California Supreme Court Reels In 3 Strikes Law

Every year in this state many people are sentenced to life in prison under California 3 strikes laws. As any criminal defense attorney will tell you, some of these sentences are unduly harsh and unjust given the nature and circumstances of the offense and the offender. Our own governor has declared that many people in prison in this state are there unnecessarily due to petty crimes. Just this week our high Court handed down a decision that curtails some of the draconian punishments that Judges impose. The following is a summary of the case courtesy of CCAP:

In People v. Vargas the defendant was convicted under CA three strikes law of a strike offense and the trial court sustained two prior strike allegations based on two 1999 convictions. Even though defendant’s two strike priors were based on the same act, committed at the same time, and against the same victim, the trial court denied her motion to dismiss one of the 1999 prior convictions. She was sentenced to a three-strike term of 25 years to life. The California Supreme Court granted review and opined “this is one of the extraordinary cases in which the nature and circumstances of defendant’s prior strike convictions demonstrate the trial court was required to dismiss one of them because failure to do so would be inconsistent with the spirit of the Three Strikes law.” Neither the electorate in its enactment of the Penal Code defining 3 strikes, nor the law makers could have intended that both such prior convictions would qualify as separate strikes under the Three Strikes law. The court disapproved a previous California criminal case to the extent it was inconsistent with the court’s decision. With this new decision attorneys will need to review both their present and past cases to determine whether any person sentenced in the past may qualify for relief under this new case. If you or someone you know was given a life sentence and they had 2 or more strikes that were the result of a single past case you should immediately find an experienced Torrance criminal defense lawyer to review the details and see if the person could be released upon successful Court action.

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Are Attorneys Fees Recoverable In A DUI Case?

A criminal DUI case in Torrance can result in the order of restitution if the offense involves a collision or traffic accident in which someone other than the defendant was injured. The Law allows for broad recovery in these types of cases. The Judge is compelled to order restitution as part of any sentence.

One of the interesting issues that arise is does a defendant have to pay the attorney fees of a victim injured in the accident? The answer is yes. Let’s assume one is accused of drunk driving stemming from a serious motor vehicle accident with injury. The victim goes out an retains a lawyer for the civil case and collects a large settlement from the accused’s insurance company, for the sake of this discussion, $300,000.00. Later, the defendant pleads guilty in criminal court and restitution is ordered. As part of that the victim can recover attorney’s fees because the law firm recovered the economic loss for the victim. The fact that the victim signed a release for settlement does not bar him or her from getting the lawyer’s fees back in the criminal case as part of mandatory restitution.

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How To Find The Right Criminal Defense Attorney

Torrance has more hundreds of lawyers licensed to practice law. If you have been arrested for a criminal charge, you should be able to find the right attorney if you know where to look. There are numerous resources available, the California State Bar offers consumers tips on finding a legal professional. Here is some direction from their website:

Personal Referral. Maybe you know a lawyer in a town where you used to live. Perhaps a lawyer who works for a corporation lives across the street. These lawyers may be able to refer you to other lawyers who have experience with your type of problem.

You could also ask your friends, co-workers and employers if they know any lawyers. Business owners and professionals such as bankers, ministers, doctors, social workers and teachers might be able to give you the name of a lawyer.

Certified lawyer referral services. You could call a local State Bar-certified lawyer referral service. This type of service refers potential clients to attorneys. After interviewing you, the referral service staff will match you with a lawyer who is experienced in the appropriate area of the law. (There is usually a small charge for the initial consultation with a lawyer.)

For an online list of certified lawyer referral services, visit the State Bar’s Web site at For a recorded message that can provide you with the phone numbers of certified services in your county, call 1-866-44-CA-LAW (1-866-442-2529). If you are out of state, you can call 415-538-2250 to hear the same recorded message. Or check the Yellow Pages of your telephone directory for a listing. (Keep in mind that the service’s State Bar certification number must appear in all advertising.)

