Should I Stay or Should I Go:  Thinking About Divorce

If you are thinking about getting a divorce, you are not alone.  The decision to pull the trigger can have consequences for your finances, your family, and your freedom to move or make decision.  This article will help walk you through questions to ask an experienced divorce attorney if you are on the fence about whether you should get a divorce at all or if you are deciding when you should get a divorce.

What will be the effect on my time with children?

If you have children, your time and decision-making power for them are likely to be two of your top concerns.  Discuss with your attorney some of the typical parenting plan arrangements so that you can get an idea ahead of the divorce of the options that are best for you.

How will a divorce impact my ability to move out of state?

If you have children, a divorce can impact the ease with which you can move out of state.  Consider your long terms plans for yourself and your children, and if you prefer to settle outside the state you are currently in, then that’s definitely a topic you should discuss with your attorney.

How will divorce impact my standard of living?

Think about the property/assets that you had prior to marriage and those that were acquired during marriage.  Discuss how these will be divided.  Consider timing.  Are you or your spouse eligible for a raise or bonus in the near future.  Is now a good time or would a short wait be more or less advantageous to you?  It’s important to think in advance about the optimal timing.

What are the tax consequences?

Evaluate how taxes will likely play into the mix.  Will keeping or selling property have tax consequences?  How do the retirement accounts play in?  How will claiming the children on taxes factor in?

How adversarial is my spouse likely to be?

Planning ahead includes thinking through your spouse’s reaction to divorce and preparing to manage his or her reaction.  If you can find a fair middle ground with your and your spouse, you will both save on legal fees that come with an adversarial posture.

What would be the consequences of losing at trial?

Be sure to understand all the consequences of a plea and all the consequences of losing at trial so that you can make an informed choice.  Get the whole picture of counseling, probation, and fines.

The choice of whether to call it quits on the marriage or keep trying to work things out is a difficult one with many unknown consequences.  If you can get an idea of what you would be entitled to and how you will be impacted overall, you can make a better decision about the right way and time to end the marriage.

 

 

Guilty Plea or Go to Trial?

If you’ve been charged with a DUI, you will eventually have to make the important decision of whether to accept the “known evil” of a plea deal, or risk the unknown of a trial?  This article will walk you through the questions you need to ask your attorney as you contemplate this important step:

  1. You can fight the charge even if you feel guilty.

You do not have to make a decision the first time that you are asked what plea you will be entering.  Even if you think you are, in fact, guilty, you have a right to enter a not guilty plea and to prepare a defense.  You can take your case all the way to trial, even if you feel guilty.  The police officer may have violated your rights during the stop.  The tests may have been administered improperly or registered incorrectly.  Don’t assume just because you feel a certain way that you can’t mount a powerful defense.

  1. How likely is success?

You need to discuss your odds with your attorney.  Nobody has a crystal ball to tell you what will happen, but they can tell you what has happened in other cases with similar fact patterns.  What is your attorney’s experience with this police officer?  Does he come to court prepared? What about the judge?

  1. What will the plea bargain do for you?

What deal is being presented?  Is there any real advantage to entering a plea?  If you are likely to receive the same sentence if you do not enter a plea, then that is something to consider in your choices.  Is cost of defense a factor?  You are in the driver’s seat of your case, so be assertive in making a decision that is right for you.

  1. Who are the key players?

What kind of prosecutor do you have?  Is he or she likely to prepare a case, or will the prospect of trial be such an annoyance that a better plea will be offered on the day of trial? How reliable are the witnesses?  How effective is your counsel?  The facts are important, but the skill and preparation of the players.

  1. What would be the consequences of losing at trial?

Be sure to understand all the consequences of a plea and all the consequences of losing at trial so that you can make an informed choice.  Get the whole picture of counseling, probation, and fines.

The choice of whether to fight or bargain is a tough one.  Consulting with an experienced criminal defense firm is vital for making an informed decision.

 

 

5 Amazing DUI Defenses

Think your DUI is hopeless?  Think again! This article will explore five major categories of defense tactics that you can discuss with your public defender or private attorney.

  • Asserting your Fourth Amendment Right in relation to the Stop.  

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects you from unreasonable search and seizure. With a DUI, this often comes into play when the officer pulls you over for a traffic stop. The officer needs to have reasonable suspicion that you are committing a crime (a traffic offense counts as a crime for this purpose). The officer must have probable cause to arrest you.  A defense based on the stop or the arrest is one of the most common and effective ways to fight a DUI, and an attorney can help you apply the law to the specific facts of your case.

