Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney

Archive for the ‘Criminal Defense’ Category

What is Joint Suspension in a California Criminal Case?

Friday, July 5th, 2013

One of the terms that people frequently hears tossed around the corridors of a criminal courthouse are clients asking their attorneys if they can get a “joint suspension.” I’ve found that there is a bit of confusion as to what, exactly, “joint suspension” means.

Here’s the deal:

In California, a court  sentences a defendant to probation in one of two ways, either “Imposition of Sentenced Suspended” and “Executed of Sentence Suspension.”   Joint suspension is “Execution of Sentence Suspended”  Here’s the difference:

“Imposition of sentence suspended” is the default probationary sentence.  The defendant is sentenced to certain terms and conditions of probation but there is no set penalty or punishment if the defendant violates probation.

“Execution of Sentence Suspended” or “joint suspension” is also a probationary sentence, but the punishment for violating probation IS set.  Usually the punishment for violating probation is a state prison sentence…which is why it’s called “joint suspension” (an old slang term for prison is “the joint” and your sentence in “the joint” is suspended).

So if you are put on “joint suspension” probation, and you violate your probation, you automatically get sentenced to prison?  Not necessarily. You still have the right to a probation violation hearing at which your attorney can provide evidence in your defense as well as any mitigating factors in your favor.

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Pay Off Those California Traffic Tickets

Friday, June 14th, 2013

If you have an old California traffic ticket in collections in the California Court system, you probably think it’s a money problem. You want to pay off the ticket, but you just don’t have the cash. GC Services, Alliance One, or any other 3rd party collection agency contracted by the courts tend to demand about $1000 per unpaid California traffic ticket. Maybe you have multiple tickets in collections and the collection agency is asking for $3000, $4000, or more. Every time you get the collection notices in the mail, or the annoying calls on the phone, you just wish you had the money to pay them off and move on with your life. Maybe you even set up a payment plan because you are hoping they will see your good intentions and give back your suspended drivers license. All the while you are riding the bus, catching rides from friends, or driving on your suspended license while looking over your shoulder. Every day is groundhog day and you are hoping that today is not the day you get pulled over. Nobody wants to have their car impounded and nobody wants to go to jail.

This is exactly how the collection agencies want you to think. Their goal is to get you thinking that a pile of money is the only way out for old California Traffic Tickets. Their motto is “Pay us our exorbitant fines in full, until then you are stuck”. They also force you to believe that if you don’t pay them, the problem will get worse. I have had hundreds of clients tell me over the phone that collection agents from GC Services have threatened them with all sorts of problems for non payment. Things like, “it will go on your credit report”. “I’m going to flag your file as non-compliant if you don’t make a payment by the end of the day”, and other spurious collection techniques. While it is true that having an unpaid California traffic ticket can trigger a suspension of your license, a warrant for your arrest, and increased fines, these penalties are not issued by the collection agency. The collection agency exists to do one thing and one thing only and that is to COLLECT. The collection agency does not solve your problem, they don’t give legal advice (or at least they shouldn’t), and they definitely aren’t looking out for your best interests. These are not the people you want to talk to if you are looking to find the cheapest and best solution to the problem on a California traffic ticket.

I am here to tell you that 9 times of 10, paying the collection agency is a terrible idea. The collection agency will do everything they can to make you think that paying is your only option, but in reality you usually have the option of appearing in court on your California traffic ticket. Appearing in court is always a better option than paying collections. You can appear in court on your own behalf, or you can send an attorney to appear for you. In many cases hiring a lawyer is cost effective because the lawyer can save you so much money on your California traffic ticket that it offsets the price of the retainer. By hiring a California traffic ticket lawyer or fighting the ticket(s) on your own, you can almost always get the fines reduced significantly compared to the amount requested by the collection agency. You can usually get your license back immediately upon appearing in court as well, instead of waiting until paying the case is paid in full like the collection agency told you. To top it all off, by appearing in court you can often have charges reduced or dismissed or obtain a referral to traffic school. These things will save you money down the road when it comes time to pay for car insurance to go with your newly reclaimed drivers license.

