Beginning in the 1970’s, California police departments started a system of filling out 5- by 7-inch index cards, known as “field cards”, whenever the officer encountered a person suspected of having a gang affiliation. The cards included the person’s name, their “gang moniker”, gang affiliation and other identifying information. Back in those days, the cards were filed in cabinets. Cops still collect field cards but these days, the information is placed in a statewide database called CalGang.

With the passage of the STEP Act in 1988, prosecutors were able to add gang charges and enhances to charges where the conduct was alleged to be gang related. Upon the creation of the CalGang database, law enforcement and prosecutors had a new tool to quickly identify and prosecute gang-related crime. With CalGang, officers in the field are able to instantly determine whether an individual has been identified to have gang ties—no more digging through filing cabinets.

Not surprisingly, law enforcement and prosecutors are enthusiastic users of CalGang: Law enforcement feeds the database, sometimes with dubious information, and prosecutors use it at every opportunity. Today the database has grown to include more than 150,000 names and a recent state audit found that individuals as young as nine-years-old are included in the database. CalGang casts a wide net and sometimes individuals are included in the database simply for being in the wrong area.

Look up in the sky! No, it’s not Superman, it’s a drone. Well, maybe some of you are too young to get the reference but drones are becoming a modern version of Superman. They can, and are, being used to ferret out criminal activity and fight forest fires. They are also becoming a menace.

Drones were first offered for sale to private individuals about six years ago and until recently have been subject to few regulations. As their use become ever more common among hobbyist and for commercial purposes (photography, reconnaissance   services, etc.) can the law be far behind?

As of August 29, 2016 a commercial drone operator must follow the new set of FAA operational rules ( Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations). Among the requirements are that the operator must be at least 16 years old and have a “remote pilot airman certificate” as well as pass TSA vetting. The drone must fly no more than 400 feet above ground level and below 100 mph. Fortunately for the rest of us, a drone being used for commercial purposes must not fly over people. (I don’t know how that would work for a photography drone operator filming a wedding, for example.) You know those Amazon packages that are going to be delivered by drone? Not happening under Part 107. While the new regulations permit delivery by drone, the rule also requires that the drone remain in the operator’s sight at all times.

CalGang Database Contains Numerous Errors and Incorrect Information

Beginning in the 1970’s, California police departments started a system of filling out 5- by 7-inch index cards, known as “field cards”, whenever the officer encountered a person suspected of having a gang affiliation. The cards included the person’s name, their “gang moniker”, gang affiliation and other identifying information. Back in those days, the cards were filed in cabinets. Cops still collect field cards but these days, the information is placed in a statewide database called CalGang.

With the passage of the STEP Act in 1988, prosecutors were able to add gang charges and enhances to charges where the conduct was alleged to be gang related. Upon the creation of the CalGang database, law enforcement and prosecutors had a new tool to quickly identify and prosecute gang-related crime. With CalGang, officers in the field are able to instantly determine whether an individual has been identified to have gang ties—no more digging through filing cabinets.

WALKING THE GANGPLANK

In 1988, the California Legislature enacted the STEP Act; STEP stands for “Street Terrorism and Enforcement.” This legislation added penalties for participation in a street gang (Penal Code §186.22(a)) and provided for sentencing enhancements [1] (Penal Code 186.22(b)) to a felony conviction that is found to be connected to criminal street gang activity. Since the STEP Act was enacted, committing a crime as a gang member or even just for the “benefit” of a street gang really is like walking the gangplank because the Act can add decades on to a defendant’s prison sentence.

STEP enforcement is law enforcement’s—and by extension the prosecutor’s—own little fiefdom. Once labeled a gang member by law enforcement, always a gang member.

NUTTY THIEVES

My father always reminded me that “money doesn’t grow on trees.” Well, that’s not exactly true.

In California’s Central Valley thieves with computer hacking skills have stolen millions of dollars of tree nuts. Yes, tree nuts — like almonds, pistachios, and cashews. These high-tech thieves hack into shipping chain databases and by changing or using the shipping information they are able to pick up nut cargo loads from unsuspecting nut growers or hijack the load, using no force at all, while the nuts are in transit.

Not long ago, I wrote about the scourge of fentanyl , which is a powerful synthetic opiate sold on the black market as Norco. Fentanyl has been blamed for a rash of overdose deaths but recently the ante has been upped. As shocking as it may seem, a drug, which is 100 times more potent as fentanyl and 10,000 times stronger than morphine, is appearing on the black market. This drug, carfentanil, one of the most potent opioids ever developed, is used to sedate elephants and other large animals. But recently law enforcement agencies are finding that carfentanil is being mixed in with street heroin or even being passed off as heroin.

Carfentanil is so potent that veterinarians administering it typically protect themselves with face shields, gloves and other gear when preparing the medicine. According to the executive director of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, even on drop that inadvertently lands in a person’s eye or nose could be fatal. Although authorities are not sure of the source of the carfentanil showing up on the street, it is suspected that the source may be online sales by Chinese companies.

