Tuesday, December 29, 2015

DUI in a Golf Cart? And Other Surprises from Catalina Island

The Catalina Island Courthouse, Avalon, CA

Section 23152 of the California Vehicle Code makes it a misdemeanor to operate any motor vehicle while the you are "under the influence" of alcohol or drugs. Many of my clients are surprised to learn that golf carts are considered "motor vehicles" under California law. Yes, you can be arrested for DUI on a golf cart.

This situation arises frequently on Catalina Island. The island allows very few gas-powered vehicles, so most locals and tourists navigate around the town of Avalon in electric carts. Avalon is a resort town, nestled beside pristine beaches. It attracts tourists from around the world, who come to admire its natural beauty, do some fishing, rent a golf cart, and drink like it's a contest. Unfortunately, many of these visitors end up calling my office after they get arrested for DUI.

If you are convicted of DUI on Catalina, get ready for surprise #2. The city of Avalon (and the rest of Catalina Island) are part of Los Angeles County. For the past few years, LA County has been participating in a pilot program that requires all first-time DUI offenders to install Ignition Interlock Devices in their vehicles before they can reinstate their drivers' licenses. An Ignition Interlock Device, or "IID", is a little breathalyzer that a driver must blow into before his or her car will start. This rule applies regardless of where the defendant lives (even if you live outside of LA, but your DUI occurred anywhere within the county of Los Angeles). If you're convicted of a golf cart DUI on Catalina Island, your driver's license will be subject to the IID restriction.

If you are arrested for DUI on a golf cart in Catalina, call us for a free attorney consultation. In most cases, we can make your court appearances for you so that you don't need to make an expensive trip back to the island. Our goal is always to protect your rights, save you money, and make the whole process as stress-free as possible for you. 

Cited for illegal fishing on Catalina? Catalina Island and its surrounding waters are home to several "marine protected areas", including state and federal "marine reserves", "conservation areas" and "special closures". If you received a ticket from local wardens of the California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, you probably also got some bad legal advice. You might have been told that you could simply appear at the Long Beach Courthouse at your convenience to address the matter. In most cases, this is false. If the Los Angeles District Attorney files misdemeanor charges against you for fishing in a protected area, you (or your attorney) must appear before a judge in Catalina.  

And you may not simply appear "at your convenience". The citation you received probably says that you must appear in court "on or before" a particular date. The Catalina courthouse, however, is only open on alternating Fridays. If you show up when court is not in session, you will find a dark building with a locked door.  

Fishing citations in Catalina are almost never processed by the date printed on your citation. If you invest the time and money to appear in court as instructed, there's still a significant chance that your case will not be listed on the day's calendar. Another wasted trip.  

As Catalina Island's leading private attorney, I can make your appearances so you don't have to deal with the hassle. Of course, there are worse places to spend a day, but making the trip to Catalina is an expensive hassle that you don't need.  

If you or a loved one has been cited or arrested on Catalina Island, call us to speak with a local attorney. Consultations are always free.  (714) 449 3335. Ask for John. 

Thanks for reading.  

Monday, December 28, 2015

New California Gun Laws Take Effect in 2016

Cool picture stolen from activistpost.com

California already has some of the most complicated, restrictive gun laws in the United States. Our long list of no-nos is about to get a little longer in 2016.  Here are some of the new anti-gun laws that are slated to take effect:

Gun Violence Restraining Orders

I've previously written about Gun Violence Restraining Orders on this blog.  That post is available here.  California courts will begin issuing Gun Violence Restraining Orders on January 1, 2016.  As their name implies, GVROs will have the effect of prohibiting certain individuals from owning or possessing firearms and ammunition.  Immediate family members may petition the courts for a GVRO if they believe that a subject poses a serious danger to himself or others.  Unlike other types of restraining orders, the new law will also allow police officers to directly file petitions in civil court to strip individuals of their gun rights.  

If you've ever been involved in a restraining order case, you know just how arbitrary and capricious the process can be.  Each side usually has about 2 minutes to present their arguments to a judge, often without the assistance of an attorney.  Parties are unprepared and nervous.  They don't fully understand the issues and the rules of evidence.  Their witnesses fail to appear.  Their best evidence is inadmissible.  A judge has to make a ruling on the spot, sometimes based on a "hunch".  Starting 1/1/16, courts will have another tool for stripping your 2nd Amendment rights.  

Gun Violence Restraining Orders might save lives.  They might not.  Of course, gun violence is already illegal, but criminals don't seem to mind breaking the law.  That's what makes them criminals.  One thing is for sure: the new law will clog the courts and keep lawyers (like me) busy. It will be applied arbitrarily and it will make great blog fodder.  Stay tuned to see how it plays out.  

New Government Regulations for BB Guns and Other Toy Weapons

California will impose new rules on airsoft weapons and other toy guns in 2016.  The law will also be amended to include BB guns within the definition of "imitation firearms".  All toy guns, including BB guns, will be subject to new rules regarding their coloration.  Current federal regulations mandate that toy guns must include a distinctive, blaze orange ring around the muzzle (the opening of the barrel, commonly known as the "business end").  In addition to that requirement, BB guns and other toy guns sold in California will be required to feature blaze orange coloration around the trigger guard and the circumference of the pistol grip, or else the entire exterior surface of the toy must be brightly colored or completely transparent.  

This new rule is obviously intended to prevent cases in which police officers shoot children because they mistakenly believe that the child's toy is a real weapon.  To my knowledge, such tragedies have occurred twice in the past several years -- once in California and once in Ohio. Meanwhile, 16,000 arthritis patients die from the toxic effects of Aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs every year in the United States.

