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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act: Update

Child Abuse
In the Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, it says that the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. Whereby parishioners, the faithful, enter into a confessional to obtain absolution for the sins committed against God and neighbor.

It is a long-held tradition that confession is sacred: what a person confesses stays in the box. Essentially, penitential communication shall not be repeated, under no uncertain terms. However, in modern times this age-old practice is being called into question, notably when and how a priest learns of abuse.

A California state lawmaker, Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), is gearing up for a fight on this subject. Sen. Hill has introduced Senate Bill 360 Mandated reporters: clergy (2019-2020), The Los Angeles Times reports. A relatively straightforward piece of legislation that is sure to lead to complicated and philosophical debates.

Right to Private Penance vs Protecting Children

A mandated reporter is a person who is legally required to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to the appropriate authorities. People working in certain professions, such as teaching, counseling, and practicing medicine, must report instances of abuse.

Failure to report abuse can lead to severe legal and professional ramifications. The list of mandated reporters, under the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, is lengthy, and it includes clergy. However, existing law allows priests a special dispensation: when abuse is discovered via penitential communication. SB-360 would remove the exception, requiring clergy to notify the appropriate authorities despite learning of mistreatment in the confession box.

“SB 360 is about the safety and protection of children,” said Sen. Hill. “The law should apply equally to all professionals who have been designated as mandated reporters of these crimes — with no exceptions, period. The exemption for clergy only protects the abuser and places children at further risk.” 

Around the globe, the church is in spotlight regarding child molestation. Evidence of widespread abuse and coverups will lead to some changes, hopefully. Still, it is unlikely that many readers will be surprised to learn that the Catholic Church is not an advocate of Sen. Hill’s proposal.

“Inserting government into the Confessional does nothing to protect children and everything to erode the fundamental constitutional rights and liberties we enjoy as Americans,” said Steve Pehanich, director of communications and advocacy for the California Catholic Conference.

Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer

People facing criminal charges require a sound legal defense, which means they need an experienced attorney to serve as their advocate. The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower is the ideal practice to turn to for anyone with legal trouble.

Attorney Brower reputation for bringing about favorable outcomes in court precedes him throughout California and beyond. With more than 30 years of experience, he is an advocate you and your family can rely on during difficult times. Please contact us today to learn more.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

People vs. Dueñas: Punishing Poor People

court fines in California
It is often said: "Crime doesn’t pay." The idiom might mean different things to different people; but, one thing is for sure, it’s that those who break the law are subject to having to pay significant fines. So, in a sense, being on the windy side of the law can be an expensive enterprise.

Today, we would like to draw your attention to a court case that is sending shockwaves across the Golden State—People vs. Dueñas. In January, the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles decided that California is punishing people for being poor. The Justices found that imposing steep fines on a misdemeanor offense for men and women who cannot afford to pay violates their rights.

Velia Dueñas of Los Angeles – now a homeless mother of two – was unable to pay $1,088 in fines for tickets she received as a juvenile, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Due to her inability to pay, her license was suspended (until 2017, failure to pay fines could result in losing the right to drive). She was then convicted three times of driving with a suspended license and had to serve 141 days because she lacked the funds to pay the fines.

Forcing Courts to Take Poverty into Account

Dueñas was caught driving illegally again, spent nine days in jail for being unable to pay the $300 fine, and then ordered to pay an additional $220. The Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles ordered the court that sentenced Dueñas to hold a hearing to consider her ability to pay fines. The article reports that the court of appeals wrote that the Legislature should rewrite the law to require financial consideration hearings.

Since the January decision, attorneys across the state have filed Dueñas-based motions for their low-income clients, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Moreover, Senate Bill 144 – a newly proposed piece of legislation – aims to do away with administrative fees for programs like diversion and probation.

“Dueñas has changed the landscape in a number of ways,” said Brandon Greene, an attorney who worked with the East Bay Community Law Center on the case. “I think California is on track to recognize that the way that we fund certain services — whether it’s at the state or county level — is on the cusp of re-envisioning.” 

“Funding things on the backs of poor people,” he adds, “is neither just nor sustainable.”

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing legal challenges in California, please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower to discuss how we can help you. With more than three decades of experience, Attorney Brower is the ideal candidate to advocate for you and your family.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Circumventing Criminal Justice Reforms

criminal justice reforms
It is no secret that the criminal justice system in California has been subjected to several changes in recent years. Efforts by criminal justice advocates and members of the Legislature have brought about many reforms to ensure equal rights and reduce inmate populations.

