Spolin Law Wins Civil Rights Matter for Client

Posted on Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 at 4:58 pm    

Spolin Law is pleased to announce a successful civil rights outcome for a client whose property was taken by the Covina Police Department, located in Los Angeles County.

In late 2016, the Covina Police Department (CPD) impounded a vehicle belonging to a Spolin Law client.  The vehicle also contained over eight thousand and three hundred dollars ($8,300) of the client’s property.  While the CPD eventually returned the vehicle, they refused to return any of the property.  The CPD claimed that the property was needed for an ongoing investigation into an individual who had no relationship with the Spolin Law client.

Spolin Law filed a legal motion in Los Angeles County Superior Court requesting a judicial order for the Covina Police Department to return all property to the client.  The motion was opposed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

The Superior Court then conducted a hearing that spanned two days and during which multiple witnesses testified.  A Deputy District Attorney from the DA’s Office argued that, while there was no current known link between the property and any criminal activity, such a link may eventually be discovered; thus, the property should remain in law enforcement custody indefinitely.   Attorney Aaron Spolin cited the legal and factual bases entitling his client to the property’s full and immediate return.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge granted Spolin Law’s motion and ordered the full and immediate return of the property in question.  As directed by the judge’s order, the Covina Police Department released the property to the client on the following day.

For comments or to learn more about Spolin Law, call (310) 424-5816.

News Focus: Can “Defense Of Others” Apply In Animal Abuse Cases?

Posted on Friday, January 6th, 2017 at 11:59 am    

By Rachel Silber, Spolin Law Criminal and Civil Rights Law Clerk

Riverside Police arrested a man who is accused of killing a pit bull dog.  However, as the Los Angeles Times reported, the Pit Bull was attacking—and eventually killed—the accused man’s poodle.  Read the below analysis for a discussion of “defense of others” and animal abuse laws.

The poodle was on his owner’s property when the pit bull attacked.  After the pit bull clamped his jaws around the poodle’s body, it took three neighbors to unhinge the aggressor dog’s jaws and release the poodle.  According to witnesses, it appeared that the poodle was dead at that time. Authorities then report that the poodle owner (e.g., the defendant), killed the pit bull either at the end of or directly after the dog fight. (Los Angeles Times). On the suspicion of felony animal cruelty, the poodle owner was arrested. He was released on Christmas when he posted $10,000 bail. Whether the pit bull bit the accused when he was trying to unhinge the pit bull’s jaw is unclear. However, the accusation that the poodle was already dead before the pit bull was killed is a key factor in why this case is alleged to be animal cruelty.

Penal Code section 597, California’s animal abuse law, has very strict guidelines that outline what qualifies as animal abuse, and provide specific details to determine the severity of the case. These particulars determine whether the case is to be treated as a misdemeanor or felony. The Penal Code (PC) states that any person who, “maliciously and intentionally maims, mutilates, tortures, or wounds a living animal, or maliciously and intentionally kills an animal” is subject to state imprisonment and/or $20,000 in fines if found guilty as a misdemeanor. (PC § 597) However, if the severity of the animal cruelty case warrants a felony, the punishment is subject to two to three years in prison. Additionally, Penal Code section 12022 conditions that the use of a deadly weapon in the case may add an additional year to the sentence (PC § 12022). The accused was arrested on suspicion of animal cruelty because he reportedly violated Penal Code section 597 by intentionally killing the pit bull with a dangerous weapon. If the accused killed the pit bull after his own dog was already dead, and the accused knew that own dog was no longer in danger, that would preclude the affirmative defense of “defense of others.”

If evidence arises showing that the accused acted in defense of his dog while he thought the dog was still alive, then the nature of the case would shift. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions 3470 outlines the particulars of “self defense”/“defense of others” and how it could be applicable to this case. The Judicial Council instructs that if the defendant reasonably believed the defense of another was needed to protect against immediate danger, then the defendant may use proportional force to act against the attacker. If future evidence establishes that the accused attacked the pit bull out of “defense of others” for the poodle while the poodle was still alive or appeared to be alive, then there may be a viable justification.  If a jury accepts a “defense of others” argument, then the accused must be found not guilty of that crime.

