June 28, 2011

Helping Your Child to Avoid a Sustained Juvenile Petition

With the fourth of July comes rowdy teens…drinking, being drunk in public, drinking and driving, shooting off guns, etc. Oftentimes kids just don’t think, so parents it’s up to you. Talk to your kids about the dangers of violating California’s laws. Juvenile convictions don’t just “go away” once you turn 18 – they can remain on your record and haunt you for life. If your child performs just one careless act this holiday weekend…and ends up with a California sustained juvenile petition…it won’t just go away.

In California, a sustained juvenile petition is akin to an adult criminal conviction. This means that it will be as if he/she has a conviction on his/her record. Not only will that make “day to day” living difficult when it comes to securing employment, higher education, loans, etc. but sustained juvenile petitions for serious or violent felonies may even be used as “strikes” pursuant to California’s three strikes law if he/she gets into more legal trouble in the future.

Kids often think they’re invincible and fail to look past the moment. With your help, they can understand that their actions today affect their lives tomorrow.

June 28, 2011

The Los Angeles Fire Department Urges Public to Leave Fireworks to the Professionals

In an effort to reduce the many injuries and substantial property damage that always accompany fireworks celebrations in connection with the fourth of July, the Los Angeles Fire Department is making a plea to leave fireworks displays to the professionals. The Department states that despite the fact that this state has strict rules and regulations about who may possess and/or use fireworks, many people often violate California’s fireworks laws which leads to innocent people suffering third degree burns, permanent scarring, blindness and even death as well as life-threatening home and motor vehicle fires.

The Department is warning that even “safe and sane” fireworks, sparklers, small firecrackers and rockets are dangerous and can lead to disastrous results…and this is the case even if you purchase and/or possess fireworks in compliance with California’s fireworks laws. Department officials are urging the public to attend professional fireworks shows as the safest way to enjoy the holiday.

June 27, 2011

Two Men Arrested in San Diego for Auto Theft, Auto Burglary and Possession of Burglary Tools

Two men who have been living in Mexico…and are suspected of frequently crossing into San Diego to commit crimes…were arrested last week on a variety of charges all having to do with auto theft and car burglaries, including possession of burglary tools. The men are being held without bail, as they were recently released from jail on similar charges and have an extensive criminal history relating to this type of conduct.

Auto burglary and auto theft are commonly understood crimes – one involves breaking into cars and the other involves stealing them. However, possession of burglary tools isn’t a crime that receives too much public attention. This offense is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in a county jail and a maximum $1,000 fine. And, as you can imagine, possession of burglary tools is typically charged in connection with burglary or attempted burglary.

The types of tools or “other instruments” that qualify as burglary tools include items such as a crow bar, a “slim jim” or a picklock. Basically any device that helps you unlawfully enter a building, home or car will suffice. But possession of burglary tools isn’t a crime in and of itself, since most if not all burglary tools also have legitimate legal uses. It only becomes a crime when you possess these tools with the intent to commit a burglary.

If you are arrested during the commission of a burglary and possess burglary tools, that intent is pretty much established. If, however, you hadn’t yet entered the building, car or other structure, that intent would be more difficult for the prosecutor to prove. And without that criminal intent, a possession of burglary tools charge must be dismissed.

June 24, 2011

U.S. is Cracking Down on Dogfighting

Michael Vick’s dogfighting case really propelled this ancient bloodsport into the news.

New York just made being a spectator at a dogfight a misdemeanor rather than an infraction…Hawaii just made being a spectator at a dogfight a felony…tomorrow, Wisconsin is hosting a “ride to end dogfighting”…an Ohio grand jury just charged a man with three felony counts of dogfighting. The list goes on and on…

And California’s dogfighting laws are nothing to scoff at. Simply attending a dog fight subjects you to up to one year in jail and a maximum $5,000 fine. Training, possessing or encouraging a dog to engage in dogfighting subjects you to up to three years in the California state prison and a maximum $50,000 fine. And federal penalties for dogfighting go as high as five years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine.

And because additional criminal activity often accompanies dogfights, these penalties could easily increase, leading to a substantial prison sentence. If you are arrested for your involvement in a California dogfight, be sure to contact a skilled California criminal attorney who understands the legal defenses that are applicable to this very serious charge.

June 23, 2011

Fireworks Blamed for Two Santa Cruz Fires

Last week, illegal fireworks sparked two wildfires that destroyed more than a quarter-acre of grassland in Santa Cruz. Fortunately, there were no injuries or structures damaged in the fires. Illegal, spent fireworks were found near the scene. If found, the person(s) responsible for possessing and/or igniting the fireworks would face criminal charges for violating California’s fireworks laws.

