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California Bail Reform Act (Senate Bill 10) Will Not Protect Against Preventative Detention

Posted By admin 2018-08-27 01:50:51

The California Bail Reform Act, Senate Bill 10, proposes to eliminate the bail fee system, but could replace one harmful system with another. The money bail system must be stopped: it undermines the presumption of innocence, leads to false guilty pleas, and disproportionately affects racial minorities and indigents. However, Senate Bill 10 is unlikely to promote pretrial justice and proscribes procedures that could violate due process.

First, Senate Bill 10 excludes broad categories of people from release from custody pre-arraignment. This includes low-level violations if the person has a pending case, and persons arrested for restraining order violations (even if the arrest turned out to be wrongful or the restraining order invalid). Further, the bill would give local courts practically unlimited power to carve out other exclusions from release, resulting in county courts having the ability to detain practically anyone accused of a crime. These overbroad categories render meaningless the presumption in favor of releasing all but a specified few defendants before trial.

Second, the bill provides unfettered discretion for judges at arraignment to order preventative detention. For instance, a court would be able to order detention if the defendant has a pending case or is on probation, regardless of how minor the previous and new charges are. The new system would allow judges to inappropriately hold people in preventative detention without having to set a bail amount.

Third, the incarceration decision is influenced by profile-based risk assessment tools that are not objective assessors of risk. These risk assessment tools take limited information about an individual—including arrest and conviction history—to create a profile, then make a statistical estimate of the likelihood that individual will get re-arrested or miss a court date based on data about other people with similar profiles. These tools tend to reinforce the system’s ingrained biases and lack transparency.

The risk categories required in the proposed legislation are policy choices, meaning that whoever controls the implementation of the tools can decide how broad to make each category. This adjustability of scoring is significant given the proposed scheme in which anyone labelled “high risk” cannot be released pre-arraignment and will have a presumption of preventive detention.

Fourth, the bill would make the probation department responsible for recommending release or detention and conditions of supervised release, while allocating supplemental funding for probation departments depending on how many people they supervise and what level of supervision.

Senate Bill 10 must be reformed to provide for community oversight. It should also include rules requiring judges to look at each defendant’s unique circumstances, and limit the power of county courts to create overbroad categories for presumptive detention.

In the meantime, defense lawyers should continue to thoroughly interview clients about their backgrounds and present detailed, individualized submissions on bail. For instance, if a client falls within a high-risk category for absconding, the defense lawyer should be prepared to show the court that this client has never missed a court date and has strong ties to the community.

Thorough preparedness will also strengthen a client’s chances at release. In my practice in Los Angeles, I prepare both written and oral submissions whenever possible so that I have already presented my client in a favorable light to the judge before the bail hearing. This upfront work will help ensure the court and prosecution are aware of the factors favoring release in spite of the problems with the new bail system.

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U.S. Supreme Court Will Review the Problematic Separate Sovereigns Exception

Posted By admin 2018-07-10 20:48:09

The United States Supreme Court agreed recently to consider whether to overturn a longstanding rule that allows federal and state prosecutions for the same offense. The cert petition filed on behalf of Terrance Gamble was granted, allowing the Court to decide “[w]hether the Supreme Court should overrule the ‘separate sovereigns’ exception to the double jeopardy clause.”

Mr. Gamble is challenging his prosecution by federal officials for possessing a firearm as a felon after Alabama state had already convicted and sentenced him for the same offense. The Double Jeopardy Clause forbids the government from prosecuting a person more than once for the same offense, but courts have long held that this only bars reprosectution by the same sovereign. Put simply, under what is known as the “separate sovereign” exception, the federal government may reprosecute a person after a state prosecution (and vice versa). A defendant can therefore be prosecuted by both the state government and the federal government for the same offense.

My firm in Los Angeles practices criminal law at both the state and federal levels, giving me a unique opportunity to observe how the separate sovereigns exception is applied in California. I have noticed (and been disturbed by) duplicative federal-state prosecutions becoming increasingly common. This trend is in part because of the growing scope of federal criminal law. In addition, I think that states are benefiting from the exception to help fill investigative gaps, or refine legal arguments, that led to exoneration at the federal level. (The same goes for the federal government). Furthermore, the separate sovereigns exceptions appears to be applied more frequently in high profile cases, and/or cases involving serious charges that carry serious social stigma. For instance, the Justice Department recently brought charges against alleged Charlottesville attacker James Fields Jr., who is already awaiting a state trial in Virginia.

