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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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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

LA Sees Serious Drop In Arrests

In 2014 Proposition 47, a ballot measure that downgraded some drug and property felonies to misdemeanors, may have had a serious impact in arrest numbers throughout the state. In fact, from 2013 to 2015 the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) arrest numbers dropped by 25 percent, The Los Angeles Times reports. But Prop 47 may not be the only reason for the decrease in arrests, a pattern that has been recognized beyond Southern California.

While Proposition 47 may diminish the perceived value of arresting and processing individuals for certain drug and property crimes, because such perpetrators will not spend much time behind bars, law enforcement officials have also intimated that staff shortages and deployment strategy changes may be playing a role in the decrease, according to the article. Despite the wane in overall arrest rates, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck pointed out that arrests for the worst crimes have been on the rise.

Given the paradigm shift in thinking across the country regarding treating addicts versus arresting them, a drop in drug arrests could be a good sign that some people are getting the help they need. Chief Beck believes the decrease is predominantly the result of fewer drug possession arrests.

In the LA-area, there is evidence of an increase in crime, but a decrease in arrest since 2014. Naturally, while the Police Chief can defend his position, some public officials are concerned that something is amiss.

"Those are dramatic numbers that definitely demand scrutiny and explanation," said Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, who sits on the Public Safety Committee. "If crime was dramatically down, I wouldn’t have a problem with arrests going down. But if crime is going up, I want to see arrests going up."

Bonin makes valid points, and the trend does deserve an explanation. Once again let us defer to the Chief of Police. Beck says that gauging officer productivity should not be based solely on arrests, the article reports. Modern policing strategies are now focused on increasing public safety without necessarily having to make arrests. What could be called a “rip and run” philosophy. Which means, making as many street level arrests as possible, regardless if it has a real impact on crime.

"The only thing we cared about was how many arrests we made. I don't want them [police officers] to care about that," Beck said. “I want them to care about how safe their community is and how healthy it is."

At the Law Office of Ronald Brower, we view every criminal case as a challenge to the rights of individuals granted under the United States Constitution. We have the expertise, experience, and understanding of the law to secure the most favorable result possible for our clients. 

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Lee Baca Found Guilty of Conspiracy

obstruction of justice
After a mistrial late last year, a team of prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s office decided to take another stab at convincing jurors that former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was, in fact, guilty of obstructing a federal investigation. The efforts of the public corruption prosecutors paid off, with a jury finding Lee Baca guilty of obstructing an FBI investigation into abuse of jail inmates and lying to cover up such offenses, The Los Angeles Times reports. Despite having early stage Alzheimer’s disease, it is likely that the former Sheriff will do some time in Federal prison.

The is a story that highlights one man's long fall from grace, as is evident by the case of Lee Baca. During his decade and a half tenure as L.A. County Sheriff, Baca earned a reputation for having forward thinking ideas about criminal justice, according to the article. A reputation that proved to be inconsequential to a panel of jurors, after prosecutors showed that he was behind efforts to:
  • Prohibit FBI agents from speaking with an inmate who had acted as an informant.
  • Coercing potential witnesses in the federal inquiry.
  • Intimidated an FBI agent.
Baca’s defense attorney had attempted to convince jurors that it was Baca's Undersheriff, Paul Tanaka and others below, who were behind the effort to obstruct the FBI, the article reports. Baca’s attorneys argued that his client was unaware of what was happening. Both Baca and Tanaka, as well as eight lower-level deputies have been convicted or pleaded guilty. Baca’s was found guilty of:
  • Obstruction of Justice (felony)
  • Conspiracy (felony)
  • Making False Statements to Federal Investigators
“This verdict sends a clear message that no one is above the law.... With a career in law enforcement, he knew right from wrong. And he made a decision that was to commit a crime … and when the time came, he lied — he lied to cover up his tracks.” — Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Brown

The former Sheriff plans to appeal the decision.

