Thursday, September 1, 2011

More Police Training is Needed on How to Handle the Mentally Ill

The recent death of a schizophrenic Fullerton man after a clash with police officers should serve as a wakeup call for law enforcement agencies across California, Ventura criminal defense attorney Joshua Newstat says.
According to an article in USA Today, six officers were trying to search the man after reports of break-ins that had occurred in the college town southeast of Los Angeles. A fight erupted. The man died of severe head and neck injuries. The incident is being investigated.

“We need to do a better job of training police officers on how to deal with the mentally ill,” says Newstat, a partner of the Southern California criminal defense law firm of Lessem & Newstat, LLP, which handles cases involving mental health and police brutality.

“When officers can’t recognize the signs of mental illness or how to react to a suspect with mental illness, it can lead to situations that quickly spiral out of control and have the potential to end in tragedy,” Newstat says. “We don’t know exactly what happened in Fullerton, but we do know that, with proper training, we can improve police treatment of the mentally ill.”

Jeremy Lessem, a veteran Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer and partner of Lessem & Newstat, LLP, says that a program being used to train Los Angeles Police Department officers is a step in the right direction but still not enough.

According to USA Today, the LAPD requires all officers to take an eight-hour training course on mental illness. More than 1,000 of the officers have also received an intensive 40-hour course.

“This training hopefully helps officers to tell the difference between a person going through a mental health episode and a person who is posing a legitimate threat,” Lessem says. “Unfortunately, what an officer learns in a class doesn’t always carry over to the streets."

“That’s when it’s important for a police brutality victim, or their family, to contact an attorney who has experience in dealing with excessive force, including excessive use of Tasers, and who is passionate about holding police accountable for violations of civil rights,” he says.

It’s also important for mentally ill individuals to have an attorney who will pay attention to their unique needs if the individual is charged with a crime, says Newstat, who serves on the Board of Directors of the Ventura County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Newstat says that Ventura County and other courts across California have implemented mental health courts. Qualifying offenders who are brought to the mental health court may be able to receive court-ordered mental health treatment, which can go a long way toward promoting psychological wellness, Newstat says.
“Our law firm believes strongly that treatment, rather than incarceration, is the most effective solution for people with mental illness who become entangled in our criminal justice system,” Newstat says.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Confusion Surrounds State’s Medical Marijuana Laws

The former owner of a Los Angeles County marijuana dispensary will learn of his sentence in the coming month in a case (LACBA368181-01, Los Angeles County Superior Court) that brings to light the confusion still surrounding California’s medical marijuana laws more than 15 years after the passage of Proposition 215, say Southern California criminal defense attorneys Jeremy Lessem and Joshua Newstat.

Under California state law, marijuana dispensaries must be operated on a non-profit basis. In many cases, however, authorities have raided dispensaries and charged them with operating on a “for profit” basis.
According to the Culver City Patch, prosecutors alleged that the Organica Collective dispensary near the Culver City-Los Angeles border had earned an average of $400,000 per month.

The news outlet reports that the former owner of the dispensary, which was raided three times, pleaded no contest to two counts each of marijuana possession and money laundering and will receive a sentence on September 2.

“We can’t comment on this case, because we don’t know all of the facts, but what we can say is that, in Southern California, we are increasingly seeing police raid medical marijuana dispensaries despite the fact that they are, indeed, in compliance with state law,” says Lessem, an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney.

“We’re finding that local police agencies and prosecutors are either ignoring the law or giving it an overly narrow interpretation that basically ignores the will of the state’s voters,” says Lessem, co-founder of the Southern California criminal defense law firm of Lessem & Newstat, LLP, which regularly represents California drug crime defendants.

“This is creating confusion for patients and caregivers – especially the issue of whether the dispensary is non-profit or for-profit – and at some point, that confusion is going to need to end,” he says.
Voters approved Proposition 215, or the California Compassionate Use Act, in 1996. It led to Senate Bill 420, or the Medical Marijuana Program Act, which established laws now found in sections 11362.7 through 11362.83 of the state’s Health and Safety Code.

Those laws do not legalize marijuana – it is still a banned controlled substance under state and federal law – but instead provide immunity to qualified patients and caregivers who go through the procedural steps to receive “identification cards.”

The law allows those qualified patients and caregivers to “collectively or cooperatively” cultivate marijuana as long as it is for medical purposes and reasonably related to each patient’s medical needs. The law strictly prohibits “for-profit” dispensaries. The federal government still has the power to prosecute federal marijuana offenses.

“In addition to the conflict between state and federal law, the issue that seems to arise most often is whether the medical marijuana dispensary was operating in a non-profit or for-profit capacity, and that’s where the assistance of an experienced and qualified lawyer is needed,” says Newstat, a Ventura County drug crimes defense attorney and Lessem & Newstat, LLP, co-founder. “It’s crucial to look through all business records, accounts and other forms of evidence in order to establish that the collective was, in fact, operating in perfect compliance with the letter and the spirit of California’s medical marijuana laws,” Newstat says.

“At Lessem & Newstat, we have years of experience defending those who have been charged with drug crimes in Southern California, including medical marijuana-related charges,” he says. “We work hard to protect our clients’ rights and mount the strongest defense possible.”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

In California the Police Can Search Your Cell Phone

So lets say you go out on a Friday night, party a little too hard, things happen and you end up getting yourself arrested. Back at the police station after your arrest, the police go through your pockets and grab your cell phone. They can't just start rummaging through it can they? Reading your texts? Looking at your pictures? Maybe checking out your what's on your calendar? The answer to these questions should be absolutely not! At least not without a search warrant and some legitimate reason. Unbelievably, the California Supreme Court disagrees.

