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Law Office of Ronald G. Brower Blog

 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

O.C. Prosecutors Committed Malpractice

snitch scandal
In 2011, a man walked into a Seal Beach hair salon and took eight people's lives. The massacre made headline news, and the criminal case that followed put the Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCDS) into the national spotlight for its practices.

Some of our readers may remember we covered the trial of Scott Evan Dekraai in previous posts. The horrific murder deserved our attention on its own, but what it revealed about a longstanding practice of collecting evidence was a cause for pause as well.

Scott Dekraai was sentenced to eight life sentences for the mass murder at Salon Meritage in Seal Beach. The jury that found him guilty heard evidence from a jailhouse informant named Fernando Perez, who claimed Dekraai professed his guilt. What the panel of jurors didn't know at the time was the informant's history. Perez, it turns out, was a veteran government informant.

The Dekraai trial and conviction were the impetus for the so-called "snitch scandal." The defendant's attorney alleged that OCDS was improperly using jailhouse informants, but he was found guilty regardless. The allegation led to a massive investigation, which revealed a long history of misusing informants, withholding evidence, and misappropriation of funds among the Orange County District Attorney's Office and OCDS.

New Report Reveals Prosecutors Committed Malpractice


The snitch scandal resulted in many retrials and reduced sentences in homicide cases. Now, a new report shows that prosecutors in the Dekraai case "made a deliberate choice not to find out the criminal and informant history of Fernando Perez," according to The Los Angeles Times. The report showed that prosecutors ignored evidence that Perez was a longtime jailhouse informant for various law enforcement agencies going back to 1999.

"These apparent acts of deliberate negligence have had devastating consequences to the victim's families, the Orange County criminal justice system and its law enforcement agencies," the report states. "During the first six months of the Dekraai case ... the prosecution team repeatedly ignored clear and compelling evidence that Perez was a veteran federal confidential informant."

The report called for "severe disciplinary" action against the prosecutors in the Dekraai case. However, the resignation of former Assistant Dist. Atty. Dan Wagner and Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Scott Simmons last year protects them from facing repercussions for their actions.

Orange County Defense Attorney


Ronald G. Brower, attorney at law, can help you or a loved one with criminal legal matters. Please contact our office today to learn how attorney Brower can advocate for your family and bring about a favorable outcome.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

OC Court User Portal for Lower-Level Criminal Cases

criminal cases
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to rely on technology even more than before in the 21st Century. Many of us were already spending too much time on our smartphones and tablets prior to the start of this cataclysmic event. Now, relegated to the safety of our homes, such devices are ever-more our windows to the world.

We accomplish everyday tasks online that we used to handle in person. Business meetings occur over video conferencing platforms, as do doctor appointments. The legal system relies on the virtual tools, as well; most courthouses across the country will only permit essential persons to enter.

Packing courtrooms with people is an easy way to transmit the coronavirus, even if social distancing guidelines are observed. While jury trials are currently underway, reducing the number of people in the building is beneficial.

Uncertain of how long the dangers will persist, Orange County Superior Court introduced an online portal – funded by the Judicial Council of California – for traffic infractions and lower-level criminal cases, The Orange County Register reports. The tool is called the Court User Portal.

Resolving Criminal Offenses from Afar


The CUP dashboard makes the handling of low-level offenses easier for users. Some of the functions were previously spread over the entire OCSC website but now are consolidated. If you are facing minor infractions, all you need to do is create an account that allows you to deal with one or several pending cases. Once logged in to the portal, one can:
  • Search for cases or citations.
  • Reserve a court date.
  • Make payments or establish payment plans.
  • Submit electronic correspondence to the court.
CUP will also send users email or text reminders regarding future hearing dates or payment due dates, the article reports. Orange County Superior Court Presiding Judge Kirk Nakamura said:

“The portal will provide an essential channel for access to justice, especially during the challenging times of COVID-19 when we must maintain social distancing.” 

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney


Attorney Ronald Brower has decades of legal experience and can successfully advocate for you or a loved one. Please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower to learn more.

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Thursday, July 16, 2020

Jury Selection Work Group

Jury Selection Work Group
Discrimination and racial bias have no place in the United States of America; the Constitution affirms this idea. However, the majority of Americans understand that achieving equal rights has been a hard-fought battle.

Many Americans tend to attach discrimination to the southern states, which were once home to slaveholders. The truth is that people in any state can harbor biases towards a demographic. Even today, in the 21st Century, ethnic minorities continue to fight for the rights afforded to any citizen of this nation, from the workplace to the courtroom.

In the year 2020, we are still addressing disparity concerns across the country. Last month, we wrote about a study on jury selection conducted by UC Berkeley Law’s Death Penalty Clinic. Their research found that racial discrimination is happening in California courtrooms when prosecutors and defense attorneys select jury pools—those citizens who are charged with deciding the innocence or guilt of a defendant.

