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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

First Judicial Recall in More Than 80 Years

judicial recall
In 2015, Emily Doe became a victim of sexual assault after blacking out from drinking too much alcohol. In March of the following year a jury found, then Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner (20), guilty of three felonies:
  • Sexual penetration with a foreign object of an intoxicated person;
  • sexual penetration with a foreign object of an unconscious person;
  • and, intent to commit rape.
Sexual assault and rape occur on college campuses across the country at an unbelievable rate. Research varies somewhat, but it’s possible that 25% of undergraduate women experience sexual assault while in college, according to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). It is worth keeping in mind that campus sexual assault and rape often goes unreported, so it’s possible that such crimes are even more pervasive than studies show.

At the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower, we have been following the Brock Turner case with some interest for two essential reasons: the guilty verdict led to a shockingly light punishment from Judge Aaron Persky and the fact that the sentence led to a successful judicial recall last week. The latter being the first such instance of recalling a judge in California in more than eight decades, The New York Times reports. While ending the judge’s career may have in fact been warranted given the circumstances, the implications of such a move could have a lasting effect on the criminal justice system.

A 6-Month Sentence for Sexual Assault

Brock Turner served three months of a six-month jail sentence for his crimes. The former collegiate swimmer’s name is on the list of registered sex offenders, and he is on probation for three years. It’s worth pointing out that the crimes Turner was found guilty of were punishable by 14 years in prison. Judge Persky argues that such a lengthy sentence would have done irreparable damage to the life of the young athlete, but he said little of the lasting damage that sexual assault would likely have on Emily Doe for the rest of her life.

Even though Judge Persky was cleared of any official misconduct, Michele Dauber, a law professor at Stanford took measure to recall the judge—acquiring the necessary number of signatures to allow Californians to vote on the matter, according to the article. Ms. Dauber’s daughter is a friend of Emily Doe, so there is arguably a personal element to the professor's successful recall campaign.

“The voters of Santa Clara County are the winners of this election,” Michele Dauber, a law professor at Stanford who led the recall campaign, said in a statement. “We voted that sexual violence, including campus sexual violence, must be taken seriously by our elected officials, and by the justice system.” 

Many legal experts thought Turner’s sentence was too lenient but opposed the recall, the article reports. It’s probable that judges will be less likely to consider leniency even when the circumstances of a particular case warrant lighter sentences.

“Most of the judges in California would have done the same thing as Judge Persky,” said Jeffrey Rosen, the Santa Clara County district attorney, “which told me the problem was not the judge but the law, and that the law needed to be changed.”

As we have highlighted in the past, Turner’s sentencing did lead state lawmakers to change the law; sexual assaults now carry mandatory minimum sentences.

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges, please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower. With over 30 years of experience, attorney Brower can give you the best chance of finding a favorable outcome.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

AB 931: Reasonable Use of Force in California

Ab 931
The swath of killings involving unarmed black men in the United States has led many people to ask the question, ‘What is a reasonable use of force?’ Naturally, there isn’t an easy way to answer such a query, and depending on who you ask (i.e., police officer or average citizen) you might get totally different answers; however, it is hard to ignore an essential question, ‘Is the perception of fear—warranted or not—just cause to take another's life?’

There is a long list of people who are no longer alive because a police officer exercised what he or she believed was reasonable force, just in the last five years alone. In the case of Trayvon Martin, his life came to an end when a member of the neighborhood watch felt it necessary to protect the streets. In either type of scenario, police or “upright citizen,” there are severe concerns in every state about justified use of force.

National worry about 'reasonable' use of force by police extends far beyond cases involving firearms; there are numerous instances when academy-taught forms of restraint result in loss of life. But, and by and large, most people want answers as to why police officers are using their service weapon to stop unarmed people? Some will say that it is poor police training, others will adduce race and racism as the cause for “un-reasonable” use of force; while it may be impossible to get to the root cause in every case, most would agree that something needs to give.


California Assembly Bill 931

Bringing about changes in police practices isn’t an easy task, and there isn’t a guarantee that the Federal government will step in to ensure public safety. Whenever police departments are sued for wrongdoing, things rarely go the way that the pursuant hopes; what’s more, police officers suspected of wrongdoing, by and large, don’t serve any significant length of time. Without making examples out of individual officers, it is unlikely others will change their ways.

