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Friday, August 28, 2020

California Lawmaker Seeks to Criminalize Race-Based 911 Calls

California Lawmaker Seeks to Criminalize Race-Based 911 Calls

In an effort to alleviate some of the issues that arise from racism and its associated fear, a California lawmaker has introduced a bill that would include racially motivated 911 calls in the hate crime statute. Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) seeks to criminalize race-based 911 calls and give the victims of such calls a recourse for a civil remedy for their pain and suffering.

Recent Incidents

An article published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal points out that in the past few years, viral videos and commentaries have shed light on a long-existing but previously under-recorded problem — frivolous race-based police calls. For example, in Philadelphia, police arrested two Black men, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, in a Starbucks after a white manager called 911 because the men did not order anything immediately upon entering the establishment.

In Oakland, a white woman called the police on a Black family barbecuing. In a different incident in San Francisco, a white woman called the police on a Black mother and her eight-year-old child because the two were selling water outside, apparently without a permit. Another white woman physically assaulted a fifteen-year old Black boy and threatened to call the police on him at a local pool in South Carolina.

Most recently, a white woman called police on a Black man in Central Park when the man asked the woman to leash her dog. Christian Cooper, a Harvard graduate and avid birdwatcher, asked Amy Cooper (no relation) to follow the park rules and put a leash on her dog. When she refused, Christian Cooper began videotaping her reaction.

Amy Cooper stated, “I am going to tell them there is an African American man threatening my life.” When police arrived on the scene, the woman told officers she felt threatened and that Mr. Cooper had left. Police did not file a report. Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said, "All the 911 operator hears is a screaming woman that basically you would think is getting attacked physically. In hindsight when we look at that video, we don't know what happened before but that was not what was portrayed."

Assembly Bill 1550

In June, Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) announced he is introducing legislation that will help end discriminatory 911 calls motivated by an individual's race, religion, sex, or any other protected class by designating such reports as a hate crime. The legislation also provides a civil remedy for those harmed by discriminatory 911 calls. Oregon and New York have also recently enacted laws that will allow a target of an allegedly prejudiced “911” call to file a lawsuit against the caller.

Currently, it is a criminal misdemeanor under California law to make false police reports. However, that law does not include accountability measures to address discrimination if a person calls law enforcement because they perceive another individual to be a threat due to their race, religion, outward appearance, or inclusion in a protected class. Amendments to Assembly Bill (AB) 1550 address this gap by making clear that discriminatory 911 calls qualify as a hate crime, and further establish civil liability for the person who discriminatorily called 911.

Intent of the Measure

The verbiage of AB 1550 states that its intent is to essentially criminalize race-based 911 calls and to provide a civil remedy option for victims of such calls. In part, the bill states that:

This measure is intended to create a path for an individual who has been subject to a racially motivated “911” call to be able to file a lawsuit for damages.

It is the intent of the Legislature to help end instances of “911” calls aimed at violating the rights of individuals based upon race, religion, sex, or any other protected class. The current punishment for making a false police report does not address the growing number of cases of peace officers being summoned to violate the rights of, for example, Black and Brown individuals for doing day-to-day activities—essentially living their lives.

This measure is not intended to discourage individuals who are facing real danger, or who want to report a crime, from making a “911” call to police. However, it will allow those who have been subject to unfair and unnecessary “911” calls to regain their agency by seeking justice and restitution through the criminal and civil court system. Moreover, this legislation would force people to check their prejudices before making an unnecessary, biased “911” call.

Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer

When you need legal help, attorney Ronald Brower can help you or a loved one achieve a favorable legal outcome in California. Please contact our office today to learn how we can advocate for you and your family during these challenging times.

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Friday, August 21, 2020

Los Angeles Seeks to Abolish California Court Fees

Currently, a person who has served time in the legal system can face mounting fees imposed by the criminal justice system. Even after the individual has completed a jail term, those fees can keep them from being able to move on with a productive life. The fees have become crippling to many ex-offenders, one of the main reasons Los Angeles seeks to abolish California court fees.

Los Angeles Seeks to Abolish California Court Fees

A Vicious Cycle of Debt

In Los Angeles County, a person with a 3-year probation term accumulates more than $5,500 in supervision fees alone. These fees can put the individual into a vicious cycle of debt that can seriously impede their ability to move on with their lives.

The money they owe can hurt their credit score, make it harder for them to find a home and a job, and make it more difficult to even open a bank account. If they do find a job, their wages may be garnished, their bank accounts levied, or their tax refunds intercepted to pay their court debt.

Every day, hundreds of thousands of Californians face bills for thousands of dollars in fees. The money is for a multitude of fees attached to every stage of the criminal system, including public defender fees, probation supervision fees, fees for mandatory drug tests, and electronic ankle monitors.

When people can’t afford to pay off all their fees immediately, they are billed for even more, including installment account fees, collection fees, interest, and assessments for “failure to pay.” The fees are imposed in addition to the fines, labor, and/or incarceration that the court assigns to a convicted person as punishment. And the cycle continues.

