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The Brave New World of Law Enforcement Investigation

The digital age has changed everything in the world around us and law Enforcement is no exception. Back in the old days, police investigation procedures were limited to talking with potential witnesses, taking lots of photographs, lifting fingerprints, forensic analysis of blood, and that sort of thing. Now law enforcement has investigation tools that make their job easier and make it harder for the criminal to “get away with it.” But these tools present their own dangers to the public. As civil rights advocates warn, the brave new world of law enforcement tools endanger our civil liberties. I will discuss why this may be so in my next post but today, let’s review just a few of the new age law enforcement tools.

We might begin with DNA analysis, which was no doubt the first huge law enforcement tool of the digital age. We are all familiar with DNA analysis, but it’s pretty amazing to think that it has only been around since the mid-1980s. DNA has proven to be a very effective law enforcement tool and on the flip side, DNA evidence techniques have freed individuals who were wrongly convicted of a crime.

As most people know, codependency exists where one person supports another person’s addiction, anger or other psychological weakness. In the criminal context this unbalanced relationship rears its head very frequently. To the extent a parent or other loved one unequivocally and unreservedly supports the weakness of a child or other loved one, the cycle of codependency renews itself.

In my practice, I am presented on almost a daily basis with a parent of an adult child overcompensating for the child’s deficits. The hallmark of a codependent relationship is a lack of bilateralism, that is that the parent and child, regardless of the age of the child do not share in the responsibilities of their daily lives. Often times, the parent tries to explain away, justify or otherwise limit the moral or ethical responsibilities of his or her child.

Codependent people typically lack self-esteem and seek external influences to make themselves feel better. Typically, this is most often seen in alcohol or drug dependency. Sometimes though, it can rear its head in domestic violence settings.

In California, current law prohibits both public and private employers from asking an applicant to disclose any information concerning an arrest or detention that did not result in a conviction. Further, as of July 1, 2014, all state and local agencies are prohibited from asking applicants to disclose information regarding criminal convictions, with some exceptions, until it has been determined that the applicant meets the minimum employment qualifications for the position.

Exceptions include: Peace Officers, Court Employees, Prosecuting Attorneys, Public Defenders, Health Officers, Child Support EE’s, Child Care Providers, IHSS Workers, Park, Playground, Rec Center EE’s and Residential Care Facility EE’s.

Recognizing that the barriers to employment for people who have criminal convictions increases unemployment and increases the risk of individuals reoffending, the Legislature has found that reducing the barriers will decrease unemployment and improve economic stability in communities.

A grove of marijuana plants was found a few weeks ago by Orange County Parks Personnel, which they believe had been growing for quite some time. The grove was discovered very close to a “really nice residential area”, which is unusual, especially a grove this large.

According to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, approximately 2,500 to 4,000 plants were discovered in the Canyon area of the Laguna Wilderness Park and may be worth around $5 million. The plants are reported to be in various stages of growth and it seems clear that the grove has been there, unnoticed by residences and OC Parks Personnel, for a while. Although the plants were discovered outside of city limits, residence are shocked that anyone or any group, would be so brazen as to cultivate such a large grove of marijuana in such a visible area. They are equally as shocked that it went unnoticed long enough to grow so large.

On August 15, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department began a marijuana cultivation eradication operation, which will consist of narcotics investigators hiking into the area, which is apparently very rugged, in order to pull up the plants manually. The Sheriff’s Department has also enlisted the help of an airship to lift the plants and carry them to a area nearby where they will be processed as evidence.

St. Paul, Minn has a new bill that may someday make it’s way to California. It is called the criminal records expungement bill. The bill will allow those convicted of misdemeanors and some low-level felonies, to get their criminal records sealed.

The idea behind the new law is designed to help people go forward with their lives and help with potential jobs and housing. There are many companies who have policies against hiring people with a criminal record, even if that record is 20 years old. The mistakes people make when they are young follow them around for the rest of their lives and in many cases, prevent them from getting good jobs.

During the signing ceremony, a woman spoke of how two misdemeanor convictions, when she was 18 and 20, have derailed her getting hired with good companies. Even though she has changed her life and worked her way through college, her criminal background continues to hold her back. She earned a marketing degree but lost out on good jobs once a background check was done.

Two graduates of an exclusive Pennsylvania prep school were charged with operating an extensive drug ring that dealt cocaine and marijuana to students at high schools and colleges in an affluent part of Philadelphia, authorities said on Tuesday.’

These two young men reportedly led the effort to create a “monopoly” on drug sales in the area and used high school students to deal drugs at their local schools. They are being accused of using the schools to create drug addicts and using their privileged connections to move the drugs through the suburban neighborhoods.

It is being reported that the young men referred to the drug network as the “main line take over project” which employed students from five of the local high schools and three colleges, to distribute cocaine, marijuana, hash oil and ecstasy. It is also being reported that the two young men, the leaders of the operation, expected the “sub-dealers” to meet quotas at the schools they were assigned to sell to.

In very simple terms, a Ramey Warrant is an arrest warrant that is obtained by a police agency by going directly to a judge and bypassing the district attorney.

Typically, in order for a police agency to get a warrant, they must submit a report to the District Attorney and, if the District Attorney feels there is enough evidence to file the case, the police agency can request that the case be filed and at the same time, an arrest warrant issued. This is referred to as a “Walk-through Warrant.” However, with a Ramey Warrant, the officer may skip the district attorney and go directly to a judge. The police agency must submit a declaration, along with a report, to the judge setting out their reasons for requesting that the judge issue the warrant. If the Judge believes that there is probable cause, and sufficient evidence that this person has committed a crime, then the judge will issue the warrant. These types of warrants are often requested and processed after regular business hours.

