LAPD Plan to Lessen Impound Fees on Unlicensed Drivers Stymied

The LA Times is reporting that a California state agency has issued an opinion causing the Police Commission to put on hold a vote to alter how the LAPD treats impounded vehicles of unlicensed drivers.  Under current California law, vehicles of unlicensed drivers can be impounded, and if they are, they must remain in impound for 30 days, often costing the owner of the vehicle in excess of $1,000.  LAPD Chief Charlie Beck had hoped to lessen that financial impact by allowing certain drivers to retrieve their vehicles as early as the next day following impound.  However, the Police Commission now believes Beck’s plan may run afoul of state law.

The real issue here is the impact of exorbitant impound fees on undocumented residents who cannot obtain a valid California driver’s license.  Many times, these residents obtain a valid driver’s license from a neighboring state, but because they reside in California, they nonetheless are in violation of California Vehicle Code Section 12500, requiring residents of California to have driver’s licenses issued by this state if they wish to drive.  Furthermore, the Vehicle Code allows law enforcement to impound vehicles involved in a violation of section 12500.

Chief Beck should be applauded for attempting to address the obvious issue this creates with good drivers, who are insured, but nonetheless undocumented residents.

Former LAPD Detective on Trial for Murder Shows Why Suspects Should NEVER Talk to Cops

Former LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus is currently on trial for the 1986 homicide of her former boyfriend’s wife.  The story of how the cold case was cracked is a case-study in police investigation and interrogation.  The lesson to be learned, especially from the interrogation of Lazarus, is that interrogating officers often know answers to questions they pose to suspects and often have enough evidence for an arrest even before the questioning starts.  If this is the case, their goal becomes to secure a confession, not determine the truth and they will “lie, cheat, and steal” to get it … all of which is perfectly legal.

Watch an ABC News story on the case here.

Man Acquitted by Jury, Still Sentenced to 15 Years

The South Florida Sun Sentinel is reporting that a man acquitted in two separate jury trials of fondling pre-teen girls has been sentenced to fifteen years in prison based upon the same evidence which amounted to a violation of his probation. The case underscores the very real possibility of being sentenced on a probation violation despite being found not guilty of the same conduct by a jury. The legal basis for such an outcome lies in the different standards of proof applied to jury trials versus that applied to hearings on violations of probation. While the standard of proof in a jury trial is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” in order to be found in violation of probation, in Florida, as in California, the prosecution bears the much lower standard of proof known as “preponderance of the evidence.” Additionally, whereas convictions on new law violations generally are determined by a jury, violations of probation (even if based upon the same evidence) are decided by a judge.  In essence, while a jury may acquit a defendant based upon a failure of the prosecution to meet the higher standard of proof, a judge considering the same evidence may still nonetheless conclude that the lower standard of proof has been met and thus sentence a defendant based upon a violation of his pre-existing probation.

Jailers More Likely to Use Force on Mentally Ill Inmates

The LA Times is reporting that deputies in LA County jails are more likely to use force on mentally ill inmates than other prisoners. According to a report by the Sheriff’s Department, although inmates classified as mentally ill make up only 15% of the inmate population, approximately one-third of deputy use-of-force cases involved those inmates.

Although mental illness issues often lead to violent outbursts necessitating use of force, the report highlights the need for better training for law enforcement when it comes to identifying and dealing with mental health issues in detainees. As stated by Peter Eliasburg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, “You have to be on guard that some of them behave differently and they often do things that if they didn’t have mental illness, it would be a real true sign of aggression … . But if you’re sensitive that this is an inmate with mental illness, you realize it’s not a deliberate attempt to incite.”

Study Shows Wrongful Conviction Rate of Up To Six Percent

As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a comprehensive study by the Urban Institute has found that wrongful conviction rates in violent felony cases is as high as six percent. Samuel R. Gross, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and a former criminal-defense lawyer, attended the presentation made by the Urban Institute in November and said that “this is a very big surprise. I would have guessed an error rate of 1 or 2 percent. Six percent is surprisingly high.”