State Bar-certified lawyer referral services must meet minimum standards established by the California Supreme Court. And because the State Bar enforces those standards, you could turn to the State Bar if you have a problem with the service. And if you were to file a complaint, the State Bar would look into it. There are other advantages as well. For example, a certified referral service:
Can refer you to a lawyer who has experience in the field of law that relates to your case.
Will refer you to attorneys who are insured. All lawyers who participate in certified lawyer referral services must carry malpractice insurance to protect their clients. This means that if your lawyer does something wrong, and you successfully sue for malpractice, the lawyer will have the ability to pay.
Will screen your call to determine whether you have a legal problem — or need some other type of assistance. And if you do need another type of assistance, the referral service can refer you to government agencies or other organizations that may be better suited to assist you. For example, you might have a problem that could be handled, without charge, by a rent control board or community mediation program.
Will only refer you to an attorney who has met certain standards of experience and is a State Bar member in good standing.
Will only refer you to an attorney who has agreed to do fee arbitration in the event of a fee dispute.
May be able to provide an attorney at a reduced rate. Lawyer referral services are required to make arrangements to serve people with limited means.
May be able to provide you with a bilingual attorney.
For more information on State Bar-certified lawyer referral services, see the State Bar’s consumer education pamphlet What Can a Lawyer Referral Service Do for Me?

Advertisements. You also could check the Yellow Pages, newspaper advertisements or the Internet in your search for an attorney.

Most lawyers choose not to advertise, other than to list their names, addresses and telephone numbers in the Yellow Pages. But lawyers are allowed to advertise in the Yellow Pages, in newspapers and magazines, on the radio and television, on billboards, on the Internet or any place else—as long as the ad does not contain false or misleading information. Lawyers may use ads to list their fields of law. They also may post their fees.

If you decide to call a lawyer featured in an advertisement, keep the ad for reference. If the ad was aired on the radio or television, make notes for your records.

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Appeals Court Upholds Criminal Threats Conviction

In everyday life people make threats but they are not taken seriously, in this case the courts found a criminal defendant did in fact violate Penal Code 422 when he threatened to shoot a person during a heated argument. Here are the facts of the case:

A juvenile court found that appellant made a criminal threat (Pen. Code, § 422) based on evidence that he threatened to kill a family friend, during an argument. On appeal, appellant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support the juvenile court’s finding. The appeals court upheld the case finding that PC Section 422 requires the threat “on its face and under the circumstances in which it is made,” to be “so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey to the person threatened[] a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution of the threat.” Appellant’s statements and actions satisfied this element. While upset, he threatened to shoot and kill The person in a loud voice using explicit language. He formed his hand into a gun, placed it into Victims face, and said, “pow, pow, pow” to emphasize his point. Victim testified that he believed appellant could actually shoot him and he called 911 to report the threat. There was no evidence that The victim perceived the statements as mere puffery or as a joke. The prosecution was not required to present evidence that appellant was armed with a gun when he made the threat. The evidence also showed that Victim was in sustained fear for his safety. He testified that he was “in fear,” “scared,” “upset,” and “shaking” immediately after the threat and the evidence demonstrated that his fear continued after he left the scene. Despite the fact that the victim testified that he was not scared of appellant generally, he feared for his safety when appellant lost his temper and the evidence showed that appellant was angry when he threatened The victim.(CCAP)

This case exemplifies how an individual can cross the line during an otherwise verbal exchange. In Torrance Court, people are convicted everyday of criminal offenses even though they say they never intended to hurt anyone, alcohol and other recreational drugs are typically involved in these cases.

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California Court Permits Expungement of Sex Offenses

The California Courts have held some sex crimes can be expunged. Here is one such case, though not a Torrance Case, where the Justices allowed a dismissal and expungement of sex charges: In 1995, Defendant entered into a negotiated plea agreement, pleading no contest to violations of Penal Code sections 288, subdivision (c), 288a, subdivision (b)(2), 289, subdivision (i), and 261.5, subdivision (d). Defendant was placed on formal probation, which he successfully completed in 1999. In February, 2013, Smith moved to dismiss the pre-1997 sex offenses under section 1203.4, and that motion was denied. Defendant appealed.

The Appeals Court Held: Under section 1203.4 and subject to certain exclusions, a defendant who has successfully completed probation is entitled as a matter of right to dismissal of his or her convictions. Although section 1203.4 has been amended to prohibit dismissal of convictions for certain sex offenses, convictions under section 289, subdivision (i), and section 288a, subdivision (b)(2) are not excluded under any amendments. Therefore, the trial court erred by denying appellant’s motion to dismiss those convictions.

