Thursday, January 31, 2008

Publisher's Folly, The Sequel

My first post, Publisher's Folly, was about the Daily Sound publisher Jeramy Gordon's borderline absurd claim that his newspaper should enjoy an absolute right of privacy with respect to its unpublished photos. Well, Gordon's claim fell flat on it's face in court, and now a publisher with a little more juice, that of the Independent, is likely to fall harder and flatter by taking the same basic claim all the way to the California Supreme Court. After spending $8,000, Mr. Gordon apparently had "suffered" enough rather inexpensive, per column inch, publicity grandstanding as a self-anointed hero of the First Amendment. He's been rather quiet... until today, that is. Today Mr. Gordon was quoted in a News Press article where he resumed his public rant against Deputy Public Defender Karen Atkins with even more acrimony than before. It's interesting that he bears so much hostility for a woman he doesn't know. And it's not just the person that he doesn't know, he hasn't a clue what a criminal defense attorney's role is. Either way, he is dead wrong that Ms. Atkins is motivated by a desire to soak him dry of money. She didn't get any of that $8,000. That money was paid to another lawyer. And now that same lawyer is billing undoubtedly more than $8,000 to take the same implausible claim all the way to the State Supreme Court. Ms. Atkins is a public employee on a salary she is paid to serve her young client, Ricardo Juarez, 15, and many others. She doesn't get paid per client and she doesn't even get a bonus if she gets Ricardo acquitted of the charge of murder. Her only motive is to help her client; not to get into a small-minded legal squabble with local newspapers. That is the last thing she wants to do. Her office has a limited budget with which to counteract the comparatively limitless funds the District Attorney has available to wage a homicide prosecution. And I can assure you that she would have prefered it if Mr. Gordon had spent no money at all waging his quixotic war on her client's right to a fair trial.

What is it with these local newspaper publishers anyway? They do seem to fuel up the Santa Barbara bloggers with plenty of material...And, the lawyers are staying busy too. As a Santa Barbara Lawyer Blogger, I really appreciate you.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Support Our Troops: Acknowledge Combat Trauma

Not to wax political any more than necessary in this decidedly a-political forum, but I am sick of the one-sided way that mostly SUV owners, it seems, slap "Support Our Troops" yellow ribbon stickers (and the even less committal magnet) on their bumpers. It is clear to me that at least some these self-proclaimed "troop supporters" are merely using fear tactics (i.e., the fear of being labeled unpatriotic) to silence the war critics. Guess what? It didn't work. Only the 29% die-hard Bushees even claim to support the war in Iraq. And among those 29% there are undoubtedly many who don't actually think it was a good idea, but for political reasons, don't want to admit it publicly. So, why am I going on and on about this? Well, it relates to my blog in the sense that one genuine form of support for our troops (apart from what the Democrats call for in terms of better pay, better pensions, and better health care), is the recognition of Combat Trauma as a real factor bearing on what we call the mens rea associated with criminal acts (i.e., the extent to which the individual revealed an intent to do evil in the commission of a criminal act). Arnold Schwarzenegger just signed into law a bill which encourages treatment alternatives over incarceration for lesser crimes by Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans where Combat Trauma is a known factor. It is precisely because laws like this may lead to less incarceration of people who have shown the propensity to be violent abroad as well as at home that they amount to genuine acts of support for our troops. This is because we are very arguably assuming more risk that we will be attacked by someone who would otherwise be locked up. However, in the long term, as with crimes not perpetrated by combat veterans, we may find that treatment alternatives which earnestly endeavor to rehabilitate rather than commit revenge on those convicted of crime may actually make us safer. But that seems to be just a convenient irony. I will, therefore, give Schwarzenegger credit for, albeit momentarily, suspending his "get tough on crime" policy agenda, as sincere.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Yes, I actually was wearing my seatbelt!

Well intentioned members of law enforcement are often quick to point out that persons injured in car accidents were not wearing their seatbelts. Doing so, they probably believe, will increase seatbelt usage. And it might. The problem is sometimes they speak too soon and misinform the public. I am aware of multiple cases where the local CHP has blamed lack of seatbelt usage, at least in part, for the accidents' associated injuries. In certain of these cases, as in the recent one cited above, there were seatbelt shaped abrasions across the abdomens of the accident victims. I am increasingly concerned about this pattern of misinformation because it may distort the true safety record of vehicles involved in these accidents. Consider that if an injury to a vehicle occupant is blamed on lack of seatbelt usage, when they were actually wearing their seatbelt, the true causes of the injury may not actually be investigated. I suggest, therefore, that members of law enforcement be more circumspect before they write in their accident reports, or state to the media, that the injured occupants weren't wearing their seatbelts unless they really know that to be true. A careful investigation by a trained accident investigator should be able to answer this question. I think doing so will work in favor of auto-safety and will not risk hurting the feelings of persons whose bodies already hurt (i.e., by implying that their own carelessness caused their injuries in cases where that is not true).