California self defense law was shaped by the 2005 court case People v. Lee, which held that “the defendant must actually and reasonably believe in the need to defend, the belief must be objectively reasonable, and the fear must be of imminent danger to life or great bodily injury” (Cal. Ct. App. 2005).  If one feels his or her life is in immediate danger, human or animal, they have the right for self-defense. Another legal defense that often pertains to animal cruelty cases are accidents. California Penal Code 26 positions accidents as a viable legal defense if the crime was not committed intentionally (PC § 26).

Law enforcement authorities are currently conducting an autopsy of the pit bull dog. Depending on whether the accused has a criminal record, he could face significant time in state prison if found guilty. The severity of this type of case can result in hefty fines, if not a considerable amount of jail time even if the case is reduced to a misdemeanor. This case demonstrates the seriousness with which law enforcement take animal abuse cases as well as the limitations of “self-defense” and “defense of others” arguments.

Spolin Law Civil Rights Report – Threatening Letters Sent to California Mosques

Posted on Thursday, December 1st, 2016 at 2:20 pm    

By Rachel Silber, Spolin Law Criminal & Civil Rights Law Clerk

A slew of California mosques received hateful letters from an anonymous group titled “Americans for a Better Way” on November 28th, as reported by KTLA News. The letters were sent to Southern and Northern California mosques, as well as Islamic Centers in San Jose, Claremont, Long Beach, and Northridge.  They were addressed “to the children of Satan,” calling Muslims “a vile and filthy people.” KTLA story link: LAPD, FBI Address Threatening Letters Sent to California Mosques.  LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Downing noted how hateful rhetoric is rooted in fear and escalated by the charged political climate. However, according to the article, Downing believes that these letters are not to be considered a hate crime; rather, they are classified as a “hate occurrence.” One of the letters went on to predict that the federal government would carry out violent, genocidal acts against Muslims.

The rising pressure on Muslims and Islamic culture has been propelled by recent political conditions. The rise of Islam as an minority faith in America can be argued to increase anxiety among certain members of dominant religions. These reservations on Islamic culture, intensified by foreign events and the rise of ISIS, are expressed through hateful mediums, such as these letters (cited above). Although Downing claims that these letters are not to be considered a hate crime, one can argue otherwise. According to a 2015 Huffington Post article, the liberty of religious freedom rests upon civil and political freedoms. And as of November 30th, 2016, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has reported over 100 incidents against Muslims since the presidential election.

Religious freedom is something that Western culture has prided itself on.  Religious rights were written into the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, and this document is supposed to protect people of all religions, allowing them to freely practice their faith without discrimination. It is a federal crime to threaten or imitate people because of their religion.  Although LAPD claimed these letters are not hate crimes, it can be argued that when these letters referenced an Islamic genocide, a threat was made against a religious group. Regardless of whether “Americans for a Better Way” will be prosecuted, one theme is evident: a rise in religious intimidation is a cause for concern.

Spolin Law Negotiates Two Recent Dismissals

Posted on Wednesday, November 30th, 2016 at 8:00 am    

[Update 1/31/17: The below article announces the November 2016 negotiation of two dismissals for Spolin Law clients.  Since the publication of this article, both cases have been formally dismissed.]

November 30, 2016. Spolin Law is pleased to announce two negotiated dismissals on significant cases within a two-day span.

On the first case, a Spolin Law client was facing felony charges in Riverside County for allegedly violating Penal Code section 136.1(c)(1) (“Felony Threats to a Witness”).  This charge would have been punishable by state prison for two, three, or four years.  Attorney Aaron Spolin, a former prosecutor, is representing the client and took a “trial focused” approach from day one.  He communicated to the assigned Deputy District Attorney an unwillingness to settle for anything less than an outright dismissal, given the client’s clean record and the likelihood of a defense verdict at trial.

