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San Francisco Traffic Law Clinic
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In a death penalty case, the California Supreme Court concluded that the trial court improperly excused at least four prospective jurors for cause and reversed the defendant’s death sentence while affirming his conviction. In a capital case, the erroneous excusal of even one prospective juror for cause requires automatic reversal of the death sentence, although not the guilt determinations. Witherspoon v. Illinois (1968) 391 U.S. 510. A jury in Los Angeles convicted defendant for kidnapping, robbing, raping, torturing, and murdering a 45-year-old woman and returned a death verdict.  The prosecutor also struck four black male jurors, leaving no black man on the jury.

Defendant Jamelle Edward Armstrong, a black man, was sentenced to death for raping, torturing, and murdering Penny Sigler, a white woman. Armstrong objected to the prosecutor’s peremptory strikes of four black men in the jury panel. (See Batson v. Kentucky (1986) 476 U.S.; People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258. The prosecutor gave reasons for each strike, and the trial court rejected Armstrong’s Batson claims.

Trial Court applied erroneous standard to juror qualification for death penalty

The California Court of Appeal held that the prosecution in this case was not required to grant use immunity to a prosecution witness who invoked his right of self-incrimination at trial instead of introducing the witness’s preliminary hearing testimony under the provisions of Evidence Code section 1291.1, the hearsay and confrontation clause exception for former testimony.

Appealing a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, the defendant contended that:

(1) the trial court erred in admitting at trial prosecution witness’s preliminary hearing testimony after he invoked the right to remain silent because the defense did not have the opportunity to cross-examine the witness about a prior criminal conviction not disclosed by the prosecution until after the preliminary hearing or about alleged threats made to defendant’s wife the day after defendant’s arrest;

Here are some of the significant changes to Criminal Laws in 2019.

Post-conviction Discovery

• Under existing PC 1054.9, a person sentenced to death or LWOP is entitled to post-conviction discovery to file a habeas or motion to vacate judgment. Amendments expand this right to defendants sentenced to:any case in which a defendant is convicted of a serious or violent felony resulting in a sentence of 15 years or more.

The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s sanctions imposed on a San Francisco Public Defender for failing to provide the prosecution with the name and statements taken from a witness called by the co-defendant’s lawyer.  The Public Defender asserted that the trial judge improperly imposed a $950 sanction on him because he never intended to call the witness at trial and did not call the witness. The defense strategy was not to put on an affirmative defense but to create reasonable doubt of his client’s guilt through cross examination of the witnesses called by the co-defendant’s lawyer and the District Attorney. The decision clarifies the limits of the defense’s reciprocal discovery obligation in criminal cases. This was the first case to address whether a criminal defense lawyer in a multi-defendant case has duty to disclose a witness he claims he does not intend to call, but reasonably anticipates a codefendant is likely to call. (People v. Landers, A145037; 1/14/19; C/A 1st, Div.4)

Reciprocal Discovery in Criminal Case

Reciprocal Discovery in criminal cases was added to the Penal Code by Proposition 115 in 1990 and may be found at Penal Code, part 2, title 6, chapter 10 (§ 1054 et seq.) (Chapter 10). “The purpose of [Chapter 10] is to promote ascertainment of truth by liberal discovery rules which allow parties to obtain information in order to prepare their cases and reduce the chance of surprise at trial. Reciprocal discovery is intended to protect the public interest in a full and truthful disclosure of critical facts, to promote the People’s interest in preventing a last minute defense, and to reduce the risk of judgments based on incomplete testimony.” (People v. Jackson (1993) 15 Cal.App.4th 1197, 1201

They are the sights and sounds no driver ever wants to see or hear. They are flashing lights of a law enforcement vehicle pulling you over, or the disheartening thump or crunch of your vehicle colliding with another. While these things may have an immediate impact on you in areas like expense, they can also impact you in a longer-term sense -– through points on your driver’s license. Accumulating too many points in too short a period of time could mean losing your driving privileges, which can have dramatically harmful collateral impacts on your life, including losing your ability to do things for your family and perhaps even losing your job. If you’ve been assigned points, there may be a way to get that reversed, however. To get as many points as possible reversed, be sure you’ve contacted a knowledgeable San Francisco DMV attorney.

