Bringing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in the Wake of a Murder in California

Losing a loved one to murder is perhaps the most difficult thing one can be forced to go through in life. The future transforms from clear and bright to dark and unknowable when a loved one is taken. Shock, grief, anguish, anger, sense of loss – these emotions come first. At some point, whether early on or with the passage of time, there emerges a deep need for justice. Under California law, there are two avenues for seeking justice, criminal and civil. The criminal justice system punishes wrongdoers for unlawful acts. The civil justice system affords victims and survivors the opportunity to seek justice from wrongdoers in the form of financial compensation.  The purpose of this article is to familiarize victims and survivors with broad strokes of how justice is dispensed in each system. If you have lost a loved one to murder, contact an experienced California attorney about filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

The State Prosecutes Murder in California

In California, the state itself prosecutes individuals charged with murder. There is no need to independently hire an attorney to prosecute murder in the criminal justice system. The state has criminalized murder and works aggressively to convict and punish individuals guilty of this most heinous crime. To convict, the state must prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. A killing is unlawful when it is not justified – by self-defense, for example. A killing is committed with malice aforethought when it is done with one of four types of specific intent:

  • Intent to kill
  • Intent to inflict serious bodily harm
  • Reckless disregard of an unjustifiably high risk to human life
  • Felony murder rule (a killing that occurs during the commission of an inherently dangerous felony.)  

If the state proves beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of any one of these four types of intent in conjunction with unlawful killing of a human being, a conviction for murder is proper.

An Attorney Litigates a Wrongful Death Claim in California’s Civil Justice System

While the state prosecutes murder in the criminal justice system, it is an attorney who litigates a wrongful death claim in California’s civil justice system. While conviction in a criminal court will send a murderer to prison for many years, it will not result in financial restitution to survivors. To seek compensation for the lost future income a loved one was to provide, in addition to medical bills, funeral expenses, loss of love and affection, and other losses, you must file a wrongful death claim in California’s civil justice system. While the burden of proof in the criminal context is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” it is the lower “by a preponderance of evidence” standard in the civil context. If you have lost a loved one to murder, contact a dedicated and experienced California wrongful death attorney.

Understanding What Constitutes a “Serious” or “Violent” Felony Under California’s Three Strikes Law

If you already have a prior felony conviction in the state of California, and are charged with a second, third, or subsequent felony, it matters greatly if one or more of the felonies are regarded as “serious” or “violent” in the eyes of the law. This is because California has a “Three Strikes” law that applies to the sentencing of repeat felony offenders. Under the current incarnation of the law, conviction of three or more serious or violent felonies in the state is grounds for the imposition of a 25-years-to-life prison sentence. This rule, though still harsh, is a softening of the law in its pre-2012 form. Because of the reforms, certain individuals who are currently serving a lengthy prison sentence under the old law may be eligible for a sentence reduction. The purpose of this article is to explain what constitutes a violent or serious felony under California law. If you have been charged with a crime in California, contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney. For you future freedom, it is imperative that you mount the strongest possible defense of the charges against you.

“Serious” or “Violent” Felonies are “Strikes” Under California’s Three Strikes Law

California Penal Code Sections 1192.7c and 667.5c outline what constitutes a “serious” or “violent” felony in the state of California. As common sense dictates, crimes like murder and rape rise to the level of both “serious” and “violent.” Other “strike” felonies codified by statute include felonies in which the defendant personally brought about great bodily injury on the victim, felonies in which the defendant personally used a firearm, and felonies subject to the state’s “gang enhancement” sentencing law. The inclusion of these types of crimes on the “strike” list is hardly controversial. Other offenses on the list, however, are less obvious “strike” candidates.  Take for example, robbery and residential burglary.  When these crimes involve violence or cause great bodily injury to victims, it is no-brainer that they should be counted as “serious” and thereby as strikes.  But what about when burglary or robbery does not involve violence, or occurs when the residents of a home are not even present? Here, the law makes no distinction; these felonies are deemed “serious” just the same.

