Articles Posted in Criminal Defense

Who gets to decide on the defendant’s defense in a California criminal trial? The answer is, it is nuanced, and depends —some decisions are up to the lawyer, while others are left to the client. In a recent California case, the appeals court clarified whether the lawyer can admit that a defendant committed an act over the defendant’s objection.

In the case, the defendant was charged with the unlawful possession of weapons, and later with deliberately driving his car into a police officer while the officer was conducting a traffic stop. The officer was seriously injured, but survived. The defendant allegedly drove away, left the car, and went to a train station parking lot. He was arrested there, and later made incriminating statements to cellmates.

Before trial, the defendant told the court about his displeasure with his lawyer, saying that the lawyer wanted “to make him admit to something that [he] didn’t want to admit.” During the trial, the lawyer admitted that the defendant was driving the car, and argued that the defendant never had the premeditated intent to kill which was necessary to sustain a first-degree attempted murder conviction. The defendant objected to his lawyer’s admission that he was driving the car that injured the officer. At a later trial on the charges of weapons possession, the defendant objected when his lawyer admitted that he possessed certain firearms, and argued that he did not knowingly possess them because he did not understand the unlawful nature of the weapons.

The Constitution’s Second Amendment stresses “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms.”

That language is frequently quoted in discussions centered on that cornerstone American protection. And while it is spotlighted, it isn’t routinely tempered by advocates’ acknowledgment of tandem restrictions that state governments and federal authorities liberally impose on the right.

Indeed, regulatory controls over guns are both multi-layered and expansive. We note on our criminal defense website at the Bay Area Law Offices of John W. Noonan that they start with government bodies powerfully commanding “the right to regulate who can own a gun.” In California, a threshold prerequisite to gun ownership is licensing, which comes with controls that are comparatively tighter than those imposed in many other states.

California law enforcers have many tools at their discretion when it comes to identifying, stopping and arresting alleged drunk drivers. Those range from roving saturation patrols to sobriety checkpoints.

Our blog post today spotlights the latter resource, which was employed last Saturday night on a South San Francisco thoroughfare. The checkpoint featured more than a modicum of drama.

For starters, one detained motorist reportedly became physical with police officers at the scene. Another allegedly ran through a red light and was apprehended while fleeing the scene on foot.

We underscored in our immediately preceding blog post at the Bay Area Law Offices of John W. Noonan that America’s long-tenured War on Crime is under siege. We noted in our December 12 entry the irony linked with newly emerging systemic reforms being materially driven by some prosecutors across the country.

It is those individuals in California and nationally, after all, who customarily take tough stances and promote harsh sentencing outcomes for criminal defendants. It is largely the work of government attorneys that has led to the country’s overburdened penal system and its insanely high maintenance costs.

Legions of Americans these days now collectively embrace an altered mindset that challenges the assumptions of a clearly flawed “justice” system. An in-depth national article noted in our prior post stresses prosecutors’ key role in driving change.

Reform is a key byword of criminal law these days. A recent in-depth media report on charging, plea negotiations and sentencing cites strong evidence that material prosecutorial adjustments from a long-time norm are occurring across the country.

And from coast to coast. The political publication Slate cites newly emerging “reform-minded prosecutors” from New York to San Francisco. Many district attorneys in major municipalities spanning the United States are bucking long-held and dominant realities that spawn harsh charging edicts and uncompromising government demands for notably stringent post-conviction outcomes.

Centrally, those have focused on the longest possible incarceration terms, which prosecutors have aggressively pushed for since the advent of the so-called War on Crime decades ago.

What voters do in a given state often has local-only implications. In other instances, though, it sends a message that has broad relevance nationally and spotlights a matter that is important everywhere.

The Florida electorate recently spoke in a collective manner that is understandably garnering national attention and resonating with legions of Americans.

The focus of an amendment passed last month in that state that reportedly received widespread and bipartisan support was this: the restoration of voting rights for individuals previously convicted of felony crimes.

Will it fly?

That is certainly the question most relevant to considerations surrounding the so-called First Step Act, which is a Senate bill focused on federal criminal sentencing reform that actively seeks President Trump’s embrace.

Optimally, proponents would like to see the chief executive’s strong endorsement of bipartisan reform measures translate to First Step’s imminent enactment into law. There is strong momentum behind the bill, and of a noted bipartisan tinge.

If you’re anything but a novice driver in the Bay Area or virtually anywhere else on California roadways, you can supply a quick answer to the above-posed blog headline query.

And that is this: They’re out in force and notably present.

The police, that is. Troopers from the California Highway Patrol. Officers in beefed-up units from local and municipal enforcement agencies. Roving/saturation patrols.

Here’s a nightmare of almost unimaginable scope that we sketch for readers of our California criminal defense blog. We suspect that it will readily induce empathy from anyone who dwells on its details for even a moment or so.

To wit: A prosecutor insists that DNA evidence targets you as the wrongdoer in a horrific crime. You know that the accusation is false. Nonetheless, the state is dangling that evidence – universally perceived as taint-free and even infallible – in your face. Virtually no party will favor your version of truth over what technicians with advanced degrees have produced via lab-driven research.

That scenario plays out somewhat routinely on cop shows and crime dramas, doesn’t it? Yet it also spells reality in the real world, as sadly evidenced by recurring stories that underscore an “offender’s” innocence years after conviction-driving DNA evidence is proven false.

We don’t need to cough up $80 million-plus to build a new jail in San Francisco, say a widely growing band of criminal law reformers.

What the group – which encompasses judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and increasing numbers of California police/probationary officers and other individuals – stresses as an urgently needed alternative to more jail cells is this: behind-bars alternatives to many offenders that will keep them out of jail in the first place.

Jail is simply a wrong notion to far too many people, stresses a rapidly growing – and bipartisan – coalition of justice insiders who command an inside look at jail overcrowding and inappropriate processing that unfairly treats legions of individuals.

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