March 30, 2011

Amendments to Penal Code 666 to Apply Retroactively

California Penal Code 666 -- more commonly known as “petty theft with a prior” -- allows prosecutors to file a petty theft charge as a felony rather than a misdemeanor if the offender has three or more prior theft-related convictions.

Historically, only one prior was required to elevate a subsequent petty theft to a felony charge. In September 2010, however, the California legislature amended Penal Code 666 to require three or more -- rather than just one -- prior conviction.

In People v. Vinson, the Fifth District Court of Appeals ruled Monday that the amendment applies retroactively. Thus for a person currently facing prosecution for a theft that occurred even before September 2010, the state must prove three priors rather than just one. But the amendment is only retroactive to the date of the amendment. Convictions occurring before September 2010 based on the old “one prior” law will not be overturned.

One ambiguity in the new law remains. The text of Penal Code 666 requires that the offender must have served at least one day of jail time for the prior conviction. Now, however, it’s not clear whether there must have been jail for all three prior convictions -- or whether jail time for any one of the priors satisfies the requirement.

March 23, 2011

Dog Therapy from New Haven to Norwalk

Who doesn’t remember the stress of law school? There was the Socratic method…the quandary over which commercial outline to choose…and those daunting (but finally dog-eared) pages of the hornbooks…

It’s about to get a bit easier for Yale Law School students. That’s thanks to Monty, a border-terrier mix the budding jurists can “check out” from the reference library desk along with more analytic study materials.

It is hoped that this “dog therapy” pilot program will “reduce student stress,” according to a Yale Daily News report.

In California, a different group of young adults is also getting an opportunity to experience the therapeutic qualities of canines. And what’s on the line is far more significant than a good grade.

Some of the state’s most troubled youth are helping rehabilitate themselves by caring for shelter dogs rounded up on the streets of Downey and preparing them for adoptive homes. The three-month Pups and Wards Program (PAWS) is run out of the Southern Correctional Reception Center in Norwalk, which houses youth convicted of particularly violent and serious felony offenses.

“It helps break down a lot of barriers like gang affiliation,” says Bill Sessa, a spokesman for the state Division of Juvenile Justice. “It forces youth to work with other youth – to work as a team to take care of the animal.”

“The dog has to be retrained or it would not be adopted.”

March 23, 2011

Pimping, Pandering and Pilfering

If you’re a cop hoping to make a pimping charge stick, you might not want to pilfer drugs from the evidence room. Such a move might discredit your testimony in the eyes of the jury.

It just happened in Contra Costa County, where prosecutors were forced to dismiss charges against a suspected madam after the state’s star witness – a California Department of Justice agent – was charged with multiple counts of theft for allegedly stealing methamphetamines, marijuana and prescription pills from evidence lockers.

And if you’re a prosecutor who wants to charge a pimp with pandering – where the target appears already to be a prostitute – you might want to wait a few months until the state high court issues its opinion on whether the "to become a prostitute" language in California Penal Code Section 266(i) includes “changing management.”

The case arose out of a sting operation in a notorious high-prostitution area off Sepulveda Boulevard in Van Nuys.

California Penal Code 266(i) pandering is a felony punishable by three, four or six years in California state prison. Prostitution in California is a misdemeanor that carries a possible six-month jail sentence, fine of up to $1000, and if a car was used under certain circumstances, license suspension (or even vehicle forfeiture).

March 22, 2011

Lohan Family Faces Further Legal Trouble

Michael Lohan may be the next member of the Lohan clan to face time behind bars. He was arrested in West Hollywood last night in connection with an alleged domestic violence incident.

Among the possible charges he faces is California Penal Code 273.5 (infliction of corporal injury on a cohabitant). Section 273.5 is a “wobbler,” which means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances and criminal history of the defendant.

As part of a Section 273.5 case, prosecutors must show the victim suffered a “traumatic condition” – a visible injury such as a broken nose, a concussion or even a bruise.

Penalties for corporal injury on a cohabitant can be stiff, including prison time (in the case of a felony), but there are defenses to the charge. Defenses include accident, self-defense and false accusations.

As prosecutors decide whether to file a criminal complaint against Mr. Lohan, his celebrity daughter, Lindsay, mulls over a plea deal in her grand theft case. The agreement in that case would include up to 90 days in county jail.

March 16, 2011

Dr. Conrad Murray Attempts to Prove that Michael Jackson Killed Himself

In the continuing case against Dr. Conrad Murray…the man accused of killing superstar Michael Jackson when he allegedly acted “without due caution or circumspection”…the defense is zeroing in on a broken syringe that was discovered under Jackson’s deathbed. Dr. Murray insists that he didn’t break the syringe which…according to his theory…would mean that Jackson did, since they were reportedly the only two people in the room prior to Jackson’s death.

Murray’s defense team is asking the FBI to deliver a first-generation fingerprint from the syringe in order to determine who used and broke it. If Murray can show that it was Jackson whose prints appear on the syringe, that would be consistent with the defense theory that Jackson killed himself by injecting himself with a massive overdose of Propofol while Murray was out of the room.

March 15, 2011

When Does a Police Officer Cross the Line from Employing Reasonable Force to Wielding Excessive Force?

Debate over this issue is likely to intensify over the next few weeks, especially as it relates to minority groups in Los Angeles who often feel unfairly targeted by law enforcement.