Trial court correctly denied section 1203.4 relief as to Smith’s section 288, subdivision (c) conviction. Effective 1998, while defendant was still on probation, section 1203.4 was amended to exclude certain offenses from dismissal, including sex offenses under section 288. Because section 1203.4 relief was not an implicit term of Smith’s plea agreement, he is subject to subsequent legislative amendments to the statute. (Doe v. Harris (2013) 57 Cal.4th 64.) Therefore, Smith was properly disqualified from dismissing his conviction for the violation of section 288.

The Court held defendant may renew constitutional argument regarding relief as to his section 261.5, subdivision (d) conviction on remand. In 2000, after defendant successfully completed probation, the Legislature amended section 1203.4 to prohibit dismissal of convictions for felony violations of section 261.5, subdivision (d).

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The Process of Retaining A Torrance Criminal Attorney

Many folks require the services of a lawyer to help either themselves or a loved one following an arrest or a criminal charge in Torrance or one of the bordering cities. The process is easy in the age of the internet, particularly for those who do not live in the area or lack the time to come into the office.

First, contact the attorney and discuss the circumstances of your individual case, whether it be a DUI, public intoxication, domestic violences or other criminal charge. A fee will be quoted to handle the case through a certain stage of the proceedings. In most misdemeanor cases the attorney will charge a flat fee to handle the case from start to finish, barring any appeals or post judgement matters such as probation violations or collateral cases.

The following is a typical overview of representation for a PC 647f or drunk in public defense in Torrance Court:

First, we’ll send you out a retainer agreement in the form of a PDF file that is easy to download a view, the retainer should be filled out and returned to the attorney along with any additional documents that pertain to the case such as a notice to appear or bail bond paperwork.

Once we receive the retainer agreement we will open a file and commence work on the case. The first step is to schedule the Court date, we will usually go to Court for you on that day and protect your rights by entering a not guilty plea or continue the arraignment to work out a resolution with the prosecution. The case will likely proceed to another Court date where the lawyer will also show up and dispose of the case either by way of a dismissal or a negotiated disposition.

The purpose of hiring a law firm in these cases is to resolve the case to avoid a conviction for a misdemeanor which may haunt you for a long time. Our goal is to get the charges dismissed so that you or your loved one does not need to suffer the stigma of a criminal record.

Most public intoxication cases in Manhattan Beach can be dismissed upon the satisfactory completion of certain conditions such as attendance in AA or payment of booking fees to the city.

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Wife’s Testimony Before Grand Jury Does Not Waive Spousal Privilege At Subsequent Trial

The common law right to not be forced to testify against a Spouse is Alive and well in California Criminal Courts. In many cases a husband or wife cannot be compelled to testify against one another in Court. This case stands for the proposition that if one does testify at a grand jury proceeding they do not waive it later for trial.

The defendant drove a stolen van around San Francisco one night, transporting his wife and two acquaintances to various locations where the acquaintances committed robberies. After the fourth robbery, police spotted the van and attempted to stop it. A high speed chase resulted in a collision that killed an officer. At trial, the defendant’s wife testified against him over a defense objection under the spousal testimonial privilege. The trial court found that the wife waived the privilege by testifying under subpoena before a grand jury. the accused was convicted of felony murder with special circumstances, four counts of robbery, and other crimes. On appeal he challenged admission of his wife’s testimony. The appeals Court threw out the conviction. Waiver of the spousal testimonial privilege is governed by Evidence Code section 973, which provides that “a married person who testifies in a proceeding to which his spouse is a party, or who testifies against his spouse in any proceeding, does not have a privilege . . . in the proceeding in which such testimony is given.”

In California, the grand jury is an investigative body, which, if it finds probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, prepares an indictment. A grand jury proceeding is not adversarial and an indicted person is not deemed to have been a “party” to the proceedings. Additionally, a criminal prosecution is a different “proceeding” from grand jury proceedings and any waiver resulting from grand jury testimony does not carry over to a criminal trial. The grand jury’s limited role in the charging process distinguishes it from a subsequent criminal proceeding, which does not even exist before the indictment is filed. The error in allowing the appellant’s wife’s testimony was prejudicial in connection with three of the robberies. (Thanks CCAP)

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