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The vast majority of criminal cases in the United States resolve with some sort of plea. Many defendants charged with a crime choose to go to court without an attorney and enter a guilty plea of some sort. Other defendants enter negotiated plea agreements.

Often, a plea agreement can minimize the damages that a criminal case can impose against a defendant, but criminal laws are complex and the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction can vary widely based upon the nature of the allegations.

The United States Supreme Court ruled this week that a defendant's right to effective criminal representation extends to any plea agreement or plea offer that a prosecutor may present. The court essentially ruled, in a split decision, that plea agreements are an important aspect of criminal defense.

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Three Gilroy teens were arrested early Tuesday on serious drug charges after law enforcement stopped a vehicle for being suspicious. In all, Gilroy police claim an officer saw several "suspicious vehicles" while on patrol at around 2:55 a.m. The officer asserts that the vehicles sped off when the squad approached the area, and the officer made a traffic stop of a Honda a short time after the several cars dispersed.

Authorities claim that the truck of the Honda was not fully closed because it was overflowing with marijuana plants. Three men in the Honda were reportedly arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession for sales. Authorities say that police found equipment in the street where the Gilroy officer originally saw the allegedly suspicious vehicles parked. Law enforcement concluded that the equipment looked like it may be similar to objects used to cultivate marijuana.

During the wee hours of the morning, law enforcement thought two homes looked suspicious, and police concluded that the homes must have been burglarized. Police allege that they entered the homes as a safety precaution in the middle of the night.

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The Los Angeles Times has called the phenomenon a "nationwide wave of Tide laundry detergent thefts," based upon allegations in the Midwest against an unemployed man who says he could not afford the detergent and a separate case from the East Coast.

Some retailers reportedly have placed anti-theft devices as publications are calling the detergent "liquid gold." Sources suggest people are stealing the detergent to sell at flea markets. A spokesperson for the retailer that has begun placing anti-theft devices on some bottles downplays the issue saying it is not new and is also not a chain-wide issue for that retailer. Nonetheless, the recent California case involves allegations against a man accusing him of commercial burglary.

Authorities say the man walked through the store, put nine bottles of the detergent in a grocery cart and left the store. A store manager says that he confronted the accused in the parking lot before the man left in a Ford Explorer.

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Santa Cruz criminal defense lawyers know that realignment has allowed many people who have been convicted of a low level felony in California to serve time in a county jail instead of state prison. The League of Women Voters have filed a civil lawsuit in the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco that seeks to allow citizens who serve their time at the county level to retain their right to vote.

Generally, California law bars convicted felons from voting while they are incarcerated. Traditionally, people held in county jails in California are not prohibited from voting. The California constitution prohibits voting by those citizens "imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony."

The recent lawsuit essentially says that people sent to jail are not "imprisoned" and therefore the California Constitution does not prohibit their right to vote. Similarly, under realignment inmates sent to county jail for low-level felony offenses are generally released into a program called "post-release community supervision, and are therefore not released on parole.

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Tagged in: felonies

The man's girlfriend was killed when the cannon discharged. Authorities have not identified the 38-year-old woman, who reportedly died of shrapnel wounds after the device exploded in the community of Potrero. Three other adults and a 4-year-old girl apparently were also inside the home at the time of the blast. The three other adults and the child were not injured. The man who has been arrested did suffer shrapnel wounds and received treatment at the hospital.

Authorities say that the 39-year-old man was arrested as police investigate the woman's death related to the incident. Authorities are apparently interrogating the man, although authorities have not found any motive to suggest any possible criminal intent. Officials claim that the man made a statement and law enforcement says they want to corroborate the man's story, "based on the evidence [investigators] find at the scene."

Authorities acknowledge that the incident may have been just a terrible accident.

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Law enforcement cordoned off an area near a multi-use building on Prospect Street in Watsonville Tuesday afternoon. Authorities were apparently suspicious that a gun allegedly taken during a recent burglary may have been in the building. Law enforcement says that they also thought a 30-year-old parolee may have been in the building. The man is on parole for domestic violence.

