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Criminal Defense | Drunk Driving | Military Law

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Criminal Cases in City of Los Angeles Resolved Without Ever Going to Court Under New Program!

Los Angeles City Hall shortly after its comple...
Los Angeles City Hall shortly after its completion (1931) Original caption: "New Los Angeles City Hall which rises 28 stories and dominates the Civic Center". (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In September of 2014 the Los Angeles City Attorney started a new diversion type program called the Neighborhood Justice Program. Once a Defendant is arrested or cited for an offense he may be eligible for a program where the case never actually goes to court. This program only applies to certain minor charges such as:
  • Petty Theft (Penal Code Section 484-488(a)), 
  • Disturbing the Peace (Penal Code Section 415), 
  • Vandalism and Graffiti (Penal Code Section 594), 
  • Minor in Possession of Alcohol (Business and Professions Code Section 25662, 
  • Vehicle Code Section 13202.5), 
  • Possession of False Identification or Possession of False Driver’s License (Penal Code Section 148.9, Penal Code Section 470b) and 
  • Public Intoxication (Penal Code Section 647(f)).  
Generally eligible persons should not have a previous record but that may be negotiable.
Other minor crimes not listed may also be covered by this new program and a skilled lawyer may be able to persuade the Los Angeles City Attorney to make other violations of law eligible. Notably, the program is only open to Defendants who commit crimes in the City of Los Angeles as other cities in Los Angeles County do not yet have any such program. Similarly, cases prosecuted through the Los Angeles County District Attorney do not have any such program.

Once an individual is deemed eligible for the program they will go before a three person board and explain themselves to the panel. If the panel is satisfied the person has taken responsibility for the crime and shown remorse the panel will then allow the person to pay back the community for the commission of the crime by completing a “restorative agreement” with the understanding that the City Attorney will then not file the criminal case. This usually consists of some number of hours of Community Service. The Defendant will have about two (2) months to complete the restorative agreement. This program is far superior to most diversion programs which usually require a guilty plea and a court appearance. The Los Angeles City Attorney program leaves much less of a trace when it comes to background checks since official charges are never filed and the matter never goes to court. Many clients are greatly concerned about the effect of a case on their record, especially when it comes to looking for a job; this new program effectively removes many of those worries.

If you are facing charges on ANY crime in the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County or anywhere in Southern California do not hesitate to contact Mr. Bruzzo to check your eligibility for dismissal programs and for representation on any criminal case.

Criminal Law Updates by the Orange County Law Offices of William W. Bruzzo (714) 547-4636.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

PROP 47: Non-Violent Offenses Including Theft And Drug Offenses Can Only Be Misdemeanors

On November 4, 2014, California voters approved a voter initiative which requires that certain crimes MUST be filed as misdemeanors. This appears to be an effort by the state of California to reduce the number of people in the state prison system. From now on theft offenses for less than $950.00 must be filed as misdemeanors-even if the person has an extensive prior record of theft offenses. This is significant because a person can only be sentenced to one (1) year or less on a misdemeanor and he stays in the county facility where the crime was committed. Previously, three or more petty theft cases for very small amounts could land a person in prison under Penal Code Section 666. However, that is no longer the case and the person cannot be sentenced to more than one year and cannot go to prison no matter how many petty theft cases he has under Proposition 47. Notably, the maximum jail penalty on a petty theft is 6 months, so from this point on it would appear that no matter how many prior petty theft convictions you have, as long as they are under $950.00, you cannot be sentenced to more than 6 months in jail.

Notably, if you are in prison for multiple petty thefts or grand thefts and the last case that sent you to prison involved a value of less than $950.00, you can be resentenced on this matter, meaning that the court will review the case and remove you from state prison and have you serve more than likely a much shorter sentence in the county jail. There may be some exceptions to this if you have prior violent convictions. The law is still being fleshed out but you can petition to have your case reviewed IMMEDIATELY if you fall into any of these categories. The only exception to that is if the court finds you are public safety risk. The definition of that seems vague and would probably be a determination made by the Judge.

Also drug offenses wherein the person is only charged with personal use because he only has a personal use amount on him, MUST now be filed as a misdemeanor. Meaning, once again that the person cannot do more than one year in jail. Previously, an individual was facing a maximum of 3 years on possession of a personal use amount of any controlled substance except for marijuana possession for personal use which has always been a misdemeanor and sometimes an infraction.

So for example, possession of methamphetamine under Health and Safety Code Section 11377(a) can only be filed as a misdemeanor; normally it is filed as a felony although it can be filed as either. Where this new law will really make a difference is when people are charged with possession of cocaine or heroin under Health and Safety Code Section 11352(a) which previously was only filed as a felony. Now those individuals are only facing misdemeanors which reduces their exposure to a year in county jail.

