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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

SB 443: Upholding The 5th Amendment

civil forfeiture
In the United States, it is not uncommon for those who are alleged of committing drug related crimes to face what is known as civil forfeiture. The history behind such cases, stems back to the 1980’s when America’s “War on Drugs” was at its height. In an attempt to fight drug kingpins, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) decided on a novel approach. The DOJ gave police and prosecutors the authority to confiscate the property of people suspected of having involvement in the drug trade, The Orange County Register reports. Individual states followed suit, adopting similar policies.

While seizing the assets of people believed to be involved in a drug racket may seem like common sense policy, the fact of the matter is that civil forfeiture rules disproportionately affect addicts rather than drug lords and violate the 5th Amendment of the Constitution.

“No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

People who have their property taken from them are often times not found guilty of the charges. So you might imagine, in error, that they would receive an apology and are given back their belongings. However, “forfeiture” is a civil rather than “criminal” process, which means that having one’s property returned involves going civil court. The process is both involved and costly, forcing many innocent people who fell victim to draconian civil forfeiture laws to walk away.

In an attempt to uphold the 5th Amendment, California Senate Bill 443 was proposed. If passed, it would have required police agencies to obtain a criminal conviction before seizing people’s:
  • Houses
  • Boats
  • Cars
  • Cash
As you might have guessed the bill was met with some opposition which required a compromise be made. This week, the California Assembly approved a compromise version of SB 443, according to the article. The compromise still allows for the seizure of cash amounts above $40,000 without a conviction, but one’s property cannot be taken without a conviction.

Ronald G. Brower is a criminal defense attorney in Southern California. Based out of Orange County, Attorney Brower has represented individuals charged with crimes in state and federal court.

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

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Felony Prosecutorial Misconduct Bill

prosecutorial misconduct
Certain prosecutors in California may have something to fear as a new bill was scheduled to go before the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday, August 11, 2016, and it was approved in committee. The bill will now continue through the legislation process and prosecutors who purposefully omit or falsify evidence could face felony charges and face penalties to between 16 months and three years, The Orange County Register reports. The bill comes in the wake of allegations that Orange County prosecutors misused jailhouse informants and withheld information from defense attorneys on a number of occasions.

A 2010 study by Santa Clara University School of Law found that between 1997 and 2009, only six out of 600 prosecutors accused of misconduct were punished by the state Bar, according to the article. The researchers concluded that:

“Courts fail to report prosecutorial misconduct (despite having a statutory obligation to do so), prosecutors deny that it occurred, and the California State Bar almost never disciplines it...The problem is critical.” 

The new bill AB 1909, proposed by Assemblywoman Patty Lopez, D-San Fernando, seeks to amend current California statutes where it is only a misdemeanor for anyone who omits or falsifies evidence, the article notes. What’s more, prosecutorial misconduct has led to both attempted murder and murder cases being overturned.

“As a member of the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, I believe that accountability for California’s prosecutors is critical to ensuring that justice in our courts is truly served,” Lopez said. 

We will continue to follow this story in the coming months, and hope that the problem which appears to be systemic will be addressed.

Ronald G. Brower is a criminal defense attorney in Southern California. Based out of Orange County, Attorney Brower has represented individuals charged with crimes in state and federal court.

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

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

California's New License Plate Law

license plate law
If someone commits a crime in California and drives away from the scene, then hopefully a witness will be able to write down the license plate number in order to help authorities track down the offender. Seems pretty straight forward. However, what if the offender recently purchased a new vehicle? That is where things get complicated.

Under California law, a newly purchased vehicle are not required to display for up to 90 days. If somebody commits a crime with a brand new vehicle, there is a fairly good chance that there will not be a license plate.

Two investigations on the aforementioned problem in 2013 led Assembly Speaker pro Tempore Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) to work tirelessly for three years to change the law, starting first with AB 516, which had been hindering police investigations, KTVU reports. Towards the end of last month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the new statewide license plate law.

California is the only state that allowed for the three (3) month grace period. The new law requires a temporary numbered plate to be attached to all vehicles before leaving the dealer lot. The law should go into effect on January 1, 2019.

"This will create for the first time in the state of California a temporary license plate program," said Mullin. 

Please take a moment to watch a short video:


If you are having trouble viewing the video, please click here.

This new law will assist with crime investigations for offenses like drunk driving, robbery, vehicular manslaughter, and hit and run to name a few.

Ronald G. Brower is a criminal defense attorney in Southern California. Based out of Orange County, Attorney Brower has represented individuals charged with crimes in state and federal court.

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

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

California First Year Law Students’ Exam Error

California Bar Exam
If you want to go to law school you must take the law school administration test, otherwise known as the LSAT. How well one does on the LSAT could dictate the caliber of law school you find yourself attending. If you want to become a lawyer and practice law in a particular state, you must first pass the bar exam. The process sounds pretty straightforward, right?

You may find it interesting to learn that some law students who may have to take what is known as the “baby bar,” an exam that some first year law students in California are required to take if they happen to be attending a law school that is not ABA or California Bar accredited. The baby bar, or California First Year Law Students’ Exam, tests students' knowledge of three standard first-year courses: torts, contracts, and criminal law.

However, this year something went amiss on the test, and students were tested on something that they did not learn in the previous year, Above the Law reports. Upon realizing what at happened, the California Bar had to act quickly to fix the problem. The administration decided that student test scores would be adjusted to ignore the inappropriate question. Below is a quick look at, according to a tip, exactly what went on with this year’s baby bar:

“The exam covers three first year subjects: contracts, torts, and notably, CRIM LAW. Generally, these three subjects are covered in random order in the first three essays, and the fourth essay covers one of those subjects one more time.