An Unreliable Source of Income

These administrative fees are intended to generate revenue for government programs. However, the court fees are an unreliable source of revenue. People who have been incarcerated or are on probation cannot afford to pay the fees, given their challenges and struggles in finding a steady, decent paying job.

Fee collection rates are low, and counties sometimes end up spending more to collect fees than they bring in. For example, in 2017, Alameda County had a collection rate of only 4% for probation supervision fees. The county lost $1.3 million dollars trying to collect court-ordered debt.

The Movement Toward Abolishing Fees

The momentum for criminal fees reform has been building for some time. In 2016, California enacted legislation ending juvenile administrative fees statewide. In 2018, San Francisco repealed all county-authorized fees and waived over $30 million in outstanding criminal justice debt owed by 21,000, mostly low-income, San Franciscans. In September 2018, the Alameda County Public Protection Committee recommended that the Board similarly eliminate all county-authorized criminal fees, and Los Angeles County eliminated its public defender registration fee in 2017.

Most recently, State Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) has introduced Senate Bill 144, the Families Over Fees Act, which would eliminate a wide range of fees. The proposed bill is sponsored by the Debt Free Justice California coalition. The coalition is working to convince state legislators to pass SB 144 with the goal of permanently blocking all California counties from imposing court fines and fees.

In February, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to eliminate most court-related fines and fees, including probation, but have not followed through. Three other counties in the Bay area—San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa—have passed similar measures in the past two years. However, the Los Angeles courts have continued to collect probation fees and other court-related debts.

The Debt Free Justice California coalition has sent a letter to the county’s Superior Court, demanding that it “immediately implement the Board of Supervisors’ Feb. 18 motion requiring that Los Angeles County end the imposition of new, and collection of past, county-imposed court, probation and sheriff’s fees, and discharge past related debt​.” 

Repealing Fees – Improved Prospects

The Debt Free Justice California coalition states that eliminating administrative fees will allow formerly incarcerated people to devote their limited resources to critical needs like food, education, housing, and health insurance. Repealing criminal fees will also result in improved employment prospects for formerly incarcerated people and put more money in the pockets of economically insecure families, aiding successful reentry and reducing California’s recidivism rate.

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

Please reach out to the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower if you are facing criminal charges. Attorney Brower has the expertise to help you achieve a successful outcome with your case.

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Friday, August 14, 2020

California Considers "George Floyd" Law

On May 25, in south Minneapolis, four policemen attempted to arrest George Floyd for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill. One of the officers, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee against the back of Floyd’s neck for several minutes as Floyd lay on the ground, handcuffed. Chauvin is now charged with causing Floyd’s death. The three other police officers are charged with aiding and abetting what is being considered second degree murder, as they watched Chauvin’s actions but did nothing to stop him or to help Floyd when he was in obvious distress. Today, legislators are considering new legislation based on this incident.

California Criminal Sanctions

California lawmakers are now considering a bill that would carry strict penalties for police officers who witness such an act by a fellow officer who is engaging in excessive use of force and who do not intervene to stop it. The author of Assembly Bill 1022, Assemblyman Chris Holden of Pasadena, says the bill is a reaction to George Floyd’s murder and to the inaction of those policemen accompanying Chauvin in the arrest.

The proposed bill is meeting some resistance by those in law enforcement. They contend that there are already sufficient regulations and training in place that address the excessive use of force. Opponents of the bill say that it does not take into account the split-second decision making that is often necessary by police officers involved in such events. They contend that the George Floyd situation was an anomaly to the typical situation faced by policemen.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League board of directors issued a statement that, “This misguided proposal criminalizes officers who may not have a complete understanding of the incident and have different viewpoints. Strong policies, robust training, and fair discipline is far more appropriate than criminal sanctions.”

Assembly Bill 1022 and Others

As California considers the “George Floyd” law, lawmakers have until August 31 to approve it and to send legislation to Governor Gavin Newsom. Assembly Bill 1022 and other, similar proposed bills address:

Chokeholds - AB1196 by Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, would bar law enforcement agencies from using carotid restraints, chokeholds, or similar techniques.

Duty to Intercede - AB1022 by Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, would require law enforcement officers to immediately intercede and report what they believe to be the use of excessive force.

Officers' careers would end if they are found to have used excessive force resulting in serious injury or death or failed to stop the overuse of force by another officer. Officers who don’t intercede could be criminally charged as accessories to any crimes committed by those who use excessive force.

Victims' Compensation - AB767 by Assemblyman Tim Grayson, D-Concord, would allow even criminal suspects and their survivors to apply for victims’ compensation if they were injured or killed by police use of excessive force.

Rubber Bullets - AB66 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, would respond to perceived police overreactions during recent protests by limiting the use of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets ,and other projectiles against demonstrators.

Journalists - SB629 by Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, would protect the right of journalists to cover protests without interference from police.

