August 31, 2011

Attention Witnesses of California Crimes: California has a Witness Protection Plan to Protect You

Many people…especially in California where gang-related crimes are an everyday occurrence…witness criminal activity but do not report what they saw to the police. While some simply “don’t want to get involved”, many are truly afraid of retaliation. Some simply anticipate retaliation, while others receive direct threats from people involved in the crime. If you have the courage to testify about what you saw, know that the state can help you via the California Witness Protection Program.

Similar to the more well-known federal witness protection program, the California Witness Protection Program offers victims and witnesses of crimes services to (1) help keep them safe, housed and fed while they cooperate with law enforcement, (2) ensure that they receive any necessary medical/psychological counseling and (3) secure financial restitution to compensate for any financial losses due to the crime.

If you are the victim of witness of a crime…and would like to report what you know…contact your local prosecuting agency to find out how they can help protect you.

August 31, 2011

Understanding Your Rights as a California Victim of Crime

The bottom line is that victims of crime in California have rights. In November 2008, California voters passed a law, interchangeably referred to as “Marcy’s Law” and the “Victims’ Bill of Rights”. This law…which appears in an amendment to the California Constitution…sets forth a number of rights for victims of California crimes.
California victim’s rights include (but are not limited to):

  • the right to keep their address and other personal information confidential,
  • the right not to be threatened or intimidated,
  • the right to be heard with respect to the defendant’s sentence and any parole hearings, and
  • the right to restitution and return of property.

Unfortunately, to receive the benefit of these rights often takes some affirmative action on the victim’s part. Fortunately, most local prosecuting agencies have witness/victim assistance and advocacy programs that will help guide a victim through this process.

August 31, 2011

The Fine Line Between Feeding a Client Testimony and Preparing a Client for Testimony

No doubt, there is definitely something to be said for preparing a California crime victim or witness to testify in court. Fortunately, most people are only victimized once by a crime and therefore have little experience when it comes to testifying in court. Lawyers, on the other hand, know exactly the types of questions to ask to ensure that they get the kinds of answers that they want. As a result, a victim or witness who hasn’t been prepared can get easily misled, confused and/or visibly flustered on the witness stand.

This is why it is so helpful for attorneys to help prepare California crime victims and witnesses to testify in court. They not only review the types of questions that they and the other-side’s attorneys will ask, but also help prepare you to answer them in the most convincing and believable manner.

But keep in mind that there is a fine line between preparing a client for testimony and feeding a client testimony. It is unethical for an attorney to tell a victim or witness what to say on the witness stand. The attorney can help the victim/witness present his/her side of the story – the attorney cannot create the story.

August 30, 2011

Ex-Laker Jarvis Crittenton Facing Possible Extradition Charges

Ex-Los Angeles Laker Jarvis Crittenton was arrested last night on a murder warrant while boarding a plane at the John Wayne Airport in Orange County. He is currently in LAPD custody and will face an extradition hearing as early as tomorrow to determine if…in accordance with California’s extradition laws…he will be extradited from California to Altanta, the home state where the alleged murder took place.

Crittenton is wanted in connection with a drive-by shooting that took place on August 19th. He allegedly killed a mother of four as she stood outside her home with two other people, one of whom may have stolen jewelry from Crittenton back in April, thereby providing the motive for the shooting.

Because Crittenton left Atlanta after the shooting, he is considered a fugitive from justice. But California’s extradition laws do not permit him to be returned to Atlanta without first having a proper hearing to ensure that there is enough probable cause to extradite him for the alleged offense. That hearing is expected to be held tomorrow. If the judge finds that he is the true person being sought by Atlanta law enforcement, he will remain in LAPD custody until an agent from that states comes to accompany him back to that state.

If the judge does not believe that Crittenton is the true person being sought, he will simply be released from custody.

August 29, 2011

Homeless Court Lends Helping Hand By Removing Legal and Financial Hurdles

There was a full house at yesterday’s Los Angeles County Homeless Court Program.

At PATH Los Angeles, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Tynan presided over a makeshift courtroom packed with individuals seeking to have tickets (and associated warrants) dismissed for “quality-of-life” infractions and low-level misdemeanors such as driving on a suspended license, loitering, riding the metro without paying the fare, and jaywalking.

Without such tickets and fines standing in their way, Homeless Court participants can move forward and take the “next step” in their journeys out of homelessness…whether it’s securing housing, employment, or an academic credential.

Homeless Court is a once-in-a-lifetime program for individuals who have demonstrated a commitment towards revamping their lives. They must have successfully completed at least 90 days of a rehabilitative program (like a substance abuse or job-training program), be recommended by a caseworker and have been out of trouble for at least six months.

Volunteers serve as advocates for each participant. California Criminal Defense Attorney Sarah Garvey took part in the program, along with other attorneys and law students from the Los Angeles area.

