Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney
Being arrested for a crime can be a traumatic experience, especially if you have been involved with the criminal justice system in the past. Often, commonly used legal terms and concepts that are not used in everyday life can be confusing and intimidating. Many regular people with no history of arrests who are charged with offenses can become overwhelmed by the amount of information online and information they learn from friends or loved ones who are also not familiar with the criminal courts.
Much information online is technically correct but would not apply to a seemingly similar case because of minor differences. The best course of action is to always seek the advice of an experienced attorney to guide you through your case, listening only to his or her advice and ignoring generalities or conclusory information from others or online. Below is a discussion about factors to consider when hiring a lawyer and also a discussion of the commonly filed types of crimes in Los Angeles and throughout California. Click on any of the links below to skip to the section that can be of the most assistance to you.
Factors to Consider When Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney
Choosing the right attorney can make a major difference in your case, whatever charges you are facing. While every case is different, numerous constants are critically important in every matter, and deviation from them can lead to unintended and disastrous consequences. The three most important qualities anyone should look for in a criminal defense attorney are, in random order:
Honesty & Reliability – an attorney should always be truthful with his or her client, the prosecutor, and the judge. There are countless ways that dishonesty can negatively impact a case, and listing each of them are too numerous to list. However, it is critical that an attorney is always realistic with his or her client about expected outcomes and reasonable results. Nothing can lead to a breakdown in attorney / client relationships like an attorney who promises unrealistic results prior to being hired only to backtrack later. At the same time, clients must be honest with their attorneys in order to allow their lawyers to successfully perform. A lawyer must always do exactly what he or she says he or she will do, with no exceptions, whether it is something small like showing up for a meeting on time or something large like filing an important motion.
Communication & Responsiveness – the number one complaint people have about their attorneys is that they do not return phone calls, emails or texts. While a lack of communication will not always, and sometimes does not, lead to a degraded ability to advocate on behalf of a client, it can create the possibility of that happening in a client’s thoughts. A major part of an attorney’s job is to provide the client with updates, information, and strategic input about a client’s case. A failure to do that can cause levels of mistrust that are hard to recover from. Every client should have his or her lawyer’s personal cell phone number, and that lawyer should promptly (within a day, at the most) respond to all client emails, phone calls, and text messages. There should be no exceptions to this rule, except in situations where a client is in custody or where an attorney has a medical issue or other legitimate emergency.
Experience & Quality – honesty and responsiveness are valuable on their own, but if the attorney handling the matter is not competent to represent the client, the other qualities are effectively meaningless. While it is not appropriate to state an amount of years an attorney should practice criminal law or DUI law before he or she is qualified to handle a matter on his or her own (state-funded public defenders are an obvious and necessary exception to this “rule,” for obvious reasons).
Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in California is usually charged as a misdemeanor but can be considered a felony is someone other than the driver is injured or if the defendant has three or more convictions for DUI within the past 10 years.
The penalties for driving under the influence, even with misdemeanor charges can vary, depending on numerous factors, such as the amount of prior offenses, whether or not a collision occurred in the present case, whether or not anyone was injured, and the blood alcohol content that the defendant is alleged to have had when driving the vehicle.
DUI arrests typically involve two separate charges in court: driving while impaired and driving with a blood alcohol level above .08%, by weight, of alcohol in the blood. While a conviction for either of these two charges is considered a DUI conviction, they involve different requirements or elements. To be considered “impaired,” there is no requirement that a person’s blood alcohol content be at a certain level, specifically .08% by weight of alcohol in the blood, one can be convicted with a lower blood alcohol level. The corollary is also true, that a person with a blood alcohol level above .08% by weight of alcohol in the blood does not need to be impaired to an unlawful degree to be convicted of DUI, reaching the threshold of .08%, regardless of impairment, is enough to sustain a DUI conviction. Specifically, Vehicle Code 23152 says:
“(a) It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle.. (b) It is unlawful for a person who has 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle.”
Often, once a settlement has been reached by the prosecutor and the defense, one of the two charges, if both are charged, is dismissed. While a dismissal of one of the two charges has no significant benefit to a defendant, they are regularly done. If a defendant is convicted of both charges, potential penalties cannot be imposed twice, and the defendant’s sentence is the same as if he or she were only convicted of one charge. A key benefit to the prosecution, however, is in the context of a DUI trial, where he or she is only required to prove one of two different allegations. Because the allegations have different elements that are necessary to establish, a conviction of at least one of the two charges is more likely.