What will be interesting to see is what happens to people in the Penal Code Section 1210 program also known as Prop 36. It was the case that multiple fall outs from the program for personal use alone could land you in prison. However, under this new law it seems like the most the court can do for fall outs from possession for personal use is sentence the person to one year in county jail.

For first time offenders Prop 47 will have little practical effect but for individuals with multiple convictions this law could make a huge difference in their sentence. Please contact Attorney Will Bruzzo if you have any questions about your particular situation.

Criminal Law Updates by the Orange County Law Offices of William W. Bruzzo, Esq. (714) 547-4636

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Hit and Run Driver Who Killed Three Kids On Halloween Had A Driving Record

Authorities have arrested a suspect in the Halloween hit and run that left three teenagers dead last Friday, October 31, 2014.. The incident occurred on Friday at around 7:00 p.m. at the intersection of Grand Street and Fairhaven Avenue in Santa Ana, California. Twins Lexia and Lexandra Perez were crossing the street with their friend Andrea Gonzales when they were hit by a car. The driver left the scene and police later found the car at a parking lot. The Honda CR-V had front end damage; the police do not know if the driver had been under the influence at the time of the accident. They did know that there were passengers in the Honda. Later that weekend on Sunday, police made several arrests but only kept the suspect, Jaquinn Bell. His mother, half-sister, daughter and son were arrested, but only he was held and charged with a felony hit and run charge (Vehicle Code Sections 20001 to 20003). Currently he is facing an additional charge of voluntary manslaughter and looking at up to 17 years in prison. (Penal Code Sections 192, 192.5 and 193).

Bell has a record in Orange County for driving related offenses. In 2009 he was charged with DUI and driving with a suspended license. In August of this year he was convicted of a misdemeanor hit and run and driving under the influence and was sentenced to 10 days jail. His license has been suspended since October. Felony Hit and Run causing death can cause a person to be sentenced for up to 4 years in prison.

Notably, the actual accident which caused the death of the children is NOT the crime in this instance; the crime is leaving the scene. Many accidents occur with the unfortunate result of people dying but that does not make it a crime. Making a mistake also known as simple negligence that results in someone dying is not a crime and is usually handled through the insurance companies like any other car accident as a civil matter.

Oftentimes people flee the scene of the accident because they are under the influence. In that case, if the authorities find them to have killed someone, while under the influence, they can also be sentenced to state prison. Importantly, people with prior convictions for drunk driving who commit another drunk driving offense and kill someone may now be charged with murder under the Watson Rule, referring to the case of People v. Watson. A conviction in that instance can lead to a sentence of 15 years to life.

Criminal Law Updates Orange County Law Offices of William W. Bruzzo (714) 547-4636.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Nurses, Teachers, Need A Skilled Attorney When Facing Petty Theft Charges

The charge of Petty Theft under Penal Code Sections 484(a)-488 is a very commonly alleged crime and generally not considered serious as first time offenders generally face no jail time and small fines. However, the effect of such a conviction on professionally licensed persons like Nurses, Doctors, Lawyers and Teachers can be career ending.

The reason for this is that Petty Theft (and any theft offense) is considered a crime of moral turpitude and in the jobs indicated above convictions for crimes of moral turpitude call into question the character of the person. As such the licensing board of each vocation can convene a hearing to decide whether the person is of sufficient character to continue to perform that job in light of their conviction. For example, in the event of a Nurse getting a conviction for Petty Theft the Nursing Board can convene a hearing and could put the person on “license probation.” This status could make the person unemployable. Other lesser punishments may occur as well.

The way to prevent this situation is to avoid a conviction altogether. Attorney Will Bruzzo has successfully represented many professionals to include Nurses and Teachers accused of Petty Theft and other charges. Mr. Bruzzo has managed to negotiate arrangements which sometimes involve community service and charitable giving as a way to avoid a conviction or guilty plea.

Notably, some places like Orange County have programs which allow first time petty theft offenders to avoid a conviction by entering a diversion program. A diversion program usually requires a guilty plea with deferment (postponement) of sentencing and completion of a program; once the individual completes the program the guilty plea is withdrawn and the case dismissed. In this way there is no conviction since the person was never sentenced and California requires sentencing for a conviction.

However, what many people (and some attorneys) do not understand is that because the diversion programs requires a guilty plea the diversion program is not helpful for Nurses and other licensed individuals. This is because the Nursing Board, for example, treats a guilty plea as it if were a conviction.

Mr. Bruzzo has even counseled other criminal defense lawyers as to the dangers of diversion programs for certain individuals; it is very important that you hire a lawyer who knows what is at stake in your particular situation. Mr. Bruzzo also works with a licensing lawyer, Fred Ray Esq. to make sure that the client is getting the best representation possible and one that will preserve his/her ability to work in their chosen field.

