March 2011 Archives

National Lawyers Guild Orange County Chapter Hosts First Event of 2011 at Chapman Law School: "Victories In Parole Cases"

March 31, 2011,

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Rich_Pfeiffer-1002.jpgOn March 31, 2011, at Chapman Law School in Orange, California, the National Lawyers Guild Orange County Chapter and the Chapman Law School NLG Chapter hosted attorney Rich Pfeiffer in a discussion "Victories In Parole Cases." Mr. Pfeiffer was joined by two of his recently-paroled clients from life murder sentences, Becky White and David Golub, as well as paralegal Jo Bracken.

Mr. Pfeiffer discussed his own unique experiences - - having been sentenced to prison prior to becoming a California attorney - - to a packed room of Chapman Law School students and several prominent Orange County criminal defense attorneys. Mr. Pfeiffer began his legal career writing his own appeal, then went on to intern at the public defenders office, and later began writing juvenile dependency appeals with Appellate Defenders, Inc.

Mr. Pfeiffer described how he began taking parole cases pro bono during a time in which no single life inmate had been paroled for eight years and how, five years later, he helped over 40 life inmates parole. Ms. Bracken, a volunteer and one of the directors of the Red Cross in Long Beach, was instrumental in helping Ms. White and others prepare their cases and parole plans for the parole board.

Audience members were at the edges of their seats as they listened to Ms. White and Mr. Golub describe their experiences in prison and how they never gave up hope of being released. They graciously answered questions, including one posed by Frank Ospino, Senior Assistant Public Defender at the Orange County Public Defender's Office, about how incarcerated young-adults facing life sentences can begin working a rehabilitiation program from inside prison. Following this powerful talk, several law students expressed interest in assisting Mr. Pfeiffer with these cases.

The event was the first hosted by the new National Lawyers Guild Orange County Chapter and was a great success. The National Lawyers Guild Orange County Chapter, on behalf of its co-founders - - attorneys Lauren K Johnson and Mindy Gulati - - look forward to the future of this progressive bar association in Orange County.
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Photos by Craig Norris.

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Death Penalty Sought in Child Death Case

March 30, 2011,

In a case that exposed serious problems with Florida's Department of Children and Family Services (DCF), an article indicates that Death Penalty Possible for Parent's Charged in Child's Death. The Baronas were actually the adoptive parents of these children. DCF was contacted about abuse in the home but when the social worker was unable to find the children, the social worker did not contact police for assistance.

Hopefully this case will result in an overhaul of the system that is designed to protect children from abuse and neglect, not just in their biological parents' homes.

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Orange County Clown Accused of Child Rape

March 28, 2011,

A strange story found its way into the press today, when A Clown Accused of Kidnapping and Molesting Girls Faces Additional Charges. Gone are the days of the innocent birthday party entertainer. Orange County, California prosecutors say Jimenez - - also known as El Tin Larin - - committed several violent sexual felonies against children in clown costume.

Jimenez was arrested after DNA was collected at the scene and allegedly linked to Jimenez. The Fullerton Police Department speculate there may be more unidentified victims.

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Chris Brown Smashes A Window Glass While On Probation, News Media Calls It A Parole Violation

March 26, 2011,

In an ordinary tale of the news media having no idea what the difference between probation or parole is, or any legal terms whatsoever, the Hollywood Reporter asks, "Is Chris Brown's 'GMA' Meltdown a Parole Violation?"

The short answer is "No," unless he is actually on parole, which the article goes on to suggest he is not. It appears, rather, that Brown is on probation for his infamous domestic violence assault of against singer, Rihanna. Brown received probation for that case and is being supervised by a probation officer. Apparently, he was doing quite well until asked about the domestic violence during an interview on TV.

Not surprising, Brown had a tantrum. I thought he has been ordered to do anger management? If Brown is charged with vandalism, the new crime would constitute a new law violation and trigger a probation violation. If the network or police and prosecutor choose not to pursue the case, Brown may still face a violation. The morale of the story, I guess, is that a tantrum never leads to anything good, be it if you are on probation or parole.

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California Inmates Losing Cell Phone Privileges

March 24, 2011,

California criminal defense attorneys and friends and family of California prison inmates know that cell phone sales and usage is rampant in California's prison system. A new law aims to criminalize the possession and sale of cell phones in prisons but hardly addresses the extremely lucrative business practice of prison guards selling phones to inmates.

According to State Prisons Crack Down on Cell Phones, SB 26 by Sen. Alex Padilla D-Los Angeles, makes it a misdemeanor for inmates, visitors and guards to have cell phones in prison.

Despite the fact that the prison can shut down all cell service into the facility, criminalizing having phones seemes to be the solution of the day. In reality, cell phone sales is a big buisness in prison. Prison guard unions are seen as the biggest obstacle to keeping cell phones from inmates, according to the Los Angeles Times.

As long as prison guards are corrupt, thinking they are the prison version of AT&T and Verizon ("Those guys make billions off of vulnerable consumers so why can't I?"), trying to keep cell phones out of prisons requires more than putting a new misdemeanor on the books.

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Stolen Valor Offensive But Not A Crime, Says Court

March 22, 2011,

Everyone wants to be a hero at some point in their life but some people are even willing to lie and pretend they are. According to, 9th Circuit strikes down law that punished Pomona man who lied about Congressional Medal of Honor, a Pomona, California man who was criminally prosecuted for lying about being a war hero cannot not be punished criminally for lying about it. Instead, Alvarez can lie about being a war hero as much as anyone might lie about other personal things without being prosecuted.