The new law about brightly-colored toy guns was obviously authored by someone who has not followed the latest trends in gun ownership.  In the past couple years, gun ownership among women has skyrocketed.  Gun manufactures have responded to the new demand by specifically designing guns for the female demographic.  These guns are...wait for it...brightly colored!  If lots of real firearms are now being manufactured in bright colors, requiring toy guns to also feature bright colors seems to miss the point. Here's a picture of the new .38 special from Charter Arms:  

Promotional photo from budsgunshop.com

Concealed Weapons on Campus

The biggest head-scratcher of all these new California gun laws is SB-707.  That law will prohibit concealed weapons permit-holders from carrying firearms onto the campus of any school or university.  A violation may be punishable by up to 4 years in prison. 

I'm still wrapping my head around this one.  If there was some rational reasoning behind the law, this is the part where I would try to explain it.  There have been plenty of instances over the past few years wherein a deranged madman has perpetrated a mass shooting on the grounds of a school. To my knowledge, exactly zero of them have been licensed concealed weapon permit-holders. They have all been criminals who obviously weren't deterred by existing laws against murder.  

The new law will apply exclusively to law-abiding adults who have undergone extensive background checks.  It will not prevent lunatics from bringing assault rifles into classrooms; it will only prevent victims from defending themselves.  

If you or a loved one has questions about gun laws in California, call our office for a free attorney consultation.  We might not like them, but we understand the goofy rules that govern gun ownership in the Golden State.  (714) 505-2468.  Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.

Santa Ana Gun Lawyer

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Clean Up Your Criminal Record

If old criminal convictions are haunting you and making it difficult to find a job (or a better job), you may be eligible for an expungement, or a reduction of the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor.  You might even be entitled to have your entire arrest record sealed from the public.

Dismiss Old Convictions

California law allows individuals to have old cases dismissed after they finish serving probation.  Once your case is expunged, you can honestly say that you have no criminal convictions in your background.  An expungement does not erase or seal your criminal record, it simply changes the record so that the case shows up as a dismissal rather than a conviction.  Employers may not legally discriminate against job applicants whose cases have been dismissed (in most cases).

There are lots of criteria that you must meet before the court will grant an expungement.  For example, you cannot have any other open, pending criminal cases, and you cannot be currently on probation.  Call us for a free evaluation to discuss your eligibility for an expungement.

Terminate Probation Early

If you ARE currently on probation, you may apply to terminate your probation early.  Section 1203.3 of the Penal Code gives judges in California the authority to release you from probation at any time. Judges are looking for "good cause" to do so.  "Good cause" usually means some compelling argument that the deal you previously accepted is no longer fair, or some showing that the interests of justice would be served by granting you leniency.  Once a judge agrees to cut your probation short, then you may immediately become eligible to apply for an expungement.

Judges are usually reluctant to release defendants from probation early, so it helps to have a qualified, local attorney help prepare your 1203.3 petition.  A qualified, local attorney (like myself) understands how to present your argument so that the court is likely to grant your request.  

Clear Old Warrants

If your performance on probation has been less than excellent, or if you have outstanding warrants, call us to discuss your options.  Unfortunately, old warrants will never simply go away on their own.  They will continue to plague you until you take some steps to resolve the issues.  The longer you wait to address your warrant, the less sympathy you're likely to receive from a judge.  The statute of limitations does not apply to active warrants.

There may still hope, though, to recall your old warrant and to get you back onto your feet without necessarily going to jail.  Stop procrastinating and looking over your shoulder -- clear up your old warrants so that you can get on with your life.

Reduce a Felony to a Misdemeanor

California law also provides a few different procedures for reducing old felony convictions to misdemeanors.  Under PC 17(b), a judge can retroactively reduce some "wobblers" (like domestic violence or possessing a dangerous weapon) in the interests of justice.  A "wobbler" is a crime that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony at the discretion of the prosecutor.  If you were convicted of a wobbler as a felony, section 17(b) of the Penal Code could provide an opportunity to get that felony off your record.  17(b) reductions can even restore firearms rights in some cases.  If you have an old wobbler on your record, call us to see whether or not you might qualify to reduce that charge to a misdemeanor.

Prop. 47 provides another opportunity for individuals to reduce some felony convictions to misdemeanors.  Since voters approved that measure, many crimes that were formally classified as felonies or wobblers have now been reclassified as ordinary misdemeanors.  If you have old felony convictions for theft, drug possession, fraud, forgery, receiving stolen property, commercial burglary or writing bad checks, you might qualify for a reduction under Prop. 47.

Since Prop. 64 legalized the cultivation, use and possession of marijuana in California, people with old marijuana-related convictions may also apply to have those charges reduced or dismissed under a separate procedure.

Seal Arrest Records

Since January 1, 2018, Californians can even apply to have their old arrest records sealed.  The procedures described above can change your record of criminal convictions so that cases show up as misdemeanors rather than felonies, or so that those cases appear as "dismissals" rather than "convictions".  PC 851.91 now goes one step further -- eligible applicants can hide the fact that they were ever even arrested.

If you or a loved one has questions about clearing old warrants, cleaning up your criminal record, reducing old felonies to misdemeanors, or sealing your arrest record, call our office for a free consultation.  (714) 449-3335.  Ask for John.

We have extensive experience helping our clients get back onto their feet in Orange County, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Gun Violence Restraining Orders in California

Since 2016, courts in California have been issuing "Gun Violence Restraining Orders".

The procedures are similar to those that apply in cases of domestic violence, elder abuse and civil harassment, with a few notable exceptions.  

What is a Gun Violence Restraining Order?

As its name implies, a Gun Violence Restraining Order may prohibit a specific individual from owning or possessing firearms and ammunition. The person seeking the order is called the "petitioner". The subject of the order is called the "respondent".  