California’s fireworks laws specifically ban possession or use of fireworks outside of very strict guidelines. These guidelines prevent unlicensed individuals from ever using dangerous fireworks and “lay people” from using anything other than “safe and sane” fireworks, which are only permitted to be used during the days immediately surrounding the fourth of July.

Given the circumstances of these firework-related fires, it would be likely that a culprit would not only be prosecuted under California’s fireworks laws but under California’s reckless burning and/or arson laws as well.

June 21, 2011

Buyer Beware – What You Need to Know Before Buying Fireworks

If you plan on buying fireworks for your upcoming fourth of July backyard celebration, here’s what you need to know. First and foremost, most fireworks are illegal in California. The exception is what are known as “safe and sane” fireworks.

“Safe and sane” fireworks must display a “State of California, State Fire Marshall Registered Fireworks” seal. If they don’t, they’re illegal. They may also only be purchased at a “fixed place of business” and only between the hours of 12pm on June 28th to 12pm on July 6th…and that’s if local law doesn’t impose a tighter restriction. The exceptions to this rule are party poppers and snap caps which may be purchased all year long.

So if you’re planning on buying fireworks…but don’t want to be arrested for possessing illegal fireworks in California…make sure you only buy

  1. safe and sane fireworks,
  2. from licensed retailers,
  3. during the approved timeframe.

And if you are arrested for purchasing or possessing illegal California fireworks, be sure to contact a California criminal defense attorney to avoid the fines and/or jail/prison time that may be imposed in connection with a conviction.

June 20, 2011

Regret that Plea? File a Motion to Vacate Judgment!

While it may not be that simple, it is possible. Under a handful of circumstances, California law allows you to withdraw your guilty or no contest plea if that plea was not freely and voluntarily entered. You seek this remedy via a California motion to vacate judgment.

Perhaps the most compelling argument for winning a motion to vacate judgment takes place when you feel you were coerced into entering your plea. This type of situation can arise in an infinite number of ways, but the most common probably lies in a threat.

When someone else has a stake in the outcome of your case…maybe because that person is the true culprit or because he/she wants you to take the fall for what should be a shared liability…and threatens to harm you or your family if you do not plea to the charge, you should prevail on a motion to vacate judgment.

Unfortunately, coming forward to admit this type of threat is scary and potentially subjects you to harm. But the good news is that prosecutors can take action against the individual who threatened you. They can file charges like criminal threats and obstruction of justice against that individual, allowing you to start your case over to try to receive an acquittal.

June 20, 2011

What You Need to Know About California’s Law Against Appropriation of Lost Property

People lose property all the time…jewelry, money, keys, etc. And the people who find that lost property are often so excited to do so. Little do they know that they could end up facing criminal charges under Penal Code 485 PC California’s law against appropriation of lost property if they keep the property despite the fact that there were clues as to the property’s true owner.

Penal Code 485 PC California’s law against appropriation of lost property makes it a crime to keep lost property if you can reasonably tell who the actual owner is. You don’t have to scour the Earth to locate the owner – just make reasonable attempts to do so if there are clues. If you find cash lying on a deserted street, you can pretty much keep it. If you find cash in a wallet with a driver’s license, you cannot.

And what attempts are considered reasonable will be up for debate. This is one reason why it is important to hire an attorney who knows how to present the most compelling case that any attempts you made were reasonable and sufficient.

June 20, 2011

Parents – When Your Kids Commit Crimes, You are On the Hook! Know Your Parental Rights and Responsibilities When it Comes to Juvenile Delinquency

Parents are legally responsible for their children until they are 18 years old. This means that when children commit crimes, parents are responsible for paying for those crimes. Any costs associated with restitution, incarceration or legal fees will ultimately be your responsibility, which is why it’s important to understand your parental rights and responsibilities as they apply to juvenile delinquency so that you can help steer your child in the right direction.

Even if your child uses the services of the public defender, that office does charge some fees. Similarly, if your child must serve time in a juvenile camp or detention facility, you will be responsible for repaying the state for all food, clothing and any medical services that your child received while in custody. And if the judge orders your child to pay restitution to a victim, you are on the hook for doing so.

Now all that said, there are some caveats. First, if the child has his/her own money, you can certainly make him/her pay for these costs. Second, the judge will consider your family’s ability to pay before issuing a blanket order for you to do so. Part of that consideration will include your income, how many dependants are in the home, etc.