Military Uniforms - SB480 would bar law enforcement officials from wearing military-style uniforms. Sen. Bob Archuleta, D-Pico Rivera, said that can make it difficult for civilians to distinguish officers from members of the National Guard.

Independent Investigations - AB1506 by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, would create a new division within the state Department of Justice that, if requested by a local law enforcement agency, would investigate an officer-involved shooting or other use of force that kills a civilian. The department could also prosecute any officer it found had violated state law.

Sheriffs Oversight - AB1185, also by McCarty, would let county supervisors name inspectors general to help oversee independently elected county sheriffs.

Police Records - SB776 by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, would expand on a 2019 law that lifted some of the nation’s most secretive police records by requiring public access to disciplinary records involving investigations into officer shootings, use-of-force incidents and incidents involving officer misconduct.

It would add records of discipline against officers accused of racist or discriminatory actions, or those who have a history of wrongful arrests or searches, among others. Investigations would be completed even if officers resign. Records fees would be limited, and fines imposed on agencies that don’t comply.

Decertifying Officers - SB731 by Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, would allow the state Department of Justice to revoke the certification of officers if they are fired for misconduct or convicted of certain crimes, to prevent them from getting new law enforcement jobs elsewhere.

Juvenile Interrogations - SB203, also by Bradford, would bar those who are 17 years old or younger from being questioned by police or waiving their rights until they have a chance to consult with an attorney. California currently applies those restrictions to youths 15 years or younger. 

Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer

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, August 7, 2020

Biased Jury Selection Results in New Trial

biased jury selection

Criminal trials typically require 12 people to serve on the jury who are not biased in regard to the defendant or the alleged crime. The attorneys representing both sides are able to ask questions to determine whether the jurors should be allowed to serve. A recent decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit determined that the jury selection for a murder case was not conducted appropriately. The biased jury selection has resulted in a new trial for the defendant, twenty years later.

Selecting a Jury

The process of establishing a jury starts with a pool of eligible people who are brought into the jury box and questioned. The judge usually makes a brief statement explaining the case to be tried and inquiring whether there is any reason the potential jurors cannot serve. Then the judge or the lawyers ask the potential jurors questions as to whether they have any knowledge of the case or have had specific experiences that might cause them to be biased or unfair.

A potential juror can be dismissed for cause if either lawyer believes there is information that suggests a juror is prejudiced about the case. Each lawyer may request the dismissal of an unlimited number of jurors for cause. Each request will be considered by the judge and may or may not be allowed.

In addition, each lawyer has a specific number of peremptory challenges available. These challenges permit a lawyer to excuse a potential juror without stating a cause. In effect, they allow a lawyer to dismiss a juror because of a belief that the juror will not serve the best interests of the client. Peremptory challenges cannot be used to discriminate on the basis of race or sex.

The Walker Case

Marvin Pete Walker was convicted of murder, assault, robbery, and other charges and sentenced to death in 1980 in a California court. He filed a number of appeals. The death sentence was dropped but Walker continued to appeal his conviction based on issues surrounding the trial itself.

His most recent appeal included the following claims: (1) that the prosecutor impermissibly struck all three black potential jurors from the pool using peremptory challenges, in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986); and (2) that Walker was convicted of special-circumstance murder based on a deficient jury instruction that denied him due process. The district court granted a certificate of appealability only on the Batson claim.


The Batson claim stems from the case of Batson v. Kentucky (1986). The US Supreme Court has held that peremptory challenges cannot be used to systematically strike prospective jurors from the panel on the basis of race.

In Batson, the court outlined a three-step approach for analyzing challenges to peremptory strikes. First, the party objecting to the strike must present facts that "raise an inference" that the strike was racially based. Second, the party who made the strike must present a "neutral explanation." Finally, the trial court must determine whether the party objecting to the strike has established "purposeful discrimination."

Prosecutor’s Peremptory Challenges

In Walker’s case, the prosecutor struck all 3 black potential jurors from a pool of approximately 155 individuals by using peremptory challenges. The reasons for doing so do not hold up under further scrutiny. If even a single prospective juror was struck for a discriminatory purpose, that suffices for a Batson violation.

The court determined that the prosecutor’s reasons for the juror strikes were unreasonable, irrelevant, demonstrably false, or not equally applied to non-black members allowed to serve on the jury. Two of the black jurors were struck for having anti-death penalty views, even though they did not. In fact, there were non-black individuals selected to serve on the jury who had stronger reservations about the death penalty.

In addition, the prosecutor asked one black potential juror leading questions designed specifically to strike that individual and asked a non-black potential juror leading questions designed specifically to keep that individual on the jury. Another potential juror was struck for being anti-police after that individual explained that he had several family members in law enforcement, including one who was killed in the line of duty, a fact that should have made him a more attractive jury candidate for the prosecution.

New Trial

The biased jury selection resulted in Walker being granted a new trial. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit determined on July 31, 2020, that Walker had been deprived of his constitutional rights and that the previous California courts’ acceptance of the prosecutor’s reasons for dismissing the black jurors lacked justification.

Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer

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

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