  • Attacking the Accuracy of the Field Sobriety Tests.

The officer likely performed the field sobriety tests near the street where he pulled you over, and the conditions may have interfered with the accuracy of the testing processes.  Was there heavy traffic that distracted you or made the tests unsafe? Were weather conditions in play that may have impacted your abilities? Was the lighting poor or in your eyes? Was the ground uneven or dangerous? Were there other environmental hazards or distractions that may have impacted your ability to perform on the field sobriety tests? Aside from the environmental factors, the officer’s explanation and execution of the field sobriety tests can also be used to challenge the results.  Did he explain the tests fully and accurately, and were they administered as they were supposed to be? Attacking the accuracy of the field sobriety tests is a very common, but can be a useful way to defend you.

  • Undermining the equipment and methods used in testing.

In any test involving equipment, the equipment must be functioning properly and used properly in order to achieve a reliable result.  For example, if a breath test was administered, you can question whether the equipment was in good, working condition and whether the officer was properly trained to use it. If you can undermine the fact-finder’s confidence in the testing, then you can draw into question whether the results can be relied upon. Along those same lines, you can question the method of the testing.  For example, when did the testing take place? Was it contemporaneous to the driving or much later? The method of testing is as important as the reliability of the equipment itself.

  • Chain of Custody.

Any evidence used in a criminal case has to pass muster when it comes to the chain of custody, which means the prosecution has to be able to trace where the evidence has been from the time it was taken into custody. For example, when police officers take a blood sample in a DUI case or seize evidence of drugs, the evidence will be packaged with a form and each person who comes in contact with the evidence should be noted on the form. If there has been a break down in that procedure, then you can claim that the evidence has been contaminated or tampered with and therefore the evidence is unreliable.

  • Necessity, Duress, Entrapment, Involuntary Intoxication.

The affirmative defenses are not as commonly used because they require circumstances that are somewhat unusual.  If your case falls into this “oddball” group of categories, the affirmative defenses may well suit you. The necessity defense is where you drove under the influence for a greater good – for example, to race someone to the hospital to save a life. Duress is when you are forced to drive under the influence under threat of your life of safety, such as if you drove while intoxicated because someone threatened to kill you if you didn’t.  Entrapment very rarely arises or if it does, it would be difficult to prove, but an example would be where the police officer requests that the person drive while intoxicated to “set the trap” to arrest that person Involuntary would be where someone was given drugs or alcohol without their knowledge or consent.

 

4 Potential Consequences of Your First DUI

Whether you have just been arrested for DUI or whether you are further down the road in the process, you need to be prepared for what is ahead. You likely have many potential defenses to fight the charge, which are discussed in other articles. For this article we will assume you are 21 or older and entered a guilty plea or conviction of a first DUI and give you a look at “worst case” scenario.

1. Driving Consequences

  • Suspended License:  The DMV will automatically suspend your license if you had a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or more for four months.  The DMV will suspend your license for a year if you refuse the test. You’ll need to pay a $125 fee to get your license reinstated at the end of the DMV suspension. The court can also suspend your license, which is typically run concurrent to the DMV suspension, meaning that both suspensions are in effect at the same time.  A driver may be able to get a restricted license, to drive only to certain places like place of employment.
      • If you want to fight the DMV suspension, you need to request a hearing within 10 days.  
  • Interlock Device:  You may be ordered to get an interlock device on your vehicle, which measures your breath alcohol every time you drive.
  • SR-22 Insurance. If you don’t win the DMV hearing or don’t dispute it, and your license is suspended, you will need to get a special type of automobile insurance called SR-22 insurance for three years.

2. Court Ordered Counseling and Probation

  • 3-9 Month Programs:  You will likely be ordered to complete one of three programs, with the program usually determined by your blood alcohol content (BAC) measurement from the DUI:  3 month (30 hour), 6 month (44 hour) or 9 month (60 hour program). Additional hours may also be required based on county requirements. Each program requires drug and alcohol education, hours of group counseling, and certain hours of individual counseling.
  • Probation: Probation is typically 3-5 years.

3. Jail Time – Max is 6 months

  • Jail Time:  Crimes come with a maximum punishment, but this does not mean the judge will impose the maximum jail time.  The maximum for a first offense is up to six months in jail.