All DUI arrests in California involve two separate cases, and individuals who are arrested for DUI are often unaware of the separation. While there is overlap between the two cases, for practical purposes of explanation, the two cases should be considered separate. The two cases that are begun after every DUI arrest are the court case and the Department of Motor Vehicles Administrative Per Se case.
The court case deals, unlike the DMV case, deals with all issues related to the DUI charge and conditions upon which the judge and prosecutor expect a defendant to comply if convicted. A court, with a grant of probation, can impose custody time, order alcohol classes be taken, can impose conditions on behavior (such as no drinking alcohol within 8 hours of driving a vehicle or no drinking alcohol during the pendency of probation), impose fines and fees, and much more (probation can be denied or refused, along with a sentence of 90 days in county jail).
The DMV case, on the other hand, only deals with a driver’s privilege to drive after a DUI arrest. People arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol have 10 days from the date of their arrest to formally request an Administrative Per Se Hearing with a local DMV Driver’s Safety Office. If no hearing is properly requested within the 10 days after an arrest, DMV can, in many cases, automatically suspend a driver’s privilege to drive for four months (with the ability to obtain a restricted license, assuming other conditions are met.
The types of crimes in California that are considered “theft” crimes is numerous. Initially, the most common misconception with respect to theft is the conflation of robbery and burglary. Many people believe that the taking of any property that does not belong to them is a robber, when in fact a small number of theft crimes actually rise to the level of robbery (a robbery must involve the taking of property in the physical possession of another person). Some of the types of theft crimes that individuals can be charged with in Los Angeles and throughout California can include:
Petty theft – regulated by California Penal Code Section 484a and Section 488, petty theft is the stealing of items with a value of $950 or less. Petty theft can involve may types of deceit, from a physical taking (not from a person) to fraud. Petty theft is considered a misdemeanor in California but can involve a fine of up to $1,000 plus penalty assessments and a maximum sentence in County Jail of 180 days.
Shoplifting – this act is regulated by California Penal Code Section 459.5(a), and prohibits entering a commercial establishment (a store or retail concern) during that establishment’s normal hours with the intent to steal an item or items valued at $950 or less. A violation is considered a misdemeanor except in cases where a person has a prior conviction, usually involving violence, or is a registeralbe sex offender.
Grand theft – this is the taking of property valued at more than $950. Grand theft is regulated by California Penal Code Section 487 and can be considered a felony or a misdemeanor, at the discretion of a prosecutor or a judge (pursuant to California Penal Code Section 17b.
Robbery – prohibited by California Penal Code Section 211, a robber is the taking of property belonging to another person from that person’s presence through the use of force or fear against the victim’s will. A robbery is a felony in California and carries a maximum sentence of nine years in state prison, absent the use of a gun which can increase a possible sentence for one count of robber to 19 years in state prison. There is no minimum amount of value placed on the item taken for a robbery to occur
Drug possession, or formally known as possession of a controlled substance, is regulated by California Health and Safety Code Section 11350 and California Health and Safety Code Section 11377. These two code section basically operate the same way, with the same caveats and diversionary options for those arrested under them.
The sole difference between the two above-mentioned code sections is that they cover different substances. Section 11350 regulates the use of cocaine, heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (commonly known as “LSD” or “acid”), codeine, oxycodone, and vicodin, in addition to others. Section 11377 regulates the use of methamphetamine, anabolic steroids, methylenedioxymethamphetamine (“MDMA” or “ecstasy” or “molly”), phencyclidine (“PCP”), ketamine, and others.
Prior to 2015, a violation of Section 11350 was always a felony and could not be reduced to a misdemeanor under any circumstances. Prior to January 1, 2015, a violation of Section 11377 was considered a “wobbler” under California law, meaning a conviction could be a felony or a misdemeanor, at the discretion of a prosecutor or a judge. However, beginning January 1, 2015, all violations of California Health and Safety Code Section 11350 and 11377 are considered misdemeanors and cannot be charged as felonies unless the defendant has prior convictions for specific “serious and violent” felonies or is a registered sex offender pursuant to California Penal Code Section 290.
To be convicted of violating Health and Safety Code Section 11350 or 11377, a prosecutor must be able to prove that a defendant:
- Had control or the ability to exercise control over the controlled substance in question;
- Knew of the presence of the controlled substance;
- Knew it was a controlled substance; and
- That the controlled substance was in such a quantity that its use could be effectuated (essentially, enough to use)
Being charged with a violent crime or sexual assault can be the most difficult and onerous type of charge to face, particularly because they carry the most severe penalties and sentences. No person facing allegations of violence or sexual assault should ever appear in court without the assistance of a qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney to advocate on their behalf; the consequences of proceeding without assistance are simply too grave.