If you have questions about your California traffic ticket in collections, or need help with a suspended license, DUI, or other California traffic ticket problem, send me an email at attorneygallagher@gmail.com or give me a call at 800-797-8406. If you are a tweep, you can follow me and catch helpful legal tips @ticketfixers. You can also read our blog posts on Flock of Legals.

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Arrested for Shoplifting in California? Five Things You Need to Know

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

If you or a loved one were arrested for grand theft, petty theft and/or commercial burglary in Los Angeles County or anywhere else in California, here’s five things  you need to know:

1)Remember when they told you to “Just Admit Everything And You Wouldn’t Be Charged?”  That Was a Lie.  Yeah, sorry.  That loss prevention officer who took you into that little room and told you that if you just told the truth that nothing bad would happen to you?  Lies.  All lies.  You may have figured this out by now, but that confession you made to the store detective or that you wrote out is going to be used against you.

2) Be wary of an attorney who promises you a “civil compromise” to prevent prosecution.  Technically speaking, if you are charged with a misdemeanor petty theft case, a civil compromise is available under Penal Code 1377.  In a civil compromise, the defendant negotiates a settlement with the store and the case gets dismissed.  But I’m telling you right now, if you stole from a big chain store or a store that is owned by a bigger corporation, the odds of getting a civil compromise are very low.  If a defense lawyer tells you that he/she will “get you a civil compromise” ask them to do the following:  1) Put the guarantee in writing in their retainer agreement; 2) Give you the last three cases (with case numbers) where they obtained a civil compromise from a big chain store.    Watch what happens.

3)  Do NOT pay the letter from a civil law firm demanding money until you talk to a lawyer.   You’re going to get a letter from a law firm, probably from Florida with a local office in California, making a “civil demand” for damages.  This letter will tell you to pay a few hundred bucks by a certain date under the threat of a higher payment.  Do not pay.  It has nothing to do with your criminal case.  Paying it will not make your criminal case go away.  This letter is a shakedown to get more money out of you.  They’re banking on the fact that you are scared and vulnerable.  Your lawyer can explain it to you in detail.  But do not panic and just pay what they’re asking.  You’re throwing money away.

4)  Get Honest With Yourself.  Do you have a problem with stealing?  Do you steal items you don’t really need. Do you steal even though you may be able to afford it?  Are you worried that you’re addicted to the thrill of it? Is there another underlying issue?  I know it is embarrassing and tough to admit, but  you MUST get some help to get this under control.  Why do you need help?  Because you can’t control this on your own.  You’ve now been arrested for it (maybe more than once). In California, petty theft (shoplifitng) is what’s known as a “priorable” offense.  This means the punishment will increase every time you get caught.  The third time you get caught, you could be charged with a felony. Also, if you get out in front of this and get into counseling to deal with the issue, an experienced criminal defense attorney should be able to use this to help your case.

5) Even If You Were Caught and You Confessed, You Still May Have A Defense.  Look, I get it.  You were caught with the clothes in the bag or you confessed you changed price tags or whatever.  Plus you confessed.  Plus they say they have you on video.  Whatever the case may be, DO NOT just go to court and plead guilty.  Every courthouse deals with these cases differently.  I’m a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney.  I can tell you that the way these cases are handled in Beverly Hills courthouse is different than Airport courthouse which is different than downtown or Van Nuys.  It depends whether the District Attorney is prosecuting the case or the City Attorney is prosecuting the case.  It depends on the exact facts of the case. It depends on the specific circumstances of your life.  It depends on a LOT of things. Did you take not much more than $50 worth of stuff?  If so, you may be able to negotiate this down to an infraction.   Bottom line:  Call a qualified criminal defense lawyer to at talk about your case.  A good lawyer will be honest with you, give you a real assessment about your case and won’t just try to “close the deal” to get your money.