So why would a police agency choose to get a Ramey Warrant instead of just the traditional arrest warrant? Well for one reason, it is faster. The police agency may not want to wait for the District Attorney’s Office to review the paperwork, which they have submitted. So, they bypass this and go straight to the source. However, most commonly, this is done when a police officer feels that he may not have enough evidence for the district attorney to actually file the charges. He doesn’t want to take the chance that the district attorney will reject the case. So, if he can get a judge to issue a Ramey Warrant, he can then arrest the person and question them with the hope of obtaining enough information and sufficient evidence to present it to the District Attorney for filing. Basically, the officer’s hope is that, once they have the individual in their possession, they will get what they need to make their case and end up with the sufficient evidence needed to get the case filed.

There are some who believe that as the weather warms up, there is an increase in criminal behavior. This however may be due to the increase in the number of interactions that people have with one another during the warmer months. Warmer weather can bring together potential wrongdoers, victims, and belongings all in the same place.

Southern California, with its beaches and warm weather, is a very popular vacation destination. Even for those who live in Southern California, the beaches become a popular place for people to hang out and party during the summer months. Orange County California is especially known for this due to the beautiful beaches and Orange County attractions.

Orange County law enforcement agencies are very well aware of this and employ officers specifically to watch the beach communities, making sure that things don’t get too out of control. They will be busy writing tickets and making arrests for disturbing the peace, drunk in public and disorderly conduct throughout the summer.

As a criminal defense attorney practicing in Orange County, California for more than 20 years, I have represented many individuals charged with battery, as well as battery on a peace officer. The legal definition of battery is: “Any willful and unlawful use of force of violence upon the person of another.” We often hear the term “battery” in conjunction with the term “assault”. However, they have different meanings.

In California, “Assault” is defined as an intentional attempt to physically injure another or a menacing or threatening act or statement that causes the other person to believe they are about to be attacked. So notice that I said “intentional attempt”. You do not have to have had actual physical contact with another person to be charged with assault. Just the threat of physical harm can get you arrested if that person believes that you are serious. A failed attempt to hit, kick or strike someone is also considered an assault because you had intent to hit but missed. Unlike “Assault”, “Battery” requires some form of physical contact. A conviction for battery could result in a fine of $2,000.00 or jail time up to six months, or both.

When we talk about battery on a police officer, the charge becomes much more serious. Police Officers fall within a protected class, which, including peace officers includes custodial officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, lifeguards, security officers, and others who fall within this “protected class”. If convicted of battery on a peace officer, the penalties can include State prison for up to three years.

A 24-year-old man was sentenced to 4 years in prison and 15 years probation after being found guilty of cyberstalking a fellow student at the University of Central Florida. As an Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney, it has been my experience that the Orange County Courts are extremely aggressive when it comes to this type of crime.

Cyberstalking is a relatively new crime, which is occurring more often due to the increased sophistication of electronic communication. Law enforcement agencies have actually developed special “task forces” to investigate and handle these matters as more incidents are being reported. In 1998, the California legislature amended it’s stalking laws to include electronically communicated threats. Basically, cyberstalking is stalking by the use of an electronic communication device. California stalking laws prohibit harassing and/or threatening someone to the point that they fear for their safety or the safety of a family member. If the threat or harassment is communicated through email, text, phone, Internet, video, fax or any other electronic device, it is referred to as cyberstalking.

Regardless of how severe the circumstances, the Orange County District Attorney prosecutes stalking cases aggressively. Here are some examples of cyberstalking, some of which may come as a bit of a surprise to some people:

Unwanted/unsolicited threatening or harassing emails;
Unwanted and/or disturbing pages, instant messages, text or sext messages I (“sexts” or “sexting” refers to sending explicit photos or messages, cell phone to cell phone);
Posing as another person in a chat room and writing things on behalf of that individual that are intended to anger other chat room participants;
Posting embarrassing, or humiliating information about the alleged victim;
Posting personal information (including a phone number, address, workplace, etc) about another person, encouraging others to harass that person.

Logging into on-line accounts to empty a person’s bank account or ruin that person’s credit.

In order to be convicted of cyberstalking, the prosecution must prove the same elements as in the traditional California anti-stalking laws, only the credible threat must have been made electronically. The following are the elements that must be proven:

Maliciously or willfully harassed or threatened another person
Made a credible threat against that person;
Placing that person in reasonable fear for them self or their family;
The threat or harassment was communicated by the Internet or other electronic device.

If convicted of cyberstalking, the sentence can range a great deal. Cyberstalking is a “wobbler” meaning that the prosecution can file the case as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending upon the facts of the incident and the criminal history of the accused.

If convicted of misdemeanor cyberstalking, the sentence may include: up to a year in a county jail and fines of up to $1,000.00.

A felony conviction for cyberstalking may include up to five years in the California State Prison, fines of up to $1,000.00 and possible lifetime registration as a sex offender under Penal Code 290.

There are defenses to this serious charge that an experienced criminal defense attorney will be familiar with and know the best way to present you and your defense to the prosecution. If only one element of the crime that the prosecution must prove is unfounded, the case must be dismissed. In other words, the prosecution must prove all of the elements in order to get a conviction.

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