September 26, 2011

Defending a Veteran with PTSD in Criminal Court

It is estimated that between ten to thirty percent of all military veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder characterized by a host of symptoms ranging from flashbacks to anxiety to feelings of hopelessness and guilt.

If not treated, PTSD can lead to a downward spiral involving mental anguish, substance abuse and addiction, broken relationships and alienation, and even criminal activity.

As members of the therapeutic community develop ways to diagnose and treat PTSD in our veterans, members of the legal community are wrapping their heads around how the law can and should deal with the criminal ramifications of military-related post-traumatic stress disorder.

A client’s post-traumatic stress disorder might open the way for an affirmative defense based on insanity. A lawyer defending a veteran with PTSD in criminal court might also raise PTSD to secure an alternative sentence under California Penal Code Section 1170.9.

Penal Code §1170.9 allows judges to sentence military veterans to treatment instead of prison or jail in cases where those veterans committed their crimes as result of sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, or mental health problems stemming from service in the United States military.

A number of California counties, including Ventura and Los Angeles, also have special “veterans courts.” These collaborative courts help low-level offenders deal with underlying problems like PTSD, unemployment and substance abuse that lead to criminal conduct in the first place.

Orange County gets credit for instituting the fist veteran’s court in California. Buffalo, New York created the first such court in the nation.

September 21, 2011

How Serious are "Manufacturing Drugs" Charges?

We’re often asked how serious it is if someone gets charged with manufacturing narcotics in California?

The simple answer is that it is one of the most serious drug offenses. Health & Safety Code 11379.6 HS - the California law against manufacturing illegal narcotics - carries a prison sentence of up to five years. By comparison, selling or transporting drugs only carries up to five years. And merely possessing a controlled substance for personal use only carries up to 3 years.

Moreover, unlike simple possession, a person convicted of manufacturing under Health & Safety Code 11379.6 does not qualify for drug diversion programs such as Proposition 36 or deferred entry of judgment.

It’s not hard to understand why the law clamps down so harshly on manufacturers. The California legislature sees them as perhaps the most major player in the illegal drug trade. And unlike simple users who are merely feeding an addiction and often perceived as victims themselves, “cookers” and “processors” are viewed as profiteers who feed on the nation’s drug problem.

One other factor adds fuel to the fervor against illegal drug manufacturing. Only one of the major street drugs is predominately made and processed domestically: methamphetamine. And “meth” is widely regarded as perhaps the most virulent of the illegal street drugs.

September 19, 2011

Juvenile Justice Examined Through Photographs

As lawyers working within the California juvenile justice system, we don’t necessarily see what happens after a petition is sustained and a juvenile gets remanded to custody. But now we can get a glimpse of that part of the story through the photographs of Richard Ross, a Getty Museum Principal Photographer and former Guggenheim Fellow.

Ross has spent the past five years photographing over 1,000 juvenile detainees in lockups and camps across the country, including California. A sample of his images are published in the current issue of Harper’s Magazine and on the photographer’s website.

In the introduction to his collection (titled “Juvenile-In-Justice”), Ross writes that his images are “unbiased photographic and textual evidence of a system that houses more than 100,000 kids every day.” His medium, he writes, “is a conscience.”

Our medium as lawyers is legal process…but hopefully it’s also a process infused with conscience. Our California Criminal Defense Attorneys operating within the California juvenile justice system appreciate the opportunity to view and reflect upon photographs and other artistic works that bring a different sensibility and perspective to the work we do.

September 14, 2011

Felony Arrests Often End with Probation and Jail

If you’re arrested for a felony crime in California, what’s likely to happen to you?

According to the California Department of Justice’s 2010 Crime Report, chances are you’ll be prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to California felony probation with jail time.

That means you’ll serve a stint of up to a year in county jail and then complete a term of up to five more years under the supervision of a criminal court judge and county probation officer.

Eighty-one percent of the nearly 300,000 felony arrests in California in 2010 proceeded to criminal court for disposition. Those cases resulted in 36,378 dismissals (12.2%), 603 acquittals (.02%) and 201,820 convictions (67.6%).

Fifty-eight percent of those arrested for a felony ultimately received probation with jail. The others received prison sentences, probation without jail or just jail.

California felony probation is different from misdemeanor probation. Felony probationers must meet with probation officers, comply with drug tests and submit to searches of their cars and homes. Violations can be sanctioned with up to 18 months in state prison.

The Crime Report contains information about other crime and criminal justice-related topics, as well, including breakdowns of crimes by county and offense type, and tallies of statewide law enforcement personnel, domestic violence calls and citizen complaints against peace officers.