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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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Federal Judge Overrides California Naloxone Law

drug overdose
There isn’t an area in this country that has not been touched by the American opioid addiction epidemic. Rich or poor, white or black, urban or rural. And even those who are cut off from the outside world, such as inmates in jail or prison, manage to acquire the potentially deadly class of narcotics. Anything from prescription opioids, like OxyContin, to heroin. While it may be more difficult to get one’s hands on drugs when living behind bars, their ability to cut one's life short are just the same.

If you have been following news related to the epidemic, or you yourself know an addict personally, you probably have some knowledge about opioid addiction. You are probably aware that in the case of an overdose, the deadly symptoms can be reversed with the drug naloxone. The relatively easy to use drug, has reversed thousands of overdoses in recent years. As a result, both lawmakers and health experts have been working tirelessly to make it easier for people to acquire naloxone. Equipping first responders with the drug has been a major priority. In some states the drug can now be purchased in pharmacies without a prescription, which means that an addict's family member can administer the drug. With overdoses, time is of the essence. Seeing as first responders can’t always make it in time, loosening restrictions on naloxone has saved lives that would have otherwise been lost.

Depending on which state you live, the rules regarding who can prescribe and/or administer naloxone vary. In California, registered nurses can administer the drug without first receiving permission from a doctor, but not licensed vocational nurses (LVN), the Associated Press reports. The time it takes for an LVN to receive permission to administer the antidote might be too long. U.S. Judge Thelton Henderson of San Francisco approved the request of a federal receiver to waive the state law, thus allowing vocational nurses to administer the live-saving drug. There are about 1,800 licensed vocational nurses working for the state prison system.

Federal receiver J. Clark Kelso, says that 17 inmates die each year on average from a drug overdose, according to the article. An analysis of California prison deaths, showed that California prison overdose deaths are three-times the national prison drug overdose death rate.

LVN’s "are predominantly our first responders for health care services in the prison system," Kelso spokeswoman Joyce Hayhoe said. "The LVNs really function as our EMTs and paramedics in the prison system, so that's why we needed them to be able to administer these lifesaving drugs." 

The nonprofit Prison Law Office and the State, both agreed with federal receiver's request.

It is important to remember, the decision on whether a drug offense is charged as a felony or a misdemeanor depends on the type of drug and the amount found in your possession. Contact Attorney Ronald G. Brower if you are facing being charged for a drug offense. 

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Regulating Marijuana Comes With Uncertainty

Proposition 64
If you live in California you are probably aware that Proposition 64 (Adult Use of Marijuana Act) was passed by voters in November 2016. And with voter approval, California became one of eight states and the District of Columbia where it is legal for adults to use cannabis products. It is a sign that more and more Americans across the country are in favor of lightening restrictions on a drug that has been deemed illegal by the Federal government for over 80 years.

The reasons why Californians voted the way they did are varied, but many would probably argue that marijuana prohibition has done far more bad for society, than good. While many scientists and health experts agree that the drug can have a negative impact on the mind and body (especially on teenagers and young adults), they would also argue that the punishment for using the drug has never matched the severity of the crime.

California has a long history of being involved in the movement to change marijuana policy in America. In 1996, Californians were the first to pass and institute a medical marijuana program. Now, twenty years late the state is gearing up for legal pot beginning on January 1, 2018. The process of instituting a recreational pot industry should not be “too” difficult, since several other states have already paved the way (i.e. Colorado, Washington, Oregon, et al.). However, as California works to put in place cannabis regulations, there is some uncertainty regarding the Federal government.

Over the last eight years, the previous White House administration essentially left states to their own devices regarding marijuana law, even though the drug was still illegal under Federal law. Naturally, we are all living in different times than just over a month ago. It seems the current Commander-in-Chief and Attorney General's outlooks on marijuana legislation might be more conservative than previous administrations. So, it probably won’t come as any surprise that there is talk of taking a hard stance on marijuana law by both the White House and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, The Los Angeles Times reports. But, at this point, there is no way of knowing what the current administration plans to do about enforcing Federal law in states that have legalized the controversial drug.

“We’d like to know who’s making the decisions [about federal marijuana policy]. Is it Congress? The president? The attorney general?” — California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom

If you have been charged with a drug offense in California, please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower.

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