5 Questions Almost Everyone Asks About Divorce

Divorces range from simple to complex, but almost everyone who is considering a divorce will ask some basic questions.  This article will walk you through five common questions, and provide the answers you need to start thinking about the best way to approach your divorce.

  1. What are the options for ending a marriage in California?

Divorce, legal separation and annulment are the options for changing a marriage or domestic partnership relationship.

  1. Does the person who gets to the courthouse first have an advantage in a divorce?

Know that the officer will write down everything you say, so don’t admit to wrongful conduct if it’s not true.  At the same time, you do not want to get into a heated debate with the officer.  Express yourself politely.  For example, if an officer asks you if you know you were speeding, you could respond with “No, I did not know that,” or you could say, “Thank you for letting me know why you pulled me over, but I did not believe I was speeding.”  You have a right to remain silent, and it is often the best course of action to avoid talking as much as possible.

  1. Does the other person have to agree to a divorce? Do I have to prove they did something wrong?

California is a “no fault” divorce state, so you do not have to prove that the other person did something wrong. The spouse or partner does not have to agree to the divorce. If that person refuses to participate, you can still get a default judgment which will allow the divorce to be final.

  1. Will a divorce affect my immigration status?

The answer to whether a divorce will affect your immigration status is very case specific.  The short answer is that it may or it may not, so it would be wise to consult with an attorney on the specifics of your situation.

  1. What types of issues typically arise in a divorce?

Each case is different, but these are the issues that often arise in a divorce situation, so you’ll want to discuss these topics with your attorney:

  • Division of your money, real property, investment accounts, etc.
  • Responsibility for paying debts
  • Spousal or partner support
  • Child custody and visitation
  • Child support

 

 

 

 

5 Secrets to Dealing with Cops

Many people find interactions with the police to be very frustrating and risky.  This article will share five secrets from turning a negative encounter into a safer experience that will lay the foundation for your defense in the future.

  1. Keep calm and be confident but not argumentative.

The police officer will be assessing your attitude and demeanor from the moment he interacts with you, so you need to watch what you say and do and what your body language communicates. You want to exude a positive and calm presence, without anger or frustration.  This will send a message that you are not dangerous.

  1. Don’t debate with the officer, but avoid admitting to allegations.

Know that the officer will write down everything you say, so don’t admit to wrongful conduct if it’s not true.  At the same time, you do not want to get into a heated debate with the officer.  Express yourself politely.  For example, if an officer asks you if you know you were speeding, you could respond with “No, I did not know that,” or you could say, “Thank you for letting me know why you pulled me over, but I did not believe I was speeding.”  You have a right to remain silent, and it is often the best course of action to avoid talking as much as possible.

  1. Never run or fight.

Never run from a police officer. This will only get you into more trouble. Never lay hands on an officer or resist arrest.  These actions escalate the situation, so for your own safety you should comply with officer’s orders.

  1. Ask questions.

Often a very polite question can lay the foundation for your case later on.  A simple question to the officer can help you later:

  • When you feel detained:
    • “I don’t want any trouble, but I just wanted to clarify whether I’m free to go now.”
  • When they want to search you or your vehicle:
    • “Officer, are you asking for my consent to search? If so, I’m sorry but I can’t consent.”
  • When they are requesting to search your home.
    • “Officer, do you mind showing me a warrant? I’m sorry, but I can’t consent to a search of my home without one.”
  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for an attorney.

You have a right to an attorney, and don’t be afraid to exercise that right. Your request may not change the officer’s actions, but the very fact that you requested and attorney may help your attorney fight your case.

 

Typical Legal Procedure for a DUI Case

                  If you have a loved one who is facing DUI charges, or if you yourself are concerned, this article will provide a general overview of the legal procedure for a DUI case from start to finish.

  1. The Driver Comes in Contact with Police. A DUI case begins when you come in contact with the police.  This typically happens because of a traffic- related incident, such as a traffic violation (speeding or weaving) or a traffic accident.
  1. The Police Notice Indications or Alcohol or Drugs. The police officer may notice a scent of alcohol in your breath or physical symptoms such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, etc.
  1. Tests Are Performed by Police. The next step is where the police officer builds the case against you by collecting data through field sobriety tests or chemical tests, such as a breath test or blood draw.
  1. Booked in Jail/Car Impounded. You will typically be booked in jail and your car will be impounded.
  1. Prosecutor Reviews. The Prosecutor reviews the evidence and decides whether to charge you with an offense or decline to file charges.  If you are charged with DUI, it is likely in your best interest to engage and attorney as soon as possible.
  1. Driver’s Licenses Suspension. After the arrest, your licenses is suspended for 30 days. The DMV will automatically suspend your driver’s license after the 30 days unless you request a DMV hearing within 10 days of your arrest. 
  1. Arraignment. This is your first hearing where you have an opportunity to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no context. Entering a not guilty plea is very common at this stage, and you should not feel forced to enter a guilty plea even if you believe you are guilty.
  1. Hearings/Plea Negotiations/Motions. You may likely come back to court several times during the course of your case to negotiate with prosecutor or present a motion. A typical motion is a Motion to Suppress, where you or your attorney argue that certain information cannot be considered as evidence in your case because it was obtained in violation of your Constitutional rights.
  1. Trial/Plea. Eventually the case will either go to trial, where you will be convicted or acquitted, or you will enter a plea, or the prosecutor may in rare instances at some point choose to dismiss the case.
  1. Sentencing. The sentencing phase is where the judge determines the appropriate consequence for your actions.  Often sentencing will involve meeting with a counselor, who will ask questions and prepare a report about you for the judge. The counselor may make recommendations to the judge regarding appropriate education or therapy. At sentencing, the judge may impose jail time, community service, and fines.