Based on this trial-focused approach, the Deputy District Attorney agreed to dismiss the case as long as the client provides letters of reference from members of the community regarding the client’s character, which Spolin Law will help the client to do.  The next court date is coming up next month.  A case dismissal means that there will be no criminal record.

Two days prior to this negotiated dismissal, Spolin Law also negotiated the pending dismissal of a misdemeanor case in Los Angeles County.  The client was charged with violating Business and Professions Code section 25661 (“Using a Forged Identification Card”).  Mr. Spolin also personally represented this client and negotiated a dismissal, which will occur after the client completes twenty hours of community service at an organization of the client’s choosing.  The dismissal will result in no criminal record for this client as well.

These results are based on Spolin Law’s comprehensive approach to criminal defense.  Every legal step is taken to achieve a fair outcome for clients.  This includes preparing each case for trial so that negotiations with the prosecutor’s office can be carried out from a position of relative strength.

For comments or to learn more about Spolin Law, call (310) 424-5816.

Los Angeles Criminal Court Subpoenas

Posted on Wednesday, October 5th, 2016 at 11:31 am    

What is a Subpoena?

A subpoena is a formal demand for a person to testify in a court. A prosecutor or defense attorney may issue a subpoena to a person for his or her testimony or to a person for him or her to bring documents or other evidence to court.

When is a Subpoena Issued By a Criminal Court?

Our California Constitution provides that a defendant in a criminal case has the right to confront accusers and may compel witnesses to appear at a court proceeding to testify on his or her behalf. At the same time, the state has the right to require witnesses to give testimony in criminal cases. Both sides use a subpoena to compel witness appearance.

There are two different types of subpoenas. A subpoena can be issued to make a witness appear at a hearing. Another type of subpoena, called a subpoena duces tecum, can require a witness to produce documents or other evidence at a hearing.

Subpoenas For Non-Party Records

Sometimes documents are needed from a non-party. Those records can be obtained directly by either attorney if the person or entity from whom the records are being sought signs an authorization to release them to that attorney. Otherwise, that attorney may need to have a subpoena duces tecum issued and signed by a judge or other court personnel, requiring that the non-party deliver the documents to the court for the court to review them before deciding whether the attorney, usually the defense, is entitled to receive the documents.

Who Serves a Subpoena?

A subpoena can be served personally by anyone other than a defendant in the case. Although peace officers are required to serve subpoenas for the parties in a criminal matter, as a matter of course, private defense attorneys often use private process servers to ensure that subpoenas are served in a timely manner. Service of the subpoena must give the witness sufficient time to prepare and to travel to the place specified for the appearance.

A subpoena may also be served by mail or by messenger, However, when these methods are used, the service is not effective until the witness acknowledges the receipt of the subpoena either by telephone, mail, email, or in person.

Distance Issues In Subpoena Service

If the witness is located 150 miles or more away, special handling of a subpoena is required. The person seeking to compel the witness’ appearance must show the judge why this witness testimony is required. This is usually done by affidavit or declaration. If the judge feels that the witness testimony is material to the case, the judge will order that the witness be compelled to attend. Likewise, only a judge can order that an out-of-state witness be compelled to attend a hearing within California.

Subpoenaing Law Enforcement Officers

Service of a subpoena upon a peace officer is made by serving two copies of the subpoena to the officer’s immediate supervisor or whatever agent is designated to receive subpoenas on the officer’s behalf. Some counties allow service to be effected electronically via email or other designated device.
The superior may refuse service if insufficient time exists to deliver the subpoena to the officer. If a subpoena is served on the superior less than 5 days before the hearing date, the superior may refuse service.

Witness Fees

The court can grant $12 per day for each day’s attendance, a reasonable amount for necessary expenses and, up to $18 per day, rather than $12, if the witness is employed and the employer does not pay the employee’s wages for the time the employee is at court.

