Thursday, January 9, 2014

New Laws For 2014

The beginning of a new year means new laws that will take effect in California. Some of the laws that are of particular interest to the criminal defense bar relate to changes in California's gun laws. For a complete list of new statutes for 2014, click HERE.

1. Penal Code section 32310 and 32311: In addition to the current restrictions on manufacturing, importing, selling, giving and lending large capacity magazines, the law now prohibits buying and receiving to the list of prohibited activities. Additionally, the law now prohibits a person from manufacturing, importing, selling, giving, lending, buying or receiving “large capacity magazine conversion kits.” A “large capacity magazine conversion kit” is a device or combination of parts of a fully functioning large-capacity magazine, including, but not limited to, the body, spring, follower, and floor plate or end plate, capable of converting an ammunition feeding device into a large-capacity magazine. Possession of large capacity magazines and large capacity magazine conversion kits are still not illegal. 

2. Penal Code section 25100: With certain exceptions, if you keep a loaded firearm in your residence, and a person prohibited from possessing firearms gains access to the firearm and that person hurts him or herself, someone else or carries the firearm into a public place, you can be prosecuted. In addition, you can commit “criminal storage in the third degree” if you keep a loaded firearm within any premises where you know or should know a child is likely to gain access to the firearm. 

3. Penal Code section 25135: If you live with someone and you know or have reason to know the other person is prohibited from possessing, receiving, owning or purchasing a firearm, you must keep the firearm locked up (with a gun safety device or in a locked container) or keep it on your person or in close proximity. 

4. Penal Code section 28220: If the California Department of Justice cannot determine whether a person is prohibited from owning or possessing firearms as a result of a criminal case, mental health commitment, or has attempted to purchase a handgun within the last thirty days, the DOJ can only delay the transaction for up to thirty days while it tries to figure out whether the person is prohibited from possessing or receiving firearms. After thirty days the licensed dealer may release the firearm but is not required to do so. 

5. Penal Code sections 28210 and 28215: A dealer is required to provide a copy of the Dealer’s Record of Sale (DROS) to the firearm purchaser. 

6. Penal Code sections 29810, 29825, 29830, 33870: When a person is prohibited from owning and possessing firearms by a court order with a specified date of termination, that person has the option to store their firearms with a licensed firearm dealer. 

7. Health and Safety Code sections 8100 and 8105: Those who communicate serious threats of physical violence against an identifiable victim to a psychotherapist are prohibited from owning and possessing firearms for five years. The psychotherapist is required to report the threat to law enforcement within 24 hours. A person prohibited this way may petition for the restoration of their firearm rights.

8. Welfare and Institutions Code section 8102: When firearms are seized at the scene of a mental health disturbance, a prohibited person can elect to have their firearms transferred or sold to a licensed firearm dealer.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Closing Out 2013

To all of our friends, colleagues, clients and family, SEASONS GREETINGS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR! May all your wishes come true in 2014! As for us, 2013 was full of changes, accomplishments, memories, and victories here at our firm, both big and small.

The year began with some great victories, highlighted by a 2-week DUI trial at the Metro Courthouse. Our client's medical license was on the line. The jury hung 6-6 and we were ultimately successful at getting the court to dismiss the entire case, despite the prosecutor's desire to have a 2nd trial.

Throughout 2013, our firm achieved countless great results for clients, including the dismissal of domestic violence charges, drug charges, and federal bank fraud charges. We also obtained a finding of factual innocence for our client charged with cocaine possession. These motions are hard to come by so it was an absolute thrill availing our client to this kind of remedy, via the Clean Slate Project. 

In the summer, we tried a multi-count sex case where our client was accused of aggravated sexual battery. After a one week trial at the Alhambra Courthouse, we were able to secure a hung jury. The jury hung 7-5 in favor of NOT GUILTY. The court ultimately granted our motion to dismiss and we were able to prevent our client from being convicted of a sex offense. While 2 of our cases went to verdict, we also had over 5 cases dismissed at trial, prior to jury selection in 2013!

Throughout the year, along with our diverse caseload, Mr. Sterling participated in other projects while also giving back to his community. Our firm was featured in the November issue of Ventura Blvd. Magazine where the office was profiled as one of the San Fernando Valley's preeminent professional advisors. Mr. Sterling was approached in 2013 to participate in a legal documentary featuring criminal defense attorneys in Los Angeles. Footage was shot at our office and the project remains in development and is being produced by the people that brought you "Selling LA" and "Selling New York."

One of the most fulfilling events we were apart of was being a sponsor and donating to "Memo's Silent Auction." Many of you may have heard about the murder of Guillermo "Memo" Perez in Venice back in November. He was a line cook at Mercedes Grille in Marina del Rey and he left behind a wife and young baby. A truly tragic situation yet it was so uplifting to see how many local business owners, artists, and neighbors responded by offering their support.