Homeless Court takes place about every other month. It is sponsored by a number of entities including the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, Public Counsel Law Center and the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

August 24, 2011

South L.A. Grocer Facing Five Years for Food Stamp Welfare Fraud

A South Los Angeles grocery store owner faces a California state prison sentence for violating California’s welfare fraud laws. The man is facing four felonies all related to his acts of buying electronic food stamp cards from welfare recipients and using them to buy items such as soda, chips and candy which he was then reselling for much higher prices at his own stores.

Electronic benefits cards are distributed to California welfare recipients exclusively to purchase food. As a result, it would appear that the people who supplied the cards to the accused could face charges under California’s welfare fraud laws as well. At this time, however, prosecutors have only filed the charges against the store owner.

Although it doesn’t appear that this is the case in this instance, welfare fraud that involves electronically transferred benefits can lead to substantial prison time if the transfer of benefits exceeds $50,000.

If the accused doesn’t have a criminal history, it is likely that his California criminal defense attorney could negotiate a plea bargain that would allow him to reimburse the state for the cost of the benefits and face a much less severe penalty – possibly something along the lines of a petty theft conviction rather than one for outright fraud.

August 18, 2011

Los Angeles County Jail Inmates Engaging in New Phone Fraud Scam

Beware – inmates who are incarcerated in the Los Angeles County jail are targeting random members of the public with a new phone fraud scam. Inmates are calling people and yelling “Emergency!” while a recorded warning plays that states the call is from an inmate so that the receiver of the call cannot hear the warning.

The inmate then states that he works at the jail and has information about a loved one that has been injured or arrested and tells the victim to call a sergeant for more information. This is where the “prank” call turns into fraud and ends up costing the victim. The inmate instructs the victim to dial *72 followed by a phone number, the number of which is usually to a girlfriend or a fellow gang member. *72 is actually a code that transfers a call to the phone number that follows it.

Inmates then make calls to that number without the victim’s knowledge at the expense of the victim. And because collect calls are so expensive, victim’s phone bills can total thousands of dollars before they even become aware of the issue.

Law enforcement urges anyone who appears to be a victim of this scam to hang up and call their local sheriff’s department.

August 15, 2011

Venice “Rawesome Food” Storeowners Charged with California Conspiracy

“Rawesome Food”…a private co-op market in Venice, California…has just been raided a second time by federal agents. The owners have been arrested on California conspiracy charges for producing milk without a license or permit. Despite the relatively minor alleged violation, federal agents raided the co-op with their guns drawn, ordering shoppers up against the back wall. This…the result of a yearlong sting operation…has resulted in a 13-count complaint against the group.

The money and manpower that have been put into this raid have led to public outrage and even political satire. Rawsome supporters have been protesting the raid and charges at the store and political comedian Steven Colbert even televised a segment about the issue on The Colbert Report.

California conspiracy charges are no joke. If convicted of conspiracy, the market owners would face the same penalties that they would face if convicted of the actual crime. And this is in addition to any other penalties they receive for convictions on the remaining counts.

August 12, 2011

“Survivor” Producer Set to be Extradited From California to Mexico to Answer for Murder Charges

The producer of reality show phenomenon “Survivor” is set to be extradited from California to Mexico to answer for murder charges. Last year, Mexican prosecutors charged Bruce Beresford-Redman with aggravated murder when his wife was discovered dead in a septic tank at a resort in Cancun where the couple and their children were vacationing. Prosecutors claim that the Beresford-Redman…who was arrested on a fugitive’s warrant in his home in Rancho Palos Verdes, California…had a motive to kill because his wife had just discovered he was having an affair. This is a federal extradition, so California’s extradition laws will not come into play.

However, federal extradition laws follow the same pattern as California’s extradition laws, in that the defense will have an opportunity to challenge the extradition so that Beresford-Redman can remain in California. This challenge is known as a writ of habeas corpus and will likely keep the defendant in a Los Angeles jail for up to a year while the defense team fights the extradition order. In the event that he is extradited and convicted, he faces up to thirty (30) years in prison.

August 12, 2011

New Bill Bans Jurors From Electronically Communicating About Cases; Violations are Contempt of Court

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law last week that becomes effective January 1, 2012. Known as AB 141, this law codifies the existing rule that jurors are not allowed to “Tweet”, text or otherwise engage in any electronic communication with respect to the case on which they are serving. If they disobey this law…for example, by doing research on their “smart phones” to investigate the case…they face a misdemeanor under California’s contempt of court laws.

If you violate California’s contempt of court laws, you face up to six months in a county jail and up to $1,000 in fines. Simply put, you violate California’s contempt of court laws anytime you fail to obey a court order or disrespect the judicial process.

California judges will now be specifically required to inform jurors that any electronic “misconduct” will subject them to these misdemeanor charges.