A judge will grant a Gun Violence Restraining Order if the petitioner can prove 2 things:

1)  That the respondent poses a significant danger of personal injury to himself and / or others by having possession of a firearm, AND

2) That other, less-restrictive alternatives have been tried and found to be ineffective, or are inadequate and inappropriate for the circumstances.

If the order is granted, the subject must surrender all firearms and ammunition in his possession to the local police or he may sell them to a licensed firearms dealer within 24 hours.  

Who may apply for a Gun Violence Restraining Order?

Immediate family members of the subject are the only people who may petition the court for a gun violence restraining order. "Immediate family members" are defined as the subject's spouse, domestic partner, parent, child, sibling, household member, or person who had resided in the subject's household within the prior 6 months.  

At the moment, the law does not allow for girlfriends, boyfriends, classmates, coworkers or other associates to petition for gun violence restraining orders if those people do not currently live with the subject and have not lived with the subject during the previous 6 months.  

One area in which gun violence restraining orders differ from other types of restraining orders: Police may directly file their own petitions for gun violence restraining orders against individuals. With other types of restraining orders, the person who has been the victim of harassment must petition the court on his or her own behalf.  

What is the procedure for obtaining a Gun Violence Restraining Order?

A judge may issue a temporary emergency Gun Violence Restraining Order if a police officer asserts, and the court finds, that "reasonable cause" exists to believe that the subject poses an immediate danger to himself or others, and that less-restrictive alternatives are inadequate. A temporary emergency order may remain in effect for up to 21 days. After 21 days, the temporary order expires. 

The court may also issue an "ex parte" order upon the application of a police officer or an immediate family member of the subject. At the initial hearing on an ex parte order, the petitioner makes his or her arguments to a judge, but the respondent has no legal right to any "notice" or opportunity to present his own argument.

If the judge grants an ex parte order, then the respondent must immediately surrender any guns or ammunition in his possession. The court must schedule another hearing within 21 days, at which time the subject WILL have a chance to present his own side of the story and argue his case. At the hearing, the petitioner bears the burden of proving any allegations by "clear and convincing evidence".

After hearing arguments from both the petitioner and the respondent, the judge will decide whether or not to grant a gun violence restraining order for up to one year. 

What criteria will a judge consider at the hearing?

Section 18155 of the California Penal Code lists several criteria that a judge may consider in determining whether or not the respondent poses a "significant danger of personal injury to himself or others". Most of these criteria are pretty intuitive: the person has recently made threats of violence against himself or others, the person has engaged in a pattern of violent acts within the previous year, or has a history of recklessly brandishing weapons, etc.  

Some of the criteria, though, make almost no sense. For example, PC 18155(b)(1)(G) says that a judge may consider evidence that the respondent has acquired firearms or ammunition within the previous 6 months as proof that the person poses a "significant danger". Think about that for a second: purchasing a firearm and / or ammo may be considered proof that a person should not be allowed to possess firearms and / or ammo.

This new package of laws only took effect recently, so courts haven't had a chance to reinterpret all of the nuances. I have a lot of questions about how this will play out in practice, but all we can do is wait and see right now.  

Everybody likes the idea of taking guns away from bad guys, but nobody likes "big government" arbitrarily curtailing our Constitutional rights. Stay tuned to see how this plays out.  

If you or a loved one has questions about Gun Violence Restraining Orders in California, call for a free attorney consultation.  (714) 449 3335. Ask for John.  

Thanks for reading.  

Thursday, December 3, 2015

New Regulations for Medical Marijuana in California

I've previously written on this blog about the big changes that are coming for medical marijuana in California.

It's taken some time, but I've finally had a chance to study these new laws and really wrap my head around the details.  Of course, these rules haven't taken effect yet, so the courts haven't had a chance to muddy the waters by completely reinterpreting everything that we thought we understood.  There are still plenty of unanswered questions, but I'll try to break it all down as well as I can here.

As mentioned in my previous post, available by following the link above, Governor Brown has signed a package of bills that will completely reshape the way we regulate medical marijuana in California.  Everything that you know about medical marijuana in California will be wrong after January 1, 2016.  The three new laws, SB-643, AB-266 and AB-243, will collectively be called "The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act", or "MMRSA".

State-Issued Marijuana Licenses

The MMRSA creates at least 17 different types of state-issued licenses that will be required for various commercial activities related to medical marijuana.  Those activities include cultivation, manufacturing (the process of concentrating cannabis to produce a more potent product), transportation, distribution, testing and retail sales.

The new law will establish 10 different types of licenses to specifically govern growing operations, depending on the size of the grow and the type of light used:

1) "Specialty" Outdoor:  For outdoor growing operations using no artificial lights.  Total cultivation area will be limited to 5,000 square feet, or 50 total plants on non-contiguous plots

1A)  "Specialty" Indoor:  Limited to 5,000 square feet with artificial lights

1B)  "Specialty" Mixed Light:  Mixed  light (natural and artifical), limited to 5,000 square feet

2)  "Small" Outdoor: For outdoor growing operations with no artificial lights, 5,001 - 10,000 square feet

2A)  "Small" Indoor:  Indoor growing operations, 5,001 - 10,000 square feet

2B)  "Small" Mixed Light:  Mixed light, 5,001 - 10,000 square feet

3)  Outdoor: no artificial lights, 10,001 square feet, up to one acre

3A)  Indoor: 10,001 - 22,000 square feet

3B)  Mixed Light: 10,001 - 22,000 square feet

4)  Nursery:  To cultivate seeds, seedlings and immature plants only.

Only a limited number of Type 3, 3A and 3B licenses (for larger-scale growing operations) will be issued by the Department of Food & Agriculture.

