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About San Diego Criminal Law Center

San Diego Criminal Law Center was created to provide useful information for anyone charged with a crime in San Diego and throughout the state of California. Author and attorney Vikas Bajaj has over 16 years of criminal defense experience. If you have been charged with a crime or under investigation, read our articles for useful info that may help you during this difficult time.

If you have been arrested or charged with a crime in California you should not hesitate to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Hiring an attorney will help to ensure that your legal rights are protected and that you are given the opportunity to defend yourself against any charges you may face. It is not only important to hire an attorney to represent you, but to hire the right attorney to represent you.

There are many factors that should be considered when you are choosing a criminal defense attorney. These can include area(s) of expertise, years in practice, and even geographic location. The attorneys at the San Diego Criminal Law Center have compiled a list of tips that can be helpful when searching for a good criminal defense attorney in California.

Search Online

The best way to begin your search for a California criminal defense attorney is to use a search engine such as Google or Yahoo. A simple search can yield thousands of results. You can narrow down your search by using certain keywords and phrases.

We suggest including your geographic location and crime for which you have been charged. For example, if you are arrested for robbery in San Diego, we would suggest doing a search for “San Diego criminal lawyer” or “San Diego robbery criminal defense attorney.”

Legal Directories

Legal directories can be a great resource for clients. These directories are similar to search engines, except that search results are limited to lawyers. Attorneys often list themselves on these legal directories to help connect them with future clients. Some popular legal directories – with both clients and attorneys – include Avvo, FindLaw, and Popular customer-review websites such as Yelp can also be a great place to start.


Avvo can be a great resource if you are searching for a good criminal defense attorney in California. The website simply asks you to enter the type of lawyer you are interested in finding and your location. Hit “search” and you’ll be matched with attorneys in your area who focus in that particular area of law. Avvo will provide information about the attorney, ratings, reviews, and any disciplinary records that may exist. You can even compare different attorneys in your area.


FindLaw allows you to search by city, state, and/or legal issue. When you are matched with attorneys in your area you will be able to access their biography and contact information. There is no review or rating system, so it may be helpful to perform a cross-search for an attorney you may be interested in hiring on a different legal directory.

If you’re interested in learning about what other attorneys think about a particular California criminal defense attorney you may want to use Search results will match you with criminal defense attorneys in your area and give you access to biographies, contact information, reviews from other clients, and even reviews from other attorneys.


Yelp is not technically a legal directory, but it has become a popular tool for connecting attorneys and clients. If you find a California criminal defense attorney through a Yelp search that you like, we suggest searching for that attorney in another directory. This will allow you to get as much information as possible and allow you to make a more informed decision.

Online Reviews

Many of your online searches for a good California criminal defense attorney may include reviews by written by former clients and/or other attorneys. These reviews can be incredibly helpful when you are trying to decide if an attorney is the right choice.

Take the time to look closely at attorney reviews. Consider how many times an attorney has been reviewed as well as their overall rating.

Most importantly, however, consider the content of the reviews. When clients take the time to write a review they are probably doing so for a good reason. They may have been extremely happy with their representation, or they may have had a poor experience and been disappointed in a result. Reading through the entirety of these reviews can help to provide valuable insight into how an attorney works and if they may be the right fit for you.

When hiring a criminal defense attorney in California you will want to make sure you choose someone you trust. Online reviews can help you decide whether a particular attorney may be someone you can confide in and trust.

California State Bar

Once you have narrowed down your search to a few California criminal defense attorneys, we suggest using the California State Bar website to look up each attorney. The California State Bar website will provide up-to-date and certified contact information and the attorney’s disciplinary record.

Questions You Should Ask During the Initial Consultation

California criminal defense attorneys generally offer a free consultation for prospective clients. This allows you to meet with multiple attorneys and conduct a search in-person. When you ask the right questions you can learn a lot about an attorney and whether they may be the right fit for you.

Questions that you should consider asking a California criminal defense attorney during your initial consultation include:

  • How many other cases like mine have you handled?
  • What were the results of those cases?
  • How many years have you been practicing law?
  • Where did you go to law school?
  • Do you practice any other areas of law?
  • How many cases have you taken to trial?
  • How many jury trials have you won?
  • Have you ever been disciplined by the California State Bar?
  • Have you ever received any awards as an attorney?
  • How much will you charge for your services?
  • Can you get the charges reduced or dropped, based on the details I’ve given you?