Mr. Gamble’s case is instructive on why the separate sovereigns exception raises serious constitutional issues and is ripe for challenge. For defendants like Mr. Gamble, the separate sovereigns exception can result in a lengthier time in custody. As a result of the duplicative conviction, Mr. Gamble must spend an additional three years of his life behind bars. This result is incompatible with the text of the Double Jeopardy Clause, and with the original purpose of the Clause and federalism more broadly. As Mr. Gamble’s petition for a write of certiorari explains:

The court-manufactured “separate sovereigns” exception— pursuant to which [Mr. Gamble’s] otherwise plainly unconstitutional duplicative conviction was upheld— is inconsistent with the plain text and original meaning of the Constitution, and outdated in light of incorporation and a vastly expanded system of federal criminal law.

I agree with Mr. Gamble’s position. The purpose of the Double Jeopardy Clause is that the State, with all its resources and power, should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense, thereby subjecting him to stigma, expense and ordeal and compelling him to live in a continuing state of anxiety and insecurity. The separate-sovereigns exception cannot be reconciled with this purpose.

That the separate sovereign exception has drawn scrutiny from liberal and conservative justices alike points to its fundamental unfairness. UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh noted that both Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas recently questioned the doctrine’s viability. While I am disturbed that the separate sovereigns exception is being applied more readily, I am optimistic that the Supreme Court will find that the exception cannot be squared with the Double Jeopardy Clause and should no longer apply.

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New Ninth Circuit ruling paves way for defense lawyers to argue that prior felony convictions for robbery under California statute should not be treated as “crimes of violence”

Posted By admin 2018-06-11 04:51:01

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are rules that set out a uniform sentencing policy for individuals and organizations convicted of felonies and serious misdemeanors under the United States federal courts system. The Guidelines determine sentences based primarily on two factors: (1) the conduct associated with the offense; and (2) the defendant’s criminal history. I spend a considerable amount of time on each of my federal cases strategizing how to arrive at the most favorable sentence for my clients under the Guidelines. The Guidelines involve a complex series of rules, and it is important for defense lawyers to stay on top of how federal courts interpret controversial areas of these rules.

Thankfully, the Ninth Circuit provided helpful guidance for the defense this past week on cases involving prior felony convictions for robbery. Under the Guidelines, the base offense level for offences can vary depending on whether the defendant has one or more prior felony convictions for a “crime of violence.” The Guidelines define the term “crime of violence” as any offense under federal or state law, punishable for a term exceeding one year, that either: (1) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another; or (2) falls within certain enumerated violent offences.

In Edling, the Ninth Circuit found that the district court erred in treating the appellant’s previous robbery and coercion convictions under Nevada law as a crimes of violence. Accordingly, it vacated a sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm and remanded for resentencing.

In essence, the Ninth Circuit ruled that robbery, under Nevada law, is not a crime of violence because it can be accomplished by instilling fear or injury to property alone. The panel found that Nevada’s robbery statute sweeps more broadly than the Guidelines’ definition of a crime of violence, which requires physical force against a person. The panel further found that the robbery under Nevada law is unlike generic robbery, listed as an enumerated offence clause for crimes of violence, because generic robbery requires danger to the person, not merely danger to property. Similarly, the panel concluded that the new Guideline definition of extortion, also listed as an enumerated offence in the crimes of violence clause, does not include a threat to property.

I view the Edling decision as an exciting win for California, especially for federal clients with prior felony convictions for robbery under California statute. The Edling holding on robbery under Nevada law will likely control the question for robbery prior convictions under California law. The Ninth Circuit has previously ruled in a few cases that Nevada’s robbery statute is materially indistinguishable from California’s robbery statute. Accordingly, the Ninth Circuit should rule in future cases that robbery, under California law, is not a crime of violence. Going forward, defense lawyers should fight against any prosecutor’s claim that robbery in California is a crime of violence.

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Public Facebook Communications Deemed Disclosable to the Defense, and There May Be a Constitutional Argument to Obtain Private Facebook Communications

Posted By admin 2018-05-28 19:55:11

The Supreme Court of California found this week that public Facebook communications are disclosable to the defense pursuant to a lawful subpoena. Criminal lawyers have circulated this ruling, Facebook v. Supreme Court, widely in the Los Angeles defense community that I am part of. However, another important course of argument for the defense to pursue that has not received as much attention is also alluded to in the Facebook decision. In my view, the defense may also be able to argue that federal limits on disclosure of private or restricted electronic communications are unconstitutional when they undermine Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.