Drug Crimes are Among the Most Impacted by Reforms to California’s Three Strikes Law

Drug crimes, such as possession of a controlled substance, reflect an interesting and somewhat complex grey area in the reformed version of the state’s Three Strikes Law. Under the 2012 version of the law, for a drug-related third or subsequent felony offense to justify a 25-years-to-life mandatory sentence, the offense must included more than mere possession.  Specifically, the drug offense must involve possession for sale, transportation, or manufacturing. In such instances, the maximum penalty is proper.

If you have been charged with a second, third, or subsequent felony in the state of California, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to mount the strongest defense possible of the charges against you.

Defending Against Gang Crimes Charges in California

California imposes strict punishments on gang-related crimes. If you have been charged with a gang crime, it is imperative that you contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney.

Both California and Federal Law Punish Gang Crimes Harshly

In the United States, there are two bodies of law – State and Federal. With regards to gang crimes, both California (state) and federal law impose strict penalties. This is because both bodies of law allow for sentencing “enhancements.” An “enhancement” is an increase. An enhanced punishment may be ordered by a court for a gang crime conviction even if you are not officially a member of a gang. Committing a crime on behalf of a gang or as an attempt to become a member of gang is enough.

On the state level, the law that provides for sentencing enhancement for gang crimes in California is Penal Code 186.22 PC. Under this law, anyone who commits a felony crime to benefit a gang is subject to an enhanced prison sentence. Importantly, the concept of “benefit” requires specific intent. Specific intent is a legal doctrine that pertains to state of mind. In other words, to be guilty of committing a crime for the benefit of a gang, you must intend to promote, further, or aid in the gang’s criminal activities. If specific intent is proven in court, an enhanced sentence is proper under California law.

On the federal level, the law that provides for sentencing enhancement for gang crimes in California and the other 49 states is 18 USC 521 – the Criminal Street Gangs law. The federal Criminal Street Gangs statute authorizes a penalty enhancement of as many as 10 years for gang members who commit crimes in furtherance of the criminal activities of a gang, or simply to maintain or improve his or her place in the gang. The enhancement is not merely an extension of the penalty for the underlying crime, but an additional punishment. For example, if a gang member commits the felony of armed robbery, he or she will be punished both for the felony and for committing the felony to further the gang’s activities. As you can see from both the state and federal laws, gang-related crimes are punished extremely harshly in the U.S.

An Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Can Defend You Against Gang Crime Charges in California

With enhanced punishment meted out for conviction of gang crimes in California, you need an experienced California criminal defense attorney to protect your legal rights and defend against the charges levied by state and/or federal law. To convict you of a gang crime, the prosecutor must prove that you committed the underlying crime, that you were a member of a gang, that the gang actually meets the criteria of a recognized criminal gang, and that you committed the underlying crime in furtherance of the gang’s activities. An experienced California criminal defense attorney will explore all avenues of reasonable doubt and work to protect your rights.

Defending Against Voluntary Manslaughter Charges in California

It is not always the case that murder charges result when one human being kills another. The reason for this is because the law sometimes factors in intent when determining the criminal charges to be levied against a defendant. The purpose of this article is to explain the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. If you have been charged with voluntary manslaughter in the state of California, it is imperative that you contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney. With the state’s prosecutor making every effort to prove each element of the charges against you, an experienced attorney is needed to protect your legal rights.

Voluntary Manslaughter is a Lesser Charge to Murder

Murder is the most serious charge that the state can bring against a defendant accused of killing another human being. The legal definition of murder is “the killing of a human being by another human being with malice aforethought.” This definition is one of the oldest in the law, dating all the way back to the common law era in England. To the layperson, the words that jump out are “malice aforethought.” What this antiquated language, sometimes termed “mens rea,” means in modern terms is “specific intent.” Specific intent can be understood as “state of mind.” To bring it all together, a murder charge is only appropriate when there is probable cause that the defendant acted with a certain type of intent in allegedly killing the victim.  