Quashing a Subpoena

A court may quash a subpoena for the appearance of a witness if the facts warrant it; such is the case when the testimony that would be offered is not material to the case. When documents are ordered to be brought to the court, a judge may review the documents out of the purview of the parties to determine whether the subpoenaing party is entitled to receive the documents.

An attorney may also object at the hearing or trial in addition to, or as an alternative to bringing a motion to quash a subpoena.

What To Do When The Witness Fails to Appear

If a witness who has been properly subpoenaed fails to appear, counsel’s only remedy is to ask the court for a continuance. If a subpoenaed witness fails to appear, counsel may be able to obtain a warrant from the court ordering the sheriff to bring the witness to court. A failure to appear on a proper subpoena may also subject the witness to a contempt order from the court. If the witness is on call after being properly subpoenaed and fails to appear, the subpoena must state that failure to appear according to an on call agreement may be punishable as contempt, in order for the court to order the witness in contempt.

What Difference Does a Good Lawyer Have Regarding A Subpoena?

The quality of your attorney can have a significant impact on the subpoenaing and handling of witnesses at a hearing or trial. Subpoenas are highly technical and a good attorney will understand how to subpoena your witnesses and what to do if they fail to appear so that your criminal proceeding is handled quickly and efficiently.

To learn more about subpoenas or how to handle a subpoena in the Los Angeles area, call Spolin Law at (310) 424-5816 for a free consultation.

Los Angeles Criminal Court Arraignments

Posted on Tuesday, August 16th, 2016 at 5:18 pm    

What Is An Arraignment?

An arraignment is the process where the defendant formally hears the criminal charges and has an opportunity to enter a plea (e.g., guilty, not guilty, no contest, etc.). In Los Angeles County it is one of the first stages of the criminal process. Arraignment is usually the first time a defendant is brought before a judge, informed of his or her rights, and given an opportunity to admit or deny the charges.

It is also the time when the prosecutor’s charging document is filed with the court. The charging document is technically called a “complaint,” “information,” or “indictment,” depending on the type of case. The document will lay out the crimes that the prosecutor says the defendant committed.

When Does The Arraignment Occur?

Arraignment usually occurs after the defendant has been arrested. When a defendant is kept in custody after being arrested, the arraignment must occur within 48 hours of the arrest. The 48-hour period does not include weekends or holidays, however, so a Friday arrest can result in a long period of jail time before arraignment, as can any arrest during or directly before a major holiday.

Do You Need To Be Present At Your Arraignment?

If you are charged with a felony you generally have to be physically present at arraignment. If you are charged with a misdemeanor you generally do not have to be present if you have an attorney who can appear on your behalf. Nonetheless, a judge can still order your appearance on a misdemeanor case. If you are not released after your arrest, you will be present at your arraignment because the officers will bring you to your arraignment while in custody.

What Happens At Arraignment?

During arraignment the judge, a clerk of the judge, or a prosecutor will read the charging document out loud. The judge will try to determine the defendant’s true name, in case he or she was arrested under an incorrect name. The judge will also advise the defendant of his or her rights, as determined by the US and California constitutions and California law. The defendant will then have the opportunity to enter his or her plea (including guilty, not guilty, no contest, or similar plea).

Finally, the judge will decide whether the defendant has to be in jail while the case progresses or whether the defendant can be free during the course of the case. Judges frequently set a “bail” amount, which means that the defendant will be kept in jail unless he or she deposits the bail money to the court. That money is returned to the defendant (or whoever paid it) at the conclusion of the case as long as the defendant showed up for all mandatory court dates.

What Happens After Arraignment?

At the end of the arraignment the judge will set a schedule for the case. Dates for pre-trial motions and hearings will be set. A motion is a legal request by one of the lawyers for a certain action, like a defense lawyer’s motion to suppress evidence or dismiss the case. The trial date can also be set at arraignment. If the judge sets a bail amount, the defendant will be given a chance to pay the bail after arraignment.

