What Should I do if there is a Warrant for My Arrest?

  • What is a bench warrant and why is there one for me?

Some of the most common reasons why there might be a warrant for your arrest is that a judge issued a bench warrant based on 1) failure to appear in court on your scheduled date, or 2) failure to complete the terms of your probation, or 3) failure to pay fines.  A warrant is signed by a judge and authorizes law enforcement to arrest you.

  • What are the consequences of failing to comply with court orders?

Failure to comply with court orders may result in a mandatory court appearance, additional charges being filed by the prosecutor, a hold being placed on driver’s licenses with the DMV or an arrest warrant.

  • What does an arrest warrant mean to me?

An arrest warrant puts you at serious risk because a police officer has a duty to arrest you if there is one outstanding.  This often happens if you are stopped for a traffic violation, and the officer runs your license and discovers that there is an outstanding warrant.  You can also be arrested at your home or workplace or anywhere that you might come in contact with the police.

  • What can I do if I’m concerned about an arrest warrant?

A criminal defense attorney can tell you if there is a warrant outstanding, what it’s for and the amount of bail.  Your attorney can help you schedule a voluntary appearance, so that you can avoid the scene of getting arrested unexpectedly.  If you are out of state, your attorney can provide information to you about your options.  

  • Do I have to go to jail if there is an arrest warrant out for me?

Not necessarily.  In some cases, your warrant may be able to be recalled without ever having to appear in court, post bail, or spend time in jail. This depends on the particular circumstances.  For bench warrants relating to misdemeanor offenses, your attorney can typically appear in your absence to clear the warrant.  

Can I get a Felony Conviction Reduced to a Misdemeanor?

A felony conviction can have serious repercussions for employment, loans and grants and immigration. With a Proposition 47 Petition, you have a chance at getting your felony reduced to a misdemeanor.

  • Background on Proposition 47

California voters passed this proposition to allow people who had been convicted of certain felonies to have those felonies reduced to misdemeanors.

  • What are some of the types of felonies that work for a reduction under Proposition 47?
  • Certain felonies such as shoplifting, forgery, check fraud, theft , receiving stolen property where the amount was less than $950
  • Is there a deadline on when these petitions can be filed?
  • Yes, consult with your attorney on deadlines and filing requirements.  Typically, the petition must be filed in the original court where you were sentenced.
  • Who is not eligible?
  • If you have had a previous conviction for certain sex offenses (such as rape, child molestation) or certain violent crimes (such a murder, or attempted murder), then you would not be eligible to petition a court for resentencing under Proposition 47.
  • Will there be a hearing? 
  • A hearing is not mandatory, but may be involved.  If you are out of state, contact an attorney about a Proposition 47 reduction.
  • What are my chances?
  • The court will look at whether you satisfy the criteria and then grant the petition unless resentencing you would grant an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.
  • How many other people have filed these petitions?
  • As reported by NBC Sand Diego back in 2014, thousands of Prop 47 Petitions have been filed.  With the deadline to file fast approaching, now is the time to make a decision if you have been considering filing a Proposition 47 Petition. (See http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Prop-47-Has-Immediate-Impact-on-SD-Judicial-System-Attorney-281711231.html)

Note:  This article does not list in its entirety the types of crimes for eligibility or ineligibility.  This article is not intended as legal advice.  Rather, it is informative about introductory information regarding Proposition 47 and interested parties are encouraged to seek legal advice from an attorney. 

5 Essential Tips for Successfully Navigating a Divorce

Many people who go through a divorce in California have little or no experience with the legal system.  Divorce is a difficult process that will put a strain on you and your children, but this guide will help you keep on track and avoid some of the common pitfalls involved in a divorce.

