For years the law in California was use of a gun in the commission of a felony meant a State Prison sentence if convicted. The consequences of gun use in commission of a crime went beyond just the fact that it made a State Prison sentence mandatory, it also meant that the credits a person earned in custody were limited. In addition, for future crimes, the use of a gun meant that it was a violent felony.
Now, under Senate Bill 620 starting January 1, 2018, anyone charged with the enhancement of Penal Code Section 12022.5 or 12022.53 (use of a gun during a felony) may become probation eligible if the judge strikes the enhancement. SB620 gives the judge, who is doing the sentencing, the option to strike the 12022.5 or 2022.53 enhancement if he or she feels it is appropriate in the interests of justice.
How this will be implemented is still unresolved. If the Court strikes the enhancement pursuant to Penal Code section 1385(a) then it may be that the crime is no longer a violent felony leading to the possibility that the underlying crime isn’t even a strike. However, if it is stricken only for purposes of sentencing, it may be that the conviction will still qualify as a strike and decrease the credit for time served.
Can prosecutors strike minorities from a jury simply because of their race?
Since 1978 criminal attorneys in California have not been allowed to remove potential jurors from a jury simply because of their race. During voir dire, or jury selection, counsel on both sides have preemptory challenges and can remove jurors for basically any reason, from being too young, too old, too mean looking, you name it. But minorities are a protected class and a person can’t be excluded from a jury simply because of their racial profile.
But even with this so-called Batson/Wheeler protection, minorities have been getting kicked off of juries for decades. Attorneys who thought having a certain race on the jury panel would disadvantage their case would just kick them off and give other excuses, even if those excuses were flimsy. People v. Gutierrez, 2017 DJDAR 5100 (June 1, 2017), a new case from the California Supreme Court, has recently put some teeth back into Batson/Wheeler challenges.
So you find yourself on probation after working out a plea bargain with the District Attorney. Your lawyer and you have entered into a deal where you will spend 3 years on formal supervised probation. What does this really mean to you though?
Being on probation is when you are conditionally released back into the community instead of going to jail or prison for the maximum term possible for whatever crime you committed. Let’s say you plead guilty to a crime that has a maximum possible sentence of 3 years in custody. Instead of serving those 3 years in custody and being done with your obligations, you are put on put on probation. You are released into the community but the possibility of doing the 3 years in custody hangs over you if you don’t meet all the obligations of being on probation.
One common requirement of someone on probation is that the probationer not possess firearms or illegal drugs. This seems pretty clear. If you are on probation you shouldn’t have in your possession guns or illegal drugs. However, recently in the case of People v Hall (2017 D.A.R. 1235 February 9, 2017) the question was does the probationer have to be in knowing possession.
We’ve all heard of it, but unless you need it you probably have no idea exactly how it works or how to get it. The idea behind bail is to prevent a defendant from running away after he or she has been arrested. The theory is that if someone puts up a large amount of money, he is not likely to walk away from it. The other reason to set bail is, danger to the community. The more serious the crime the higher the bail.
Recently there has been a move to change the structure of bail as some feel it discriminates against poor people. Although the bail amount is determined by the severity of the crime not the financial status of the person who committed it, clearly someone who is poor will have a harder time affording it than someone who is wealthy.
The amount of the bail is pre-set according to a bail schedule, based on the seriousness of the crime. The theory is that if someone posts a million dollars of bail money, he is likely to show up in court to protect his money. The more serious the crime, the more incentive a defendant might have to flee from punishment, so the higher the bail.
In a criminal case, a defendant is entitled to a unanimous verdict by all the jurors selected to hear his case. Many times if only one juror votes in a defendant’s favor it’s a win for the defense. The prosecutor may choose not to go to trial again and dismiss the case or will plea bargain the case in a way that benefits the defendant. Many times when a jury is hung with the count overwhelmingly in favor of one side or the other (usually against the defendant) the judge and the DA will try to identify the holdout juror, isolate that juror, and remove the juror in order to get a resolution of the case.
That’s what happened recently in the case of People v Armstrong, a 2016 from the 4th District Court of Appeal. The defendant was facing the death penalty and was in the penalty phase of the trial. In other words, he was guilty, but now the jury had to decide whether to vote for death or life in prison without parole. One juror was refusing to vote for death and became the “hold out” blocking a verdict. The judge removed the juror from the case in light of the frustration expressed by the other jurors. However, there wasn’t any showing that the juror wasn’t participating in deliberations. In fact, the juror was deliberating but just disagreed with the other jurors’ conclusions. Removing the juror was found to be error and caused the court to reverse the death sentence.
The role of the defense lawyer when a jury appears to reach an impasse is critical. A mistrial declared because a jury can’t reach a unanimous verdict is almost always a victory for the defendant. Any time the prosecution can’t get a conviction in trial the defendant wins. The defense attorney has to object at the right time and must seek a mistrial and a “do over” whenever possible. If the defense lawyer is “asleep at the wheel” and doesn’t raise the objection at all or doesn’t raise the right one the defendant suffers. Getting the right lawyer who stays on top of the case can make all the difference. It can even determine life and death. Whether it’s a death penalty case, like Mr. Armstrong’s, or one with a much lesser penalty every case needs the trial lawyer to stay strong, alert, and make the right moves.