How To Dress Properly For Court

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It doesn’t matter if you’re in civil or legal court, you want to make sure you’ve dressed appropriately. The good news is that getting dressed for court isn’t difficult. It’s also likely that you have most of the items needed to make a good impression so you don’t have to worry about the expense of a shopping trip.

The first thing to consider is the color of the clothing you’re going to wear. It’s suggested that you stick to conservative, neutral colors. Most people opt for dark colors.

It’s a good idea to layer. Some courtrooms run hot and some are cold. While you’re in court you want to be paying attention. You don’t want to worry about freezing or overheating. Layers allow you to peel off a jacket or cardigan if the courtroom is warmer than expected.

Choose clean clothing. In addition to making sure that everything you wear to the courtroom is clean, take a few minutes to check for stains and tears. Depending on the type of material your court clothes are made out of, you might have to give yourself enough time to iron them before leaving court.

You want to appear nicely dressed while you’re in court, but since you could be sitting for a long time, you also want to choose comfortable clothing. Avoid anything that bunches, twists, is too tight, or that tends to pinch. You want to pay attention to the judge and the lawyers, you don’t want to be playing with your clothing.

When dressing for court, you should strive for a professional look. If you don’t own a suit, at least consider a nice button-down shirt and a pair of slacks. If you don’t own slacks look for a dark pair of jeans that fits well.

If you must wear jewelry, keep it simple, tasteful, and minimal. There are two reasons for this. Clunky and jangly jewelry is distracting in a courtroom setting. It can also make you look less serious. The second reason to wear as little jewelry as possible is so that you have less to remove when going through metal detectors.

It’s likely that you’re supposed to be in court relatively early in the morning and you don’t want to be late. Decide what you’re planning on wearing to the court the night before and lay everything out. Give yourself plenty of time to get ready and still arrive in the courtroom on time.

 

How To Get Free Legal Assistance In California

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Nearly everyone has a point in their life where they need some sort of legal advice. If you’re lucky, you have enough money that you can pay a lawyer for their time. Sadly, not everyone is in this position. The good news is that whether you need answers to a few legal questions involving how to care for an elderly parent or need a good defense lawyer for an upcoming trial, California does have free legal assistance programs.

Public Defenders

Every American should know that if they find themselves on the wrong side of the law, they’re entitled to a defense attorney. There’s a well-known line in the Miranda Rights that states, “If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” The reason the line is in the Miranda Rights is so that you understand that getting a good lawyer on your side is an extremely good idea.

It doesn’t matter if you are or aren’t guilty of the crime you’ve been charged with, you should have a lawyer in your corner. Even if you plan on pleading guilty they can advise you of your rights and even help negotiate a plea bargain. A court-appointed lawyer is better than no lawyer at all.

Legal Assistance And Advice

While the courts are required to assign a court-appointed lawyer to you if you’re charged with a crime, no one is obligated to provide you with free legal assistance. The good news is that there are several organizations scattered throughout California that have created programs that will provide you with either free or low-cost legal advice and assistance. If you contact an organization that doesn’t have the experience needed to help with your specific issue, they’ll likely provide you with the contact information of a group that does.

The biggest problem with using free legal aid programs is that they are usually only found in cities. Individuals who live in rural areas and small towns will usually have to look in more heavily developed areas when they need free legal counseling.

Don’t ever think that a lack of money makes it impossible for you to get your legal questions answered. There are resources out there that are far more reliable than posting your questions on social media sites and hoping for the best.

 

Understanding California’s Jury Duty

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U.S. citizens who reside in the United States can receive a letter in the mail that summons them to serve on a jury. This is called jury duty. If selected to serve on the jury you’ll listen to a court case and use what you learned during the trial to decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

Who is Eligible For Jury Duty?

In California, there are some people who aren’t required to respond to a jury duty summons. People who are exempt include:

  • Residents who aren’t U.S. citizens.
  • Anyone under the age of 18.
  • Anyone who demonstrates that they don’t have a strong enough grasp of the English language to adequately understand/discuss the details of the case.
  • Anyone who has been convicted of a felony and not yet had their civil rights restored.
  • Anyone who lacks the ability to care for themselves and is under a conservatorship.
  • Anyone who has received a jury duty summons within the last 12 months.

