You might remember back ten or so years ago when flash mobs were all the rage. A large group of “conspirators” preplanned an event at a crowded venue – for example at Grand Central Station in New York City or a large mall in Los Angeles – and delighted the crowd with a choregraphed dance or impromptu theater.  Such events were a welcome respite to the hustle and bustle of the city.

We still have flash mob events, but now they are far more nefarious. Across the country, mobs – sometimes only a few people, sometimes many – are invading retail stores and grabbing the merchandise.  Southern California is one of the hotbeds for this crime. Just a few weeks ago a group of five to ten thieves took off with at least $100,000 worth of merchandise from a Gucci store in South Coast Plaza. The suspects wore hoodies and masks and after grabbing the merchandise in a matter of minutes fled on foot to waiting get-away vehicles. Fortunately, no one was injured in the robbery.

Southern California, especially Los Angeles, has been plagued with flash mob robberies.  These robberies are planned and well-organized.  The robberies are often planned online via social media or other internet communications. At one flash mob event—a robbery of a Nordstrom in Los Angeles—more than 30 people were involved. All were masked, making it harder to identify the suspects. Witnesses reported that the thieves tore the store apart, broke glass cases, and made off with more than $300,000 in merchandise.  Of the many flash mob robberies, plausibly involving hundreds of suspects, only a handful of flash mob thieves have been arrested.

Ghost guns present a considerable threat to gun control laws. Ghost guns are guns that are assembled by component parts bought online. These guns are increasingly posing a challenge to law enforcement and to public safety. The component parts, essentially a gun kit, are available online for anyone to purchase.  The criminal use of ghost guns is an increasing menace and something that we will hear more about in coming months and years. These guns have been linked to hundreds of shootings, including murders; unfortunately, the use of ghost guns is rising.

Ghost gun kits or components are typically purchased online and assembled at home. Assembled ghost guns are also being sold on the street. There are no age restrictions or background checks for purchasing ghost gun kits or component parts. Once assembled, the gun has no serial number, making the gun difficult to trace. Given their ease of acquisition, ghost guns are particularly popular among teens, although they are being used in crimes committed by adults as well.

Assembling a homemade gun is not illegal. Building homemade guns has long been a tradition in the United States among hobbyists and gun enthusiasts. Ghost guns, however, do not require the skill and knowledge that is required to build a homemade gun from scratch. Ghost guns are simple enough for a kid to put together without any skills in the gun making process. The companies who sell the parts to make the gun usually sell the unfinished frame and/or receivers, about 80 percent of the gun’s component parts, while the remaining 20 percent of the gun requires simple manufacturing processes that can be done at home.

Manzanillo, a port city on Mexico’s Pacific coast and about 175 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, is one of the busiest ports in Mexico. It is also where most of the fentanyl gets it start as it winds its way up the North American continent.  It is no secret that fentanyl overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans between the age of 18-45 and represents almost 70% of the drug overdoses in the U.S. Approximately 150 people a day die from an overdose of fentanyl.

What is the journey of a fentanyl tablet or capsule as it makes it way from the Manzanillo port to the shores of the United States?

Most fentanyl that hits our shores gets it start as precursor chemicals that come in containers from China. Most of these containers are filled with clothes, electronics, auto parts and other typical exports from China, but in amounts nearly too small to find, are the precursor chemicals that are transported to rudimentary labs in Mexico’s northern states. Only small amounts of the precursor chemical are needed to make a supply of Fentanyl that would satisfy one year’s worth of demand in the U.S. This, plus the fact that these precursor chemicals can be used for legal purposes makes interception of these chemicals from China almost impossible to stop. Add to that, the fact that the Mexican cartels control the import of these chemicals and their journey to the labs and eventually to the U.S. makes this a near intractable problem. Any interference by the Mexican authorities often results in the death of the authority.

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.

The mental health diversion statute (Penal Code section 1001.36) was amended in the 2021-2022 Legislative Session to encourage the courts to make use of mental health diversion.  The amended law became effective on January 1 of this year.

Penal Code section 1001.36 was enacted in 2018 to address the fact that many defendants who cycle through the criminal justice system suffer from a mental illness or disorder. The purpose of the statute was to allow these defendants to petition the court to divert adjudication of their criminal case and allow the defendant to enter a regimented treatment program, as ordered by the court. Not all offenses are eligible and not all mental disorders will qualify, but the statute is broad and includes many mental disorders and crimes.  If the treatment is successful, the court will dismiss the charges against the defendant.

The law recognizes that often crimes are committed because individuals who commit crimes suffer from a mental disorder. For example, someone who is in and out of the justice system for theft might suffer from a drug addiction and the reason he or she constantly steals is to pay for that habit. Section 1001.36 attempts to address the underlying reasons for the defendant’s entry and re-entry into the criminal justice system. Another example might be a defendant who is charged with assault because he has bipolar disorder, but he has not been treated for this condition.

You are hanging out in a park with a couple of friends. Two police officers show up and ask you and your friends what you are doing in the park. You walk away, which is within your rights.  If you do attempt to walk away and the officers prevent you from doing so, you are legally detained. Or you don’t walk away because you believe you are not free to walk away due to an articulable intimidating presence of the officers. In either case, you are being detained.

You may ask the officers: “Am I being detained?” and, indeed, you should. It is important to establish whether you are detained on not. (If the officer says you are not being detained, then you are free to walk away.) The reason it is important to establish whether you are detained or not is because of what may come next. If you end up getting arrested subsequent to the detention, you may be able to suppress the evidence if the court determines that the detention was unlawful.