We were joined this year by associate Maxwell Wright, our jack-of-all-trades, who managed his own misdemeanor and felony caseload while propounding extensive discovery for one our office's civil rights cases. Max obtained countless great results while honing his skill as a criminal trial lawyer. So well in fact that we lost him to the Los Angeles County Public Defender's Office in May! He was a huge asset and will no doubt bring compassionate and aggressive advocacy to his clients in the public sector.

2013 was the year of new relationships. We formed new alliances and have developed long-lasting relationships with not only legal professionals and other attorneys, but with treatment centers, addiction specialists, and counselors. It is amazing what they have done for our clients who suffer from addiction related illnesses. We have seen true success stories in this area.

Lastly, we closed out the year by expanding and moving our offices to two exciting new locations in Encino and Beverly Hills. We take tremendous pride in the work that we do, so thank you for taking the time. We can't wait to share some of the things we're working on for 2014 - be sure to check back or you can find us on Facebook or CLICK HERE. From our family to yours - Happy Holidays!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Named Valley's Trusted Advisor



16501 Ventura Blvd., Suite 400 in Encino
The Law Offices of Justin E. Sterling is a top-rated law firm committed to the exclusive practice of criminal law. After years of trial work in the public sector, Justin founded his own law firm in 2011. He brings high-end, aggressive criminal representation to those facing prosecution by state and federal authorities. Justin is an accomplished criminal trial lawyer who represents individuals and businesses facing the full range of felony and misdemeanor charges. Known for offering his clients exclusive white glove treatment while navigating them through the legal process, Justin’s expertise is highlighted by his more than 60 jury trials conducted in courts throughout California.

What’s most rewarding about your work?

“Criminal defense attorneys are in a unique position to change lives through the practice of law. Whether it’s advocating for rehabilitation and treatment for a drug addicted or mentally ill client or simply being a positive force for somebody who has never faced the criminal justice system … at the end of the day, we are in a helping profession—and there is a great deal of satisfaction in that.”

What is your area of specialty?

“I only practice criminal defense. Under the umbrella of that specialization, I represent people who have been accused of every conceivable crime, whether it’s DUI, domestic violence, drug offenses, business-related white-collar crime, or even murder.”

Who is your typical client?

“My clients really come from all walks of life—a college student who has been arrested for a first-time DUI; an individual who has been in and out of the system and is facing life in prison; working professionals who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances; high-profile clients from the entertainment and sports industry or business world. The only thing that is typical is that, at their core, most of my clients are good people who have made a mistake.”

What is the biggest benefit that your clients gain from working with you?

“My experience and local knowledge. The fact that I am in court every day and have tried more cases than most lawyers twice my age, I think, is pretty uncommon. But it’s a quality that undeniably gives my clients an advantage. I am proud to be a native Angeleno, and my clients benefit from that fact due to the relationships that I have formed in and out of the courtroom. When you combine these relationships with hard work and the skill-set necessary to be an effective and aggressive trial lawyer, my clients have the advantage over someone who is virtually unknown and lacks any real depth of criminal trial experience.”

What skills are most necessary to be successful in your field?

“Compassion. To remain a powerful advocate in court, you must have compassion and empathy for your client, understanding what has brought them to this point. Aside from that, a genuine love for what you do. This type of work often requires taking on the unpopular client or an unpopular case—perhaps a client who has been accused of an atrocious crime. At the end of the day, defense work is not for everyone, and to be effective at what you do at the highest level really requires you to have a passion for it. It doesn’t feel like work to me because I am doing what I love to do.”

Tell us about your new location.

“When I launched my practice in 2011, I opened my office in Century City. However I always envisioned being in the Valley—I am from here and live in Studio City. I’m raising my family just minutes from where I grew up, and my parents live down the road. For me, it’s full circle. While my cases still take me all over Los Angeles and the surrounding counties—and to even other parts of the state—we’re thrilled about our new office location in the heart of Encino’s business center on Ventura Boulevard. I still maintain a presence ‘over the hill’ with a smaller office in Beverly Hills; however, Encino is our new permanent home. I am hopeful it will be the nucleus of our law firm for a long time to come.”

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sheriff’s Deputies Charged with Assault

The Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office has filed felony charges against two Sheriff's custody deputies for unnecessary use of force. According to the legal filing, the formal charge is “assault by public officers.” It stems from a June 17 incident in which the deputies, Robert Kirsch and Christopher Johnson, allegedly “assaulted and beat” an inmate named Charles Alonzo Owens at the Santa Barbara County Jail.

According to a press release issued by the Sheriff’s Office, the incident was brought to light by the Public Defender in a June 18 complaint. At that point, the Sheriff’s Office investigated and passed on its findings to the DA. Sheriff Bill Brown said in a statement, “The behavior alleged in the criminal complaint is contrary to the high standards of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. I am saddened by these allegations that do not reflect the conduct and actions of the vast majority of the hundreds of men and women of the Sheriff’s Office, who dedicate their lives to protecting and serving others.”

