What Is A Plea Bargain?

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Considering how many people are arrested each year in California, there are surprisingly few criminal trials. There are usually two reasons a case doesn’t go to trial. The first is because the charges were dropped, either due to lack of evidence or because the person who filed the charges changed their mind.

The second reason is that the accused ultimately decides to accept a plea bargain.

The simplest way to describe a plea bargain is that it is an agreement that both the defendant and the prosecution enter into. In most cases, the defendant opts to take the plea bargain because they’re worried that if the case goes to trial, they’ll be found guilty and face steep consequences. When compared to the possible consequences connected to the trial, the plea bargain feels like a good deal.

Most plea bargains involve a reduction of charges. An example of this could be changing the charges from a felony to a misdemeanor or going from a 1st-degree offense to a 3rd-degree offense. While defendant will have a criminal record, the amount of time they have to spend in jail decreases as does the amount of fines they’ll pay.

Procedural shows always make it seem like a plea bargain concludes everything. That once a plea bargain is made, the defendant automatically gets whatever the prosecutor offered, but that’s not how real life works.

Before the plea bargain can be finalized, the prosecutor must alert a judge to the situation. The judge will want to look at the evidence the police collected, the charges, the terms of the deal. They may even look at similar cases. While it’s unusual, the judge can tell the prosecutor that the plea bargain isn’t acceptable, forcing both sides to reevaluate the case. In this situation, the prosecutor will either have to offer a different deal, decide to drop the charges or prepare for a trial.

Defendants are free to reject a plea bargain.

The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance estimates that 95% of cases end in a plea bargain.

 

Chat Room Crimes In California

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Chat room crimes are a term that typically refers to specific cases that ultimately deal with the solicitation of a minor. The term first became popular after it was used by the television show, To Catch a Predator.

Chat room crimes typically involve an older person, usually a male, who uses things like chat rooms and instant messaging to connect with and ultimately lure a minor. In many cases, the minor thinks that they are chatting with someone who is of a similar age to themselves.

Chat room crimes are typically covered by solicitation of a minor laws, which are outlined in California’s Penal Code 288.2. The code states that:
“Every person who knows, should have known, or believes that another person is a minor, and who knowingly distributes, sends, causes to be sent, exhibits, or offers to distribute or exhibit by any means, including by physical delivery, telephone, electronic communication, or in person, any harmful matter that depicts a minor or minors engaging in sexual conduct, to the other person with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust or passions or sexual desires of that person or the minor, and with the intent or for the purposes of engaging in sexual intercourse, sodomy, or oral copulation with the other person, or with the intent that either person touch an intimate body part of the other, is guilty.”

Chat room crimes can be prosecuted as either misdemeanors or felonies. It isn’t entirely clear how the prosecutor decides whether they want to pursue misdemeanor or felony charges. What we do know is that they look at both the type and amount of evidence the police collected and your personal/criminal history before making a decision.

Examples of prosecutable chat room crimes include:

  • Sending messages to a minor that are full of unmistakable sexual content.
  • Sending messages to a minor with the intent of meeting with them to engage in either consensual or non-consensual sex.
  • Sending videos/pictures with overtly sexual themes to minors.

It is important to note that the prosecution is not required to provide proof of any sexual or even physical contact between you and the minor. The chats transcripts, messages, emails, etc. are enough proof to get a conviction.

You can also be convicted if the person you’re chatting with is actually an adult. The only thing that the court is interested in is if you believed they were a minor.

If you’re convicted of a misdemeanor chat room crime in California, the judge can sentence you to:

  • Twelve months in a county jail.
  • A $5,000 fine.

If you’re convicted of a felony chat room crime in California, you can face:

  • Up to four years in a California state prison.
  • A $10,000 fine.
  • Registering as a tier one sex offender.

The best way to avoid being convicted of a chat room crime in California is to avoid chatting with anyone who could even potentially be a minor.

 

Standing Your Ground In California

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In California, you have the right to defend yourself, even if you’re not inside of your home at the time. The issue is dealt with in California’s self-defense laws which are more popularly referred to as Stand-Your-Ground laws.