What Difference Does a Good Lawyer Make At Arraignment?

The quality of your attorney can have a significant impact on the arraignment. This is in great part because of the attorney’s role in the bail argument. During arraignment the judge will decide whether to keep the defendant in jail until the case is over or release the defendant for the duration of the case. A judge can also set a huge bail amount (e.g., $1,000,000 bail), which effectively means that the defendant will stay in jail for the entire case.

An experienced and articulate attorney will more likely be able to make strong arguments to the judge regarding release and bail. If your attorney is able to argue for a low bail amount, this can be the difference between months in jail before trial versus months living free and fighting the charges from the outside.

To learn more about arraignment or how to fight criminal charges in the Los Angeles area, call Spolin Law at (310) 424-5816 for a free consultation.

Welcome to the Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Posted on Tuesday, August 16th, 2016 at 12:13 pm    

Welcome to the Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

We will be posting information about criminal defense, civil rights, and current events related to the Los Angeles area criminal justice systems, state and federal.

If you are seeking legal representation on a case for yourself or another person, call Spolin Law to set up a free consultation.  We are available at (310) 424-5816.

Criminal Defense Attorney Attacked by District Attorney’s Office Investigator

Posted on Wednesday, March 16th, 2016 at 10:07 am    

Los Angeles area criminal defense attorney James Crawford was attacked on March 9th while inside a courthouse preparing for hearings.  In fact, attorney Crawford describes an attack carried out by an investigator for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.  Photos after the assault and battery show Crawford with a large, swollen red and black area under his eye, other bruising on his face, and a collared shirt splattered with blood. See the CBS News story for a full photo.

Crawford is a criminal defense attorney with a focus on white collar crime, DUI and DWI offenses, federal crime, and domestic violence.  He described his interaction with the DA’s investigator as one-sided and catching him completely by surprise.  According to Crawford, he approached a witness to advise the witness of his rights.  A DA investigator in charge of the witness interfered with Crawford’s communication, and the exchange escalated.  Then, when Crawford noted the allegations of misconduct arising from the county’s jailhouse informant program, the investigator rushed towards Crawford and began to punch him repeatedly in the head and face.  Multiple Santa Ana police officers eventually pulled the investigator off of Crawford.  The investigator is currently on leave as a result of the incident.

The president of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Matthew Guerrero, has called for a “thorough, independent” investigation into what occurred, including the disclosure of any records, video, or other documents related to the incident.  A full quote is view-able at the Huffington Post.  While the District Attorney’s Office has not released an alternative version of events, Guerrero is currently criticizing law enforcement for its non-communicative reaction, describing it as “circling the wagons.”  President of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, Tom Dominguez, has called for calm as the incident is investigated, and is arguing that defense attorney Crawford may be simply trying to “drum up a payday.”

A conviction for simple misdemeanor assault could result in up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, while misdemeanor battery has the same maximum jail sentence but a maximum $2,000 fine.  In addition, a conviction would almost certainly result in the investigator losing his job and no longer being eligible for a position in a law enforcement agency.  Nonetheless, the outcome of the fracas involves a number of open questions, including whether there is sufficient public trust in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to have final say over whether to prosecute a member of their own office.  Any decision not to prosecute will be described as a result of an inherent conflict of interest.  It is for this reason, among others, that some, including Northeastern University law professor Daniel Medwed, argue that the DA’s Office may need to be subjected to federal oversight. See article discussing request for federal oversight.

Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Running for Congress

Posted on Monday, February 8th, 2016 at 10:13 am    

Prominent Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Marcus Musante is running for Congress in California’s 44th congressional district.  While a very high percentage of congress-members are attorneys by trade, very few come from criminal defense backgrounds. Most are former civil attorneys, government attorneys, or prosecutors.  However, this defense lawyer notes his extensive background on both sides of the courtroom, including as a former prosecutor for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.