There are, specifically, four types of “malice aforethought”:

  • Intent to Kill
  • Intent to Commit Grievous Bodily Harm
  • Depraved Heart
  • Felony Murder

Voluntary Manslaughter does not reflect any of these four types of “malice aforethought.” Its applicability is rather narrow. A charge of voluntary manslaughter is only appropriate when a human being kills another human being during a sudden dispute or in the “heat of passion.” The classic example that brings this abstract legal terminology home is the scenario in which a spouse comes home to find his or her spouse in bed with another person and, in a sudden fit of rage, kills the both of them. Returning to the concept of state of mind, intent is clearly different in this scenario than the four types of malice aforethought. This is especially the case with regard to the duration of forming the mind state to kill. “Suddenness” is key – the being caught off guard and enraged by a most traumatic sight.

Penal Code 192(a) Governs Voluntary Manslaughter in California

In the state of California, the law that governs voluntary manslaughter is Penal Code 192(a).  Conviction of the crime will result in a term of three, six, or eleven years in one of California’s state prisons. With jail time a very real possibility, it is imperative that you entrust your legal defense to a skilled and experienced California criminal defense attorney. Protect your legal rights and contact an attorney as soon as possible.

Understanding the Insanity Defense in California

If you or a loved one have been charged the murder in the state of California and believe that you were not in your right mind at the time of the alleged incident, the legal defense of insanity may be available to you. The purpose of this article is to explain the insanity test used by the state of California. To protect your legal rights and understand the possible applicability of this defense to the charges against you, contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney.

The M’Naughten Test

There are four insanity tests used in the courtrooms of the Unites States: 1

  • M’Naughten
  • Irresistible Impulse
  • Modal Penal Code
  • Durham

Each state is free to utilize the test it believes to be the most reliable and effective. The M’Naughten Test is the test that California applies when considering the validity of an invocation of the defense of insanity. The reason the insanity test is made available is a theoretically humane one – that you cannot be found guilty of a crime you committed if you were legally insane at the time of the commission of the crime. The rationale here goes to state of mind. To be guilty of the crime of murder, for example, you must have possessed either an intent to kill, an intent to commit serious bodily harm, a so-called “depraved heart,” or killed another human being during the commission of an inherently dangerous felony.

Intent is synonymous with state of mind, and, with regard to murder, is often marked by the elements of deliberation and premeditation. These mental acts are considered to require a sane mind to truly reflect intent. After all, it is the ill intent that merits the harsh punishment meted out for a murder conviction. But what if a killing was the product of an insane mind – a mind that does not understand morality or the consequences of certain actions? This is where the M’Naughten Test comes in.

Under the M’Naughten Test, you are considered legally insane if you either did not understand the nature of a criminal act you committed or did not understand that your actions were morally wrong. If either prong of the test is met, you are considered legally insane and thus cannot be found guilty of the crime you have been charged with.

A Successful Insanity Defense Leads to Mental Health Care

If you are found legally insane under California’s M’Naughten Test, you will be sent to a state mental hospital instead of prison. To invoke the insanity defense, it is imperative that you rely on the skill and expertise of a California criminal defense attorney. Evidence will need to be presented, including that pertaining to your mental health history, and it must be proved by a preponderance of evidence. With your legal rights and future at stake, contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney immediately.

Defending Against Embezzlement Charges in the State of California

Embezzlement is a surprisingly common crime in the state of California. People assume that embezzlement can only occur in a white-collar context. This is simply not true, as the elements for the criminal charge of embezzlement can be satisfied in many contexts and need not involve large sums of money. Embezzlement may be committed with property or cash. The purpose of this article to explain how California defines embezzlement and what the penalties are for the crime.  

