Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana in Orange County

The Orange County District Attorney's Office has taken an aggressive approach to cracking down on drivers who operate vehicles while under the influence of marijuana and other drugs.  Their office now employs specially-trained prosecutors who are exclusively assigned to handle cases involving driving under the influence of drugs (or "DUID").  They take these matters seriously. You should too.

Holding a valid recommendation to use medical marijuana is no defense to the charge of driving under the influence of marijuana.  I always tell my clients to think of marijuana like alcohol: I might be allowed to legally possess alcohol (because I'm an adult), but I'm not allowed to drive a car while I'm dangerously impaired.  I can drink one beer and legally drive a car -- I can probably drink several beers and still drive a car safely and legally.  But I cannot drive a car if my blood alcohol concentration is greater than 0.08%.

Unlike alcohol, however, there is no legal limit to clearly define when a driver is too stoned to get behind the wheel.  In order to be found guilty of driving under the influence of marijuana, the District Attorney must prove that a driver was "impaired" by the drug to such a degree that he or she was unable to safely operate a vehicle.  This is where it gets complicated.

Trying to determine a person's precise degree of marijuana impairment is difficult for several reasons.  First, marijuana affects users differently, depending on a person's relative experience with the drug, the particular strain of marijuana, the method of ingestion (smoked, eaten or vaporized), and the user's unique psycho-physiology.  Of course, an inexperienced user might have a very strong reaction to a dosage that Willie Nelson ingests before breakfast.  See Maureen Dowd's piece in The New York Times from last year.

Also, unlike alcohol, peak blood-THC concentrations do not necessarily correlate with peak impairment.  Strangely, levels of THC as detected in the blood tend to trail the effects of the drug as felt by the user.  A toxicology report might reveal that a subject had a particular level of THC in his or her blood within an hour of being arrested, but this number is not very valuable in helping to determine the subject's actual degree of impairment at the time of driving.

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests ("the roadside Olympics") are designed and intended to detect drivers who are impaired by alcohol.  During these tests, police are looking for the tell-tale signs that a suspect is too drunk to drive -- poor balance / coordination, slurred speech, etc.  Since marijuana does not affect balance and coordination like alcohol, those tests are not reliable indicators of marijuana intoxication.

Cases of alleged driving under the influence of marijuana typically turn on the police officer's opinions based on his own observations after the traffic stop.  These impressions are obviously very subjective and open to interpretation.  The officer will testify that the subject "appeared disoriented" and was either "too relaxed" or "too nervous" (see the catch-22?).  Prosecutors will also attempt to prove impairment by introducing evidence of bad driving (either too fast or too slow, following too closely to far, etc.).  Any maneuver you make (or don't make) will be introduced as "proof" of marijuana impairment.

Our office has extensive experience defending "driving under the influence of marijuana" cases in Orange County and surrounding areas.  Don't let the DA railroad you into a bad deal.  If you or a loved one is accused of DUI for alcohol, marijuana or any other drug, call us for a free consultation.  Ask for John.  (714) 505-2468.

Thanks for reading.

Santa Ana Marijuana Lawyer

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Resisting Arrest in California: PC 148(a)(1)

Section 148(a)(1) of the California Penal Code makes it a misdemeanor to willfully resist, obstruct or delay any public officer in the performance of their lawful duties.  Essentially, this code section makes it a crime to waste a cop's time.  If a police officer feels that you are making his job more difficult or time-consuming than necessary, this is usually the law that they will cite in taking you to jail for the evening, even if you haven't done anything else illegal.

"Resisting arrest" is a bit of misnomer, because you can be arrested on suspicion of violating PC 148(a)(1), even if you weren't even under arrest until you began resisting.  My clients tell me all the time, "I can't be guilty of resisting arrest, because I wasn't under arrest until I was arrested for resisting arrest".  Unfortunately, the law encompasses all sorts of behavior that "obstructs or delays" police while they attempt to perform their duties.  Cops and prosecutors will argue that the law includes behaviors which are merely annoying or inconvenient to police (talking back, refusing to identify yourself, getting in the way, creating a distraction, etc.).

In order be found guilty of violating PC 148(a)(1), prosecutors must prove that police were actually engaged in the lawful performance of their duties.  If you are charged under this code section, you may have a defense based on an argument that police overstepped their legal authority and were, therefore, not lawfully attempting to perform their jobs.  Only an experienced attorney can tell you whether or not this is a winning argument in your case.

If you or a loved one is accused of resisting, obstructing or delaying a police officer in violation of PC 148(a)(1), call our office for a free consultation.  I'd be happy to discuss the facts of your case to determine whether or not we can help.  Our firm has extensive experience in all courts within Orange County, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino.  Ask for John.  (714) 505-2468.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Cleaning Up Your Criminal Record in California

If you've ever been convicted of a crime in California, there may be several options available to help you clean up your criminal record for a fresh start in the new year.

Your criminal record is public.  Anyone who cares to check can quickly and easily access detailed reports regarding any criminal charges that have ever been filed against you, even if you were later acquitted of those charges or the case was dismissed.  These public records will continue to cause you embarrassment, can prevent you from getting hired or promoted, and may also be grounds for loss or denial of a professional license.

Luckily, our office has extensive experience in helping people clean up their criminal records so that they can get back onto their feet and on with their lives.

I've previously written about expungements -- what they can (and can't) do, who qualifies and how the process works.  In a nutshell, an expungment will dismiss an old case against you after you have successfully completed probation and served all other penalties.  An expungement will not completely hide the fact that you once had an criminal charge, but will change aspects of your record so that your criminal history no longer shows a "conviction".

If you're currently on probation, you aren't eligible for an expungement.  You might, however, be eligible for early release from probation.  There is a process for asking the judge to let you off probation early.  This is something we can help you with.  Typically, a judge wants to see that you have completed a majority of your probation (at least 2/3 or 3/4 of the total term), that you have had excellent performance so far while on probation, and that there is some compelling reason that justice would be served by letting you off early (like going back to school or accepting a new job, etc.).

If you've ever been convicted of a felony, there are a couple ways that you might be eligible to have that charge reduced to a misdemeanor.  The first option is called a "17(b) Petition".  17(b) petitions apply when you've been convicted of a crime that is categorized as a "wobbler" -- one that may be filed as either a felony or a misdemeanor -- if the DA elected to charge you with a felony.  We may petition the court to later drop that charge to a misdemeanor.  This doesn't work for every felony charge, because not every felony is a "wobbler" (not every felony may alternatively be charged as a misdemeanor.  Drug sales, for example, is a straight felony and cannot be reduced by a 17(b) petition).

Since California voters passed Prop. 47 in November, some felons are now entitled to have their charges reduced to misdemeanors.  Unlike 17(b) petitions, Prop. 47 petitions do not require any showing of "good cause", or a compelling reason why a reduction serves the interest of justice.  For that reason, they may be easier to obtain in some cases than the old-fashion 17(b).  Prop. 47 petitions can be filed at any time -- while a case is pending, while an applicant is currently serving a sentence after conviction, or even after the applicant has been released from custody.  Prop. 47 took many charges that had previously been classified as "wobblers" and reduced them to straight misdemeanors.  Determining a person's eligibility for relief under Prop. 47 can be complicated because the law includes a lot of exceptions and caveats, but we can help evaluate your chances of success.

If you or a loved one has questions about cleaning up your criminal history and starting off the new year with a fresh record, call our office for a free consultation.  (714) 505-2468.  Ask for John.  Thanks for reading.