  • Avoid making threats or reacting to threats.  A common temptation in divorce is to make threats such as “I’ll drag this out and make it as expensive as possible,” or “I’ll make sure you never see the kids again,”  or “I’ll quit my job so you’ll never get a penny,” etc.  These threats do no good and can do a great deal of harm. Making threats puts you in a negative light and can lead to sanctions from the court. If your spouse is making these threats, do not react to them.  Document the threats by taking note of what was said and in front of whom, and report this information to your attorney.
  • Keep focused on the important things – your children, your job, and your health.  The stress and time involved in a divorce can tear you away from your most important priorities, which are likely your children, your job and your health. Make a plan to stay focused on what you really care about. Focus on what you can do and not what you can’t do.  Make a schedule.  Get organized. Force yourself to keep doing the things that you need to do to survive.  Take time to exercise.  Guard your mental health.  The divorce can take over your entire life unless you take charge and make sure that the important priorities are not neglected.
  • Move forward.  Whether your strategy is to settle or to go to trial, make sure your case is moving forward.  The process of divorce is uncomfortable and expensive, so you want to discuss with your attorney how to keep things progressing.  Some vindictive ex’s may try to slow down the process as a revenge technique, so discuss with your attorney the various options that make sense to keep the process moving.
  • Know the strategy and the budget.  Some of the most important conversations you should have with your attorney will be about the strategy and the budget.  Don’t go into this war without a plan of attack.  Discuss your options with your attorney and evaluate the cost of different strategies to come up with a plan that is right for you. Each case is unique and the plan for your case needs to fit your needs and budget.
  • Don’t let emotions rule your decisions.  You are human, and your emotions will be running wild during a divorce. It’s ok to cry.  It’s normal to be angry or depressed. Be kind to yourself and don’t repress the gamut of emotions, but also make sure that you avoid making purely emotion-based decisions.  Talk to a trusted friend or family member. Make decisions when you are in a calmer frame of mind.  There are cases where parties spend money out of revenge.  Think about your divorce as a business, and look to have a return on your investment in legal fees.  To simply this concept: don’t spend $5 to win $1.

Can I get a DUI Expunged in California?

If you have a DUI conviction on your record that is interfering with employment or perhaps immigration, you may be wondering if you can get a DUI expunged in California.  The answer is maybe.  There is not right to have a DUI expunged, but it is possible to have one granted under certain circumstances.  This article will walk you through some of the important questions, but consult with an attorney to find out if you can get your DUI expunged.

  • What is expungement?

California Penal Code 1203.4 lists the circumstances in which a defendant (the person who committed the crime) can have their offense dismissed and be released from the penalties resulting from the offense.

  • Do I have the right to have my DUI expunged?

No, you do not have the right to have a DUI expunged. The court has discretion, which means that the court can look at the circumstances and decide whether or not to grant your request.  This means that you have a chance, but there are no guarantees.

  • Should I petition the court now?
  • You have to be finished complying with all the conditions that were imposed upon you at sentencing.  This includes:
    • Fines have to have been paid.
    • Counseling completed.
    • Community service if applicable is done.
    • Competition of any probation.
    • Completion of any other requirement of the court.
  • You are not currently charged with, on probation for, or serving a sentence for another offense.
  • You did not commit new crimes while on probation.
  • What is the interest of justice that is considered by the court in determining whether to grant my petition? 
  • The interest of justice is not specific, but there are factors that weigh in whether a court will consider an expungement in the interest of justice:
    • The length of time since the DUI
    • Employment considerations
    • Family considerations
    • The circumstances of the DUI itself
  • What is the process?
  • You will likely want to hire an attorney to assist you with the paperwork.
  • You request a dismissal of your charge, which is called a petition for relief.
  • The prosecuting attorney is allowed a certain amount of time to respond.
  • What are the limits of what an expungement can do for me?

Getting your DUI expunged may help you in meeting your employment, licensing or educational goals.  However, getting the DUI expunged will not prevent your sentence from being enhanced in the event that you get a subsequent DUI in the future.  Also, it is rare that expungement lowers your insurance rates. Although your conviction has been dismissed, it may still be accessible through public records.

