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Every year the FBI publishes an extensive analysis of crime data in the U.S. The crime data for 2022 was recently published and shows a mixed picture. While violent crimes and homicides decreased slightly from 2021, the rates are still high when compared over the past ten years of 2012-2022.

The rate of violent crimes for the U.S. took a significant upswing in 2020, but has declined since then, although the rate remains high at 380.7 violent crimes per 100,000 people. (For comparison, 2014 had the lowest violent crime rate in the past 10 years at 361.6 per 100,000.) California was an outlier with an increase in overall violent crime in 2022. In fact, California’s overall violent crime rate is at its highest rate since 2008. While murder was slightly down in California, there was a significant increase in aggravated assault, which likely contributed to California’s overall violent crime statistics.

Homicides nationwide saw a slight decrease in 2022, although the rate is still high as compared to the years 2012-2019. In 2020 and 2021, homicides increased from 5.1 per 100,000 people in 2019 to 6.5 and 6.8 in 2020 and 2021 respectively. The 2022 rate saw a slight decrease to 6.3. California followed this trend with a 5% decrease in homicides in 2022.

As has been discussed many times in these pages, the Fourth Amendment secures the right to be free of searches absent a warrant establishing probable cause. A law enforcement search without probable cause is unlawful.  …Or so they say.

Over the years, many exceptions to this right have been carved out. One exception to the Fourth Amendment is vehicle searches. While probable cause to search a vehicle is nominally still in effect, the threshold is lower. Warrantless searches of a vehicle and contents therein may be searched if a law enforcement officer can establish probable cause that some sort of criminal activity is afoot.  (Other exceptions apply, such as consent to search and a search incident to arrest, but here we will discuss a search of a vehicle based on probable cause.) Under the automobile exception, a search of a vehicle is lawful if the search is based on facts that would otherwise justify the issuance of a search warrant. The courts have found probable cause to search a vehicle based on ambiguous facts, such as the officer observed the driver or passengers making furtive movements, or the nervousness of the driver coupled with other observations.

But how far can the search go? Recently, the California Court of Appeals held that officers cannot search the trunk of a vehicle if the search was conducted on probable cause that contraband or evidence was located in the passenger portion of the vehicle. The case, People v. Leal (2023) 93 Cal. App. 5th 1143 binds officers to a probable cause search only to those portions of a vehicle where facts observed or known to officers justify the search.

California already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. Governor Newsom just made the laws even tougher when he signed new gun control bills into law that aim to address the rising gun violence in the state. Six new measures were enacted, and barring court challenges will become law beginning next year. (Some of the new laws will not take effect until future years.)

Senate Bill 2 amended the concealed carry law, adding restrictions and/or outright bans on where a person with a concealed carry permit may carry a gun.  The law takes effect on January 1, 2024.

Senate Bill 452 will require a microstamp on specified handguns cartridges, which is intended to enhance law enforcement efforts in tracing guns used to commit crimes. This law will not take effect until January 1, 2028 and then only after the California Justice Department has investigated the technology and determined that this is feasible.

Depending upon your point of view “livestreaming” police contacts benefits citizen civil rights, impedes police officers’ ability to do their job, and/or instigates riots. All these things are true.

Many police officers don’t like it when citizens livestream their contact with the public; they believe it interferes with their ability to properly perform their job.  On the other hand, livestreams may keep the police “in check.” Some officers abuse their power and the notion that there might be a citizen livestreaming their actions may lead such officers to follow the law.

But is citizen livestreaming police contact legal? While the courts have upheld the First Amendment right to videotape an officer functioning in public, is a livestream video – i.e., videotaping an officer performing his duties in real time and broadcasting that contact in real time to the public—subject to the same First Amendment protections? The question of livestreaming an officer and the First Amendment right to do so is an evolving area of law. A recent case heard in the federal Fourth Circuit,  Sharpe v. Winterville Police Department (4th Cir. Feb. 7, 2023) 59 F.4th 674 considered this question.

In 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill creating Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Courts, a new system of courts designed to provide treatment and support to people with untreated mental illness and substance abuse disorders who are at risk of, or are already, becoming homeless or of committing crimes. The focus of the plan is on those individuals suffering from schizophrenia spectrum and related disorders, The CARE Courts are intended to be a more effective and humane alternative to the traditional criminal justice system, which often fails to adequately address the needs of people with mental illness. The CARE Court is not a collaborative court but when an individual is referred to the CARE Court following an arrest, it essentially serves the same purpose as a collaborative court.

Candidates for CARE Court may be referred to the courts by a variety of sources, including law enforcement, mental health professionals, family members, and even roommates. An arrest of a CARE Plan candidate may also trigger enrollment in the program. A participant in the program must be diagnosed with untreated schizophrenia or other psychiatric disorders.  Once a person is referred to the CARE Courts, they will be assigned a judge and a team of professionals, including a psychiatrist, a therapist, and a case manager. The team will develop a treatment plan for the participant, which may include medication, therapy, and housing assistance. The court may order participation in a CARE Plan for up to 24 months. A participant who does not successfully complete the court-ordered CARE Plan may, under current law, be hospitalized or referred to conservatorship if no other alternatives are identified.

The CARE Courts are a promising new approach to mental health treatment and crime. By providing treatment and support in the community, the CARE Courts can help to prevent people with mental illness from committing crimes and from becoming homeless. The CARE Courts are still in their early stages, with Orange County being one of the first counties to implement the CARE Court. Orange County’s program is slated to begin on October 1, 2023.

