Thursday, November 19, 2015

Appearing in Court at the West Orange County Justice Center in Westminster: What to Expect

Part 4 in my series about appearing in court in Orange County. Today's post is focused specifically on the West Justice Center in Westminster.  For more information about appearing in Santa Ana, Fullerton or Newport Beach, read my previous posts, below.  

The West Orange County Justice Center is located at 1841 13th Street in Westminster, about 1 block east of Beach Blvd.  From the 22 freeway, exit at Beach Blvd and head south.  From the 405 Freeway, exit at Beach and head north.  

The Westminster courthouse hears criminal cases from Costa Mesa, Cypress, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Los Alamitos, Seal Beach, Stanton and Westminster. 

There are 3 parking lots -- one reserved for jurors, a free lot and a garage that charges to park.  The free lot fills up early, so show up before 8:15 to save some money on parking.  

Like the Harbor Justice Center, the courthouse in Westminster features an outdoor walk-up window for the clerk's office.  You can make a payment, request an extension, reserve a court date, or obtain information about your case without going through the security screening process. 

Also like the other courts in Orange County, you must find your name on the electronic display board as soon as you enter the building.  The board will direct you to the appropriate courtroom.  

Most misdemeanor arraignments and traffic matters are heard downstairs, in department W-3.  For more information about what to expect at your misdemeanor arraignment, read my post about appearing at the North Justice Center in Fullerton, below.  

If you plead "not guilty" at your misdemeanor arraignment, subsequent pre-trial conferences will be heard upstairs, in department W-15.

Most felonies are heard downstairs in departments W-1 or W-2.  Once felony cases are set for preliminary hearings or motions, they are assigned out to a different department, depending on availability.  

The West Justice Center is the smallest courthouse in the Orange County justice system.  They pack a lot of people into a few rooms, so it gets a little crowded.  There's no cafeteria inside the building, but there is a vending machine at the north end of the second floor.  There's also a hot dog vendor out front if you're brave and hungry enough.  

If you or a loved one has to appear in court at the West Justice Center in Orange County, call us for a free consultation.  (714) 505-2468.  Ask for John.  

Thanks for reading. 

Westminster Criminal Defense Attorney

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Appearing in Court at the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach: What to Expect

Part 3 in my series about what to expect when appearing in court in Orange County, California. Yesterday, I wrote about the Central Orange County Justice Center in Santa Ana.  On Monday, I discussed the North Justice Center in Fullerton.  Those posts are available below.

The Harbor Justice Center is located at 4601 Jamboree Rd. in Newport Beach, CA.  From the 405 freeway, exit at Jamboree and head west for about a mile.  From the 73 toll road, exit at Bristol and head east on Jamboree for a mile.

The Harbor courthouse hears criminal matters from Aliso Viejo, Irvine, Dana Point, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Newport Beach, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.

There is a large lot with free parking, but it fills up quickly.  Arrive early, or else plan to circle the lot for a while.

If you need to make a payment or speak with a clerk about your case, you can do so at the outdoor walk-up window, located next door to the building's main entrance.  The walk-up window allows many people to quickly and conveniently handle their matters without going through the security screening process.

Like all the other courts in Orange County, security screening includes metal detectors and x-rays of any bags.  They will not allow you to bring weapons, tools, sporting equipment or cigarette lighters into the building.

Once you're inside the building, find your name on the electronic display board, near the stairs. The board will direct you to the appropriate courtroom.  If your name is not on the monitor, speak to the clerk.

Most misdemeanor arraignments are heard upstairs, in department H-8.  For more information about what to expect at a misdemeanor arraignment, see my post about appearing in the North Justice Center, below.

If you plead "not guilty" at your arraignment in a misdemeanor case, your subsequent pre-trial conferences will be conducted next door, in department H-7.

Felony arraignments are usually heard in depatment H-1, but check the monitor to be safe.

Remember to dress appropriately -- no hats, sandals, shorts or tank-tops.  Silence your phone or turn it off completely so that it doesn't ring in the courtroom.