The MMRSA also creates 2 different types of "manufacturing" licenses.  A "Type 6" license will qualify the holder as a "manufacturer 1".  A manufacturer 1 may produce concentrates without using volatile solvents (e.g. "bubble hash").  A "Type 7" license will qualify the holder as a "manufacturer 2".  A manufacturer 2 may produce concentrated cannabis products using volatile solvents (e.g. butane hash oil), which is currently prohibited under California law.

All marijuana products must be delivered to a distributor for inspection.  After inspecting the product, the distributor must deliver the cannabis to a licensed testing facility for certification before it may be delivered to a retailer.  Testers must hold "Type 8" licenses.

Retail marijuana dispensaries with more than 3 locations will be required to hold "Type 10" licenses.  Marijuana retailers with 3 or fewer dispensary locations may operate with a "Type 10A" license.

Distributors (wholesalers), who purchase marijuana from cultivators and resell the products to retailers, must hold both a "Type 11" distributor's license, and a "Type 12" transporter's license. People who are engaged only the business of marijuana transportation must hold a "Type 12" license and may also apply for a "Type 11" distribution license.

Confused yet?  Here's where it gets interesting.

No license holder may possess more than 2 different types of licenses.

Small-scale cultivators (growers who are licensed to cultivate on 10,000 square feet or fewer) will also be permitted to hold manufacturing licenses.  This means that mom-and-pop grow operations can produce their own concentrates.

Small-scale cultivators may also apply for Type 10A licenses to operate their own boutique retail sales at 3 or fewer locations.  Remember, though, that license holders may only possess 2 different types of licenses. Essentially, growers who cultivate on 10,000 square feet or fewer may either produce their own concentrates or operate their own boutique retail sales, but not both.

Manufacturers may hold Type 10A licenses to operate 3 or fewer retail dispensaries.  Get ready for high-end, branded hash to come to a retail location near you!

That's just the tip of iceberg.  Stay tuned for updates.  I will continue to post regularly with more details about the licensing process as those details become available.

If you're thinking about getting involved in California's medical marijuana industry, call us for a free consultation.  (714) 505-2468.  Ask for John.  If you already cultivate medical marijuana or operate a dispensary, call us to discuss the steps you need to be taking to prepare for these big changes.

Thanks for reading.

Santa Ana Medical Marijuana Lawyer

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Brag Board: 12/1/15

I know, my blog can be a downer.  Most days, this is a place for sad stories about people who have made big mistakes. Sometimes, I like to sprinkle in a few helpful tips about appearing in court, or maybe some sage advice about medical marijuana or something.

Periodically, though, I like to update this blog with some good news.  These are the success stories, and they're the reason that I love my job.

I'll be honest -- criminal defense practice can be soul-crushing sometimes.  Nobody comes into my office because they're having a great day.  Clients always tell me, "It's nice to meet you", and I respond, "No, it's not".  It's these success stories, though, that remind me of why I do what I do. A little fulfillment at the end of the day makes all the hard work worth it.

-People v. R.A. (San Bernardino):  My client's parents called the police because he was acting erratically.  Police determined that he was under the influence of drugs and arrested him.  No blood sample was taken and the police reports were completely deficient.  There wasn't much hard evidence, just vague descriptions of some bizarre behavior.  Case dismissed.

-People v. D.R. (Riverside):  My client was accused of contempt because he had allegedly tried to call an ex-girlfriend in violation of a restraining order.  We were able to show that the accuser had a rich history of making false accusations against my client.  She had lied to obtain the restraining order in the first place, and  she had sent nude photos of herself to my client after she got a restraining order against him.  Case dismissed.

-People v. C.Y. (Newport Beach - Orange County):  My client learned that he had an outstanding warrant for driving on a suspended license.  He was surprised at this news because he had never been cited or arrested.  We were able to prove that my client had been the victim of identity theft. Someone else (a family member) had falsely identified himself to police using my client's name and birthday.  Case dismissed.

In each of these cases, prosecutors chose to file criminal charges without thoroughly reviewing the evidence or taking the time to fully understand the context of each situation.  People were arrested, spent time in jail, missed work, and forked out serious money to defend themselves against charges that never should have been filed.  Luckily, my clients had the resources to take a stand, defend their rights, and protect their reputations.

Many people who appear in court every day aren't so lucky.  Maybe they're intimidated by the justice system, so they accept bad deals.  Maybe they don't understand their options, or maybe their attorneys aren't willing to invest the time and effort that it takes to achieve a fair result.

I like to take credit for each of the dismissals described above.  I wish I could claim that I brilliantly outmaneuvered the DA or that I tricked their star witness into a dramatic courtroom confession, a la Perry Mason.  The truth is that I simply did what I always do -- I devoted the appropriate attention to each of my clients.  I took the time to understand the facts, and I communicated those facts to the DA.  Once prosecutors understood the cases like I understood them, they ethically and professionally dismissed the matters.

Here's the disclaimer: do not attempt this at home.  If you've been arrested or if you're under investigation for a crime, you should NEVER speak to police or the District Attorney on your own. They understand the law and the rules of evidence.  They are not your friends.  Their job is to put you in jail.  Anything you say will be twisted, misquoted and used against you.  They are highly-paid professionals.  You need a professional on your side.

If you or a loved one is accused of a crime in Orange County, Riverside, Los Angeles or San Bernardino, call our office for a free consultation.  (714) 505-2468.  Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.

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

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, skateboards 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 previous post about appearing in the North Justice Center.

If you plead "not guilty" at your arraignment in a misdemeanor case, your subsequent pre-trial conferences will be conducted across the hall, in department H-1.

Most felony arraignments are now being heard in department H-7, 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) 449 3335. 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) 449-3335.  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 the Fullerton courthouse.

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, skateboards 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 (including DUI), 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 even be aware of the other.