August 12, 2011

Intentionally Passing a “Bad Check” in California is Fraud, Plain and Simple

The next time you think you may not have enough funds in your account to clear a check, you should probably wait to write the check until you know that you do. If you innocently pass a bad check, you will likely be allowed to participate in a “bad check diversion” program. However, if prosecutors suspect that you intentionally passed a bad check…or just didn’t care enough to ensure that you had sufficient funds to cover the full amount of the check…they will likely charge you with violating Penal Code 476a PC California’s check fraud law.

Penal Code 476a PC California’s check fraud law prohibits intentionally passing a “bad check” with the intent to commit a fraud. If the amount of the check is $450 or less, the offense is a misdemeanor. If the check is written for more than $450, the offense is punishable by a misdemeanor or a felony, subjecting you to up to three years in the California state prison.

If you know that you don’t have sufficient funds, you can protect yourself from prosecution by post-dating the check or by telling the recipient that you currently don’t have the proper funds to cover the amount. Short of this, you face prosecution unless you can prove that the oversight was unintentional…a defense which may work once or twice, but certainly not more.

August 10, 2011

The Facebook Beat

You can find the Los Angeles Police Department on Facebook here, but is the LAPD following you on your Facebook page?

It might be, if you’re using social media to engage in criminal activity.

We’re used to seeing police work in the online arena in connection with child pornography and credit card fraud investigations. But cops are also using social media to investigate other kinds of crimes, including gang crimes.

According to an April 2011 article, Police Officers Go Undercover, gang members have been arrested after uploading incriminating videos on You Tube. And according to a recent New York Daily News article, the New York City Police Department has formed an official “social media” unit to find out about “troublesome house parties, gang showdowns and other potential mayhem.”

The Daily News article also noted that participants involved in the current riots in London apparently have communicated about looting and burning opportunities via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

August 8, 2011

Diverting Parking Ticket Revenue Can Constitute Grand Theft in California

Penal Code 487 grand theft in California can be accomplished in four ways. There’s grand theft by larceny, trick and false pretense. There’s also grand theft by embezzlement.

In a recent case out of Santa Barbara, a civilian member of the police department has been accused of grand theft by embezzlement for allegedly diverting over $100,000 in parking ticket revenues.

Grand theft by embezzlement occurs when someone unlawfully takes property entrusted to that person, so long as the property is valued above $950. Because embezzlement involves a violation of trust, we often see it in an employment context.

To convict someone of violating Penal Code 487 grand theft in California, by way of embezzlement, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant intended to steal the property and that a relationship of trust existed between the defendant and victim. If the alleged embezzlement took place on more than one occasion, the prosecutor can charge the defendant with multiple counts of grand theft (although the defense can argue that the conduct was part of a single “plan.”)

Felony grand theft is punishable by up to three years in state prison. If the amount stolen exceeds $65,000, an additional year can be added to that sentence.

August 3, 2011

What is Felony Probation in California?

If you follow the legal dramas of Hollywood celebrities and their kids, you’ve probably heard that Redmond O’Neal, son of Ryan O’Neal and Farrah Fawcett, was recently arrested in Santa Monica.

The alleged charges include violation of felony probation as well as possession of heroin.

The charges are not uncommon in Los Angeles…whether or not the related arrest makes the newspaper.

The basic idea of felony probation in California is that someone who may otherwise be subjected to jail or prison is allowed to remain free so long as that person complies with a host of "probation conditions." Violation of probation triggers a "probation violation hearing."

Probation conditions are tailored to meet the needs of specific cases, but in a drug case such conditions would generally include mandatory drug testing and provisions prohibiting drug possession.

Probation conditions may also include "search terms" – which give peace officers the right to search a probationer’s car or home with or without consent. (Mr. O’Neal apparently was arrested after cops found heroin in his car after he was stopped for running a red light.)

Violating felony probation in California can have serious consequences, including spending time in state prison, and the prosecutor only has to prove the alleged violation by a preponderance of the evidence.

Still, the defendant is entitled to a host of due process protections at a probation violation hearing, including the right to an attorney and the right to present evidence of mitigating or extenuating circumstances that contributed to the alleged violation.

August 2, 2011

Dorene Sanchez Faces Charges for Being an Accessory After the Fact in the Bryan Stow Beating

Late last month, the Los Angeles Police Department arrested three suspects in the highly publicized beating of Giants’ fan Bryan Stow that took place earlier this year at Dodger Stadium. One of the suspects, Dorene Sanchez faces charges for being an accessory after the fact under California law. Sanchez is one of the other suspect’s sister and possibly the other suspect’s long-time partner or wife.

Authorities have released very little information about Sanchez’s suspected involvement. It is unknown whether police believe that she is the woman witnesses saw driving the two suspected assailants away from the stadium after the attack, though the “accessory after the fact” charge supports that notion.

Under California law, a person may be convicted of being an accessory after the fact when he/she aids or assists another person in an effort to escape from arrest, trial, conviction and/or punishment. Driving a “get away” car is actually a classic example of how someone would be charged with being an accessory after the fact in California.