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Intoxylizers in wider use?

I applaud the UCSB police for using an investigative tool to determine just how drunk a woman was whom they recently arrested for public intoxication. She was, however, found face down vomiting, but that's beside the point. I support the use of intoxylizers by police before they book someone on a charge of drunk in public. Such a practice would significantly reduce the number of people needlessly booked and prosecuted. While rare, occasionally the police do book individuals for public intoxication by alcohol who have had either nothing (yes, nothing) or very trivial amounts of alcohol to drink. The intoxylizers, which are readily available to the police, and easy to use, are just the trick to better ensure that these injustices will not occur. I know, I know, it'll be tough to administer the test to someone then let them go if they test in a range that suggests that they are likely capable of getting safely home, but you just might sleep a little better at night knowing that you didn't cause an innocent person to spend a night in jail and very likely render them a criminal.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

DUI checkpoints abound...

The City of Goleta just received a grant from the University of California at Berkeley to set up more sobriety checkpoints this year. The applicant cited the CDC's assessment of 23 studies where the data show that "throroughly implemented" checkpoints reduce dui related crashes by 20%. Interestingly, the same studies show that the declines are just as great regardless of how long after the checkpoints the follow-up studies are done. Specifically, if the studies are done less than one year after the checkpoints the drop is 18% and if greater than a year, 17%.
Knowing the substantial and multiple privacy invasions which occur each time a checkpoint is set up (all in the name of reducing traffic fatalities), we can hope that the City of Goleta will excercise some discretion before they become known as the DUI checkpoint capital of the free world. There have already been a number of DUI checkpoints in Goleta since 2004 (24, in fact). As the trend continues, we can expect that the reduction in DUI related traffic fatalities will stay, perhaps, as high as 18%. How many lives will this actually save? Well, none. None, if you consider that Goleta is fortunate enough to have an average of one traffic fatality per year (alcohol related or otherwise). While I'm glad that the funding for these checkpoints does not all come directly from the local taxpayer, I know the local taxpayers are paying dearly in terms of how much their privacy is invaded; and to what end?

Friday, January 4, 2008

D.A. Gets Tough on Drunkenness

The Santa Barbara News Press just picked up the story. The District Attorney's Office has toughened its stand against those under 21 who are arrested for public intoxication by alcohol. For many years the Office offered these same individuals (upon a first offense) the option of taking an alcohol awareness class in order to avoid the criminal conviction and the year-long license suspension. This jibed just fine with state policy given the fact that the state calls for municipalities to install a sobering center whereby such individuals can escape criminal prosecution. See Penal Code section 647(g). Since Isla Vista, the number one most popular spot to get drunk in the County (if not the state), doesn't have a sobering center, the District Attorney's treatment of these cases, non-criminally, seemed an intelligent way to stem the otherwise huge numbers of criminal convictions that would necessarily flow out of Isla Vista. Nevertheless, the District Attorney's Office has chosen to throw out this solution in favor of "getting tough"; hoping to bring about a change in behavior among the larger student population.

Even if the D.A.'s Office is correct that toughening their stand is going to reduce the numbers of minors getting drunk in Isla Vista, I strongly disagree that this is good policy. One reason is that it creates a very troubling contrast of outcomes depending on what substance a minor decides to experiment with. If we consider that there is a one free bite at the apple in terms of use and possession of hard drugs, (such as methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, etc.), as afforded by Penal Code section 1000, then how is that a single instance use of alcohol should produce a criminal conviction? The unfortunate message to the Isla Vista population, therein, is that you are better off experimenting with hard drugs than alcohol. For alcohol intoxication you will suffer a criminal conviction, for intoxication by anything else, you won't. We can, of course, debate whether alcohol is any better than the other drugs. However, what can't be debated is that, within a few years, the individual will be able to legally drink alcohol; and not so with the hard drugs. So, how can the government logically take the position that alcohol is worse than hard drugs when alcohol is legal for those 21 and over, and hard drugs are not? Also, I would strongly disagree that alcohol, in general, is anywhere near as damaging to the human body and brain as methamphetamine, nor is it anywhere near as addictive as heroin. It strikes me that the District Attorney's Office did not think this through.

The over-arching truth is that most people in this not-so-dry county are not really excited about sitting in judgment of a college-aged kid who got caught drinking. Consequently, even a few "dead-to-rights" guilty minors are going to get acquitted of the offenses at jury trial; not to mention the closer cases. So, more of these cases are being, and will be, tried as the result. This is and will continue to tie up days upon days of court time. And to what productive end?