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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Orange County Evidence Audit Discovers Misconduct

evidence booking
California prosecutors who are found withholding or falsifying evidence can be charged with a felony and be sentenced to prison time owing to Assembly Bill 1909. Prosecutors who are found guilty can be sentenced to 16 months to two or three years in prison. We wrote about this subject in October 2016.

The legislation came about when it was discovered that prosecutors and law enforcement were withholding evidence from defendants and their legal representation. On a similar note, it would seem that Orange County Sheriff’s Department may not have gotten the memo.

It was recently revealed that an audit was initiated in January 2018 after the department discovered instances when deputies were not booking evidence according to policy, The Orange County Register reports. The review found numerous examples of misconduct.

Orange County Deputies Fired, No Charges Filed

The nearly two-year audit resulted in the firing of four Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) deputies; seven deputies were disciplined, and four cases are pending, according to the article. All told, 15 deputies were criminally investigated throughout the process; although, the Orange County District Attorney's office has not filed any criminal charges.

It’s OCSD policy that all evidence be booked at the end of a deputy’s shift. However, the audit found that nearly one-third of the evidence collected from February 2016 to February 2018 was booked late. In some cases, it could take a month or longer for evidence to be booked.

The revelations could affect thousands of cases, and Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer is looking into the matter. DA Spitzer said he only first learned of the audit this month. Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, whose allegations of prosecutorial and law enforcement misconduct played a role in the drafting of AB 1909, was angered that the audit’s findings only came to light when the Southern California News Group made an inquiry.

“Defendants had the right to know that this audit concluded that nearly all of the deputies in the field and jails during those two years kept … evidence in their cars, homes, desks or wherever else they wanted to store rather than booking it,” Sanders said. “God only knows how much evidence has been lost, mixed into other cases, kept, given to informants or concealed because it helped the defendant.” 

Key findings of the audit include:
  • Nearly 85 percent of the evidence was booked within five days.
  • 418 pieces of evidence were booked after 20 to 30 days.
  • 296 pieces of evidence were booked after 31 days.
  • 27 percent of the deputies had held onto evidence for 31 days or more.


Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

Please reach out to The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower if you require criminal legal assistance in the State of California. Attorney Brower has the experience to successfully advocate on your behalf and work to bring about a favorable outcome.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

California Ends Felon Jury Exclusion

SB 310
Nearly one year ago, we wrote to inform our readers that the United States Supreme Court does not recognize the right to sit on a jury as fundamental. This means that states can bar men and women from taking part in the adjudicative process for a myriad of reasons; the ban is known as Felon Jury Exclusion.

In December 2018, we reported that in California, people with a felony on their records are not allowed to sit on juries in most cases; the same is true in 30 other states and all federal courthouses. However, California does permit felons to practice law.

California has taken a second look at its criminal justice policies in recent years, including giving people who have served their time the opportunity to participate in the adjudicative process. Last month, Governor Gavin Newsom signed several criminal justice bills into law that are meant to reform California’s criminal justice system.

Assembly Bill (AB 1076) creates an automated record clearance system for low-level offenses; AB 484 ends a mandatory minimum for certain drug crimes; SB 22 speeds up rape kit processing on new cases, preventing future backlogs; and, AB 917 expedites the victim certification process to obtain T-Visas or U-Visas.

Among the 25 criminal justice reform bills signed by Gov. Newsom was Senate Bill 310 by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley). The law permits a person with a felony conviction to serve on a jury. Unless an individual is on a form of supervision (i.e., parole or probation) for a felony conviction, or are a registered sex offender.

“I am signing more than two dozen bills that give hope to those that have earned a second chance in our communities, and also support victims of crime,” said Governor Newsom on his website. “These bills show a new path to ensure our state moves closer toward a more equitable criminal justice system.”

A Second Chance for Some Felons

SB 310, also known as “The Right to a Jury of Your Peers,” lets people with a prior felony conviction serve on juries in California for the first time, according to East Bay Times. Now, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma are the only states with lifetime bans for people with felony convictions from ever serving on a jury.

“It’s easy to take for granted the notion of a jury of your peers, but in reality, if you’re black and a man, it’s almost impossible. Why? Existing law excludes 30% of California’s black male residents from ever serving on a jury,” Skinner said. “SB 310 rights that wrong by giving those with a former felony conviction the ability to be at the heart of a fair and impartial judicial process.” 

