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Law Office of Ronald G. Brower Blog


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Income Bracket May Impact Traffic Fines

suspended license
In California, the most populated state in America, there are billions of dollars in unpaid traffic tickets. In many instances, they are simply cases of people just not wanting to pay their fines. However, in perhaps the majority of cases, tickets go unpaid because offenders do not have the resources to pay the steep fines. The cost attached to running a red light is upwards of $400, a lot by the standards of the average American. If the fine portion of the penalty weren't bad enough, what happens if you do not pay the ticket is arguably even worse—suspension of license.

There are number of people who could easily argue that traffic violations, the fines and what happens if you are unable to recompense are unfair. People who get tickets often must choose between paying their monthly bills or what they owe in fines. Most people are likely to opt for putting food on the table and a roof over their family's head before they pony up and meet the state or counties demands.


Traffic Fines Based On Income

A new bill has been introduced that could mean a major break for certain traffic offenders who are on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. State Sen. Robert Hertzberg introduced SB 185, if passed it would prevent the automatic suspension of a driver's license for people who are unable to pay their traffic fines, NBC 7 reports. As opposed to an automatic suspension for unpaid traffic fines, the courts would be able to look at an offender's income; if it is deemed that you do not make enough income, then the court would put you on a payment plan or reduce the amount of the fine to something fair.

"The red light ticket right now, the minimum price right now is $490," said Mitch Mehdy, a traffic attorney. "You can't spend half your paycheck on a red light ticket." 

It is worth noting that the offenders whose income-based factors deem them eligible for a break, do not meet the requirements laid out by the court, they will in the end lose their license. Additionally, this is not a sliding scale system—people who are in higher income brackets will not receive more substantial fines.

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

If you are having trouble watching, please click here.


Unintended Consequences of High Traffic Fines

As it stands right now, people who can't afford to pay their traffic fines resulting in a loss of license are forced to make a choice. Take the bus or get a ride to work, and naturally either option will not help for some people who work far from their home. Many will make the choice to risk driving with a suspended driver's license, because they can't afford to lose their job. A significant number of such people will get caught bringing with it more fines and their vehicle will be impounded for 30 days. A problem which can go from bad to exponentially worse in the blink of an eye.

If you are experiencing such circumstances, or believe that your license or vehicle was suspended or impounded unjustly, please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Former Sheriff Lee Baca Sentenced

On more than one occasion we have covered the ongoing case of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. Towards the end of March, Baca was found guilty of obstruction of justice (felony), conspiracy (felony) and making false statements to federal investigators looking into abuse of inmates in the county jail. The former Sheriff was one of many to be convicted or plead guilty to having a role in the crimes.

Finally, after multiple trials prosecutors were able to secure a conviction against Lee Baca. Last week, a Federal Judge sentenced Baca to three-years in Federal prison for obstructing the FBI investigation into the matter, The Los Angeles Times reports. And with it, the end to the scandal which plagued the Sheriff’s Department for a long time.

“Your actions embarrass the thousands of men and women [in the department] who put their lives on the line every day,” said U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson to Baca during the sentencing. “They were a gross abuse of the trust the public placed in you.”

This case, and the multiple people in the Sheriff's department who had a role in the abuse and subsequent cover up, was evidence of systemic corruption. And it is likely that it will be a long time before the department’s reputation is restored. As for Baca, his conviction is likely to have a rippling effect in other state law enforcement departments. Judge Anderson expressed that he was hopeful that Baca’s sentence will send a clear message that this behavior will not be tolerated.

“Blind obedience to a corrupt culture has serious consequences,” he said. “No person, no matter how powerful, no matter his or her title, is above the law.” 

While it is likely that Baca (74) will serve some of his sentence, it has been reported that he is currently in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the article. Time will tell.

Need Representation?

At the Law Office of Ronald G Brower, we will continue to follow this most important story. If you have been charged with a crime in California, please contact us. Attorney Brower has been a prominent figure for over 30 years with regard to legal matters in Southern California.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

10-20-Life Law Called Into Question

life sentences
California has long been given the title of "most progressive state." We lead the country in more than one way; equal pay, abortion, and one’s “right to die” to name but a few. We lead the country and the world with respect to technological advancements, immigration and on protecting the environment. While that list could be expanded in several ways, it is important to remember that California is a very large state and is home to people who are polarized when it comes to criminal justice.

While we are not alone regarding the later point, California is in a unique position when it comes to setting an example. Other states often look to California to gauge or adopt policies. With that in mind, it is vital that Californians do their best to set a good example. Yet, the results of a new report show that California is tied for having the most prisoners serving life sentences, PBS Newshour reports. We are tied with Utah, 129,805 prisoners currently serving life sentences, and in many cases not for just cause. To make matters worse here in California, there are 3,025 juveniles sentenced to life or virtual life sentences.