Preparing for the Initial Consultation

Some of the answers a California criminal defense attorney gives you during an initial consultation may only be helpful if you have a basic understanding of the charges you face. Before meeting with an attorney it is a good idea to do a little bit of research about California law and the crime(s) you have been charged with.

A simple google search can provide a lot of information. An even better place to start is the criminal defense attorney’s website. Most criminal defense attorneys have pages dedicated to certain “practice areas” and crimes. These pages can provide a lot of insight into the law, whether an attorney has experience handling certain cases, and how they may approach a case like yours.

Understanding the Fees

It is important to understand how a criminal defense attorney will calculate his or her legal fees. Some California criminal defense attorneys charge a flat rate per case and others may charge by the hour. Many attorneys will require you to pay a retainer fee before they begin to work on your case. There are many factors that can go into how an attorney calculates a legal fee. Here are some questions you may want to ask during your initial consultation:

  • Do you have a fee structure I can review?
  • Do you charge a flat rate per case or on an hourly basis?
  • What would I have to pay today to secure you as my California criminal defense attorney?
  • Will I be responsible for court costs?
  • What happens if the case becomes more complicated than you initially thought?

While the cost of an attorney may be a factor you want to consider when hiring an attorney, it should not be the only factor. Expensive legal fees do not necessarily mean that your attorney will be better than another attorney who charges less. The opposite is also true. Be sure to investigate how familiar an attorney is with the specific legal issue you need help resolving.


While you are not hiring an attorney to be your friend, you are hiring someone to handle a very sensitive and personal matter. You must comfortable with and trust the California criminal defense attorney you hire to defend you. Try to choose an attorney who is easy to speak with and understand. An initial consultation is a great way to determine if you and the attorney would be a good fit.

Have you been arrested or charged with a crime in California? If so, do not hesitate to contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at the San Diego Criminal Law Center for a free consultation. Our skilled attorneys would be happy to review your case, answer any questions you may have, and explain your legal options.

See Our Infographic on Finding a Good Criminal Defense Attorney in California

We created this infographic so that you can take it with you when you meet with attorneys. Please click on it to view full-size and print for future reference.

Two Men Arrested for Robbing Marijuana Dispensary

Two San Diego men suspected of robbing a marijuana dispensary in Banning have been arrested. According to reports, the men robbed the facility shortly before closing. During the robbery, they allegedly shot and stabbed at least three people. Both men will face criminal charges for robbery.

Understanding Robbery in San Diego

Robbery is the crime of taking property directly from another person through the use of force or fear. It is similar to other crimes of theft, but unique because it requires that property is taken:

  1. From the “immediate presence” of a victim; and
  2. Using force or fear.

Immediate Presence

What does it mean to take something from a person’s immediate presence? In the most basic sense, immediate presence means taking something that a person is holding, occupying, or wearing. This could include a watch, wallet, or purse on a person’s body.

Immediate presence can also mean taking something that is within another person’s reach. Let’s go back to the men who robbed the marijuana dispensary. They may have stolen property directly from customers and employees. However, most of the things they stole, including money, drugs, and paraphernalia, were likely within the reach of employees. If the employees were close enough to the property and could have kept “possession of it if not prevented by force or fear,” it would be considered to be in their immediate presence.

Force or Fear

Robbery also requires that a theft involve the use of force or fear. It is important to understand that you must enter the situation and intend to use force or fear to steal property. If you decide to steal property and then resort to force or fear, you will face charges for a different crime.

Example 1: John drives to a liquor store with the intent to steal money from the register. He enters with a gun and points it at the clerk as he demands money. Since John entered the situation with the intent to use force to steal the money, he can be charged with robbery.

Example 2: John is shopping in a liquor store when he notices an expensive and rare bottle behind the counter. The clerk walks away to help a customer, so John slips behind the counter and tries to steal the bottle. The clerk notices and confronts him. John reaches into his pocket and pulls out a knife to threaten the clerk. Since John did not enter the situation intending to use force or fear, he will likely not be charged with robbery. He can, however, be charged with other crimes.

Causing Injury During a Robbery

The men who robbed the San Diego marijuana dispensary may be facing additional penalties for their crime since at least three people were injured. Why? California’s great bodily injury enhancement can apply when you commit or attempt to commit a felony and cause another person to suffer a serious physical injury.