 

 

Should You Trust an Attorney with Honors and Awards?

This article will give you a helpful map of the honors and awards that you should be looking for as you consider an attorney’s resume and whether he or she is the right person for you.  This will tell you what to look for and the red flags to avoid in analyzing an attorney’s success and history.

  1. Look for Past Successes. An excellent experienced attorney will have a long history of past successes. This is likely the type of success that you want to give the most weight when comparing attorneys because success in your particular type of case is likely to be the most relevant.  Look for a “Result” tab or “Successes” tab on the attorney’s website.  This will give you an indication of the types of cases the attorney has handled.  You will also get a feel for what a successful outcome in those cases looks like to him or her.
  • A disclaimer on past successes is a good thing. Typically, an attorney will have a disclaimer that states something to the effect that a success in one case does not guarantee a success in your case.  The disclaimer itself is in indication that the attorney is honest and ethical.  An attorney who promises you a particular result should be viewed with skepticism because no two cases are ever identical.
  1. Look for Relevant Experience in Other Roles. Look for experience that is relevant to the type of case you will engaging the attorney to handle.  For example, in criminal law, an attorney who has been on both sides of the case can have a unique perspective that can be helpful to you.  For example, a defense attorney who also worked as either a prosecutor or as a police officer may know the system from the inside out.  Similarly, a family law attorney who has experience as a guardian ad litem, victim advocate, or some other role in the court may be able to draw on that broad exposure to assist you more effectively.
  • Red flag. Experience in other roles can be very effective in building an attorney’s skills, but be cautious of someone who has very recently switched to the area of law you are interested in.  An attorney whose recent experience is relevant to your case is likely more ready to represent you than one who just barely switched to your area of law.
  1. Clerkships can be prestigious and also give an attorney insight into the court system or the political system that the attorney wouldn’t otherwise gain from just practicing law alone.  Look for clerkships on an attorney’s resume, and you may give more credence to clerkships that are with judges in California or your county.
  1. Law School Awards and Honors. Awards from law school may be in the far past, but they give you an idea of the personality type of the attorney.  Look for participation in law school extra-curricular activities, such as Moot Court or Law Review or clerkships completed during law school.
  1. Law-Related Memberships, Community Awards, and Community Service. You will likely want an attorney who is well-respected in the legal profession and the community.  Look for memberships in legal organizations, because these show an interest and connection to those legal specialties or groups.  Look for community awards because these indicate that your attorney has accomplished goals that are above and beyond the norm.  Consider community service that has been done by your attorney because those may indicate a personality that is committed to helping others.

How to Know If You Have Chosen the Right Family Lawyer

You are getting a divorce. Or perhaps you have happy news, and you are adopting a child. It can be liberating, overwhelming, stressful, or exciting or all of the above.  No matter how your family is changing or how you feel about it, the most important action you can take to ensure that it goes as smoothly as possible is to find the right lawyer.

1. Experience. Experience. Experience.  If you don’t have someone with experience, you have the wrong attorney.

  • Education is not the same as experience, so it almost goes without saying that your attorney is not fresh out of law school and working on his or her first family law case.
  • Ask your attorney how many family law cases he or she has handled.  A
  • Ask about the outcomes of your attorney’s previous cases.
  • Ask how comfortable your attorney is with hearings, in the court room, and in your jurisdiction.
  • Don’t just be satisfied with surface answers but really dig to make sure that your lawyer is knowledgeable, confident, and accomplished.

2. Find the Lawyer that Fits Your Style.

  • You know your situation and your personal preferences better than anyone else, so find the lawyer that is a good fit for you.  Here are some types to look for:
    • The Bulldog” – some attorneys are extremely brash and aggressive. This might be the type of person you need if you have a bully for a spouse in a divorce or if there are issues that will be hotly contested.
    • The Negotiator”– some attorneys are excellent at finding the win-win for all parties and for the family, and they can be effective in selling solutions even to an adversarial spouse.
    • The Researcher” – some family law cases involve assets that are complex.  Perhaps a you own a business together, perhaps some of your assets are also owned with other family members or in-laws. If you know that your assets are complicated, you want an attorney with the patience and finesse to handle that type of case.
    • The Problem-Solver” – some families face unique problems – care for a special needs family member for example or perhaps a parent’s job that places unusual hurdles that make the case atypical.  If you see that your divorce falls in this category, you want to find an attorney who can think outside the box and who isn’t just trying to fit you into one of a few typical scenarios.