10-20-Life Law

So, how did we get to being both the most progressive and having the most life sentences? The simple answer goes back to 1996 with the enactment of the 10-20-Life law or “use a gun and you’re done” law—PC 12022.53. A mandatory minimum sentencing law that allows for enhancements to length of sentences when a gun is used in the commission of a crime. The bill was written by a father who was killed in the 1990’s, according to the article. The law adds anywhere from 3 years to life without probation in addition to their felony sentence for the crime committed, if there was gun involved. For instance, a person found guilty of robbery could be given 10, 20 years or a life sentence for using a gun to commit the crime.

“When you think of life [sentences], you think of people who killed somebody, but in California, there’s a lot of enhancements that are attached to other crimes that make you eligible for a life sentence for which the courts have no discretion,” said Tal Klement, a deputy public defender in San Francisco. “Firearms are terrible and you want to discourage the use of firearms in committing crimes, but I don’t know if there’s any evidence that supports these harsh sentences deter use of them.” 

In an effort to make changes to the 10-20-Life Law, Sen. Steven Bradford introduced SB 620 last month to the Senate Public Safety Committee, the article reports. If the legislation manages to go the distance, judges would be granted permission to weigh the individual circumstances of a defendant before dealing a harsh sentence.

“These enhancements cause problems. They disproportionately increase racial disparities in imprisonments and they greatly increase the population of incarcerated persons,” said Sen. Steven Bradford.


Need Representation?

At the Law Office of Ronald G Brower we will continue to follow this most important story. If you have been charged with a crime involving a gun in California, please contact us. Attorney Brower has been prominent figure for over 30 years with regard to legal matters in Southern California.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Sixth Amendment: Ensuring Impartial Jurors

impartial jury
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

The above text (sic) is from the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, part of the United States Bill of Rights. For the purposes of the post, we are concerned with caveat of impartial jury. It is no secret that our history is one of racial turmoil, and one could easily make the case that some Americans are more likely to receive a fair trial than others. Where one lives, and their racial demographic, can make a huge difference regarding the makeup of a “jury of one’s peers.”

Anyone who has taken U.S. History in high school can probably remember learning about the Jim Crow laws that emerged during Reconstruction in the South following the Civil War. Simply put, the disenfranchisement of an entire race. Separate, but equal could not be further from the truth.


Racial Bias In The Courthouse Today

While it goes without saying, much has changed in the U.S. regarding its treatment of ethnic minorities getting a fair shake across the country, it could easily be argued that we still have a long way to go regarding equality. It is not a coincidence that in state prisons, African-Americans are incarcerated at 5.1 times and Latinos at 1.4 times the rate of whites, according to a study published by The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit that advocates criminal justice reform.

One of the reasons for such over-representation of minorities in the penal system is likely what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy calls “racial bias in the American justice system.” Courthouse News reports. Justice Kennedy’s statement came about from Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado (2017). The highest court in the nation ruled that the Sixth Amendment requires a court in a criminal trial to investigate whether a jury's guilty verdict was based on racial bias.”


Senate Bill 576

Peña-Rodriguez’s was convicted of unlawful sexual contact and harassment, to which his attorney would go on to argue that the conviction was based on racial bias after one of the jurors said he believed Pena-Rodriguez was guilty because he is Mexican, according to the article. In an effort to stop incidences like Peña-Rodriguez’s from happening in California, State Senator Scott Wiener, has introduced Senate Bill 576; which would study the ethnic and racial makeup of prospective jurors.

“The right to a fair jury trial is one of the pillars of our justice system, and this bill will ensure our jury selection process is delivering on that fundamental democratic promise,” said Sen. Wiener. “Juries should represent the diverse communities they are drawn from, but right now we have no way of knowing if those showing up for jury duty are an accurate representation of these communities. By collecting demographic information, we can analyze our jury pools in order to determine if our current system is working. SB 576 will help us to achieve more balanced and equitable juries.” 

SB 576 is an important bill that, if passed, could lead California’s black and Latinos getting fair trials in America’s most progressive state. At the Law Office at Ronald G. Brower, we will continue to follow this story, as it could have huge implications for our prospective clients. If you have been charged with a crime, please contact us today.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

California Moves to Ban The Box

criminal record
About a year ago, almost to the day, we wrote about an important subject relevant to people with a criminal record. Specifically, regarding one’s ability to find employment with a less than ideal criminal history. It is no secret that people with felonies in their past will not even be considered for hiring by employers in certain fields. In other words, getting one’s foot in the door to be considered for the job is more times than not impeded by the box that asks about criminal history. But not everywhere.

In 2013, a law was passed in California that prohibited public employers from asking about one’s record on the initial application. This gave applicants the ability to get a foot in the door for consideration, rather than being flatly denied an opportunity. Employers could then look at the nature of one’s crime to see if it would be a liability.

California Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, introduced, Assembly Bill 1008, a piece of legislation that would mandate such considerations for private employers as well, The Sacramento Bee reports. Both San Francisco and Los Angeles already have what are known as “ban the box” policies in place restricting private employers from discriminating on the initial application.

“This removes some of these arbitrary qualifiers,” McCarty said. “It does give people a chance to get their foot in the door.” 