You can only be asked to serve on a jury that is taking place in the county you legally reside in.

How Long Does California Jury Duty Last?

California has what is called a one-day or one-trial policy for jury duty. This policy was adopted in 1999 in an attempt to make things simpler for jurors and their employers. The way this works is that a juror is not required to serve more than one day of on-call jury duty. This means that if the person is called into the courthouse for jury duty selection and isn’t selected, they have still fulfilled their one-year requirement and can’t be summoned for jury duty for a full twelve months.

If the juror is assigned to on-call or standby jury service they only have to remain on-call for five days. After that, they are released from jury duty for a year.
If you’re selected as a jury member for a trial case, you will have to sit through the entire trial. Once the trial is over, you’ll be released from jury duty for a full year.

Are You Paid For Jury Duty?

California does have a policy in place to make sure that anyone who responds to a jury duty summons is paid, but you won’t make enough to cover the cost of not going to work. The policy is that you’re paid $15 a day for jury duty. You’ll also receive a $0.34 reimbursement for each mile you have to commute to the courthouse. The mileage reimbursement only covers your commute to the courthouse, not home, and only kicks in if you’re assigned to a trial and have to make the commute more than one day. Some counties have a policy in place that covers the cost of public/mass transportation.

The exception to the $15 a day payment is government employees who receive their full pay plus their benefits.

What If You Neglect To Respond To A Jury Duty Summons?

While it’s easy to understand that urge to ignore a jury duty summons, it’s something you’ll later regret. You’re legally required to respond. A failure to respond to the summons will result in you potentially being fined up to $1,500 and possibly even have to serve some jail time.

If an emergency comes up, you can’t simply fail to show up for jury duty. In the event of an emergency, you have to contact the courthouse as quickly as possible. If the judge feels the emergency is valid and severe, they will excuse you. This is true even if you’re in the middle of a trial jury. Be prepared to provide proof of the emergency.

 

What Happens If You’re Accused Of Extortion In California

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California lawmakers consider the act of using a threat or force to compel someone into giving you something, usually money or property, that they’d prefer to keep for themselves. In California, extortion and blackmail are considered the same thing.

In California, extortion is considered an extreme situation. It is a felony with none of the wiggle room that’s connected to California’s wobbler laws.

Over the years, several extortion cases have made their way through the California court system. Some of these cases involved a burglar threatening the life or physical safety of the homeowner unless the owner revealed the location of valuables. There have been cases of public officials being blackmailed in an attempt to influence their vote. Some athletes have found themselves involved in extortion cases after someone placed a large bet that hinged on a certain team winning or losing. Eldercare extortion cases are also common. In these cases, care is withheld until the elder provides money to the caretaker.

The problem with extortion cases is that it’s not easy to put together a good defense. The most commonly used defenses are that the extortion didn’t happen and that the defendant was falsely accused. There have occasionally been people who’ve beaten extortion charges when it was revealed that the person or victim who filed the charges ultimately didn’t give in to the extortion.

If you’re charged with extortion, it’s in your best interest to contact an experienced defense attorney right away and start preparing your case. If you want to argue mistaken identity or false accusations, you’ll have to find witnesses and prepare documented proof that there is no way you benefited from the alleged extortion. In the case of false accusations, it’s a good idea to have proof that the individual who filed the charges stand to gain in some way if you’re convicted or that they have a history of making your life difficult.

Because extortion in California is a felony offense, if you’re convicted, you’ll serve time in a state prison.

If convicted you could be forced to:

  • Serve a maximum of a four-year prison sentence
  • Be required to pay a $10,000 fine
  • Have to make restitution

In some cases, particularly first-time extortion offenses, the judge has opted to allow the defendant to serve felony probation rather than prison time.

If you’re convicted of extortion, the felony record not only damages your reputation, but it can also make everything from getting a job, to acquiring a house, and even securing a line of credit difficult.

