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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

First Research On Proposition 47

Proposition 47
Roughly one year ago we wrote about how Proposition 47 is affecting crime rates in California. The legislation is meant to reduce our states prison population through reclassifying some drug and property felonies to misdemeanors. Some time has passed since 2014 when Prop 47 came into being, which means experts are in a better position to say if the measure is having the desired effect.

Last April, when we set our sights on Proposition 47, there were indications that arrest rates had fallen significantly and certain crimes were on the rise across the Golden State. Critics of the bill argue that reclassifying many nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors makes it more difficult for authorities to do their job. Others have asserted that downgrading crimes emboldens criminals leading to a rise in certain crimes.

The available data from last year showing a decrease in arrests rates may have had more to do with staff shortages and deployment strategy changes than with Prop 47. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck also pointed out that increasing public safety without necessarily having to make arrests is preferable. As with any controversial legislation there will always be differences of opinion, so we have an obligation to defer to the research before we laud or deride policy. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the science.


Proposition 47: Good or Bad?

Law enforcement officials contend that Prop 47 has made their job more difficult and has led to a drop in arrests and increase in certain crimes. However, criminologist Charis Kubrin and her student Bradley Bartos at the University of California Irvine say otherwise, according to The Crime Report. Their research indicates that the legislation did not cause the crime trends being witnessed across the state.

“Proposition 47 has been blamed for rising crime in California since it took effect in 2014, yet no research has evaluated this claim,” write the researchers. “Using a novel method of policy analysis to compare crime rates in California pre- and post-Proposition 47, our findings suggest that the blame is misplaced.”

Instead, the findings indicate that Prop 47 gave counties the ability to reduce imprisonment time for lesser offenses and more time for serious crimes, according to the article. The authors write, “crime rates going up (or down for that matter) tell us nothing about the source of those trends, and studies such as this one are necessary to determine any link between criminal justice reform and crime rates.”


Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges, the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower can help. Attorney Brower has over thirty years of experience and is well respected across the state of California. Please contact us today.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Life Without Parole for Minors

It’s probably hard for some people to imagine that a decision made as a teenager could irrevocably disrupt the course of a person’s life. Young people are notorious for making uninformed decisions when it comes to a significant number of choices. Which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense. The teenage brain is still developing; even when a young person is brought up in a stable household with loving parents who afford teens every opportunity in life, poor judgment can prevail.

In 2010, a U.S. Supreme Court decision made it unlawful to sentence a juvenile to life without parole for committing most crimes, with the one exception being murder. Life sentences deny an opportunity for young people to learn from their mistakes. Last year, California passed, and the governor signed legislation designed to protect young people caught up in the criminal justice system, including SB 394, SB 395, and AB 1308.

All three pieces of legislation are essential; especially SB 394 which gives minors sentenced to life without parole the opportunity to earn parole after 24 years of incarceration. SB 394, along with the 2010 Supreme Court decision offered a glimmer of hope to a significant number of young people serving long sentences for their criminal deeds.


California Supreme Court Sides With Reform

Toward the end of last month, the California Supreme Court decided two sentences relevant to this topic. In a 4-3 decision, Supreme Court justices found that 50 years to life for one defendant and 58 years to life for the other violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, The Mercury News reports. Juvenile sentences need to consider a youth offender's capacity for rehabilitation, says California Supreme Court Associate Justice Goodwin Liu.

“Even assuming defendants’ parole eligibility dates are within their expected lifespans, the chance for release would come near the end of their lives,” Liu said. “Even if released, they will have spent the vast majority of adulthood in prison."

The cases the Supreme Court decided on, go back to 2012, when two 16-year-olds were charged as adults and convicted of kidnapping and raping two teenage girls in San Diego County, according to the article. The court’s decision means a lower court will have to re-sentence the, now, young adults.

“The majority describes these ages as falling ‘near the end’ of a person’s life, language that suggests that fulfillment at such a juncture is well-nigh impossible. The millions of productively employed senior citizens would beg to differ,” said Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, in his dissenting decision.


Criminal Defense Attorney

If your son or daughter is facing criminal charges, the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower can help. Attorney Brower has over thirty years of experience and is well respected across the state of California. Please contact us today.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Expunging Marijuana Convictions In California

Assembly Bill 1793
Last November, we covered an important topic relevant to many Californians, especially those with marijuana convictions on their record. Proposition 64 didn’t just give adults permission to buy and smoke pot, it also allows for expunging criminal charges for cannabis possession. Packed into the complicated bill is recourse for people whose lives are made difficult due to a cannabis conviction; for instance, many people are unable to get the jobs they want or apply for the apartment they desire. Such restrictions should no longer be a problem thanks to legalization. However, the process of wiping a person’s record clean is not straightforward.

The Drug Policy Alliance says that more than million Californians can erase their cannabis conviction under Prop 64, Leafly reports. Unfortunately, few people have filed petitions to start the process; somewhere around 5,000 Californians have done so according to court records. You’d likely think that more people would have taken steps to clear their record by now, right? Well, it turns out that not many individuals understand that they can reduce or expunge their conviction.

