Friday, June 23, 2017

Can I Get a DUI on Private Property?

In California, you can be arrested for DUI on private property, off-road, or even on the water.  

Section 23152 of the California Vehicle Code prohibits anybody from operating a vehicle while they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The DA doesn't need to prove that you were on a public road. They don't even need to prove that the vehicle was an automobile.  

I've had clients accused of riding dirt bikes, jet skis and golf carts while drunk (not all at the same time). In California, all of those situations can be treated as "DUI". Hiring an experienced DUI defense attorney can be very helpful in these cases, though. Often, the kind of officers who arrest drunken dirt bikers, boaters or golfers are inexperienced in making those types of arrests. They don't have the training or resources to properly prosecute DUI cases. Park rangers and harbor patrol officers might mishandle evidence or fail to file documents in a timely manner.

You can even be cited for riding a bicycle while drunk in California ("Cycling Under the Influence, or "CUI"), but those cases are treated a little differently. CUI is an infraction only and not a misdemeanor, so the court cannot impose jail time or probation. Bicycles obviously aren't "motor vehicles", so the 0.08% BAC limit doesn't apply, and the DMV will not suspend your driver's license or impose mandatory classes. To be guilty of CUI, the officer must prove that you were so impaired by alcohol and /or drugs that you could not operate a bicycle with the skill and care of an ordinary cyclist (whatever that means). If you are cited for CUI, you may demand a breath or blood test, but you are not required to take one.  

If you or a loved one has questions about DUI in California, call us for a free attorney consultation. (714) 449-3335. Ask for John

Monday, June 19, 2017

How Can I Drop Domestic Violence Charges?

Here's a situation that our office sees very frequently:  A couple (married, dating, etc.) has a big, blowup argument.  The police show up and one party accuses the other of domestic violence.  Someone spends the night in jail.  The police conduct an investigation and the DA files criminal charges against the party that they determine to be "the aggressor".

By the time the case ends up in court, emotions have cooled, the parties have attended some counseling and the "victim" no longer desires the involvement of the courts.  She asks prosecutors to drop the case, but they refuse.  Instead, the DA proceeds "full speed ahead", with or without cooperation from the reporting party / "victim". 

Many of my clients are surprised to learn that an alleged victim of domestic violence cannot simply "drop the charges" in California.  The decision of whether to file / drop criminal cases is made by the District Attorney's Office.  Prosecutors may consult with victims, but they're not legally required to follow a victim's wishes.  

When a victim asks to drop charges (or indicates that she will not cooperate in a prosecution), the DA must decide whether or not they believe that they have a strong case without their victim's testimony.  The evidence might include a recorded 911 call where the victim describes events as they're happening ("He's hitting me now! Help!").  The suspect might be heard in the background shouting threats.  The police might have recorded an interview with the victim near the time of the incident in which she discusses her injuries and how they occurred.  Cops might have photographed the injuries to corroborate the reporting party's story.  Maybe other witness tell police that they saw the suspect personally striking the victim, etc.  In those situations, prosecutors will aggressively follow through with a criminal prosecution even if the victim asks them to dismiss the case.  Their reasoning is easy to understand -- they can prove that the suspect has committed a serious, violent crime against the People of the State of California.  He shouldn't be allowed to intimidate his victim into recanting her story.  Prosecutors have a responsibility to protect vulnerable citizens and to seek justice against those who would do them harm.  Plus, they don't need the victim's testimony to win a conviction.  There's enough independent evidence to prove the charges even without her cooperation.  That much makes sense.  

Most cases aren't that cut and dry, though.  A fact pattern that I see more commonly goes like this: Both parties have been drinking or using drugs and arguing.  At some point, one party (or a neighbor, or a stranger) calls police to report something nebulous ("I think they're fighting or something.  I heard a loud noise", etc.).  When the police show up, one party or both accuses the other of domestic violence.  There are no injuries, witnesses or physical evidence to support the accusations, but cops take a report anyway.  By the time the case ends up in court, the accuser changes her story.  Maybe she admits that she exaggerated a little, or even that she was the aggressor.  In these situations, an ethical prosecutor should consider the interests of justice, the wishes of the parties, the cost to taxpayers, the burden to the court system, and their priorities in general.  When those considerations tilt in favor of dropping the case, they should do so. 

