Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Some noteworthy New Laws in California for 2011

  • Non–Vehicle Code infractions can now be dismissed under PC 1203.4a.  This is the remedy commonly known as expungement.
  • The threshold for felony grand theft increased from $400 to $950.
  • “Petty theft with a prior” is now, unless the defendant has a strike or sex offense prior, “petty theft with three priors.”  
  • Marijuana possession, less than an ounce, is now an infraction.
  • Limited immunity from prosecution for certain low-grade alcohol-related offenses granted to persons under the age of 21 who are reporting that they or someone else are in need of medical assistance.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Psst! Who invited the cops?!

Whether you like it or not, the County Board of Supervisors, in faithful service to their curmudgeon constituency, has invited the cops to your next social gathering.  I first wrote in opposition to the very controversial "Social Host Ordinance" (SHO) in June of 2008.  In spite of the fact that the clear majority of Isla Vistans oppose this ordinance (and maybe that's because it's widely believed that Isla Vista is the only place where the SHO will be enforced with any regularity), it was enacted into law on December 1.  As I stated previously, the police in Isla Vista and elsewhere are not without tools to suppress underage drinking.  They have numerous statutes at their disposal that enable them to detain people that are in public (or in some cases in the public view) and, at the very least, can seize and pour out the drink with impunity.  Most don't stop there, however.  The Isla Vista Foot Patrol issues thousands of tickets per year for minor in possession, open container in public, and related law violations.  Those under 21 are booked into jail for public intoxication at the drop of a hat.  And let's not forget that they were already barging uninvited into apartments and houses in Isla Vista long before the SHO was first proposed.  Accounts of frequent and deliberate Fourth Amendment violations by the Isla Vista Foot Patrol are common.

The truth is cops barge in to private spaces because they can get away with it, with or without a SHO.  Any true accountability for doing so when the sum total of damages are usually hurt feelings and the replacement value of a beer is and was non-existent.  The big difference now is that they will, under color of the SHO, have an easier time holding those accountable who are furnishing alcohol to those under 21 in smaller gatherings.  There was never really any difficulty holding the big party throwers (i.e., hosting 10 or more people) accountable for serving alcohol to minors because the cops could either walk through an open door and/or demand to speak to the host in order to enforce a noise violation and the exception to the warrant requirement would sprout up during that encounter.  Now what they are able to do, under color of the SHO, is to enter any apartment where there is any noise or other evidence noticeable from the outside that suggests there is a "social gathering" going on inside.   That's pretty broad (read "overbroad").  It doesn't have to be a raging party.  Two people sharing one beer is a party.  They could both be 21 or older but the cops are still, under color of the SHO, allowed to barge in to sniff drinks and check ID's and whatever contraband they see in plain view is fair game.  A typical reaction of acceptance of the Government over-reaching might be:  'well, even the cops understand that underage beer consumption and college are synonymous and that they will, therefore, use good judgment on deciding when to enforce this law'.  I'm sure most cops will.  However, what this law does is enable cops with poor judgment to rampantly intrude into peoples' private spaces in ways that will deter even legal conduct.  Giving that much 'unbridled' discretion to a rank and file patrol officer is disfavored by the California Supreme Court and may not otherwise withstand Constitutional scrutiny.  For example, according to the holding of the California Appellate Court in People v. Hua, police officers may not enter a dwelling absent a warrant simply because they believe that a non-jailable criminal offense is taking place inside. 

I hereby invite anyone who has a case involving the enforcement of the SHO to contact me and I will consider handling the matter pro bono.

Friday, October 29, 2010

No on Measure S

If we build it, they will fill it.  That's the slogan that says it all.  Some of you will go into the polls buying into the dogma that we need a new jail.  Granted there are some problems with the current situation, but spending tens of millions of dollars to increase, dramatically, the number of jail bunks is not the way to go.  As any proud liberal would, I would urge that we spend the same money on the public schools, job training, mental health services and drug rehabilitation.  If we did, we wouldn't need to boost our penal system.  We would be a better, more productive and more utopian society.  We wouldn't have to warehouse our fellow community members, and pretend as though that actually solves any problem.  Incarceration may prevent the rare act of violence by a dangerous person, and act as a deterrent of crime for those of us who fear going to jail, but it creates as many problems as it solves.  Jail should be a place for violent people who are not mentally ill, and that is a very small population; well beneath the number of jail beds that are currently available.  And this is the point:  If we have more jail beds to fill, the authorities will fill them up fast; guaranteed.  People will be going to jail, and serving longer sentences, for the pettiest of crimes.  I used to work in as a public defender in Santa Cruz, a place where there were many more jail beds per capita.  There, as compared to Santa Barbara, people frequently went to jail for misdemeanors such as driving on a suspended drivers license for lengthy periods.  In other words, the County would do the dirty work for the DMV and take what were very often poor people on their way to work and throw them in the slammer for six months to a year.  I don't know about you, but I would rather not pay to house such people.  Nor do I particularly want to live in a community where we treat our fellow human being in such a cruel and unforgiving fashion.  
If you doubt my motive/agenda at all, consider that when people start facing longer jail sentences, my services will be in much higher demand.  I stand to economically benefit if the measure passes.  I would rather it didn't.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Quiet, I'm driving!!!

In June of 2008, I issued my "final" warning that the hands-free (i.e., don't drive while talking on the cell phone) law would lead to more traffic stops.  Well, that ended up being true.  Police officers are handing out lots tickets.  What I didn't predict was that traffic accidents would be reduced as the result of it.  And, well, to the extent it has been studied, there is no evidence that the law has had any such effect.  Maybe that's because there is no evidence that the use of cell phones while driving has led to more serious traffic accidents.  To find proof of this, look no further than the number of traffic fatalities in the United States over the last 15 years.  This is the same 15 years during which the use of cell phones in moving vehicles went from near zero to nearly everyone.  There has been no increase in traffic fatalities per capita.  So, who are the gainers from the law?  Well, as predicted, Blue Tooth, motorola, and the cell phone industry who saw no decline in sales of phones but a sharp increase in sales of ear-phone type accessories.  I, for one, must have purchased about 20 such gizmos in the last few years, and I still can't find one that is altogether convenient.  The Government also gains by imposing fines for now unlawful activity.  And, let's not forget about the cell phone etiquette police.  These are the same folks who wish that talking on a cell phone in a public place at the top of your lungs because the connection is weak (and/or because you are so self-absorbed and inconsiderate that you can't imagine that those around are extremely annoyed) ought to be illegal.  Okay, I admit it, I'm one of them.  Now the act of driving with a cell phone pressed to your ear, which I admit I did plenty of before it became unlawful, is all the more irritating.  When you see someone doing it you can't help be hit with thoughts like, "this person is oblivious to what is going on around them" and a new one, "this person is disregarding the law (at my personal expense!)".  These, of course, are the emotional responses to the conduct, but the statistics do not prove that it is anything more than bad manners.