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Orange County Criminal Law Blog

The racial divide in prisons is shrinking

The racial divide in state prisons in California and around the country narrowed considerably over the last 16 years, but African Americans are still far more likely to spend time behind bars than whites. A study from the Council on Criminal Justice released on Dec. 3 reveals that racial disparities for every type of major crime have fallen in state and local prisons across the country with the biggest demographic shift being observed among drug offenders. The racial gap is also lower among individuals on parole and probation according to the study.

Most experts concede that racial prejudice in the criminal justice system and harsh sentencing laws introduced to combat a wave of crime linked to crack cocaine led to the mass incarceration of African Americans in the 1980s and 1990s. By the year 2000, African Americans were 15 times more likely than whites to be sent to prison for violating drug laws.

THC vaporizing presents problems for law enforcement

Law enforcement agencies in California and around the country are struggling to contend with a flood of THC vaporizer cartridges that have been linked to deadly lung diseases. Drug users like vaporizing marijuana because it is discrete and avoids the distinctive aroma produced by smoking it, but many of the THC cartridges being sold on the street and in unlicensed dispensaries, which are often made in basements and backrooms, have been linked to serious health problems.

The popularity of THC vaping has led to a surge in law enforcement seizures. According to the Associated Press, more than 120 individuals have been arrested and at least 500,000 THC cartridges have been seized in the last 24 months. Many of these seizures are made in states where the recreational use of marijuana is legal. In October 2019, 7,200 marijuana cartridges were seized when police raided a Los Angeles warehouse. State officials have since revoked the license of the company that made the cartridges.

Longest Survivor of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Exoneree Albert Woodfox to speak at Criminal Justice Seminar

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - Albert Woodfox, one of the "Angola Three," gained his unfortunate fame for serving over 40 years in solitary confinement -- the longest in U.S. prison history. After decades of activism and confinement - Woodfox's conviction was overturned for the third and final time. Woodfox will share his story of injustice, resilience and hope at the 46th Annual California Attorneys for Criminal Justice Seminar December 7th in San Francisco. His new book, Solitary, is a 2019 National Book Award finalist and a powerful call to reform the inhumanity of solitary confinement.

Authorities announce arrest of 50 alleged gang members

On Nov. 19, California authorities announced the arrest of 50 people in connection to a drug ring reportedly run by the Norteño street gang. The arrests were apparently the culmination of a three-month investigation.

According to state prosecutors, in August, law enforcement officers began investigating Norteño gang members who were allegedly involved in a variety of criminal activities in the Stockton area. These activities included conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery and the possession and sale of firearms. During the course of the investigation, officers seized approximately 25 pounds of illicit drugs, including cocaine, fentanyl, heroin and methamphetamine. They also confiscated a large quantity of illegal weapons, including eight assault rifles. They identified individuals who were allegedly responsible for the shooting of a 10-year-old child.

Customer films thieves at Nike Factory Store in California

A Nike Factory Store in Mountain Grove has reported multiple thefts to authorities. A customer caught the latest incident on video and said that a group of five or more men pulled merchandise off shelves and took armfuls of it out the front door. The customer who took video of the crime said that the men appeared to have a coordinated plan.

Detection equipment at the front doors sounded alarms, but witnesses told investigators that the theft was finished within minutes. Witnesses told the media that the thieves had an SUV waiting outside. They departed quickly with the merchandise before law enforcement arrived.

CACJ'S 46th Annual Criminal Defense Seminar December 6-7, 2019

Never before, and perhaps never again, have so many of the nations most influential criminal defense lawyers and criminal justice reformers -- fearless visionaries, leaders, and change-makers, gathered together in one place to enlighten, inspire, educate, and rally for the cause of equal justice. This seminar won't just be the best CLE you will ever attend. It's likely to change your life.

Prosecution not asking for death penalty in murder case

A guilty verdict from a jury has resolved a cold murder case that had been on the books in California since 1980. The city's district attorney's office chose not to request the death penalty for the 60-year-old man convicted of raping and murdering a 36-year-old woman in her Silver Lake apartment.

A new lead alerted cold case detectives at the L.A. Police Department that a man, already in prison for a different murder, had lived only a mile away from the Silver Lake victim. A semen sample collected from the victim in 1980 produced a match with the suspect's DNA. The jury of five women and seven men agreed that the killing involved the circumstance of murder during the commission of rape. The jury had not been informed that the defendant was currently serving a prison sentence. The court has scheduled his sentencing hearing where he could be sent to prison for life without the possibility of parole.

Unconscious bias may affect criminal penalties

Experts in California and around the country have raised concerns about the potential effects of unconscious bias in the courtroom. Widely studied by a range of researchers in the natural and social sciences, unconscious bias is an example of discriminatory treatment that results not from conscious thought but from unconscious brain responses. Thus, people may believe themselves to be non-racist or even anti-racist, but they may still be more likely to judge people of color more harshly. When judges express unconscious bias, the result can lead to damaging inequities in the criminal justice system.

Research shows that black defendants continue to face harsher treatment and penalties in the criminal justice system, despite sentencing reforms and civil rights legislation. Black people convicted of crimes are more likely than white defendants to receive longer sentences or even the death penalty. In the pretrial phase, black defendants are more likely to have to pay higher bails or be denied bond altogether. While some allege that this is the result of conscious racism, others argue that unconscious bias plays a major role in this type of unequal treatment. According to research, unconscious bias has the strongest effect on people who most believe themselves to be objective and are unwilling to question their commitment to their expressed convictions.

Studies reveal flaws in forensic science

Juries in California and around the country tend to find evidence provided by forensic experts to be extremely compelling, and criminal defendants are often convicted based largely on their testimony. Juries may be surprised to learn that the science supporting criminal forensic procedures is far from perfect. A team of researchers from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences looked into the way forensic evidence is gathered and processed in the United States, and they discovered problems with virtually every technique they scrutinized.

The NAS study, which was published in 2009, highlighted deficiencies in the way forensic scientists analyze fibers, hairs, fingerprints and bite marks. However, its most scathing criticism was reserved for blood pattern analysis. This is a technique forensic scientists use to determine what happened at a crime scene based on blood splatters, smears and drips. The NAS researchers concluded that the science behind BPA is less than rigorous, and its practitioners lack accreditation and training.

US Supreme Court ruling could affect California DUI cases

Like most other California residents, you are probably aware that you have certain rights when it comes to searches and seizures by police. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires law enforcement officials to follow certain rules before conducting searches and seizures, even as they apply to a DUI stop.

In the past, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a blood draw to determine your blood alcohol content was considered an invasive search for which police need either a search warrant or your consent. If you were unconscious at the time, police needed to get that warrant before drawing blood. However, a recent ruling made a change to that former blanket rule.

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