In the wake of several cases of excessive force, legislators in California put forward Assembly Bill 931, The Los Angeles Times reports. AB 931 would allow police to use deadly force only when it's "necessary" to prevent imminent and serious bodily injury or death; lethal force would be justified if, given the totality of the circumstances, there were no reasonable alternative, i.e., warnings, verbal persuasion, and other nonlethal methods of resolution or de-escalation. Erwin Chemerinsky, dean and Jesse H. Choper distinguished professor of law at the UC Berkeley School of Law, states:

“Being a police officer is unquestionably a dangerous job that often requires split-second life-and-death decisions. But too many have died and been seriously injured from unnecessary police use of deadly force. Reforming the laws that set the standards is essential and California can lead the way.” 

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges, please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower. With over 30 years of experience, attorney Brower can give you the best chance of finding a favorable outcome.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Mugshots.com Extortion Charges

Innocent until proven guilty. It’s not what you know; it is what you can prove. Each day thousands of Americans encounter a run-in with authorities; whether a person is guilty of a crime or not, the experience is sure to be an arduous one. Those who face arrest are likely to appear in court at some point; from there and depending on the outcome an offender could be looking at jail time, fines, restitution, etc. Whereas those who are found innocent, or the state is unable to bring charges due to lack of evidence, continue to live their life.

Even if a person is in the not guilty camp, the ordeal of arrest is usually an unpleasant experience. Losing one’s freedom, briefly or not, is undoubtedly traumatic for myriad reasons right from the start; and one cause of discomfort stems from lost anonymity. From the time of arrest, people find themselves now part of the criminal justice system—a network that many third parties can access and disseminate the details of to the world. Anyone who reads their local newspaper is familiar with the police blotter; it is a daily record of arrests and other events at a police station.

People who police believe are engaging in illicit activities, drinking and driving, for example, will have the mug shot taken and spend the night in the “drunk tank.” The next day the details of the offender and their charge can be seen by anyone interested in the police blotter. Embarrassing to be sure, particularly for those who receive an acquittal at a later date; although, appearing in the newspaper for a crime is (in most cases) a one-off event.


Mugshot Hostage Takers

There is a saying in the age of information that we all would be wise to remember, 'the Internet never forgets.' Once a person or a business shares something on the internet, making it disappear isn’t an easy undertaking. Those who use social media are aware that when they post something online, other parties can copy the information to re-share; a chain reaction effect ensues to what end no one can be sure. Some people see embarrassing info about others as an opportunity to exploit, and profit. That is the business plan of websites like Mugshots.com, et al.

When a criminal suspect has their photo taken by law enforcement agencies the pictures become public records. Websites who want to use the misfortune of others to turn a profit have, in recent years, posted people’s mugshots to their site regardless of the innocence or guilt of a suspect. There isn’t anything illegal with the practice due to open records laws. However, websites like Mugshot.com don’t stop there; in fact, they offer the people in the photos the opportunity to have their picture and info taken down for a fee.

In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law making it illegal to charge a mugshot removal fee, The Sacramento Bee reports. And yet, Mugshots.com has not ceased and desisted; holding people's humiliating experiences for ransom. Last week, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed extortion and money laundering charges against Sahar Sarid, Kishore Vidya Bhavnanie, Thomas Keesee and David Usdan. All the operators of the "de-publishing fee" website Mugshots.com live in other states and face extradition to California.

"This pay-for-removal scheme attempts to profit off of someone else’s humiliation,” Becerra said. "Those who can’t afford to pay into this scheme to have their information removed pay the price when they look for a job, housing, or try to build relationships with others. This is exploitation, plain and simple."


Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges, please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower. With over 30 years of experience, attorney Brower can give you the best chance of finding a favorable outcome.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Gun Violence Restraining Orders

The right to keep and bear arms is protected in the United States Constitution under the Second Amendment. One does not have to be a legal scholar to understand that the 2nd Amendment is hot button topic. While there are many different facets to the debate about firearms, from the types of guns that people can own to criminal background checks; there has been a growing movement to ensure public safety through making it more difficult for some individuals to acquire firearms. Specifically, those with a history of mental instability or illness.

Each year, We can all expect that there will be one or several horrific shootings; the big news last year was the Las Vegas Massacre involving the death of 58 innocents, this year the focus is on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when a former student killed seventeen. It is often the case that whenever gun violence occurs en masse, the conversation cannot help but pull towards who should be able to own firearms; mainly, the question of how to prevent people with mental illness from purchasing guns arises.