Knowing your parental rights and responsibilities as they apply to juvenile delinquency proceedings is important, since you and your child are both financially liable for any crimes that he/she commits.

June 17, 2011

Interfering with a Parent’s Visitation Rights is a Crime Under Penal Code 278.5 PC

Oftentimes a child’s parents who are not married either share custody of their child(ren) or one parent gains custody and the other is granted a right to scheduled visits. If you are the parent who has custody the majority of the time…and you interfere with the other parent’s visitation rights…you not only jeopardize your custody privileges, you face criminal prosecution as well under Penal Code 278.5 PC California’s law against the deprivation of custody.

You see, Penal Code 278.5 PC California’s law against the deprivation of custody not only prohibits interfering with a parent’s right to custody over a child, but also with a right to visitation. And…as is the case with many situations involving custody disputes…many parents do not get along. When this is the case, some parents may try to take their anger or revenge out on the other parent through the children. One way to do this is to try to hinder or obstruct the other parent’s time with the children.

The “primary” parent may mistakenly believe that he/she has the freedom to do this, but Penal Code 278.5 PC prohibits just that. In fact, this offense is punishable by up to three years in the state prison. Be sure to avoid these penalties by complying with all court orders regarding custody and visitation schedules.

June 16, 2011

Dallas Mavericks DeShawn Stevenson Arrested for Public Intoxication

Late Tuesday night, Texas police officers received a call about a drunk man wandering around an apartment complex. Turns out it was Dallas Mavericks DeShawn Stevenson, claiming to be lost. Stevenson failed the field sobriety tests that he performed and the cops arrested him for public intoxication.

Public intoxication in Texas is very similar to California’s “drunk in public” law…both prohibit being intoxicated to the point that you are a safety risk to yourself or others. It is because the police believed that Stevenson presented this danger that they arrested him.

Under California’s drunk in public law, Stevenson would face a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in a county jail and a maximum $1,000 fine. He’s lucky he wasn’t here at the time of the offense, as he only faces up to 12 hours in jail and a maximum $500 fine.

After sobering up, he was released on $475 bail.

June 14, 2011

Former “CSI” Star Busted for Possession of Ecstasy

After crashing into two parked cars in Los Angeles, former “CSI” star Gary Dourdan was arrested for possession of ecstasy. There are no reports that he was under the influence of the drug at the time.

Ecstasy is a “Schedule 1” drug which means that it has a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical value in the U.S. As a result, any activity relating to the use, possession or distribution of this drug is illegal.

If this was Dourdan’s first drug-related arrest, he would be eligible to participate in a drug diversion program. People who successfully complete diversion are entitled to a dismissal of their criminal drug charge(s). However, Dourdan was convicted of three drug-related felonies back in 2008. He never served time for any of them.

If prosecutors convict Dourdan of misdemeanor ecstasy possession, he faces up to one year in a county jail. If they convict him of felony ecstasy possession, he faces up to three years in the California state prison.

June 13, 2011

The Consequences of Sexting with a Minor in California

Sexting has consequences. Just ask New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, who right now is experiencing private and political fallout from sending sexually explicit text messages to several women.

But such conduct – when done with a minor in California – can have consequences beyond embarrassment.

California Penal Code Section 288.2 makes it a crime to send “harmful matter” (appealing to the prurient interest) for the purpose of seducing a minor.

A first time California Penal Code Section 288.2 conviction can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, but a subsequent conviction is a felony.

Felony convictions come with a lifetime registration as a sex offender.

The statute has exceptions for sex education and for “legitimate scientific purposes,” but there is no exception for “consent of the recipient” or for minor-to-minor violations. That means that two teenagers engaged imprudent high-tech necking run the risk of a juvenile record.

In California, sexting is also criminal when it involves child pornography or on-line harassment known as cyberstalking.

June 8, 2011

Playboy Playmate Busted for Possession of Methamphetamines

Playboy Playmate Suzanne Stokes – Miss February 2000 – was arrested last night in Los Angeles on felony drug possession charges when the cops found meth in her car. Police initially stopped Stokes for running a stop sign in Hollywood. During that stop, they learned that she had an active arrest warrant stemming from a previous traffic violation. They then searched her car, found the drugs and arrested her for possession of methamphetamines.

Possession of methamphetamines is a wobbler, which means that the prosecutor may charge the offense as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on (1) the circumstances of the case, and (2) Stokes’s criminal history. The fact that the cops discovered the meth as a result of learning that she had an outstanding warrant certainly doesn’t bode well for her, but if that is the extent of her criminal history, prosecutors will probably go with the misdemeanor filing unless she possessed enough meth that they believe she intended to sell it.