As a result, local officials and state lawmakers are doing what they can to get the word out and are taking steps to simplify the process which could save people lots of money.


Assembly Bill 1793

As it stands right now, those interested in wiping the slate clean need to navigate a complicated process. It isn’t like the court is going to go out of its way to clear your record. Those interested in a fresh start need to fill out a lot of paperwork and appear in court. In fact, it could require possibly several court appearances, according to the article. What’s more, if documents are not filled out correctly, then it can result in just reducing one’s charges, even though a person is eligible for expunging their record.

Understanding laws and your rights is vital. It’s now apparent that tens of thousands of Californians don’t fully grasp Prop 64 and what needs to happen to expunge your record. Naturally, most people have a hard time justifying spending a lot of money on a private attorney to navigate the process in the right manner. With that in mind, Assemblyman Rob Bonta put forward Assembly Bill 1793, which would put the responsibility of expungement on the courts, the article reports. Approval of AB 1793 would force the courts to reduce or expunge all relevant criminal marijuana convictions; Californians would no longer have to fill out paperwork, hire lawyers, or go to court.

“This bill does not create any new substantive right,” says Bonta. “It simply is a practical approach to speeding up and making more efficient a right that already exists.” 

We will continue to follow this helpful piece of legislation and update you in the future.


Criminal Defense Attorney

If you, or loved ones, are facing criminal charges, the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower can help. Attorney Brower has over thirty years of experience across the state of California. Please contact us today.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Santa Clara County Voting On Judicial Recall

Brock Turner
The 2016 sentencing of former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner went from being a story about pervasive sexual assault on campus to a question about how judges wield punishment. It’s fair to wager that a significant number of Americans are familiar with the Turner case, owing less to the deed than to the light sentence the then college freshman received. If you are not yet familiar with the facts, we’ll take a moment to give you a breakdown.

Brock Turner sexually assaulted a fellow student behind a dumpster while she was unconscious. He was caught in the act and was looking at up to 14 years in prison for committing the act. A jury found the swimmer guilty, and most people assumed that the judge would deal Turner a stiff sentence; perhaps everyone thought Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky would make an example of Turner. The punishment handed down from Persky was the exact opposite.

Judge Persky sentenced Brock turner to 6 months in jail (he only served three months), three years of probation, and was required to register as a sex offender. Turner’s 2016 sentence led to public criticism on a grand scale and led to a petition to recall Judge Persky. The recall was made eligible for a vote after 95,000 people penned their names on the petition, The Huffington Post reports. This summer, Santa Clara County voters will decide whether or not to oust Persky from his post.

Recalling a Judge

“California law requires every judge to consider rehabilitation and probation for first-time offenders,” Persky said in a statement. “It’s not always popular, but it’s the law, and I took an oath to follow it without regard to public opinion or any personal opinions I might have as a former prosecutor.”

Stanford law professor, Michele Dauber, is spearheading the campaign to remove Persky from his seat, according to the article. Dauber is grateful for all the signatories, many of whom speculate that the lenient sentence was the result of Turner being Caucasian and a star athlete privilege as a white male and a star athlete.

“This historic campaign is part of a national social movement to end impunity for athletes and other privileged perpetrators of sexual assault and violence against women,” Dauber said.


Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges, please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower. With over three decades of experience, Attorney Brower can help you achieve the best possible outcome.

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Mental Illness in the Criminal Justice System

mental illness
Mental illness is prevalent in the criminal justice system, far beyond defendants pleading innocent for reasons of insanity. Research shows that many convicted felons struggle with mental health conditions; what’s more, if people who needed treatment, got it, it would have an impact on crime rates. Regardless of what a person is dealing with, i.e., addiction, depression, bipolar disorder, treatment is the best way to mitigate the risk of having problems with the law and the rate of recidivism.

In a significant number of cases, people believed to have taken part in crime are not competent to stand trial. In such cases, they are ordered to psychiatric facilities for varying lengths of time. Naturally, beds and support staff are costly; substantial resources are required to provide the care such people need.

Evidence suggests that in California there’s a severe lack of funding to address the needs of mentally ill people in the criminal justice system. In the new state budget for California, Gov. Jerry Brown earmarked $117 million to increase the mental health services for those unable to stand trial, The Los Angeles Times reports. The funds would expand mental health programs and the number of available beds.


Inmate Population With Mental Illness

It’s a promising sign that more judges are seeing the value of treatment over jail time. More Americans struggling with mental illness receive referrals to psychiatric or addiction treatment programs. The changes made in recent years couldn't have come at a better time, especially when you consider that the 33% mental health population increase in the criminal justice system in last three years, according to the article. While Gov. Brown’s earmarked funds are a good sign, Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) isn’t sure it’s going to suffice.