Your arraignment is not the day for your trial. The judge will not hear witnesses or evidence at the time of your 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 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, character letters, 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, or if you do not wish to accept any plea deal, 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 court's availability.  If there are no courtrooms available in the Fullerton courthouse, your case can even be transferred to another courthouse in Orange County for trial (Westminster, Santa Ana or Newport Beach).


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 plea 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 fair 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 judge finds that there exists "probable cause" and he decides to "hold 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 failed to comply, then the judge will almost certainly impose consequences. Those consequences may include jail time. 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) 449 3335. 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 I said, 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 in other states. 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 the defendant was 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 the robber uses an actual weapon, the DA will charge "enhancements" that may increase his total prison time or make him 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) 449 3335.  Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.

Orange County Robbery Lawyer

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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

How to Win a Hit & Run Case in California (VC 20002)

If you leave the scene of a collision in California without exchanging identifying information, you will be charged with the crime of "hit & run" under section 20002 of the California Vehicle Code. If only property damage is involved, then the case will likely be treated as a misdemeanor. If someone was injured or killed, you can be charged with a felony.

Hit & run cases are notoriously difficult for prosecutors to prove. It may be easy to establish that your car was involved in the collision, but the DA often has a very hard time proving that you were driving and that you knew (or should have known) that you caused property damage. If you were not driving, you have no legal obligation to "snitch" on the actual driver.

Even if the facts of your case are well-established and easily proven, you might still have an opportunity to have the charges thrown out. California law allows judges to dismiss some misdemeanor charges pursuant to a "civil compromise agreement", or "civ comp" for short. Luckily, "hit & run" is one charge that may qualify for a civ comp dismissal.

In a civ comp, the victim must appear before a judge and acknowledge that he has been compensated for whatever losses he experienced due to your crime. Usually, this means that you write a check to the victim. Often, though, the victim may simply acknowledge that he received a check from your insurance carrier.

If you are accused of hit & run, your attorney should speak with the victim and negotiate a small but reasonable sum to cover the victim's damages. I would not advise anyone to reach out to a victim or to conduct the negotiations himself for several reasons. First, you could be accused of witness intimidation. If the victim does not fully understand the law, or if you make the victim feel uncomfortable, he may complain that you attempted to influence his testimony. That can lead to more serious charges. Additionally, you could accidentally talk yourself into bigger trouble by confessing to elements of the crime that were not already well-established. By allowing your lawyer to do the talking, you can avoid these hazards.

The judge has discretion to either approve or deny a proposed civil compromise. If the court approves the agreement, then the criminal charge is dismissed against the defendant.

Judges may deny proposed civ comp agreements when they feel that a dismissal is not in the interests of justice, or when the particular charge is ineligible for such relief. Charges that may NOT be civilly compromised include felonies, crimes against police, crimes committed "riotously", any crime committed with the intent to commit a felony, domestic violence charges, and crimes against elders or children.

"Hit & run" is probably the charge that is civilly compromised the most often, but other charges may also qualify. Vandalism, assault, battery, trespassing and theft may be resolved by civ comp, as well.

Victims often agree to civilly compromise cases because accepting a civ comp may be the quickest, easiest way to recoup their losses. By accepting your proposed deal, the victim can avoid the headaches and uncertainty of going to trial, testifying as a witness, and then trying to pursue / enforce an eventual restitution award. A good defense attorney should be able to clearly explain this to process to the victim so that he or she understands and agrees to cooperate.

If you or a loved one is accused of hit & run (VC 20002) in California, call us for a free attorney consultation.  (714) 449 3335.  Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.

Orange County Hit & Run Lawyer

Monday, October 12, 2015

Announcing Our New Fullerton Location

I'm proud to announce the opening of our firm's newest branch office on the 9th floor of the Fullerton Towers, 1440 N. Harbor Blvd.  Located just a block from the Fullerton Courthouse (North Orange County Justice Center), this space will allow us to better serve our clients in Fullerton, Buena Park, Brea and Anaheim.

Our main office will remain in Santa Ana.  I also plan to keep branches in Riverside and San Bernardino for the convenience of my clients in the Inland Empire.

As a local boy, I'm excited about this new opportunity to serve clients in my home town.  There's no place I'd rather be.

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

Thanks for reading.

Fullerton Criminal Defense Lawyer

Friday, October 9, 2015

Contempt of Court / Violating a Restraining Order

I've previously written extensively on this blog about restraining orders in California -- how to get them, how to fight them, how to prepare for your day in court, and how to effectively present your case to the judge. Those posts are available here, here, and here.

Today, I want to discuss the laws that apply when a person is accused of violating an existing restraining order. In California, those laws are codified in section 166(a)(4) of the Penal Code, commonly referred to "Contempt of Court", and in PC 273.6. Violating an existing restraining order is a misdemeanor. Depending on the circumstances and your criminal record, it may be punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

In order to be found guilty of contempt under PC 166(a)(4), the prosecutor must prove 4 things beyond a reasonable doubt:

1)  That a court had lawfully ordered you to do a specific thing (or to refrain from doing a specific thing),
2)  That you knew about the order and its contents,
3)  That you had the ability to follow the order, and
4)  That you violated the order.

You can be charged with violating a restraining order even if you're not the person named in the restraining order. A non-party (someone who was not involved in either side of the restraining order petition) is guilty of contempt if he knows about the order and he helps the restrained person violate it. For example, if your friend has a restraining order against him and he asks you to pass a message to the protected party, you can be charged with contempt if you do so.

There are several possible defenses if you're accused of violating a restraining order:

You didn't do it

As mentioned above, the prosecutor bears the burden of proving you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If they cannot prove that you committed the act in question, then you are not guilty. Just because a message was sent from your phone or your computer, the DA might have difficulty proving that you actually sent the message.

