Jamahl Kersey March 3, 2016 No Comments

A Closer Look at The Innocence Project

Ninety-one exonerations occurred in 2013 and 18 people were proven innocent through DNA evidence according to the National Registry of Exonerations. One organization that helps exonerate American inmates is the Innocence Project.

The litigation and public policy organization was founded in 1922 by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld while attending the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. The organization was originally associated with the Cardozo School of Law until it became an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in 2004. The nonprofit is also a founding member of the Innocence Network, a cluster of organizations that are also on a mission to fight injustice within the American legal system and aid people who have been wrongfully convicted.

In addition to exonerating innocent people, Scheck and Neufeld started the Innocence Project to reform the criminal justice system. False confessions, lying police informants, botched forensic evidence and false eyewitness testimonies are just some of the reasons why an innocent person can be sent to prison. To combat this, the Innocence Project works with lawmakers to change certain systemic problems, like requesting additional requirements for forensic evidence to be admissible in court, to prevent additional wrongful convictions in the future.

The non-profit organization uses forensic DNA testing to exonerate innocent people who have otherwise “fallen through the cracks” of the legal system and were wrongly convicted. Thanks to the efforts of their staff and conclusive post-conviction DNA test results, the Innocence Project has exonerated 333 people since 1992 and 20 of them had spent time on death row. More than 70% of the people freed because of the organization’s efforts were of African, Hispanic or Asian descent. On average, the people were convicted at 26 years old and exonerated at 41 years old. The time served by exonerees ranged from five months to 35 years, with the average being 14 years in prison before their release.

Six full-time attorneys, co-directors and students from the Cardozo School of Law volunteer their time to work on cases for the Innocence Project. According to their website, over 3,000 people reach out to their organization for help. Due to this high volume of requests, their staff is constantly evaluating between 6,000 to 8,000 potential cases at any given time.

Their staff determines which cases they should take on by carefully researching each applicant to see if a DNA test can be conducted to prove they were wrongfully convicted. The Innocence Project’s process for identifying and vetting a case is very extensive and labor intensive. They may find a case that they want to pursue only after the volunteers spend hours analyzing the case’s evidence. Then their attorneys will approach the court and request that the prisoner’s case is reopened and a private or public lab conducts DNA testing.

Generous financial contributions from the public and other charitable foundations help fund the Innocence Project. Corporations, fundraising events and the Cardozo School of Law also bring in additional support for the non-profit. The Innocence Project uses the funds that were raised to pay for DNA testing, travel expenses, legislative hearings and other costs associated with reopening a criminal case in court. The non-profit organization also offers several social work services to help their clients successfully transition back into society. For example, when one of their clients is recently released from prison the non-profit can assist them by providing free financial planning resources and job tools that can help train them for a new profession.

Like the Innocence Project, we fight to protect the rights of people accused of crimes. Please contact us to learn more about our criminal defense services and schedule a free consultation. We will work hard to defend your rights.

Jamahl Kersey March 2, 2016 No Comments

Q&A About Domestic Violence Laws in California

Being accused or charged of a domestic violence crime can be frightening and confusing. We understand you have questions about California’s domestic violence laws, so in this post, we’ll address several of the most common questions we hear on a regular basis:Q: What happens during booking?

Q: What happens during booking?

A. The booking process is an unavoidable part of being arrested. Your name and alleged crime will be recorded, your “mug shot” photo will be taken, your clothing and personal property will be taken into police custody, you will be searched for weapons or other “contraband” items, you will be fingerprinted, and you will likely be asked routine questions (but not interrogated.)

Q. What about bail? Is there a chance the judge will reduce it or waive it altogether?

A. Bail is set by a schedule in each county in California, but you will have the opportunity in court to request a reduction in bail or a bail review hearing. When reviewing your request, the judge will consider the seriousness of the crime you were charged with, your previous criminal record, whether you have previously failed to appear in court for any offense, your ties to your community, and the probability that the judge thinks you will appear in court.

Q. My spouse/partner was facing arrest for domestic violence assault. Can I drop the charges?

A. It’s actually up to the district attorney whether or not to drop the charges (and they usually will not do so.) Even if the alleged victim wants to recant, you could still be convicted of the crime. You should never try to convince the alleged victim to drop charges, as this could negatively impact your case in court.

Q. Can someone be prosecuted for domestic violence even if the alleged victim refuses to testify at trial?

A. California CCP 1219 protects an alleged victim from having to testify; she or he can refuse to testify and cannot be jailed for doing so. If the alleged victim refuses to testify, the prosecution’s case will be weakened significantly; they may have no evidence and may be forced to drop the charges.

