It’s a Drag to be a Juror

By Jennifer Gardner

I’m serving jury duty today.  Criminal Courts Building, Downtown Los Angeles.  I did not have time to do the on-line orientation over the weekend because I worked continuously on a decision that I had to file with the Civil Service Commission on Monday morning.  So, I showed up late Monday morning (at 9:15 instead of 8:30 am) and was told that I could not start on Monday – I could not even do the training, rather, I had to report the next day at 8am and do the training at the courthouse.   Then, I will have to stay there until between 4 pm and 5 pm to see if I am called to be on an actual jury panel.

I can not do this today.  But I can not do this in October either, which is when they told me that I could come back if I really must need to.  Next Monday, I begin a preliminary hearing in a homicide case, and my client is not waiving time.  In October, that very same case will probably be going to trial.  So, today I can not get on a jury and risk being stuck on a case that might not finish on time for me to be at the preliminary hearing, and I can not agree to show up three months from now either.

I’m sure that I’m not the only one who is gravely inconvenienced by having to be here.

I love to try cases.  I was born to try cases.  But this headache is giving me a whole new appreciation for the mental state of the 12 jurors who often decide our client’s fate.  What the judges all tell us when we tell them that we haven’t settled is that when you go to trial, you are now giving up control of your life to 12 very angry, stressed out, people sitting in the jury box.  Now I really get it.  Suddenly, that whole idea (of trial by jury) no longer seems so romantic now that I have hands-on insight into the mindset of our reluctant citizens who are serving on juries (in most cases) against their will.

New site: www.LACriminalLawHelp.com

Things have been so busy lately that I have had no time at all to tell everyone about the new website:www.LACriminalLawHelp.com. This site defines what Mark McBride and I are trying to achieve by joining forces and providing our clients with a team approach to our criminal defense practice. I am really proud of the work we are doing. More about that soon.

Distressed Homeowners

Everyday I get telephone calls from people who are desperate and confused and looking for help.  They are afraid they are losing their homes.  They have mortgages they cannot afford.  They had no idea what they were getting into a few years back when the market was “hot” and they purchased or refinanced their home; they had no idea that the rates would adjust and that they would have to make payments that are double and triple the amount of their initial payment.  And, they have no idea today how they are going to pay their mortgages.

Many of these people are not the kind who refinanced and purchased Escalades or trips to Hawaii.  The story is well known by now.  They faced illness and used the money for unanticipated medical expenses, or they used the money to defray expenses after they lost their jobs, or they suffered a divorce or death in the family and now they simply can not afford to pay the mortgage any more.  For example:  a couple in their 70’s who are now retired and living on fixed incomes (social security and a modest savings) recently saw their mortgage payment triple.  Now that the market has crashed and they are upside down with payments they can’t afford, they are faced with losing all they worked for their entire lives, and, at the tender age of 75, homelessness.

What’s disgusting is to see the same culprits who got them into this mess in the first place (the unscrupulous real estate agents and mortgage brokers), switching hats and scheming and dealing to take advantage of them on the way down.  That’s usually where I come in.  I’m suddenly involved in helping people deal with the-people-who-are-trying-to-help-gone-bad.  If you had asked me if I ever thought I would be doing this work a few years back, I would have never believed you.  But this is one way that I find the practice of law to be extremely gratifying.

A few years ago, when Pacific Street Films enlisted my aid in producing “Follow the Money,” I was surprised to discover learn about this story before it broke and became national news.  It was a hard sell getting people to invest in the making of a documentary which was ahead of what merely 6 months later turned out to be a huge curve.

REALIGNMENT/A.B. 109

By now you have probably heard about AB 109, otherwise known as “Realignment.”  Realignment was signed into law by the governor and effectively transfers responsibility for non-serious, nonviolent and non-Pen C §290 registerable sex offenders from the state to the counties. Realignment applies to anyone who is sentenced on or after October 1, 2011.

Here are some examples of what realignment means:

Sentences for most felonies that are nonserious, nonviolent and nonregisterable sex offenses (so-called “non-non-non felonies”), if the defendant also has no prior serious, violent or registerable convictions, will now be served in the county jail.  See Pen C §1170(h)(2)-(3).

Felonies with non-specified terms in the underlying statute will be punishable by a term of 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in the county jail.  Pen C §§18; 1170(h)(1). Sentences for these offenses may include a period of county jail and a period of probation not to exceed the maximum possible term.  Pen C §1170(h)(5).

Counties may permit electronic monitoring in lieu of bail (Pen C §1203.018) or home detention in lieu of jail (Pen C §1203.016). Time on electronic monitoring or home detention counts toward mandatory minimum sentences. Pen C §2900.5.

Individuals convicted of a current or prior serious or violent offense,  who are required to register under Pen C §290 or whose sentence is enhanced under Pen C §186.11 (taking more than $100,000 under certain circumstances), must serve their current term in prison.  Pen C §1170(h)(3).

Individuals convicted of felonies punishable by a prescribed term of county jail in the underlying statute will not be supervised after release; there will be no period of parole.

Prison sentences for non-non-non felonies will be followed by a period of up to 3 years of Postrelease Community Supervision administered by the counties. Violations of Post Release Community Supervision can be punished in many ways, including flash incarceration.  Revocations must be done by a new Court Revocation Officer.   Pen C §§3450-3458.

Beginning July 1, 2013, the parole revocation process will become a county court-based process. Until then, parole revocations will continue under the Board of Parole Hearings.

The new criminal sentencing provisions and most of the post-release and parole provisions are operative on and after October 1, 2011.