But these guys didn't get to be overpaid government employees by making reasonable decisions.  Often, prosecutors need a little arm-twisting to help them come to their senses.  That's where we step in.  Our professional staff can help dig you out of a hole without making the hole any deeper.  We have extensive experience defending against all types of domestic violence cases in Orange County, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino.  We can deal directly with investigators, witnesses and prosecutors to ensure that your rights are protected.  Domestic violence charges may carry harsh, mandatory penalties.  They're complicated, emotional matters and they require the attention of an expert. 

If you or a loved one has questions about domestic violence, call us for a free attorney consultation. (714) 449-3335.  Ask for John.  Thanks for reading. 

The Dani Mathers Case Has Nothing to Do With "Body Shaming"

I've been meaning to write something about this one for a while now. Sorry if this is last month's news, but I haven't had much free time to spend with the blog lately.

Former Playmate Dani Mathers was convicted last month of violating section 647(j)(3)(A) of the California Penal Code. That law makes it a misdemeanor to violate someone's privacy by secretly photographing or videotaping them while the victim is a partially or fully undressed. Ms. Mathers had snapped a picture of an older woman showering at the gym, then posted the picture to social media with a derisive comment about the woman's physique.

The news media has completely missed the point with this story. The articles I've read keep referring to the conviction as a case of "body shaming", like Ms. Mathers' crime was the act of publicly ridiculing someone for being overweight or unattractive. That's completely wrong. It is not a crime to insult or ridicule fat people. If Ms. Mathers had snapped a picture of a fat person in a public place, posted the picture on social media and captioned the photo with a comment about the subject's weight, there would be no crime. If you're in public, you have almost no "reasonable expectation of privacy". Strangers may photograph you, post those pictures online and comment about your physical appearance. There are some exceptions (using a hidden camera to peek up your skirt, or using the photos commercially, etc.), but I'll save that discussion for another post.

The crime here was the act of intruding upon the subject's "reasonable expectation of privacy". The important fact in this case was that the older woman was photographed without her permission, while she was undressed, in a place where she reasonably understood that she would not be photographed (in a shower at the gym).

If Ms. Mathers had snapped a picture in the shower without the subject's consent and captioned the photo with a positive, complimentary comment like, "Look at this gorgeous grandmother! She looks great for 70!", she would still be guilty of the same crime.

The Dani Mathers case had everything to do with "intrusion upon privacy" and nothing to do with "body shaming".

If you or a loved one has questions about privacy, "revenge porn" or public use of your image, call us for a free attorney consultation. (714) 449-3335. Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

Monday, June 5, 2017

Send an Offensive Text Message, Lose Your Gun Rights

Many of my clients are shocked to learn how quickly a rude or offensive text message can cost them their gun rights in California.  Don't make that mistake.  Before you hit "send", think about what you're willing to sacrifice.

California has a very permissive system of issuing restraining orders, especially in cases of alleged domestic violence -- and the definition of "domestic violence" in California is expansive.  The court will issue a restraining order when the petitioner can prove "by a preponderance of the evidence" (a very low burden) that the respondent has "harassed" him or her.  "Harassment" includes some behavior that we might not consider to be "abuse" or "domestic violence" within the conventional meanings of those terms.  Harassment in California includes any course of conduct, directed at a specific person, which serves no lawful purpose, and which would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress.

"Harassment" in restraining order hearings often includes rude, offensive or insulting text messages or emails.  Calling your ex-girlfriend a "bitch" in a text message may be the grounds for the court to slap you with domestic violence restraining order, even if you never hurt or threatened anyone.  In many cases, a judge may find that an insulting text message meets the definition of "harassment", described above.

A judge can also issue a domestic violence restraining order when one party has sent repeated, unwanted messages to an ex.  Depending on the circumstances, sending annoying text messages may constitute "harassment".  The messages don't even have to be rude or insulting. If your ex-girlfriend has asked you to stop calling or texting, you are legally obligated to respect her wishes.  If you continue sending her unwanted messages, she may take those screen shots to court and get a restraining order against you.

Anyone who is the subject of a restraining order in California must immediately surrender all their firearms to the local police, or else sell them to a licensed gun dealer.  You may not simply "sell" your collection to a friend or have a family member hold your weapons.  You also may not buy, possess or even have access to firearms while the restraining order is in effect.  If you're a hunter, collector or target shooter, you may be legally barred from enjoying your hobbies for up to 5 years.

The laws and procedures regarding restraining orders in California are complicated. If you or a loved one has questions about the process, call us for a free attorney consultation.  (714) 449-3335.  Ask for John.