Q. What do I do if I missed a court date or have a “bench warrant” out against me? 

A. Missing a court date is a serious offense; if you fail to show up for court, the court will issue a “bench warrant” for your arrest. If a bench warrant has been issued, any contact with the police, for any reason, can result in you being immediately arrested. If you did miss a court date, it may not be too late to fix it! Talk to your attorney to find out about getting a new court date or getting your bench warrant quashed. Doing nothing means you will always be looking over your shoulder and will face serious additional charges and penalties for failing to appear.

Q. Can a protection order be dropped? If so, what is the process?

A. Yes, an alleged victim can choose to drop a restraining (protection) order by obtaining forms, completing them and filing them with the clerk of courts. There is no cost to change or drop a protection order. If you were the restrained person, the person dropping the charges must formally “serve” you by having copies of the papers hand-delivered to you, and served by mail to your attorney, at least 16 court days before the court hearing.

Q. Should I be worried about how pending criminal charges might affect my job?

A. If you have been convicted of a crime, California employers can access the records of the conviction and may consider certain convictions within seven years. If you have been arrested and are pending trial, employers can also ask about that and factor that into employment decisions, since the trial may result in a conviction. However, employers following best practices under federal laws should only investigate whether a conviction is directly related to the job in question.

Do you have a question that wasn’t addressed here? Contact us today.

Jamahl Kersey February 25, 2016 No Comments

How to Choose a Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a domestic violence crime, or are suspected of having committed such a crime, one of the most important things you can do early on is hire a criminal defense attorney who will advocate for you.

There are a lot of attorneys to choose from; you know you need to find a good one, so how do you choose who you want to be your criminal defense attorney? Here are some tips to help you with that decision:

1. Look for a criminal defense attorney. This may seem like a basic point, but it’s worth mentioning. Sure, your sister’s friend’s cousin might be great with handling divorces or writing wills, but when it comes to criminal law, you need an attorney who understands the criminal justice system and who has experience working within it. Even better, choose an attorney who handles cases like yours every day.

2. Get referrals. Even though you probably don’t want to work with your sister’s friend’s cousin (the estate planning family lawyer) on your defense, he/she may be able to recommend one or more criminal defense attorneys. You can also do some research online: read websites and reviews, check with the state bar association and other attorney referral organizations.

3. Public defenders vs. private attorneys. Understand that, although the state is required to provide you with a public defender, you may be better off selecting your own criminal defense attorney. Public defenders, while they may be experienced and competent, are generally balancing large case loads. Because of this, a public defender may not be able to devote the time and attention to your case that you deserve.

4. Talk to attorneys. When you have found one or more attorneys you are considering hiring, meet with them. However, don’t be put off if you cannot get an immediate appointment with an attorney; good defense attorneys have busy calendars. When you do talk to an attorney, is he/she a good communicator? Do you feel like he/she is really listening to you? You should feel comfortable, and you should always be treated professionally in your interactions with your attorney’s office.

5. Ask questions about experience. Has the attorney you are considering hiring handled cases like yours in the past? If so, what was the outcome? How would the attorney proceed with your case, if you were to choose him/her?

6. Ask questions about fees. How does the attorney charge for their services? Do they want a large sum of money up front? Do they bill by the hour? How frequently will you be expected to make payments? One attorney’s fees will differ from another’s based on a wide variety of factors. While you should always expect to pay fees that are reasonable, remember that the cheapest attorney may not equal the best representation.

7. Ask about staff. Who will be working on your case? If your attorney has a staff, find out who you will really be working with for different aspects of your defense.

8. Listen to your gut. At the end of the day, you need to choose an attorney you feel comfortable having represent you. Listen to your instincts, and choose accordingly.

Your criminal defense attorney should defend you vigorously. The possible outcomes will vary, based on the merits of the case against you and all available defenses. Know that, no matter how good any attorney is, no attorney can guarantee you results.

You deserve to have an experienced criminal defense attorney behind you every step of the way. Contact us to learn more about the types of domestic violences cases we see every day, and to schedule a consultation.

Jamahl Kersey February 23, 2016 No Comments

The Difference Between Self Defense and Assault in California

There are many areas of California law that can be difficult to understand. One such area is the question of self-defense vs assault. If you’ve been accused of or charged with assault or battery, but you believe you were defending yourself, you need to know the differences between these concepts and when each one applies.

Assault

In California, assault is a specific crime defined in the Penal Code. According to P.C. Section 240:

An assault is an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.

Assault is not the same crime as battery, which is defined as “any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.” In other words, two things separate assault from battery:

  • The intent to commit a violent injury (rather than simply using force or violence), and;
  • The present ability to actually commit that injury.

Both assault and battery have several grades depending on the severity of the crime and the presence of aggravating circumstances. Aggravated assault, for instance, might be cited if you violently injured someone in order to commit a further felony (such as murder).