And hey, if you want to talk to me. You can always give me a call at 310-210-0744. I’m happy to talk to you at no charge.

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Medicare Fraud Arrests in Los Angeles

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

The feds are getting serious about Medicare fraud.

More than 100 people have been charged in connection a Medicare fraud conspiracy that is alleged to span eight cities. Eight of the suspects are in Los Angeles, including two doctors.

According to news reports, more than $20 million in fraudulent medical expenses were billed just by the defendants in Los Angeles:

All told, 108 doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers from around the nation were charged. In Los Angeles, authorities said defendants had filed $20 million in false claims.

Bolademi Adetola, owner of the Latay Medical Services company in Gardena, was charged with billing Medicare for power wheelchairs that never were purchased. The Greatcare Home Health group allegedly paid “kickbacks” to recruiters to find “patients” who were in good health, and then arranged to have doctors knowingly write phony prescriptions for them.

In addition, [two doctors]  were among four individuals connected with a Southern California medical care group that authorities say billed Medicare for feeding tubes for patients who did not need them.

The allegations described above may sound extreme, but as a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer, I can sssure that they are fairly typical for Medicare fraud cases.  Medicare fraud is a specific form of lying.  It is motivated by a desire to obtain reimbursement for medical expenses to which one is not entitled.  One common way to do this is to submit claims for medical procedures or services that were not performed.  Another involves paying third parties to find patents who then seek medical treatments that they don’t need.  A third involves submitting claim forms that identify a higher-cost service than was actually performed.

Medicare is a program that is administered by the federal government. Medicare fraud cases, unlike the vast majority of crimes, are therefore handled in federal court, which has its own rules, judges, prosecutors, and juries.  That’s why it’s imperative that you work with a lawyer who is experienced in defending criminal cases in federal court.

Unlike many criminal cases, Medicare fraud cases can also be document intensive.  Prosecutors often rely on written evidence –the claim forms submitted to Medicare—to try to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  In a case with more than 100 defendants, prosecutors may try to get lower-level individuals to testify against perceived ring leaders.  It is also possible that law enforcement may have obtained recording of certain conversations.  Thus, when defending a Medicare fraud case, particular attention needs to be given to the evidence that the prosecutors use with respect to every claim submitted to Medicare.

The penalties for Medicare fraud can be severe.  If someone is found guilty of intentionally providing false information in violation of The False Statements Act (18 U.S.C. 1001), they can face up to five years in jail as well as a sizeable fine.  Under the federal sentencing guidelines, the prison time can be higher depending on the amount of loss.  Likewise, the Social Security Act contains an anti -kickback provision, which makes it a felony to pay kickbacks, refunds, or bribes to seek Medicare reimbursement. Penalties for violating the anti-kickback provision include up to a five-year prison sentence and up to a $25,000 fine. People charged with Medicare fraud may also be charged with violating the federal wire and mail fraud statutes, which carry their own prison sentences and fines.

Given the number of people arrested in this particular case, it is likely that the prosecutors will be seeking extremely long prison sentences against the people who they perceive to be the ”big fish.

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California’s Child Molestation Law: Giant Statute of Limitations Loophole

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

The recent arrest of a former Modesto teacher highlights just how treacherous California’s statute of limitation law can be regarding allegations of molesting a minor.

Christopher James Hooker, 41, is, to state the obvious, not a sympathetic figure.  He left his wife and family to live with a former student.  He and the student are adamant that their sexual relationship did not begin until after she turned 18.  Not surprisingly, the student’s mom hates Mr. Hooker, and has vowed revenge.

Thanks to California’s statute of limitations law, her wish might come true.  On Friday, April 6, 2012, Hooker was arrested and charged with sexual assault of a minor.  The charges do not, however, relate to the women he recently moved in with.  Apparently, the prosecutor couldn’t find any evidence that his current relationship is unlawful. Instead, the charges filed against Mr. Hooker relate to a different student—a 17 year old he befriended while teaching back in 1998.