What the Stand-Your-Ground laws do is provide you with a way to hold tight and defend yourself from an attack. They most commonly come into play when a person encounters a burglar inside their home, but they also come into play in parking lots, parks, lawns, public buildings and even on the road.

The idea behind the Stand-Your-Ground laws is that you should be able to defend yourself without having to worry about criminal prosecution.

It’s important to understand that the Stand-Your-Ground laws don’t give you free rein to do whatever you want. You are still expected to use some common sense and to not use unnecessary force in response to a minor concern.

In order to use the Stand-Your-Ground laws as self-defense, a few things have to happen.

  • You have to show that you could reasonably believe that your health, safety, or life was in danger during that specific moment.
  • You had to genuinely believe that the degree of force you used in response to the threat was appropriate in the situation.
  • You have to prove that you didn’t use an excessive amount of force given the nature of the threat.

There have been cases of people killing a perceived threat. Whenever this happens, there are always questions about whether the degree of force used was really necessary.

The way California’s self-defense laws are written, you have the right to used deadly force against anyone who you feel intends to kill or seriously harm you. Examples of this include:

It’s worth noting that you can only use the imminent danger and stand-your-ground defense if the threat was happening right at that moment. It had to be an actual threat, not just the perception of a threat. For example, you can legally use violence to defend yourself if someone is holding a knife to your throat, but you can’t go to a cyberstalker’s house and shoot them.

If you had to use violence to defend yourself, you want to contact the police immediately following the altercation. The sooner you contact them, the sooner they can interview witnesses and take your statement. Talking to the police while everything is fresh in everyone’s mind is the best way to prove that you acted in self-defense.

 

Catching Police Officers On Film

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Videos of police officers behaving badly have a history of going viral. This sheds a bad light on police officers throughout the entire state of California. Isn’t it interesting how videos of police officers doing good things never seem to make it onto the internet?

If you plan on filming a police officer there are few things you need to consider before you hit record.

California doesn’t currently have any laws that forbid you from filming police officers in action, but that doesn’t mean you can get in the officer’s way while they’re conducting official business. It doesn’t matter if you’re hoping to catch a scandal or simply want to shine a positive light on the police, if you’re filming impedes their ability to do their job, you can be charged with interfering with a police investigation.

If the police officer asks why you’re filming, don’t become belligerent about your First Amendment Rights. Don’t lose your temper or insult the officer, which could prompt them into looking for a reason to issue a citation or arresting you. Simply explain what you’re doing and promise that you won’t do anything to get in the way. Remember, distracting the police officer while they’re investigating a case or issuing a traffic ticket could be considered interference.

Be aware of how you’re handling your phone or any other equipment you’re using to film. You don’t want the officer to glance up and think you have a gun in your hand.

Many experts suggest that you set up your recording equipment so that the footage can only be accessed with a passcode. This prevents the police from commandeering your recording equipment and possibly deleting the footage. Having the equipment password protected requires that they get a warrant before they can access the footage.

The trick to filming the police while they’re in action is to use common sense and to stay out of their way.

If your filming efforts result in you getting arrested, you need to remain calm. Don’t provide any information beyond the basics and contact a good lawyer who has a solid understanding of civil rights laws and the First Amendment.

 

Riding A Noisy Motorcycle In California

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There was a time when riding a noisy motorcycle in California meant you might get issue a fix-it ticket. While the ticket was irritating, it was also easily correctable. All you had to do was take your motorcycle to a mechanic, have the noise adjusted, prove you changed things, and the ticket went away.

That changed in 2019 when lawmakers decided that there were too many noisy motorcycles on California’s highways. Since the law passed, if your motorcycle is considered too loud, you’ll still be issued a ticket, but adjusting the noise won’t make the fine disappear. Whether you have your bike repaired or not, you’ll have to pay a substantial amount of money to the court system.

While you might love a good loud rumbling exhaust while you’re zooming down California’s highways, that sound could really hurt your budget. If you’re issued an excessive noise ticket, the fine could be $1,000.

Don’t assume that as long as you pay the fine, you have nothing to worry about. It’s possible that you’ll be told that you need to do something to make your bike quieter. Plus, you’ll continue collecting tickets and fines until the noise issue is resolved.