Different grades of assault and battery carry different punishments. The punishment can also change if you committed the assault or battery in a certain location (such as a school) or against a certain class of person (such as an off-duty police officer).

If you’ve been accused of assault or battery in California, you should immediately contact a California defense lawyer. It’s important to understand the specifics of your case and to take aggressive action to defend yourself as soon as possible.

Self-Defense

If you’ve been accused of assault, battery, or other violent crimes, you may be able to claim self-defense. In California, there are several laws and statutes that apply to the concept of self-defense. In general, however, for the concept of self-defense to apply, the person claiming this defense must:

  • Have had some reasonable fear of imminent injury to themselves or another person;
  • Have believed that the use of force would prevent this injury, and;
  • Have defended themselves in proportion to the perceived threat.

In other words, you can only claim self-defense when your actions were taken to defend yourself physically from an immediate (not a future) threat.

The level of justified self-defense is proportional to the level of the threat perceived. Under California law, homicide is justifiable if you reasonably believe you were in danger of being killed or gravely injured. Less severe threats do not justify homicide, but they can be a defense against a charge of assault or battery.

California law also contains a Castle Doctrine, which governs self-defense actions taken against an invader in your own home. California’s Castle Doctrine reads:

Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury within his or her residence shall be presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to self, family, or a member of the household when that force is used against another person, not a member of the family or household, who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence and the person using the force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry occurred.

In short, this means that any person defending against a stranger who invaded their home is reasonably assumed to be in fear of their life. This allows the justification of homicide or other less severe forms of self-defense.

It’s also important to remember that the burden of proof does not lie on you when you are claiming self-defense. If you believe your actions were justified, it’s up to the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they were not.

There are also other factors a judge or jury may consider when weighing your self-defense claim. These factors can include:

  • Previous threats made against you by the other party;
  • Whether the other party previously injured or harmed you;
  • Whether you reasonably associated someone with another person who threatened you.

If you aren’t sure whether your actions constitute self-defense in California, feel free to contact us today.

Defendants’ Rights in California

If you have been formally charged with domestic battery or aggravated domestic battery in the state of California, or if you are suspected of a domestic violence crime, you should know that you have certain rights, often referred to as “defendants’ rights.”

Defendants Rights

Defendants’ rights include the following, under the U.S. Constitution and/or the California Constitution:

  • Representation by an attorney. Defendants are guaranteed the right to have an attorney represent them against criminal charges, paid for by the government if the defendant is unable to pay the attorney’s costs.
  • Adequate representation. In addition to the right to have an attorney, defendants also have the right to have an attorney who will represent the defendant adequately against the charges. Note that “adequate” representation does not mean “perfect” representation, but it does mean that a defendant has the right to a licensed attorney who understands criminal law, court proceedings and will act on the defendant’s behalf.
  • A speedy trial. Both constitutions guarantee the right to a speedy trial that is not delayed without good reason, and a delay may not prejudice the defendant’s position in any way. There are also specific time requirements that govern how long an individual can be under arrest without being formally charged, and during what time frame a trial must start if a defendant enters a “not guilty” plea to charges.
  • A public trial. Defendants have the right to public proceedings, except in some circumstances involving crimes against children.
  • A jury trial. Defendants have the right to have their criminal case tried before a jury of their peers. This may be waived in criminal matters with the consent of both parties.
  • Compel witnesses to testify. Defendants have the right to call their own witnesses to help in their defense. If you have been charged or convicted with a crime, make a list of people who may have seen or heard what happened, and get this list to your attorney as soon as possible.
  • Be present for witness testimony against the defendant. Your accuser may call witnesses (including themselves) to testify about alleged crime. Defendants have the right to be confronted by the testimony of any witnesses, to look them in the eye in court, and to have the defense question the witnesses’ statements on cross-examination.
  • Right not to testify. Defendants have the right to maintain their silence, and the fact that they choose to remain silent cannot be used against them. Remember that criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. No defendant can be compelled under the law to testify. Instead of testifying on their own behalf, defendants have the right to rely on the evidence presented in their case, and may argue that the prosecution failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Understand proceedings. A defendant who does not speak English well is entitled to an interpreter throughout the proceedings.
  • No “double jeopardy.” Defendants have the constitutional right to not be put through a criminal trial more than once for the same crime.
  • Due process. The constitution says that each of us has the right to be protected from attempts that are either wrong, or are not supported by the facts, to deprive us of our lives or our liberty.
  • Appropriate punishment. If found guilty of having committed a crime, a defendant is entitled to punishment that is not cruel or unusual.

Being accused or charged with a crime is not something any of us want to have happen, but if it happens to you or someone you love, having an experienced attorney behind you every step of the way is an important first step. If you have been accused of, or charged with domestic battery or aggravated domestic battery, contact us for more information about how we can help you protect your rights.