 Legislation recently signed into law by Governor Newsom will make certain previously convicted individuals automatically eligible for the dismissal of their conviction when four years have passed since the completion of their sentence. This new law makes many Penal Code section 1203.4 petitions for expungement automatic rather than requiring filing a petition in court.

Not all convictions will be eligible, but many will. There will be no requirement to file any petition or motion for the relief. Rather, the California Department of Justice (DOJ) is tasked by this legislation to review statewide records on a monthly basis to identify those individuals who are eligible for this relief. To be eligible the individual must not have been convicted of another felony within the four year period following completion of sentence.

Persons not eligible for this relief include those who are required to register as sex offenders, persons on active probation or supervised release, those with pending criminal charges, those for whom the conviction was for a serious felony (as defined in Penal Code Section 1192.7, subdivision (c), or a violent felony defined in Penal Code Section 667.5. Serious and violent felonies not eligible include murder, attempted murder, voluntary manslaughter, mayhem, rape, forced sex crimes, sex crimes against children, arson, robbery, carjacking, and kidnapping among other crimes (refer to the above-referenced penal code sections for an exhaustive list).

Those of you who are old enough will no doubt remember the slow-motion Los Angele Police Department pursuit of O.J. Simpson’s Ford Bronco in June of 1994. The “chase” (if you can call it that) lasted approximately two hours and covered 60 miles, mostly on the 405 after he became a suspect in the murder of his wife and her friend. A good portion of the country was glued to the live news feed of the 35-mph pursuit, running from Orange County and finally ending at OJ’s home in Brentwood, a suburb of Los Angeles. That certainly wasn’t Southern California’s first police chase and not even it’s first live news feed of police pursuit, but it put Southern California on the map as police chase reality TV central.

We may be fascinated by the “excitement” of a live-feed police pursuit, but these chases are usually at higher speeds than the O.J. chase, are dangerous, and more frequent that you might think. For the most recent year, 2019, in which the statistics are made public, the CHP alone was involved in almost 2,500 police pursuits. Looking across all law enforcement agencies in the state, there were over 9,000 law-enforcement vehicle pursuits in 2018. Something around 20% of these pursuits end in a collision, some causing injury, and sadly some causing death. In 2020, 41 people died as a result of a law-enforcement vehicle pursuit making it the deadliest year on record since 2006. (Statistics for 2021 are not yet available.) A portion of those injured or killed by a police chase includes innocent bystanders.

While audiences watch the live feed of a police chase, the anticipation keeps them glued to the real-life drama. How will it end? Will there be a spectacular crash? Will someone get hurt? Will the suspect get away? The drama can increase a network’s rating, often substantially, by interrupting the regular programming for “breaking news” or devoting much of the news hour to the on-going IRL chase. The live-action event even sends spectators who are nearby out to witness the drama. It is guaranteed to get viewers and thus following these chases with helicopters equipped with cameras becomes a competitive race between the networks.

Issuance and execution of a search warrant has been in news this summer. You have probably read a few articles that mention the standards for the issuance and execution of a search warrant. Foundational to the validity of a search warrant is that the warrant must establish probable cause for the search and seizure.

When a law enforcement officer (or prosecutor), based on his or her experience, knowledge, and observations, has probable cause to believe evidence of a crime can be found in a search of property or person, the officer (or prosecutor) goes to a judge with an application, affirmed under oath, for the issuance of the search warrant. Only a judge can issue the search warrant.

“Probable cause” is a nebulous legal term that the courts still debate to this day. The Supreme Court “frequently has remarked [that] probable cause is a flexible, common-sense standard” wherein the facts available would “warrant a [person] of reasonable caution” to believe evidence of a crime is within the places or persons to be searched.  (Texas v. Brown (1983) 460 U.S. 730, 742.) That Court also described probable cause as a “particularized suspicion”, not a generalized profile. (Ibid.)

Most people are vaguely aware that the court may order a direct restitution payment to the victim of a defendant’s criminal conduct. In fact, criminal restitution is almost always mandated by law when the victim suffers an economic loss due to the defendant’s criminal act(s). Direct restitution is not ordered unless and until the defendant is convicted of the crime.

The law also mandates that the court order a restitution fine, which is paid to the state.  This is a separate and additional restitution order, but not the subject of this post. Here, we will discuss direct restitution, which is codified at Penal Code section 1202.4.

Direct restitution may be ordered on a misdemeanor or a felony conviction. Following conviction of a crime in which a victim claimed to have suffered economic losses due to the defendant’s criminal conduct, the court will make a restitution order at sentencing or at a later restitution hearing.

There is a very important concept in the application of criminal law: Intent. Most criminal acts require an element of intent, otherwise the act is generally one of negligence. (Some crimes, while not requiring intent, are criminal because the conduct was criminally negligent, but that is not the subject of this post.)

Whether a crime is one of specific or general intent may be a crucial factor in defense of the crime.  Generally, when a crime is defined as an act without intent to achieve a further result, the crime is said to be a general intent crime. For example, the crime of assault is a general intent crime because it is committed for its own end. A specific intent crime is a criminal act that is carried out with the intent to achieve an additional result. Burglary is a classic example of a specific intent crime. Burglary is the act of entering a structure with the intent of committing a theft or any felony.

Not all laws make the distinction as clearly as the burglary law does and it is not always apparent whether a crime is a general or specific intent law. For many crimes, the courts have offered decisions on whether a crime is a general or specific intent crime, but as the California Supreme Court has recognized the terms “specific and general intent” crimes have been difficult to apply. (People v. Hood (1969) 1 Cal.3d 444, 456,) The Court has also cautioned that the “rote application” of general or specific intent should be avoided. (People v. Hering (1999) 20 Cal.4th 440, 445.)