December 24, 2009

Arson Investigation - Hardly a Science

Recent reports indicate that thousands of convicted arsonists may have been falsely accused and wrongfully convicted. This is due to the fact that arson investigators have relied on a basic set of assumptions about how fires burn…assumptions which really amount to little more than “old wives tales”.

California’s arson laws (Penal Codes 451 and 452 PC) prohibit willfully, maliciously, or even recklessly setting fire to another’s property or land. These laws even prohibit willfully setting fire to your own property if (1) you did so with a fraudulent intent, or (2) other property or persons were injured as a result.

California’s arson laws themselves under these Penal Code sections are fine, that’s not the problem. It’s how these arson cases…and those around the country…are investigated that is the issue.

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December 18, 2009

The Importance of Being Removed from the California Megan's Law Website

Sex offenses are, perhaps, the most socially stigmatized crimes. Society often shuns, ignores, and even abuses its sex offenders. The California Megan’s Law website is largely to blame for this behavior.

Depending on the particular sex crime for which an individual was convicted, the Megan’s Law website may publish his/her name, photo, the convicted charge(s), and other identifying information (including a complete home address).

But all hope is not lost. There are ways to have your personal information removed or excluded from California’s Megan’s Law website. There are a handful of sex offenses that may entitle you to this relief.

If the state believes that you are not a “predator”…and, therefore, not a danger to society…it will allow you to remove or exclude your information from the Megan’s law list. Once received (and approved), your information may be removed from the Megan’s Law website in thirty days…giving you a new lease on your privacy and, more importantly, your safety.

December 17, 2009

Decoy Officers Frequently Used to Catch So-Called Predators

Decoy officers are frequently used to catch…or entrap…so-called on-line child “predators”. Cops, relying on the anonymity of the Internet, pose as young children (usually 13 years old) in an effort to arrest unsuspecting individuals for a variety of California sex crimes.

One crime in particular is Penal Code 288.2 PC “sending harmful matter to a minor with the intent of seducing that minor”. Penal Code 288.2 PC “sending harmful matter to a minor with the intent of seducing that minor” prohibits sending explicit or obscene matter to a minor with the intent of sexually arousing yourself or the minor and with the intent of engaging in sexual contact with the minor.

Officers will ask for nude photos of the people they are communicating with, engage in explicit e-mails, exchange erotic text messages, and/or have “phone sex” with people who otherwise may not even have engaged in such behavior.

If you are accused of sending harmful matter to a minor under Penal Code 288.2 PC, be sure to discuss a possible entrapment defense with your California sex crimes defense attorney.

December 16, 2009

Harassing Text Messages Lead to Cyberstalking Charges

Last week, police arrested Devar L. Hurd for cyberstalking the mother of R&B singer Ashanti Douglas. Prosecutors report that Hurd sent Ms. Douglas over 30 explicit text messages. Some of the messages qualified as “sext” messages, including several photos of his genitals and messages about performing graphic sexual acts.

California’s cyberstalking laws are codified in Penal Code 646.9 PC. Simply put, Penal Code 646.9 PC cyberstalking prohibits using any “electronic communication device” (including a cell phone) to threaten or harass another person with the intention of placing that person in fear for his/her safety or for the safety of his/her family.

While cyberstalking may seem less harmful or intrusive than “traditional” stalking, the offenses are prosecuted and punished in much the same way. In fact, cyberstalking can actually be just as dangerous as traditional stalking, due in large part to the fact that blog postings, chat room conversations, and even e-mails can be sent anonymously. Because of this fact, law enforcement agencies have formed specialized units to aggressively investigate cyberstalking claims.

December 15, 2009

Celebrity Stalking

While celebrity stalking seems all the rage, it actually only comprises a small fraction of all California stalking charges. In fact, most California stalking charges involve domestic violence…that is, instances of stalking that involve intimate partners. “Intimate partners” include those who are or were:

  1. Married

  2. Dating

  3. Living together

Nonetheless, celebrity stalking is what grabs our attention...and is actually what drove the California Legislature to pass California’s anti-stalking laws in 1990. These laws were based on two very high-profile celebrity stalking cases involving actresses Theresa Saldana and Rebecca Schaeffer.

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December 10, 2009

The History of California Spousal Rape Law

Many people don’t realize that California spousal rape is a crime. This misconception may be due to the fact that it didn’t used to be. In fact, California Penal Code 262 spousal rape is a fairly recent offense…it didn’t even become a law until 1979.

Throughout history, wives were looked upon as “property” owned by their husbands. As property, a wife didn’t have the “right” to refuse sex with her husband.

However, in the 1970s, lobbyists in the anti-rape movement argued that spouses shouldn’t be exempt from California rape laws. They believed…and convinced the California Legislature…that married women deserved the same protection from nonconsensual sex as unmarried women.

And even though California Penal Code 262 spousal rape is a separate offense from “traditional” rape, it is every bit as serious. It even carries the same maximum eight-year California State Prison sentence and a lifetime requirement to register as a sex offender. Make no mistake about it…California marital rape is, in fact, a crime and will be aggressively prosecuted.

December 8, 2009

Common Misconceptions about California Date Rape

The term “date rape” conjures up different ideas for different people. Many think that it is a less serious offense than a “traditional” rape charge. Many think it necessarily involves one person “drugging” another with popular “date rape drugs” such as gamma hydroxybutyric acid (“GHB”) rohypnol (“roofies”), or ketamine (“special K”). Still others think it is an offense limited to young adults, primarily college students.

The fact, however, is that date rape is rape – period. California Penal Code 261 rape includes “date rape”. For prosecution purposes, there is no difference between the two offenses.

“Date rape” typically describes nonconsensual sex that takes place between (1) people who know each other, or (2) people who are or were dating. It is not a crime in-and-of itself, but is simply a social term that is used to describe a California rape charge when the accused and alleged victim fall into one of these two categories.

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December 7, 2009

Roman Polanski on House Arrest for His 1977 California Statutory Rape Charges

After decades of living on the run, director Roman Polanski began house arrest last Friday. This sentence stems from his 1977 conviction where he plead guilty to California statutory rape, Penal Code 261.5 PC. He is currently serving his sentence in Switzerland, where he must remain in his chalet at all times and is monitored via his electronic anklet. Polanski will remain there until Switzerland decides how to respond to a U.S. extradition request.

Before Polanski fled the country in 1978, he faced a 90-day county jail sentence for his statutory rape charge (also commonly referred to as unlawful sex with a minor). In today’s times, a Penal Code 261.5 California statutory rape charge…under the same or similar circumstances as Polanski’s…would likely result in a one-year sentence.

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December 3, 2009

An Overview of California Rape Laws

Although Penal Code 261 PC “rape” is a crime in-and-of itself, there are a variety of sex crimes that are subject to California’s rape laws. Offenses such as spousal rape, date rape, statutory rape, and even oral copulation by force are considered types of rape…and all except statutory rape (that is, unlawful sex with a minor) may result in a lifetime duty to register as a sex offender pursuant to Penal Code 290 PC.

California Penal Code 261 “rape” is defined as nonconsensual sexual intercourse accomplished through means of force, fear, or fraud. It is the “nonconsensual” thread that ties all of these California rape offenses together.

With respect to rape, date rape, spousal rape, and oral copulation by force…if the alleged victim consents to the sexual activity, the California rape charges will have to be dismissed. Statutory rape is a bit different. This rape offense punishes anyone who engages in sexual intercourse with a minor (that is, a person under 18). California law holds that a minor is legally incapable of giving consent, which is why statutory rape is always considered nonconsensual…even if the alleged victim willingly and freely participates in the act.