The Stored Communications Act (SCA) imposes a federal limit on compelled disclosure from Internet sites, including Facebook. The SCA declares that, generally, service providers like Facebook may not disclose stored electronic communications except under specified circumstances. Exceptions include when a social media user consents to production of communications that she posted, and when such communications are compelled by law enforcement through search warrants or prosecutorial subpoenas. The defense, until this week, was long at a disadvantage when it came to obtaining production of electronic communications from servers like Facebook.

This week, the California Supreme Court ruled in Facebook v. Superior Court that public posts fit the SCA’s lawful consent exception, and that a provider must disclose public communications pursuant to a subpoena that is authorized under state law. Private or restricted communications between Internet users are deemed protected. There is some ambiguity to this ruling. For instance, how does a court distinguish public and private? Does a user need to set her entire profile as “public” in order for the communication to fall within an exception? Is there a limit on the number of people a communication can be sent to before it falls within the exception and can be compelled? The Court also left open whether accounts that were public and then changed to private could be subpoenaed. These issues are ripe for litigation.

Importantly, the Court also did not resolve the issue of whether the SCA is unconstitutional to the extent that it purports to afford providers a basis to refuse to comply with defense subpoenas. The defendants in the Facebook v. Superior Court matter argued that the SCA infringed their federal constitutional rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to a fair trial, to present a complete defense, and to cross-examine witnesses support their subpoenas. No court has ever found the SCA to be unconstitutional on this ground. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument on the basis that a criminal defendant’s right to pretrial discovery is limited, though it has observed that the SCA might eventually need to be declared unconstitutional to the extent that it precludes enforcement of such a trial subpoena issued by the trial court itself, or by defendants, with production to the court.

Given the Court of Appeal’s observations, and the Supreme Court of California’s decision to decide the case on other grounds, it seems that defendants may be able to raise this constitutional argument when electronic communications are treated as restricted or private and thus not producible. I seek production of social medial communications in many of the criminal cases that I defend, and I am very excited to litigate this issue in the future.

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Supreme Court Reminds Defense Lawyers that the Defendant is the Master of Her Defense

Posted By admin 2018-05-21 19:13:46

The Supreme Court held in McCoy v. Louisiana that the Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to choose the objective of his defense and to insist that his counsel refrain from admitting guilt, even when counsel’s experienced-based view is that confessing guilt offers the defendant the best chance to avoid the death penalty. In doing so, the Court overturned a Louisiana inmate’s death sentence because his lawyer had told the jury against the inmate’s objection that the inmate was guilty. This case is an important reminder for defense counsel about important ethical limitations on their role as counsel.

The majority in McCoy acknowledged that the defendant’s lawyer was “in a difficult position: he had an unruly client and faced a strong government case.” The defense lawyer’s apparent purpose in McCoy was to demonstrate that the defendant was suffering from a mental defect and incapable of forming the crime’s requisite specific intent. This was a reasonable, but unethical, strategy to help his client avoid the death penalty.

I find it helpful to return to the California Rules of Professional Conduct to confirm my ethical obligations to the client, court, public, and other counsel. Each case involves unique ethical considerations, even though the roles of counsel and the client are seemingly clearly defined. For instance, a criminal defendant’s lawyer may be responsible for what the Court describes as “trial management,” including what evidence to object to and what arguments to pursue. On the other hand, the defendant has the right to make certain fundamental decisions, including whether to plead guilty or waive the right to a jury trial, as well as the decision to maintain one’s innocence. These distinct roles can rub against each other in contexts like in McCoy, where a client if found to meet the low threshold of being fit stand trial, but may not, from the lawyer’s perspective, be making a reasonable tactical decision for her case. Ultimately, McCoy reminds defense counsel that clients who are fit to stand trial must respect a client’s autonomy.

The Court’s ruling in McCoy highlights the principle that the client alone is the master of his defense. This precept finds resonance in the Sixth Amendment, which grants the right to put on a defense directly and personally to the accused-not to his lawyer and not to the state. Accordingly, my approach is to offer well-researched, candid legal advice to my clients on the strength of the case against them, and all other relevant factors. I explain to my clients my opinion on whether it is best to enter a guilty plea or go to trial, and make sure they understand the relevant factors they must weigh to decide which course of action to take.

Overall, I think it is extremely important to having meaningful dialogue with clients about fundamental decisions that they must make for their cases. Defense lawyers must remember that, at the end of the day, it is the client whose life is on the line, and effective representation requires us to respect our clients’ autonomy while providing them with all relevant information and thoughtful legal advice.

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