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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 Lawyers.com. Popular customer-review websites such as Yelp can also be a great place to start.

Avvo

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

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.

Lawyers.com

If you’re interested in learning about what other attorneys think about a particular California criminal defense attorney you may want to use Lawyers.com. 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

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.

Personality

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.

Are DUI Checkpoints Legal in San Diego?

The number of drivers who get behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol tends to increase drastically around the holidays. Since the winter sees an extended holiday season, stretching from Thanksgiving to beyond the New Year, drunk driving accidents tend to peak around this time. In an effort to combat drunk driving, San Diego police have staged multiple DUI checkpoints across the city. Over the weekend, one downtown checkpoint allowed police to arrest seven people on the suspicion of drunk driving.

About DUI Checkpoints

Aren’t police required to have probable cause that you’ve committed a crime in order to pull you over? Doesn’t the very definition of a DUI checkpoint violate the Fourth Amendment? Drivers who are arrested as DUI checkpoints may want to make this argument, but it will not go very far in court. DUI checkpoints are legal in the state of California. According to the law, all drivers have a legal duty to stop at all posted sobriety checkpoints and comply with sobriety inspections. Specifically, California Vehicle Code 2814.2(a) VC states that: “a driver of a motor vehicle shall stop and submit to a sobriety checkpoint inspection conducted by a law enforcement agency when signs and displays are posted requiring that stop.”

DUI Checkpoint Requirements

Just because DUI checkpoints can be legal, however, does not mean that any pop-up checkpoint on the road is legitimate. DUI checkpoints must be developed, designed, and executed following certain parameters in order to be considered legal stops. Law enforcement agencies who fail to adhere to these parameters may have their stops and arrests invalidated.

In Ingersoll v. Palmer, the Supreme Court of California expressed that a legal DUI checkpoint must:

  1. Use neutral criteria to determine how drivers will be stopped;
  2. Be placed in a reasonable location;
  3. Employ safety measures to protect law enforcement officers and drivers;
  4. Be advertised in public before it is used;
  5. Be a minimal intrusion; and
  6. Operate under the sole direction of a supervising officer.

DUI checkpoints must be operated for a specific purpose and in response to specific information. The law enforcement agency must exercise good judgment in determining when and where a checkpoint will be held.

What Should I Do at a San Diego DUI Checkpoint?

If you are stopped by law enforcement at a San Diego DUI checkpoint it is important to remain calm. Police will be searching for indications that you are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. You will be considered under the influence if you lack the reflexes, skills, and competency to drive a vehicle safely. Your demeanor and behavior during the stop will significantly affect the outcome.  Make sure that you are polite to the officers conducting the inspection. Don’t give police a reason to suspect that you have been drinking. A reasonable person who is stopped at a checkpoint may be irritated, but they will have the sense to be polite and cooperate. Rude or offensive conduct may lead police to believe that you are under the influence.

It is also essential to cooperate with the requests that are made of you during this stop. In most cases, police will simply ask you a few questions about where you are driving from, where you are going, and what you have been doing. While you are not legally obligated to answer, it will generally be in your best interest to provide short answers. They will use the answers to these questions, as well as the way you answered these questions, to help them determine if you are drunk. Blatantly running through the checkpoint or complying with requests to produce identification will likely result in charges for an infraction.

Collateral Consequences of DUI Checkpoints

Sometimes a DUI checkpoint can allow police to pinpoint other illegal conduct. For example, driving on a suspended license or driving without valid registration are both against the law in California. These are things that could be discovered by police during a DUI checkpoint and there is nothing to stop them from issuing a ticket or arrest. It is important to note that a recent change in California law prohibits police from impounding your car at a checkpoint if your only crime is driving without a license. Your car may, however, be impounded if you are arrested on suspicion of drunk driving.

How Can I Learn More About DUI Checkpoints?

DUI checkpoints are only legal if they are advertised in public prior to the date and time they are held. You can search for DUI checkpoints in San Diego by checking out your local police department’s website and social media, reading a local newspaper, or watching the local news. The time and location of DUI checkpoints are also frequently spread from person to person through social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. These can be valuable resources for finding out about DUI checkpoints in San Diego.

 

You can also learn more about DUI checkpoints in San Diego by contacting the San Diego Criminal Law Center. Our experienced team of criminal defense attorneys would be happy to discuss your case with you. Call us today to schedule a free consultation.

Understanding Legalized Marijuana Laws in San Diego

Recreational marijuana became legal in the state of California when the clock struck midnight on January 1. As a result, the laws concerning marijuana possession, distribution, and cultivation changed dramatically. Contrary to popular belief, all marijuana use is not legal. In light of the state-wide legalization, some counties and cities in California have passed legislation to ban the sale and cultivation of the drug at the local level. Additionally, there are still strict regulations in place that must be followed in those cities where marijuana is legal. Failing to follow these regulations can result in significant fines and, in some cases, criminal drug charges. It is important to understand that marijuana use is highly regulated and that breaking the law can still land you in serious trouble.

Many San Diego Cities Have Banned The Sale of Marijuana

As the present moment, the city of San Diego is the only place in San Diego County where marijuana can be legally grown and sold. Some cities, like Chula Vista, are discussing legalizing the drug in the future. For now, however, if you want to buy marijuana in places like National City, Santee, or San Marcos you will be out of luck. Since no licensed retailers can sell the drug in these cities you cannot legally purchase the drug within those city limits. Purchases of marijuana, as a result, are prohibited. Breaking the law will result in penalties ranging from small fines to potential jail time. The punishment will be linked to the amount of marijuana you purchase from an unlicensed dealer.

