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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

SB 284: Misdemeanor Property Crimes

SB 284
Property crime is a major issue in the state of California. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, showed that property crime was up 6.6% in 2015, from the previous year and 41 of the state’s 58 counties had increases in property crime rates during the same time period. Naturally, the uptick in property crimes like theft and burglary can be attributed to a number of variables, but one major reason may be due to the level of punishment that accompanies such crimes.

In California, if a person steals something under the $950 in value and is caught, they are typically cited and released. Of course, such a light punishment isn’t likely to deter recidivism. In an effort to stiffen the penalties for property crime, California Senator Janet Nguyen introduced Senate Bill 284, which would give law enforcement the authority to book and hold violators who commit misdemeanor property crimes like burglary, theft, and shoplifting even if the stolen items are worth less the $950, OC Breeze reports. Senator Nguyen represents the 34th State Senate District, which includes a number of Southern Californian cities, including Santa Ana.

The bill is an important move for those living in Orange County, considering that the county saw a 23% increase in overall property crime in 2015, according to the article. Property crime may seem like an insignificant area to address; however, those who commit property crimes are more likely to advance to more serious offenses. Nipping this behavior in the bud early on may prevent such an occurrence.

“As a result of the minimal consequences for property theft, perpetrators face no accountability for their actions,” said Senator Janet Nguyen. “SB 284 would give law enforcement officers the option to remove these offenders from the community as long as we can by law. The intent is to make it more difficult for perpetrators to re-offend and hinder their ability to commit multiple crimes in a short period of time. This is especially important because some violators tend to commit multiple crimes within the same day.” 

We will continue to follow the progress of SB 284. With property crime, intent plays a huge roll. Attorney Ronald Brower has a great understanding property crime and how it is interpreted. If you are need of a lawyer for burglary or shoplifting, please contact us today.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

HIV Transmission Laws in California

Senate Bill 239
We do not hear about HIV and AIDS much anymore in the U.S., unless it is regarding Africa and third-world countries, with limited resources to prevent the spread of the virus. Although, the deadly illness did make national news after an outbreak swept across southeastern Indiana in 2015, primarily the result of intravenous prescription opioid abuse. While new outbreaks in the U.S. are rare in the wake of both federal and state level efforts to prevent new cases, there are an estimated 1,218,400 persons aged 13 years and older living with HIV, including 156,300 (12.8%) who don’t know they are infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In response to the national HIV/AIDS epidemic, states had to come up with novel ways of preventing disease transmission. In California, the state legislature made it a serious crime (up to six years in prison) to donate blood after receiving a diagnosis in 1988. Then it became a felony (ten years in prison) to have sex with the mission of transmitting the virus to another. Soon, it may be illegal to intentionally spread any form of infectious disease in the state of California, STAT reports. Senate Bill 239, if passed, would make it a misdemeanor to intentionally spread hepatitis C or HIV. It is worth noting that 38 states have HIV-specific laws similar to the ones that SB 239 would repeal, according to the Movement Advancement Project.

While the existing law makes it a felony to donate blood, body organs or other tissue, or, under specified circumstances, semen or breast milk, if the person knows that he or she has acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), SB 239 would repeal those provisions making the intentional transmission of an infectious or communicable disease, as defined, a misdemeanor.

“When you tell people that these laws single out HIV and only apply to people with HIV and not any other infectious disease, they pretty quickly see that it’s irrational and discriminatory,” said state Senator Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco who introduced the bill. 

SB 239 has not met any real opposition as of yet, according to the article. Although opposition is likely, as Senator Wiener points out for relaxing penalties for intentional HIV transmission, given that the 1998 law for increasing penalties had huge support.

Ronald G. Brower is a criminal defense attorney in Orange County, California. Attorney Brower has over three decades of experience representing individuals charged with a range of crimes and in high-profile matters.

Contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower online or by telephone at 714-997-4400.

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ending Money Bail In California

money bail
If you are arrested for allegedly having committed a crime, you will likely be offered bail in most states. Once paid, you can go about your life as usual, but are expected to appear in court at your appointed date. If you fail to appear, the money you put up for bail will be forfeited and a warrant for your arrest will be issued. Make sense, right?

Financial incentives are as good as any for compelling people to appear before a judge. But, what if you have limited, or no means for putting up bail? The answer is, as you have probably already determined, that you will have to stay in jail, until you are either convicted or acquitted.