Answering the above query or deciding how to prevent people with a history of rash and unstable behavior from acquiring deadly weapons usually devolves into a liberal vs. conservative debate. Those in favor of the 2nd Amendment as is, and those who would like to alter in the service of public interest. What the right move is, really depends on who you ask; however, most can probably agree that something needs to happen to ensure public safety and protect peoples’ constitutional rights.

In California, it isn’t easy to take guns from people even if they appear to be unhinging from reality. For mental health facilities to involuntarily hold individuals, a psychiatrist must determine that the individual is, in fact, mentally ill. And, posting threatening statements on one’s social media is not a criterion for a mental disorder. While diagnosing psychological disorders that could lead to harming oneself or others is not simple, there is an avenue for friends and family members can go down to remove firearms from unstable people.


Mental Instability and Guns

In 2014, 22-year old Elliott Rodger killed six people in Isla Vista near UC Santa Barbara, deaths which could have been avoided. The shooter’s mother spoke up before the mass killing about concerning things she was witnessing on her son’s online postings, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. She alerted authorities about the threat her son posed, and Sheriff's officials visited him at his apartment but did not discover anything that warranted intervention.

As a result of the Isla Vista mass shooting, California Assembly members Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara wrote AB-1014: Gun violence restraining orders. The bill allows friends, family members, and law enforcement officials to ask a judge to grant a firearm restraining order for up to a year in a process similar to a domestic violence restraining order. When a welfare checkup isn’t sufficient to protect the lives of others, a gun restraining order buys time.

Oregon, Washington, Indiana, and Connecticut have laws that allow for gun restraining orders, according to the article. In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas mass shooting the state of Florida passed similar legislation; which makes sense considering that acquaintances of the young shooter raised concerns before the massacre.

Californians are turning to AB-1014, albeit slowly. In 2016, 189 petitions for a gun violence restraining orders were granted, it is not clear how many requests were denied.


Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges, please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower. With over 30 years of experience, attorney Brower can give you the best chance of finding a favorable outcome.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018

Reducing Crime Keeping California Safe Act of 2018
California Proposition 47 reduced certain felonies to misdemeanors with the aim of shorter prison sentences for less severe offenses and more extended stays for more severe crimes. The hope is to reduce the state’s prison population, and there is little evidence to support an idea that Prop 47 emboldens criminals, as some people suggest. The legislation is one of a handful of bills passed and signed into law in recent years focusing on criminal justice reform. As is always the case with measures that take a softer approach to punishment, opponents abound.

Proposition 57 is in the same vein; the essential goal of the legislation is to make specific nonviolent offenders eligible for early release. Like Prop 47, the aim of Prop 57 is to reduce the number of inmates serving time in jails and prisons across the state. The two measures have many critics even though there isn’t much data to say that either bill has put the general public in harm's way. Some lawmakers hope to garner enough public support to get legislation on the ballot this November that would make some changes.


Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018

This past January, Secretary of State Alex Padilla authorized the signature gathering phase of Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018, The Signal reports. The Santa Clarita City Council has announced plans to support the legislation formally. The measure targets explicitly criminal justice reform laws passed in recent years; the language of the initiative makes it very clear, “fix three related problems created by recent laws that have threatened the public safety of Californians and their children from violent criminals.”

This measure will:
  • Reform the parole system so violent felons are not released early from prison, strengthen oversight of post release community supervision and tighten penalties for violations of terms of post release community supervision.
  • Reform theft laws to restore accountability for serial thieves and organized theft rings.
  • Expand DNA collection from persons convicted of drug, theft and domestic violence related crimes to help solve violent crimes and exonerate the innocent.
“As elected representatives throughout the state of California and the country, if we did not do all we can to protect our citizens, why are we even in office?” said Santa Clarita City Councilman Bob Kellar.

Santa Clarita officials are not the only ones in support of Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018. Lodi City Council Assemblyman Jim Cooper is on board as well, according to the Lodi News-Sentinel. Cooper claims that Prop 47 has led to fewer DNA samples collected and that makes it harder for law enforcement to do their job.

“Since 2014 [when Prop 47 became law], we’ve gotten about 4,000 less cold case DNA hits — that’s about 400 less murders and rapes we’re solving right now and that’s per the California Department of Justice that backs up these numbers,” Cooper said. 