The deputies have been placed on administrative leave. Arraignment is scheduled for August 30 and will be prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Anthony Davis.

The Law Offices of Justin E. Sterling currently represents 4 separate plaintiffs in state and federal court for claims of excessive force and police brutality. These claims stem from criminal allegations where our office represented the plaintiffs in criminal court. All cases resulted in the dismissal of the criminal allegations. If you or a loved one have been the target of misconduct by the police, contact our office today - CLICK HERE.

Friday, July 19, 2013

U.S. Reviewing 27 Death Penalty Convictions For FBI Forensic Testimony Errors

An unprecedented federal review of old criminal cases has uncovered as many as 27 death penalty convictions in which FBI forensic experts may have mistakenly linked defendants to crimes with exaggerated scientific testimony, U.S. officials said.

FBI officials discussed the review’s scope as they prepare to disclose its first results later this summer. The death row cases are among the first 120 convictions identified as potentially problematic among more than 21,700 FBI Laboratory files being examined. The review was announced last July by the FBI and the Justice Department, in consultation with the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).

The unusual collaboration came after The Washington Post reported last year that authorities had known for years that flawed forensic work by FBI hair examiners may have led to convictions of potentially innocent people, but officials had not aggressively investigated problems or notified defendants.

At issue is a once-widespread practice by which some FBI experts exaggerated the significance of “matches” drawn from microscopic analysis of hair found at crime scenes.

Since at least the 1970s, written FBI Laboratory reports typically stated that a hair association could not be used as positive identification. However, on the witness stand, several agents for years went beyond the science and testified that their hair analysis was a near-certain match. The new review listed examples of scientifically invalid testimony, including claiming to associate a hair with a single person “to the exclusion of all others,” or to state or suggest a probability for such a match from past casework. Whatever the findings of the review, the initiative is pushing state and local labs to take similar measures.

Separately, FBI officials said their intention is to review and disclose problems in capital cases even after a defendant has been executed.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Fruitvale Station

Winner of both the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic feature and the Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, director Ryan Coogler's FRUITVALE STATION follows the true story of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who wakes up on the morning of December 31, 2008 and feels something in the air. Not sure what it is, he takes it as a sign to get a head start on his resolutions: being better son to his mother (Octavia Spencer), whose birthday falls on New Year's Eve, being a better partner to his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), who he hasn't been completely honest with as of late, and being a better father to Tatiana (Ariana Neal), their beautiful four year-old daughter. 

Crossing paths with friends, family and strangers, Oscar starts out well, as the day goes on, he realizes that changes are not going to come easily. His resolve takes a tragic turn, however, when BART officers shoot him in cold blood at the Fruitvale subway stop on New Year's Day. Oscar's life and tragic death would shake the Bay Area - and the entire nation - to its very core.

Fruitvale Station is set to open in NEW cities across the country this week including Houston, Atlanta, and Chicago! Fruitvale Station opened in select theaters in NYC, LA, and Bay Area this past week. In theaters NATIONWIDE July 26.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Reclusive Death Penalty Lawyer Opens Up About Her Work

Judy Clarke is in the business of cheating death, but she rarely talks about it. Clarke, one of the nation's top lawyers and defender of the despised, broke her silence this Friday in a speech at a legal conference, where she spoke about her work saving notorious criminal defendants from execution.

The names of her past clients - Susan Smith, Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski and most recently, Tucson shooter Jared Loughner - run like a list of the most reviled in American criminal history. But she did not say whether she would add to that list the latest name in the news: The suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing.

Clarke was reticent throughout her keynote speech and declined to take questions from the audience. Instead, she talked about how she had been "sucked into the black hole, the vortex" of death penalty cases 18 years ago when she represented Smith, who drowned her two children.

"I got a dose of understanding human behavior and I learned what the death penalty does to us," she said. "I don't think it's a secret that I oppose the death penalty. "

She saved Smith's life and later would do the same for Kaczynski, Loughner and the Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph. All received life sentences instead of death. Before an audience of lawyers, judges and law students at Loyola Law School's annual Fidler Institute, Clarke shared her approach in handling death penalty cases.

"The first clear way death cases are different is the clients," said Clarke, now a visiting professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law in Virginia. "Most have suffered from serious severe trauma, unbelievable trauma. We know that from brain research. Many suffer from severe cognitive development issues that affect the core of their being."

Connecting with the client by finding out "what brought them to this day that will define the rest of their lives" is the first step, she said. In most cases, she said she finds underlying mental illness. Kaczynski was ultimately diagnosed as schizophrenic and, on the eve of seating a jury, he agreed to plead guilty.

Clarke said a veteran lawyer once told her: "The first step to losing a capital case is picking a jury. "Our clients are different," she said. "We should enjoy the opportunity to step into their lives. It can be chaotic. But it's a privilege to be there as a lawyer."           

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