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Bill Would Lower Drug Possession Penalties in California

Posted on Apr30

A California lawmaker has proposed a new bill that would lessen criminal penalties for persons charged with certain types of drug crimes.

Sen. Mark Leno, Democrat-San Francisco has introduced a bill that would lessen the punishment for possession of any illicit drug.  The bill SB 1506 if approved, would classify drug possession as a lesser crime. 

The federal administration classifies drug possession as a misdemeanor.  This is what Bill SB1506 will also do.  It will classify possession as a misdemeanor, and not a felony.

According to Sen. Leno, passing the bill would have a tremendous impact on society.  It would reduce costs in prosecuting these simple crimes, and incarcerating offenders.  Most importantly, it will have a strong social impact.  Often, the persons who are most likely to be arrested and charged with drug possession offenses are those who belong to minority communities, certain ethnicities and people from poor socio-economic backgrounds. 

A drug crime conviction doesn't help these people any.  It limits their employment prospects, and leads to a permanent mark on their record.  This record can make it difficult for them to find appropriate housing, and may have other effects that can reduce the quality of their lives.  Such convictions actually increase recidivism rates.

The bill however may not be approved easily.  Already, several public safety organizations in California have expressed their opposition to the bill.  They claim that it will impact public safety, because persons who are arrested for possession of drug crimes, will not be punished appropriately, and may not be placed in drug treatment programs.

California criminal defense attorneys are strongly in support of the bill.  For one thing, a law like this will reduce recidivism rates sharply.  California prisons already have an overpopulation crisis, and this bill would help tackle that issue too.

Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking Widespread among Law Enforcement Agencies

Posted on Apr11

A new study by the American Civil Liberties Union confirms what California criminal defense attorneys are already aware of. According to the study by the American Civil Liberties Union, virtually all law enforcement agencies in the country track suspects using cell phone location tracking tools.

The American Civil Liberties Union obtained police records from than 200 police departments across the United States. In almost all of these cases, the agency found that police secretly tracked the location of cell phones using data provided by wireless carriers. In many states, the law requires law enforcement agencies and police departments to obtain a warrant, before they track cell phone locations.

In California, the American Civil Liberties Union approached a number of police departments including the Davis, Fremont, Fresno, San Jose, and San Francisco police departments. However, out of the 20 police departments that the American Civil Liberties Union approached, barely a handful responded and opened up their records to the agency. The other departments declined the request. It is therefore hard for California criminal defense lawyers to tell exactly how prevalent this practice is in California.

Cell phone tracking can take on various forms. Police officers can direct companies like Google and Apple to provide important data like cell phone location, surveillance texts and other data needed for criminal investigations. What really concerns California criminal defense attorneys is that most in many of these cases, the department tracked phones without obtaining warrants.

According to the ACLU, at least 2 of California's police departments, including the one in San Francisco seem to be going about the process of tracking cell phones the legal way. In San Francisco, the police department seeks search warrants before it tracks cell phones, while in Sacramento, the department secures court orders

Does a California Sex Offender Have To Register in Another State?

Posted on Apr06

The Supreme Court of New Mexico is pondering a question that's very important to many California sex crimes lawyers - does a person who has been convicted of a sex offense in California, have to register when he moves to another state?

The case involves 65-year-old Bruce Hall, who pleaded no-contest to charges of child molestation13 years ago. The specific charges against him were misdemeanor annoying and molesting a child.

Hall is still included in California's sex offender registry, but the website does not mention his whereabouts. He later moved to Las Cruces in New Mexico. However, he did not register as a sex offender there.

In 2008, prosecutors in Dona Ana County charged him with a 4th degree felony, and tried to force him to register as a sex offender in that state. He appealed, and the New Mexico Court Of Appeals ruled in his favor, finding that he did not have to register as a sex offender in that state, because New Mexico has no law which is equivalent to the one that he was convicted of violating when he was in California. Now, the state of New Mexico is asking the Supreme Court to reverse the decision.

According to Hall’s attorneys, the law that he's convicted of breaking in California does not exist in New Mexico. In New Mexico, a person must commit at least one out of 11 specific crimes to register as a sex offender. Annoying and molesting children are not among those crimes. However, prosecutors deny this, and say that the State of New Mexico does indeed have a law that is similar to the one that Hall was accused of breaking.

A decision here would determine the responsibilities of a person who is convicted of a sex crime in California and has moved to another state.

Proposed California Bill Would Make Teacher-Student Romantic Relationship a Crime

Posted on Mar30

A bill that has just been proposed by a California lawmaker has the interest of California criminal defense attorney’s; the bill would make any kind of romantic relationship between a teacher and a student, a crime. This sounds like a lawmaker’s overreaction to some of the teacher sexual abuse cases that have hit the headlines recently.