 

Abandoned Cars In California

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California law states that any vehicle which has been left unattended, standing, parked upon or within 10 feet of the traveled portion of the highway for more than 48 hours, or a vehicle left standing or parked on private property more than 24 hours or upon other public property for more than 30 days, is an abandoned vehicle. The same is true of a vehicle that’s been left on the side of the highway for 72 hours and hasn’t been reported by the owner.

If you are the owner of a piece of property that has an abandoned car on it, you’re not allowed to automatically assume ownership of the vehicle. Legally, you’re required to report it. The state will then process the vehicle and ultimately decide what to do with it. In many cases, the state will eventually hold an auction during which you have the opportunity to bid on the vehicle.

Once the vehicle reaches the impound lot, it will be inspected. If any illegal substances are found in the car or if there is evidence that the vehicle was used to commit a crime, the police will launch an investigation that will lead them to the vehicle’s owner.

In some cases, the owners have genuinely decided to abandon the vehicle, but in other situations, they would like to be reunited with their property. If you are the owner of a car that has been impounded and considered an abandoned vehicle, you are allowed to reclaim your vehicle, but it will cost you. You can expect the fee to include whatever the towing charge was, any penalties the department connects to the vehicle, and impound release fees. If you want the vehicle back, you’ll want to act quickly because the impound fees usually increase each day.

If the vehicle isn’t reclaimed, it’s sold at a public auction and the winning bidder gets the title to the vehicle.

If you have to abandon your vehicle for some reason, it’s in your best interest to alert either the owner of the property where the vehicle is parked or the police. Simply letting someone know that you intend to return for the vehicle can save you from the aggravation and expense of trying to reclaim a vehicle that is presumed abandoned.

 

The Truth About Carpool Cheating

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The rules seem simple enough. If you are the only person in your vehicle, you must stick to a certain lane of traffic. If you’re carrying multiple people in your car, you’re free to use the carpool lane which typically travels at a significantly faster speed. The system is designed to encourage people to carpool whenever possible.

The problem with the system is that there are always a few people who decide the rules don’t apply to them and they zip along in the carpool lane even though they’re the only person in the vehicle. There are even people who go so far as to strap a mannequin into the passenger seat so that the cops think that they’re legally driving in the carpool lane.

In 2016, ABC 7 News reported that the Metropolitan Traffic Commission had conducted a study that revealed during afternoon and evening hours, 19% of the drivers in the carpool lane are carpool cheaters. The number of cheaters rose significantly during the morning rush hour when an estimated 24% of vehicles in the carpool lane only had a single driver.

The results of the study aren’t being taken lightly.

“Our fear is that the cheat level gets so high that everyone feels the only people not in the carpool lanes are chumps,” said Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The numbers indicate that highway patrol officers simply aren’t catching enough carpool cheaters. If enough of the cheaters got caught and issued the surprisingly heavy carpool cheating ticket they would decide that they’re better off sticking to the slow lane. Until the odds of getting caught cheating grow worse, people are going to continue to look for creative ways that they can drive in the faster carpool lane.

A perfect example of this is a gentleman who was recently busted cheating in the carpool lane. Bay Area police pulled over a Ford SUV that was zipping along in the carpool lane. Once the driver was pulled over, it became obvious that there was something strange about the passengers. A closer inspection revealed that they were nothing more than coats that had been stuffed with a variety of items. The driver was issued a ticket.

The California Highway Patrol isn’t fooling around when it comes to carpool cheaters. The ticked a first-time offender receives is a staggering $490. If you get caught again, the fine increases. This was the fourth time the Bay Area driver in the Ford SUV had been pulled over.

Carpool cheaters are a good source of income for the California Highway Patrol. In 2017, the state collected approximately $350,000 from carpool cheaters.

 

Streaking In California

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Streaking is one of those things that happens sometimes. It most often takes place at sporting events, but sometimes also happens at political rallies, school graduation, and even completely random.

Streaking involves someone stripping off their clothing and, usually running, past a group of people. Most people consider it funny and will share stories and even pictures all over social media.

There is one group of people who don’t think that streaking is funny: California’s lawmakers. They prefer that everyone remain fully clothed while in public. If you’re caught streaking, the police will arrest you and charge you with indecent exposure. That is when the incident stops seeming like a fun prank and becomes an issue that could have a seriously negative impact on your future.