As we pointed out in our previous post, both prosecutors and attorneys are afforded the right to excuse a potential juror without reason during jury selection. The process wouldn’t come to anyone’s attention in a racially homogenous community. However, the majority of cities in California are diverse; they consist of a multitude of ethnicities.

Jury Selection Discrimination


Researchers found that California prosecutors excuse African-American jurors in nearly 75 percent and Latinx jurors in about 28 percent of cases. However, white jurors were struck in only 0.4 percent of cases. The findings pushed lawmakers to act and put forward Assembly Bill 3070. The legislation states:  

This bill would prohibit a party from using a peremptory challenge to remove a prospective juror on the basis of the prospective juror’s race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, or religious affiliation. The bill would allow a party to object to the use of a peremptory challenge to raise the issue of improper bias based on these criteria.

This month, the Supreme Court of California named the members of a newly created Jury Selection Work Group. Over the next year or so, the group will research:
  • Jury Selection
  • Diversity in California Jury Pools
  • Unconscious Bias
“The right to trial by a jury of our peers is central to our justice system, and we must continue to safeguard that right,” said Justice Kathleen O’Leary, the work group chair. “We join a broad statewide and national dialogue that is focused on ensuring juries fairly represent the communities they serve.”

Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer


Attorney Ronald Brower can help you or a loved one achieve a favorable legal outcome in California. Please reach out to our office today to learn how we can advocate for your family during these challenging times.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

"Golden State Killer" Pleads Guilty

Golden State Killer
Last month, HBO began airing a six-part documentary miniseries about the survivors and investigation of the infamous "Golden State Killer." The network is well known for diving deep into "true crime" stories, which have helped bring victims and their families the justice they deserve.

In 2015, Robert Durst, a wealthy New York real estate heir, was arrested just before the final episode of "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst" aired. Despite being a suspect in multiple murders going back to the 1980s, Durst was able to maintain his freedom.

The director of the docuseries, Andrew Jarecki, was friends with one of Durst's victims, writer Susan Berman. After directing a feature film based on Durst's biography, the real estate heir reached out to Jarecki and agreed to be interviewed. It was a decision that would prove to be his downfall.

Captured audio and video, combined with new evidence, gave the Los Angeles police department the power to obtain a first-degree murder warrant in connection to Berman's death. Durst was arrested in New Orleans by the FBI the day before the miniseries finale. His trial began on March 2, 2020, The Los Angeles Times reports. Six days of hearings later, the judge postponed the trial to a later date owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Golden State Killer Pleads Guilty


Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., 74, a former police officer, was arrested in 2018. Using innovative DNA tracing techniques, authorities concluded that DeAngelo was the Golden State Killer. In previous posts, we have discussed how law enforcement was able to land on a suspect involved in heinous crimes more than 40 years old.

One day after HBO aired, "I'll Be Gone in the Dark," DeAngelo pled guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of kidnapping, USA Today reports. Authorities could not charge the Golden State Killer with rape because of the statute of limitations.

It's unclear whether the docuseries motivated the former police officer's decision or if he was only trying to be spared of capital punishment. Whatever the case may be, DeAngelo avoided death row with his confession in a makeshift courtroom allowing for social distancing in a ballroom at Sacramento State University.

 Part of the plea agreement included the requirement of admitting guilt.

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney


Please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower if you or a loved one requires legal assistance. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who have lost someone they care about to the coronavirus.

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Thursday, June 25, 2020

AB 2138: CA Licensing Boards Denial of Application

AB-2138
In recent months it's been challenging to find a news topic to lift one's spirits. With nearly 2.5 million Americans testing positive for COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) and the CDC reports the loss of 121,117 people as of June 24, 2020, it's clear that life will continue being a struggle.

At the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower, we would like to express our sincerest condolences to everyone affected by the deadly coronavirus. It's likely that COVID-19 has impacted some of our former clients, or they know someone who has been touched by the virus.

Earlier this month The New York Times reported that around 30 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits. Firings, lay-offs, and furloughs can all be attributed to the pandemic. While the federal government has provided some assistance to aid those facing financial woes, many still find it challenging to manage.

One demographic that has not received much attention of late are those individuals with criminal records. It's a fact that historically – pandemic or not – men and women with criminal records are prohibited from acquiring professional licenses, which means that finding employment is extremely difficult. Even for members of society who were found guilty of committing non-violent offenses.

Fortunately, on July 1, 2020, some 8 million Californians with criminal records will be able to obtain professional licenses from any of 37 licensing agencies within the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), PR Newswire reports. The passing of Assembly Bill 2138 (AB-2138) could help millions of people find employment at a time when an unprecedented number of Americans are out of work.