You find out from the officers that they received a report of suspicious activity in the park and that you and your friends fit the description of the individuals who are suspicious. In this case, or under other circumstances where an officer can establish reasonable suspicion that you are engaged in or about to engage in criminal activity, the officer can legally detain you for a brief investigation. This is known as a Terry stop, named after the Supreme Court case, Terry v. Ohio (1968) 392 U.S. 1., where that court held that an officer may conduct a brief investigative detention when there is reasonable suspicion that the individual stopped is armed or where the officer suspects criminal activity is afoot.

Not long after the invention the Model T, people in the U.S. fell in love with their cars. Nowhere was the car culture more celebrated than in California. (Perhaps you recall the hit 80’s song “Walking in L.A.” The chorus: “Walkin’ in L.A., nobody walks in L.A.”.) Back in the day, street (drag) racing was popular, and dangerous. The “sport” has been celebrated in iconic movies and in popular lore. Street racing remains a major concern for law enforcement in California and it is even more dangerous now. Not only is there street racing on our roads and highways, but there are sideshows, often in parking lots, and street takeovers.

While sideshows are not new, they have been increasing in popularity in Orange County, and indeed, all over the country. Sideshows and street takeovers involve exhibitions of speed with drivers performing stunts such as drifting, donuts, and burnouts. These exhibitions take place in parking lots or on city streets and highways. The most brazen of these stunts is what is known as “ghost riding,” where the driver exits a moving vehicle and dances around it before hopping back in. Some of these exhibitions involve hundreds of vehicles and sometimes multiples of that as viewers. Thousands of these events take place every year in California. According to the California Senate, the California Highway Patrol responded to almost 6,000 calls involving speed contests or sideshow exhibitions in 2021.   The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) links many fatal crashes directly to this type of risky driving.

In 2020, the California Highway Patrol initiated an effort, Communities Against Racing and Side Shows, to address these dangerous, and unfortunately popular, driving exhibitions. Identifying sideshows, street takeovers, and street racing as a major cause of vehicular deaths and injury, the CHP launched this campaign to focus on the issue with the goal of decreasing these tragic outcomes. Along with enhanced speed enforcement, CHP has created task forces with local law enforcement and social media promotions on the dangers of these driving behaviors.

No doubt you have heard the news that Alec Baldwin is to be charged with involuntary manslaughter after fatally shooting a cinematographer on set. I won’t recount the alleged series of events leading up to this charge as most everyone is familiar with the story. What is important to know is that Mr. Baldwin was handed the gun on set and according to Mr. Baldwin believed it was not loaded with live bullets. In other words, according to Mr. Baldwin, the shooting was, though tragic, an innocent mistake.

After the incident, Mr. Baldwin was questioned by detectives. He was cooperative and eager to help the investigation, voluntarily answering their questions.  Before his sit down with the detectives, he was read his rights, which included the right to remain silent, his right to have an attorney present, and the admonition that anything he told the detectives could be used against him in a court of law. Mr. Baldwin confirmed with the detectives that he was not charged with any crime and then proceeded to “spill the beans.”

He told all because he wanted to help and he honestly believed he was not guilty of any crime, since the shooting was an obvious mistake. As Mr. Baldwin and the detectives knew, guns are used all the time on movie sets, there are special experts on set, called armorers, whose job it is to make sure the guns are either not loaded or loaded with blanks. Mr. Baldwin explained to the detectives that when the armorer handed him the gun, she told him it was “safe” but asked him if he wanted her to double check. Having never had a problem with a “hot” gun on set before, and this being routine, Mr. Baldwin told the armorer, “I’m good.” This seemingly innocent statement to the detectives is what led to Mr. Baldwin being charged with involuntary manslaughter: this statement indicated that Mr. Baldwin was criminally negligent because he had a responsibility to check the gun before firing it on set.

You may have watched the popular reality TV series “To Catch a Predator” which aired from 2004-2008. In that series, law enforcement would set up adult men who thought they had arranged a tryst with a minor.  The scheme went something like this: an adult man would go online looking for minors (usually girls) to have sex with. On the other end of the online hookup would actually be a law enforcement officer posing as the minor. Eventually, there would be an arrangement to meet at which point, the TV show’s tapes started reeling. The unsuspecting adult would show up and before he knew it, he was tackled to the ground and arrested for soliciting a minor.

To Catch a Predator is no longer on the air but luring unsuspecting predators into the hands of law enforcement is a thriving business. Did I say business? Well, yes, it is. Across the country, self-styled vigilantes, often working with law enforcement, have set up their own predator sting operations. Going on popular hook-up or chat apps, these vigilantes posing as children, engage with adults. Sophisticated in the legal requirements to prosecute for soliciting a minor, the vigilantes are careful to set up the predator so that the elements of the crime are satisfied. These vigilantes then provide law enforcement with the evidence they need to prosecute the predators.  The vigilantes usually live stream their predator captures on Tiktok, Facebook, YouTube or other social media. These social media accounts bring in donations and/or membership fees and can have thousands of followers. Social media, such as YouTube, also monetize videos and popular uploads can make plenty of money.

But as with Catch a Predator, which went off the air after a Texas assistant district attorney — understanding that he had been exposed — shot himself as the To Catch a Predator camera crew entered his house, the vigilante operations have potentially dangerous consequences. Some law enforcement agencies and prosecutors refuse to work with these groups fearing a confrontation could turn violent, that the evidence could be altered, and because of the obvious concern that untrained civilians confronting a predator in public places may present a danger to the public.