Vandalism is defined under the California Penal Code Section 594 and covers a wide range of offenses. Normally, vandalism is prosecuted as a misdemeanor, but depending upon the circumstances, some actions may be prosecuted as felonies.  Generally, a vandalism misdemeanor involves criminal activity punishable by no more than one year in a county detention facility. Because vandalism (specifically graffiti) can involve tens of thousands of dollars in damage, the fines levied by the Courts can be very stiff.

To prove a charge of vandalism, a prosecutor must demonstrate that the defendant defaced, damaged or destroyed the real property of another person by painting, marking, etching or chemically altering property belonging to someone else. Public property is also included in the definition and includes “real property, vehicles, signs, fixtures, furnishings, or property belonging to any public entity…”

Acts of vandalism that result in damage less than $400 can be punished by fines of up to $1,000, detention in a county jail facility of not more than 1 year, or both. Repeated acts of vandalism less than $400 can incur the same jail term, fines of up to $5,000 or both.

More serious acts of vandalism – those in which the damage exceeds $400 but does not exceed $10,000 can lead to a detention term of up to one year in a county facility and a fine of up to $10,000.  If the damage exceeds $10,000 the fine can be increased to as much as $50,000.

In addition to the potential detention and fines, those convicted of vandalism can also be required by the Court to clean, repair, replace or restore the damaged property. Defendants can also be required to maintain damaged property for as much as a year following sentencing, meaning that the defendant can be required to clean new vandalism that occurs to a damaged property, even if the defendant did not cause the subsequent acts of vandalism. Parents and guardians can also be required to participate in restitution requirements if a minor under their care is convicted of vandalism charges.

Felony charges can be applied in vandalism cases if the act of vandalism is directed toward a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or other building owned or used by religious organizations and the vandalism is found to be a hate crime committed for the purpose of deterring people from exercising their religious beliefs or freedoms.

Although most vandalism charges will be prosecuted as misdemeanors, the law allows for felony charges under some circumstances, and enhancements to vandalism charges may allow a Judge to apply longer sentences to defendants convicted under this section of the California Penal Code. The fines for acts of vandalism can be intense, and parents can face significant financial risk if one of their children is convicted of a vandalism charge.

Defendants who are facing vandalism charges need the help of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Robert M. Helfend is a criminal defense attorney in Ventura County, and has successfully defended clients facing California criminal charges for 30 years. Mr. Helfend provides aggressive criminal defense in Ventura County. For a consultation on your case involving vandalism in Ventura County, contact the Law Offices of Robert M. Helfend toll-free at (800) 834-6434 or locally at (805) 273-5611, (310) 456-3317, or (818) 591-2809. Robert M. Helfend is an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you!

Two residents of Simi Valley were arrested recently, and drugs with a street value of more than $400,000 were also seized.  The pair, now facing charges of possession with intent to sell, had been observed over several months by the Ventura County Interagency Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit, and was arrested after allegedly selling more than 1.5 pounds of methylone to an undercover agent. Authorities say that the pair was also illegally importing methylone from China.

Methylone is a stimulant and hallucinogenic substance, and is the subject of a 2011 emergency DEA order, making it illegal to possess or distribute in the United States. The drug is chemically similar to Ecstasy and is sometimes sold as Ecstasy on the street. It has also been sold as “bath salts,” even though methylone differs from each.

Authorities believe that the pair was the likely source of much of the methylone sold recently in Ventura County. As part of the arrest, officers searched residences in Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley. Those searches also turned up tens of thousands of dollars in cash, other illegal substances and production tools.

Possession with intent to sell is a serious charge in California.  The charge requires prosecutors to prove two elements:

  • Possession
  • Intent to sell

When illegal substances are found in an area like a residence, and the defendant knew the drugs were present and had control over them, the prosecutor can establish what is known as “constructive possession.”  Constructive possession” can be circumstantial. The prosecutor does not have to prove that the defendant actually knew that the illegal substances were present, but instead can rely on circumstances to show that the defendant should have known that the illegal substances were on his property and in his control.