Marijuana Must be Purchased From Licensed Retailers

In order to legally sell marijuana, retailers must apply for and receive a special permit. Once this permit is awarded the retailer must adhere to strict regulations and guidelines. These guidelines help to ensure that marijuana is safe, sold during permitted hours, dispensed in limited amounts, and only sold to adults over the age of 21. Retailers who violate the terms of their permits can face fines, criminal charges, and the loss of their license to dispense.

There are Limits on Where You Can Consume Marijuana

No Public Consumption

You can walk down the streets of San Diego and see dozens of people happily puffing away on their cigarettes. However, don’t expect to be able to light up your marijuana cigarette or chow down on an edible in public. Marijuana consumption must be done in private. If you are found using the drug in public you will face a fine of no less than $100. Multiple violations of the law could result in additional fines and even criminal charges.

Cars Are Off Limits

Under the new marijuana laws, you will be prohibited from consuming marijuana while you are in a motor vehicle. Lighting up in your car can result in fines and even DUI charges. Local cities will be responsible for determining specific penalties for smoking in vehicles.

Drugs Still Prohibited Near Schools

Marijuana cannot be legally sold within 600 feet of a school. When you have legally purchased marijuana from a licensed retailer you will also be prohibited from consuming the drug on or near school grounds. The state’s strict drug-free school zones will still be in effect, so breaking these laws can have serious consequences.

Possession Can Still Be a Crime

The new marijuana laws legalize the possession of some quantities of marijuana. Specifically, adults over the age of 21 can legally possess up to 28.5 grams of marijuana at one time. If you are found in possession of a greater quantity of the drug you can face fines and criminal charges. If the quantity of the drug is excessive, you could even face charges of possession with the intent to distribute.

Limitations on Growing Your Own Plants

You may decide that you want to grow and cultivate your own marijuana right at home. If your San Diego city permits cultivation, you can legally grow up to six marijuana plants at one time. Under the law, six or fewer plants are associated with personal, rather than commercial, use. If you are found in possession of more than six plants you will likely face criminal charges.

Call the San Diego Criminal Law Center

Marijuana may be legal, but the laws are still complex. If you have any questions about the legalization of marijuana in San Diego, or if you are facing marijuana-related criminal charges, do not hesitate to contact the San Diego Criminal Law Center for help. If you need assistance finding an attorney, see our guide on finding a criminal lawyer.

Los Angles Man Facing Three Counts of Attempted Arson

A Los Angeles man could face criminal charges for arson after his recent arrest. Matthew Rice is believed to have attempted to set three Los Angeles area houses on fire earlier this month. According to reports, Rice knew the owners of each of the homes he tried to torch. His first arson attempt was his estranged wife’s home in Studio City. After being discovered, Rice fled to Fontana where he attempted to set his wife’s friend’s home on fire. Shortly after this, Rice attempted to set his wife’s parents’ home on fire in Rancho Cucamonga.

Intentionally attempting to set homes on fire is a serious crime in Los Angeles that carries significant penalties. Rice could face at least three counts of attempted arson for his Los Angeles arson spree. He will likely consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to limit the criminal penalties he faces for his actions.

What is Arson?

In California, arson is the act of intentionally setting a fire or burning something for an unlawful purpose. The crime, which is defined in California Penal Code Section 451 PC, occurs when you willfully and maliciously set fire to or burn any structure, forest land, or property.

State of mind is important

Arson requires that you act maliciously and willfully when setting a fire or causing something to burn. You will be considered to have acted willfully when you do something intentionally and on purpose. Things you do by accident or under threat of force are not considered willful. You will be considered to have acted maliciously when you do something with an illegal or negative intent. For example, setting a fire with the intent to injure, annoy, or defraud someone/something would be considered malicious.

However, you can face reckless arson charges if your behavior creates a significant risk of harm.  Throwing a hot cigarette butt into a dry trash can or lighting matches around flammable materials could trigger charges for reckless arson if a fire erupts.

Who owns the property?

Most time, arson is only a crime if you set another person’s structure, land, or property on fire. However, you can also face charges for arson for setting fire to or burning your own stuff. You can face charges for arson for setting your own structure, land, or property on fire when it is proven that you did so for fraudulent reasons or caused an injury.

Criminal Punishments for Arson

Allegations of arson are not taken lightly in Los Angeles. If it is proven that you attempted to commit arson or successfully committed arson you can face serious criminal penalties.

Arson Penalties

Arson is a felony offense in Los Angeles. If you are convicted of arson, your criminal sentence will depend on the facts of your specific case, including:

  • Whether the arson caused great bodily harm, death, or significant property damage;
  • Prior charges or convictions for arson or related offenses; and
  • Any other mitigating or aggravating factors.

Possible criminal penalties for a felony arson conviction include 3 years in prison, $10,000 in fines, and a term of felony probation. If your crime of arson causes great bodily injury or significant property damage, you can face up to 9 years in prison. For crimes of arson that cause death, you can be sentenced to life in a California state prison.

Attempted Arson Penalties

If you attempt to willfully and maliciously commit arson and fail you can still face significant criminal penalties for your actions. Attempted arson is a felony offense punishable by 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in a California state prison; $10,000 in fines; and a term of felony probation.

Experienced Los Angeles Arson Attorney

Rice is facing three felony counts of attempted arson for trying to set three houses on fire. If convicted, he could face up to 3 years in prison for each individual charge. This means that he could potentially be required to spend 9 years in prison for his unsuccessful attempts to set a few houses on fire. His chances of securing the best possible outcome in his case will increase if he hires an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend him. An attorney will understand the California arson laws that apply to his case and know which defenses may be helpful in securing a reduction or dismissal of the charges.