Second-degree robbery in San Diego is typically punishable by 2, 3, or 5 years in a California state prison. If the great bodily injury enhancement is imposed, the men could face an additional 3 to 6 years behind bars.

The men may also face criminal charges for attempted murder in addition to those for robbery. A thorough investigation into the crime will help the state determine which charges are most appropriate.


Are you or someone you love facing criminal charges in San Diego? Members of our criminal defense team are always standing by to help you understand your rights. Call us today to learn more.

A 26-year-old San Diego man has been arrested on suspicion of arson. According to police, at least 12 fires were set on various streets and alleys in Ocean Beach. While no one was physically injured in the fires, they did cause approximately $23,000 in property damage. Several cars, trash cans, and a fence were among the items destroyed in the late-night fires. While specifics have not been released, the 26-year-old will likely face charges for arson and/or reckless burning.

Arson and Reckless Burning in San Diego

It can be a crime to set fire to or burn property that doesn’t belong to you. Both arson and reckless burning deal with setting illegal fires. The criminal charges will depend on your intent when you started the fires.

Malicious Arson

Malicious arson, as defined in Penal Code 451 PC, is the crime of willfully and maliciously setting fire to a structure, forest land, or property.

Willfully: Willfully means that you commit an act on purpose. You don’t don’t have to intend to break the law. For the purposes of arson, you just have to intend to burn or set something on fire.

Maliciously: Maliciously means that you set a fire to injure, annoy, or defraud someone else. This means that you have to intend to harm someone else by setting the fire.

You can be charged with malicious arson if you should have been aware that your actions were very likely to start a dangerous fire. You can also be charged with malicious arson even if you don’t start a raging fire. The fact that you burn or damage property with willful and malicious intent is enough to warrant charges.


  • You throw a red-hot cigarette into someone’s trash can at their home with the intent to start a fire.
  • You douse your neighbor’s car in lighter fluid and throw a match into the passenger compartment.
  • You attempt to burn down your ex’s house after a fight, but only succeed in singing the yard.

Reckless Burning

Reckless burning, which is also known as reckless arson, is defined in Penal Code 452 PC. This occurs when you recklessly set fire to or burn a structure, forest land, or property.

Recklessly: Reckless means that you are aware of and ignore a substantial risk. Ignoring that risk is not what a reasonable person would do. Recklessness involves much more than negligence.

Examples of reckless burning:

  • Throwing a firecracker into a dry field.
  • Igniting a lighter next to flammable materials.
  • Throwing a cigarette butt into a trash can filled with paper or flammable materials.

Starting a fire by mistake or accident does not mean that you will face criminal charges for reckless burning. The state will have to prove that you knew about a risk and ignored the potential consequences.

What are the Penalties for Arson in San Diego?

Arson can be a misdemeanor or a felony. The charges will depend on:

  • Your intent
  • The number of fires
  • The type of property you burned or destroyed
  • The extent of the property damage
  • Whether anyone was personally injured, and
  • Your history of criminal behavior.

Malicious Arson

Malicious arson is a felony in San Diego and will count as a strike on your record. Penalties will depend on the factors outlined above.

  • Malicious arson of personal property: 16 months – 3 years in prison.
  • Malicious arson of a structure or forest land: 2 – 6 years in prison.
  • Malicious arson causing great bodily injury: 5 – 9 years in prison.

Setting a fire for financial gain can also subject you to additional financial penalties. This can include a fine of (a) $50,000 or (b) twice the amount of your expected gain from the fire.

Reckless Arson

Reckless arson can be a misdemeanor or a felony in San Diego. Penalties will depend on the factors outlined above.

  • Misdemeanor reckless arson of personal property: 6 months in a San Diego County jail
  • Felony reckless arson of personal property: 16 months – 2 years in prison.
  • Misdemeanor reckless arson of a structure or forest land: 1 year in a San Diego County jail
  • Felony reckless arson of a structure or forest land: 2 – 4 years in prison
  • Misdemeanor reckless arson causing great bodily injury: 1 year in a San Diego County jail
  • Felony reckless arson causing great bodily injury: 2 – 6 years in prison.

Aggravated Arson

The penalties for malicious and/or reckless arson can be aggravated in certain situations. This means that you will be subject to harsher penalties for your crime. Aggravated penalties will apply if:

  • Multiple structures are burned
  • More than one person is hurt
  • You have a prior conviction for arson
  • You accelerate the fire
  • You use a device to time or delay the fire
  • A peace officer is injured because of your fire
  • You knowingly set fire to a place of worship, or
  • You set fire to an inhabited structure.

