People v. Prunty

This case involves the crimes of attempted murder and assault with a firearm committed by Zackery Prunty. He is associated with a subset gang of the larger Northern Sacramento Norteño criminal street gang. Prunty committed the crimes against someone from the Sureño gang and the prosecution used this information to their advantage. They argued that the crime was committed for the benefit of the entire Norteño gang and therefore, Prunty’s sentence was subject to the enhancement under the STEP act aka Gang Enhancements. Prunty appealed to the California Supreme Court because he believed there were no “collaborative activities” or a “collective organizational structure” between his gang and the bigger Norteño gang. In addition to this, in People v Williams the court decided that various subset activities cannot be used to prove the gang’s existence. The prosecution was barred from using the evidence of common color and symbol worn, to establish a connection between the larger group and the subset. The California Supreme Court concluded that the prosecution did not provide a sufficient amount of evidence to enhance Prunty’s sentence and therefore, reversed the lower court’s decision.

This case is very important and assists the defense by showing not all subsets are acting because of a larger gangs requirements.  The DA’s will have to show how the specific smaller gang or subset benefits from a crime and not just some larger form of the gang.

Eight Common Myths about the US Justice System

The United States Justice System is filled with flaws that are hidden by eight common myths. The first myth is that eyewitnesses are highly reliable and this is simply not true because of the stressful circumstances these people witness the crimes under. In courts throughout the country expert witnesses are called to discuss the variables surrounding the ability to identify a person.  There are several factors that exist to consider before we can trust an identification.  Individuals from different races illustrates a major factor regarding the reliability of a witness because many tend to discriminate. In fact 1/3 of wrongful convictions are due to mistaken eyewitness testimonies.

The second myth surrounds the belief that fingerprint evidence is foolproof.  There are many factors that contradict this statement. Prints left in the field are often smudged or incomplete and there is a great error rate in identifying fingerprints.  Once again, experts must be enlisted to testify in this great area of uncertainty.  When and how a print is placed is ample area for challenging this myth.

The third myth is that human memories are reliable.  Most expert witnesses use in this area will tell you that memories can be distorted. We know this from our own personal experience living or day to day lives.  Several external factors often affect how memories are retrieved and described. The stress of the situation can ultimately alter the memory because human memory is fundamentally flawed.

Number four focuses on notion that innocent people never confess.  The reality is that many people feel compelled to confess to or plead to a crime because of the emotional and financial exhaustion that a court case comes with.  Minors and adult must always remember to exercise their rights under the fourth and fifth amendments of the Constitution at all times.  The system is not kind and when mistakes are made success to reverse your actions may be slim or none.

The fifth myth surround the notion that the police are objective in their investigations. The fact is that police often decide the majority of the case and manipulate evidence to point the crime at a specific person. Being objective takes time and effort.  Unfortunately police don’t feel they have those options when beginning an investigation.  Police may create, ignore or destroy evidence early in an investigation because their attention is drawn to certain witnesses who are bias.  That bias may not be determined right away by police so any other avenues which could be taken are unexplored.  As a result, the possibility of innocent people spending time in jail or prison exist because of these wrongdoings.

Myth number six revolves around the idea that guilty pleas are proof of guilt. This does not reflect reality because often times the defendant may plead guilty to one count, but the sentence involves all of the counts brought against the defendant. This also does not account for the fear of being impeached in trial because of previous involvement with the law.

The seventh myth is that prosecutor’s play fair.  We would like to believe that the prosecutor is impartial in their beliefs and administer the pursuit of justice evenhandedly.  This can be misleading because not all prosecutors follow the necessary rules. A very common broken rule is handing over all exculpatory evidence to the defense. Not doing this vital step can greatly impact the outcome of the case and possibly put an innocent person in jail.  Courts have focused on this trend by requiring the full disclosure from prosecutors but more importantly, authorizing sanctions and penalties for violations of the rules regarding disclosure of information or the altering of it by the prosecutor’s hand.

