INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER IS OFTEN A CRIME OF STUPIDITY

Stupidity often puts otherwise law-abiding people on the wrong side of the law, but this act in Minnesota might be among the stupidest ever. A young and very pregnant woman, 19 years old, shot and killed her boyfriend. The entire killing was videotaped. Why? Because her boyfriend, in his quest for fame on YouTube asked his girlfriend to shoot him. The girlfriend, carrying the couple’s now fatherless child, made an announcement on Twitter a few hours before the event, stating that they were going to videotape one of the most dangerous stunts ever.

The young man, now deceased, believed that a bullet could not penetrate the hardcover encyclopedia he held against his chest upon which his girlfriend then pulled the trigger on a .50 caliber pistol point blank at the book. It’s all there on the video they planned to post on YouTube.

The opioid epidemic in this country couldn’t have happened without the doctors. Now, I am not saying all doctors are bad, I am just stating a fact. I am not imputing motivation, but I suspect money had something to do with the fact that some doctors found a good business model in pain relief. And, I am sure some doctors thought they were doing a good thing to prescribe opioids to their patients who were suffering from tremendous pain — after all, the pharmaceutical companies marketed the opioids as wonder drugs with negligible risk of addiction.

But about ten years ago, the consequences of all these legal opioid prescriptions became tragically evident. This country is now struggling with an opioid crisis and overdose deaths are rising at rapid rates every year.

What about those doctors who prescribe opioids at to patients that overdose and die? Is the doctor the proximate cause of a person’s death? While there have been numerous instances of doctors across the county convicted for overprescribing opioids, none were charged with murder until 2015. In that year, a California doctor was convicted of second-degree murder for the deaths of three of her patients—one from Orange County—for whom she had prescribed opioids and other dangerous drugs, even though as the prosecution successfully established, she knew of the dangers. Despite one of her patients overdosing in her clinic and numerous phone calls from authorities warning her that some of her patients had died with drugs in their system, she continued to dole out dangerous prescriptions. Although she was only charged with the three deaths, there were at least five other patients in her care who died from overdoses. The California doctor was the first in the country to be charged and convicted of murder for the reckless prescription of opioid drugs. The doctor’s sentence: 30 years to life.

CREATE THE ENEMY AND MAKE THE WAR: AMERICA’S WAR ON DRUGS

The History Channel is running a very interesting Docuseries about the War on Drugs. Many viewers of the series may be shocked to learn how one arm of the government has been prosecuting the War on Drugs while the other arm is actually facilitating the entry of drugs into the United States. The documentation leaves no question that the history of drugs in this country is a history of the United States government, and in particular the military/security agencies, as the drug kingpin. Does that sound outrageous? Unfortunately, it is documented truth.

Many readers will recall the Iran-Contra affair, if not the details, at least the name. The Iran-Contra affair was a complicated conspiracy to bring weapons to the Contra rebels fighting the nascent “Communist” government in Nicaragua in the 1980’s. The United States Congress had passed a law forbidding weapons sales to the Contras, but those in the Regan Administration, zealous to wipe out the perceived communist threat, were determined to support the Contras anyway. An illicit scheme was devised by the National Security Council. Weapons to the Contras were supplied by a clandestine operation run by the National Security Council with Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North in charge. The weapons were flown into Nicaragua and the planes returned to the United States loaded with cocaine, which was sold to drug dealers mostly in Los Angeles. The proceeds from the cocaine sales were used to buy more weapons for the Contras. It is made clear in the documentary—and anecdotal first-hand accounts support the claim—that this affair was known to, and approved by, then Vice President George H.W. Bush. Hard to believe, but it is well-documented and the facts are not disputed.

Perhaps you have heard of the “Twinkie Defense.” The term derives from the 1979 trial of Dan White, a former San Francisco Supervisor who, following a dispute with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, shot and killed both men at the San Francisco City Hall. Mr. White’s defense was that he suffered from “diminished capacity” due to his depression. His defense attorneys argued that among Mr. White’s symptoms of depression was his consumption of unhealthy sugary foods. The press invented the “Twinkie Defense” even though Twinkies were never mentioned at trial.

Mr. White, who was charged with first degree murder, was convicted of the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter. He was not convicted of murder due to the successful argument that Mr. White suffered from depression and thus acted with diminished capacity. The defense did not argue that Mr. White’s mental state was impaired because he ate Twinkies, as urban legend tells the story; rather the ultimately successful defense was that Mr. White’s state of mind due to his depression negated premeditation, which was a required element to convict on first degree murder. Diminished capacity is something less than insanity.

But that fake news story about the Twinkie Defense took on a life of its own.

Sometimes a person arrested for a crime will swear he or she was nowhere near the location when the criminal incident took place., but the prosecution will allege otherwise…with evidence to prove it. That evidence: tracking of the defendant’s cell phone. Even if the defendant wasn’t using his or her cellphone at the time, the cellphone sends data to cell towers, or more commonly these days, the GPS system embedded on most cellphones does the work. All the police need is the defendant’s cellphone (assuming he or she was carrying it at the time of the alleged crime) to find the defendant’s location at the time. But what if the cellphone, say, disappeared? The authorities can still get the information from the cellphone service provider.

In California, the state authorities need a warrant (or the cellphone owner’s consent) to search any cell phone data, but that isn’t true in all states and it isn’t the case for federal crimes. So even if an individual is suspected of a crime in California, but it is a federal crime being investigated by federal authorities, those authorities do not need a warrant to search historical data held by the suspect’s cellphone service provider.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that every person in this country is secure from unreasonable searches and seizures. How “unreasonable” is defined is the subject of many a treatise but for purposes here and ignoring the enumerated exceptions for the moment, if there is no warrant, the search and seizure is considered by law to be “unreasonable.” How would the warrantless search of historical cellphone data as recorded by the cellphone service provider fit into the cellphone owner’s Fourth Amendment guarantee?