First off, there are some types of infractions that do not result in points on your license. These can include things like non-moving violations (such as a license plate light that isn’t working). When it comes to a points-based license suspension, these violations won’t factor into that calculation.

One-point violations include a variety of things. Anything from speeding to making an unsafe lane change to running a stop sign to causing an accident will generally net you one point on your license. Two point violations generally involve more serious offenses like a DUI, hit-and-run, driving on a suspended license, speeding at 100 mph+, and reckless driving.

The San Francisco Superior Court granted a motion to suppress a handgun found in a car that was searched by a Police Officer after he smelled the weaker odor of unburnt marijuana. The car, driven by a husband on a date-night with his wife, was stopped on the Embarcadero for not having current registration tags

The officer said he needed to search the car to determine if the driver had ingested marijuana and therefore was impaired and to determine compliance with the new marijuana laws. But, the officer did not observe any signs of impaired driving and the driver repeatedly denied that there was any marijuana in the car.

The officer searched the car and found three empty dispensary containers. He then continued his search and found a loaded handgun registered to the female passenger, in a closed back by her feet. He cited the passenger and arrested the driver, an ex-felon, for possession of the gun.

New and changed laws that took effect January 1 will affect drivers in California. The following information was issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Temporary License Plate Program (AB 516, Mullin): Designed to reduce toll evasion

Licensed California dealers, of new and used vehicles must attach temporary paper license plates on a vehicle at the point of sale before it may be driven off the dealership lot, if that vehicle does not display license plates previously issued by the DMV.

On February 6, 2018, San Francisco introduced legislation to eliminate all criminal justice administrative fees and cancel all outstanding debt from these criminal justice fees. The ordinance changed the Administrative Code to abolish fees associated with probation costs, restitution, booking, the Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program, the automated county warrant system, the Sheriff’s Home Detention Program, and to abolish local penalties associated with alcohol testing and court-ordered penalties for misdemeanor and felony offenses.

Criminal Justice Fees: Another form of punishment that burdens the poor

Local criminal justice fees are designed to generate revenue to cover costs but they often create another form of punishment. These fees imposed on people who have already been punished by the criminal justice system through jail time, fines and victim restitution, can amount to thousands of dollars. In San Francisco the fees can include a $50 monthly probation fee; up to $35 a day to rent an electronic ankle surveillance monitor, and other fees to pay for reports, collections costs, or tests.

Like any governmental agency, the DMV is an imperfect machine and, while those responsible for deciding who drives and who doesn’t may have good intentions, that “imperfect machine ” may still sometimes take away driving privileges from people who shouldn’t be sidelined. When that happens to you due to your alleged history of lapses of consciousness, you need to be sure you have skilled San Francisco DMV defense counsel on your side.

The array of medical maladies that can cause lapses of consciousness are varied, ranging from epilepsy to sleep disorders (like sleep apnea or narcolepsy) to diabetes to other seizure disorders. You should be aware that the lapse of consciousness that triggers DMV action need not be a massive seizure or total blackout; it can be something as simple as falling asleep at the wheel. The DMV has various means of learning about a driver’s lapse-of-consciousness-inducing medical disorder, although it often happens as a result of being informed by a physician. In other instances, the DMV may obtain information from a family member or an anonymous tipster.

It is very important to keep in mind that, if the DMV determines that your condition represents a danger to you or others on the road as a result of your propensity for losing consciousness, it will seek to suspend or revoke your driving privileges in a very quick manner. As a result, you may find that your driving privileges were suspended or revoked immediately.

A lawyers association has standing to sue the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for alleged waste of government funds in conducting unfair administrative hearings. The California Dui Lawyers Association (CDLA) brought a taxpayer action claiming the DMV wasted funds by violating the due process of drivers in DMV’s administrative per se hearings. DMV administrative per se hearings determine whether automatic suspension of drivers’ licenses are warranted after drivers are arrested for driving under the influence.

The DMV Administrative Per Se or APS System

The DMV’s “administrative per se” or “APS” system is used to suspend a driver’s license following an arrest for driving under the influence. Under the administrative per se law, DMV must immediately suspend the driver’s license of a person who is driving with .08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood. An administrative per se hearing does not impose criminal penalties “but simply suspends a person’s driver’s license as an administrative matter upon a showing the person was arrested for driving with a certain blood-alcohol concentration ….” Continue reading