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.

 

What Is Exoneration In California?

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Did you know that California leads the nation in exonerations? According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 120 people have been exonerated in California. Additional research reveals that in the past 30 years, California courts have dealt with over 200 wrongful conviction cases. It’s estimated that the amount of time the wrongfully convicted served for crimes they didn’t do adds up to 1,300 years. It’s also believed that the total cost of these wrongful convictions cost about $129 million.

That’s both incredible and alarming.

What Is An Exoneration?

  1. According to the legal dictionary, an exoneration is, “The taking off a burden or duty.
  2. It is a rule in the distribution of an intestate’s estate that the debts which he himself contracted, and for which be mortgaged his land as security, shall be paid out of the personal estate in the exoneration of the real.
  3. But when the real estate is charged with the payment of a mortgage at the time the intestate buys it, and the purchase is made subject to it, the personal is not, in that case, to be applied, in exoneration of the real estate. 2 Pow. Mortg. 780; 5 Hayw. 57; 3 Johns. Ch. R. 229.
  4. But the rule for exonerating the real estate out of the personal, does not apply against specific or pecuniary legatees, nor the widow’s right to paraphernalia, and with a reason not against the interest of creditors. 2 Ves. jr. 64; 1 P. Wms. 693; Id. 729; 2 Id. 120,335; 3 Id. 367. Vide Pow. Mortg. Index, h.t.”

How Exoneration Works

If you’ve been exonerated, it means that in the eyes of the law, you had nothing to do with a specific crime. You’re completely free of blame and guilt.

Not only are you free of guilt, but you also can’t be tried for the same case a second time. In California, most exonerations occur because of DNA evidence.

In theory, now that the science surrounding DNA has gotten so much better, we should see a reduction of exonerations, primarily because the evidence should prove that there is no point in taking a suspect to court at all. As soon as the DNA evidence is processed, and everyone knows it doesn’t belong to the suspect, they should be freed.

What About Life Following Exoneration?

Life isn’t always easy for someone who has been exonerated after spending a significant time in jail for a crime they didn’t commit. Not only do they have to deal with the psychological toll the experience took on them, but they also have to adjust to living in a world that has changed a great deal. Most don’t have many financial assets and are forced to rely on charitable organizations that provide the exonerated citizen with the tools they need to eventually rebuild their life.

 

California’s Take On Arson

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Many people are surprised by how many arson cases occur in California during a single year. It’s one of the state’s most common felonies.

It’s likely that the main reason so many people are surprised by the high number of arson cases the California courts deal with each year is that they tend to think of arson as something that’s committed by firebugs or people who start fires because they like watching things burn. The truth is that many arson fires are actually tangled up with insurance fraud cases and are started by the same person who owns the now burned structure.

Investigating Arson Cases

Investigating arson is a time consuming and complicated process. Most law enforcement agencies have a dedicated team of arson experts who deal with arson cases. It’s not unusual for this to be a cross-agency team that includes police detectives and fire investigators.

One of the ways that arson cases differ from other types of crimes is that it usually doesn’t take long to investigate other types of felonies. Charges are often filed within weeks, sometimes even days, of the incident. Arson takes a long time to investigate. Not only does the arson team have to go over the scene with a fine-tooth comb, but they also spend a great deal of time investigating every single person involved in the case. It can take years before the case is closed and charges are filed.

The Consequences Of An Arson Conviction In California

In order to be convicted of arson in California, the prosecution must prove that you acted maliciously when the fire was allegedly set. Proving their case involves the prosecution:

  • Proving that the fire was deliberately set.
  • That you either started the fire yourself, or helped someone set the fire, or arranged for someone to set the fire.

Malicious Arson In California

If the prosecution believes that you are guilty of malicious arson, you face a felony conviction.

Malicious arson in California involves:

  • Someone getting hurt as a direct result of the arson (this could include the fire crew who responded to the reports of a fire).
  • If the burned building was a dwelling.
  • If a non-inhabited building/forest was deliberately set on fire.
  • If someone else’s property unintentionally caught on fire as a result of the arson.

A guilty conviction for any of these charges will result in serving time in a state prison.

 

The Impact Of The COVID-19 Pandemic On Crime Rates

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Whenever you turn to your preferred source of news, you’re likely slammed with information about the toll COVID-19 is taking on healthcare and the economy. Everyone is happy to share information about how overrun the hospitals are, how people’s mental health is suffering, and how the economy will never recover.