There is no cafeteria inside the Harbor Justice Center, but there are plenty of places to eat in the area.

If you or a loved one has a court date at the Harbor Justice Center, call us for a free consultation.  (714) 505-2468.  Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.

Newport Beach Criminal Defense Attorney

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Appearing in Court at the Central Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana: What to Expect

This post in part 2 in my series about what to expect when appearing in an Orange County courthouse.  Today, I want to discuss the largest and busiest court in the Orange County criminal justice system -- Santa Ana, A.K.A. Central Orange County.

The Santa Ana courthouse is located at 700 Civic Center Dr. West.  From the 5 Freeway, exit at Santa Ana Blvd. and follow the signs to the court.  The Central Justice Center hears criminal matters from Santa Ana, Tustin, Villa Park and Orange.

There is a large parking garage, but the fee to park is $1.50 per 20 minutes (as of 11/17/15).  There is also metered parking on surrounding streets and some lots in the area that charge a flat fee.

Since the courthouse is so big and busy, make sure you allow yourself enough time to get through the security line.  Some judges are more strict than others regarding punctuality.

The Central OC Courthouse complex features a "tower" and an "annex".  The tower is obvious -- it's the tall part.  The annex is the 3-story wing that runs along the west side of the building.

Most misdemeanors in Santa Ana are heard on the second floor of the annex.  Arraignments are usually heard in department C-54, and subsequent pre-trial conferences are conducted down the hall, in department C-48.  For more information regarding what to expect at your arraignment and what happens at a pre-trial conference, see my previous post about appearing at the North Justice Center in Fullerton.

Felonies in Santa Ana are generally handled in department C-5 until they are assigned to another room for preliminary hearings and trial.  Department C-5 is located on the second floor of the tower.

Attorneys who handle felony criminal matters in Santa Ana understand the importance of proper preparation at the early stages. Because of the building's heavy volume, judges in Santa Ana are under tremendous pressure to ensure that cases are handled expeditiously and without unnecessary delays.  They expect that attorneys are working diligently to resolve their matters from day-1.  Judges will not tolerate excessive continuances or inexplicable "foot-dragging". Attorneys from out of the area are often surprised by our local judges' hard-line policies against granting continuances.

As a criminal defense attorney who practices primarily in Orange County, I understand the importance of diving in and getting to work immediately when I'm dealing with felonies in Santa Ana.  Time is of the essence in these cases.  Discovery requests must be served on the DA at the time of arraignment to avoid delays.  Investigations must be conducted expeditiously.  I try to predict issues before they arise so that I can plan our strategy accordingly.  I even prepare motions in advance so that they're ready to file on short notice.

If you or a loved one has a criminal case in or around Orange County, call us for a free consultation. (714) 505-2468.  Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.

Santa Ana Criminal Defense Attorney

Monday, November 16, 2015

Appearing in Court at the North Orange County Justice Center in Fullerton: What to Expect

If you've been arrested or cited in North Orange County, your court appearances will probably be held at the North Justice Center in Fullerton.  North OC includes Anaheim, Fullerton, Buena Park, Brea, Yorba Linda, La Palma, La Habra and Placentia.

Today's post is about what to expect when you appear at court in Fullerton.

The North Justice Center is located at 1275 N. Berkeley Ave., near the corner of Harbor Blvd. and Valley View, just north of Downtown.  From the 91 freeway, exit at Harbor and head north for about 2 miles.

First, some good news:  plenty of free parking.  The courthouse in Fullerton features two large parking lots. If the upper lot is full, check down below.

Be prepared to go through a security screening, including a metal detector and x-ray of your bags. They will not allow you to enter the building with any type of weapons, tools, sporting equipment or cigarette lighters.

If you received a letter in the mail instructing you to appear in court, check the electronic monitors for your name as soon as you enter the building.  The big T.V. screens will direct you to the appropriate courtroom. If your name does not appear on the screen, go straight to the clerk's office in room 350, located on the 3rd floor.