Two men apparently were inside the building and denied entry to the police. Law enforcement says that they had information that one of the men would be heavily armed. It appears in that the parolee police believed was inside, in fact was not. After a four hour standoff, police entered the building and a search revealed that no guns were inside the building.

It is unclear what information led police to believe the parolee or any weapons--including the gun allegedly taken in a California burglary that officials were looking for-were inside the Watsonville building.

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Tagged in: burglary/robbery

Earlier this month Chris Brown asked a California judge to release him early from probation. The R and B singer was given five years of supervised probation after allegations arose in 2009 that Brown assaulted Rihanna at a party held the evening before the 2009 Grammy awards.

Brown pled guilty to charges in the California domestic violence case and, since he was placed on probation in 2009, the singer has reportedly completed a year-long domestic violence program, taken part in court ordered anger-management classes and performed community service. However, he reportedly has not completed all of the hours of service under the sentencing order. At a review hearing, held just before this year's Grammy awards, the singer asked to be released from supervised probation early due to his good behavior.

A Los Angeles County judge denied the request and ordered that the singer continue to report to a probation officer in his home state of Virginia. Now, an alleged incident in Florida may cause the singer legal difficulties in California.

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Santa Cruz police claim that fingerprints found on an abandoned car led them to two Sacramento men who have now been arrested for theft crimes. Law enforcement believes that the two brothers can be linked to stealing at least five catalytic converters. Although police only believe they can link the two men to five alleged thefts of catalytic converters, Santa Cruz police say that at least 56 catalytic converters have been taken from automobiles in the city since last July. Two other men were arrested in Watsonville on February 1 in an unrelated investigation.

Those two men are also accused of stealing converters from automobiles to be sold to recyclers. Each of the men arrested in Watsonville have preliminary hearings scheduled where the judge will review evidence to see whether the prosecutors have sufficient evidence to have the criminal case proceed. A ruling at a preliminary hearing is not a finding of guilt, but only a determination of whether the state has a minimum amount of evidence for the case to proceed.

The most recent arrests in Santa Cruz reportedly followed the discovery of two abandoned cars in an area that law enforcement claims is a hot spot for catalytic converter thefts. Police say that they found fingerprints on the two cars leading law enforcement to the two men from Sacramento. Santa Cruz police claim that the two cars had been stolen and the catalytic converters were removed before the cars were abandoned.

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Santa Cruz criminal defense lawyers are aware that domestic violence charges are treated harshly in California. The law does not require that parties to an alleged domestic violence dispute be married, or even related. The allegations arising out of Pasadena Sunday night involve an unmarried couple-the two have reportedly been in a on-and-off again relationship since Aug. 2010.

Police claim that when they arrived at the couple's home they observed evidence of minor injury. Law enforcement says Sinclair displayed bruises and red marks.

Sources claim that Hefner admitted having been in an argument with Sinclair, but denies that any physical contact was involved. Authorities claim that Sinclair told police during the investigation that Hefner had puncher her and kicked her in the stomach. She reportedly says that Hefner would not let her leave the home after the alleged attack. She says that she called relatives, who notified police of the alleged altercation.

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The California Highway Patrol says that officers discovered more than eight pounds of methamphetamine in a car that had been pulled over for a routine traffic stop last week. A news report in the Red Bluff Daily News does not indicate what police claim was the original basis for the traffic stop. The driver of the vehicle was arrested on suspicion of drug crimes after the encounter.

CHP officers say that the stop occurred around 9:00 last Wednesday along Interstate 5. A 38-year-old Washington man driving a Chevrolet Trailblazer did something that officers apparently characterize as criminal activity during the traffic stop. The Daily News report does not specify what that activity allegedly involved.

