Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney

Archive for the ‘Questions Everybody Asks Criminal Defense Lawyers’ 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 aprobation 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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What Are “wobblers” in California Criminal Law?

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Like any other profession, the world of criminal law has its own lingo.    Go into any criminal lawyers office, any courtroom and you’ll hear the word “wobbler” thrown around quite a bit.   So what is it?

In California, there a wide variety of offenses that can be charged as either felonies or misdemeanors.  These offenses are wobblers.  What sort of felonies are wobblers?  Well, too many to list here, but here are a few of the most common:

    • Domestic violence or spousal battery with injury (Penal Code 273.5)
    • Grand Theft (Penal Code 487)
    • Possession of certain controlled substances (Health and Safety Code 11377)
    • Possession of concentrated cannabis (aka hash) (Health and Safety Code 11357(a))
    • Driving Under the Influence with Injury (Vehicle Code Section 23153)
    • Sexual penetration with a foreign object where victim is a minor (Penal Code 288(h)
    • Criminal Threats (Penal Code Section 422)
    • Resisting arrest by force (Penal Code 69)

So how does the prosecutor decide whether to file a charge as a felony or a misdemeanor? It depends on the severity of the alleged conduct and the defendant’s criminal history.  For example, if  a guy with no criminal record or arrests is accused of hitting is girlfriend and it leaves a small bruise or other minor injury, that may very well be charged as a misdemeanor.  If someone with a series of arrests or prior convictions is accused of the same thing, even if the priors are unrelated to the current charge, a felony may be filed.   Along those lines, if the injury is more serious, it may be filed as a felony even if the injury is not severe.  It also largely depends on the policies of the individual prosecutor’s office.  Even within the same county, each prosecutor’s office in each courthouse has a different policy.

 The other thing to know about wobblers is that even if the case if filed as a felony, it gives your attorney some room to try and reduce the charge to a misdemeanor – either at a preliminary hearing or through negotiating with the DA.    Even if someone is convicted of a felony, if the charge is a wobbler, they may be eligible for the case to be reduced to a misdemeanor through the expungement process.
If you want to know more about wobblers, or to discuss your criminal case in general, call me for a free confidential consultation at 310-210-0744.
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Lessons From Amanda Bynes’ Arrest: Don’t Talk, Squawk, or Tweet

Monday, June 11th, 2012

“Anything you say can or will be used against you.”

How many times have we all heard these words when someone is arrested on a TV show?  It’s almost become a cliché.

As a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, I know that many people who are arrested don’t fully appreciate that, in the context of talking after you have been arrested, anything really does mean anything.  Even the most innocuous-sounding language can come back and hurt a person who has been arrested.

A recent example involving a celebrity illustrates the point.

On April 6, Amanda Bynes, who starred in the Nickleodeon show, “All That,” and later appeared in the film version of the musical “Hairspray,” was arrested in West Hollywood for hitting the corner of a sheriff’s vehicle with her BMW.  Approximately seven weeks later, she was charged with driving under the influence and for refusing to take a Breathalyzer or blood-alcohol test.

After finding out that she is facing these charges, Byrne sent out the following message via Twitter to President Obama and her more than 250,000 followers:

“Hey @BarackObama… I don’t drink. Please fire the cop who arrested me. I also don’t hit and run. The end.”

Some of you might be thinking:  “What’s the big deal?”  It’s not as if she admitted to something or said something incriminating.  True.  The most important reason for not talking to the police or making a public statement relating to charges is that people can and often say something that directly implicates their guilt.  It’s shockingly common for people to admit to committing a crime (or what they think is a crime) or to provide information that either corroborates some other incriminating evidence, or provides the basis for cross-examination at trial.  Here, Ms. Bynes stated that she doesn’t drink, thereby indirectly affirming her innocence.  Her statement could have been worse.

But for several reasons she still would have been better off keeping quiet.  First, being charged with DUI hardly makes someone appear likeable.  Contacting the President and asking him to fire a local police officer isn’t a great popularity move either.  Should this case ever go to trial, prosecutors have an incentive to try to get the tweet admitted into evidence.

Second, the message on Twitter generated much more media attention than the original arrest or the decision to press DUI and related charges.  When news of the tweet spread, so did the picture of the mug shot.  This isn’t the kind of attention that most people, even celebrities, need.  It’s also possible that this kind of media attention may subtly bias the pool of potential jurors.

