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Visalia Criminal Law Blog

Racial disparity in misdemeanor sentencing

Misdemeanors account for about 80 percent of the criminal dockets in California and around the country. Misdemeanors are minor crimes punished by fines, probation or short jail sentences, but the way these sanctions are handed down has been criticized by civil rights groups and criminal justice researchers. Much has been written in recent years about sentencing disparities between white and black defendants in felony drug cases, but studies reveal that these imbalances are even more pronounced in misdemeanor cases.

After studying the outcomes of more than 30,000 misdemeanor cases adjudicated in Wisconsin over a seven-year period, a researcher found that white defendants were 75 percent more likely than black defendants to have the charges against them reduced, dismissed or dropped. The researcher also found that white defendants with no record of prior criminal activity were 46 percent more likely to have misdemeanor charges carrying a possible custodial sentence dropped than African American defendants with clean records.

Temecula man sentenced to federal prison for selling drugs

A 31-year-old California man has been sentenced to state prison for two years for selling cocaine out of his home. He pleaded guilty to multiple charges in December and was sentenced on January 3. Apparently, the plea agreement did not dismiss any of the charges.

According to Riverside County authorities, narcotics investigators received a tip in April that the defendant was selling cocaine from his residence on the 42000 block of Kaffirboom Court in Temecula. As a result of that tip, investigators began surveilling the home and observed another defendant drive up to the home on May 4 and go inside. After he exited the home and drove away, law enforcement officers pulled him over and searched him. They found an unspecified amount of cocaine in his vehicle and placed him under arrest.

California DUI ignition interlock law takes effect

A California state law requiring people who are convicted of DUIs to install ignition interlock mechanisms in their vehicles went into effect on Jan. 1. The law was signed by the governor in 2016. In order to get back their privileges to drive, people who have DUI convictions will have to install the devices, which are essentially a Breathalyzer connected to the vehicle's ignition system, preventing the car from starting if the driver has been drinking.

According to a California Assemblyman, implementing the program statewide makes roadways safer and prevents repeat DUI offenses. He called it a win for California. People who are convicted of a first-offense DUI who did not cause injuries have a choice between a one-year restricted driver's license or installing an interlock machine for six months. In cases of second-offense DUI or first-offense DUI with injury to others, the convicted person must install an interlock mechanism for one year.

New law means mandatory breath tests for California DUI offenders

More DUI offenders in California will soon be required to submit to and pass a breath test (breathalyzer) before starting their vehicles. Starting in 2019, a pilot program that started in certain Golden State counties will be expanded statewide because of a bill that was passed with unanimous support. The new law requires first-time DUI offenders involved in incidents that resulted in injuries to use an ignition interlock device (IID) that only allows a vehicle to be started if a breath test is passed.

Drivers convicted of DUI charges for the first time will have to use an IID device to start their vehicles for six months. Repeat DUI offenders will have to leave the device in place for a year or more. The device also requires drivers to submit to random tests while their vehicle is being operated to discourage individuals from waiting until they pass their initial test to consume alcohol. A spokesperson for the company that installs the devices believes IIDs will provide added protection "like no other process will."

About traffic violations

Over 90 percent of residents in California and the rest of the nation who are older than 16 years old have a license to drive. It is not unusual for them to have multiple vehicles registered in their names.

Drivers who violate traffic laws may be subject to certain penalties. These violations may include running through a red light, driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, speeding, driving recklessly and others. Local law enforcement officers are the individuals who typically issue traffic violations, which are processed in state court.

Veterans at greater risk of binge drinking, drunk driving

A study suggests that veterans in California and across the United States may be drunk driving and binge drinking more now than in past years. Researchers for American Addiction Centers looked at data provided by the Center for Disease Control. The data showed observations for behavior risks and looked at the number of incidents of binge drinking by veterans, drunk driving accidents involving a veteran and the number of veterans who experience emotional trauma that may lead to alcohol abuse.

The CDC defines "binge drinking" as consuming more than four alcoholic drinks in a two-hour period for women and five alcoholic drinks in a two-hour period for men. Veterans who binge drink have increased from 14 percent in 2013 to almost 17 percent in 2017. While the total of male veterans who binge drink had a 1.6 percent increase, the number jumped to 3 percent in women, suggesting that female veterans may be responding to greater emotional and physical trauma now than in past years.

Timbs case asks questions about civil forfeiture

California residents may be familiar with the concept of civil forfeiture. When a person commits a crime, authorities may take assets that were used in the commission of that crime. However, the value of the items may need to be taken into consideration when imposing such a punishment. In the case of Timbs v. Indiana, a man had his $42,000 Range Rover taken from him after allegedly selling heroin to undercover police officers.

In the state of Indiana, the maximum fine levied for a felony drug charge was $10,000. Therefore, the man was deprived of an asset that was valued at more than four times the maximum fine. The question that the Supreme Court is faced with in the Timbs case is whether the Eighth Amendment should apply only in federal cases or to states as well. The Supreme Court in Indiana found that it was not bound by federal statutes.

Police in California fight drunk driving with DUI checkpoints

About 30 percent of the motorists involved in fatal accidents in California each year test positive for drugs or alcohol, which is why police departments in the state take impaired driving extremely seriously. Roadside DUI checkpoints and roadblocks have been ruled unconstitutional in 10 states, including Oregon and Washington, but they are often used by law enforcement in California in the battle against drunk and drugged driving.

According to media reports, one such checkpoint conducted by the Temecula Police Department on the evening of November 16 and the morning of November 17 led to the arrests of two motorists suspected of driving with blood alcohol concentrations higher than California's .08 percent legal limit. Another driver was cited for violating health and safety laws, and 11 motorists were ticketed for driving either without a driver's license or with a suspended or revoked driver's license.

Concerned citizen calls police about drunk driver

Police in California say that a call from a concerned citizen led them to a seriously impaired driver on the evening of Nov. 11. After receiving the call at approximately 11:19 p.m., emergency operators dispatched officers from the Petaluma Police Department to a fast food restaurant on East Washington Street. Upon arrival, the officers took a 36-year-old Sonoma County man into custody on suspicion of drunk driving charges.

According to media accounts, the 911 caller became concerned after observing a vehicle being driven erratically on Highway 101. The caller is said to have told operators that the car was swerving across the roadway. The caller claims to have followed the vehicle to a restaurant parking lot and observed its driver drinking from an open container and urinating on the pavement.

Drunk driving statistics from Napa County

At least one driver is arrested for DUI in Napa County every 12 hours during the summer months, according to statistics released by the California Highway Patrol and other agencies. They made 184 drunk driving arrests between June and August of this year. While Napa police arrested 40 people suspected of driving under the influence, the Sheriff's office arrested 36 more drivers. The California Highway Patrol conducted the vast majority of the arrests, seizing 108 people on DUI charges during that time.

Napa County has more DUI arrests than other parts of the state, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety. In 2015, the city of Napa had 433 drunk driving arrests, making it the city with the second-highest DUI rate among 105 areas of similar size and population. The 2015 statistics showed that one person each week was injured or killed in car accidents that involved a drunk driver between the ages of 21 to 34.

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