4. Financial Consequences

  • Fines, penalties and costs. The court at its discretion will impose a fine of between $390- $1000. Additionally, you will likely incur costs of defense attorney, costs for counseling, money for the interlock device if ordered and the cost of SR-22 insurance. The total cost can be very expensive, but consult with your attorney for an estimate of total costs.

 

What Does It Mean to Establish Parentage and When Is It Necessary?

If you are having a baby, you may be wondering what you can do to protect your baby’s rights. You want your child to have all the support he or she needs from the father. Establishing parentage can be an important step for you to take if you are not married to the baby’s father. This article will walk you through some of the basics of establishing paternity and help explain why parentage is important.

  1. What is parentage? What is paternity?

When a child is born to parents who are married (or to parents in a domestic partnership after 2005), then the law presumes that the couple are the child’s parents.  If the parents are not married, then the father only has legal rights and responsibilities if parentage is established.  However, in some cases parentage will be presumed, such as “parentage by estoppel,” where the parent welcomed the child into his home and treated it as his own.

  1. Why is establishing parentage important?

If you want custody, visitation or child support orders from the court, parentage will have to be established. This can also be important in a same-sex parenting situations if the parents were not married when the mother became pregnant or when the child was born.  There are other advantages: having health and life insurance coverage from either parent, the right to inherit from either parent, the right to receive social security and veteran’s benefits, just to name a few.

  1. What if the father does not admit that he is the parent?

A court may order the alleged father, mother and child to be genetic tested in order to establish parentage.

  1. What are the consequences and rights of the parent after parentage is established?

A parent has generally the right to get custody or visitation rights related to the child, although this right may be impacted in some cases by criminal history. A parent also has a legal obligation to financially support the child, but the amount of financial support will vary depending on various factors including income, custody arrangements, etc.

  1. What are the ways to establish parentage when the child’s parents aren’t married or in a domestic partnership?
  • Signing and filing a voluntary Declaration of Paternity – this is a form that both parents voluntarily sign, which established them as the legal parents of the child. The advantage of the voluntary Declaration is that neither parent has to go to court. After the form is signed, it needs to be filed with the California Department of Child Support Services.
  • You local child support agency can bring an action to establish parentage of a child. This often happens as a matter of course when welfare is requested for the child.
  • You can bring your own court case to establish parentage, which will involve several court forms and possibly a trial. You may want to utilize the help of an attorney or an agency to navigate this process.

 

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.

 

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 Go After a Noncustodial Parent for Child Support

We’ve all heard of child support, which is the amount of money a court orders one or both parents to pay to support their children’s living expenses.  A common complaint is that one parent is not fulfilling his or her child support obligations.  This article will explain the procedure for enforcing child support and provide information on free resources to assist in the process.

  1. Get an Order. An Order is a written document by the Court that shows entitlement to child support.  A verbal promise from one spouse to another is not an Order.
  • If you and the other parent agree. If you do not have an Order, but you and the other parent can come to an agreement about the amount, then you memorialize that in writing and then the Judge will approve it if he or she feels it is in the best interest of the child.
  • If you and the other parent do not agree. If you do not have an Order, and you and the other parent cannot come to an agreement, then you will have to file an action for child support.
  1. Motion for Contempt. The next step, once you have the Order in hand, is to file a Motion for Contempt.  You have probably heard of being “in contempt” of court in a criminal matter.  In a civil matter, such as a divorce, a Motion for Contempt basically asserts to the Court that the other party has not obeyed the Court’s order.  If the Judge grants the Motion for Contempt, then the other parent can be ordered to pay fines or serve jail time.
  • Time limit. Timing is very important!  Be sure to file your Motion for Contempt within three years from the payment is due to avoid having the statute of limitations run.
  1. Driver’s License Penalties. If the payment is more than 30 days late on child support, the DMV may refuse to issue or renew a drivers’ license.  If the payment is more than 120 days late for child support, the State of California can revoke the non-paying parent’s license.
  1. Can interest be charged on missed support payments?  Yes, interest accrues at the rate of 10% per year.
  1. Available Resources.
  • If you are looking for other government resources relating to child support, visit childsup.ca.gov. This website is run by the California Department of Child Support Services and may have helpful resources to assist you.

 

4 Things You Didn’t Know About Shoplifting and Theft In California

If you have been charged with a crime in the theft category, you may have some questions about shoplifting or theft.  This article addresses some common questions.

