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Friday, September 25, 2020

Criminal Justice Reforms Under Fire

In 2018, former California Governor Jerry Brown signed a controversial piece of legislation into law that ended cash bail in the Golden State. Senate Bill 10 put the decision for when a criminal defendant was eligible for release in the hands of judges.

Another relatively recent criminal justice reform is Proposition 47. The ballot measure reduced the California prison population. The financial savings from housing fewer prisoners led to a more significant investment in victims' services, schools, and treatment programs. By keeping 4,569 inmates out of prison, Prop. 47 is projected to save $122.5 million next fiscal year, according to KQED. The savings is up from $44 million in the previous fiscal year.

Both SB 10 and Prop. 47 have been hailed by criminal justice advocates and decried by law enforcement organizations. 2020 will put both criminal justice reforms to the test.


Rolling Back Criminal Justice Reforms

KQED reports that voters will have the option to roll back Prop. 47 and SB 10 this November. Some readers may remember that the latter never took effect because the money bail industry gathered enough signatures to qualify for a referendum for the November 2020 ballot. 

Proposition 20: A "yes" means: People who commit certain theft-related crimes (such as repeat shoplifting) could receive increased penalties (such as longer jail terms). Additional factors would be considered for the state's process for releasing certain inmates from prison early. Law enforcement would be required to collect DNA samples from adults convicted of certain misdemeanors. 

Proposition 25: A "no" vote is to repeal the contested legislation, Senate Bill 10 (SB 10), thus keeping in place the use of cash bail for detained suspects awaiting trials.

Political consultant, Dan Newman, helped push many of the earlier reforms, according to the article. He says that he is not worried about the two propositions given the current climate regarding policing and racism in America.

"I think people are looking for ways to channel what they know and believe into real action and real reform and make a difference," said Newman. "So it's just sort of a matter of ensuring that they know: If you care about mass incarceration, if you care about racial injustice, here are some ways that you can really weigh in with power and make a difference."  


Southern California Criminal Defense Attorney

Please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower if you are facing criminal charges. Attorney Brower has more than 30 years of experience; he has the expertise to advocate for you. Please call (714) 997-4400 for a consultation.

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Friday, September 18, 2020

AB-2147: Inmates Can Be Firefighters


Each fire season in California has been longer and more severe than the previous year. You are probably aware of how dire the situation is right now, even if you live nowhere near the hot zones; coastal cities have been inundated with smoke and haze for more than a week. The skyline of late is reminiscent of pictures taken on Mars. 

Our readers may remember a post from last year about the nearly 3,000 inmates serving on fire crews. We covered a report from the The Los Angeles Times shining a light on how incarcerated individuals were volunteering to smother the flames. It was revealed that most brave individuals would never be able to secure a position in a fire crew upon their release. 

A significant facet of criminal justice is rehabilitating inmates; job training is offered to the incarcerated, with the hope of reducing recidivism rates. However, the courageous ex-cons being paid $2-5 a day to put their lives at risk have been hindered from seeking the same type of work upon release. 

California law instructs emergency services agencies to deny EMT certification to any applicant who has committed any felony within the past 10 years, convicted of two or more felonies, or is on parole or probation. 

Former Inmates Right to Fight Fires


Last week, we observed September 11th memorials. It was time to remember the thousands of lives lost and pay respect to the brave men and women who met the day responding to the tragedy. Tens of thousands of first-responders voluntarily put themselves in harm's way to save lives. 

It seems fitting that California Governor Gavin Newsom would sign a bill that paves the way for former inmates to be productive members of society. Assembly Bill 2147 allows inmates who have worked as firefighters to ask the court to dismiss their charges, which makes it easier for them to find a job after completing their sentences, NPR reports. The legislation signed into law states

"Due to the their service to the state of California in protecting lives and property, those incarcerated individual crew members that successfully complete their service in the conservation camps or successfully complete services as members of a county incarcerated individual hand crew, as determined by the appropriate county authority, and have been released from custody, should be granted special consideration relating to their underlying criminal conviction."

AB 2147 gives inmates the ability to secure stable employment upon release, adding to the arsenal of men and women who selflessly rush toward a fire when all others head the other way. The bill excludes people convicted of certain violent or sex crimes. 

"Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter," Gov. Newsom said upon signing the bill into law at the North Complex Fire zone. "AB 2147 will fix that."

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney


The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower can help you or someone you love with a criminal legal matter. Attorney Brower's decades of experience makes him the ideal advocate for your family. Please contact us today at (714) 997-4400 for a consultation. 

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Friday, September 11, 2020

Golden State Killer Gets Life Sentence

Golden State Killer
The "Golden State Killer" and his heinous spree of rape and murder had been a significant focus of our attention for more than two years. Some of our readers may remember the remarkable story about the capture of Joseph James DeAngelo. You may also not forget that investigators discovered his identity using a relatively new and controversial method—genealogical triangulation.

