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California Right to Counsel in Criminal Cases (CA Penal Code section 19.6)

Today’s post will be short. I’m going to go over the right to have a lawyer appointed for you in a criminal case and how that is handled in California state court. Most of you — at least I hope it is most of you — have heard of the 6th amendment to the US Constitution which says the following: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” (emphasis added) The part I’ve bolded and underlined is where a criminal defendant’s right to an attorney comes from. If you’re familiar with the Miranda Warning — or at least seen it on TV before — that also mentions a criminal defendant’s right to have an attorney. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?” (emphasis added) What this right to counsel means in the real-world, though, can be quite involved. Some...

California Gang Database (CalGang) Removal (CA Penal Code sections 186.34 and 186.35)

Over the last several months, the Los Angeles Police Department has been involved in a scandal where several of its officers have been accused of adding people to California’s CalGang database without sufficient cause. The Los Angeles Times has reported on this extensively. Some officers have been criminally charged with falsifying the evidence and documentation needed to justify adding someone to CalGang. Allegedly, these officers were fabricating this evidence in order to meet quotas instituted by LAPD’s data-driven culture about how many people they needed to add to CalGang. Failure to meet those numbers would presumably have been used as evidence individual patrol officers were not doing their jobs, not being productive, etc. The LAPD has now been sued civilly for this scandal by people who allege that they suffered injuries (e.g. job loss) as a result of being improperly included in CalGang. In this post, I’m going to go over two sections of California’s Penal Code — sections 186.34 and 186.35 — pertaining to how individuals who have been added to CalGang can challenge their inclusion. These two statutes, obviously, are not specific to the city or county of Los Angeles. If you have a problem with CalGang elsewhere in California, these statutes might be helpful for you as well so read on. What is CalGang? Let’s start from the basics. CalGang is a statewide database maintained by the California Department of Justice. Like any database, it is meant to provide a single source for accurate information about a particular subject that multiple parties can draw upon. According to the CalGang website, CalGang’s purpose is to “provide law...

Can You Record the Police in California?

In this post, I’m going to go over a situation that I’m sure we’ve all seen. I’m not sure how often it occurs in reality, but when it does occur, it always seems to go viral. Can you take a photograph or video of law enforcement when they’re making an arrest or detaining someone for an investigation?  A lot of the videos I’ve seen before where, for example, someone tries to record law enforcement officers making an arrest involve one or more of the officers threatening or informing the person to put their camera away because making a recording “interferes” or “obstructs” the officers in some way. Three thoughts come to my mind in response to a statement like that: There are enough cameras nowadays everywhere that we’re all being videotaped and photographed in some way every day. This doesn’t even consider the stuff that people voluntarily share on social media. It’s implausible for anyone to expect that anything they do out in the open on a public street is private or confidential in anyway. If you want privacy, confidentiality, etc, you’re not going to find it on a public street. Government is supposed to be transparent as well which means that any government employee (e.g. law enforcement officers) should expect that the public would be interested in what they do. For all of these reasons, I personally don’t buy in to the argument that merely recording or photographing law enforcement officers detaining someone, arresting someone, etc is obstruction, interference, or is in some way improper. If you feel similarly and you’re in California, you’re in luck because California...

California Dying Declarations (CA Evidence Code 1242)

In court, there are a ton of rules about what evidence can be used and what evidence can’t be used. In past posts, I’ve described how only relevant evidence (in California; in New York and under Federal law) can be used in court. What occurred in the real world is often not what is dealt with in court. Many laypeople are shocked to know this when they get involved with their first court case. In California state court, the set of rules that govern what evidence can and can’t be used is the California Evidence Code. In federal court, there are the Federal Rules of Evidence. The specific name varies, but every jurisdiction in the United States generally has its own set of evidence rules. One major component of the evidence rules — regardless of jurisdiction usually — is hearsay. Hearsay is easy to define — I learned it in law school as (1) statement, (2) made by a person, (3) outside of court, and (4) an attempt is being made to admit that evidence for the truth asserted therein. See section 1200 and onward in the California Evidence Code. These criteria are, obviously, fairly basic. As an aside, in the real world, it’s rare that you would quickly be able to tell if these criteria are satisfied. You’d likely have to answer some more nuanced questions first, such as “What exactly is a ‘statement’?” Anyway, aside over. If these 4 basic/simplified criteria are met, then the statement can’t be used in court… unless an exception of some kind applies. As many law students in the US — and...

Drugs and DUI in California

Is it possible in California to get charged with drunk driving (aka “driving under the influence”) if you’re high on drugs instead of intoxicated on alcohol? Absolutely. I’m guessing that that isn’t widely known given the fact that I snapped the above picture on April 21, 2019 on Highway 99 in Merced County, California. Weirdly, there are several laws that apply here. I’m going to mention four of them. First, there is California Vehicle Code Section 23152(f). It’s short and sweet. It specifically says: “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle”. You would think that this would be clear enough to not need another law, but you’d be wrong. The problem that arises under Section 23152(f), however, is that there isn’t a specific standard by which “under the influence” of a drug can be proven like it can be with a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.08 or more for alcohol intoxication. To address this problem, California has two additional laws — Vehicle Code sections 23220 and 23221 — which forbid the driver and passenger of a vehicle from using alcohol, marijuana, and marijuana products while the vehicle is being driven. Lastly, Vehicle Code section 23152(g) makes it “unlawful for a person who is under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug to drive a vehicle.” As always, this post is not intended to be a comprehensive discussion of the topic, but I hope you found it helpful nonetheless. If you have a situation involving a drug DUI or other topics described in one of my blog...

Clerk’s Arraignments for Misdemeanors in California Criminal Court

In California, arraignments are generally the first time that a criminal defendant makes their appearance in court. Every arraignment is slightly different because no two cases and no two courts are exactly the same. If you are facing misdemeanor criminal charges in California and want to learn more about what happens at an arraignment, I have video on my Youtube channel about it. Depending on the particular court you’re in, the judge you’re in front of, etc, you may have the option of doing something called a Clerk’s Arraignment instead. It is what it sounds like — you get arraigned in front of a court clerk (i.e. a non-judge who just works for the court) as opposed to an actual judge or court commissioner. Some of you might be going ‘Whoa, what? Is that legal?’ The answer is that it is, but – in my experience at least – it is not common. I would guess that I encounter it less than 10% of the time on misdemeanor cases. All of those are on cases where the defendant has his or her own attorney (i.e. not the public defender). I have never seen a Clerk’s Arraignment done in a case where the defendant is appearing without a lawyer. If you have, leave me a comment down below. There are many reasons why a Clerk’s Arraignment might be done. One is speed. For the vast majority of misdemeanor cases, arraignment is routine and uneventful for an attorney to do. Additionally, misdemeanors are very common so it is not unusual for an attorney to wait in line for 45 or more...