Over 800 mentally ill inmates are found incompetent to stand trial. An even more significant number of Californians standing trial currently, would be better served by treatment, rather than prison. Studies show that treatment severely impacts crime recidivism. However, the lack resources of available resources and programs make it hard to provide everyone such options; current laws need revision.

"It seems to me that the courts, the behavioral health people, law enforcement, social work — everybody should get together and try to solve that problem," Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) said at a recent budget committee hearing. "Because it's like a bottomless pit if we don't reform." 

Sen. Beall introduced legislation that, instead of prosecution, would grant judges the power remand mentally ill defendants into pretrial diversion programs for up to two years.


Criminal Defense Attorney


If you are charged with a crime, please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower. With over three decades of experience, Attorney Brower can help you achieve the best possible outcome.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Holiday Season DUIs Soar

Just before Christmas, we highlighted some of the risks that come with deciding to drive under the influence of alcohol. Even if nobody is hurt, those caught imbibing and driving, end up being ordered to pay severe fines and lose their license for varying lengths of time. People who have incurred second or third offenses face even harsher penalties for their decisions.

The holiday season is notorious for good people making poor choices, especially when it comes to alcohol use. Most adults understand, and even appreciate, drunk driving laws; the thought of another person slamming into your vehicle while drunk is enough to make anyone cringe. Despite the fact that your average American agrees with having strict driving under the influence laws, many of those same people ignore the rules.

It doesn’t matter where a person hails from, the socio-economic background or level of education; anyone under the influence of alcohol behind the wheel puts countless people at risk of injury. Politicians to professors are eligible for DUIs, too.


Stanford Grad Student Sentenced in Fatal DUI Crash

In 2013, Stanford University grad student, Zachary Katz, got behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol. He entered Highway 101 driving in the wrong direction and crashed head-on with a taxi carrying two unbuckled Puerto Ricans. One of the victims, Pedro Juan Soldevila, died on the scene, while the other survived but experienced significant head injuries. Last November, a jury found Katz guilty of three felonies, including vehicular manslaughter under the influence of alcohol, The Mercury News reports. A judge sentenced the young man, now 28, to nearly five years in prison and he is ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution.

The Katz vehicular manslaughter case is not unique, and it underscores the grave risks that accompany driving under the influence. Kind, intelligent people regularly underestimate their level of inebriation; intoxicated individuals are ill-equipped to grasp the potential ramifications of their decisions. A point made clear by this holiday seasons drunk driving figures.


A Drunk Conclusion to 2017

During the 2017 holiday season, a significant number of people were arrested for driving intoxicated in California. In fact, between Dec. 29 and Jan.1, the California Highway Patrol the arrested 936 DUI suspects, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. During the same period in 2016, CHP arrested 767 people; 2017 represented a 22 percent increase from the previous year.

Thanksgiving weekend, the CHP arrested 1,057 people, up from 902 in 2016, according to the article. During Christmas weekend, 917 DUI arrests, compared with 621 in 2016.

“Any time you see a rise it’s concerning, especially when we look at fatalities, because that’s somebody’s loved one,” said CHP Officer John Fransen. “But the sheer number of arrests that are made, to see roughly 1,000 people arrested in every single maximum enforcement period, it’s disheartening.”


Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing DUI charges, please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower. Attorney Brower has the experience to help you achieve the best possible outcome for an unfortunate situation.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Stored Communications Act Under Fire

Stored Communications Act
Under the federal Stored Communications Act, Facebook and other electronic communication services, are expressly prohibited from handing over private user communications to others. While the legislation makes sense regarding user privacy, it presents serious problems for people facing criminal charges in court. Every American has the right to a fair trial and due process, but some argue that the SCA can infringe upon those rights.

The Stored Communications Act is of particular interest to Lance Touchstone, a Californian who is currently awaiting trial on an attempted murder charge, The Recorder reports. Touchstone’s lawyers take issue with being unable to access the Facebook profile of the man their client is accused of shooting. Touchstone’s lead lawyer, Katherine Tesch, contends that the SCA infringed upon his constitutional rights. The issue was raised at the lower appellate court.


Facebook, Inc. v. Superior Court

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the people's right "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." However, there isn’t a consensus over expectations of privacy in terms of recorded and/or transmitted information. The Stored Communications Act is meant to address the voluntary and compelled disclosure of "stored wire and electronic communications and transactional records" held by third-party internet service providers (ISPs).

The Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal ruled that a criminal defendant (Touchstone in this case) did not have the right to compel Facebook to disclose the contents of a user’s private account. Now, the California Supreme Court is considering the issue of whether a criminal defendant has a constitutional right to mine a person’s social media records for potentially exculpatory contents, according to the article. The California Supreme Court's acceptance to hear Facebook, Inc. v. Superior Court, and the ultimate outcome, could shape the future of how and when Facebook must turn over private user information about third-party witnesses in criminal cases.


Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are charged with a criminal offense, please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower. Attorney Brower has the experience to help you achieve the best possible outcome.

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