Unless you’re riding a motorcycle that was made prior to 1985, the maximum amount of noise your bike can make while on public roads is 80 dB. To help you stay within this parameter, you’re not allowed to modify your exhaust with after-market parts which are often designed to exceed 80 dB. If you have to replace your bike’s exhaust system, you want to stick to parts that are EPA certified. Stay away from anything that says it’s for off-road or racing use as these are generally significantly louder than 80 dB.

If you are pulled over because the officer believes your bike is too loud and you disagree, it’s in your best interest to use the video function on your phone to record your bike right after the ticket is written. This will provide you with a way to verify exactly how loud your machine was at the time. If it was less than 80 dB, you can fight the ticket and likely get out of paying the excessive noise fine.

Whether you intend to fight the ticket or simply pay the fine, it’s in your best interest to resolve the matter as quickly as possible. If you wait too long to handle the situation, additional fees could be attached to the ticket and you may even lose your license.

 

Smoking And Driving

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Somewhere along the way, a rumor started to spread. The rumor was that you couldn’t legally smoke and drive a car. This has alarmed many drivers who find that smoking helps them relax and pass the time while they’re stuck in traffic. It’s also likely resulted in the police fielding many calls from concerned motorists who report other drivers smoking while behind the wheel.

The Truth About Smoking And Driving

In California, there aren’t any current laws that prohibit you from smoking or vaping while you’re behind the wheel. That doesn’t mean that you won’t ever get into trouble for the act.

While a patrol officer can’t simply pull you over and issue a citation because you were smoking a cigarette, if you’re smoking causes you to weave all over the road, miss a traffic sign or do something dangerous, you will likely be pulled over and issued a distracted driving ticket.

If you get into an accident because you were distracted by your cigarette, you’ll be responsible and likely ticketed.

Littering is another way that you can get into trouble for smoking while driving. If you’re caught flicking your cigarette butt out of your window while driving, an officer could decide to issue a littering ticket. If the ash from the cigarette you flicked out the window lands on something flammable and starts a fire, you could face additional legal and civil charges.

You’re Cigarette Could Get You Into Trouble Even If You’re Not Driving

Yes, you’re allowed to drive and smoke a cigarette, however, that same cigarette could get you into trouble if your car is parked. If you’re parked in a parking lot of a building where smoking is prohibited, such as a school, you can be issued a substantial fine. If you see a no-smoking sign, it’s in your best interest to park somewhere else or to keep your cigarettes locked in your glove box until you’re back on the road.

You Can Legally Smoke Tobacco But Not Weed While Driving

While you’re legally allowed to enjoy tobacco products and vaping in your car, things change if you’re using marijuana. At the moment, lawmakers view weed much like they do alcohol. You’re allowed to use it, but you have to be sensible. That means you can’t drive after you’ve smoked weed. You’re also not allowed to smoke weed (or consume products laced with marijuana) while driving.

If you’re transporting marijuana, make sure it remains tightly packaged until you’ve reached your destination.

 

Flipping Cars In California

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Flipping cars is not a new concept, people have been doing it for decades, but it is only recently that the practice has attracted a great deal of media and legal attention.

What is Flipping Cars?

Flipping cars is the practice of purchasing a vehicle and promptly listing it for sale, at a higher price, hours later. In many cases, the person responsible for flipping the car will claim to have owned the vehicle for a long time, implying that they have an intimate knowledge of the vehicle’s history.

In California, the practice is called curbstoning. While lawmakers frown on flipping cars, at this point, they haven’t worked out a way to prevent people from doing it. Rather than coming up with laws that prohibit curbstoning, California lawmakers have focused their attention on educating buyers of the practice.

Is Flipping Cars Legal?

Many assume that flipping a car is legal in California. In their mind, they’re simply doing what a used car dealer does. The truth is that it is illegal for a non-commercial seller to purchase a vehicle with the intention of promptly selling it for a profit.

It was estimated that in 2011, drivers lost approximately $8 million in schemes that involved flipping cars. The Internet Crime Complain Center reported that they received 4,066 complaints from consumers who found themselves in the middle of a car flipping scam. The sheer volume of reports inspired the Internet Crime Complaint Center to join forces with the FBI and create what is now known as the National White Collar Crime Center. Educating the general public about car flipping car scams is one of the things the agency consistently works on.

