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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.

A former pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers has been arrested following the discovery of more than 44 pounds of cocaine in his San Diego home. According to reports, Esteban Loaiza was being investigated by police after he was seen driving a vehicle that was believed to be involved in a drug trafficking operation. During a traffic stop, police discovered a compartment in the vehicle that is traditionally used to smuggle narcotics. They requested and received a search warrant for the former pitcher’s home. During the search, they discovered 44 pounds (20 kilograms) of cocaine worth more than $500,000. He was immediately arrested and booked on suspicion of possession, possession for sale, and transporting cocaine.

Drug Charges in San Diego

San Diego is a hotbed for drug activity in California. Investigators aggressively track and pursue individuals who they believe to be involved in drug trafficking programs. While some drugs are becoming more acceptable – and even legal – in the state, hard drugs like cocaine are still investigated and prosecuted aggressively.

Possession of Cocaine With Intent to Sell

It is illegal to possess any amount of cocaine in California. The seriousness of the crime is directly linked to the amount of the drug found in the defendant’s possession. Possession of a small amount of the drug is generally considered possession for personal use, as defined in Health and Safety Code 11350 HS. Thanks to Proposition 47, possession of for personal use was recently downgraded from a felony to a misdemeanor. Loaiza was found with 44 pounds of cocaine in his possession. This will likely qualify as possession for sale as defined in Health and Safety Code 11351 HS. Possession for sale is a felony, carrying a maximum penalty of 2-4 years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines.

Transporting Cocaine

In California, it is a serious crime to sell or transport cocaine. Health and Safety Code 11352 HS makes it a crime to engage in (or offer to do) any of the following activities:

  • Sell cocaine (and other controlled substances),
  • Transport cocaine with the intent to sell, and
  • Give or administer cocaine to another person.

Transporting cocaine for sale is punishable by a three, six, or nine years in prison. The length of the penalty will depend on the defendant’s prior criminal record, the amount of the drug in his/her possession, and the distance traveled with the drugs. Crossing multiple borders will result in a harsher criminal sentence.

Actual vs. Constructive Possession

How can Loaiza be charged with the possession of cocaine if the drugs were not found directly on him? Possession of drugs can be either actual or constructive. Actual possession means that you physically have something on your person. Actual possession can include things in your pant pockets, in a jacket or coat, or in a backpack or purse you are holding.

Constructive possession means that you have possession of something that is not directly on your person. Instead, you have the authority and ability to exercise control over property that is located somewhere else. This property could be in your car, in your home, stashed away in an alley for safekeeping, or even temporarily in someone else’s care. Just because another person also has possession of an item does not necessarily mean that you cannot also possess it. All that matters is that you have the authority and ability to exercise control over that property.

Since the cocaine was found in Loaiza’s personal home – a place that he has authority to control – the drugs were considered to be in his constructive possession.

Fighting Drug Charges in San Diego

Some of California’s drug laws are becoming more lenient. However, most of the changes to the laws are in regard to possession of drugs for personal use. The state still aggressively prosecutes individuals who are believed to be involved in the sale, distribution, and trafficking of controlled substances. If you are facing criminal drug charges in San Diego it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. When you hire an attorney to handle your defense you have a better chance of securing a favorable plea or getting the charges dismissed.

Call the experienced attorneys at the San Diego Criminal Law Center to schedule a free consultation and learn more. We will review the criminal charges against you, determine if your rights have been violated, and answer the questions you have.

Can you be arrested for helping others? If you live in El Cajon and want to feed the homeless, the answer is yes. Earlier this year, police arrested volunteers for handing out food to the homeless population in a San Diego County park. The volunteers, who belong to a group called Break the Ban, organized to help the homeless after the El Cajon City Council passed an ordinance making it illegal to distribute food on property owned by the city. Their intentional violation of the law could result in some relatively harsh criminal penalties.

Ban on Distributing Food on City-Owned Land

In October 2017, the El Cajon City Council voted unanimously to pass an ordinance that prohibits anyone from handing out food on city property. The alleged purpose of this emergency ordinance was to keep residents of the city safe and limit outbreaks of Hepatitis A. The ordinance, however, has had a direct and significant negative impact on the city’s homeless population. Many of the city’s homeless residents either live or spend a great deal of their time on city property. Preventing anyone from distributing food puts these already-struggling individuals under additional and unnecessary stress.

What is the Penalty for Violating an Emergency Ordinance?

What happens when you violate a controversial ordinance that was recently put into effect by a small group of people? While none of the dozen volunteers who were arrested in El Cajon were carted off in handcuffs, each of them did receive a misdemeanor citation. This citation explains that they are accused of violating a specific law and that they must show up in court to discuss the matter.

 

In California, violating a local ordinance is a misdemeanor, unless otherwise stated in the law. In some cases, a city will explicitly state that a violation of the ordinance is an infraction, which will carry the possibility of a much less severe penalty. A misdemeanor violation of an ordinance is punishable by:

  1. Up to six months in a San Diego County jail,
  2. A maximum fine of $1,000,
  3. Summary probation, and/or
  4. Community service.

Fighting Criminal Charges for Feeding the Homeless

El Cajon law explicitly prohibits anyone from distributing food on city property. More than one dozen Break the Ban members knowingly and intentionally violated this law and handed out food to the city’s hungry homeless population. How can the volunteers defend their actions and beat the criminal charges they face?

 

Since these volunteers knowingly violated the law (and planned to do so) they will not be able to assert some of the most frequently used defenses: lack of intent and/or lack of knowledge. In many cases, you cannot be convicted of a crime if you didn’t intend to commit the crime or weren’t aware that you were committing a crime. As a result, the volunteers will have to rely on other, non-traditional arguments.

The volunteers will likely borrow from the playbook of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and argue that the El Cajon law is unjust. While he was in prison, King Jr. wrote in a letter “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” If the volunteers can prove that the law is discriminatory and unjust, a court may be reluctant to convict them of any criminal charges. Their arrests could ultimately lead to an intense and lengthy dispute over the Constitutionality the law. If a court determines that the law is discriminatory and unjust, the ordinance may be overturned. The volunteers cannot be convicted of a crime that does not exist.

San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney

If you’ve been charged with a crime – whether it’s for feeding the homeless, shoplifting, or attempted murder – it is incredibly important to fight for your future. If you are ever convicted of a crime you will be exposed to the criminal and collateral consequences that come with a criminal record. Having a record can make it difficult to get a job, find safe housing, and even participate in government welfare programs. You have the right and the power to defend yourself against any criminal charges, and the attorneys at the San Diego Criminal Law Center can help. Call us today to schedule a free consultation and learn more.

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.