AB-2138


A criminal conviction can irrevocably change the course of one's life. Such occurrences can bar people from voting, housing, and finding employment. Many jobs require individuals to be licensed. Such lines of work include the field of medicine, construction, and engineering. Even auto mechanics and hair stylists need to acquire a license.

Long has a criminal record preventing men and women with criminal pasts to acquire the proper licensing to secure employment in a myriad of fields. AB-2138 seeks to remove significant hurdles for millions of Californians.

"Assembly Bill 2138 was passed to reduce barriers to obtaining occupational licenses, reduce recidivism to support criminal justice reform and to provide more economic opportunity for the almost 1 in 3 adults in California with a criminal record," says the founder of a California criminal defense and professional license law firm. 

The legislation:
  • Restricts the discretion of DCA boards in using prior criminal history as grounds for denying a license.
  • Most criminal convictions older than seven years may not be the basis for licensure denial.
  • A criminal conviction must be "substantially related" to the qualifications or duties required by the license or profession in order to be a basis to deny, revoke, or suspend a license.
  • Licensing boards may no longer deny licensure due to a conviction if it was expunged, dismissed, pardoned or if the applicant made a showing of rehabilitation for a felony conviction.
  • Licensing boards may no longer require that applicants self-disclose prior convictions unless the license type does not require fingerprint background checks.
  • Licensing boards must now track and publicly report licensure denial and appeal data.

 

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney


If you or a loved one are dealing with criminal charges during these difficult times, we invite you to contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower at your earliest convenience. Attorney Brower has the expertise to help clients achieve the best possible outcome in unfortunate situations.

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Friday, June 19, 2020

Addressing Racial Bias in California Courts

Racial Bias in California Courts
Jury selection and the method in which the courts review alleged police abuse are rife with racial bias, recent reports claim. Addressing racial bias in California courts is the focus of new legislation and the formation of a new commission structured to investigate and address racial bias in law enforcement and the judicial system.

Jury Selection


A report from Berkeley Law’s Death Penalty Clinics has reviewed racial discrimination as “a consistent aspect of jury selection in California.” The investigation covers the history, legacy, and ongoing practice of jury selection processes in the state that exclude people of color, especially African Americans, through what are known as peremptory challenges on the part of the prosecutor. Peremptory challenges are used by attorneys to excuse potential jurors during jury selection without having to provide a reason.

The study involved an evaluation of 683 California Courts of Appeal cases that involved objections to the peremptory challenges from 2006 to 2018. They found that “prosecutors used their strikes to remove African-American jurors in nearly 75 percent of these cases, Latinx jurors in about 28 percent, and white jurors in only three cases (0.4 percent).”

The author of the report, along with five of her students, was Death Penalty Clinic Director Professor Elisabeth Semel. She was driven to launch the study by the Washington Supreme Court’s adoption of General Rule 37 in 2018 that “upends a 40-year-old procedure that has altogether failed to reduce, much less eliminate, the disproportionate exclusion of African-American and Latinx prospective jurors.”

Semel adds, "I was encouraged by the court's leadership to believe that a careful and thorough investigation of the issue in California could produce meaningful reform." Assembly Bill 3070, which the State Assembly approved by a 50-11 vote on June 11, is modeled on the Washington rule. One of Semel’s students, Dagen Downard, commented that "AB 3070 is one necessary step in eliminating racial discrimination in one part of the machine."

California Attorneys for Criminal Justice


The pre-eminent statewide association of criminal defense attorneys in California, the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ), announced a package of legislative proposals designed for addressing racial bias in California courts and in law enforcement. CACJ, founded more than 45 years ago, has as its goal to increase oversight of law enforcement practices and to establish stronger accountability when there are allegations of police abuse.

CACJ’s proposed California Law Enforcement Accountability and Community Justice Act of 2020 is designed for addressing racial bias in California courts, specifically many of the racially biased flaws in the state’s criminal justice system that result in the overincarceration of people of color.

California Justice Commission


The signature proposal in CACJ’s package is the creation of an independent California Justice Commission that will be empowered to make criminal charging decisions in response to allegations of police abuse. The Justice Commission will have the authority to investigate, bring charges, and prosecute cases involving police abuse in any jurisdiction in California.

California Law Enforcement Accountability and Community Justice Act


The Act includes the following:

1. Establish the California Justice Commission. This independent entity has the authority to investigate, bring charges, and prosecute cases involving police abuse in any jurisdiction in California. The Commission is led by a board comprised of diverse individuals who will oversee charging decisions. Local entities will also have the option to create their own independent office that conforms with specified requirements.

2. Expand Civilian Review Board authority. All civilian review boards in California will have the authority to conduct investigations, subpoena witnesses and information, and bring administrative actions against individual law enforcement officers.