Please do not hesitate to contact Mr. Bruzzo or look at the testimonials on his website under Petty Theft for more information.

Criminal Law Updates Law Offices of Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer William W. Bruzzo (714) 547-4636.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Local Jails Decline to Honor ICE Requests for Holds on Inmates

Picture from www.ice.gov showing ICE Special A...
Picture from www.ice.gov showing ICE Special Agents (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
According to the LA Times Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says that local detention agencies (like county jails) are disregarding immigration hold requests and releasing inmates. From January to August of this year about 8.3% requests from ICE have not been honored. Across the country agencies have different reason for no longer holding people for ICE citing legal issues or department policy. Typically inmates that are in the U.S. illegally are not allowed to be released on bail even after they have completed their jail sentence. A 48 hour immigration hold keeps them in custody until federal agents arrive to take them to immigration court proceedings. One ICE officer in Los Angeles explains that personnel have been shifted to going out into the field and locating illegal immigrants instead of transporting detainees from jails because of this change.

This shift by local agencies stems from two reasons: Some departments cite the legality of upholding such a request. California for example, has a law that limits immigration detainers. As a result law enforcement departments have reduced their compliance with such requests. In Oregon a court ruled that it was violation of a woman’s constitutional rights to be held in custody without probable cause. The Riverside County Chief Deputy cites this court ruling as a reason they do not hold people. Explaining that if they did hold people the department could be held liable in civil court. Another reason is a memo distributed by ICE explaining that immigration holds were “requests not requirements” according to the LA Times.

The second reason comes from departments trying to keep a good relationship with the communities they serve. Some officers explain that deportation threats scare people from reporting crimes. This makes communities unsafe and creates a break down between police and residents.

Criminal Law Updates by the Orange County Law Offices of William W. Bruzzo (714) 547-4636.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

How You Should Deal With A Hit And Run Case

After practicing criminal law for over 20 years I have built up an impressive number of successful results in hit and run cases [California Vehicle Code Section 20002(a)]. The following describes the manner in which I handle these cases and it is the way every lawyer should handle these cases although in fact few do.

Just so its clear: hit and run in California occurs when someone hits another vehicle OR some other property (guardrail, wall, curb) and causes damage no matter how little and then fails to report it to the party who owns the property OR report it to the CHP within 2 hours of the accident. (California Vehicle Code Section 20002(a))

The first thing anyone should do when they have committed a hit and run is contact a qualified lawyer. DO NOT speak to the police without speaking to a lawyer first. Although you may think its obvious you were responsible for the accident you have no way of knowing what the police know. DO NOT make their case for them by confessing.

Commonly, after a hit and run, the police will get the plate number from a witness and then go to the person’s house right away. If you are at home the police can arrest you but generally they will give a citation if the only damage is property damage. If they smell alcohol OR suspect drug use around the time of driving they can treat you like a drunk driving/driving under the influence suspect and ask you to perform field sobriety tests and even require you to give blood or breathe to assess you for intoxication and then decide whether or not to arrest you for Driving under the Influence (DUI). A chemical test taken within three hours of driving may be used as evidence against you in a Drunk Driving case. (Some hit and run drivers leave the scene because they are intoxicated.)

The police may also decline to track down the individual that night or be unable to locate them and so they might just send a letter to the individual’s address based on the plate number from a witness. DO NOT call the officer. Speak to a qualified lawyer first. Please note that if you decline to have a lawyer call the police they might issue a warrant for you.

Once the police have made contact in person or by letter the lawyer should speak to the police and try to settle the matter PRIOR to the case getting sent to the District Attorney’s office. (The police are responsible for the investigation but it is the District Attorney who takes the investigation and files charges with the court).

California permits suspects in some property crimes to resolve their cases through a process called Civil Compromise under Penal Code Sections 1377-1378. This provision allows money to be paid to the victim to compensate them for their loss and the case dismissed. While the law specifically says that the judge and the victim must be in agreement for this to occur, in practice, the police investigating the matter can resolve the case in the manner of a civil compromise with the result that the police investigation is never sent to the District Attorney and the matter is simply closed without input from a judge. Attorney Will Bruzzo has managed to convince many police officers and victims of these crimes to agree to a civil compromise resolution. This is the ideal result because not only is there no court appearance but there are no charges filed. This is as clean a result one can achieve for a client in this situation.

If the victim or the police officer is not interested in civil compromise (strictly speaking if there is bodily injury to an individual then civil compromise is not appropriate but in practice hit and run cases with bodily injury can still be resolved with civil compromise.) then the case will proceed to the District Attorney’s office. It is good practice to also attempt to resolve the matter with the District Attorney prior to them filing; certainly no harm is done in trying. If the victim agrees to the civil compromise and signs an agreement to that effect or has verbally agreed, then the District Attorney can accept that arrangement and not file the case.