It is a common misconception that murder is the only crime that doesn’t carry a statute of limitation.  That may have been the case several decades ago, but not anymore.  In fact some states including California have abolished the statute of limitations for aggravated rape (which among other things can require that the victim be seriously injured).

In addition, the legislature has made it much easier for prosecutors to file molestation charges almost at any time.  At first, the California legislature voted to abolish the statute of limitation retroactively, but the courts struck that down as unconstitutional.  The current statute of limitations for filing charges of molestation against a minor is ten years.  That would seem to be a problem for prosecutors filing charges against Mr. Hooker for what he allegedly did 14 years ago.

There is, however, a giant loophole in California statute of limitation law.  Molestation charges can also be brought one year from the date it is reported to the authorities regardless of when that happens, and even if the ten-year time limit has expired.  That’s probably why prosecutors have concluded that the statute of limitations isn’t a problem with respect to Mr. Hooker.

As a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer, I know that most people are entirely untroubled by this situation.  Most people seem to believe that no amount of time is too long to file molestation charges.  On some emotional level, that reaction might seem satisfying.  But statute of limitations charges exist for a reason. The more time passes the harder it is to find evidence.  And the memory of witnesses is especially likely to fade over time.  Moreover, child molestation charges are being made in an increasing number of divorce cases, where couples are fighting over custody.  It’s an extremely serious charge to make against someone, and unfortunately it is all too easy to make.

Time will tell whether the charges brought against Mr. Hooker are warranted.  A few things are already clear.  One is that the charges have already served one of its intended purposes.  The former student broke up with him after he was arrested. Her mother is no doubt happier.

It’s also clear that statute of limitations issues in sexual abuse cases are no place for amateurs. It is an especially important area, and one that you should bring to an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

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Police Dogs Sniffing For Drugs Are Surprisingly Unreliable

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

As a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, I see firsthand how dogs can be used to prevent a wide array of people from being treated justly.

Before going any further, let’s get something out of the way:  I love dogs.  But when it comes to how dogs are used to determine who gets arrested and what happens during and after the arrest, my complaint isn’t with the dogs; it’s how the police use dogs.

The constitutionality of using dogs when someone has been stopped is well established.  In 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures is not violated when, as part of a traffic stop, a dog is brought in to sniff the exterior of the car.  This doctrine was decided in Illinois v. Caballes, in which the car was stopped by the police for about ten minutes.  There is no hard and fast rule how much time has to pass waiting for the dog before the search becomes unreasonable.  In making this decision, most of the Justices focused on the extent to which the dog sniffing dog was intrusive.

Justice Souter, however, disagreed with the decision, focusing on how academic research had questioned the reliability of dogs brought to potential crime scenes. His basic point was simple—dogs aren’t especially reliable at identifying drugs or contraband.

The infallible dog, however, is a creature of legal fiction. Although the Supreme Court of Illinois did not get into the sniffing averages of drug dogs, their supposed infallibility is belied by judicial opinions describing well-trained animals sniffing and alerting with less than perfect accuracy, whether owing to errors by their handlers, the limitations of the dogs themselves, or even the pervasive contamination of currency by cocaine. . . . Indeed, a study cited by Illinois in this case for the proposition that dog sniffs are “generally reliable” shows that dogs in artificial testing situations return false positives anywhere from 12.5 to 60% of the time, depending on the length of the search

It’s not that dogs don’t have a much better sense of smell than humans do—they clearly do.  They are unreliable, however, because dogs have a strong desire to please their handlers.  Thus, it can be difficult to tell whether the dog is reacting to the presence of drugs or is reacting to subtle clues sent by the police officer who is handling the dog.  An increasing array of research suggests that dogs can be easily misled into “finding” drugs when they don’t exist.  A more recent study published in the journal, Animal Cognition, showed error rates on up to 85%. Interestingly, the dogs were most likely to be wrong about finding drugs when their handler suspected that a given location had drugs.