While the list of possible financial crimes are too numerous to comprehensively list in a short explanation, common charges are bank fraud, forgery, check fraud, insurance fraud, welfare fraud, embezzlement, extortion, and more. Because of the complex nature of the various types of financial crimes, it its incumbent on individuals accused of these types of offenses to seek help. Financial records can often be manipulated to it appear that the individual accused has been engaged in more egregious conduct than he or she has actually taken part in, and sometimes a thorough and alternative analysis of the facts can establish that no crime occurred at all.
Solicitation of Prostitution
Solicitation is a general term and is the most commonly filed type of offense under California Penal Code Section 647(b). While Penal Code 647(b) regulates three specific behaviors, solicitation is the most commonly charged because of the practicalities of prostitution arrests.
First, it should be noted that Penal Code 647(b) prohibits engaging in an act of prostitution, the exchange of sexual acts for money. The reason this type of behavior is rarely charged is because it requires evidence that an act between two individuals took place. More commonly, “sting” operations by law enforcement, designed to lead to an arrest, occur. This is why both prostitutes and their customers are usually charged with essentially attempting to engage in a sexual act (the soliciting) and not engaging in the act itself.
When law enforcement sets up a “sting” operation, they often conduct one of two types of operations. First, they often have male officers pretending to be customers seeking out prostitutes. These prostitutes, who then meet the male officers pretending to be customers, often make offers of sex in exchange for money. Once that offer is made, the prostitute has solicited the officer and a violation of Penal Code Section 647(b) has occurred.
The second typical solicitation, opposite to the first discussed above, occurs when a law enforcement officer poses as a prospective prostitute, either in person or on the internet, and attempts to have males solicit him or her to engage in a sexual act for money. Once the solicitation is made by the potential customer, he or she has violated Penal Code Section 647(b).
Does Solicitation Apply to Customers? Yes. Customers of prostitutes or customers who believe they are speaking with a prostitute (or are actually speaking with a prostitute) can be charged with the same offense that a person who is offering to sell sex in exchange for money is.
Does the Solicitation Need to be Made to an Actual Person? No. Law enforcement can pose as prostitutes and can pose as a different sex. For example, a male police officer can use an internet website, such as Craigslist or Backpage to attract male customers while posing as a female prostitute. The officer can create a “ruse” or lie about his or her physical characteristics and about his or her sex, often pretending to be a female. This type of ruse often lures men looking to pay for sexual acts and if that male solicits the law enforcement officer, even believing that he or she is a different person with different physical features, the customer has committed a violation of Penal Code Section 647(b).
Is Intercourse the Only Type of Offense? No. The legal definition of a sexual act prohibited by the Penal Code is a “lewd act,” which is any act that involves touching of the genitals, buttocks, or female breast with the intent to sexually gratify or arouse another person. This definition is very general, intentionally so. The law is designed to regulate any sexual act that one can commit, not just intercourse. Because of this general definition, it is unlikely that any person who offers to engage in any sexual act in exchange for money can escape the broad definition.
What are the Penalties for Solicitation? The penalties for prostitution in California vary depending on the act, the nature of the offense, and whether or not the individual charged has any prior convictions under the same code section. For individuals without prior convictions for Penal Code Section 647(b), the law provides no “mandatory minimum” sentence.
The maximum sentence for a first conviction here is 180 days in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000 plus penalty assessments (essentially, a penalty assessment is similar to a tax on the “base fine” amount that dramatically increases the fine). Further, many courts in California and throughout Los Angeles offer some type of diversionary disposition for people charged with a first offense under Penal Code Section 647(b). Diversion can involve an AIDS education class, AIDS testing, other educational requirements, or some type of community service. If it appears that alcohol or drugs led to the decision to solicit prostitution, alcohol or drug education may become part of a diversionary resolution (upon the discretion of the prosecutor).
For individuals with prior convictions for solicitation, the penalties can increase. A second conviction for a violation of Penal Code Section 647(b) carries a mandatory minimum of 45 days in county jail. A third or subsequent conviction under the same code section requires a mandatory minimum of 90 days in county jail.
Does Solicitation Require Registration as a Sex Offender? No. While a court can, in its discretion, require individuals who engage in acts of prostitution or solicitation to register as sex offenders pursuant to Penal Code Section 290, there is no requirement that registration be ordered, as it is with many other types of offenses. In practice, however, those convicted of solicitation of prostitution or prostitution itself are rarely if ever required to register as sex offenders.