5 Things Not to Do in a Divorce

If you are going through a divorce, you want to avoid the mistakes and pitfalls that others have fallen prey to. In an ideal world, your ex is cooperative and willing to co-parent peacefully if children are involved. You may not be that lucky, though, and may have a controlling, cruel, or cheating ex. The following list of mindsets and behaviors to avoid applies equally, regardless of the type of ex you are dealing with, because this list will focus on you and your actions.  By putting your energy into yourself, the person that you can control, you will be empowered to make the most of a tough situation.

  • Don’t expect a clear-cut “win,” but expect a reasonable amount of success.  A divorce by its nature is the splitting up of a family and assets, so the concept of “winner take all” almost never applies. A reasonable expectation of success is for a fair allocation of time with the children and an equitable distribution of assets. You likely invested years and love into the marriage and may wish that the legal system were set up to exact vengeance on your spouse.  The court can’t give you back those years or sacrifices, and focusing on revenge will only allow your ex to steal more time and energy from your life.  Talk to your attorney about how a judge would perceive your circumstances and set achievable divorce goals.
  • Don’t fake the numbers.  In California, you will disclose assets, income, liabilities, debts, etc. Don’t mislead or fudge these numbers. The court has discretion to award the other party a greater amount if you are intentionally dishonest in the information that you provide. Your answers will likely be carefully scrutinized by your ex and their attorney, so make sure that you provide accurate information.
  • Don’t count out mediation.  You may want to have your day in court, but don’t let visions of tv legal drama playing out in the court room prevent you from making the decision to pursue mediation. Although mediation might not be the glamourous court hearing you were envisioning, it can often be a much more cost-effective and time-effective way of resolving issues in the divorce.
  • Don’t let your kids be second place. If you are creating a parenting plan, make sure that your kids and their individual needs are your first consideration. Each family is different. Consider each spouse’s ability to take children to school, lessons and activities. Think about the time in transportation. Consider the confusion and distraction your child may experience by living in two households. Many parents make the mistake of trying to make sure things are “equal” and “fair,” between the spouses, but they should also keep in mind what is best for the child.  It may be that having a little less quantity of time, but more quality of time with your child might be best.  It might be that sacrificing some of your scheduling preferences might help your child feel more comfortable with the arrangement. There is no single answer to this question, but make sure you evaluate your parenting plan with your children, and not yourself, at the center.
  • Don’t stay stuck in the past.  You rightfully feel disappointed and betrayed. You wonder why this happened to you. You think about the fights. You feel angry for the hurt and the loss. These are natural emotions that go along with a divorce, but don’t let the divorce define you. Don’t rob your happiness and future by continually replaying the past. A divorce is similar to a death of a spouse in many ways, and you have to let yourself mourn and then move on. Think about the freedom, the possibilities, the new experiences, the new people, and a new normal. Keep your thoughts disciplined to look forward to the future instead of dwelling on the past.

3 Essential Steps to Best Resolve a DUI Conviction

If you entered a guilty plea to a DUI or lost your case at trial, this article is for you.  It discusses what to do next once you have a DUI conviction.  Following these steps will help you succeed in completing your probation successfully and putting this conviction behind you.

Set Yourself Up for Probation Success

  • Know.  Make sure you find out what the terms are of your probation and how long it lasts.  Typically, you will at minimum be ordered to stay drug free and not have any other criminal offenses.    
  • Do.  Confirm that you have your paperwork and call the court for a copy if you have lost it.  This will list what you need to accomplish and when.  Typically you will need a counseling evaluation and a certain amount of counseling sessions. You may have community service obligations.  Following through with the Court’s orders is essential.
  • Report.  Ensure that anything you complete is reported, because you want to “get credit” for the counseling, etc. that you finish.  If you don’t know whether the court has a record of what you’ve done, be proactive to call and find out.