The most serious arson crimes are punishable by 10 years to life in a California state prison.

San Diego Arson Defense Attorney

Setting fires can have serious criminal consequences. The penalties for arson will have immediate and devastating consequences. The stakes will be even higher if your actions cause someone to get hurt. Contact the San Diego Criminal Law Center if you or someone you know has been arrested for arson. Our criminal defense attorneys will thoroughly investigate your alleged crime and come up with a strategy for your case. We will help you minimize the consequences of your arrest. Call us today to schedule a free consultation.

A 24-year-old Vista man has been arrested for falsely identifying himself as a San Diego sheriff’s deputy. According to reports, the man visited several San Diego businesses and reported that he was an undercover officer. Employees of several local restaurants witnessed the man interacting with area youth, became concerned, and called police to report the suspicious activity.

Police investigated the claims and determined that the man was falsely identifying himself as an officer of the law. The investigation also uncovered the fact that the man was using his alleged authority to detain young men and confiscate their skateboards. The man was located and arrested near the Wave Waterpark earlier this month.  Searches of the man and his home uncovered fake sheriff’s department business cards, sheriff’s deputy’s uniform, and badges.

Impersonating a Peace Officer

In California, it is a crime to impersonate a police officer or other officer of the law. Specifically, Penal Code 538d PC explains that “any other person other than one who by law is given the authority of a peace officer, who willfully wears, exhibits, or uses the authorized uniform, insignia, emblem, device, label, certificate, card, or writing, of a peace officer, with the intent of fraudulently impersonating a peace officer, or of fraudulently inducing the belief that he or she is a peace officer” is guilty of the crime of impersonation.

In simpler terms, it is a crime to intentionally and fraudulently attempt to make others believe that you are an officer of the law. This can be accomplished by wearing a uniform, creating a fake badge, passing off a genuine badge that is not your own, or even creating business cards to support your fraudulent claim.

What is a Peace Officer?

Penal Code 538d PC explicitly states that it is a crime to impersonate a peace officer. In California, peace officers can include anyone who “meets all standards imposed by law on a peace officer, including:

  • Sheriffs
  • Undersheriffs
  • Deputy sheriffs
  • Police officers
  • Officers of consolidated public safety agencies
  • Firefighters
  • Court marshals or deputies
  • Port police officers
  • Port wardens
  • San Diego Unified Port District Harbor police
  • Public safety agents, and more.

Generally speaking, anyone who has the lawful authority of a peace officer, or who is appointed by a chief or director of a public safety agency, will be classified as a peace officer.

Penalty for Impersonating a Peace Officer

Impersonating a peace officer in violation of California state law is a misdemeanor offense. The penalty will depend on the circumstance of each specific case.

Willfully wearing/exhibiting/using a peace officer’s badge to fraudulently induce others to believe you are a peace officer:

  • Maximum of 12 months in a San Diego County jail; and/or
  • $2,000 in fines.

Willfully wearing/exhibiting/using a falsified badge or card to induce others to believe you are a peace officer:

  • Maximum of six months in a San Diego County jail; and/or
  • $2,000 in fines

Making or selling fraudulent peace officer badges, insignias, or cards:

  • Maximum of six months in a San Diego County jail; and
  • $15,000 in fines.

Selling a law enforcement uniform to someone other than an employee of the agency:

  • $1,000 in fines.

If you are convicted for impersonating a peace officer you will be burdened with a criminal record. This record will have the ability to affect every aspect of your life. You will find that it is difficult to get a job, rent an apartment, and even secure a loan.

Defending False Impersonation Charges in San Diego

Have you been accused of falsely impersonating a peace officer in San Diego? It’s important to speak with an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney as soon as you can. Just because you have been accused of a crime does not mean that you will be charged or convicted. You have the right to defend yourself, and the San Diego Criminal Law Center can help.

As your attorneys, we will thoroughly investigate your supposed crime and determine the best legal strategy for your defense. Remember, the state cannot convict you of a crime unless it can show that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Any evidence that can cast doubt on the prosecution’s case can be helpful in minimizing the consequences of your arrest.

Call us today to schedule a free consultation with our skilled legal team. We will review your case, explain your legal rights, and outline the best arguments for your defense. The state will begin to build its case against you immediately, so do not hesitate to call us for help now.