If you're appearing in Fullerton for your first appearance in a misdemeanor case, your matter will probably be heard in department N-8 on the 4th floor.  Your first appearance is called the "arraignment".  At your arraignment, the judge will officially notify you of the charges.  You will have an opportunity to resolve your case on the spot by simply pleading "guilty" if you choose to do so.

You or your lawyer must personally appear at the arraignment.  Nobody else may appear for you unless he or she is a licensed attorney.  Do not send your mom or your spouse to court on your behalf.  If you fail to appear, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.

Most misdemeanors in North Orange County are prosecuted by the Orange County District Attorney's Office.  Anaheim has it's own prosecutorial agency within their City Attorney's Office that handles all misdemeanor cases arising within the City of Anaheim.  Once you find your courtroom, the next step is trying to determine who your prosecutor will be.  If you were cited or arrested in Anaheim for a misdemeanor, then you will probably be prosecuted by the Anaheim City Attorney rather than the Orange County District Attorney.  This gets complicated.  If two people are arrested for the exact same crime across the street from each other -- one in Orange and the other in Anaheim -- the person arrested in Anaheim will be prosecuted in Fullerton by the Anaheim City Attorney.  The person arrested in Orange will be prosecuted in Santa Ana by the Orange County District Attorney.  Even if the cases are closely related, the prosecutors in each case might not be aware of the other.

Your arraignment is not the day for your trial.  The judge will not hear witnesses or evidence at the arraignment.  He will not allow you to explain yourself or to tell your side of the story.  If you do not believe that you are guilty, or if you want to consult with an attorney before deciding how to proceed, you may either apply for the services of the Public Defender, or you may ask for a brief continuance to retain your own private attorney.  If you tell the judge that you want to hire a lawyer before making any decisions, he will assign a new court date in 2-3 weeks.  You will not be punished for requesting an opportunity to talk to a lawyer.  In most misdemeanor cases, your private attorney can appear at the next hearing(s) without you.

If you request the services of the Public Defender at your arraignment, you must fill out a financial declaration so that the clerk can determine whether or not you qualify for court-appointed counsel. You may be billed for the Public Defender's services if the court determines that you have the ability to pay those costs.

After pleading "not guilty" at your misdemeanor arraignment, your case will be scheduled for a series of "pre-trial conferences" next door, in department N-9.  At these pre-trial conferences, your attorney will have a chance to sit down with the prosecutor and to discuss details of your case. The prosecutor and your attorney will attempt to negotiate a fair disposition.  Depending on the unique facts and circumstances of your case a "fair disposition" could be a dismissal, a reduction of charges, or a negotiated plea bargain.  At the pre-trial conferences, attorneys will exchange "discovery" -- evidence that would potentially be used by either side at trial.  Your lawyer might also prepare a "mitigation packet" -- a collection of documents, letters of support, proof of attendance at AA meetings, medical records, etc. -- to argue for leniency.

Your attorney and the prosecutor might have several pre-trial conferences while they attempt to work towards a resolution.  If no agreement can be reached, then your case might eventually proceed to trial. If that happens, then you will be sent down the hall to department N-7. Department N-7 controls the "master calendar" for the North Orange County Justice Center. There, a judge will assign your case to a courtroom for trial, based on the based on the court's availability.  If there is no room in Fullerton, your case can even be transferred to the Central Orange County Justice Center in Santa Ana for trial.


If you're appearing in Fullerton for a felony case, your arraignment will probably happen on the 3rd floor, in department N-3.  The felony arraignment procedure is similar to misdemeanor cases, except that the judge will not allow a defendant to simply plead "guilty" at his or her first appearance, even if the defendant wants to.  Felony cases are too serious and too complicated to wrap up cleanly in a single appearance.  Any competent attorney will need to thoroughly review the allegations and the evidence before advising a client to accept any deal in a felony case, and that's not possible at the arraignment stage.

After pleading "not guilty" in your felony case, you will have a series of pre-trial conferences, just like in misdemeanor cases.  Again, your attorney will sit with the DA, discuss the evidence, and try to negotiate a reasonable resolution.

If no reasonable resolution can be agreed upon, then your felony case will proceed to the "preliminary hearing" stage.  At the prelim, the DA will present evidence to try to convince a judge that there exists "probable cause" to "hold you to answer" for the charge.  The DA must prove that there is a good reason to believe that a felony has been committed and that you are the person who committed it.  They will usually call an investigating officer who may testify as to what he saw and heard at the time of your arrest.  The investigating officer may even testify as to "hearsay" during the prelim, even if some of these statements might not be admissible at trial.

If the judges finds that there exists "probable cause" and "holds you to answer" after the preliminary hearing, then you and your attorney will begin to prepare for trial.  Long, complicated trials are usually transferred to Santa Ana.  The Santa Ana courthouse is better equipped to accommodate large jury pools, crowds of spectators and reporters, and lengthy matters that might occupy a courtroom for weeks at a time.

Post-Conviction Proceedings

If you've previously been convicted of a crime, you were probably placed onto probation with lots of terms and conditions imposed.  The judge might have ordered to you complete classes / counseling, take drug tests, attend AA meetings, perform community service, or pay fines.  You might also have "progress report hearings" scheduled.

A "progress report hearing" is just what it sounds like -- a chance for the judge to check up on the progress of whatever program(s) you were ordered to complete.

Judges in Fullerton are notoriously strict at progress report hearings.  They expect you to fulfill your end of whatever bargain you agreed to.  If you have fail to comply, then the judge will almost certainly take you into custody.  Judges in Fullerton will not be moved by sad stories.  They don't care that the court-ordered classes have been "inconvenient" for you to attend or that they conflict with your work schedule.  They will not sympathize if you cannot coordinate transportation or child care.  They expect you to comply.  If you demonstrate that you cannot or will not comply with the terms of your probation, then those terms will simply be converted to straight time in the Orange County Jail.

If you expect to have trouble complying with the terms of your probation, or if you know that a violation is imminent due to circumstances beyond your control, you or your attorney must go before a judge before you miss a court-imposed deadline.  Explain the problem and bring any supporting paperwork to show the judge.  If you can demonstrate that you are making a good-faith effort to comply, and you are proactive about bringing your problem to the judge before your problem becomes a violation, then the court might accommodate you.  The judge can grant you an extension or convert a portion of your sentence (e.g., fines to community service, or vice versa).

That's the short version of what to expect when appearing in court at the North Orange County Justice Center in Fullerton.  Here's a cheat-sheet for important offices located inside the building:

-Collections Department:  1st floor.  They accept payments for all criminal and traffic matters.  The line gets long by mid-morning.  I'd recommend getting there early.

-Criminal & Traffic Clerk:  3rd floor.  If you show up but your name is not on the electronic screen, check in here.  Start here if you need to add yourself onto the court's calendar (to recall a warrant, to request an extension for something, etc.).

-District Attorney's Office:  3rd floor, along the North wing.

-Probation Department:  3rd floor, near the Criminal & Traffic Clerk

-Anaheim City Attorney's Office:  4th floor, along the South Wing

-OneOC (Volunteer Center):  4th floor.  Go here to sign up for community service if the judge orders you to do so.  OneOC will assign you to an approved non-profit group in your area where you may perform your labor.

-Alcohol Liaison:  4th floor.  If you are convicted of a DUI or some other alcohol-related offense, the judge will order to you to report to this office.  The A.L. will help you enroll in an approved alcohol school.

If you or a loved one is arrested in Fullerton / North Orange County, or if you have a pending court date in the North Justice Center, call us for a free consultation.  (714) 505-2468.  Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.

Fullerton Criminal Defense Attorney

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Failing to Yield, Evading Police & Reckless Driving in California

California law requires drivers to pull over to the side of the road when ordered to do so by a police officer.  Failure to comply may result in several serious penalties, depending on the circumstances.  This post will discuss some of the the legal differences between failing to stop for police, fleeing from police, and reckless driving.  Those things might sound similar, but there are big distinctions in the law and it's important to understand them.