Concerns Connected To Car Flipping

The problem with car flipping scams is that the buyer usually thinks they’re getting a great deal. They see a car that appears to be in decent shape and has low mileage. It’s priced significantly lower than what similar cars are going for. The seller usually has a reasonable story to explain the low price.

Usually, it only takes a few weeks, and in some cases days, for the buyer to realize that something is seriously wrong. The vehicle has mechanical problems the seller refused to mention. It’s older than they thought. Often the mileage has been changed. Suddenly, instead of a good deal, the buyer finds that they’re the new owner of a vehicle that requires thousands of dollars in repairs.

How To Prevent Being A Victim Of A Car Flipping Scam

There are a few things you can do to decrease the odds of your being taken advantage of by a car flipper.

  • Ask to see the seller’s drivers license and compare it to the name on the vehicle’s title.
  • Double-check the title for the vehicle’s age.
  • Ask to take the vehicle to a mechanic for a pre-purchase check.

If your instincts are telling you that the deal seems just a little too sweet, trust your instincts and look for a different vehicle.

What Happens To Car Flippers?

Don’t assume that just because car flipping isn’t technically illegal in California that you can turn it into a nice little side hustle.

If someone accuses you of car flipping, there’s a good chance that the police will take a long hard look at the details surrounding the case. They will consider both California’s Lemon Car laws as well as various fraud laws and see if you’ve violated any of them.

Even if the police and DA decide that you’re car flipping side-hustle hasn’t broken any laws, there’s a good chance that the person you sold the car to could decide to file a civil lawsuit against you.

 

Understanding Cyberstalking

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We’ve all turned to the internet when we’ve wanted to learn about a person we’re interested in. For most of us, this involves a quick Google search or reading through their social media posts. That’s fine. It’s not illegal.

However, when the interest goes deeper, it can turn into cyberstalking, which is illegal in California.

According to the Cyberbullying Association, cyberstalking, “involves the use of technology (most often, the internet!) to make someone else afraid or concerned about their safety [1]. Generally speaking, this conduct is threatening or otherwise fear-inducing, involves an invasion of a person’s relative right to privacy, and manifests in repeated actions over time [2]. Most of the time, those who cyberstalk use social media, internet databases, search engines and other online resources to intimidate, follow and cause anxiety or terror to others [3-5].”

California lawmakers opted to add cyberstalking to their stalking laws. Information about the state’s cyberstalking and stalking laws can be found in the California Penal Code section 646.9. When you read through the code, you’ll learn that the state considers stalker to be, “Any person who willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows or harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family is guilty of the crime of stalking.”

The part of the law that pertains specifically to cyberstalking states that incidents, “performed through the use of an electronic communication device, or a threat implied by a pattern of conduct or a combination of verbal, written or electronically communicated statements and conduct, made with the intent to place the person that is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family, and made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat so as to cause the person who is the target of the threat to reasonably fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family.”

While the media sensationalizes situations that involve victims being stalked by superfans that they’ve never met, The Cyberbullying Association reports that cyberstalking rarely involves people who aren’t acquainted with one another. According to them, most cyberstalking incidents involve people who do know each other. The bulk of the cyberstalking cases usually involve things like former lovers, students, employees, etc.

There are several reasons people who are normally rational and law-abiding become cyberstalkers. The Tripwire reports that common cyberstalking motives include:

  • Anger
  • Control issues
  • Lust
  • Revenge
  • Envy

There have even been instances of individuals and groups using cyberstalking tactics to influence politics and business decisions.

The alarming thing about cyberstalking is that some victims don’t even realize it’s happening. Publicized cases of cyberstalking usually involve unwanted messages, threats and other bullying tactics, but there have been cases of cyberstalkers who remained silent, using their cyber skills to collect personal information about their victims with the intention of eventually using the information against the person they’re stalking.

In California, cyberstalking is a wobbler crime. One of the interesting things about cyberstalking is that a past history of domestic violence, including having past domestic violence restraining orders filed against you can impact the charges/penalties.

In cyberstalking cases where no prior convictions are present:

  • A misdemeanor conviction has a maximum sentence of 1 year in county jail and a $1,000 fine.
  • A felony conviction has a sentence of 16 months-3 years in state prison.