Is it a crime if you didn’t leave the store?  Yes it can be. You can still be convicted of a crime, if you took something but didn’t leave the store.  If you look at the elements below, you will notice that the prosecutor doesn’t have to prove that you moved the item out of the store.  Still, the prosecutor must prove that you had intent, so that’s one area that can be attacked in the prosecution’s case if, for example, you intended to pay for the item but put it in a pocket or a purse without thinking.

What does the prosecution have to prove to convict me of petty theft?  The summary below will show you the general  elements of petty theft:  

  • taking possession of property owned by someone else
  • without the owner’s consent
  • with the intent to remove it from the owner’s possession
  • moving it, and keep it for a period of time
  • value of property is $950 or less.

What does the prosecution have to prove to convict me of shoplifting?  The summary below will show you the general  elements of petty theft:  

  • entering a commercial establishment (for example, a store)
  • while the establishment is open during regular business hours
  • with the intent to steal items worth less than $950

How can you fight a theft charge?  

  • Lack of intent – You can show that you had no intent to steal the item.  For example, if you purchased many expensive items and forgot to pay for the milk that was at the bottom of the cart, then those factors would indicate that not paying for the milk was an oversight rather than an intentional taking.   
  • Accident/Mistake– This defense also attacks the intent element by showing that you were unaware of the item or that it was a mistake.  For example, if a child or friend put the item in your pocket without your knowledge, you could claim that it was a mistake.  Or, if you thought the item had been previously purchased by a family member or friend, then that could show a valid accident or mistake.
  • Belief the property belonged to you – This defense is also a subset of lack of intent and can be used when you believed that the property was yours and not someone else’s property.
  • Consent from the owner – If the owner said or did something that made you believe that they consented to your use or taking of the property, then this is also a defense.

 

 

What Kind of Fees Can I Expect with a DUI Charge?

Unfortunately, the cost of a DUI is very high.  This article will summarize some of the costs that you can anticipate, as well as give you helpful links to find out more.  Your attorney can also advise you on the costs to be anticipated, and can help you prepare for the road ahead.

  1. Impound Fees.  If your vehicle was impounded, you will be on the hook for administrative fees, plus the cost of towing and storage.  The administrative fee depends on where the vehicle was impounded, but for instance, the cost in Vacaville can be $234.  (See https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/dl/fees/miscdl_fees#misc_duireissue).  Also, be aware that the vehicle can only be released to the Registered Owner.  However, if the owner is incarcerated, then the jail can provide a Vehicle Release Form.
  2. Driver’s License Fees.  These vary depending on the age of the driver, and whether it is a first or second offense, but to give you an idea of the ballpark the Reissue Admin Fee for a Driver over 21, is $125.  This link will give you the specifics:  https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/dl/fees/miscdl_fees#misc_duireissue.
  3. Bail Fees.  If you have been incarcerated, you can anticipate a bail bonsdmen fee.  The way it works is that the court sets the bail.  The bonds company charges you a fee (usually a percentage of the amount of bail), and then the bonds company pays the full amount to the court.  When you appear at your hearing, the bonds company receives their money back, but they earned the fee.
  4. Court Fines.  These can run you at least $2,000.  According to the Yolo County Sentencing Guidelines for Infractions and Misdemeanors, Effective August 25, 2016, the minimum fine to be imposed for a DUI is $1958.  
  5. Other Miscellaneous Court Fines and Fees.   The Court will likely impose misc. fines and fees which total at least $300, depending on the jurisdiction.  See the excerpt below from the Yolo County Sentencing Guidelines for Infractions and Misdemeanors, Effective August 25, 2016.
  6. Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 8.57.36 PMCounseling – The amount of counseling ordered and the cost of the classes varies, but a conservative estimate would be at least $200 for counseling and classes.
  7. Restitution – If the DUI involved an accident, the court may order restitution, which means that you will have to pay for the damages incurred by the other driver.
  8. Interlock  – An interlock device is placed in your car so that your breath alcohol level is checked before you can drive.  The cost can vary depending on the make and model of the vehicle and the company you choose.  One company surveyed charged a $60 installation fee and 69.95 plus tax per month.  
  9. Insurance – Automobile insurance rates are higher for those who have been convicted of a DUI.  To reinstate your license after a DUI, you will have to file a Proof of Insurance Certificate (SR-22).  These sites can give you more information about the insurance needed.  https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/?1dmy&urile=wcm:path:/dmv_content_en/dmv/pubs/brochures/fast_facts/ffdl35