VC 2800 says that drivers in California must obey the lawful orders of police officers.  Failure to obey a lawful order is a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of 180 days in jail and fine of $1,000.00.  If you see red and blue lights flashing in your rear view mirror but you simply maintain your speed and ignore the cop, then you will be cited for a misdemeanor.  That part is easy.

If you attempt to flee, though, the penalty is doubled.  "Willfully fleeing or attempting to elude with intent to evade" a police officer is also a misdemeanor, but the maximum penalty is one year in jail.  This applies even if the cop is on a bicycle.  To be guilty of this violation, the DA must prove your intent -- that you "intended" to evade the police.  Trying to prove a defendant's mental state is not always as easy as it sounds.

If you drive recklessly while attempting to evade police, it get's even better.  Fleeing with "willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property" is a "wobbler", which may be treated as a felony with a maximum sentence of 3 years in state prison.  If the offense is charged as a misdemeanor, it carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 days in jail.  If property damage occurs while you are fleeing from police, or if you commit three or more traffic violations during the chase, you will be charged under this section and not the more lenient code section described  in the previous paragraph.   

If you drive on the wrong side of the road while fleeing from police, tack on an additional 6 months - 1 year in custody.

If someone is injured while you are fleeing from police, the maximum penalty jumps to 7 years in state prison.  If someone is killed, make it 10 years.  You can probably also expect to be charged with vehicular manslaughter, or even murder.

There are many potential defenses to the charges described here.  As mentioned, it may be difficult for the prosecutor to prove the defendant's specific intent.  This is especially true when a defendant has engaged in a course of irrational conduct that culminates in a dangerous chase.

If you or a loved one is accused of failing to yield, fleeing from police or driving recklessly while attempting to evade police, call us for a free consultation.  (714) 505-2468.  Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

What Counts as "Robbery" in California?

In honor of my 211th Facebook "like", I wanted to devote this post to PC 211.  In California, that code section defines robbery.

Next time you're watching any movie that includes a heist or a bank robbery, pay attention to the background chatter on the police radios.  No matter where the movie takes place, the dispatchers always say, "All units: 211 in progress at (fill in the blank)...".  As mentioned above, 211 is the penal code section that defines robbery in California.  Other states have their own criminal codes with their own numerical designations for specific crimes.  As far as I'm aware, California is the only state that uses "211" to mean "robbery", but I hear it all the time in movies that take place outside of the state.  Whenever you hear that from now on, you can probably guess that the screenwriter is from L.A.

In California, robbery is the crime of taking property from a person by using force or fear.  It should not be confused with burglary.  Burglary is the crime of entering property with the intent to commit theft.  If someone enters your home, points a gun in your face, and forces you to open the safe, then you have been robbed.  If someone enters your house while nobody is home and sneaks off with your T.V., you have not been robbed; you've been burglarized.

To be convicted, the DA must prove that you used "force" or "fear" to commit the crime.  "Fear" may include fear of immediate injury to the victim, or it may include fear of harm to some member of the victim's family or to someone else who is present at the time of the robbery.  "Fear" can even include fear of harm to the property itself.

Robbery can be accomplished with or without a weapon.  The DA does not need to prove that you were armed during the commission of the crime.  Robbery can be committed using bare hands, threats of violence, or simulated weapons (e.g. toy guns, BB guns, etc.).  If you use an actual weapon during a robbery, the DA will charge "enhancements" that may increase your total prison time or make you ineligible for probation.

Robbery in California can be classified into 2 degrees.  First degree robbery includes robbing any driver or conductor of a bus, train, trolley, monorail, street car, etc., or any robbery that occurs inside an occupied house or at an ATM.  All other robberies are considered "second degree".

First degree robbery is punishable by a maximum of 9 years in state prison, depending on the circumstances. Remember, the court can also impose extra prison time if weapons were involved. Second degree robbery can be punished by up to 5 years in prison.