You might also admit that you engaged in some particular conduct, but argue that this conduct did not technically violate the restraining order. For example: You were ordered to stay away from your ex-girlfriend's place of work. You were seen in the area, but she doesn't work there any more.You might have a solid argument here that your conduct did not actually violate the judge's order.

The order itself was unlawful or unconstitutional 

You cannot be convicted of violating an unlawful restraining order. This is a difficult argument to make, though. If you disagree with a restraining order or you feel like you did not receive an adequate opportunity to present your case when the order was initially granted, you must appeal the order within a very short time period. If you fail to properly file the appeal within that time period, you will be barred from doing so in the future.

You did not know about the restraining order or its contents

The prosecutor only needs to prove that you had an opportunity to learn about the contents of the restraining order. They do not need to prove that you actually read it, or even that you were properly served with a copy of the order after it was granted.

Usually, the DA will satisfy this element by simply proving that you were served with the order. If you were served, then you are presumed to have knowledge of the order and its contents. Willfully refusing to read the order is no defense.

Even if you were never served, the DA may be still able to prove that you had knowledge of the order and intentionally avoided service. Again, this is no defense.

You were unable to comply with the order

To be convicted of contempt, the DA must prove that you acted "willfully" or "intentionally", depending on the circumstances. If the court ordered you to do something specific and you are physically unable to do that thing, then you have not violated the court's order. For example:  The judge granted a restraining order against you and he ordered you to surrender your firearms at the local police station. You have been in jail or in the hospital ever since the incident and you have not yet had an opportunity to comply with the order. In this case, you are not guilty of contempt because you have not "willfully" or "intentionally" violated the judge's instructions.

If you or a loved one is accused of violating a restraining order in California, call our office for a free consultation.  (714) 449-3335.  Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.

Orange County Restraining Order Lawyer

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Attorney Available for Special Appearances on Catalina Island

Our firm has extensive experience litigating all types of criminal matters on Catalina Island.   We appear in the Avalon courthouse regularly and we know the "ins and outs" of their unique procedures.  

The Catalina courthouse is only open on alternating Fridays, weather permitting.  It hears infractions and misdemeanors only.  They conduct arraignments, pretrial conferences, and various post-conviction proceedings.  All felonies and jury trials are conducted at Long Beach.  

As a local attorney, I am available to make special appearances on the island on behalf of other attorneys.  My appearance fee is reasonable and competitive (cheaper than traveling all the way out there yourself, especially if you include the value of your time).  As your special appearance attorney, I will appear in court and diligently adhere to whatever instructions you provide.  I will promptly notify you of the outcome of the appearance.  If I receive any documentation from the court (complaint, discovery, sentencing paperwork, etc.) I will forward it to you by the end of the business day.  

I have been licensed to practice law in California since 2009.  My practice focuses exclusively on criminal defense and related issues (restraining orders, restitution, probation violations, medical marijuana, etc.).  References available upon request. 

Let me save you the time, expense and stress of traveling to Catalina Island for a routine misdemeanor appearance.  When I get a great result for your client, you can take all the credit.  

Please feel free to call my office any time.  (714) 505-2468.  Ask for John.  Thanks for reading.  

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Buccaneer Days Returns to Catalina Island -- Retain a Good Lawyer Now

It's that time of year again!  Buccaneer Weekend will descend on Catalina Island October 1-4, 2015.  The annual festival marks the unofficial end of tourist season and the official beginning of spiny lobster season.

The holiday is traditionally celebrated with lots of alcohol and very few clothes.  The influx of weekend revelers brings a boon to local businesses, including criminal defense attorneys (such as myself).

This year's party will include 4 days of live bands, DJs, dancing, an adult costume contest, an adult treasure hunt and boatloads of beer.  With so many great ways to get yourself into trouble, you'd be smart to save this number now: (714) 505-2468.

If you are cited for any misdemeanor on or near Catalina Island, you will be given a court date and ordered to appear back on the island in a couple months for your arraignment.  You cannot simply appear in Long Beach at your convenience, despite whatever bad legal advice you might hear.

In most cases, I can make your court appearances for you.  I can save you the time, hassle and expense of traveling all the way back to Catalina for a series of hearings.  As your attorney, I will appear in court on your behalf for your arraignment (your first court appearance).  At the arraignment, the court will provide me with a copy of the police report and other discovery that the DA plans to use against you.  I will enter a plea of "not guilty" and I will schedule another court appearance 4-6 weeks later.  This gives me plenty of time to review the evidence, conduct any investigation that needs to be done, discuss the facts of the case with you, and decide on a plan of action.

When I return to court for the next scheduled appearance, the DA and I will begin the process of trying to reach a mutually-agreeable deal to resolve your matter.  Depending on the unique facts of your case, a "mutually-agreeable deal" can mean a lot of things.  I will make as many appearances as it takes to ensure that your case is handled properly.  Our priority is always to help you reach the most favorable outcome possible -- and to save you some time and money in the process.

The Catalina courthouse is completely unlike most local courts.  It consists of a single room with one judge and a small staff.  It is highly advantageous to use a lawyer who understands the strange system that they have in place and who knows "how things are done" on the island.  We have an excellent relationship with the prosecutors who are responsible for handling all criminal matters on the island.  This helps us make great deals on behalf of our clients.

If you or a loved one is cited at Buccaneer Days on Catalina Island this year, call us for a free consultation.  The number is above, but here it is one more time:  (714) 505-2468.  Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.

Catalina Island Lawyer

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Everything You Know About Medical Marijuana in California is Wrong

The California Legislature has approved a trio of new laws that will completely change the way we regulate medical marijuana in the Golden State.  Forget everything that you thought you knew.