Attorney Musante is campaigning on a record of fighting for public safety, the rights of low income and minority populations, and a history of pro bono volunteer work for the community.  While challenges to incumbent congress-members have a low success rate, current Congresswoman Janice Hahn has previously announced that she is retiring from Congress to run for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Rep. Janice Hahn Leaving Congress for LA County Board of Supervisors.

In 2011, before Musante became a criminal defense attorney, he achieved a level of prominence in Los Angeles when he ran for District Attorney.  A deputy district attorney at the time, Musante promised that, should he be elected, he would not prosecute any drug possession cases.  LA Weekly Article from 2011.  He argued that such an act would have diminished the workload of law enforcement substantially, allowing peace officers and prosecutors to focus more on violent crime.  He also vowed to avoid the death penalty and diminish use of prior strikes, which can substantially lengthen prison terms for certain low-level felony offenses.  He noted in the LA Weekly article: “We have to tell the difference between a criminal and a bad guy. A guy may have a prior strike from 20 years ago. That strike, even if it’s just knucklehead stuff, it just buries him.”  This commentary is notable, especially given the fact that he was not yet an advocate for criminal defendants but was, at the time, a career prosecutor.

The 44th congressional district includes parts of southern Los Angeles and extends south to the coast in San Pedro.  It includes the areas of Compton, Downey, East Compton, Lynwood, San Pedro, Wilmington, and North Long Beach, among other areas.  Other candidates for the office include State Senator Isadore Hall and Hemosa Beach City Councilwoman Nanette Barragan.  Neither of the other candidates are involved in the criminal justice system, although Ms. Barragan is an attorney.  Fall 2015 candidate fundraising reports indicate that Musante is lagging far behind Hall and Barragan, with approximately $17,000 cash on hand compared to Barragan’s $210,000 and Hall’s $500,000.  See BallotPedia’s Fundraising Reports for more information.

Inmates Escape from Orange County Jail – A Discussion of the Crime of “Escape”

Posted on Sunday, January 24th, 2016 at 10:37 am    

On Friday three inmates accused of major felonies escaped from the Orange County Men’s Jail, located 40 miles from downtown Los Angeles in the Santa Ana area. The three men were in custody pending pre-trial proceedings and trial for unrelated charges of murder, kidnapping, and torture.  An area-wide manhunt is now underway.

The Orange County Sheriff announced the escapes today.  The Sheriff’s Office has determined that the inmates escaped by cutting through half-inch steel bars, climbing through a sewage pipe, and using bed sheets tied together as a rope to climb down four stories.   For more details of the escape itself, view this article from the Huffington Post: Manhunt Underway for Southern California Jail Escapees

While the charges that the inmates faced are certainly serious, their act of escape may also meaningfully lengthen their sentences.  Under California law, escaping from a jail when facing felony charges is itself a felony (although a prosecutor has discretion to charge the offense as a misdemeanor).  California Penal Code 4532(b)(1).  Escape is defined as

  • “an unlawful departure”
  • “from the limits of an inmate’s custody”
  • by an individual lawfully in custody

People v Gallegos (1974).  Conviction of “escape” can result in a prison sentence of 16 months, two years, or three years, depending on the decision of the sentencing judge.

An escape attempt for inmates who have yet to face trial will also likely impact their upcoming trial.  This is because prosecutors are given wide latitude to show evidence of the defendant’s conduct that indicates “consciousness of guilt.”  That is, assuming a judge does not determine that the incident would unfairly prejudice the jury against the defendant, a prosecutor can show evidence of the escape to demonstrate that the defendant knew he or she was guilty and wanted to escape the prospect of conviction at trial.  Fleeing from police or otherwise avoiding capture are other examples of conduct by an accused that can frequently be used at trial to show consciousness of guilt.

As the search for the three inmates continues, check back for updates on the status of the manhunt and on whether they will indeed be charged with and prosecuted for the crime of escape.

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