We have written about several pieces of legislation that have resulted in convicted felons petitioning to receive lower sentences. When laws change, it opens opportunities for some people to have felonies reduced to misdemeanors or to have a conviction thrown out altogether.

Naturally, some district attorneys and law enforcement organizations have looked upon specific criminal justice reforms unfavorably. Some DAs have sought to find legislative workarounds.

Defense lawyers in California and criminal justice reform advocates are taking issue with prosecutors in San Diego. They claim that the use of a waiver in some instances, that end with a plea bargain, is an attempt to circumvent the will of voters, The San Diego Tribune reports. Defendants in specific cases involving serious crimes like homicide or sexual assault are being asked to sign waivers barring them from seeking lower sentences if laws change. The waiver used by North County DAs reads:

“This agreement waives all future potential benefits of any legislative actions or judicial decisions or other changes in the law that may occur after the date of this plea, whether or not such future changes are specifically designed to provide pre- or post-conviction relief to any convicted defendants, and whether or not they are intended to be retroactive.”


Giving Up Future Rights

The recent change to California’s felony-murder rule is retroactive, according to the article. The new rules mean that hundreds of prisoners are petitioning for lower sentences. Kate Chatfield, of the reform group Re:store Justice, believes the attempt to lock in pleas in San Diego is in response to the legislative change.

“The ground is shifting underneath them,” said Chatfield. “They don’t like it. And that’s shameful.”

San Diego County Public Defender Randy Miz points out that you can’t ask a defendant to give up a right that doesn’t exist yet, the article reports. Michael Crowley, a member of the Criminal Defense Bar Association, thinks the move is a snub toward the Legislature.

“Basically what they are trying to do on a case by case basis is tell the Legislature, you don’t know what you are doing, and we know better,” Crowley said.

Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer

Attorney Ronald Brower has decades of experience advocating for the legal rights of his clients. Please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower to learn how he can fight for you or a loved one.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2019

California Prosecutors Oppose SB-1437

A controversial new law that went into effect this year changes the felony murder rules in California. Senate Bill 1437 prohibits “a participant in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of one of the specified first-degree murder felonies in which a death occurs from being liable for murder.” Some of our readers may remember a previous post on the subject; if not please click here.

As we pointed out in January, SB-1437 should lead to the release of a significant number of inmates. Such prisoners, who are serving time for murder even though they did not commit the killing.

Before January 1, 2019, an individual could receive a lengthy prison sentence for being involved in a crime that results in a murder. Crimes are often committed in tandem; when a homicide occurs, only one of the perpetrators fires the gun or wields the knife usually. However, the accomplice can find themselves in equally hot water.

SB-1437 provides an avenue of recourse for many people serving time. The law allows some inmates to have their convictions vacated and be re-sentenced. It has come to light, however, that implementing the new felony murder rules is challenging.

Raising the Standards Prosecutors Must Meet

When a controversial new law goes into effect, there is always at least two sides—those for or against the legislation. Advocates for SB-1437 contend that it will prevent low-level accomplices to crimes that result in death from receiving extremely harsh punishments.

Opponents argue that the bill makes it more challenging to secure murder convictions and will result in dangerous people being released. The Mercury News notes that state prosecutors are the most critical opponents of SB-1437.

The fierce debate over instituting the new bill means that inmates who thought they might receive a judicial win will have to wait longer. San Mateo County Assistant District Attorney Sean Gallagher states that the new law conflicts with two voter-approved propositions, according to the article. It is likely that what happens next will involve the California Supreme Court to resolve the issues.

“California is still moving in the direction of leniency,” said law professor Robert Weisberg, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, “but it can still be four steps forward and three steps back, or complete gridlock for a while.” 

Thus far, hundreds of inmates serving lengthy sentences for their involvement in crimes that led to murder have petitioned the courts for re-sentencing under California’s new law. We will continue to follow the updates on this critical piece of legislation.

Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been charged with a serious crime, then it is vital to have the best legal defense attorney in your family’s corner. Attorney Ronald G. Brower has decades of experience successfully advocating for defendants, ensuring they receive competent representation. Please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower to learn more.

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