The initiative requires about 367,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot.


Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges, please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower. With over 30 years of experience, attorney Brower can give you the best chance of finding a favorable outcome.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Prop. 69, DNA, and the Golden State Killer

Former policeman Joseph James DeAngelo was charged this week with capital murder in the killing of Katie and Brian Maggiore. Otherwise known as the “Golden State Killer” or “Original Night Stalker,” authorities believe that DeAngelo is responsible for the murders of 12 people and raped around 50 women from Sacramento to Orange County, according to CNN. While the general public does not have all the facts regarding how, after 40 years, law enforcement came to arrest the suspect, we do know that DNA played a significant role.

In 1980, Bruce Harrington’s brother Keith and sister-in-law Patrice were slain by the Golden State Killer. At the time, DNA testing was not widely utilized or embraced by elected officials and rights groups, the article reports. Bruce Harrington went on a mission to make it easier for law enforcement to collect DNA and expand the collection database. Opponents questioned the constitutionality of allowing the state to conduct DNA test on suspects without evidence pointing to guilt. When DeAngelo was finally arrested, thanks to DNA, Harrington’s message to all against expanded the database was, "You were wrong."


Proposition 69

Prop. 69 or the "DNA Fingerprint, Unsolved Crime and Innocence Protection Act," was passed in 2004. The bill gives the state broader powers to collect and use of criminal offender DNA samples and palm print impressions. It allows law enforcement to collect samples from people who are arrested for felonies and in some situations misdemeanors. It turns out that the Golden State Killer cold cases were some of the reasons for Prop. 69.

"That case was a strong incentive to work on developing the California state database, which now has about 2 million profiles," said Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. "All the time, we had this case in mind -- eventually hoping to solve this case." 

DNA up until recently was a dead end for investigators until Paul Holes, a DNA expert, came up with a novel idea, The Washington Post reports. Holes used DNA from one crime scene and managed to match it to the killers great-great-great grandparents. Holes’ team made over 20 family trees containing thousands of relatives. One branch led investigators to a disgraced ex-cop living in the suburbs of Sacramento.


Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges, please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower. With over 30 years of experience, attorney Brower can give you the best chance of finding a favorable outcome.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Criminal Justice Reform vs Victims' Rights

Victims' Rights
A series of bills have been signed into California law aimed at reducing the state’s prison population. While many activists are favor of criminal justice reform, the families of victims are not the biggest fans, naturally. There are concerns that victims' families are not getting a fair deal when it comes to reforms that could mean reduced sentences and early parole for those who hurt or killed their loved one.

Before a convict is paroled in the state of California, a hearing takes place. At such time, victims and their family members have a legal right to share their thoughts in court about releasing someone who was the source of great pain. The right to do so is afforded by Marsy’s Law, or the California Victim’s Bill of Rights Act of 2008; whenever a parole hearing is to take place, the parole board must notify victims and their families, it is their legal right.

A recent development in a case going back to the 1980’s has led to a lawsuit from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, The O.C. Register reports. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas accuses the parole board of failing to notify the family of Scott Campbell, the son of former San Juan Capistrano mayor Collene Campbell, that their loved one’s killer’s hearing had been moved up a year.


Parole Hearing Improperly Advanced

A violation of Marsy’s Law is what Tony Rackauckas accuses the parole board of, by failing to warn Campbell of the new parole hearing date for convicted murderer Lawrence Cowell, according to the report. Cowell was found guilty of coaxing Scott Campbell onto a Cessna plane on April 17, 1982, to fly to N. Dakota; once in the air, Cowell’s accomplice, Donald Demascio, broke Scott’s neck and tossed him out of the plane. Demascio died in prison while serving life, Cowell is serving 25 years to life, and his next parole hearing was scheduled for 2019.

Cowell’s hearing was moved up a year without any explanation from the parole board, and the family didn't get a warning, the article reports. Again, no reason was given for advancing the hearing by a year, but Rackauckas suspects it has something to do with lowering prison populations.

“Over the last few years we have been going through a time in this state of the wholesale release of prisoners,” Rackauckas said. “Laws have been made to reduce the number of people in prison… I see this as part of that. It is a continuation of this movement to get people out of prison.”


Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges, please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower. With over 30 years of experience, attorney Brower can give you the best chance of finding a favorable outcome.

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