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Last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California drug-dealing case in which the defendant claimed that the testimony of the prosecution’s expert witness was impermissibly based on the defendant’s race and national origin. Ultimately, the court concluded that, regardless of the impropriety of the expert’s testimony, the defendant failed to preserve the issue for appeal because there was no objection made at the time the expert testified.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested after an officer observed the defendant hand a middle-aged Cuban man an unknown object. Officers were able to see that the object the defendant handed the man contained off-white solids that resembled cocaine base.

The officers arrested the defendant, and after searching him, found a baggie with 41 small, individually wrapped “bindles” containing what was later determined to be crack cocaine. The defendant did not have any money on him when he was arrested.

In recent a California criminal case before a court of appeals, the court had to consider whether a minor defendant’s case was properly heard by an adult criminal court or whether the case should have been decided by a juvenile court. The defendant in the case was charged with sexual offenses that allegedly occurred when he was between 14 and 16 years old.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant’s case was first heard in juvenile court, but in November, 2015, the juvenile court transferred the case to adult criminal court. While in adult court, the defendant pleaded guilty to various crimes in March 2017, and agreed to a 40-year sentence in prison. However, before the defendant was sentenced, the defendant requested that the court transfer his case back to juvenile court under Proposition 57, which was passed after the defendant’s hearing in juvenile court. The adult court denied the request, and the defendant appealed the court’s decision.

Juvenile courts in California generally have jurisdiction over offenses alleged to have been committed when the defendant was under 18 years old. Proposition 57 was passed in November, 2016, and significantly amended the laws governing the jurisdiction of juvenile courts. Under the previous law, a minor accused of a crime was generally subject to the jurisdiction of juvenile court, unless the court found the minor unfit for juvenile court. For minors 14 years or older, there was a presumption that the defendant was unfit for the juvenile court system.

In a recent California criminal case before a California court of appeals, the court had to decide whether a prosecutor’s office could subpoena and use an alleged sexually violent predator’s confidential medical records in a proceeding under the Sexually Violent Predator Act.

According to the court’s opinion, back in the 1980s, a jury found the defendant guilty of child sex offenses and sentenced him to a total of 23 years in prison. Before he was released, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office filed a sexually violent predator (SVP) petition. In 2009, a jury found the defendant was a sexually violent predator and ordered him to be civilly committed to a state hospital. The defendant filed a petition for unconditional discharge or for conditional release. The district attorney’s office subsequently served a subpoena on the hospital to obtain the defendant’s medical records. The defendant filed a motion to quash the subpoena, arguing that the prosecutor’s office could not subpoena his confidential medical records.

The Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA) allows an individual to be civilly committed for an indefinite term if a jury finds the individual to be a sexually violent predator beyond a reasonable doubt. Under section 6600 of the Act, a SVP is defined as a person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense against at least one person and who has been diagnosed with a mental disorder “that makes the person a danger to the health and safety of others in that it is likely that he or she will engage in sexually violent criminal behavior.” An alleged SVP has the right to a jury trial, to the representation of counsel, to retain experts, and to access relevant medical records and reports. Under section 6603(j), a medical evaluator must include a statement of all records the evaluator reviewed, and the parties can request a copy of those records.

In a California criminal case involving the death of a six-month-old baby, a court held that the father’s confession to the baby’s mother could be admitted. According to the court’s opinion, the father was watching his six-month-old daughter by himself one day, and called her mother to tell her that the baby was not breathing. When her mother arrived, she was cold to the touch, and no one could resuscitate her. The baby died, and an exam later showed bruises, rib fractures, and a punctured lung, among other injuries.

The father later accompanied the police to the police station. He was read his Miranda rights and agreed to speak with officers in an interview room. He told the officers that the baby stopped breathing while she was laying in her crib. After the officers asked if the defendant would take a polygraph test, he asked if he could have an attorney, and repeated his request for an attorney four more times. The officers then arrested the father.

Several hours later, the police allowed the father to meet with the baby’s mother in an interview room. An officer told the mother that she might be able to get a “full explanation” of what happened” because she “[had] a right to know.” The conversation between the two was recorded. The father first gave the mother the same explanation that he had given police. An officer then came in the room and said that the autopsy showed that the baby did not suffocate, and that she was beaten to death. The officer told the parents that they both could go to jail for child neglect, and that this would be the last time they could talk to each other in person.

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Many California DUI cases can be fought on a number of issues, ranging from motions to suppress chemical test results to arguing the operation element at trial. However, a truly experienced California criminal defense attorney can recognize when a client risks more by taking a case to trial than by pleading guilty. Indeed, prosecutors and judges often assign significant weight to a defendant’s willingness to take responsibility for his actions and may recommend or impose significantly reduced sentences in some instances.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an interesting opinion in a California DUI case requiring the court to determine if the defendant’s sentence following an open (non-negotiated) guilty plea must be reversed because she was sentenced by a judge other than the one who took her plea. The opinion is interesting for several reasons, in part because it acknowledges the reality that a defendant’s sentence can significantly depend on the propensities of the judge hearing the case.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was driving while intoxicated when she lost control of her vehicle. The vehicle rolled over, and in the process, the defendant’s eight-year-old son was thrown from the car and died. The defendant was charged with numerous offenses, including gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

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Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court released an opinion in an interesting case requiring the Court to interpret the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause. Specifically, the court was tasked with deciding whether the rights contained in the Excessive Fines Clause were incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment, and thus applicable to proceedings in state court. Ultimately, the court concluded that the rights granted by the Excessive Fines Clause were incorporated and thus applied to state court criminal trials, such as the one in this case.

