Criminal Law

May the police arrest me without a warrant? 

Yes. A valid arrest may be made without a warrant under “exigent circumstances,” if the arrestee consents, or if the arresting officer witnesses the commission of a crime or has probable cause to believe that a crime is being committed.

How are criminal offenses classified under California law?

Crimes in California are categorized as petty offenses, misdemeanors and felonies according to the severity of punishment associated with the particular crime. Petty offenses include traffic violations and infractions of minor ordinances. Misdemeanors generally are crimes involving punishment greater than that for petty offenses, but less than one year in jail. Felonies normally are crimes involving punishment of more than one year in jail.

Can my driver’s license be suspended if I refuse or fail to submit to blood alcohol tests?

Yes. If you refuse a police officer’s request to submit to or complete a chemical test to determine your blood-alcohol level, you may lose the privilege of having a driver’s license for a period of one year. Before your license is suspended, the Department of Motor Vehicles must show that the police officer who requested the test had a reasonable cause to believe that you were operating a motor vehicle in violation of the laws against driving under the influence and that you refused or failed to complete any of the requested blood-alcohol-content tests.

May the police legitimately search my vehicle in CA without a search warrant?

It depends upon the circumstances. A police officer may perform an investigatory stop if he or she has a particularized suspicion that the driver or an occupant has committed or is committing a crime. During the stop, the officer may search the vehicle if his or her observations give him or her probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband.

Do I need an attorney to defend my criminal case?

A defendant may defend his or her own case, but it can be dangerous to do so, especially if the case involves more than a minor infraction. Criminal defense law can be confusing, and the state usually is well prepared to prosecute its cases. Besides simply presenting a defense, criminal defense lawyers are adept at negotiating for a lesser charge or punishment and are adept at positioning cases for appeal, both of which can be important in resolving a case.

What are “Miranda rights”?

The Miranda doctrine requires the police to warn a suspect that he or she has a right to remain silent, that any statement made by the suspect can be used as evidence against him or her, that the suspect has a right to the presence of an attorney during questioning, and if the accused cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint an attorney. The so-called “Miranda warning” does not apply to any volunteered statements, and the suspect may waive his or her rights, provided that thee waiver is made voluntarily and knowingly.

Minors enjoy the same rights regarding the Miranda warnings as adults. Also, a minor can invoke the privilege against self-incrimination. The minor may ask to see or telephone his or her parent or guardian or some other adult standing in a relationship to the minor similar to that of an attorney.

How is a criminal record expunged in California?

A criminal record can severely affect a person’s rights, including the ability to obtain employment, hold public office, exercise voting rights, enjoy full child custody rights, serve on a jury or be a member of the military. To escape from that past, the previously convicted person must expunge — or clear — his or her criminal record. Sometimes,  this is described as “sealing” or “destroying” the records. After this process, the past blemished record of a person will be cleared, and the person will be restored to his original position, as if the person had not committed any offense.

California law permits expungement of arrest records when the charges against the arrested persons are not proved. Also, a convicted person may be eligible for a certificate of rehabilitation, which has limited application and is the first step in the pardon process.

Resource Links

The United States Department of Justice:
http://www.usdoj.gov/

American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section:
http://www.abanet.org/crimjust/home.html

California court information system:
http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/programs/collab/index.htm

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers:
http://www.nacdl.org/public.nsf/freeform/publicwelcome?OpenDocument

California Attorneys for Criminal Justice:
http://www.cacj.org/