On this fateful day, Questions 1 and 2 were what you expected, involving torts and contracts. But then Question 3 arrived and it asked about whether two different incidents constituted SEARCHES under the FOURTH AMENDMENT. You read it correctly: a crim pro question on a question that expressly does not cover that subject. It’s the equivalent of admiralty law being tested on the California Bar Exam.” 

Ronald G. Brower is a criminal defense attorney in Southern California. Based out of Orange County, Attorney Brower has represented individuals charged with crimes in state and federal court.

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

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Manson Family Member Denied Parole

parole
It has been 47 years since the Charles Manson “Family” wreaked havoc on the Los Angeles area. Over a period of five weeks, the Manson Family committed a series of nine murders, of which included the slaying of the actress Sharon Tate. One of the most interesting aspects of the notorious crime spree was the revelation that Manson did not commit the murders himself, but rather instructed his cult followers to do so. One of those “family” members, who was found guilty of murder, was then 19-year old Leslie Van Houten.

For her role in the crimes Van Houten, the youngest of Manson’s cult following, was sentenced to life in prison. Last week, California Governor Jerry Brown denied Van Houten’s, now 66, request for parole, NPR reports. The denial came despite the fact that a California parole panel recommended that Van Houten be granted parole in April, the recommendation was due to her decades of good behavior in prison. However, Governor Brown was not convinced, stating that, "she remains an unacceptable risk to society if released."

"The shocking nature of the crimes left an indelible mark on society," said Brown. "The motive - to trigger a civilization-ending race war by slaughtering innocent people chosen at random - is equally disturbing." 

Van Houten admits that she stabbed Rosemary La Bianca more than a dozen times, according to the article. Yet, she claims that her reason for doing so was because she was "emotionally troubled and under the sway of LSD and Manson's charismatic personality."

Ronald G. Brower is a criminal defense attorney in Southern California. Based out of Orange County, Attorney Brower has represented individuals charged with crimes in state and federal court.

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

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Prop 47 for Nonviolent Offenders

Prop-47
The prisons and jails of California are home to a number of convicted non-violent offenders, many of which are serving lengthy sentences. Others who have already served their time often find that it is hard to find employment and are also faced with other restrictions. Such convictions are typically linked to drug or theft crimes. Such cases beg the question, “does the sentence or conviction classification match the severity of the crime?”

Accordingly, California Proposition 47 allows for certain nonviolent offenders the opportunity to reduce a felony conviction to misdemeanor, which can greatly improve one’s quality of life. Those eligible for Prop 47, include:
  • Simple drug possession.
  • Petty theft under 950 dollars.
  • Shoplifting under 950 dollars.
  • Forging or writing a bad check under 950 dollars.
  • Receipt of stolen property under 950 dollars.
Naturally, people who are found guilty of heinous crimes, such as violent/sexual assault, are not eligible to remove a felony conviction. But for the scores of nonviolent drug offenders out there, taking advantage of Prop. 47 could open up doors that were previously closed. Felony burglars may find that they are eligible to be reclassified as shoplifters under Prop. 47.

As was the case of one Michael Fusting, who appealed his second-degree burglary conviction. Fusting’s conviction stems from his attempt to fence a stolen surfboard, which he now argues was a form of shoplifting.

Interestingly, he and his legal counsel did in fact manage to convince the California Court of Appeals that his argument was sound. As such, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Appellate District determined that Fusting could request to petition the lower court for a resentencing hearing.

Ronald G. Brower is a criminal defense attorney in Southern California. Based out of Orange County, Attorney Brower has represented individuals charged with crimes in state and federal court.

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

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Fingerprinting Databases Are Often Inaccurate

fingerprinting
Fingerprinting is a vital asset to law enforcement, prosecutors and defense attorneys—they can make or break case. They have the power to both prove guilt and innocence. People arrested and booked for crimes are fingerprinted as a standard practice across the country. They are then uploaded and stored in state and national databases. Such prints are linked to one’s past offenses and can be used as a tool to link one to new crimes.

Since 2001, in the wake of 9/11, many places of employment will require background checks and fingerprinting. While such practices are used by employers to avoid hiring people who have unsavory backgrounds which could jeopardize the company, it turns out that in many cases the information about one’s past is incorrect. Inaccuracies regarding one’s past can have a catastrophic effect on their future.

In fact, as many as one-half of the criminal records stored in the FBI's fingerprint database could have “missing or inaccurate” information about how people’s criminal cases concluded, ABC News reports. The findings come from research conducted by the federal Government Accountability Office and the Department of Justice.

In the United States, first-time drug offenders are often able to have their record expunged if they complete certain requirements. Simply put, those who follow the direction of the state could have felony charges disappear, allowing them to have more options in their future. It is no secret that those who have a felony on their record—have a hard time finding employment and as well as other limitations depending on which state you live.

Unfortunately, just because someone completes all the requirements to have their record expunged, does not mean that the FBI and state databases will be updated. The lack of due diligence has civil rights and employment rights advocates up in arms, according to the article. The nonprofit National Employment Law Project, conducted a study in 2013 which found the database(s) often lack information about how a particular case ended, whether there was an acquittal or the charges were dropped for instance.

"You have to work with what you've got, but what we've seen is that in states like California where they track down the missing dispositions, then the information is more reliable," said Maurice Emsellem, the program director for the National Employment Law Project, "Otherwise, without that kind of follow-up, you're going to continue to see a lot of workers, mostly workers of color, fall through the cracks." 

Ronald G. Brower is a criminal defense attorney in Southern California. Based out of Orange County, Attorney Brower has represented individuals charged with crimes in state and federal court.

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

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