Six months after the death of immigrant laborer Manuel Jaminez in the Westlake District at the hands of an LAPD officer, the Los Angeles Police Commission sided with the officer. The civilian watchdog group, which reviews officer-involved shootings, found that the officer’s use of lethal force was reasonable and within departmental policy.

Today’s Police Commission decision is not likely to put an end to litigation in this case or quell debate over purported police misconduct generally. The United States Department of Justice may investigate the incident and his family may file a Section 1983 lawsuit for federal civil rights violations.

Cops have a right of self-defense like other people, and a duty to protect the public, but under the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment officer force must be “reasonable under the circumstances.”

Courts evaluate the reasonableness of force in a given incident by looking at the severity of the suspect’s crime, the threat posed by the suspect to the officer and the public, and efforts by the suspect to resist arrest or flee.

March 15, 2011

The Role of Mistaken Eyewitness Identification in Francisco Carrillo Overturned Murder Conviction

Tragedy unfolded on the streets of Lynwood 20 years ago when 41-year old Donald Sarpy was gunned down and killed in a drive-by shooting.

But the full extent of the crime was not fully recognized until this week, when a Los Angeles Superior Court judge overturned the subsequent murder conviction of Francisco Carrillo in light of the recantation of five witnesses. Carrillo has now spent about half his life in prison for a crime he apparently did not commit.

Mistaken eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction in this country. Difficulty in cross-racial identifications – an issue in this case – is among the various “estimator” and “system” variables responsible for erroneous identifications.

Other variables involve lighting conditions, “weapons focus,” memory erosion and “suggestive” police tactics.

March 11, 2011

Mel Gibson Enters Not Guilty Plea in Spousal Battery Case

Mel Gibson entered a “no contest” plea in a Los Angeles Courtroom today to a misdemeanor simple domestic battery charge. In exchange for his plea to Penal Code 243(e)(1) California’s spousal battery law, the actor will be placed on 36 months summary probation, must perform 16 hours of community service and undergo 52 weeks of batterer’s counseling. The judge also ordered him to have only “peaceful contact” with Oksana Grigorieva, the alleged victim in the case. He will serve no jail time.

This plea stems from an incident involving Grigorieva, Gibson’s ex-girlfriend that took place last year. Grigorieva accused Gibson of threatening her with a gun and punching her at his Malibu home last year. Some secret recordings of Gibson ranting and raving were leaked to a celebrity website. In them, Gibson confirmed the allegations, telling her “You fu--ing deserved it.”

The plea bargain isn’t so unusual. Many people convicted of Penal Code 243(e)(1) California’s spousal battery law do not serve jail time. A one-year batterer’s program is routinely imposed, as is community service. This does not appear to be a case of “celebrity justice” but rather a fairly typical sentence for this type of offense.

March 9, 2011

Was Romany Malco a Victim of Police Misconduct?

Last night, Romany Malco…an actor from ABC’s “No Ordinary Family”…was pulled over by the Hawthorne Police Department. At the time of the stop, Malco didn’t know why he was being detained…or why the officer approached him with her gun already drawn. Thinking that he was about to be the victim of police misconduct, Malco began taping the incident on his phone.

It turns out that Malco…an African-American man…had just pulled out of a parking lot where it was reported that three black males who were suspected of casing a T-Mobile store had just fled from when a security guard approached them.

Malco was ultimately released without being cited.

The Hawthorne Police Department believes that the investigating officer acted appropriately. Malco claims he will only sue for police misconduct if he feels he was treated unfairly.

Under these types of circumstances, it is unlikely that this officer would be guilty of police misconduct. Police misconduct involves intentionally using excessive force, lying or fabricating evidence, or improperly using a weapon. The facts as we know them in this case don’t seem to rise to that level.

March 4, 2011

Orange County Jail Cook is Charged with Sexually Assaulting Female Inmates

A cook in the Orange County Jail is being charged with at least two counts of sexual assault based on inappropriate sexual conduct with female inmates. You commit sexual assault (interchangeably referred to as sexual battery) in California anytime you touch the intimate part of another person for the purpose of sexual assault, gratification or abuse without that person’s consent.

In this case, it is alleged that the cook…who was in charge of supervising the two female inmates…abused his authority when he followed one inmate into a closet and then touched her breasts and cornered another inmate in a storage room forcing her to kiss him.

Although many people may be unaffected by this type of news…since the victims are incarcerated convicted criminals…all persons, even jail/prison inmates have the right to be free from being victimized by another person.

If convicted, the cook faces up to six months in the county jail and fines of up to $2,000 per incident.

March 3, 2011

The Century Regional Detention Center – Where L.A. County Female Inmates are Housed

When female celebrities like Lindsey Lohan or Paris Hilton are sentenced to jail…and actually serve their time…they, like all other female Los Angeles County inmates serve their time at the Century Regional Detention Center in Lynwood, California.

The Century Regional Detention Center, sometimes interchangeably referred to as the “Lynwood Jail” or simply “Lynwood” houses (1) female arrestees who have just been arrested and are waiting to be bailed out or to attend their arraignments, as well as (2) female convicted defendants who have been sentenced to serve time in a county jail.

Fortunately for those inmates who must serve lengthy sentences, Century Regional offers a number of services for its inmates. The jail has a commissary where the inmates can purchase cosmetics, magazines and food, a library, and a variety of counseling services such as drug/alcohol, religion and mental health. Inmates are also allowed to receive visitors once daily from Saturday through Tuesday.