Do Not Drive with a Suspend Driver’s License 

  • Don’t drive while your license is suspended.  Typically, your license will be suspended.  Make sure that you do not drive during the suspension period.
  • Complete the DUI Program.   You will likely need to complete a DUI program prior to reinstatement of your license.    
  • More information about Suspended Driver’s License.  For more information about a suspended driver’s license in California go to http://www.dmv.org/ca-california/suspended-license.php

Compliant Driving after a DUI – Interlock and Insurance

  • Interlock.  An ignition interlock device prevents you from driving with a level of blood alcohol above the setting.  You will typically be ordered to utilize this device for a certain amount of time following your DUI, and you shouldn’t do anything to try to bypass the system.    
  • Insurance.  You need a special type of automobile insurance following a DUI.  It is often called high-risk or SR-22 insurance.  Make sure that you obtain the right kind of insurance and keep your payments current.

If you take the time to know and obey the terms of your probation, you can successfully overcome a DUI conviction.  Make sure that you find out what you need to accomplish, avoid driving while your license is suspended, and take the steps necessary once your driving privileges are restored.

3 Things to Avoid Saying in a Custody Battle

You’ve probably heard that you have a right to remain silent in a criminal case, but sometimes it’s an advantage to you to remain silent in a civil case as well.  This is particularly true in the tense situation of a custody battle.  Some parents can be their own worst enemy in a fight over custody of their children.  This article is going to remind you of what you likely already know when you are in a non-stressful situation, and will help you apply these tried and true principles in a custody case.

Avoid All Physical Threats/Cussing/Bashing the Ex

When you are in a custody battle, you need to be cautious about every word you speak.  Imagine that the judge is sitting on your shoulder overhearing every word and decide whether your tone and language will benefit you.

  • Never make a threat of physical harm, even if it is in jest.  Even words meant with sarcasm can be taken out of context.
  • Avoid cussing or hateful speech as these can reflect poorly on you.  You have an opportunity to create your image with the words that come out of your mouth, so make sure that you come across as even-tempered, wise and caring. These are traits almost anyone values in a parent, and exhibiting them will help win points in the custody battle.
  • Don’t bash the ex to the children.  When you talk about your ex negatively to the children, it puts the kids in the middle of the battle.  It isn’t healthy for them, and it won’t help you with the case. 

Don’t be too eager to show your hand 

  • Keep your strategy between you and your attorney.  If you were a gambler, you wouldn’t show your opponents your hand of cards.  Similarly, you want to avoid giving the other side too much information about your strategy and plans.
  • You may not want to be too specific initially about your priorities.  If having the kids this Christmas is the most important thing to you in this world, you may or may not want to share that information just yet.  Revealing your pain points may cause a vindictive ex-spouse to try to prevent you from having the kids this Christmas just to spite you.
  • Follow your attorney’s advice on information you share. Your attorney can advise you on what information to share or hold back, but in general you want to share information strategically at the right times and in the right ways. 

Refrain from “never” and “always” and stick to the truth

  • Don’t back your ex into a corner.  When you tell someone you will never do something or you always deserve something, then you automatically trigger an obstinate reflex.  Even though the term is custody “battle,” they often involve a lot of negotiation, so keep tried and true principles of negotiation in mind:  Don’t back your opponent into a corner by using words that show you aren’t interested in compromise.
  • Don’t exaggerate, stick to the truth.  In an emotional situation, it is easy to exaggerate a story or twist the truth a bit to try to get what you want.  When you are working to get custody of your children, you will be best served by only saying things that are absolutely true because this builds credibility with your children, with the counselors and evaluators that may be involved, and ultimately the judge.  Stick to the truth.

While these are a few of the things you shouldn’t say, there are many things that should be expressed.  Children are sensitive to divorce, so share your love and appreciation for them often.  Take an interest in them.  Spend the time that you can and talk to them about their feelings.  Take the opportunity to model cooperation and civility for your children during the custody case, and if hard positions or harsh words need to be said, let those come from your attorney so that you can be a calm and collected rock for should children to lean on.