As you can probably imagine, there are number of lawmakers and law experts who have their doubts about the value of "ban the box." They argue that such policies will cause employers to discriminate in other ways. Potentially causing them [employers] to guess who might have a criminal record, or have the unintended effect of employers giving opportunities based on race. Jennifer Doleac, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and Benjamin Hansen of the University of Oregon point out that black and Latino men are statistically more likely to have a recent conviction.

“Employers do seem to use race as a proxy for criminality,” Doleac said. “If they have a white man and a black man, they’ll be more likely to call the white guy every time.” 

Assemblyman McCarty contends that the cons for banning the box do not outweigh the pros. At the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower, we believe that this subject is important for both previous and future clients, we will continue to follow the progress of Assembly Bill 1008.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Minimum Age for Juvenile Prosecution

SB 439
In the United States, we do not have a Federal law on the books placing a minimum age for entering the juvenile justice system. As a result, individual states are left to their own devices to set such limits.

So, then, what should be the minimum age for prosecution? While it is without question difficult to determine the right age, there are two researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) who believe that the minimum age for entering the juvenile justice system should be age 12 and up, according to a university press release. Laura Abrams, a professor of social welfare in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and Dr. Elizabeth Barnert, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA have presented a convincing argument for protecting kids 11 and younger from prosecution.

Abrams and Barnert conducted a study published in the International Journal of Prison Health, which indicates that children caught up in the juvenile system have many undiagnosed and untreated mental health needs and/or little or no guidance from parents. Putting young people who need help not jail into the juvenile justice system, the researchers point out, only serves to make their problems worse.

“Kids in conflict with the law are kids that typically have unmet health needs. We see a lot of undiagnosed depression, ADHD and learning disabilities — or absentee parents who can’t support their children due to working three jobs, deportation, imprisonment or substance abuse,” said Barnert. “When we prosecute these children or lock them away, we’re putting them in a system that traumatizes them further and often makes their problems worse.” 

The UC study has led to legislation being put forward that would set a minimum age for juvenile prosecution in place. State Senate Bill 439 (SB 439) would amend sections 601 and 602 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code related to juvenile court jurisdiction which currently states “any person under 18 years of age,” to individuals “ages 12 to 18.” Earlier this month the senate’s committee on public safety passed the bill, and it is currently at the legislative process phase. For more information on SB 439, please click here.

“Our findings provide a rationale for why California should have a minimum age for entering the juvenile justice system and why children 11 and younger should be excluded,” Barnert said. “The study recommendations are based on international human rights standards, guidelines from organizations like the American Academy of Pediatricians, and medical evidence that children’s brains do not fully mature until their mid-20s.” 

If SB 439 goes the distance and is passed into law it could have wide implications for minors and their families. We will continue to follow this important piece of legislation in the coming months. It is because of the serious nature and future impact of juvenile cases that we encourage you to contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower for appropriate representation.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Money Bail Legislation Passes First Hurdle

money bail
In February 2017, we covered a story that was of particle importance to a number of Californians, especially those kept behind bars because that cannot afford bail. We felt it vital to follow up on a piece of legislation which seeks to end money bail throughout the state, as it could affect both current and future clients; proponents of the bill claim that bail disproportionately affects poor people. If you have financial means and commit a crime you can go home, if you are on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale you must stay in jail, until a verdict is reached.

It is no secret that jail is not a place that anyone wishes to be. While one could argue that people breaking the law, who can’t afford bail, made their own bed and must now sleep in it. However, the reality is that most people are not flight risks and the longer they stay in jail the greater the risk of getting into more trouble. It is not uncommon for people to be sent to jail for one thing, only to pick up additional charges while awaiting trial. What’s more, such people who lack the means to pay bail will likely lose their job while behind bars for an indefinite amount of time. Offenders also have families to consider.

As we mentioned a couple months back, Senator Bob Hertzberg and Assemblyman Rob Bonta introduced legislation in their respective Senate and Assembly, that would allow most offenders (except for the most severe felonies) the ability to await trial from home. Last week, Senate Bill 10 passed a Senate Public Safety Committee 5-1, East Bay Times reports. A significant step to passing the legislation that could result in a ticket home for thousands of nonviolent offenders awaiting or on trial.

“Somebody is arrested, and because they don’t have a few bucks to get out of jail, they’re sitting in jail,” said Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys. “That is not justice. That is not what this country is about.” 

Instead of a judge setting bail, the legislation calls for “pretrial assessments” to decide if a defendant is a flight risk or is a safety threat, according to the article. The bill will affect communities and individual taxpayers as well. Keeping someone in jail costs taxpayers about $100 dollars per diem, and a study from the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School found that low-risk defendants are more likely to break the law again after release from jail, compared to those set free within 24 hours of being arrested.

At the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower, we will continue to follow the future of money bail in California. It is worth noting that California is not alone in efforts to amend the institution of money bail, seven other states are considering reforms.

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