Authorities called in a drug sniffing dog to check out the vehicle, according to the CHP. Law enforcement claims that the dog behaved as if a controlled substance was inside the vehicle. Officers claim that they seized 8.1 pounds of methamphetamine during a search of the Trailblazer, according to a Tehama Interagency Drug Enforcement Task Force report. Agents from the task force apparently were called in to assist the CHP in the investigation.

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Often in cases where a person is accused of a crime, new stories are written with one side. A police report is often the only public information available to a reporter, so they publish stories that rely heavily on a police report and have little or no commentary from the person accused.

When a woman was arrested three times in five days last week in Santa Cruz, she wasn't afforded to ability to tell her side of the story about drug charges she is facing or respond to allegations by police. According to one news article, the woman was arrested for intent to commit illegal drug activity early in the week. She was later released. It isn't clear what kind of activity the police say the woman may have committed, and the story did not include her response to the allegations.

The woman was later arrested for trespassing before being released again. The she was arrested for allegedly resisting arrest or obstructing an officer. The police were at the residence where she was arrested to execute a probation search. They said they didn't find the person they were looking for and arrested the woman for refusing to exit the house or apartment.

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In 2010, California began a limited pilot project in driving under the influence cases to test whether ignition interlocks should be used in sentencing for a DUI conviction. The pilot project is being conducted in four counties, and is expected to run through 2016. Sources say that many states are testing the devices in a variety of ways, and roughly 15 states require ignition interlocks in all DUI cases, even for first-time offenders.

Now lawmakers in the nation's capitol are seeking to force states to mandate the use of ignition interlocks in all DUI cases. Ignition interlocks generally are small devices that attach inside the car. The devices act as a portable Breathalyzer-like machine that drivers must use to start the car. The machines come with steep installation fees and monthly charges. If a driver fails the breath test, the car will not start.

Representatives in the U.S. House introduced a measure that would encourage states to require interlocks in all DUI cases. The measure was unveiled Tuesday as part of a transportation spending bill. The federal government cannot tell states directly what criminal laws to pass in individual states, but Congress can dangle money as a carrot to get their way.

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Tagged in: ignition interlocks

While courts have been struggling with the validity and constitutional fairness of the use of technological gadgets used to create evidence in criminal cases, a law enforcement agency in California claims that a facial recognition program has linked two people to three California armed robberies. A sergeant from the Lancaster Sheriff's office says the facial recognition program is "only available to law enforcement."

The technology "is a relatively new program that uses advancing technology to compare clear facial photos to booking photos already in the database," according to the sergeant. Deputies say that a 31-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman were arrested last week, based at least in part on the new technology, to which only police have access.

Law enforcement claims that the man and woman teamed up to commit the alleged armed robberies at businesses that had no customers present at the time of the offenses. The Lancaster sergeant says that, "The male suspect would wait for the other patrons to leave the targeted businesses before approaching the cashiers."

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Tagged in: armed robbery

School district trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to allow Pleasanton police dogs to stroll through the parking lots of the high schools to conduct random warrantless searches. The dogs reportedly will be allowed inside the physical education locker rooms when students are not present to sniff for contraband. Additionally, the high school principals will be authorized to seek approval to request warrantless searches.

Four of the five trustees voted to delay implementation of the new dog sniff protocol until the school district can develop a policy for conducting the random warrantless dog sniff searches. Sources say that could take until the end of February. One of the trustees voted against waiting to develop a policy, saying the drug problem is urgent.

Although the district superintendent claims that the alleged drug problem in Pleasanton schools does not involve every student, presumably, every student may be subject to the police dog scrutiny, even if the student is not involved.

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Tagged in: warrantless search

With today's technology, constitutional issues can involve complex arguments in criminal cases. Last summer, this blog reported that the United states Supreme Court had agreed to review whether law enforcement's use of a global positioning system device without a warrant during a drug crime investigation was done in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Monday, the high court ruled unanimously that the Constitution requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant.

Although all nine justices ruled that the Constitution requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant, some questions may arise in the future from the Supreme Court ruling.