With prior convictions, cyberstalking convictions result in:

  • 1 year in county jail and a $1,000 fine for a misdemeanor conviction.
  • 2-5 years in state prison for felony convictions.

 

Obstructing The Police In California

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According to the Oxford English Dictionary, obstructing the police is, “The offense of hindering a police officer who is in the course of doing his duty (Police Act 1996 s 89). “Obstruction” includes any intentional interference, e.g. by physical force, threats, telling lies or giving misleading information, refusing to cooperate in removing an obstruction or warning a person who has committed a crime so that he or she can escape detection (e.g. warning a speeding driver that there is a police trap ahead).

It is not, however, an offense merely not to answer or to advise someone not to answer, police questions that he does not have to answer. A police officer is acting in the course of his duty if he is preventing or detecting crime (in particular, breaches of the peace) or obeying the orders of his superiors. However, he is not acting in the course of his duty when he is merely assisting the public in some way unconnected with a crime. When the obstruction amounts to an assault, the offense is punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine.

One may be guilty of this offense even if the police officer was in plain clothes.”

The California legal system adheres closely to this definition.

Penal Code Section 148 deals with the legal ins and outs of obstructing the police. The purpose of the law is to make it possible for officers to investigate crimes without having to worry about outside influences having a potentially negative impact on the case.

If you take the time to read through Section 148(a)(1), you’ll discover that obstructing the police charges can be filed against you if you do anything that is considered resisting, delaying or willingly obstructing the police’s ability to conduct an investigation. While obstruction charges typically involve police matters, they can also be filed against anyone who interferes with an EMT, peace offices or firefighter.

Examples of obstruction include:

  • Resisting arrest
  • Deliberately delaying an officer from reaching the scene of a crime/accident/person of interest
  • Attempting to communicate with a suspect that is clearly in police custody
  • Actively giving the police wrong information

One of the interesting things about obstruction charges is that you have to willingly know you’re obstructing the police. Charges shouldn’t be filed against you if you didn’t know that an investigation was taking place or if you didn’t actually know the answer to a question a police officer asked you during the course of an investigation. The same is true if you inadvertently dispose of a piece of evidence that you didn’t know what part of a crime that was under investigation.

Obstructing the police in California is a wobbler defense. The exact circumstances of the case determine whether you’re charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.

If you’re convicted of felony obstruction in California, you could be sentenced to up to 3 years in a state prison and have to serve felony probation.

Obstruction cases are always complicated. Given the difficult nature of these cases, it’s in your best interest to quickly seek out a good lawyer and get the case cleared up as quickly as possible while the details remain fresh in everyone’s mind.

 

Understanding Statute Of Limitations In California

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Statute of limitations is a term that gets thrown around a lot on legal shows but not everyone fully understands what they are.

The truth is that the statute of limitations is a very important legal term that addresses whether or not you can be charged for an old crime. The problem is that different crimes have different statutes of limitations.

For example, in California, the statute of limitations on felony fraud, public official misconduct and embezzlement against dependents crimes is four years. In these types of cases, it’s important to understand that the four years don’t necessarily start when the crime is committed but rather when the crime is discovered or the completion of the offense. The prosecutor will look at which date is closer when determining if the statute of limitations has expired.

The statute of limitation for most felony sex offenses that require you to have your name placed on the sex offender registration is ten years. The exception is some felony sex crimes committed against a child which have a statute of limitations that’s determined by the victim’s 40th birthday.

Not all crimes are impacted by a statute of limitations. Crimes that don’t have a statute of limitations include:

  • First-degree murder
  • Rape (that involves force/violence)
  • Embezzlement of money that was drawn from public funds
  • Aggravated sexual assault of a child
  • Treason

A statute of limitations doesn’t just apply to criminal charges. It also impacts any civil cases you’re named in.

The problem with the statute of limitations is figuring out when they go into effect. In some situations it’s when the crime was committed, in others, it’s when the crime was first discovered. There are also cases where the date is determined by when the crime ended. The best way to determine how the statute of limitations works in a case you’re involved with is by contacting a good defense lawyer who has a solid understanding of cases like yours.

If you suspect that the statute of limitations is about to go into effect sooner rather than later, you’ll want to act quickly.