Nationally, one in three African-American men have a felony conviction on their record; 12 percent of adult African-Americans have spent time in California prisons.

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

Please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower if you require legal assistance. Attorney Brower has extensive experience and can bring about a favorable outcome for you or your family member.

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Inmates Fighting Fires: A Second Chance

inmate firefighters
People living in the State of California are no strangers to wildfires. Each year, the fire season gets worse than the previous one. Millions of acres burn each year, placing both homes and human lives at significant risk. The damage would be far worse if it were not for the brave men and women who fight the fires.

While fighting fires, domestic or wild, is a full-time job for thousands of Californians, many people do not know that some of those who attempt to contain the flames are inmates.

There are also more than 2,500 prisoners who serve on fire crews in California as we speak, according to The Los Angeles Times. What's more, these men and women are not forced to hike into the wilderness and put their lives at risk; they volunteer. They are trained, and you'd maybe think that they may one day work for a fire department after their release.

Unfortunately, as things stand now, it's nearly impossible for people with criminal records to get the necessary licenses needed to become a city or county firefighter, according to the article. Blanket restrictions on professional licensing, such as the emergency medical technician license, make all the training inmates receive useless outside of prison.

Giving Inmates a Second Chance

The Times Editorial Board writes that people willing to do the heroic work of firefighting for between $2 and $5 a day, plus $1 per hour when they're on a fire while in prison, should have the opportunity to put their skills to use outside of prison. They point out that the California prison system has many job training and rehabilitation programs for inmates, so they can have a better shot of finding employment upon release. Such programs mitigate the risk of recidivism.

California law directs local emergency services agencies to deny EMT certification to any applicant who:
  • Has been convicted of two or more felonies,
  • is on parole or probation,
  • or has committed any kind of felony within the past 10 years.
Over the years, bills have been considered to change the law, the editorial reports. The most recent, Assembly Bill 1211, was shelved after firefighters associations contested the legislation. AB 1211 will be considered again next year.

California Criminal Defense Lawyer

Attorney Ronald Brower has more than three decades of experience advocating for defendants and their families. He has a reputation for achieving favorable verdicts for his clients. Please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower if you are facing legal challenges.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

ALPRs: Automatic License Plate Readers

In less than a year, police dashboard cameras are scheduled for an upgrade, which will enable them to scan the license plate of many cars automatically. Automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) use artificial intelligence to scan three lanes of traffic simultaneously, CNET reports. While the technology is appealing for several reasons, some critics are raising ethics concerns.

Axon, the maker of ALPRs, says that it’s working on laying out the best practices, and the company is working on a plan for their devices to be used ethically. The dashcam tech will not only flag stolen vehicles, but it will also help in identifying people who have warrants. Some of the concerns being raised involve the storing of vehicle information in a database. Axon CEO and founder Rick Smith said in a press release:

"We do, however, recognize that there are legitimate concerns about privacy protections, constitutionality of search and data security issues that need to be addressed. We embrace that we have an ethical obligation to develop this technology thoughtfully and bring new privacy safeguards to the industry. While building ALPR, we'll be addressing items such as data retention and data ownership, creating an ethical framework to help prevent misuse of the technology." 

ALPRs and Racial Bias

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the leading nonprofit defending digital privacy, free speech, and innovation, conducted a study on ALPRs, according to the article. The research occurred in Oakland, California; the organization found that blacks and Latinos were more likely to be scanned by ALPRs.

The report highlights concerns that data collected by mass-surveillance could be used in improper ways. ALPRs do more than just scan license plates; they also can take pictures of vehicle passengers. Inaccurate ALPR alerts have also led to innocent people being apprehended at gunpoint.

"The impact of increased enforcement will not be felt equally across all communities. Typically, communities of color and lower income communities bear the brunt of increased enforcement," the report said.

Last month, lawyers urged a California appeals court panel to rule the practice of tracking people's location history and movements through ALPRs unconstitutional, Courthouse News Service reports. Jennifer Lynch, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said:

"It's a warrantless search of a database that includes private and sensitive information about people."

We will continue to follow the rollout of ALPRs in California law enforcement vehicles in the coming months, especially regarding privacy concerns. Police body cameras are a topic of interest, as well.

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or someone you care about is facing legal challenges in California, then please reach out to Attorney Ronald Brower. With decades of criminal defense experience, The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower can help advocate for your family effectively.

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