What hasn’t been talked about much is the impact COVID-19 is having on the crime.

When the pandemic first struck the United States, the crime rates dropped. That has changed. Today it’s obvious that the pandemic has triggered a surge in crime, particularly homicides.

NPR reported that in 2020, there had been over 750 homicides in Chicago, that’s an increase of over 50% from the year before. Chicago wasn’t the only city where homicide rates spiked. Los Angeles police dealt with 30% more homicide investigations. The increase in New York City exceeded 40%.

Experts agree that the spike is directly connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jeff Asher, who works as a data consultant, studied the crime rates in 50 major cities and concluded. “We have good data that the rise in murder was happening in the early stages of the pandemic. We have good data that the rise in murder picked up in the early stages of the summer,” Asher explained to NPR, “and we also have good data that the rise of murder picked up again in September and October as some of the financial assistance started to wear off.”

Not everyone agrees that economic struggles are the sole reason homicide rates are climbing.

“It’s clearly related, in part, to the coronavirus and to the fact that people are cooped up,” New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio hypothesized. “And it’s certainly related to the fact that the criminal justice system is on pause and that’s causing a lot of problems.”

COVID-19 didn’t simply result in a spike in homicides. Experts have noted that other types of crimes have also risen sharply since the pandemic.

Data collected by the COVID-19 Council revealed that:

  • Aggravated assault cases jumped 6%.
  • Domestic violence reports increased at the start of the pandemic.
  • Gun assault charges increased by 8%.
  • Robbery reports spiked by 9%.
  • There were 30% more drug-related offenses.
  • Vehicle theft increased by 13%.

While these numbers are bleak, it isn’t all bad news:

  • Non-residential burglary decreased by 7%.
  • Residential burglary decreased by a staggering 24%.
  • Drug-related offenses dropped 30%.

Hopefully, the pandemic will end soon and life, as well as crime rates, will return to normal.

 

The Truth About Unemployment Fraud

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Unemployment fraud in California is hardly a new concept, but the pandemic has pushed it to new heights which have resulted in it overwhelming an already strained system.

What Is Unemployment Fraud In California?

The term unemployment fraud refers to the act of collecting unemployment benefits that you don’t really deserve.

Common examples of unemployment fraud include:

  • Continuing to collect unemployment benefits after you’ve returned to work.
  • Providing false information on your unemployment application.
  • Failing to report earnings from a part-time or freelance job.
  • Lying about how much you earned during an average workweek prior to applying for unemployment.
  • Using a false identity when applying for unemployment benefits.

The Impact Of Unemployment Fraud During The Pandemic

Since the pandemic hit, unemployment fraud cases have sky-rocketed. The Labor Department estimates that 10% of the unemployment benefits paid out during the pandemic have gone to people who don’t really need it and who are actually committing unemployment fraud. 10% doesn’t seem like much until you find out that it exceeds $63 billion.

While all states are struggling to deal with The Truth About Unemployment Fraud, California has been hit particularly hard. Experts estimate that fraudulent scams have resulted in draining approximately $11 billion dollars of unemployment money in California. Another $19 billion has gone into suspicious-looking accounts that require additional investigation.

Consequences Of Unemployment Fraud In California

If you’re currently collecting unemployment benefits that you’re not technically entitled to, don’t assume that you’ll get away with it forever. Even if no one has looked too closely at your situation right now, it’s reasonable to assume that once the pandemic is over, steps will be taken to crack down on unemployment fraud. It’s likely that many cases that were filed during the pandemic will be investigated and charges will be filed.

California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) is responsible for investigating unemployment fraud cases. They are experts at this type of white-collar crime and are meticulous about combing through unemployment applications, tax records, and financial histories and looking for signs of unemployment fraud. If they feel that they’ve collected enough evidence to mount a solid case against you, they work with the local prosecutor and file charges.

Unemployment fraud is one of California’s wobbler offenses. If you collected less than $950, you’ll be charged with a misdemeanor. If the amount is more than $950, you face felony charges.

If you’re found guilty of misdemeanor unemployment fraud, you face:

  • Having to make full restitution
  • Six months in jail
  • A $1,000 fine

If you’re convicted of felony unemployment fraud, you’ll face:

  • Having to make full restitution
  • A $10,000 fine
  • Spending a year in prison

The best way to avoid an unemployment fraud charge is to be completely honest about your work, income, and job application history. If you discover that you made a mistake on your unemployment application, report the issue right away.