student’s arm.

It is important to protect our children from dangerous sexual predators, but many have said that the current crackdown in LAUSD is nothing more than an unreasonable witch-hunt. It is not clear how many of the teachers who are currently not allowed to teach will face actual criminal charges.

The LAUSD’s actions were in response to two serious incidents that occurred this year. The first arrest involved a Miramonte Elementary School teacher who was accused of sexual misconduct against 23 students. Those allegations resulted in the removal of the entire school staff. A more recent incident involved a teacher at Telfair Elementary School who was arrested and sentenced to jail for molesting students.
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Los Angeles Law Enforcement LawsuitAccording to a news report in the Los Angeles Times, a lawsuit filed by legal scholars and civil rights attorneys alleges that Los Angeles County prosecutors and Sheriff’s officials have concealed both complaints about law enforcement misconduct and important evidence from defendants in criminal cases. The lawsuit cites several specific cases in which authorities purportedly failed to disclose information about misconduct complaints “filed by inmates against deputies who were to be witnesses in criminal cases,” and alleges that similar evidence may have been kept hidden in potentially thousands of cases.

In addition to the lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California submitted a state bar complaint against the county district attorney calling for a civil grand jury investigation. The complaint also calls for an independent counsel to review cases that have resulted in convictions since “controversial policies” have been enacted. The lawsuit claims to go to the heart of the legal duty prosecutors have to ensure defendants receive a fair trial by disclosing information that is beneficial to the defense.

The district attorney’s office and the Sheriff’s Department have denied the allegations, stating that the lawsuit mischaracterizes how they decide what evidence is turned over. The Los Angeles County District Attorney claimed in an official statement that the lawsuit is an obvious “attempt to mislead the public and the court,” adding that he is confident that the policies of the office comply with the highest constitutional and legal standards.

California residents have certain rights when dealing with the authorities. Having a basic understanding of your legal rights under California law can help you protect yourself if you are arrested, accused of a crime, or simply stopped by the police. Individuals have different rights depending on whether they are in or outside of their home.

If a law enforcement officer arrives at your home, you have the right to keep your door closed. You have the right to refuse entry to your home to any officer who does not have a warrant to search the premises. If the officer has a warrant, you have the right to review it. If you choose to allow an officer into your home, anything they find may be used against you in court. If you refuse to let them in, they will have to obtain a warrant. If they return with a search warrant, it is important to remember that the warrant gives them the right to search your home, but you maintain your right to remain silent.

If a police officer stops you outside of your home, you have the right to ask the officer if you are free to go. If the officer refuses to let you go, you have the right to remain silent beyond providing your name and identification. Remember, anything you choose to say to an officer may be used against you in court. It is your right to refuse to speak with the authorities until your attorney is present.

The criminal record system in California is supposed to serve as an accurate report of criminal convictions. Companies that involve children, such as schools and daycare facilities for example, perform extensive background checks on their employees as they should, to keep children safe from violent offenders and sexual predators. According to a recent article in The Los Angeles Times, the California criminal records system, which almost all employers rely heavily on during the hiring process, is rife with errors and inaccuracies.

The report goes on to list a number of problems with the criminal records system. Information about a number of convictions has never been entered. Additionally, there are about 7.7 million cases where the cases’ outcome is not listed. This means that if someone was wrongfully charged, but acquitted, they could still have a criminal record – even if their charges were dismissed. It is not clear how many people have been affected as a result of these inaccuracies.

There are many consequences of being charged with a serious crime in Southern California. Anyone facing criminal charges would be well advised to seek legal guidance from a skilled criminal defense attorney. The stakes of a criminal conviction or having a criminal record are extremely high.

Experience is probably one of the most important attributes, if not the most important attribute, one should look for in a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney. Before you retain the services of a criminal defense lawyer – regardless of whether you are facing a misdemeanor of felony charge – it is important that you establish the attorney’s credibility and track record in handling similar cases. Failure to do so might prove costly, as a man defending murder charges in Washington D.C. recently found out.

According to a news report in The Washington Post, a Washington D.C. Superior Court judge recently declared a mistrial in a 2008 murder case and allowed the defendant to fire his attorney. The judge was apparently angered by the defense attorney’s lack of knowledge of proper trial procedure. The judge specifically pointed out the fact that the defense attorney told jurors during opening statements that he had never tried a case before. Among other acts of misconduct, the defense lawyer reportedly told an investigator in an e-mail to “trick” a government witness into testifying in court that she did not see his client at the murder scene.

The attorney’s acts were obviously shocking to the judge, not to mention his own client, who placed his life in the hands of this man. In felony cases, including those that involve sex crimes, drug charges or violent crime charges, the stakes are extremely high. Defendants, if convicted, are looking at lengthy prison sentences, fines and a potentially damaged reputation.

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