If you have been charged with embezzlement, it is critical that you contact a skilled and experienced California criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The state’s prosecutor will be working to prove every element of the charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt. For this reason, you need a skilled attorney to defend your legal rights and explore every avenue of doubt.

California Penal Code 503 Criminalizes Embezzlement

Embezzlement is a fairly complicated crime involving several legal elements. Under California Penal Code 503, you may be charged with the crime of embezzlement if an owner of property (e.g. cash, personal property, real property) entrusted the property to you, did so because he or she trusted you, and you fraudulently converted or used the property for your own benefit while intending to deprive the owner of the property or its use. As you can see, embezzlement is a multi-layered crime. This means that the state’s prosecutor will have to put a lot of work in, as there are so many elements to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • First, there is entrustment. The state’s prosecutor will have to prove that the victim, whether directly or through a valid agent, entrusted you with the property in question.
  • Second, the prosecutor will have to prove that the victim trusted you. Common valid bases of trust include employer-employee and bailor-bailee relationship. The latter relationship involves a temporary transfer of possession of property (e.g. when you give the keys of your car to a valet to park it).  
  • Lastly, fraudulent conversion is synonymous with taking or using. The fraud aspect of fraudulent conversion is present when you seek to take unfair advantage of the property-entrusting person or intend to cause that person a loss by breaking his or her trust or intentionally failing to honor a duty.

Embezzlement Penalties Depend on the Value of the Property

The more embezzled, the greater the punishment is the most general rule with regard to penalties of an embezzlement conviction. Accordingly, the court will look to the nature and extent of the property in question. Smaller violations may be categorized as a misdemeanor rather than a more serious felony charge. Conviction for either, importantly, may result in jail time. For this reason – for your freedom – it is essential that you contact a skilled and experienced California criminal defense attorney to mount the strongest possible defense against the state prosecutor’s efforts to obtain a conviction.

A Revocable Living Trust is an Estate Planning Fundamental in California

Busy already in the day-to-day, it can feel like there is no time to set aside for planning on behalf of our loved ones and charitable causes. With the help of an experienced California estate planning attorney, however, estate planning does not have to be overly complex or time-consuming. An attorney can help you select the estate planning tools that are best for your assets and intentions. One such tool is the revocable living trust. This article will introduce Californians to the benefits of this type of trust.

Estate planning is a part of wills and trusts law. In this field of law words carry especially deep significance. Accordingly, to understand the nature and function of a revocable living trust, one must understand the words “revocable,” “living,” and “trust.”

“Revocable” means capable of being canceled or changed. This word and its definition speak to something about the greater picture of what a revocable living trust is – that it is something in effect while its creator is still alive. This feature is unique because some estate planning instruments, such as wills, only take effect upon the death of the grantor (the founder, or creator, of the trust). So, at this stage, we know that a revocable living trust is something that can be canceled (revoked) and operates while the grantor is still living.  

The last word in the series of three,“trust,” is most important and far-ranging. A “trust” is at its roots a relationship between three people: the grantor, the beneficiary, and the trustee. In this relationship, the grantor gives property (e.g. money, real estate, personal property) to the trustee (a trusted friend or relative, frequently) to manage and hold in trust for the benefit of the beneficiary. The terms of the management of the trust property can vary. Sometimes, once the trust is created, the terms are set in stone. Other times, even once the trust has come into existence, the terms can be changed by the grantor. It is this flexibility that makes the trust “revocable.”

Now that you understand the nature of a revocable living trust, it is time to understand the function of the instrument. The reason revocable living trusts are a popular estate planning instrument in the state of California is because they help individuals maintain control over their assets while they are still living and dictate how they are distributed at death. Such control and management allows for a revocable living trust to substitute for a will. In addition, a revocable living trust is capable of reducing taxes and other costs associated with the management and distribution of one’s estate. Finally, revocability is akin to flexibility. Being able to change the trust’s terms allows one to more easily adjust to major life events such as marriage, divorce, and children.  If a revocable living trust sounds like it might be a wise estate planning instrument for you, reach out to a skilled and experienced California trusts attorney.