3. Create the Law Enforcement Responsibility Act. New criminal statute for police who fail to intervene when another officer is committing a serious or violent felony in their presence. The punishment would be similar to "aiding and abetting." In addition, strengthen California Civil Rights statutes to permit victims of police abuse to sue individual police officers and departments, even if the individual was charged with a crime. Police officers often assert charges such as "resisting arrest" to negate the ability to sue.

4. Body Camera Expansion. Increase use of body cameras in California and strengthen transparency and public access to the recordings.

5. Bias in Jury Selection. Strengthen current law prohibiting prosecutors from unjustly eliminating people of color from juries. This language is in the Assembly Bill 3070.

6. Restore Voting Rights. Restore voting rights to individuals serving parole.

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney


Attorney Ronald G. Brower has a long history of achieving successful outcomes for his clients. Please contact our office today to learn more about how he can advocate for a you or a loved one in court.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2020

State Attorney General Submits California Consumer Privacy Act

California Consumer Privacy Act
Privacy is always a concern among consumers. When a business takes your information to process a transaction, you may naturally wonder what happens to that information. Many regulations have been enacted that protect consumers when businesses attempt to use their personal information for purposes they did not intend or authorize. In California, the State Attorney General has submitted the California Consumer Privacy Act, which will be enforceable as of July 2020.

Final Proposed Regulations Package


On June 1, 2020, the Office of the California Attorney General submitted the final proposed regulations package under the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) to the California Office of Administrative Law (OAL). OAL has 30 working days, plus an additional 60 calendar days under Executive Order N-40-20 related to the COVID-19 pandemic, to review the package for procedural compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act. Once approved by the OAL, the final regulation text will be filed with the Secretary of State and become enforceable by law.

CCPA was signed into law on June 28, 2018, and went into effect on January 1, 2020. CCPA grants California consumers robust data privacy rights and control over their personal information, including the right to know, the right to delete, and the right to opt out of the sale of personal information that businesses collect, as well as additional protections for minors.

Data Privacy More Important Now


Attorney General Xavier Becerra said, when submitting the package: 
“As our lives increasingly move online, our data privacy becomes more important than ever. The California Consumer Privacy Act, which gives consumers choice and control over personal information in the marketplace, is game-changing and historic. Our regulations provide businesses and individuals with guidance on how to protect that choice and boost transparency, while continuing to unleash innovation. Businesses have had since January 1 to comply with the law, and we are committed to enforcing it starting July 1.”

The CCPA has been amended several times, on September 23, 2018 by SB 1121 and on October 11, 2019 by AB 25, AB 874, AB 1146, AB 1355, and AB 1564, since being signed into law. The regulations establish procedures for compliance and exercise of rights, as well as clarifying important transparency and accountability mechanisms for businesses subject to the law.

Regulations for Businesses Collecting Information


Notices within the CCPA for businesses that collect personal information from consumers include:

When a business collects personal information from a consumer’s mobile device for a purpose that the consumer would not reasonably expect, it shall provide a just-in-time notice containing a summary of the categories of personal information being collected and a link to the full notice at collection. For example, if the business offers a flashlight application and the application collects geolocation information, the business shall provide a just-in-time notice, such as through a pop-up window when the consumer opens the application, which contains the information required by this subsection.

A business shall not use a consumer’s personal information for a purpose materially different than those disclosed in the notice at collection. If the business seeks to use a consumer’s previously collected personal information for a purpose materially different than what was previously disclosed to the consumer in the notice at collection, the business shall directly notify the consumer of this new use and obtain explicit consent from the consumer to use it for this new purpose.

A business shall not collect categories of personal information other than those disclosed in the notice at collection. If the business intends to collect additional categories of personal information, the business shall provide a new notice at collection.

If a business does not give the notice at collection to the consumer at or before the point of collection of their personal information, the business shall not collect personal information from the consumer.

The business must provide notice about collecting information to the consumer. When a business collects consumers’ personal information online, it may post a conspicuous link to the notice on the introductory page of the business’s website and on all webpages where personal information is collected.

When a business collects personal information through a mobile application, it may provide a link to the notice on the mobile application’s download page and within the application, such as through the application’s settings menu.

When a business collects consumers’ personal information offline, it may include the notice on printed forms that collect personal information, provide the consumer with a paper version of the notice, or post prominent signage directing consumers to where the notice can be found online.

When a business collects personal information over the telephone or in person, it may provide the notice orally.

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

At the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower, we specialize in many areas of the law, from aggravated-assault to white-collar crimes. If you are facing criminal charges, then please reach out to Attorney Brower for a consultation. With more than three decades of experience, he has the expertise to advocate for you effectively.

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