In recent years, a number of people and rights activists have raised concerns about the fairness of bail. The argument is that bail directly affects the poor. A disparity that keeps thousands of people needlessly behind bars. A couple of years ago the non-profit organization Equal Justice Under Law began filing lawsuits which challenge the money bail system. And as a result, they have had some success in a number of areas, with regards to ending the practice.

California state Senator Bob Hertzberg and Assemblyman Rob Bonta aim to push through legislation that would change or end the money bail system, The Sacramento Bee reports. Such legislation is of the utmost importance, especially when you consider that data from the Board of State and Community Corrections indicates that roughly 63% of inmates in California jails are awaiting trial.

The Public Policy Institute of California reports that bail in California is five times higher than the national average, with a median of $50,000. Clearly, most people (alleged criminals or not) cannot afford such a steep price tag. What’s more, failing to come up with bail, as Senator Hertzberg points out, effects more than just the inmate.

“They can’t pay their rent. They can’t pay child support or take their kids to school. There’s so many other consequences to that,” Hertzberg said. “That isn’t patriotic. That isn’t American. That isn’t the right thing to do.” 

Naturally, those against ending money bail in California citing the interest of public safety, will likely include:
  • Bail Bond Agents
  • Police Officers
  • District Attorneys
At the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower, we will continue to follow this important topic.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What Are Violent Crimes?

violent crimes
In the past we have written about how certain states (i.e. California) are rethinking who belongs behind bars. Severe overpopulation problems across the United States stem from locking up hundreds of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders. With a number of states legalizing the use of marijuana, it might mean that several nonviolent offenders could be released from prison early. Naturally, the ensuing paradigm shift regarding the penal system begs the question, what is a violent crime?

Last November, Californians voted “yes” on Proposition 57. The legislation aimed to increase parole and good behavior opportunities for nonviolent felons and gave judges the power to decide which minors would be tried as adults, rather than prosecutors.

As you can probably imagine, a number of lawmakers and victims are concerned that those who belong in prison might get out and potentially hurt others. State prosecutors complain that California’s violent felony list is short, which could result dangerous prisoners being set free, The Los Angeles Times reports. State Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) recently filed a bill to reclassify more than 20 offenses, re-designating them as violent felonies.

“There are many of them that really need a second thought,” she said. “If you put yourself in the position of a victim in any one of those crimes, you will say, ‘That was violent because that affected me physically and emotionally.’”

In deciding what is a violent offense, presumably lawmakers must by law rely on the violent felony penal code of 1976. While the list has been added to over the years, missing from it are some rape crimes and domestic violence, according to the article. In an attempt to fill in some of the glaring omissions from the violent crimes list, Governor Jerry Brown excluded all sex offenders from early parole consideration, despite how their crimes were designated.

Offenses that may be re-designated as violent offenses, include:
  • Certain Rape Crimes
  • Human Trafficking Involving Minors
  • Vehicular Manslaughter
  • Solicitation of Murder
  • Child Abduction for Prostitution
  • Crimes Against the Elderly
  • Animal Cruelty
The distinction between violent and nonviolent crimes is an important topic, one that we will continue to follow. So, remember to stay tuned...in the meantime, if you live in Southern California and need a criminal defense attorney, please feel free to contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower.

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

California Hate Crimes Registry

hate crimes
Most of us living in the United States are familiar with state sex offender registries: A tool to be used by families to determine if there is anyone in the neighborhood that they should be concerned about. However, it is important to remember there was nothing to stop a person from moving out of states they were convicted in, only to prey on individuals in other states.

Such a reality led to the National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW), which came about after a 22-year-old college student Dru Sjodin of Grand Forks, North Dakota, was kidnapped and murdered by a sex offender who was registered in Minnesota in 2003. Now no matter where a sex offender was convicted, Americans in any state can find out the sordid past of their neighbors.

While there are a number of mixed opinions about state sex offender databases, in regard to civil rights and the efficacy of such programs, for the most part it would seem that people think that such databases have value when it comes to protecting children and young women. When looking at how effective several state sex offender registries have been, some lawmakers believe that the same model could be used for other heinous crimes in this country, such as “hate crimes.” Offenses motivated by:
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Ethnicity
  • Disability
  • Gender
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Bigotry or Bias
Due to a recent spike in hate crimes across the State of California, Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra (D-San Fernando Valley) introduced Assembly Bill 39 (AB 39) on the first day of the 2017-18 Legislative Session, OC Weekly reports. The bill would establish a California Hate Crimes Registry.