The last myth is that long sentences deter crime. This is simply not true because crime rates have been dropping all over the world.  The United States is the only country with a crime rate 5 times that of other industrialized nations. Harsher sentences do not help get rid of crime; instead they become a burden on taxpayers to pay for.  The recent moves in California with propositions 36 and 47 show a movement towards fairer sentencing and a hope to reduce the incarceration rates which are far too high.




11 Upcoming Events in Sacramento

1) WMBA  “Law Day Mixer” on September 12, 2015 from 12 pm to 5 pm

2) WMBA  “So You Want To Be A Judge” on September 16, 2015 at 5:30 pm

3) Women Lawyers of Sacramento  “Artfest” on September 17, 2015 at 6 pm

4) NAACP  “Know Your Rights Seminar” on September 19, 2015 from 12 pm to 3 pm

5) Sacramento County Bar Association  “Bench Bar Reception” Convention Center on September 24, 2015 at 6 pm

6) Sacramento County Bar Association  “Diversity Forum” Library Galleria on September 25, 2015 at 5:30 pm

7) SHOCK program  “Legal Presentation” on October 7, 2015 at 5:30 pm

8) WMBA  “Legal Fusion Dinner” Firehouse Restaurant on October 15, 2015 at 6 pm

9) Unity Bar Dinner on October 29, 2015 at 6 pm

10) SacLegal  “Founder’s Award Dinner” on November 5, 2015 at 5:30 pm

11) Davis Vanguard Court Watch Annual Dinner: Preventing Wrongful Convictions on November 14, 2015 at 5 pm.



Latest news on Ignition Interlock Devices


Compliance-based Monitoring for DUI Offenders

The “compliance-based monitoring” provision has states extending ignition interlock time for violations rather than canceling driving privileges. At the start of this year, almost half of the states had this provision on their books, but this year, 17 pieces of legislation include this in their language. It may be the most understated, but important change to ignition interlock laws ever.

The concept is very simple: if an offender continues to drink and drive by blowing positive samples, then public safety demands that they be required to continue with their car breathalyzer device for a longer period of time—until they prove that they have been clean for an extended period of time and deserve to be reinstated.

Under the old system, a violation meant that the offender’s permit was canceled, the ignition interlock was removed and they were prohibited from driving. This system is said to have encouraged offenders to drive illegally with no ignition interlock at all to prevent them from driving drunk.


Red light cameras in California: are pictures admissible evidence?

Carmen Goldsmith was driving through a Los Angeles suburb when she ran a red light and instantly became one of countless people nationwide ticketed by a red light camera. The California woman challenged her citation in a trial court, where she was found guilty and fined $436. She appealed and lost.

Goldsmith’s case, The People of California v. Goldsmith, was recently heard before the California Supreme Court in Los Angeles. The court’s verdict likely will put to rest the admissibility of red light camera evidence in the country’s most populous state, where red light violations are by far the highest (compared to red light tickets in the $100 range in the rest of the country.)

The California Supreme Court is hearing the case in an attempt to answer three basic questions:

What testimony, if any, regarding the accuracy and reliability of the automated traffic enforcement system (ATES) is required as a prerequisite to admission of the ATES-generated evidence?

Is the ATES evidence hearsay? If so, do any exceptions apply?

The question of hearsay is an important one: American law does not recognize secondary witnesses—people who say that someone else told them something—to establish factual evidence. Goldsmith’s attorneys argue that the evidence against her was hearsay. Goldsmith’s constitutional right to confrontation was violated because the Redflex technician in charge of preparing the evidence package did not even bother to show up at Goldsmith’s trial. Neither did the police department employee that allegedly operated the red light cameras system. As a result, the investigator sent by the prosecution to trial as the sole witness was a secondary surrogate witness that testified in lieu of the primary surrogate witness (i.e., the police department employee that allegedly operated the system). Consequently, Goldsmith’s conviction cannot be upheld based on such “double surrogacy.”

A ruling in Goldsmith’s case is expected within 90 days.