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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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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Child Prostitution is Not Legal in California

SB 1322
In September of 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 1322, for the protection of underage sex trafficking victims. Previously, minors found to be engaging in the act of solicitation for acts of sex, were subject to laws prohibiting such acts. Now, under SB 1322, minors who have fallen subject to predators who profit from child prostitution, cannot be charged for a crime, NBC News reports. Instead, they will be considered victims who will be placed into safe environments by the Department of Social Services, rather than jails or back on the streets.

"The law is supposed to protect vulnerable children from adult abuse, yet we brand kids enmeshed in sex-for-pay with a scarlet 'P' and leave them subject to shame and prosecution," said state Sen. Holly Mitchell, who introduced SB 1322. 

It will probably come as little surprise that there are a number of lawmakers who are opposed to the new law. Some who are claiming that SB 1322 will actually have the opposite effect, encouraging juvenile prostitution, according to the article. California Assemblyman Travis Allen calls SB 1322 "terribly destructive legislation."

"So teenage girls (and boys) in California will soon be free to have sex in exchange for money without fear of arrest or prosecution," Allen wrote in an op-ed

While Allen is correct that the new law "bars law enforcement from arresting sex workers who are under the age of 18 for soliciting or engaging in prostitution, or loitering with the intent to do so," supporters of the bill claim that it was necessary to prevent minors from being held responsible for the situation they find themselves.

Both district attorneys and law enforcement officials are leery of SB 1322, the article reports. And there are concerns about there not being enough juvenile outreach resources available to meet the demand that the legislation could produce.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Drunk Driving Carries A Heavy Cost

Christmas Eve is just around the corner and Sunday is Christmas Day; therefore, it is important to put safety first when driving on the roads. It is no secret that during the holidays there is a dramatic increase of drunk drivers traveling the highways and byways. While many will manage to skirt the authorities, others may find themselves approaching a drunk driving checkpoint on one of the many Southern California roads. Between now and New Year's there will be driving under the influence (DUI) checkpoints every night, especially in Orange County, people found to have blood alcohol content (BAC) above .8 percent may find themselves spending Christmas in the “drunk tank.”

This year's anti-DUI holiday campaign, known as "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" will include both DUI checkpoints and special "saturation patrols," The Orange County Register reports. While the checkpoints are fixed locations, the saturation patrols are specifically tasked with finding and pulling over suspected drivers under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

If you think there is a chance that you may be driving under the influence this weekend, please be aware of the potential consequences of your decision. Californians who are caught driving drunk or high are looking at possible jail time, driver's license suspension and staggering fines totaling around $10,000. Sadly, there are even bigger potential costs associated with driving under the influence, every Christmas holiday drunk driving accidents claim the lives of both the drunk driver and other innocent drivers on the road.

One of the most common excuses people give for choosing to get behind the wheel under the influence is that they did not have any other way home. A somewhat unlikely excuse given the plethora of taxi services in the Orange County area, but assuming that is the truth and you can't find a ride home there are options. There is a free app available to download on your smartphone that can help you get where you need to go if you're too drunk to drive. The California Office of Traffic and Safety Designated Driver VIP (DDVIP) could save your life, the lives of others and your savings account.

If you are charged with a DUI over the holiday season, please contact Orange County attorney Ronald G. Brower. California has some of the harshest DUI laws in the nation and it is important that you have an experienced and competent criminal defense attorney. At the Law Office of Ronald Brower, we would like to wish everyone a safe and Merry Christmas.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Civil Forfeiture Changes in California

civil forfeiture
Over the summer we discussed civil forfeiture, its history and how it violated people’s 5th Amendment rights, or at least the latter part: “...nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The practice of civil forfeiture, otherwise known as asset forfeiture, has been under scrutiny since its conception in the 1980’s. Such laws, on both the federal and state level, basically allow agents of the law to take people's assets before they are proven to be guilty. What’s more, getting back one’s property after they have proved their innocence in criminal court is no walk in the park, and innocent victims need to prove in civil court that their money or property were not acquired illegally.

It is not uncommon for innocent people to give up on getting their property back, simply because they cannot afford to fight for it in civil court. Despite the ever-apparent unconstitutional nature of asset forfeiture laws, changing them is not an easy task; keeping in mind that police departments and federal agencies reap the rewards of their illegally gained bounty.

Seized assets are pooled into a fund, and then paid back out to law enforcement agencies across the country proportionately. Over the last 5-years, nearly $14.2 billion went into the fund, with California contributing $854.5 million to the pot, The Orange County Register reports. During that same time period, California was given back $410.9 million, the counties seeing the most return included:
  • Los Angeles
  • Orange
  • San Bernardino
It would seem that the times are changing, with California Senate Bill 443 going into effect on January 1, 2017. At which time, assets valued at less than $40,000 can only be seized after a criminal conviction, according to the article. Additionally, local agencies can no longer join forces partnering with federal agencies in order to skirt state laws.

California attempted to get a handle on forfeiture laws in 1994, passing legislation requiring a criminal conviction before police can seize assets worth less than $25,000, and putting a ceiling on what can be taken being no more than 65 percent of the total, the article reports. Police departments figured a way around the law by seizing assets under federal law, which allowed them to keep 80 percent of the proceeds without a criminal conviction.

“I don’t want to disparage law enforcement because these laws are being used properly most of the time,” Issa [U.S. Congressman Darrell Issa, R-CA] said in a statement. “The problem is, ‘most of the time’ isn’t good enough when it’s your civil rights.” 