“We have witnessed an alarming spike in hate crimes in the days and weeks following the presidential election and a double-digit increase in hate crimes reported to California law enforcement in 2015," Bocanegra explained. "These crimes divide communities, and it is imperative that California send a message that intolerance has no place in our communities.”
Department of Justice data indicates that in 2015:
  • Hate crime incidents rose in California by 10.42 percent.
  • Incidents involving a religious bias increased 49.6 percent.
  • Incidents involving a Hispanic/Latino bias increased 35 percent.
  • The number of victims of reported hate crime incidents increased 10.39 percent.
We will continue to follow California Assembly Bill 39(2017-2018). If you require the services of a criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of Ronald G. Brower. 

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

LA Sheriff Lee Baca Retrial

lee baca
If you live in Southern California, you are likely aware that both Los Angeles (L.A.) and Orange County(O.C.) have been having some trouble, specifically in their jailhouses. In the O.C., both prosecutors and local sheriff’s deputies have been allegedly misusing jailhouse informants. In L.A., the former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was on trial for obstructing an FBI investigation into allegations that the sheriff's deputies were abusing jail inmates.

Jurors in the Baca case were unable to reach a verdict (11-1 in favor of acquittal) last month which lead to a mistrial, The Los Angeles Times reports. Baca, who ran the Sheriff’s department for 15 years, is not out of deep water yet. It was announced he will be retried on charges of conspiracy, obstruction and making false statements to federal investigators.

With so many jurors in favor of acquitting the former sheriff, it may seem strange to push forward with a retrial that could have the same result. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office declined to make a statement about the choice to retry Lee Baca, according to the article. However, Baca’s attorney, said:

“The government will make its decisions based on whatever calculations it wants to make. Traditionally, many 11-to-1 cases haven’t been retried.” 

The jury hanging was likely the result of a lack of evidence. Not many of the witnesses for the prosecution had previous interactions with Baca at the time the allegations were made, the article reports. Eleven of the 12 jurors found the case against Lee Baca to be “weak and circumstantial.”

However, previous trials of deputies, including former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, led to nine convictions or guilty pleas. The likelihood that the ex-sheriff had no role in the effort derail the FBI’s investigation, is probably low.

“The U.S. attorney’s approach to the high-level public officials has always been to go after them hard,” said Ken Julian, a former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted former Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona on corruption charges. “So on that level, it is not a surprise they are taking another shot at him.”
If you have experienced a mistrial and are looking for an experienced criminal defense attorney, please contact Attorney Ronald Brower online or by telephone at 714-997-4400. 

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Reining In Police Surveillance

senate bill 21
In the 21st Century, law enforcement officials have access to technology and many gadgets that their predecessors lacked. Which is probably a good thing considering that in the era of information technology (IT), there are number of new crimes to be policed, such as cyber-bullying and identity theft. In just a few short years advances in surveillance techniques have come a long way, yet there are many who have concerns about law enforcement's move into the future.

Fearing a world where police have the power to snoop on peoples' Facebook page, or use facial recognition software to find suspects with the click of a mouse, privacy advocates have been on the attack asking for transparency. California Senate Bill 21, introduced by State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), would compel any local law enforcement agency using surveillance technology to disclose plans on how the technology is used and what police are looking for, The Los Angeles Times reports. Naturally, local law enforcement officials fear that if passed, SB 21 would be impractical, serving only to slow the progress of criminal investigations. Senator Hill would like to see the legislation work “to create transparency and a check and balance.”

“There has to be standards to create limitations on the use and potential abuse of this technology, because it can be so intrusive on our lives and can very easily cross the line and violate our civil rights.” 

If passed, Senate Bill 21 would require law enforcement agencies to:
  • Identify all of their types of surveillance technology.
  • Indicate the authorized reasons for use.
  • Reveal the types of data collected.
  • Disclose which employees who can use them, and their training.
Disclosing such information could have the unintended effect of showing law enforcement's hand to criminals, points out Cory Salzillo, legislative director with the California State Sheriffs’ Association. Salzillo says that the bill could give “criminals a road map about how we surveil them.” The organization has not taken a position on Senate Bill 21.

Ronald G. Brower is a criminal defense attorney in Southern California. Based in Orange County, Attorney Brower has represented individuals charged with crimes in state and federal court, including white-collar crimes. You can reach us at 714-997-4400 or contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower online.

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