In California, streaking and indecent exposure is dealt with in California Penal Code 314 PC. It’s a misdemeanor charge which doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that in addition to a six-month jail sentence, a guilty conviction will result in your name being placed on the sex-offender registration for a full ten years. You’ll be registered as a Tier-One offender. Having your name on the sex offender list, even for something as harmless as streaking, can have a severely negative impact on your ability to find a job, secure housing, and participate in community events. You can also be charged up to $1,000 in fines.

Getting caught streaking once is bad. Getting caught a second time is far worse. The second time you’re charged with indecent exposure, you’ll face felony charges.

If your second streaking episode results in a felony indecent exposure conviction, the penalties are steep. They include:

  • Spending up to three years in a state prison.
  • Lifelong registration on the sex offender list.
  • Being required to pay up to $10,000 in fines.

Before you decide to go streaking, consider that there aren’t all that many good defenses you can use in indecent exposure cases. The two best defenses are that you didn’t intend to expose yourself to anyone, a difficult argument to make when after a streaking episode. The second most plausible defense is that it’s a case of mistaken identity, which will be a tricky argument if half the crowd you streaked in front of used their cell phone cameras to catch the event.

Considering the potential fall out from a single streaking episode, it’s in your best interest to stay fully dressed and let someone else do the streaking.

 

Laws Every Californian Should Know About

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If you call California your home, there are a few laws you should familiarize yourself with.

DUI Threshold Laws

Everyone knows that getting arrested for DUI is a serious, life-altering problem. The problem is that few people know what when they have crossed over the threshold from legally able to drive and become too drunk to drive.

It doesn’t matter if you are the kind of person who gets buzzed after a few sips or someone who really can hold their liquor, if you’re pulled over and your blood alcohol level is 0.08% or higher you will be charged with a DUI.

Data Privacy Laws In California

One of the great things about calling California your home is knowing that you have a legal right to know exactly what type of data businesses collect about you and what they’re using it for. The California Consumer Privacy Act went into effect on January 1, 2020.

The California Consumer Privacy Act is written in such a way that you:

  • Can delete personal data a business has collected.
  • Block the sale of personal data.
  • Have the ability to learn exactly what data is collected/sold/shared/etc.

Comparative Negligence For Injuries

Don’t assume that just because you believe that someone is 99% for injuries they sustained during an accident, that they’ll be responsible for the bulk of their medical bills. That’s not quite how the law sees things in California.

California lawmakers created a comparative fault law that basically states that if you are in any way responsible for a person’s injuries, they (or their insurance company) can sue you for a portion of the expenses the individual incurred because of the accident. The good news is that once the court decides how much your actions contributed to the accident, that will be the amount you have to owe.

For example, if a guest comes to your home while they are drunk and trips over a hose that you left stretched across the driveway and breaks their nose, the court might decide that the hose was only 20% of the reason they were injured. The other 80% of the injuries were connected to their intoxication. In this situation, you’d only be responsible for 20% of the medical bills.

Cell Phones And Cars

As a society, we’ve become addicted to our cell phones. They rarely leave our sight. We love how they provide us with a way to constantly be connected to everyone we care about. While no one has taken steps to separate us from our phones, California lawmakers have passed laws that are designed to keep you off your phone while you’re behind the wheel.

If you’re under 18 and driving, you’re not allowed to use your cell phone at all while commuting. Even the hands-free system is off-limits. If you do have to make a call or respond to a text, you’ll have to pull over and deal with the situation while your car is completely stopped.

If you’re over 18, you’re allowed to use the hands-free system of your choice, but you can’t have your phone in your hand. The first time you’re caught holding the phone while driving, you’ll be issued a ticket that will cost at least $76.

The one exception to using a handheld phone while driving is if you’re reporting an emergency to the police or fire department.

 

Is Being Homeless A Crime In California?

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In theory, California isn’t a bad place to be homeless. Sure, the high cost of living makes it difficult to get back on your feet, but at least the weather is nice all year round, so if you have to sleep outside a few nights a week, it shouldn’t be a big deal.

Wrong!