Given the fact that the study focused on only violent felony cases, and that those are the types of cases that the most prosecutorial resources are devoted to, it is likely that the rate is even higher for cases that don’t rise to the level of “violent felonies.”

Download the report by clicking the link below.

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Arson Investigation Burn Pattern Theory Debunked

A November 2011 study by The Arson Project has confirmed the hypothesis that ‘the presence or absence of an ignitable liquid in a post-flashover setting cannot be determined through visual examination of the resulting burn patterns. Any attempt to do so is no more reliable than a flip of a coin.”

Download the Full Report by clicking the button below.

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Novel Conservative Approach to Death Penalty Debate

As more and more Republicans are taking the “Right on Crime” (as opposed to “Tough on Crime”) approach, the Concord Monitor is reporting that Republican State Representative Phil Greazzo has come out in favor of abolishing his state’s death penalty statute. What makes his position noteworthy is not only the fact that he is a conservative, but also that Rep. Greazzo has a history of favoring the expansion of crimes to which the death penalty could apply. Despite generally seeking to broaden the use of the death penalty, Rep. Greazzo said he sees such inconsistency in the current law that he would sooner have lawmakers eliminate the death penalty altogether than maintain the status quo.

While Rep. Greazzo’s position is a far cry from seeking to abolish the death penalty altogether, it is refreshing to see another conservative join the ranks of those who recognize that the current system is broken.

Reckless Response to Service Call vs. Reckless Evasion of Officer

The Bakersfield Californian is reporting that the recent accident involving a Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy and two pedestrians (which resulted in the deaths of those pedestrians) was a result of the officer responding to a report of a stolen vehicle. Whether or not the officer’s siren and emergency lights were activated at the time of the accident is still unknown (to the public). The story is tragic in every respect and one can only hope that Sheriff Donny Youngblood is sincere when he says the department as a whole is deeply saddened by the deaths. Unfortunately, this evokes memories of similar incidents in which innocent pedestrians have been killed during police pursuits of fleeing criminal suspects. Understandably, the public outrage directed to the defendants in those cases was harsh, as was the response of both law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office in their prosecution of the defendants. At this point, given the public comments posted in relation to the story, it appears that at least the public is concerned about the prudence (or lack thereof) of the officer’s actions. One can hope that that level of concern is mirrored within the District Attorney’s Office once the investigation is complete and the case is submitted for a determination of whether or not to file criminal charges.

More Young Adults Arrested Than Ever Before

According to the New York Times, nearly one third of American adults have been arrested for a criminal offense by the age of 23.  In my experience, arrests at this early age generally have one of two effects on the person arrested: they either act as a wake-up call and lead the young adult to come face-to-face with the reality that poor choices can lead to some very serious negative consequences, or they simply become remembered as the first, in a long history of run-ins with the criminal justice system.

As the article implies, how a young adult addresses their first encounter with the criminal justice system system can play a key role in the development of the remainder of their adult life.  Given the fact that schools and employers are now using the internet and the vast array of information available it provides to screen potential job or school applicants, it is imperative that young adults who find themselves charged with a crime, yet who are also mindful of their future prospects, retain an experienced criminal defense attorney with an eye toward limiting any possible lasting damage of an arrest and/or conviction.

More on “Strikes” in California

The law in California on “Strikes” can be very confusing, mainly because there are different types of “Strikes” and, depending on what type of “Strike” you have been charged with, the difference determines what percentage of your sentence you will actually serve.  In California, “Strikes” are categorized as either “Serious Felonies” or “Violent Felonies”.

“Serious Felonies” are defined by California Penal Code section 1192.7.  Depending on your prior criminal history, if you are convicted of a “Serious Felony,” you will have a “Strike” on your record, but you will serve only half of whatever sentence is imposed (commonly referred to as “half time”).

On the other hand, “Violent Felonies” are defined by California Penal Code section 667.5.  Convictions for “Violent Felonies” will also result in a “Strike” on your record, but also carry the added consequence of having to serve 85% of any sentence imposed.

If you have been charged with an offense that you believe may result in a “Strike” on your record, or if you have questions about prior convictions and whether or not you have a “Strike” prior, call us today for your free initial consultation.