A California Civil Suit is an Option for Personal Injury Victims to Obtain Justice

When a loved one is seriously injured or lost as a result of the carelessness or recklessness of another person, corporation, or institution, the whole world appears turned upside down. First, there is the shock, anger, sadness, confusion, and grief. Mentally processing a serious injury or death is difficult and takes time. Along with the emotional ramifications, a deep desire for justice arises. Holding those responsible accountable for their carelessness or recklessness is central to justice. In California, as in every state, accountability, depending on the specific nature of the careless, reckless, or intentionally wrongful act, may be pursued in two contexts – the criminal justice system or the civil justice system. For personal injury or wrongful death victims, pursuing justice in one or both contexts may be a sound course of action.

The Criminal Justice System Holds Wrongdoers Accountable for Their Actions

The criminal justice system, due to its frequent portrayal in film, television, and books, is more familiar to most Americans than its civil counterpart. In the criminal system, an individual is charged with a crime and, if proven guilty, sentenced to punishment by the state.  Punishment is most commonly a combination of fines and/or jail time. If a charge and conviction stemming from causation of an injury or death to another person rising to the level of criminal negligence results, then a critical aspect of justice has been served. But what about the other wrongs and the losses flowing from the serious injury or wrongful death? What about medical bills, lost income due to missed work, loss of enjoyment of life – how does imprisoning or fining a careless, reckless, or intentionally wrongdoing actor account for such losses? The answer is that such concerns are not the province of the criminal justice system. Fortunately, however, there is the civil justice system.

The Civil Justice System Allows Victims to Seek Compensation From Wrongdoers

The civil justice system is separate from the criminal justice system. Its concern is not prison time, fines, or community service. Rather, it exists to provide the victims of careless, reckless, or intentional wrongful acts with a means of being made whole. Specifically, the civil system allows the victims of these acts to seek financial compensation from the individuals responsible for their suffering and losses. Such a mechanism accounts for the fact that a personal injury or wrongful death causes not just pain and grief, but also financial losses in the forms of medical bills, lost income, and sometimes a diminished capacity to work or enjoy life’s customary activities.  

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured by the wrongful actions of another, or if you have lost a loved one due to those actions, reach out to a skilled and experienced California personal injury attorney about handling your civil case. A skilled attorney will work to obtain compensation from those responsible for your mistreatment.  

Criminal Defense Attorney and State Highway Patrol Officers Charged with Criminal Conspiracy

Last month, a California defense attorney and three state highway patrol officers were taken into custody for allegedly having connections with the murder of 26-year old Korey Kauffman in 2012. Kauffman’s body was found 18 months after he disappeared in Mariposa County. He was locally known for “scrapping” (stealing metal to sell). Prominent Modesto, CA criminal defense attorney Frank Carson was the suspected ringleader in an alleged conspiracy. Carson has been described as a “vengeful property owner trying to send a message to people allegedly stealing scrap metal and antiques from his property in Turlock.” On the night of Korey Kauffman’s disappearance, he was heading to steal irrigation pipes from Frank Carson’s property.

“The whole scrapper life, I didn’t approve of it,” Korey Kauffman’s father said of his late son. “You know how fathers are with their sons; we tend to be harder on them. But he chose his own path. He was a good kid with a good heart and he didn’t deserve what he got.”

Nine people were named and arrested in connection with the conspiracy, including Frank Carson, his wife, two business owners in Turlock, and three highway patrol officers. Carson faces potential charges of murder, criminal conspiracy, false imprisonment, solicitation, and lying in wait, which could qualify Carson for the death penalty. Authorities believe that Kauffman’s murder took place on March 30, 2012 in the Turlock area. They believe his body was then hidden in Mariposa County where it was discovered by hunters in August 2013.