If convicted of possession of meth, Stokes faces up to three years in prison for a felony or up to one year in a county jail for a misdemeanor. As long as she is charged with simple possession…as opposed to possession for sales…she would likely qualify for a drug diversion program which will allow her to participate in drug rehabilitation in lieu of a jail or prison sentence.

June 7, 2011

Can Tossing a Firecracker Lead to an Arson Conviction?

Fourth of July is a month away. Californians planning on celebrating the holiday with firecrackers may want to glance over the state Supreme Court’s opinion in In re V.V., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law, issued Monday.

The case began in the foothills of the Angeles National Forest, when two 17-year-olds threw a “cherry bomb” into brush and ignited a 5-acre fire.

Petitions were sustained against both minors for violating Penal Code 451 pc arson and Penal Code 452 pc reckless burning. However, in separate appeals, Division One of the Court of Appeals upheld the Penal Code 451 pc arson violation whereas Division Eight decided that only a Penal Code 452 pc reckless burning violation could be sustained under the facts.

The California Supreme Court agreed with Division One. Two justices dissented.

Even though the minors may not have actually intend to do harm, the high court held, arson is a general intent crime and the element of “willfully and maliciously” setting fire was satisfied because the minors were “aware of facts that would lead a reasonable person to realize that the direct, natural, and highly probable consequence” of throwing a lit ‘cherry bomb’ under the circumstances would cause a fire.

The minors were declared wards of the state and placed on home probation, one of many dispositions available in the California juvenile delinquency system.

June 3, 2011

Despite Obvious Prosecutorial Misconduct, The California Supreme Court Upholds Woman’s Death Sentence

The California Supreme Court upheld the death sentence yesterday for a woman convicted of torturing and killing her 4-year-old niece. The circumstances surrounding the death were absolutely horrific. The defendant held the child in bath water that was so hot, it gave her third-degree burns that ultimately killed her. Prior to the child’s death, she also locked the girl in a closet…attached to a steel hook…beat her and burned her with a hair dryer and curling iron. However, this does not excuse the prosecutor’s inflammatory closing arguments that were clearly improper and a perfect example of prosecutorial misconduct.

When the prosecutor engages in prosecutorial misconduct, that misconduct may serve as the basis to overturn the conviction and grant the defendant a new trial. However, prosecutorial misconduct in and of itself isn’t enough…the ultimate question is if the prosecutor had refrained from the misconduct, it is reasonably probable that the defendant would have received a more favorable result?

In this case, the court held that the answer was no. It believed that despite the prosecutor’s emotional plea asking the jury to “go beyond their roles as arbiters of punishment prescribed by law” and inviting them “to join him in assuming the role of a nuclear family for Genny”…the four-year-old victim…the facts were so heinous that the jury still would have likely voted for death.

Yet the one judge who disagreed with the ruling stated that it “establishes a new low bar” for prosecutorial errors and gives incentives for overly zealous prosecutors to “push the limits without serious fear of reversal”.

June 1, 2011

How Young is Too Young to Appear at a California Juvenile Adjudication Hearing?

California relies on a blanket assumption that children under 14 are legally incapable of committing crimes. This means that even if they physically commit a crime, it will most likely not qualify as such because children this young don’t have the maturity or mental capacity to understand the wrongfulness of their actions. If, however, a prosecutor believes that the child did appreciate the nature of his/her actions, the prosecutor would file the case in juvenile court and arrange for a California juvenile adjudication hearing…the equivalent of an adult’s trial.

But at what age might a child truly appreciate the wrongfulness of his/her actions? The answer depends on the individual child, as some children are more mature than others. Just today, the Los Angeles Times reported that 53 guns were found in a home where a two-year-old shot and killed his six-year-old step-sister. Despite this obvious tragedy, a two-year-old would have no clue that what he did was wrong. But what if it wasn’t a two-year-old, but rather a ten-year-old? What about a 13-year-old? A 17-year-old?

And then when there are particularly aggravating circumstances, there is the question of whether an older child should proceed through a juvenile adjudication hearing or be tried as an adult.

If your child has been accused of being involved in a crime, it is critical to hire a California criminal defense attorney who has experience handling juvenile crimes. Only this type of seasoned lawyer will know the most effective ways to keep your child out of juvenile court when he/she is simply too young to understand the wrongfulness of his/her actions, or how to keep your child in juvenile court and out of adult court when that is the more appropriate forum.