Under the proposal by Representative Kristin Olsen, teachers who are dating their students, or are in a romantic relationship with a student, would be charged with a felony crime. The teacher would be charged with a crime even if the student was an adult.

The bill is called the Safe Student Act, and would make it a felony offense for any employee of a public school system to begin any kind of sexual relationship or romantic relationship, or even have excessive communication with any student of any age, even one who is above the legal age of consent.

The bill will be part of a package of bills drafted in response to the Miramonte Elementary School sexual abuse scandal earlier this year. A veteran teacher at the school was arrested and charged with numerous crimes, after it was found that he had photographed children in various situations.

According to Representative Olsen, she was alerted to the need for legislation like this after she became aware of the James Hooker case. In that case, a 41-year-old high school teacher quit his job and left his family after he began a relationship with an 18-year-old student. The two have insisted that their sexual relationship only began after the student turned 18, and no charges have been filed against the man.

According to Olson, teachers, principals and other employees of a school are in a position of authority and power, and as such, it is important to make sure that these persons do not violate the trust that students and their parents have in them.

Ignition Interlock Laws Lead to Fewer DUI Accidents

Posted on Mar08

Persons who have been convicted of a DUI offense, and have been ordered to install an ignition interlock device in the vehicle, are less likely to be arrested for DUI again, and less likely to be involved in a fatal crash. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is using the findings of a new study to push states to enact laws that would require ignition interlock devices for all DUI offenders, even those who are convicted of drunk driving for the very first time.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety based its findings on a study that was conducted in Washington. When ignition interlock device laws in Washington were expanded to cover even first-time DUI offenders, the researchers found that the rate of repeat DUI offenders fell by approximately 12%. Earlier, the laws in that state required people who had high blood alcohol concentration levels to have ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicles. When the laws were expanded, recidivism rates dropped.

The findings of the study are likely to bolster a federal transportation bill currently under debate. The bill would require, among other things, that states enact laws requiring installation of ignition interlock devices, even for first-time DUI offenders, or risk losing federal highway safety funding.

Several states have been considering mandatory ignition interlock device installation in all vehicles of all DUI offenders, even those convicted for a first-time offense. California currently has a pilot program that is being closely watched by California criminal DUI lawyers. Under the program which is in place in Los Angeles, Tulare, Alameda and Sacramento counties, even first-time DUI offenders are required to get these devices installed in their vehicles. If the program is found to be successful in reducing DUI rates, the program would expand to the rest of the state.

Police Need Warrants to Track Suspects Using GPS

Posted on Feb23

According to a new Supreme Court decision, police officers must get a warrant before they use a GPS device to track a criminal suspect down.

The decision came in a case out of Washington DC, in which police officers installed a GPS device on a Jeep owned by Antoin Jones. Officers suspected him of drug dealing Jones was monitored in this manner for a period of about 28 days. The GPS device helped police officers link Jones to a suburban house that was used to stash money and drugs. He was arrested, and later, convicted. However, an appeals court later overturned his conviction.

Now the, US Supreme Court has ruled that the officers’ actions in installing a GPS device on the Jeep without Jones’ knowledge, and using the GPS device to monitor the suspect’s movements, constituted an illegal search. A warrant was required here. According to Justice Antonin Scalia, by installing a tracking device in a vehicle being used by Jones, the police encroached his protected area. According to him, installation of the device and tracking of the car was a trespass, and constituted an illegal search.

On the surface of it, this seems like a victory for individual rights to freedom, but on a closer look at the ruling, California criminal defense attorneys find that Supreme Court ruling left many matters untouched. The court had an opportunity here to show unanimity in all aspects of the ruling. However, the justices of the Supreme Court were clearly in two camps on the reasons why they found installing the GPS device on the person's car, wrong. The 5 justices in the majority ruled that the presence of the device equaled trespass, while the other justices were concerned about the expanded use of surveillance technology, and its effect on constitutional freedoms.

Transportation Bill Would Encourage Ignition Interlock DUI Laws

Posted on Feb13

The transportation spending bill that is currently being debated in Congress includes a measure that would reward states for implementing laws requiring the installation of ignition interlock devices in all vehicles of DUI offenders. The bill is being supported by anti-drunk driving groups like Mothers against Drunk Driving. However, California DUI lawyers have serious concerns about the arbitrariness of the proposed new rule.

The provision in HR 7 would include incentives in the form of additional federal funding for those states that implement laws that require even first-time DUI offenders to have ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicles. Ignition interlock devices are in-vehicle devices that measure the amount of alcohol in the motorist’s system, before he drives. If the person’s blood alcohol content is above a certain limit, then the ignition shuts the engine down, preventing the person from driving.

In California, current laws require persons convicted of more than one DUI offense to have ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicle. However, a pilot program currently on in Los Angeles, Tulare, Alameda and Sacramento Counties requires these devices to be installed even in the vehicles of first-time offenders.