Ronald G. Brower is a criminal defense attorney in Orange County, California. If you are facing criminal charges and have been the victim of civil forfeiture laws, please contact Attorney Brower online or by telephone at 714-997-4400.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Prop 64 Has Gray Areas

prop 64
With the passing of Proposition 64 there are many Californians who are excited about being able to legally use marijuana. After years of prohibition, both in California and across the country, millions of adults no longer must worry about being punished, and potentially thrown in jail for using the drug. In respect to reducing state prison and jail populations, Prop. 64 should be considered a step in the right direction; however, California adults should take time to apprise themselves with the law and how it applies to the workplace.

It is not uncommon for employers to drug test their employees to ensure workplace safety, especially in certain industries that involve the use of heavy equipment. Being under the influence of any mind-altering substances can jeopardize the well-being of everyone. That being said, regardless of which field someone works in, it is generally accepted as being OK for employees to drink alcohol when not at work. What they do in their own time is none of an employer's business. Even if an employer tested employees for alcohol, the substance will not show up after 12 hours, give or take. The same cannot be said for marijuana.

Clearly, regardless of the drug being legal, employers can’t have employees “high” on the job. But even if someone isn’t high on the job that doesn’t mean they won’t fail a urine analysis (UA). It goes without saying, this reality is an issue that must be addressed, sooner rather than later. In fact, Prop 64 lacks anything about how employers are to handle the changing tide regarding marijuana, CBS Sacramento reports. “Under the influence” and “in one’s system” are not the same thing, but both can get you fired, according to attorney Barbara Cotter.

“The employer has the right to say we want productivity at work. We want a safe workplace and were not going to allow anyone under the influence of any intoxicating drugs or substances in the workplace.” 

Please take a moment to watch a short video on the subject:

If you are having trouble watching, please click here.

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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Thursday, December 1, 2016

OC Jailhouse Informant Special Investigation

While those who work for the “people” are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that is beyond reproach, it seems that some prosecutors will go to any lengths to ensure a conviction—even if that means breaking the law. Over the summer, we discussed a scandal taking place at the Orange County District Attorney’s (OCDA) office, with regard to both prosecutors and local sheriff’s deputies misusing jailhouse informants.

The issue, which prompted the American Civil Liberties Union threatening to file a lawsuit, if the OCDA did not hand over internal documents related to the use of jailhouse informants, is severe with inappropriate behavior stemming back to the 1980s. The fiasco in Orange County(CA) led Assemblywoman Patty Lopez, D-San Fernando, to propose legislation that would subject any California prosecutor found withholding or falsifying evidence to felony charges and possible prison time. California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill (AB) 1909 on September 30, 2016.

The investigation into alleged jailhouse informant misuse has been going on for a few years now, and has become known as the “snitch scandal,” The Orange County Register reports. This week, Orange County supervisors voted on assisting to provide the Orange County grand jury with $400,000 to compensate two lawyers serving as special investigators for the grand jury. The legal duo includes Andrea Ordin, former U.S. attorney and current member of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission and Fred Woocher, an election law expert and former special counsel to the California Attorney General.

It is uncommon for grand juries to request special investigative assistance, according to the Attorney General’s office. However, the scope of the case is huge, considering that the misuse of jailhouse informants and keeping evidence from the defense that could have been beneficial has already lead to the outcome of six or more high-profile criminal cases to be altered or reversed altogether. Interestingly, neither the OCDA or the Sheriff's Department seemed to be all that concerned about the special investigation team.

“We welcome any outside inquiry in this matter and look forward to seeing the results,” said Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff at the District Attorney’s Office. And Sheriff's department spokesman Lt. Mark Stichter said: “We always make ourselves available to the grand jury to answer questions and to provide information to them. They’re the grand jury, they can make the decision to do what they feel is best.” 

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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Monday, November 21, 2016

Menendez Brothers May Get New Trial

SB 813
In September 2016, we wrote about California SB 813, a piece of legislation that came in the wake the Bill Cosby fiasco. After a series allegations of rape towards the formerly beloved comedian and actor, the question of statute of limitations regarding rape quickly became a hot button topic.

Despite the heinous nature of any sexual assault, there has been a ten-year statute of limitation for prosecution. It is fairly well understood that sexual assault victims are often reticent about coming forward, which means that if they wait too long, their window of opportunity for seeking justice may close.

California SB 813 was approved and signed by California's Governor Brown, ending the statute of limitation on sexual abuse, which many lawmakers and activists have hailed as a victory. And by all accounts, it will help countless people get the justice they deserve.

However, the legislation will also give some people who are sitting behind bars an opportunity for an appeal, as they were barred from using sexual assault as grounds for self-defense because of the statute of limitations. The new California law may give people like the Menendez brothers another attempt at an appeal, CBS Los Angeles reports.

If you were an adult in the 1990’s, there is a good chance you remember the Menendez brothers, who were charged with murdering their parents. In the brothers’ first trial, which ended with a hung jury, the defense claimed that the murders were self-defense in response to experiencing years of physical and sexual abuse. The second trial would not go the same way, the two brothers were found guilty, which may have been due to the fact the judge barred the use of the sexual abuse defense. With the passing of SB 813, the Menendez brothers may get a third chance to prove their innocence.

Please take a moment to watch the short video below: If you are having trouble watching, please click here.

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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