The new package of bills will collectively be called, "The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act".  It will create a comprehensive new system to govern virtually every aspect of California's medical marijuana industry. Growers, transporters, testers / inspectors, distributors and retail sales shops will all be required to hold specific state-issued licenses.  It also establishes a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation within the Department of Consumer Affairs to enforce the new legislation.

If signed into law by Gov. Brown, the MMRSA will take effect on January 1, 2016.  Experts predict that it could take another year for the state to create the necessary infrastructure to actually begin implementing the law.  In the meantime, dispensaries that are currently operating in compliance with state and local laws may continue to do so until their new applications have been approved or denied.

The MMRSA will create a system by which state regulators will be able to track all medical marijuana, from cultivation to consumption.  It will require growers to send their finished products to licensed distributors.  The distributors will be responsible for having the cannabis tested and inspected at licensed facilities before sending it on to retailers.

Growers will be limited to one acre for outdoor cultivation or 22,000 square feet for indoor grow operations.

Under the old system, "vertical integration" had been mandatory -- a dispensary must cultivate, transport and distribute its own cannabis.  The new scheme actually limits the ability of license-holders to do so by placing restrictions on the number and type of permits that a single entity may hold.

The MMRSA will allow for-profit sales of marijuana for the first time.  It also contains a provision for licensing manufacturers who produce concentrates using volatile solvents, which is illegal under existing law.

Currently, collectives that operate in accordance with state law are shielded from prosecution under HS 11362.775 (also known as "SB-420", or "The Medical Marijuana Program Act").  The new scheme includes a sunset clause for these provisions.  HS 11362.775 will expire one year after the first new licenses are issued.

The MMRSA includes regulations for doctors who issue recommendations for medical marijuana. The medical board will now assign special priority to investigating physicians who repeatedly and excessively recommend marijuana to patients without first conducting an examination in good faith. Doctors will be prohibited from accepting or offering any sort of remuneration to or from a license-holder in which the doctor or a family member has a financial interest.

California is in dire need of a coherent, comprehensive regulatory scheme that protects patients and cannabis providers without imposing undue red tape and expenses.  The current state of affairs is not sustainable.  The multi-million-dollar market for medical marijuana in California no longer fits within the regulatory framework that the legislature envisioned when it passed SB-420.  Current laws are unclear and subject to conflicting interpretations by different judges in different courts. Federal prosecutors have said that they will not interfere with local operations that are "in clear and unambiguous" compliance with their state laws.  Unfortunately, nobody is in "clear and unambigious" compliance with medical marijuana laws in California because those laws are ambiguous and unclear in their meaning.

It remains to be seen whether or not this proposed system will help patients obtain their medical marijuana safely and affordably.  If the system is implemented in an efficient and effective manner, it could provide greater protection and reduce uncertainty for everyone involved in California's growing medical marijuana industry.  If the system is poorly managed or laden with excessive costs and bureaucratic ineptitude, it may drive consumers back to the black market, where no standards exist to ensure patient safety.

Stay tuned to see what happens when Californians vote to legalize recreational marijuana use next year...

Special thanks to OC NORML for contributing to my research.  

Santa Ana Cannabis Lawyer

Thursday, September 10, 2015

HS 11362.79: Smoking Medical Marijuana in a Vehicle

As I've previously written on this blog, California laws provide some limited protections for patients who use medical marijuana with a doctor's approval or recommendation.  Generally,  patients and their caregivers may cultivate enough marijuana for their own personal use.  They may possess, transport and consume marijuana, even in some public places.  Under some circumstances, they may even sell it to other qualified patients.

Keep in mind, however, that you will be arrested if you are caught smoking medical marijuana in a vehicle that is being operated.  Similarly, you may not operate a vehicle while you are impaired by marijuana, even if you have a doctor's recommendation to possess and use the drug for medical purposes.

More information on marijuana DUI cases available here.

Sections 11362 et seq. of the California Health & Safety Code outline the various protections that are afforded to qualified medical marijuana patients.  It also defines the limits of those protections. Some of the nuances pertain to operating motor vehicles.

Section 11362.79 specifically says that, "Nothing in this article shall authorize a qualified patient...to engage in the smoking of medical marijuana...while in a motor vehicle that is being operated."

The code section includes awkward wording that essentially means, "these laws should not be interpreted as guaranteeing the right to consume medical marijuana in a vehicle."  That part is clear. Here's the rub: there is no law that specifically prohibits smoking marijuana in a vehicle.

If you are caught smoking medical marijuana in a vehicle, the DA will charge you with at least 2 crimes: 1) VC 23152(f) Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana, and 2) HS 11362.79(d) Smoking medical marijuana in a vehicle.  I do not believe that this second charge is proper.  Here's my reasoning:

HS 11362.79(d) says that the law does not specifically create the right to smoke medical marijuana in a vehicle, but it also does not specifically prohibit that act.  That section does not indicate the penalty for its violation.  It doesn't even indicate whether the act of smoking in a vehicle is an infraction or a misdemeanor.

Since this code section includes the phrase "medical marijuana", it only applies to qualified patients and not to people who smoke non-medical marijuana in a moving vehicle. That's obviously absurd because the legislature did not intent to treat medical marijuana patients more harshly than non-patients who smoke marijuana in the car.

For these reasons, I do not believe that it's appropriate to treat violations of HS 11362.79(d) as misdemeanors.  I understand that the District Attorney's office disagrees with me. They will continue to file misdemeanor charges in these types of cases until we get some better guidance from appellate courts.

In the meantime, our office is prepared to fight criminal charges involving marijuana in vehicles. We have extensive experience with marijuana DUI cases (sometimes called "DUID", or "VC 23152(f)").  We're also experts in the areas of search & seizure law, medical defenses, and police misconduct.

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

Thanks for reading.