In the recent case of People v. Diaz, 2011 DJ DAR 109; DJ 1/4/11, the Court held that an item "immediately associated with the defendant's person" can be lawfully searched incident to an arrest. Without a warrant. So when you get arrested with your cell phone in your pocket, the police do not need a warrant to search through the phone's contents.

In Mr. Diaz's case, he was arrested for suspicion of selling ecstasy. About 90 minutes later at the police station the officers seized his cell phone and started reading his text messages. They then confronted Mr. Diaz with a message they found, which ultimately led him to admit to selling ecstasy. There was no warrant and the police didn't have any specific reason to believe there was any evidence in the phone. Mr. Diaz's lawyers tried to suppress the information from the phone that led to his admission. The Supreme Court of California's answer, sorry the phone was "immediately associated with his person" so the police were perfectly within their rights to search its contents subsequent to his arrest. So much for your protection from illegal searches and seizures.

The moral of this story..... (1) Don't get arrested. If that doesn't work then, (2) Try to avoid keeping obviously incriminating items in your phone. Pictures of you engaging in illegal activity or text messages discussing drug use don't need to be saved in your cell phone.

Also, keep in mind that in Mr. Diaz's case the cell phone was an item of personal property on his person at the time of his arrest. I would argue that a cell phone not in your pockets or somehow physically connected to your body is no longer "immediately associated" with your person and therefore if the police want to see what's in it they still need a warrant from a judge.

This is a terrible decision that I believe contradicts federal constitutional law. Maybe one day it will be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, keep in mind that all that private stuff on your cellphone isn't quite as private as you would think.

[Please note that nothing in this post constitutes the formation of an attorney client relationship. Further, any commentary contained herein is provided strictly for entertainment purposes and should not be relied upon or substituted for professional legal advice.]  

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Darvocet Recall

On November 19, 2010, the FDA announced a voluntary recall of all products containing the drug propoxyphene due to many serious health risks including abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks and even death.   Two major drugs which were affected by this recall were Darvon, and a variation of Darvon, called Darvocet, which combines proxphene and acetaminophen.  It has been estimated that approximately 22 million people in the United States have used Darvocet or Darvon.  What’s disturbing is that the recall of this popular drug was overlooked by many. 
Darvocet / Darvon Recall
Darvocet is one of the 25 most prescribed medications and despite the recall, the US Drug Watchdog fears that tens of thousands of United States citizens still use these medications.  The group is naming their number one goal as indentifying every person in the U.S. who has taken the recalled Darvon or Darvocet and then developed heart conditions, such as heart attacks, heart rhythm issues, or other severe complications; the number is feared to be in the 100,000’s.  
Typical Side Effects of Darvon or Darvocet Users
Darvon and Darvocet may cause a number of severe side-effects, which could lead to serious personal injury or even untimely death.  Individuals who have taken these drugs may experience any of the following conditions:
Heart attack
Heart arrhythmia
Sudden death
A Brief History of Propoxyphene
Darvon was first introduced in 1957.  During its history, it has come under fire by several public safety groups who found that the benefits of taking the medication do not outweigh the risks involved.  The first major event was in 1978 when Public Citizen petitioned the FDA twice for the removal of proxpoxyphone products from the market.   In 2004, propoxyphone was banned in the United Kingdom.  Europe followed suite, banning the drug nearly 1 ½ years ago.   In January 2009, and FDA advisory panel recommended the drug be banned in the US, but no action was taken. 
An Experienced Defective Product Attorney Can Help!
A heart condition can be life-threatening and can drastically change your life. If you or someone you love has been injured due to Darvocet or Darvon, you may have the right to seek compensation for your injuries.  If you have suffered due to recalled Darvocet or Darvon, contact the Southern California defective product lawyers of Lessem & Newstat, LLP today!  
Call us at (800) 295-1054 or fill out our online contact form for a free consultation.  We will fight to obtain the compensation you deserve, and strive diligently to protect your legal rights.  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Chelsea's Law and Petty Theft

The general effect of Chelsea's Law, recently signed by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is to increase the penalties for various sex related offenses. An interesting side effect however, is that the bill also amends Penal Code Section 666, the statute governing petty theft with a prior.  Before Chelsea's Law, any individual with a single theft related offense on their record could have a subsequent petty theft charged as a felony. Now, with certain exceptions, three prior theft convictions are necessary for a petty theft to be eligible to be charged as a felony.

Here's the relevant portion of the new statute:

SEC. 15. Section 666 of the Penal Code is amended to read:
666. (a) Notwithstanding Section 490, every person who, having been convicted three or more times of petty theft, grand theft, auto theft under Section 10851 of the Vehicle Code, burglary, carjacking, robbery, or a felony violation of Section 496 and having served a term therefor in any penal institution or having been imprisoned therein as a condition of probation for that offense, is subsequently convicted of petty theft, then the person convicted of that subsequent offense is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison.

This change likely effects 100's if not thousands of individuals currently charged with petty theft with prior cases.  There should be many criminal defendants all across California who should there felonies immediately reduced. Criminal defense attorneys need to be on the look out for these situations, as we all know Judge's and D.A.'s won't be doing it for us.