If all those attempts at civil compromise fail, then ultimately the Attorney can propose a civil compromise to the Judge. I have had cases where the District Attorney objected to the civil compromise but the victim wanted to resolve the matter in that way and the Judge went along and dismissed the case.

In summation, it is important to get a qualified attorney involved quickly in the process and try to resolve the case as early as possible. The three stages which provide an opportunity for resolution are: (1) during the police investigation; (2) when the matter is with the District Attorney but not filed; and (3) in court.

Attorney William W. Bruzzo has built up a practice of successfully resolving many hit and run cases [California Vehicle Code Section 20002(a)] without the client ever entering a plea of guilty or even going to court on some occasions, despite the fact the client clearly violated the law.

Criminal Law Updates by the Law Offices of Criminal Defense Attorney William W. Bruzzo (714) 547-4636.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Active Duty Service Member Retained at Administrative Separation Board

There are three different methods of disciplining people in the military: By Court-Martial, Non-Judicial Punishment and/or Administrative Separation. Administrative Separations will be the topic of this discussion.

An Administrative Separation is not judicial in nature. There is no judge or rules of evidence which apply in courts-martial. Instead all evidence, both documentary and testimonial is admitted for consideration. Three individuals, usually two officers and one senior enlisted person become the Administrative Separation Board. It is they who hear the evidence and decide two things: (1) whether the person should be retained in the military or discharged; (2) if they decide that the person should be discharged then they must decide what type of discharge the person should get. The options for discharge at an Administrative Separation are: Honorable; General Under Honorable Conditions and Other then Honorable. Notably, any discharge categorization which is less then Honorable will cause the person to lose all benefits to include the GI Montgomery Bill. So General Under Honorable Conditions or Other Then Honorable Discharge causes a loss of all benefits. However, the individual may still be able to apply for benefits for health issues resulting from military service through the VA, regardless of the type of discharge they received.

Most commonly Administrative Separations come about when the individual has received two or more negative counseling entries or Non-judicial punishments (NJP) (Article 15). In these cases the grounds for discharge fall under the category of a “Pattern of Misconduct.” An Administrative Separation may also occur after a conviction at a court-martial where the jury (members) declined to discharge the person or after a conviction on a criminal matter in civilian court. The grounds for this discharge would fall under the category of “Commission of a Serious Offense.” In the case of a positive urinalysis on a random drug test processing for an Administrative Separation is mandatory. That is, any person who comes up positive on a urinalysis test MUST be sent to an Administrative Board Hearing if not sent to a court-martial.

In a recent Administrative Board Hearing Attorney Will Bruzzo represented an individual who had only been in the military a few months when he came up positive on a urinalysis for a controlled substance. The individual accepted NJP (not recommended!) although he denied intentional use at the NJP (Article 15) hearing. Mr. Bruzzo had the military member testify under oath and cross examined the Drug Lab employee/expert who testified on behalf of the Government. Two officers and a senior enlisted person heard all the evidence which included information that the Drug Lab had been found responsible for contaminating samples and reporting a false positive about a year previous. Mr. Bruzzo also brought to the attention of the board that to discharge the individual the use of the drug had to be intentional, it could not be by mistake or accident.

The members of the board then deliberated and returned with a finding that NO MISCONDUCT HAD OCCURRED. As a result the individual was retained in the military despite coming up positive on a urinalysis and being subject to NJP. This was a significant victory with difficult facts. Notably Mr. Bruzzo has been practicing military law for over 20 years. View testimonials on Military Law cases here and other matters. 
Criminal Law Updates by the Law Offices of Criminal Defense Lawyer William W. Bruzzo (714) 547-4636.
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I represent criminal clients accused of everything from domestic violence and drunk driving to murder. I will not close a case until I believe that I have exhausted every possibility, whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony. If the facts support it I will take any case to trial; if the facts do not support going to trial, I will use all the relationships and knowledge I have developed with over  20 years of practice to negotiate the best result possible. I have managed to get "hopeless" cases dismissed just based on my knowledge of the local players (District Attorneys and Judges). An attorney's familiarity with the local system is invaluable to clients. I am that person in Orange County.

After practicing law for over 10 years I established my own firm in 2004 in Santa Ana, California. I am still in the same location.

Example cases

• People v. Arney (2011). I filed a motion to dismiss when the magistrate in the lower court kept out evidence over my objection. My motion was granted and the case was dismissed.

• People v. Willson (2010) I negotiated a dismissal of hit and run charges by getting the District Attorney to agree to dismiss the charges if the victim also agreed. The victim ultimately agreed and the case was dismissed.

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