Some users apparently are looking for a high that can take them right up to the edge of death and that, law enforcement fears, will make this drug even more attractive. Others users may be unwitting victims of this drug as the nationwide heroin and opioid epidemic has resulted in many addicts just looking for a “fix” and they may not be aware that they are getting a powerful and far more dangerous drug. The emergence of fentanyl and carfentanil are beginning to make heroin seem almost safe in comparison. Addiction experts even fear that these more potent drugs will push heroin off the market, eventually resulting in increasingly dangerous overdoses and deaths.

Pokémon Go Crime?

If you haven’t heard by now, Pokémon Go, a geo-catching game played on a smart phone, has quickly become a phenomenon with over a million downloads in the United States since hit the market this month. Basically, gamers use their GPS to find and capture virtual creatures called Pokémon. So why is a criminal defense attorney writing about Pokémon Go? Well, when there’s a national craze, can crime be far behind?

In Missouri, four teens were arrested and charged with first-degree armed robbery after getting caught using Pokémon Go as a way to lure unsuspecting gamers to isolated areas where they were then robbed. The robbers “pokestopped” their targets—11 in all before the robbers were caught— and the victim thinking he or she was chasing after a Pokémon ended up being robbed at gunpoint instead.

PENAL CODE SECTION 1170 MAY OFFER RELIEF TO THOSE JUVENILES CONVICTED TO LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE

I previously discussed the 2012 United States Supreme Court case, Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. ___ , wherein the Supreme Court held that mandatory sentencing laws carrying life without parole were unconstitutional for juvenile offenders convicted of committing murder and the subsequent Supreme Court case earlier this year, Montgomery v. Louisiana, making the decision in Miller v. Alabama retroactive. In the same year that the Supreme Court published Miller v. Alabama, the California Legislature enacted a new law in the Penal Code under section 1170, which provides for a petition process to defendants who were under the age of 18 when they committed an offense for which they were sentenced to life without parole. Under this statute, juvenile defendants so sentenced can, after 15 years of their term, petition the sentencing court to resentence the offender.

Now this is law does not fall under the equation outlined in Miller v. Alabama because it does not concern mandatory sentencing but it does address the same reasoning for the Supreme Court’s decision. In Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court recognized the differences between the teenage brain and the adult brain. The majority opinion in the Miller v. Alabama decision recognized the “hallmark features” of the teenager’s conduct, including “immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences.”

On a recent afternoon, a Texas grandmother discovered that her two granddaughters, aged 12 and 5, were missing from her home. Her car was missing too. Imaging the worse—that her granddaughters have been kidnapped from her home and forcibly taken in her car by the kidnapper—she called 911 to report the incident

Fortunately for Grandma, she had OnStar installed in her car and the police were able to quickly track the location of her car. The police caught up with the car and a chase ensued. The police dash cam videotape of the chase looks like a police chase out of an action thriller. The driver of Grandma’s car was running red lights, sideswiping vehicles while weaving in and out of traffic, and going at speeds of up to 118 mph. The chase lasted about 40 minutes along Highway 105 in the outlying suburban area of Houston right during rush hour. At one point during the chase Grandma’s car was heading right into oncoming traffic.

Ultimately police were able to have the OnStar center shut off the car remotely. The chase ended— almost miraculously without any injuries. Inside Grandma’s car sat her 12 year old granddaughter at the steering wheel with her 5 year old granddaughter in the passenger seat. The frightened 5 year old jumped straight into an officer’s arms; the 12 year old was arrested.

SISTER ACCUSED OF MURDERING HER TWIN WHEN SHE DRIVES BOTH OF THEM OFF A CLIFF

A woman was driving her vehicle in Maui with her twin sister sitting in the passenger seat. Witnesses said they observed the two sisters arguing in the car while the car was stopped and that the sister in the passenger seat was seen pulling the driver’s hair. Another witness described the driver as being in a rage before the vehicle took off for a sharp left into a rock wall and then plunging 200 feet over a cliff. The passenger died. The driver was charged with the second-degree murder of her sister.

The prosecutor alleged that the driver intentionally caused the death of her sister. In Hawaii second-degree murder can be charged if a person intentionally or knowingly causes the death of another person. At first glance, you might ask: How could the driver know that the accident would kill her sister, and perhaps more to point, kill her sister but not her? Maybe the driver intended it to be a murder/suicide. And you might also wonder how the prosecution could prove that the driver intended to kill her sister. That witnesses saw the two in a heated argument in the vehicle plus evidence that when the driver went off the cliff, she did not hit her brakes, was not enough for the judge. At the preliminary hearing the judge dismissed the murder charge after finding that there was no probable cause to support the charge. The judge determined that the prosecution lacked sufficient evidence to support the allegation that the driver intentionally caused her sister’s death.