Third, and most importantly, the press attention may make it much harder for the prosecutors to accept a plea deal.  They may be more motivated than they otherwise would have been to try Ms. Bynes.  Although it’s premature to tell, it’s certainly plausible to believe that the ill-advised tweet could actually increase the punishment Ms. Bynes ultimately receives for allegedly hitting a sheriff’s patrol car back in April.

Admittedly, a certain amount of speculation is involved when determining how a certain public disclosure impacts how a particular case will be defended.  Nonetheless, if you are arrested, the safest course of action is to stay quiet and let an experienced criminal defense lawyer do the talking for you.

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Yes, Lawyers Are Allowed To Send You Mail After Your Arrest

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

If you have recently been arrested, you’ve undoubtedly been flooded with mail from attorneys seeking your business.  You may find this irritating and embarrassing, and you may also feel like it is an invasion of privacy (especially if you are trying to keep your arrest secret from friends or family).  Frankly, we find this sort of direct mail marketing distasteful.  We have never sent jail mail and don’t plan to.

Clients frequently ask us if there is any way to stop the deluge of this “jail mail” from attorneys whom they have never heard of and have no intention of hiring.    The simple answer to the question is “No”, you can’t stop a criminal defense lawyer from sending unsolicited mail.  Why is this?

To start with, this sort of advertising is protected commercial speech under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.  As for the invasion of privacy issue, your arrest record is public record.  Some lawyers spend hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars a month to direct mail companies who subscribe to the daily Los Angeles County arrest reports and then send these advertisements to the people named in those reports (yes, the home addresses are in the arrest reports too).

However, there are some things you should know.  Under the California Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys, the lawyer advertising mail you receive must be clearly labeled as an “advertisement” or “newsletter” or some similar language.  Also, the advertisement cannot make any guarantees about the outcome (e.g. “We’ll promise to get your case dismissed!”), especially because there are no guarantees in a criminal case, period.  Finally, if you do decide to hire a lawyer who sends you ads in the mail, and there is an advertised fee in the ad,they cannot charge you more than the advertised fee.  So, if you decide to hire someone because they said they’d handle your DUI for  $799 then you find out that they really need $2500, they may be behaving unethically and illegally.

Of course, you should also be asking yourself what exactly it is you expect from a lawyer who charges you $799 for a DUI…but that’s another post for another time.  In the meantime, we’re sorry you have to endure yet another indignity in the wake of your arrest.

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The Myth of the Wet Reckless In Los Angeles DUI Cases

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Many people accused of a DUI in Los Angeles believe that their lawyer get their DUI charge reduced to something known as a “wet reckless.”   For the uninitiated, a “wet reckless” is an alcohol related misdemeanor that is similar, but less serious than a DUI.  The benefits to a wet reckless include a shorter probation period, lower fines, six weeks of a weekly alcohol class rather than 12 weeks, and in LA County there in no requirement that an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) be installed on your vehicle.  However, a wet reckless is still “priorable”, meaning that if you get convicted DUI in ten years, the wet reckless counts as a prior DUI conviction and the penalties on your next DUI will be enhanced.

Do not be fooled by an attorney promising you that he or she can “get you a wet reckless with no problem” in your DUI case.  For starters, a good DUI lawyer should always vigorously investigate your case and be ready to take your case to trial.  Whether your case actually goes to trial or not, preparing for trial is the way to get the best deals.  Now, if you blow a .08 or .09 on a first offense, sure there’s a strong chance you can get a wet reckless and if your lawyer does his or her job properly you may even get an even better offer.   But if your breath or blood shows that you have anything more than a .10, your lawyer is going to have work to get that wet reckless.  Los Angeles DAs and City Attorneys don’t give away wet reckless for nothing, your lawyer is going to have to research the case, file the discovery motions and really challenge the police and prosecution’s case.

  • Were the chemical tests performed properly?
  • Was the breath machine functioning normally?
  • Did the officer administer the breath tests correctly?
  • If blood was drawn, was the blood drawn, preserved and stored properly?
  • Was the equipment that tested the blood in working order?

These are just a few of the issues that a lawyer needs to investigate and discover in most cases.  Of course, if there is really a significant problem with the way in which the tests were done, you may find that your lawyer is able to get the charge reduced even further or you may even be able to take your case to trial.   Whatever your circumstance you need to be sure that a qualified criminal defense lawyer is handling your DUI case.

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