The Facts

The details of the defendant’s arrest were not particularly relevant to the Court’s inquiry. In short, police pulled over the defendant while he was operating a Land Rover SUV that he had recently purchased with the proceeds from an insurance policy. Police arrested the defendant for possession with the intent to deliver narcotics, as well as conspiracy to commit theft.

The defendant pleaded guilty and received a sentence of one year of in-home detention, then five subsequent years of probation. Additionally, he was fined approximately $1,200. After the case, the state government sought civil forfeiture of the defendant’s vehicle, claiming that it was used in the commission of a crime. The lower court rejected the government’s request, stating that the vehicle’s value was over four times greater than the maximum allowable fine that could have been imposed against the defendant, and that such a forfeiture would be excessive under the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against excessive fines.

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Criminal cases are supposed to be about the pursuit of truth. However, over the years, courts have routinely caught prosecutors trying to hide evidence from defendants. Most often, this is evidence that is favorable to the defense and would have been harmful to the prosecution’s case had the defense been provided the evidence.

Discovery is the process by which the parties exchange evidence that they plan to use at trial. Given the concerns mentioned above, in a 1964 case, the United States Supreme Court created some basic rules requiring the prosecution to provide certain discovery to the defense in all criminal cases. These rules have been embodied in the current version of the California Penal Code. For example, under California Penal Code section 1054.1, the prosecution must disclose:

  • the names and address of all witnesses it plans to call at trial;
  • all statements made by the defendant;
  • all relevant real evidence;
  • whether any material witness for the prosecution has a felony conviction; and
  • the written or recorded statements of witness the prosecution plans to use at trial.

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The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees all defendants facing criminal prosecution the right to confront their accusers. Confrontation affords a defendant the opportunity to cross-examine the witness and potentially reveal any bias or other weakness in the witness’ testimony. Typically, courts require that this confrontation be face-to-face, meaning that the witness must testify at the defendant’s trial. Through live testimony, a jury is best able to assess a witness’ demeanor and credibility, assisting the jury in determining whether the witness’ testimony is credible.

Face-to-face confrontation requires a witness to face the subject of their allegations. Naturally, this will make some witnesses nervous. Indeed, a witness’ nervousness is a key factor in assessing their credibility. However, California lawmakers have developed several exceptions to the general rule requiring face-to-face confrontation when the allegations involve specific California crimes allegedly committed against children.

Under California Penal Code section 1347, a court can permit the minor to testify via two-way closed-circuit television in certain limited situations when the defendant is charged with a “violent felony offense.” The statute provides some examples of what constitutes a violent felony offense, including:

  • rape,
  • sodomy,
  • oral copulation,
  • lewd or lascivious acts,
  • certain child abuse offenses,
  • robbery,
  • carjacking,
  • kidnapping, and
  • arson.

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Under California criminal law, a battery is defined as “any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.” Battery is often conflated with the more serious charge of assault, which is defined as an “unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.” When a battery is committed against a person who is not considered part of a protected class, the crime is usually considered a simple battery.

To prove a charge of simple battery, the prosecution must establish that 1.) the defendant willfully and unlawfully touched a person and 2.) the touching was done in a harmful or offensive manner. If a defendant is convicted of a simple battery charge, they can be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of up to six months in length, and be fined up to $2,000.

In reality, simple battery is rather uncommon because California lawmakers have enacted a series of statutes naming many protected classes of individuals. For example, police officers, lifeguards, firefighters, children, dependent adults, bus drivers, and school employees are all considered protected classes. If a battery is committed against a member of a protected class, the potential punishment escalates. This is also the case for California domestic battery.

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When someone is arrested for a California DUI offense, the arresting officer will likely ask them if they will consent to a chemical test of the driver’s blood, breath, or urine. Under California law, when a motorist is arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol “is deemed to have given his or her consent to chemical testing of his or her blood or breath for the purpose of determining the alcoholic content of his or her blood.” There is a similar provision for the suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs. Collectively, these are referred to as California’s implied-consent statute.

At its most basic, an implied-consent statute gives law enforcement the ability to test a person’s blood or breath after they have been arrested for suspicion of impaired driving. Of course, police officers are not entitled to physically force a motorist to provide a sample, so the importance of the implied-consent statute is that motorists who refuse testing can be subject to administrative and, in some cases, additional criminal penalties.

Before police are able to rely on the implied-consent statute, it must be established that the motorist was “lawfully arrested” for suspicion of impaired driving. Additionally, the motorist must be provided with certain warnings. If a motorist’s arrest is not lawful, or the police officers involved in the case fail to follow the proper protocol, any evidence or test results obtained may be suppressible.

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