“Intent to sell” can also be demonstrated by circumstantial evidence. Prosecutors often demonstrate intent to sell based on the quantity of the illegal substances seized. When a person possesses drugs for his own personal use, seizures are generally small. Illegal substances in large quantities, tools and materials used to produce or package drugs, raw materials for producing drugs, large quantities of cash, the presence of weapons, written records, and other evidence of organized production and distribution can all be used to demonstrate a person’s intent to sell drugs in his or her possession.

If a possession with intent to sell charge can be proven in court, the defendant can face substantial fines and a prison sentence of up to five years, even as a first-time offender. Repeat offenders risk additional penalties.

Robert M. Helfend is a criminal defense attorney in Ventura County, and has successfully defended clients facing California criminal charges for 30 years. Mr. Helfend provides

Ventura County law enforcement officials report that they have made more DUI arrests during the 2013 holiday season than they did during the holiday period in 2012. Over a 14-day period beginning on December 13, Ventura law enforcement agencies made more than 193 DUI arrests. During a comparable period in 2012, officials made 143 DUI arrests. The additional arrests represent a 35% increase in holiday DUI arrests.

The preliminary arrest data are being reported during a planned 20-day period of increased DUI enforcement in the area. The additional enforcement is being conducted by multiple agencies in Ventura County. The regional taskforce, funded in part by the California Office of Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, increased patrols and DUI checkpoints in Cal State Channel Islands, Camarillo, Moorpark, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Santa Paula, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks and Ventura.

Ventura County drivers who are arrested for DUI can expect a suspension of their California driver license within 30 days. In DUI enforcement, the California Department of Motor Vehicles acts independently of the court system. You have a limited amount of time to challenge this potential suspension in an administrative hearing at the DMV. If you do not act within 10 days of your arrest to request an administrative hearing, your license will be suspended for at least 4 months, depending upon your prior DUI conviction record within 10 years of the current arrest.

As a first-time offender, in addition to having your driver’s license suspended by the DMV, you may also be subjected to fines of up to $1,000, a jail term of up to 6 months, additional court-ordered license suspension, probation, and successful completion of a court-ordered alcohol awareness program. You may also be required to purchase more expensive auto insurance designed for “high-risk” drivers for up to three years following a DUI conviction. Repeat offenders may face increased fines and additional jail time. Third-time offenders face a two-year suspension of driving privileges, increased fines and jail time.

If you have been arrested for suspicion of DUI in Ventura County, you need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Robert M. Helfend is a criminal defense attorney in Ventura County, and has successfully defended clients facing California criminal charges for 30 years. Mr. Helfend provides aggressive criminal defense in Ventura County. For a consultation on your case involving a DUI arrest, contact the Law Offices of Robert M. Helfend toll-free at (800) 834-6434 or locally at (805) 273-5611, (310) 456-3317, or (818) 591-2809. Robert M. Helfend is an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you!

The New Year, the Fourth of July and other holidays might provide an opportunity for a little celebration, but celebrations should never include firearms. Celebrating the holidays with a firearm might trigger sanctions for firearms violations in Ventura County. Negligent discharge of a firearm, described in California Penal Code Section 246.3, can result in an incarceration in a county jail for up to one year.

The Penal Code defines negligent discharge of a firearm as the willful discharge of a firearm “in a grossly negligent manner which could result in injury or death to a person.” Celebratory gunfire would fall under this statute, if the prosecutor can prove that a defendant’s actions meet the legal definition of gross negligence. In California, juries are instructed to use the following definition when determining whether a defendant’s actions can be considered “grossly” negligent.

“A person acts with gross negligence when: [1] He or she acts in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury. AND [2] A reasonable person would have known that acting in that way would create such a risk. In other words, a person acts with gross negligence when the way he or she acts is so different from the way an ordinarily careful person would act in the same situation that his or her act amounts to disregard for human life or indifference to the consequences of that act.”

