April 29, 2011

Promoting Dogfighting for the Love of Animals?

If that sounds bizarre, it’s because it is. But that’s exactly what a spokesperson for Kage Games, the creators of “Dog Wars”, a dogfighting Android phone application is claiming. The controversial phone app encourages players to "Raise your dog to beat the best" and allows players to train a virtual pit bull to fight other virtual dogs. “Winners” earn virtual money and a chance to participate in more dogfighting competitions.

Dogfighting is a felony in all 50 states. California penalties include up to three years in prison and a maximum $50,000 fine.

So while animal welfare groups and the head of the Los Angeles Police union are urging Google to permanently pull this app from its phone application marketplace, the creators of the game are claiming that the game is misunderstood. A Kage Games spokesperson had this to say: "We are in fact animal lovers ourselves. This is our groundbreaking way to raise money/awareness to aid REAL dogs in need, execute freedom of expression, and serve as a demonstration to the competing platform that will not allow us as developers to release software without prejudgment."

As of now, the app has been taken down. However, the creator is updating it, leading the public to believe that the company intends to rerelease it in the near future.

April 27, 2011

Will Students at Calabasas High School Be Charged with Vandalism or a Hate Crime?

That’s the decision that the Los Angeles District Attorney will make this Friday regarding three Calabasas high school students. This question was triggered by the numerous swastikas, racial slurs and picture of Adolf Hitler that the students painted on walls, lockers and sidewalks at the school. Normally this type of graffiti would undoubtedly prompt the D.A. to charge the suspects with a hate crime. However, the office hasn’t yet decided whether to go this route or whether to simply charge the students with vandalism.

California and federal hate crime legislation impose severe penalties upon those individuals who harm, threaten or harass others based on their race, national origin, disability, religion, sex, gender or sexual orientation. Clearly the type of graffiti that was left at the school meets this criteria.

It appears that the D.A. is wavering because the students who allegedly committed this crime may have been “bullied” into doing so. These students maintain a 4.0 grade point average, have no criminal history and apparently have been “picked on” by several students whose names the suspects “tagged” at the school.

If prosecuted as hate crimes, the 11th grade students could face felony convictions that could lead to spending a substantial number of years in the state prison. However, vandalism is a less serious offense and is typically prosecuted as a misdemeanor, subjecting an offender to a maximum one-year in a county jail.

April 26, 2011

California Assembly Bill 962 Ruled Unconstitutional

Assembly Bill 962 (AB 962) which was passed last November (codified as Penal Code sections 12060, 12061 and 12318) would have required all purchases of "handgun ammunition" to be registered, and would also have banned all mail order ammunition sales in California.

In a lawsuit funded by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the California Rifle and Pistol Foundation (CRPF), however, Fresno Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Hamilton ruled on January 18, 2011 that AB 962 is unconstitutionally vague. The reason is that it doesn't provide adequate legal notice of specifically what ammunition cartridges are “principally for use in a handgun,” and therefore regulated as "handgun ammunition" under AB 962.

Judge Hamilton issued an Order of Permanent Injunction on January 24, 2011 preventing the states and its agents from enforcing the provisions of AB 962. California Attorney General, Kamala Harris, is considering whether or not to appeal the court's ruling.

April 22, 2011

Long Beach Man Arrested on Serial Arson Charges

25-year-old Joshua Thomas has been arrested for violating Penal Code 451 PC California’s arson law in connection with a string of fires that he reportedly intentionally set to cars, homes, sheds and trash bins in the Long Beach area. Long Beach Police have allegedly connected Thomas with 18 fires. In two of the instances, the police are reporting that Thomas set fire to homes where people were inside sleeping. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

If convicted, Thomas faces a substantial amount of time in prison. Each instance of willful or malicious arson subjects him to up to nine years in prison and a potential “strike” on his record under California’s three strikes law.

An additional penalty for violating Penal Code 451 PC California’s arson law is that convicted defendants must register as an arson offender (much like a sex-offender). This means that, if convicted, Thomas would have to keep law enforcement up-to-date on his whereabouts…that is, assuming he is released from prison. If he fails to do register or maintain his registry, he subjects himself to additional charges as well.

Thomas’s defense attorney will most likely try to reduce at least some of the charges to “reckless burning” under Penal Code 452 PC. Reckless burning is only a misdemeanor charge, subjecting Thomas to a maximum one-year of county jail for each count.

April 20, 2011

Oceanside Prostitution Ring Busted in Undercover Operation

38 people have been charged with involvement in a sophisticated prostitution ring that was being operated in Oceanside, California. Penal Code 647(b) California’s prostitution law criminalizes not only the physical act of engaging in sexual acts for money but also offering or agreeing to engage in such acts (a crime known as solicitation of prostitution).

Gang members from the “Oceanside Crips” were allegedly running the ring from prison while they were incarcerated on other charges. The gang was using social networking sites such as Twitter, My Space and Facebook to lure female runaways into their enterprise.

This bust involved federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Not only did officials charge the gang members who were running the ring, but they also charged the owner and operator of the motel that the gang most commonly used to carry out the acts of prostitution. That motel has been seized by the government.

Many arrests that take place pursuant to Penal Code 647(b) California’s prostitution law are made because of undercover operations such as this one. Oftentimes the critical issue in the case becomes whether the officers’ have video or audio recordings of the conversations that allegedly took place. Jurors are often skeptical of prostitution cases where the only evidence is the officer’s testimony.

April 14, 2011

Murder Highlights Safety Concerns at Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail

A 20 year-old inmate named Jonathan Najera was recently killed by his cellmate at the Los Angeles County's Men's Central Jail facility. Najera had previously expressed concerns for his safety to his attorney who made the judge aware of the situation. He was found dead after his cellmate dragged his body out of their cell during an early morning "pill call." Najera's cellmate confessed to the killing. But no further details have been released.

Inmate safety has been a concern for inmates, their families and defense attorney for many years. Typically, if there is an inmate safety concern, attorneys have a duty to express these concerns to the judge in the courtroom where the inmate's case is being handled. The judge is then supposed to submit an order to the Sheriff's Department ordering them to review the housing of the inmate and make changes, if appropriate. Inmates and attorneys may also express safety concerns to the Sheriff's Department's Operation Safe Jails (OSJ) at Las Angeles Men's Central Jail. OSJ is then supposed to evaluate the situation and make any appropriate changes to the inmate's housing.

In Najera's case, although his attorney did express to the judge the safety concerns and the judge did ask the Sheriff's Department to reevaluate Najera's housing situation, sheriff's officials stated that they never received the judge's request.

April 13, 2011

California Penal Code 485 PC: Theft of Lost or Found Property

Is it a crime to keep property that someone else lost and you found?

Finders Keepers, Loser Weepers is an age old saying. But is not always true, at least not according to California law.

If you come across an item and there is NO CLUE AS TO OWNERSHIP, you cannot be convicted of a theft offense. However, if there is a clue to ownership and you decide to keep the item instead of returning it you may be convicted on Penal Code Section 485.

Consider an example. You are sitting at a bus station and someone leaves their laptop case and laptop in a chair and boards a bus. You may or may not be legally allowed to retain the laptop and case depending on what is in the case.

If the owner has left any form of identification, his name and/or information inside the case or on the laptop, then there is a clue to ownership. Keeping the property could get you prosecuted under Penal Code 485 PC since the taking is considered "Unlawful".

However, if the person did not put any clue to ownership inside the case or on the laptop then the taking is not considered "Unlawful" and you cannot be convicted of a theft offense.