Legal Blog

Criminal Defense Attorney Attacked by District Attorney’s Office Investigator

Published on March 16, 2016

Los Angeles 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.

Crawford is a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles 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.

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.

Talk to a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

Aaron Spolin, a former prosecutor, and award-winning Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, has a track record of success handling violent crime cases. He has been on the winning side of hundreds of cases. To receive a 100% free and confidential consultation from Aaron today, please call this number: (310) 424-5816.

Categories: Criminal Law, Violent Crimes

Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Running for Congress

Published on February 8, 2016

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.

Talk to a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

Aaron Spolin, a former prosecutor, and award-winning criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles, has a track record of success handling violent crime cases. He has been on the winning side of hundreds of cases. To receive a 100% free and confidential consultation from Aaron today, please call this number: (310) 424-5816.

Categories: Criminal Law

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

Published on January 24, 2016

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.

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). 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.

Talk to a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

Aaron Spolin, a former prosecutor, and award-winning criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles, has a track record of success handling violent crime cases. He has been on the winning side of hundreds of cases. To receive a 100% free and confidential consultation from Aaron today, please call this number: (310) 424-5816.

Categories: Criminal Law, Federal Crimes

Misdemeanor Criminal Charges Arise Out of Drone Use In Downtown Los Angeles

Published on January 21, 2016

On January 21st the City of Los Angeles announced the first criminal charges against a drone operator.  City Attorney Mike Feuer said that the two defendants, who are 20 and 35 years old respectively, will face misdemeanor charges. For the younger defendant, this is the second time he allegedly flew his drone in restricted areas.

It is a misdemeanor under Los Angeles law for an individual to operate a drone within five miles of an airport, 25 feet of a person, or in excess of 500 feet in the air.  Besides having a misdemeanor on one’s personal record, this may also result in up to six months in jail and a fine.  The Los Angeles drone ordinance is posted here: LA Regulations on Unmanned Aircraft Systems, which can be found online.

According to the City Attorney’s office, the defendants operated a drone near the Los Angeles Police Department’s helipad in downtown LA, and the presence of the drone required a police air vehicle to divert from its intended landing path.

Legislatures and local government entities are passing drone laws with increasing frequency, although enforcement with criminal sanctions has been rare so far.  As technology has developed, drones have become more and more sophisticated and are now posing significant dangers to airborne aircraft and even people who may inadvertently come into contact with a drone flying at a very low altitude.

It is unclear at this early state what, if any, defenses are being raised by those charged with the drone laws.  The Los Angeles city ordinance (cited above) does not mention the required mental state of the defendant.  This could mean that, unless a court interprets an implied required mental state, the defendant may not be able to argue that the drone’s entrance into the five-mile area near the airport was an accident.

Talk to a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

Aaron Spolin, a former prosecutor, and award-winning Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer, has a track record of success handling violent crime cases. He has been on the winning side of hundreds of cases. To receive a 100% free and confidential consultation from Aaron today, please call this number: (310) 424-5816.

Categories: Criminal Law

Latest Update on Venice Beach Shooting of Homeless Man

Published on January 13, 2016

In the latest update on the Venice Beach police shooting of a homeless man, the Los Angeles Police Chief has called for charges against the officer involved, Officer Clifford Proctor.

By way of background, in May of 2015 amidst the national discussion of police conduct, Officer Proctor shot Brendon Glenn, a homeless man who was not armed.  Proctor had forced Glenn to the ground and, according to LAPD investigators, Proctor shot Glenn twice in the back when Glenn attempted to push himself up.

You can read the most recent Los Angeles Times story here: L.A. Police Chief Beck backs charges against officer who fatally shot Venice homeless man, L.A. Times, Kate Mather, January 11, 2016.

Officer Proctor initially reported that Glen was attempting to take Proctor’s weapon and that he fired in self-defense.  However, based on a review of forensic evidence and eyewitness reports, the LAPD investigators determined that Glenn did not make a movement directly towards Proctor’s gun but was merely pushing himself up off of the ground.  These findings are what prompted LAPD Chief Charlie Beck to recommend criminal charges.

If charges are filed, it will be the first time in 15 years that the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office has filed charges against an officer for an on-duty shooting.

The District Attorney’s Office has not specified whether they will charger Proctor, but his conduct could fall under one of a number of homicide crimes under the California Penal Code.  CA Penal Code section 187 defines murder as “the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought.”  Malice includes acts where the offender intended to kill the victim, knew his actions would kill the victim, or acted with “conscious disregard for human life.”  Proctor could also face charges for lesser homicide and non-homicide offenses.

LAPD Chief Beck does not have final authority over whether Proctor is prosecuted.  District Attorney Jackie Lacey will make that decision.  However, it does not bode well for Proctor that his chief has recommended charges.

Talk to a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

Aaron Spolin, a former prosecutor, and award-winning criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles, has a track record of success handling violent crime cases. He has been on the winning side of hundreds of cases. To receive a 100% free and confidential consultation from Aaron today, please call this number: (310) 424-5816.

Categories: Violent Crimes, Weapon Offenses

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