3. Make sure Your Attorney Is Within Your Budget.

  • You can expect a family law case – whether divorce or adoption — to put a strain on your finances, even if you have a fairly large family budget because it is an out of the ordinary expense.
  • Ask your attorney how he or she anticipates your case will go.
  • Don’t be afraid to push for an estimate on costs.
  • Find out how you will be billed and who will work on your case.
  • Inquire about the most cost-effective means of communication with your attorney and his or her staff – i.e. emails, calls, texts, etc.

 

 

5 Secrets to a Successful DUI Defense

If you are facing a DUI charge, the most important step is not to give up.  The government has the burden to prove its case against you, and there is hope for a good resolution.  This article will give you the 5 most important secrets to preparing your DUI defense.

1. Request an administrative hearing with the DMV regarding your Driver’s License within 10 days.

  • What is this hearing? – You only have 10 days from the date of arrest to request a hearing at the DMV office.  The formal name is Driver Safety Administrative Per Se “APS” Hearing.   
  • What happens if I do request it? – A DMV hearing officer (not a judge) presides over this hearing.  This officer cannot fine you or send you jail.  The sole issue is whether or not your driver’s license should be suspended.  
  • What happens if I don’t request it? – If you don’t request a hearing, the default is that your license will be suspended 30 days from your arrest.

2. Get an attorney that has experience in DUI cases.

  • Attorneys are not “one size fits all.”  There are many different areas in which attorneys specialize.  They also greatly range in experience and competence.
  • Look for an attorney who focuses on criminal law and who has experience.
  • Find an attorney who regularly practices in the court where you will appear so that your lawyer will know the judge and the prosecutor well or at least have been in front of them before.

3. Use the DMV Hearing to Learn More about the Case Against You.

  • Bring an attorney and gather information.  You have the right to be represented by an attorney at the DMV hearing, and it provides a good opportunity for you and your attorney to find out information because you can do the following:
    • Hear the evidence against you
    • Subpoena witnesses (such as the arresting officer)
    • Present testimony of witnesses (such as a passenger who was with you)
    • Cross-examine witnesses
    • Testify yourself.

4. Consider a Motion to Suppress Evidence

  • A Motion to Suppress is basically a document that requests that the Judge disallow certain evidence against you on the basis that it was illegally obtained.  
  • This Motion could be challenging the reason for the traffic stop, the questioning conducted by a police officer, etc.
  • A Motion to Suppress is very fact-specific based on your particular case, so be sure to consult with your attorney on whether this Motion would be effective in your case.

5. Consider a Plea Bargain.

  • Although some Defendants relish their “day in court,” there are instances where a plea bargain may be a safer bet given the evidence against you.
  • Like the Motion to Suppress, the decision on whether a plea bargain is right for you is very individual to your specific case.  You will need to consult with your attorney, but keep your mind open to a plea bargain because sometimes the best defense is when your attorney negotiates an advantageous bargain for you.

 

 

HELP!  I Need to Hire an Attorney and I’m Broke!

If you are not in a position to afford to pay for an attorney, you are not alone.  Many people struggle just to make ends meet, so it’s not unusual if legal fees may put a strain on your budget.  This article will provide some ideas of resources to help you.  

  • Criminal Case – Do you qualify for a public defender?  If you do not have the means to hire an attorney to represent you in a criminal case, the judge can appoint an attorney to defend you. When you go to court for your first appearance, you can request an attorney.  Judges may ask different questions about your income, but in general come with prepared with information on:

Your income

Your debts, including student loans, credit card debts, etc.

Your assets.  For example, you may be asked whether you own or rent your home, whether you own or make payments on your car

  • Family Law Case – Have you checked into free community resources?  For example, if you live in Solano County, the Solano Legal Access Center might be a helpful resource to you.

http://solano.courts.ca.gov/Courts/SolanoLegalAccessCenterSLACandFamilyLawFacilitator.html

The website above is a resource for California forms.

This website also has a repository of self-help information, videos and documents.

  • Domestic Violence – Have you looked into a Victim’s Advocate Office in your community?  Many communities have teams of professionals dedicated to assisting in protecting you from domestic violence.

For example, the Solano Advocates for Victims of Violence https://www.savvcenter.org/

Another resource for those in the Vacaville area is the Advocate Against Domestic Violence in the African – American Community, http://www.aadvac.org/

  • Pro Bono for Other Types of Cases – There are instances where an attorney may assist you without charge.  The term for this is “Pro Bono.” It isn’t the norm for an attorney to represent you for free or for a reduced fee, but there are instances where a lawyer may be willing to help you.  Use your resources.  Ask people in your network if they have a friend who is an attorney.  Meet with a lawyer and explain your problem.  Don’t expect free services, but you may be able to work out payment plans or other billing options that can make the representation affordable for you.   

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. 

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.