How to Know When to Strike a Plea Bargain and When to Go to Trial

Deciding what to do when you are facing a criminal charge can be challenging, but taking a step back to analyze your case will help you decide the best course of action for you.  Since each case is different, there are many facts and factors play into a decision this important, but this article will help you think them through.   

  • Do you need to decide yet?

If you were just arrested, you do not need to decide immediately whether to enter a plea or go to trial.  You will have the opportunity to attend hearings prior to trial.  If you qualify, you can request that an attorney be appointed for you.  If you want to hire a private attorney, you will have time to follow through with that.  It is possible obtain a continuance to have additional pre-trial hearings if there is an appropriate reason.  The bottom line is that you shouldn’t feel pressured to decide your case strategy right up front.

  • What are your odds of winning at trial?

You need to look at your odds of winning at trial to decide whether to risk it.  Is there a witness that may recant or may not be available?  Is there a credibility issue that a jury is likely to believe or disbelieve witnesses at trial?  How much technology was involved in creating the evidence against you?  Is a common person likely to find the evidence reliable?  Is the evidence extremely strong, or is there room for doubt?

  • Is the plea bargain really to your advantage?

Remember that the prosecutor is your adversary in this situation.  Look carefully at the deal that is presented.  Is it really valuable to you?  For example, a typical offer the prosecutor may make to every defendant with a DUI charge is that the traffic violation will be dismissed with prejudice.  Is this really a benefit to you?  Can you get more out of a bargain if you wait?

  • What are the policies at play?

A prosecutor is likely under the direction of his or her supervisor, and it is helpful to have the advice of an attorney who knows the prosecutor or the office politics.  Is the prosecutor reluctant or eager to go to trial?  This could determine whether the plea offer gets better or worse as you go along.  Are there restrictions to the prosecutor’s ability to offer you a plea?

  • What sentence is likely under either scenario?

When you are considering a plea vs. trial, you need to know what punishments are likely with each choice.  Make sure you find out all aspects of the prosecutor’s plea.  Don’t just focus on the amount of jail time that will be involved, but also find out what counseling, probation and fines will be included.  Is there a significant difference between the sentence likely under the plea bargain and the sentence likely if you lose for trial?

These are just a few of the many factors that need to be weighed when choosing between a plea bargain and a trial.  Consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney will typically be helpful to you in making the choice because they can assist in determining the strength of the evidence against you, the extent of advantage the plea bargain really is to you, and the various possibilities for sentencing of the charge if a plea is entered vs. a trial.   

3 Questions You Should Ask Before Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney

No two attorneys are alike, so you need to take the initiative to ask questions to ensure that the person you will be trusting to represent you is really the right fit for you.  Three questions are essential to discover if this attorney will be the best for you and your case:

  • Do you have the time and experience for this type of case?
  • Time:  Even the best attorney cannot perform well if they don’t have the time resources to dedicate to you.  Make sure that your attorney is comfortable with the time that your case will take and court where your appearances will be made.
  • Experience: If you are facing a criminal charge, you want to confirm that the attorney you are considering has extensive experience in criminal defense.
    • References:  Ask your attorney for references, and follow through to contact the references given.  Find out what advice others have for you about working with this attorney.
  • What strategy do you envision for this case? 
  • Motions, Trial, or Settlement strategy:  Some cases are a good fit for a Motion to Suppress, which basically alleges that the evidence against you should be thrown out because that evidence was obtained by violating your Constitutional rights.  Other cases may be a better fit for trial because the evidence is not sufficient or potential may exist for testimony from witnesses that could help your case.  Other cases might be a good fit for a settlement strategy and sometimes even a cooperation with the prosecution.  There are many good ways to approach a criminal case, so you should find out what this attorney feels is the best approach to decide if that matches up with the approach you had in mind.
  • How will I be billed and what cost should I anticipate?
  • Billing:  Attorneys typical bill with an hourly structure or flat fee.  You will want to find out how you will be billed.  Some attorneys will not give an estimate on the cost of the case, but the more information you can get about the billing, the better you’ll be able to plan.
  • Retainer Agreement:  Many attorneys utilize a retainer agreement, which is just a document that typically outlines what you will pay and what those payments covered.  If you are using a flat fee legal service, you will want to pay particular attention to whether you are billed extra for emails, phone calls, meetings, rescheduled hearings, etc. Under any billing system, you need to look for additional charges for items such as copies, so that you can be prepared for the bills.