Orange County Marijuana Lawyer

Thursday, August 20, 2015

How to Clear an Old Warrant in California, part 2

In my previous post, I described the process of adding a case onto the court's calendar to clear up an old warrant if you've previously failed to appear.  In this post, I want to discuss a little more about what happens when there has been a long delay between the commission of the crime and a defendant's appearance in court.

My last post briefly mentioned the "Statute of Limitiations" (or "SoL" for short).  I mentioned that the SoL will not usually help you if you have an outstanding warrant.  The SoL refers to the time between the commission of the crime and the filing of charges.  The SoL for most misdemeanors in California is one year.  This means that the DA must file a criminal complaint within one year of the crime or else they will be barred from doing so.

Often, the DA will file criminal charges against a defendant within the SoL, but the defendant fails to appear in court.  When the defendant misses his court date, a warrant will be issued and it will remain in effect until it is recalled by a judge.  If the defendant is captured and brought to court several years from now, he may not claim the protections of the SoL because the charges were filed within the statutory period (within one year of the date on which the crime was committed), even if the defendant's first court appearance did not happen within that time.

Even if the SoL isn't a winning argument in your case, you might have other defenses that arise when there has been a long delay.  The US Constitution assures the right to a speedy trial.  If you have had an arrest warrant outstanding for a long period of time, you might have an argument to dismiss the case based on a violation of this constitutional right.  This is called a Serna motion.

In a Serna hearing, the judge is weighing several different considerations:  How long has the delay been?  Why did the delay occur?  Has evidence been lost or destroyed?  Have witnesses become unavailable to testify?  Is it still possible to conduct a fair trial?

The big difference between an SoL argument and a speedy trial argument is the time period that we're focused on.  Remember, when we're talking about the SoL, we're talking about the date of the crime until the date on which charges are filed.  When we're talking about speedy trial rights, we're talking about the period of time between the filing of charges and the defendant's first court appearance.

Generally, if more than one year has elapsed between the filing of charges and the defendant's first court appearance, then the burden falls on the DA to justify the delay.  The DA might explain why the delay is the defendant's fault and not the state's fault -- maybe the defendant signed a "promise to appear" and then failed to appear.

If the DA can prove that the defendant had actual notice of his original court date but never showed up, then the judge will want to hear a very compelling argument as to why the defendant should benefit from his own broken promise.  Maybe the defendant can prove that his original court date was rescheduled or relocated without proper notice.  Maybe it was filed under the wrong name.

Even if the delay is entirely the defendant's fault, a judge might agree to grant a Serna motion and dismiss a case when it can be proven that evidence is no longer available and that the defendant would be prejudiced by standing trial today on such an old case.

If you or a loved one has an old warrant in California, call our office for a free consultation.  (714) 505-2468.  Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 17, 2015

What Can I Do About an Old Arrest Warrant in California?

An outstanding arrest warrant will basically ruin your life until it is addressed.  Your old warrant will never simply go away on its own.  Luckily, you've already taken the first step toward fixing the problem -- you Googled it and you found this blog post.  Now, let's take the next steps to clear up this old headache for good.

Arrest warrants can be issued for a number of different reasons.  The most common situation we see arises when a defendant has failed to appear at a scheduled court date.  Maybe it was your fault -- you knew about it, but you were afraid appear.  Maybe you couldn't afford to miss work, you couldn't get a ride to court, or you had trouble arranging childcare for your kids.  Maybe it wasn't your fault at all -- someone else used your ID when he was arrested, or the DA mailed a "Notice to Appear" to a bad address.  Either way, the judge issued a bench warrant when you failed to appear.  Now you're a fugitive.  You can be arrested at your home, your workplace, or wherever the police happen to find you.

That's what we want to avoid.

To clear this warrant, your case must be added onto the court's calendar as soon as possible.  Different courts have different procedures for requesting calendar add-ons.  It's helpful to have a local attorney who understands the quickest, easiest way to get your case scheduled without unnecessary delays.

Once your case has been added onto the court's calendar, you or your attorney must appear before a judge to request that the warrant be "recalled".  In most misdemeanor cases, an attorney (like myself) can do all this without you being personally present.  I can save you the expense of traveling all the way back to California for a no-fun day in court.  Boarding an airplane with a revoked driver's license and an active warrant is another adventure you don't need.  Let me take care of your old California warrant and save yourself the trip.

Often, the judge will be unhappy that you've previously failed to appear for a scheduled hearing.  It costs the county time and money to issue warrants when defendants fail to appear.  The judge may require you to reimburse the county for those expenses.  He or she might also impose bail if you were previously free on your "own recognizance" ("O.R.").

When you (or your attorney) is standing before the judge and asking to recall your warrant, the judge must determine whether or not you should be considered a "flight risk".  If a judge decides that you are likely to disappear again, then your bail could be set very high.  To avoid this, it's important to have your warrant addressed as quickly as possible after it's issued.  If you have an outstanding warrant for 10 years before you make any effort to address it, the judge will not sympathize with you.  If, on the other hand, you show up in court very soon after learning about your warrant, the judge might be willing to show some lenience.

Retaining a private attorney to address your old warrant will also show the judge that you take the matter seriously and that you are not a flight risk.  People don't hire lawyers when they're planning to disappear.

As mentioned above, your warrant will not simply go away by ignoring it.  The statute of limitations does not apply if you have an outstanding warrant.  The "statute of limitations" ("SoL" for short), refers to the time between the commission of the crime and the filing of charges.  It does NOT refer to the time between the commission of the crime and your arrest / appearance in court.  If the DA has filed charges against you in a timely manner but you are not captured for several years, you will not be able to claim the protections of the SoL.  You might have other defenses, but the SoL is irrelevant in this situation.

If you or a loved one has an outstanding arrest warrant in California, call us for a free consultation.  (714) 449 3335.  Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.