The arrest warrant detailing probable cause to arrest Frank Carson described him as an easily angered person, without respect for authority and who hoped “to send a message to thieves targeting his belongings.” Carson had previously accused Korey Kauffman of stealing from his property in Turlock and had previously complained to authorities about Kauffman.

Walter Wells, Scott McFarlane, and Eduardo Quintanar Jr., all California Highway Patrol officers, also face charges connected to this conspiracy. Wells faces charges of murder, conspiracy, and false imprisonment. McFarlane and Quintanar Jr. face potential charges of criminal conspiracy and being an accessory. Wells’ seven years of employment as a highway patrol officer ended in June due to conduct unrelated to these charges. McFarlane and Quintanar Jr. were placed on administrative leave as a result of this investigation. The arrest documents conclude that Korey Kauffman’s body was dumped into the woods by a police car. “I am here saddened by this news. The California Highway Patrol is a very proud organization that values integrity,” Commissioner Joe Farrow said. “To hear news like this is devastating.” Farrow remarked that news of officers’ alleged involvement in a criminal conspiracy has a negative effect on all law enforcement agencies and “rips at the soul of an organization.”

Contact the Leslie Legal Group

If you or a loved one have been treated unfairly by the San Diego Police Department, it is essential that you retain an experienced attorney as soon as possible. The Leslie Legal Group has extensive experience helping clients. Contact us today for a free consultation.

New San Diego Police Training Places Focus on Community Engagement

The latest police academy training class for the San Diego Police Department will be the first to involve training dedicated to community engagement. The San Diego Police Department is encouraging officers to focus on policing the community in a culturally sensitive manner with this revamped training program.

The program is four weeks long and will teach the newly-minted officers ways to plug into the community. For example, they will be visiting various community groups and centers to attend neighborhood meetings and events. The SDPD’s community approach to policing is “about solving problems now that might lead to crime later. It’s more about prevention than response, and to do it well, officers need to work closely with the residents and merchants in their area. In the 1990s, few departments, if any, were better at it than San Diego’s.”

A yearlong audit that ended this past March revealed that community engagement has slipped in San Diego for a number of reasons, including staffing shortages. SDPD Lieutenant Natalie Stone said, “We’re doing some good work here but we’re not the problem solvers we used to be or engaging the community like we used to be.” In response to this slip in community engagement, the department has made a number of changes, notably the overhaul of the training of incoming officers. The SDPD has designed a training program that will immerse the new officers into the community. New Officers will now take part in a month-long observational period with a special focus on community engagement.

Officer Ivan Sablan, a field training coordinator explained that the SDPD is “helping them understand there’s a lot more to being an officer than answering the radio, writing tickets and putting people in jail. It’s about reaching out to the community. That’s part of being a cop, too.”

“It’s certainly good that the department is emphasizing relationships and a closer connection with communities…but I think the value or the impact will depend on what the trainees are doing. What are they observing and to what extent are they engaging community members?” Margaret Dooley- Sammuli, San Diego spokeswoman for the ACLU explained.

SDPD officers are enthusiastic about this new focus on community interaction. Officer Richard Valenzuela, another officer who helps coordinate training, says that people are excited and wondering why they did not focus on community engagement before. As part of the training, the new officers visited the Islamic Center of San Diego, and those involved with the center seem enthusiastic and optimistic about the change. Basheer Yadwi, an education and outreach coordinator at the Islamic Center, is hopeful that with more engagement by officers, the relationship between police and Arab-Americans will improve and will encourage dialogue around important issues, such as racial profiling. “We have a long way to go in terms of having an open dialogue in terms of these issues that are on the back burner. We want to bring them to the front burner, so to speak,” he said.

Contact the Leslie Legal Group

If you or a loved one have been treated unfairly by the San Diego Police Department, it is essential that you retain an experienced attorney as soon as possible. The Leslie Legal Group has extensive experience helping clients. Contact us today for a free consultation.