Ignition interlock devices may work as a penalty for persons who have been convicted of more than one DUI offense. However, it seems excessive to California DUI lawyers to require ignition interlock devices in the vehicles of all DUI offenders. California's DUI laws seem to be doing a good enough job of reducing the number of accidents involving drunk driving every year. There is no need to further strengthen these stringent rules, and place a heavy financial burden on persons who may be just slightly over the .08% blood-alcohol level, or those who have displayed a single lapse of judgment.

California Juvenile Offenders Must Register As Sex Offenders for 25 Years

Posted on Jan30

A federal appeals court has ruled that juvenile offenders in California can be required to register as sex offenders for at least 25 years. According to the 9th US Circuit Court Of Appeals in San Francisco, a law passed in 2006 that excluded sex offenders aged 14 and above from juvenile law confidentiality protections did not violate the persons’ constitutional rights.

The ruling came in a case involving 3 Montana youths, who were accused of forcible sex crimes on Indian reservations. These persons were aged between 14 and 17 at the time. Because the crimes occurred on American Indian reservations, the 3 were subjected to federal prosecution.

Now, the court has held that the men must register as sex offenders for 25 years after their release from custody. They must register within a month after being released, and must keep authorities aware of their whereabouts.

Their lawyers argued that requiring a potentially lifelong registration requirement for the offenders was cruel and unusual punishment and violated their constitutional rights. However, the Appeals Court has disagreed.

The persons will now be required to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. They will be subjected to all requirements of lifelong registration including informing officials about their whereabouts, and entering their names in the federal government registry, a government database that is accessible to the public.

Conviction of a sex crime is a serious matter, dramatically impacting the rest of a person’s life. As California sex crimes lawyers find, a person who has been convicted of a sex crime may be subjected to penalties that continue long after his prison term has been concluded. Inclusion in a sex offender registry is just one of those penalties. A registrant is required to inform local law enforcement officials about changes in name and address, and also faces restrictions on where he or she can live and work.

FBI Changes Definition of Rape

Posted on Jan09

A rule change by the FBI will soon extend the definition of rape to include male victims. The change comes after calls from victims’ advocates who have long protested the narrow definition of rape that only includes female victims.

Currently, rape as defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and employed by California criminal defense lawyers, refers to the ‘carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.’ The change will modify that definition to define rape as the ‘penetration of another person regardless of the gender of the person, without the person's consent.’ The new definition of rape will also include penetration of other persons, both males and females, using a variety of objects.

The need for a new definition of rape that takes into consideration crimes against male victims too, has been felt for several years now. In September, a survey that included police chiefs of major cities found that 80% of them believed that the old definition of rape was not adequate in modern times. The FBI director has already approved the new rule change, which is expected to be phased in over the next 3 years.

Victims’ groups have strongly supported the new definition of rape, saying that this will allow for more accurate tracking of sexual assault crimes across the country. Because the current definition of rape does not include male victims and certain types of assault, there has been a discrepancy in the number of sexual assault crimes that are actually committed across the country, and the numbers that are reported to the federal agency.

This difference in the definition of rape has led to discrepancies in federal data. For instance, while the FBI recorded 84,757 rapes in 2010, the National Crime Victimization Survey by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics recorded a total of 188,380 sexual assaults that year. A more inclusive definition will help bring more victims into the fold, delivering more accurate tracking results, and helping prevent such crimes.

Increase in DUI Arrests Involving Women

Posted on Dec11

Women are closing the gender gap in one more area. According to a new study, the number of women being arrested for DUI has increased substantially over the past few years. The study by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation shows that the number of DUI arrests involving women has increased by a staggering 36% over the last 10 years alone.

The trigger for the study, which was funded by the Century Council, an association of distillers, seems to have been the 2009 New York DUI accident involving Diane Schuler, the woman who drove the wrong way under the influence of alcohol and crashed her car, killing herself, four children in her car and 3 other people. The accident, which received a lot of national media attention, really spotlighted the fact that little attention is paid to prevent women from driving under the influence in this country.

Another intriguing fact that emerged from the study was the profile of the average female drunk driver. These aren't young college-age women binge-drinking with a group of friends. The average female arrested for DUI in the United States is better educated than the average male drunk driver. Not only is she more educated, she's also older than the average male drunk driver. Additionally, these women are the primary caregivers for their children, and hold low-paying jobs. Some experts have tied an increase in alcohol use and drunk driving among women with the stresses of parenting.

Men continue to comprise the majority of DUI arrests in the United States, but the gender gap is definitely narrowing. Not only that, California DUI lawyers are also concerned about the fact that binge drinking among women is on the increase. According to statistics, approximately 39% of young women in the country now routinely engage in binge drinking, an increase of 30% in 3 decades.

The feds have begun to take note. This month, the Department of Transportation’s annual focus on drunk driving is expected to target women drivers.

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