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A late December probation check may lead to a three-strike prison sentence for a man from Southern California. Two deputies showed up at a motel in Old Town Victorville looking for a probationer. A man that the deputies say they were not looking for ended up being charged with possession of methamphetamine.

When law enforcement arrived at the motel, there were apparently five people in the motel room. Deputies claim that a 32-year-old man, who is believed to be a Blood gang member, tried to close the door on the deputies. They say they kicked in the door. What may have happened next is also open to dispute.

Prosecutors claim that the man who had shut the door on the deputies dove onto the bed when law enforcement kicked in the door. The man accused of diving on the bed says he was pushed toward the bed as the deputies exploded through the door.

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Officials at a Southern California youth probation camp say they saw an increase in contraband entering the camp. Authorities say that conducting searches at such probation camps are not unusual, even searches of visitors who come to the camps to see probationers. However, due to the perceived increase of drugs, primarily marijuana, allegedly found in dorm rooms at the Sam Dimas area camp, authorities stepped up efforts during searches of visitors.

A 44-year-old Pomona woman who recently went to the probation camp to visit her son was arrested on suspicion of possession of illegal drugs. Authorities at Camp Glenn Rockey in San Dimas say they found bundles of marijuana and a medical marijuana card during a search of her purse. Authorities claim the marijuana card is fake.

After the alleged discovery of marijuana at the controlled juvenile facility, police arrested the woman on serious California drug possession charges. She was taken to the Century Regional Detention Facility and booked on suspicion of drug charges, and held on $35,000 bail.

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During the same week that the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision to leave eyewitness identification analysis alone, the high court threw out a murder conviction because prosecutors did not disclose that an eyewitness who testified against the defendant at trial initially told police that he could not identify the killer. For nearly 50 years, prosecutors have known that the Constitution requires that the state must turn over material evidence that prosecutors have that may be favorable to the criminal defense.

In overturning the criminal conviction, Chief Justice John Roberts writes, "We have observed that evidence impeaching an eyewitness may not be material if the state's other evidence is strong enough to sustain confidence in the verdict." Eight justices on the Supreme Court agreed in Tuesday's ruling that the prosecutor's failure to disclose the evidence in the murder case violated the defendant's rights, requiring a reversal of the conviction. Justice Clarence Thomas was alone in dissent.

The case arose from allegations surrounding a 1995 shooting. Five people were killed during an armed robbery in a New Orleans home. During the trial, an eyewitness told the jury that he had been "face to face with [the defendant] during the initial moments of the robbery." The Supreme Court says that testimony was the only evidence the prosecutors had linking the defendant to the crime.

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After she made the identification of the hand-cuffed man, law enforcement brought the woman to the police station to look at a photo-lineup. She could not identify the man. Nonetheless, the man was convicted of theft charges and sentenced prison on the East Coast. The identification procedure used was the focus of a recent U.S. Supreme Court case.

The issue of unduly suggestive police identification procedures has been argued in court rooms and law schools all across the country for years. Over the past 30 years roughly 2,000 studies have been conducted on the issue. This blog discussed the eyewitness identification issues in last August.

One law professor writes in his book, "Convicting the Innocent," that of the first 250 people who were exonerated by DNA testing after being wrongfully convicted, as many as 190 were convicted through the testimony of a mistaken eyewitness identification.

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Many Santa Cruz area residents ventured out to ring in the New Year last weekend. For many, the New Year is a time for a new beginning. New Year's Day is also often the beginning day for new laws in California, and Santa Cruz DUI defense lawyers understand that several new provisions went into effect Jan. 1 that relate to driving under the influence in California.

A significant new provision has been sitting dormant for roughly 15 months. In Sept. 2010, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a measure that will now allow California judges to revoke a person's driver's license for 10-years if the driver has at least three DUI convictions on his or her record.

The new DUI license revocation provision includes a process for drivers to apply for potential reinstatement of their licenses after five years if certain conditions are met. One significant condition requires the driver to install an ignition interlock device on his or her car, which can be an expensive prospect after paying installation and monthly service fees.

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