The studies mentioned above assume that the police officer handling the dog is being fair.  But unfortunately that isn’t always the case.  Sometimes the police officer in question deliberately acts in a way that encourages the dog to act if drugs are present.  A recent stop that was videotaped is a good example of this.  As reported in The Huffington Post, filmmaker Terrance Huff and his friend were stopped in a small town in Illinois on their way back from St. Louis.  The stop lasted 17 minutes and was videotaped by a camera that was located on the dashboard of the police cruiser.  The stop didn’t result in an arrest, but it nonetheless shows some questionable police conduct.

When an expert who trains police officers in dog handling techniques was shown the video, he concluded that the police officer acted improperly by among other things changing how he used his voice to signal the dog to react as if drugs were present.

“Just before the dog alerts, you can hear a change in the tone of the handler’s voice. That’s troubling. I don’t know anything about this particular handler, but that’s often an indication of a handler that’s cuing a response.” In other words, it’s indicative of a handler instructing the dog to alert, not waiting to see whether the dog will alert.

“You also hear the handler say at one point that the dog alerted from the front of the car because the wind is blowing from the back of the car to the front, so the scent would have carried with the wind,” Papet says. “But the dog was brought around the car twice. If that’s the case, the dog should have alerted the first time he was brought to the front of the car. The dog only alerted the second time, which corresponded to what would be consistent with a vocal cue from the handler.”

It turns out the officer in involved in this incident, Michael Reichert, has had a checkered past.  And at least one judge has found his courtroom testimony not to be credible. He was let go by one police department but was later reinstated and then hired by others.

So what does mean for someone who is arrested in Los Angeles on suspicions of possessing drugs in their car?  Does it mean that the use of drug sniffing dogs will be found to be improper?  Probably not.  Dogs are likely to be a part of police work for the foreseeable future.  But what these cases do show that defending a case involves digging into details.  You can’t assume that the stop was proper, or that the officer was honest, or that the dog wasn’t tricked, or any number of other details that might show that the arrest wasn’t proper, or that there is more going on than the police officer initially realized. This is yet another example of why being a criminal defense lawyer requires attention to detail and persistence.  It’s also why people who have been arrested rarely can judge whether or not they have a solid defense. For that, you need to call an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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Prosecutors Acting Badly

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Sometimes people are repeatedly surprised by the same thing.  It happens over and over again, and yet people are shocked as if they are experiencing it for the first time.

That’s the first thing that crossed my mind when I heard that 60 Minutes had reported about Michael Morton, who had spent 25 years in prison for a murder that DNA evidence later showed he did not commit.  The most surprising aspect of Mr. Morton’s odyssey through our criminal justice system is not that he was exonerated by DNA evidence.  As documented by the Innocence Project, that has happened more than 100 times. The supposedly shocking of Michael Morton’s ordeal is that he was the victim of prosecutorial misconduct.  Specifically, the prosecutors didn’t turn over evidence that tended to show that Morton wasn’t guilty.

As a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, I interact with prosecutors, both state and federal, on a daily basis.  There is no question that a vast majority of them are honest and hardworking.  But we should stop being surprised that some prosecutors hide evidence or don’t otherwise live up to their responsibilities.  The criminal justice system is set up so prosecutors have a tremendous amount of control over what happens to those who are arrested. Prosecutors are often much more influential than judges, who try a small percentage of cases. It can be very tempting for prosecutors to cut corners to help convict someone who they already “know” is guilty.

Too often, prosecutors win cases because the accused lacks the resources to mount a full defense.  This is one reason why it’s so important to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side.  That is one way to make prosecutorial misconduct less likely. I have no illusions that my mere presence forces prosecutors to be more diligent than they otherwise would be. I firmly believe that most prosecutors are diligent.

But I do wish that we would stop being surprised when we hear that some prosecutors acted badly or cheated the system. It’s both a rare event and, given the number of cases that go through the system, one that happens all the time.

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