California lawmakers have made being homeless in California, even temporarily, extremely difficult.

California’s homeless population reached an alarming number a few years back. According to data collected and released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development California’s homeless population had swelled to 151,278 individuals at the end of 2019. While state and local lawmakers are aware of the problem but aren’t sure how to resolve the issue.

One of the biggest rumors that comes out of California is that homelessness is illegal in the state. That’s not quite true. Strictly speaking, being homeless isn’t a crime, but as one man said, state and local laws make everything the homeless population does to survive a crime.

In 2018, Kimberly Sandoval, a member of Santa Ana’s homeless population summed up the problem. “Stop criminalizing us, because that’s what they’re doing. It’s not illegal to be homeless, but everything we do is illegal.” At the time Sandoval had been homeless for about 15 years and had just been ticketed for having spare bicycle parts.

At the time Sandoval was struggling to figure out how to survive when she’d been issued tickets for having everything from a tent to a lawn chair. The reason for the tickets was a city ordinance that Santa Ana lawmakers had passed the year before. Each ticket made Sandoval, who had no other options, life much harder.

Santa Ana isn’t the only city whose homeless population has drawn fire. It’s estimated that there are over one thousand different laws throughout the state that are popularly known as anti-homeless laws. These include laws that make it illegal to sit/sleep in public areas such as parks. In many cities, it is even illegal for someone to sleep in their car, something several people do during the summer to gain some relief from California’s excruciatingly high rent fees.

Many people feel that the anti-homeless laws aren’t working the way state and local lawmakers hope.

“California has a lot more laws than other states,” Professor Jeff Selbin, an employee of UC Berkeley’s Policy Advocacy Clinic, explained. “Unfortunately, what may be a good fix to move that person from your street or put boulders on your sidewalk for example, is not going to solve the [bigger] problem.”

Selbin’s thoughts were echoed by Jennifer Friedenbach, the Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness. “The laws that go after homeless people exacerbate homelessness typically everywhere that they’re used. People can’t get in touch with their social workers because they’re being moved from place to place.”

While it is becoming increasingly clear that the laws created to discourage homelessness aren’t working, at this point, lawmakers don’t appear to be in a big hurry to change anything. If you or someone you love is homeless in California, it’s in your best interest to find a good legal advocacy group that will advise you about how to proceed when you encounter legal problems connected to California’s various “anti-homeless” laws.

 

What Happens If You Give A Police Officer False Information

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It doesn’t matter if you’re pulled over for a routine traffic violation or if the police knock on your front door and ask to talk to you, there’s something about face-to-face interactions that causes most of us to panic. This panic can result in us making some bad choices. A perfect example of this is not thinking before providing the officer with false information.

It doesn’t matter if you give the officer the wrong home address or if you pretend to be your younger sibling. If the officer finds out that you have provided them with false information, they will likely arrest you for violating California’s Penal Code 148.9. This is a misdemeanor offense. If you’re convicted, the judge can sentence you to six months in jail and charge a $1,000 fine. Since this charge will be on your permanent record, if the police ever question you again, they’ll likely be very suspicious of any information they get from you.

The good news is that Penal Code 148.6 clearly states that you have to knowingly give the officers the false information. That word “knowingly,” could be the key component to your defense, particularly if you made an honest mistake, such as forgetting your current home address and providing the police with a previous address. The same is true if you have given them the wrong information regarding your work history, or answered a question wrong during an interview.

If you realize that you’ve provided the police with the wrong information, it’s important to correct the situation as quickly as possible. The faster you alert the police to the mistake, the more the incident looks like a casual mistake as opposed to a deliberate attempt to mislead the police.

Another interesting thing about California’s Penal Code 148.9 is that you can only be charged with providing the police officer with false information if you provide the false information after you’ve been legally detained or arrested.

Don’t assume that just because you gave the police officer some false information before them formally detaining or arresting you that you have nothing to worry about. Giving false information before the arrest/detaining creates an opportunity for the police to charge you with interfering with an investigation and obstructing justice.

A guilty conviction for those charges results in getting fined up to $1,000, as well as spending up to 12 months in a county jail.

When it comes to the police, it’s in your best interest to be honest.