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  • 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.




    DNA bill introduced by Assemblyman Cooper going through legislative process


    Expanding DNA collection

    In a move that could greatly expand the database holding identifying information of convicted criminals, Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) has introduced Assembly Bill 16, which would expand DNA and other identifying information collection for some misdemeanors.

    Currently, anyone convicted of a felony in California must provide buccal swab samples – collected from inside one’s mouth – a right thumbprint, a full palm print impression of each hand, and any blood specimens or other biological samples required for law enforcement identification analysis.

    If AB 16 passes, those requirements will expand to include any adult convicted of a host of misdemeanors. Those include shoplifting less than $950 in goods, forgery valued less than $950, certain check fraud, theft of property valued at less than $950, receipt of stolen property valued less than $950, possession of a controlled substance, possession of marijuana and possession of methamphetamine.

    OAG crime statistics show an estimate of how many additional perpetrators would be required to submit identifying DNA and fingerprint information. In 2015, 157,894 adult drug-related misdemeanors were reported, along with 46,612 adult arrests for petty theft. An additional 1,110 adults were arrested for check and credit card-related fraud.

    The bill notes that it could possibly impose additional costs on local law enforcement agencies, and that the state may have to reimburse those agencies for the additional costs.

    2017 AB 16 Introduced by Assemblyman Cooper

    California supreme court ruling limits expert testimony against reputed gang members

    On Thursday, June 2,, 2016, Associate Justice Carol Corrigan writing for the Supreme Court of California, which supported her opinion in the case of People vs. Sanchez unanimously, declared that the admission of testimonial hearsay proffered by “gang experts” against a criminal defendant violates the Sixth Amendment right to confront and cross-examine witnesses. The ruling was a lengthy, scholarly opinion, which is sure to have an impact beyond the borders of California. Justice Corrigan’s professorial writing navigated through several statutes of the California Evidence Code, influential law review articles, treatises authored by iconic legal experts, as well as numerous previous rulings of California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court on its way to forcing a dramatic change on how prosecutors may rely upon “experts” to persuade jurors to find that defendants should receive gang enhancements that quite often add many more years to a defendant’s sentence than the original underlying offense(s).

    In practical terms, the ruling in Sanchez will force prosecutors to put on much more foundational evidence to prove a defendant is a gang member, before they will be able to present him or her as such for the purposes of enhancing their sentence. Up until the ruling in Sanchez, prosecutors have had the luxury of relying on a so-called “gang expert”; usually a sworn peace officer or a member of the law enforcement community, to testify as to who is a gang member and how the defendant acted for the benefit of the gang even if he or she is not a validated gang member. The Sanchez opinion restricts the prosecutor’s use of “hypothetical” questions that mirror or so closely align with the facts of the case as to be analogous, which the expert can testify to despite the fact that he or she had no personal knowledge of any of the facts or circumstances of the case. At its core, Sanchez states that an expert’s opinion must by necessity assume hearsay facts as true in order for their expert opinion to have any meaning for the jury to rely upon. It is this hearsay and the denial of the right to confrontation of assumed “hypothetical” facts that Justice Corrigan reasoned violates the Constitutional Right to Confrontation that is guaranteed by the sixth amendment.

    Lawman says that this crucial modification of the law curtails one of the most powerful, unfair advantages that prosecutors have had at their disposal since the late 1980’s when the California State Legislature first began to increase prison sentences through gang enhancements. Through the 1990’s the gang enhancement penalties increased, until it reached its current apex. If found to be true by a jury, gang enhancements can often transform a sentence that may have been a few years, and stretch it into decades of time in prison, if not a life sentence under certain limited circumstances. The charging of gang enhancements by prosecutors over the years has disproportionately affected the African-American community and other communities of color. Lawman knows through many years of first-hand experience as a seasoned criminal defense lawyer how often questionable gang enhancements are added to the list of charges a defendant faces. These enhancements often have the effect of intimidating a defendant into pleading to charges supported by questionable evidence or sloppy police work in order to avoid the risk of losing at trial and suffering being put behind bars without hope of release for many, many years. Far too often, when properly guided by the hands of a skillful prosecutor, Lawman has witnessed the powerful persuasive effects of a “gang expert” upon a jury that otherwise might not be so inclined to believe a defendant acted on behalf of a gang. Lawman is applauds the California Supreme Court for its courage in getting this one right!

    Supreme Court ruling entitles cops to violate citizen’s 4th amendment rights with impunity

    On Monday, June 20, 2016, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas writing for the majority of the Supreme Court in the case of Utah vs. Strieff, declared that the exclusionary rule, which is used to toss out evidence tainted by an illegal investigatory detention, did not apply to the admittedly unconstitutional conduct of a Utah police officer once he discovered that defendant Edward Strieff had an outstanding arrest warrant for a traffic violation.  The court reasoned that because the outstanding warrant was sufficiently “attenuated” from Officer Douglas Fackrell’s conduct following Mr. Strieff’s unlawful investigatory detention, the officer’s subsequent arrest, search and seizure of evidence from Mr. Strieff was “indisputably lawful.”  The court excused Officer Fackrell’s as “negligent,” characterized his unconstitutional conduct as a “good faith mistake,” and therefore and did not find his conduct to be a “purposeful or flagrant violation” of Mr. Strieff’s Fourth Amendment Rights.

    Three Associate Justices, Kagen, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor filed two separate dissenting opinions.  Tal Kopan of CNN Politics reported that Associate Justice Sotomayor’s fiery dissent emphasized Illegal Stops ‘Corrode All Our Civil Liberties.’  Sotomayor stated plainly, “the officer found Strieff’s drugs by exploiting his own constitutional violation, the drugs should be excluded. “    Justice Sotomayor emphasized “the Utah Supreme Court described as “routine procedure” or “’common practice’” the decision of Salt Lake City police officers to run warrant checks on pedestrians they detained without reasonable suspicion.”  With this ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Utah Supreme Court’s decision to exclude the seized evidence.

    Lawman notes that this is another sad day in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court which has chosen to favor what can only be characterized as moving this country a significant step closer to martial law.  With this ruling, Lawman realizes the unfortunate truth; it is now open season for any officer in the country to hide behind this unfortunate U.S. Supreme Court which significantly diminishes citizens’ rights to be free of unconstitutional harassment by police officers.  Cops may benefit from unlawfully detaining and investigating citizens without reasonable suspicion in order to run warrants checks with the hopes of finding any type of warrant or citation to use as justification to conduct a full scale custodial arrest and search of a citizen.  Lawman’s own professional experience mirrors that of Justice Sotomayor. Individuals of color and those of lower socio-economic status are disproportionately likely to be subjected to “suspicion-less” stops and disproportionately likely to have warrants for minor traffic offenses and violations of ordinances.  Therefore, it is these groups of citizens and their communities that will be disproportionately impacted with the type of policing conducted by Officer Fackrell.  In the face of this ruling, Lawman believes it will take considerable and continuous activism by the affected communities to reign in law enforcement in order to curtail the wholesale use of this U.S. Supreme Court decision as a means to routinely violate citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights.