Articles Posted in General Criminal Defense

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

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.

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.

Californians with criminal records face obstacles and barriers to employment. For example, Uber has announced more intense screening of its drivers, including background checks every two years and checks on new criminal and DUI charges. But recent laws limit how employers may use an applicant’s criminal history and open licensed professions to those with criminal records.

California Criminal Background Check Reform

The Fair Chance Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2018, is a “Ban the Box” law that prohibits employers from:

In August 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 10, which enacted sweeping reforms to part of the state’s pre-trial criminal process, specifically bail. Under the new process, which will take effect in October 2019, cash bail is abolished. In its place will be a new system that does not condition your release upon your ability to pay money. Whether you are arrested before or after these reforms take effect next year, it is important to be sure you have a skilled San Francisco criminal defense attorney on your side from the very start of your interaction with the legal system.

The reform was intended as a measure to alleviate the problem of two systems of justice: one for those with wealth and one for those without. For example, the Washington Post reported earlier this year on the case of a 16-year-old from New York City who spent almost three years in a New York jail awaiting trial on an alleged theft of cash and property worth $700. The teen was arraigned and bail was set at $3,000. With a bail bondsman, the teen’s family would have needed to produce only a fraction of that amount (less than $1,000). They didn’t have the means to pay, however, and the teen remained locked up for more than two and one-half years, during which time he allegedly suffered extensive physical and mental abuse.

The California bill was designed to avoid these types of scenarios, where people not yet convicted of anything spend years in custody simply because they lack the wealth to pay bond. The Sacramento Bee reported that, in signing the bill, the governor said in a statement that, through the new law, “California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly.”

Interactions with law enforcement can be stressful events. You may think that you are being pulled over for a traffic violation, only to find that the scope of the stop has expanded now that the officer has you pulled over. The law places certain limits on what the police can do, however, and that includes the searches they perform without a warrant. If your person or possessions have been the subject of a warrantless police search, and you have subsequently been charged with a crime, make sure that you promptly retain an experienced San Francisco criminal defense attorney to fight for your rights.

An example of how a warrantless search can lead to the exclusion of evidence was the criminal trial of a man named Leroy. Leroy’s March 2015 interaction with law enforcement began the way many encounters do:  an officer stopped him for committing a traffic violation. While that officer had Leroy stopped, another officer contacted him to let him know that Leroy was a suspect in a domestic violence incident that had happened 1-2 days earlier.

The two Fairfield officers took Leroy from his car, handcuffed him, and put him in a police vehicle. They then proceeded to search Leroy’s car. Since Leroy was alone in the car, and, allegedly, no one was available to take possession of the car, the police had it towed. In their search, the police found a two-foot-long brown wooden baton with a red tape handle. Based on that find, the prosecution added another charge against Leroy:  violation of Penal Code Section 22210, which bars possessing “any instrument or weapon of the kind commonly known as a billy, blackjack, sandbag, sandclub, sap, or slingshot.”

At a trial’s end, a defendant is either guilty or not guilty. Ultimately, there is no difference between a defendant who avoids a conviction because key evidence was thrown out due to an illegal search versus someone who is declared not guilty by a jury. Based on these things, one thing that is wise, when facing charges, is to retain a knowledgeable San Francisco criminal defense attorney who can do everything they can to protect your rights to the fullest extent of the law, whether those arguments are factual or legal/procedural.

One thing you should not do, however, is to fire an attorney who is making an intelligent and potentially successfully procedural argument on your behalf so that you can represent yourself and make an outlandish factual argument instead. This brings us to the case of Izell from San Rafael, as reported by sfgate.com. Izell was on trial for forcible rape. The alleged rape took place in the summer of 2017 at Bay Club Marin, where the accused man worked. The accuser was a woman who was an acquaintance of the accused and worked near the club.

In the beginning of the case, Izell had counsel. The accused’s attorney, upon reviewing all of the information, discovered a flaw in the prosecution’s case, which is what good criminal defense attorneys do. Originally, the alleged victim told law enforcement that Izell raped her on July 27. The state obtained a search warrant that allowed them to access certain surveillance video footage and some of Izell’s Snapchat messages, based on a search warrant that had the July 27 date on it. Later, though, the alleged victim declared that the rape happened on July 13, rather than July 27.