ANGER MANAGEMENT

Many violent crimes have one common variable: anger. As a criminal defense attorney in Orange County, I have witnessed the role anger plays in violent crimes from domestic abuse to assault to murder. While most people are able to control their feelings of anger to some degree or another, those who commit violent crimes often do so because they do not have the ability to control their anger. While there is certainly a multitude of variables that plays into any violent crime, anger is almost always one of them. And according to an analysis conducted by psychiatrists at Oxford and Maastricht Universities, when anger is combined with impulsiveness, there is a substantially increased risk of a violent outcome. But we don’t need studies to tell us what we already know: many who commit violent crimes have a problem with uncontrolled anger.

That is where anger management comes in. One of the most common exhibitions of uncontrolled anger that ends in arrest is domestic violence and child abuse. A person convicted of either one of these offenses in Orange County will surely be required to attend anger management as a part of the sentence. The defendant so ordered would be wise to take these classes very seriously. Why? A felony domestic violence conviction is the single greatest predictor of a future violent crime. Domestic abusers, if they cannot get their anger under control, will often abuse again…. or worse.

Last week I wrote about computer-assisted bail decisions. There is something even bigger afoot: a bill before the California Legislature—California Money Bail Reform Act of 2017—would end bail altogether for a wide array of charged offenses. Even when a judge grants bail, the offender often can’t pay it. This results in a huge number of individuals who are incarcerated even though they have not been convicted of any crime. In effect, they are incarcerated because they are poor—or at least, too poor to pay the bail bill. The California Money Bail Reform Act of 2017 would end excessive bail amounts for most misdemeanors and some felonies.

Consider that the median bail amount ordered in California is $50,000. Even with the services of a bail bondsman, the defendant, or his or her family and friends, must come up with $5,000 to make bail. This is no small amount, especially if you are poor. And it means that a defendant unable to make bail will probably lose his or her job, with the cascading consequences of a job loss. Seems as though the bail system is pretty unfair to poor people and that is one of the primary reasons for the introduction of this bill. And if you think this affects only a small number of people, you would be wrong. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, over 60 percent of inmates incarcerated in county jails across the state are there awaiting trial or sentencing, that translates into 46,000 incarcerated individuals on any given day. Most are there because they couldn’t afford bail. Not only does this affect the individual who couldn’t post bail, but his or her family too.

In reality what this creates is a two-tiered system. One for the reasonably well-off and one for the not so well-off. If a person accused of a crime—even a very serious crime—has enough money to make bail, he or she will usually be granted freedom on bail. If a person is too poor to make bail—even for a minor crime such as a misdemeanor—he or she will lose the freedom to return home to family and work. In both cases, the alleged offender is innocent until proven guilty but one is free the other is a prisoner. What justice is there when it takes money to buy your freedom?

With the recreational use of Marijuana now legal in eight states including California and its medical use legal in many more states, it might be time to revisit Reefer Madness. We laugh at that 1936 film that claimed marijuana created psychotic addicts but there may have been some truth in that old movie. While there is no evidence that “the burning weed with its roots in hell” as marijuana is depicted in Reefer Madness causes users to become violent or insane, there is substantial evidence that marijuana usage can increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

The risk is particularly pronounced in adolescents who have a genetic susceptibility to schizophrenia. In a study conducted at the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv (Israel) University, researchers conducted experiments on mice that had a mutant gene indicating a genetic susceptibility to schizophrenia and on a control group of mice that were not susceptible. The mice were there exposed to THC. After exposure, the schizophrenia-susceptible mice exhibited behavioral and biochemical brain pathologies indicating a schizophrenic episode, while no similar indications presented in the non-susceptible mice. I am simplifying the research and findings but the upshot is that the researchers found that the clinical representation mimics a schizophrenic “first episode” in humans.

Now you might think, as I did, that this is one study and it was done on mice. But other studies, independent of the one conducted at Tel Aviv University, have confirmed these results. At Bristol University in England, researchers found that THC disrupted the brain activity in rats that is responsible for memory and decision-making leaving the rats no longer able to navigate a maze. The areas of the brain affected in this study are also the areas of the brain implicated in schizophrenia. The authors of the study, which was published in the Journal of Neuroscience, believe that there is a connection between abuse of marijuana, which causes the brain disruptions, and onset of schizophrenia. One U.K. study even estimated that if marijuana use were eliminated in the U.K., schizophrenia would decrease by 8%.

A new law took effect on January 1, 2017 that may help some immigrants who face possible deportation due to a previous conviction. The federal laws concerning immigration stipulate that non-citizens, even those persons who are here legally, may be deported if they have been convicted of a deportable crime, and even if that conviction happened many years ago. With the stepped-up immigration controls and deportations, this has become an urgent matter for some immigrants.

The new law in California, codified as Penal Code section 1473.7, allows those persons who are no longer under the jurisdiction of the court (that is, they are no longer incarcerated or serving a post-conviction sentence such as probation) to move the court to vacate the conviction if 1) the conviction or the sentence was legally invalid because the defendant pleaded guilty without understanding the potential immigration consequences or 2) there is newly discovered evidence that the defendant was actually innocent of the crime for which he or she was convicted.

Until this new law was passed, there was no legal remedy for a noncitizen to challenge a conviction or sentence if he or she was no longer under the jurisdiction of the court.

On November 8, 2016, California voters passed Proposition 57, The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 201, by an overwhelming majority of 64%. This proposition contained two key provisions:

1) It makes certain non-violent felons eligible for immediate parole and

2) It requires a court hearing before a juvenile can be tried in adult court.