The prosecutor is not required to prove that personal injury or death did occur as the result of the firearm discharge, but instead, only that the defendant’s actions created a high risk of death or injury. If the firearm discharge occurs in an area that is occupied by other people, or where other people are in close proximity (such as at a party, or in a populated area), the prosecutor can easily meet this burden. If, in the worst case, the negligent discharge of a firearm did result in personal injury or death, and the shooter is identified, far more serious felony charges would be applied.

Firearms violations in California are serious, and people who are facing firearms violations need the help of a competent California criminal defense attorney. Robert M. Helfend is a criminal defense attorney in Ventura County, and has successfully defended clients facing California criminal charges for 30 years. Mr. Helfend provides aggressive criminal defense in Ventura County. For a consultation on your case involving negligent discharge of a firearm, contact the Law Offices of Robert M. Helfend toll-free at (800) 834-6434 or locally at (805) 273-5611, (310) 456-3317, or (818) 591-2809. Robert M. Helfend is an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you!

4 Things to Know About California's State Prison Realignment
4 Things to Know About California’s State Prison Realignment
A recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California concludes that the state’s 2011 public safety realignment program, which diverts certain low-level offenders from the state prison system to local county jails, has produced both positive and negative results. The study points out some significant impacts for persons convicted of non-violent crimes. In areas like Ventura and Oxnard, where the crime rates are comparatively high, local officials agree with the report’s conclusions. Here are four things to know about how the public safety realignment program has affected those convicted of certain crimes in Ventura County.

County jail sentences are shorter than state prison sentences

One outcome of the realignment program for those convicted of non-violent offenses is that they typically spend less time in the county jail than they would if they had been incarcerated in a state prison. The study found that county inmates typically serve about half of their sentences. Prior to realignment, typically a Ventura County inmate would serve about 70% of his or her sentence. Part of the reduction in time served comes in response to changes in the jail population over time. When offenders must be released, typically officials prefer to release non-violent offenders and those thought least likely to commit repeat offenses.

Property crimes are on the rise

For those convicted of low-level offenses, one of the consequences of shorter jail sentences is that newly released inmates have contributed to a noticeable increase in property crimes. According to the study, currently about 27,000 persons who would likely have still been in prison under the old system are now on the streets. Overall, auto thefts account for the majority of the additional property crimes, although other property crimes have also shown an increase. The study concluded that approximately 1.2 additional auto thefts per offender have been committed since the realignment took effect. Comparatively, the study found that property crimes in general increased by between 1 and 1.5 crimes per released offender. The study authors attributed the increase in crimes to the number of offenders on the streets who would still have been incarcerated in a state prison under the former program.

Released offenders aren’t committing violent crimes

According to the study, violent crimes in California have risen since the realignment, but the increase closely mirrors an increase in violent crimes nationwide. Therefore, the study authors conclude, the increase in violent crimes in California is part of a national trend, and cannot be attributed to the state’s public safety realignment. Additionally, the evidence suggests that low-level offenders who have been released as part of the realignment are not responsible for the increase in violent crimes. Those who have been re-arrested in general are re-arrested for non-violent offenses.

Property crime rates are still lower than they were a decade ago

History provides another positive outcome from the study. Even though property crimes in California have risen since the public safety realignment, overall the rate of property crimes is 20% lower today than it was ten years ago.

In general, the public safety realignment benefits low-level offenders who can be successfully diverted away from the state prison system and into county jails. From the perspective of a person convicted of a lower-level offense, the possibility of successfully completing a shorter sentence in a county jail facility instead of a state prison, or potentially receiving an alternative sentence that does not include jail time at all is attractive. On the other hand, convicted offenders who repeat even low-level crimes may run the risk of being sentenced more harshly after additional convictions.

Nothing takes the place of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Robert M. Helfend is a criminal defense attorney in Ventura County, and has successfully defended clients facing California criminal charges for 30 years. Mr. Helfend provides aggressive criminal defense in Ventura County and Los Angeles County. For a consultation on your case, contact the Law Offices of Robert M. Helfend toll-free at (800) 834-6434 or locally at (805) 273-5611, (310) 456-3317, or (818) 591-2809. Robert M. Helfend is an experienced Ventura criminal defense attorney who can help you!

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