The opinion, written by the head-line grabbing Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, compares lying about war-hero-status to lies about being stuck in traffic or not inhaling. In doing so, the panel has struck down a federal law that makes it a crime to lie about being a war hero. Essentially, the opinion suggests that we all lie and, as despicable as it may be, embellishing our list of accomplishments is a constitutional right.

One might expect that this case makes its way to the SCOTUS. Being a war hero is a big deal and nobody likes liars. In the meantime, Mr. Alvarez remains incarcerated for another offense.

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Los Angeles Man Exonerated After Spending Nearly 20 Years In Prison For A Crime He Did Not Commit

March 15, 2011,

According to a Santa Clara Law School News Article, Francisco Carrillo, Jr. Exonerated After Spending Nearly 20 Years Incarcerated For A Crime He Did Not Commit, another innocent man has finally been freed after a lengthy and unjust incarceration.

However, DNA evidence did not free Mr. Carillo. Rather, Mr. Carillo was convicted in 1991 of a drive-by shooting after six "eye-witnesses" testified he was the shooter. All six witnesses, including the victim's son, later recanted, explaining they were pressured by police to finger Mr. Carillo for the crime. Two other men confessed to the shooting.

Mr. Carillo spent years seeking justice from behind bars before the Northern California Innocence Project, with assistance from pro bono attorneys at the law firm Morrison and Foerester, came to his rescue. At the end of a six day hearing, the District Attorney's office conceded Mr. Carillo's petition should be granted and apologized on behalf of the State of California. The judge released him to his family, friends, and attorneys.

Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions and, according to the Innocence Project, misidentification accounts for 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing. Yet, eyewitness testimony can be extremely persuasive evidence to a judge or jury. All members of the criminal justice system must demand reform in this area.

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Why Must A Death Row Inmate Petition the SCOTUS For DNA Testing?

March 10, 2011,

tn_119needlesyringe.gifDNA testing is becoming more and more commonplace in the world of criminal justice. Apart from the stuff of T.V. shows, cold cases are really being solved through the use of DNA evidence and Innocence Projects are helping overturn wrongful convictions. Here in Orange County, California, the District Attorney's Office is collecting DNA in an effort to start what has turned out to be a rather controversial DNA database.

So if DNA is so commonplace, why did Hank Skinner have to spend 16 years on death row and appeal to the United States Supreme Court to get an order to have crime scene DNA tested in his case?

According to, "Supreme Court OKs Death Row Inmate's Appeal," Skinner was convicted in 1995 of bludgeoning his girlfriend to death and fatally stabbing two of her children on New Year's Eve in 1993. Skinner maintained that he was not in the home when it happened but a federal court inexplicably denied Skinner's defense team the access to the DNA evidence at trial.

The court refused to allow Skinner to access potentially exonerating evidence. To a criminal defense attorney, if is baffling that a court would preclude a jury from hearing the truth, especially when the truth could prevent the death penalty for an innocent man. DNA can provide truly objective inculpating or exonerating evidence if it is collected and interpreted with the highest scientific standards. The fact that a man could spend a moment on death row while DNA evidence sits in a lab, either untested or tested and not presented, is a true indication of a broken system of criminal justice.

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Unreliable DUI Breath Tests Make Their Way To The Appellate Court in California

March 7, 2011,

tn_106martini2.gifDUI/DWI attorneys know that breath tests are unreliable but have not always been able to keep them out of the court room. But that may all change.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle article, "Courts open a door for DUI challenges,", the First District Court of Appeal in Sacramento, California upheld a ruling that a driver's license could not be suspended by the Department of Motor Vehicles when the driver showed that the test was unreliable. The DMV's appeal to the State Supreme Court was denied and the appellate ruling will stand.

In San Mateo County, California, the driver was able to prove that the test was off by .002 percent, which means that when he blew a .08, he could have been under the legal limit. As we better come to understand the science in Driving Under the Influence cases, it is clear that less and less is certain.

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California Courts Grapple To Spot a True "Pimp"

March 4, 2011,

Driving a cadillac or wearing a hat with a feather in it does not a pimp make. Offering to "assist" a prostitute with protection and support might not also qualify as pimping, according to 'Cal Supreme Court To Define Pimp,' in the Mercury News.

In California, the State Supreme Court will soon aswer the legal question, "Can a defendant be convicted of pandering for offering to act as a pimp for a woman who appears to be already working as a prostitute?"

Jomo Zambia offered housing and clothing in exchange for all of the earnings of an already-working prostitute in the San Fernando Valley. The woman he extended his offer to turned out to be an undercover police office and Mr. Zambia was charged for having " "induced, persuaded or encouraged another person to become a prostitute." His attorney argues only those who induce others into the life of prostitution should go to prison for the crime of pimping. The California Attorney Generals Office argues a strict interpretation of the law limits their ability to fight prostitution and defies common sense. Ultimately, it will the State Supreme Court who will decide just what the drafters of the statute meant.

Some argue prostitution is a victimless crime and that legalization would provide a safer environment for those employed in the oldest profession in the book. Perhaps we should spend our resources to these ends, instead of using tremendous state resources to figure out our collective morality.


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