Police investigators utilized the public DNA database GEDmatch to match crime-scene DNA; however, DeAngelo's DNA was not in the database, but a relative genetic sequence was in the system. Here's how GEDmatch works:

"People voluntarily supply their own DNA sequences that they obtain through consumer sequencing companies—such as MyHeritage and provide email addresses, which allows presumed relatives to contact each other."

Using a 37-year-old rape kit from a murder case attributed to the Golden State Killer, detectives were able to find a relative of DeAngelo, and the rest is history. Some forty years later, the Golden State Killer, aka the "Original Night Stalker," found himself behind bars. DeAngelo is thought to be responsible for at least 12 murders and 50 rapes in California.

Genetic Privacy

We have been following the DeAngelo's trial and other instances of cold cases solved through genealogical triangulation. The technique for solving crime has led to several arrests, and it's led to many concerns about genetic privacy.

Yaniv Erlich, a geneticist at Columbia University and GEDmatch chief science officer, wrote a piece on genetic privacy appearing in Nature Reviews Genetics. He cautioned that police could use public genetic databases for fishing for perpetrators. That was in 2014. Following DeAngelo's arrest four years later, when asked about people voluntarily putting their DNA data into GEDmatch, Erlich said:

"It's not like people fully understand the consequences of putting their DNA into a public database. They think, "So many people use the website, so it's OK." Or: "Oh, it's a website for genealogy." What if it was called Police Genealogy? People wouldn't do it. We don't think about everything. We think about the most likely thing."


Golden State Killer Sentenced to Life

In July, we shared that DeAngelo, a former police officer, pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of kidnapping. The surprise admission of guilt came one day after HBO aired a six-part docuseries about the decades-long crime spree.

In August's final days, Judge Michael Bowman sentenced 74-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. to life without parole for killing 13 people and raping 50, The Los Angeles Times reports. Victims, family members, prosecutors, and some of the news reporters who covered the first of DeAngelo's crimes dating back to the 1970s were at the sentencing.

"These rapes and these murders, in the words of our victims, have cut across families, friends, generations, and entire communities," said Sacramento County Dist. Atty. Anne Marie Schubert.

Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer

At the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower, we can help you or a loved one with a criminal matter. Attorney Brower has decades of legal experience, and his expertise can help you find a favorable outcome. Please contact us today for a consultation.

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Thursday, September 3, 2020

Ending Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System

The right to a trial by a jury of one's peers is sacred to Americans. Our Founding Fathers guaranteed the right in the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law."

The Sixth Amendment is meant to ensure that each of us receives a fair and impartial trial by a jury when facing criminal prosecution. The ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment extended the right to each State.

In recent years, the topic of a "jury of one's peers" has been put into question and thrust into the national spotlight. Exposés and podcasts have brought heinous violations of the law into question. Time and time again, prosecutors will use the jury selection process to their advantage, removing prospective jurors of color without cause. Both the prosecution and defense are afforded a specific number of such peremptory challenges.

Season two of the podcast In the Dark focused on the story of Curtis Flowers, who has been tried for the same murder six times in the State of Mississippi. In practically every instance, all white juries were charged with deciding Flowers' fate. He was convicted four times, and each time the convictions were overturned on appeal.

In all six trials, State District Attorney Doug Evans made efforts to exclude Black jurors. Flowers' appeals argued that Evans was discriminating against jurors of color during the selection process. Last year, the United States Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts. However, the State of Mississippi could still go after Mr. Flowers for the seventh time.

Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System

While the average American may not be surprised about instances of jury discrimination below the Mason Dixon line, they may find it interesting to learn that such is the case across the country. The same is true in California. In July, we shared some statistics with our readers that are concerning.

The UC Berkeley Law's Death Penalty Clinic found that California prosecutors excuse African-American jurors in about 75 percent and Latinx jurors in about 28 percent of cases. On the other hand, white jurors were excused in 0.4 percent of cases. Around the time the findings were published, lawmakers took action and introduced Assembly Bill 3070 (AB 3070).

Introduced by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), AB 3070 would limit the removal of prospective jurors without cause, The Los Angeles Times reports. The bill is meant to prevent discrimination based on:
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender and Gender Identity
  • Sexual Orientation
  • National Origin
  • Religious Affiliation
If Governor Gavin Newsom signs AB 3070 into law, the attorney who excuses a juror would have to provide a reason for the exclusion, if the opposing side calls the peremptory challenge into question. Then the presiding judge would decide if the action is discriminatory.

"This bill is about ending what has been going on for many, many years in this country, specifically the exclusion of Black and brown communities from juries, a problem that has been with us and that undermines confidence in the entire system," said Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). 

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

Please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower if you or a loved one requires legal assistance. Attorney Brower has extensive experience and can help bring about a favorable outcome for your family. You can reach our office at 714-997-4400.

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