We see a lot of cases where minor shoplifting incidents quickly escalate into something that the DA considers to be "robbery".  A person walks into a liquor store, grabs a beer, and heads for the exit.  When a clerk tries to block the door, the person pushes the clerk out of the way and makes his escape.  The act of pushing a shopkeeper can satisfy the "force" element of robbery and elevate this petty misdemeanor into a serious, violent felony.  This is called an "Estes robbery", and the DA will treat it the same as any other second-degree robbery.

Robbery is considered a "strike" in California.  If you are convicted and sentenced to prison, you will earn less "good conduct" credit and you will likely serve a larger portion of your sentence before you become eligible for early release.  With a strike on your record, any prison sentence that you receive in the future will automatically be doubled.  A third strike will send you to prison for 25 to life.

As a serious crime, robbery charges deserve to be taken seriously.  If you or a loved one is accused of robbery in California, call us for a free consultation.  (714) 505-2468.  Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Brag Board: 10/30/15

I haven't updated this blog lately because I've been so busy negotiating great deals for my clients. Here are a couple recent success stories that I wanted to take a moment to brag about.

-People vs. A.T. (Riverside):  Deputies from the Riverside County Sheriff's Department served a search warrant at my client's house.  They found hundreds of marijuana plants growing in an elaborate hydroponic system.  My client also had several pounds of processed, dried marijuana, a few ounces of concentrated cannabis ("honey oil", "butane hash oil", or "BHO"), equipment used to manufacture the hash oil, cash, firearms and ammunition.  As a previously-convicted felon, my client was legally prohibited from possessing guns and ammo.

My client was charged with 5 felonies: cultivation of marijuana, possession for sale, manufacture of concentrated cannabis, possession of firearms by a felon, and possession of ammunition by a felon.  The maximum penalty was approximately a decade in prison.

We learned that the sheriffs had relied on a confidential informant to obtain their search warrant. We demanded to know the identity of the informant so that we could effectively challenge the legality of the warrant.  I wanted to know who this person was, what type of information he had provided to the police, how the police determined that the information was reliable, and what the police told a judge to get the warrant.

In order to preserve the confidentiality of their informant, the DA made my client an offer that was too good to refuse:  probation and a little house arrest.  As part of the negotiated deal, my client may use medical marijuana while on probation.

I call that a win.

-People v. M.F. (Fullerton):  The CHP and Anaheim PD found 15 pounds of marijuana in my client's apartment.  She was charged with possession for sale.  The maximum penalty was 3 years in prison.

In this case, police entered my client's apartment under a bogus pretext.  They claimed that they were investigating a suspected burglary and that they were checking on the "welfare" of the resident, because they had observed an unknown subject fleeing from her balcony.  Luckily, the cops were wearing body cameras and we could prove that their story was nonsense.

Again, the DA made my client an offer that was too good to refuse.  They reduced the charge to a misdemeanor and ordered 10 days of community service.  The minute my client completes her community service, probation will terminate.  Once that happens, she will immediately become eligible for an expungement.

10 days of community service and a couple weeks of probation for 15 pounds of marijuana?  We'll take it.

Both of these cases are good examples of why no self-respecting criminal defense attorney keeps track of his or her "win / loss" record.  If you ever hear a criminal lawyer brag about his "win / loss" record like a boxer, you should be very skeptical.  Maybe hire somebody else.

In many criminal cases, it's impossible to distinguish a true "win" from a true "loss".  When a client is facing a long prison sentence and the evidence clearly shows that he committed the crime(s), but he accepts a plea deal that seems disproportionately light, does that count as a "win"?  When the facts tend to show that my client belongs in prison, but I successfully negotiate a "slap-on-the-wrist", does that go down in the win column or the loss column?

I'm very proud of the work that I did on behalf of my clients in both of these cases, but both of the clients ultimately stood before a judge and pled "guilty".  I consider both of the above-described cases to be "wins", even though both clients were convicted.  And I still don't keep track of my overall "win / loss" record.

If you or a loved one is accused of a crime, call us for a free consultation.  (714) 505-2468.  Ask for John.  Thanks for reading.