Knowledge is power, so take the time to ask these important questions.  Evaluate the answers carefully and do not be afraid to follow up with addition inquiries.  You are the client, which means you are the employer of the attorney for this case, so take the lead in finding out if this person is the right lawyer for you.

3 Ways You Know You Need to Find a New Lawyer

Did you hire an attorney to represent you, and now you are having second thoughts?  Are you wondering how to know if you hired the wrong person?  Here are things to look for when deciding whether you should break ties and find someone new to represent you.  Before you switch attorneys, however, you should always inquire into the retainer and billing and how that change may impact the cost of your case.

1. You Are Not A Priority to This Attorney.  We all know that attorneys have a roster of clients, but every case should be handled with diligence and care.  Take a look at how serious the problem is.  If your attorney is missing hearings or deadlines, then you probably need someone new.  If he or she is consistently late to court, then that is something also to look at.  If your calls or emails are not being returned, then your attorney is not fulfilling their responsibility to communicate with you.  If your attorney talks down to you or pressures you to make a decision you aren’t comfortable with, then those are also signs that you and your attorney may not be a good team.  

2. Your Attorney Doesn’t Know What He or She Is Doing. Even if you were referred to your attorney by a friend or if they are an acquaintance, the relationship is a business one. You have to look out for yourself and make sure that you are being represented by someone who is competent to represent you in this type of case.  Signs to look for:

  • Does your attorney seem to know the system?

Can he or she give you an overview of each step or hearing in your case and what will take place?

  • Does your attorney appear confident?  

Trust your instincts about the level of confidence your attorney displays.   Confidence doesn’t equal competence, but it is one indicator of whether this is your attorney’s first case of this type or 10000th.

  • Does your attorney answer questions?

If your attorney is knowledgeable, he or she will not shy away from questions, but rather, encourage you to ask about anything you don’t know or understand.

Does your attorney know the people?  

Does your attorney seem familiar with other attorneys, court staff, counselors, etc. Professional affiliations are another clue to experience.

3. You can’t Afford Your Attorney. This is a tricky one because the value you get from an attorney is difficult to quantify.  Any attorney is going to be a strain on your budget because divorce, adoption, criminal defense, and so forth are expenses that are unusual and will seem high.  So, the financial discomfort of any attorney is a given and you want someone who is good, which doesn’t come free.  However, some attorneys are better salesmen than lawyers.  Some bill for things that may not be necessary.  Here are some things to look for when deciding if the cost is prohibitive:

  • Are you comfortable with the billing approach?  Would you prefer a flat fee for your case?  Do you prefer hourly?
  • Do you understand the fees and do you understand how to maximize your value? For example, if your attorney bills you a flat fee for every email they read from you, then you may want to consolidate all questions into a short email.  As another example, is your attorney “chatty” such that a phone call will cost you a lot more than email exchanges or is your attorney a bit of a slow writer, such that a call will resolve issues faster than email.  
  • At the end of the day, do you feel like you are getting the full value out of your representation?

Your decision on legal representation should not be taken lightly, as the outcome of your case will impact your life for years to come.  There is no easy answer to whether you should make a change, but the factors to be considered certainly include whether your counsel is giving you the attention you deserve, whether they are competent to represent you in this type of case, and whether you will be able to pay the bill when it’s all said and done.