Orange County, CA Criminal Defense Law Blog

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Burglary Statistics Reveal Decline in Crime

How common is burglary?

Posted By: Aggie Bonavoglia

Most people know someone who has been a victim of burglary or have been impacted directly by the crime themselves. Luckily, it seems a downward trend is in place. According to FBI statistics, there were an estimated 1,928,465 burglaries in 2013, which was a decrease of 8.6 percent from the year before.

An analysis by the United States Department of Justice of household burglary statistics from 1994-2011 also revealed a substantial decline. The rate of burglary decreased 56 percent from 1994 to 2011, from 63.4 to 27.6 per 1,000 United States households. That rate looks at attempted forcible entry, completed forcible entry and completed unlawful entry.

The biggest declines in the rate of completed burglary were with city households (down 63 percent), households headed by Hispanics (down 67 percent) and households with $75,000 or more in income (down 74 percent).

The portion of completed burglaries where cash, checks, purse, wallet, credit or bank cards were stolen remained roughly the same between 1994 (15 percent), 2001 (18 percent) and 2011 (17 percent). The biggest percentage of completed burglary involved the theft of personal items (clothing, luggage, jewelry, watches and keys) and electronics or household appliances (TVs, DVD players and portable electronic devices). 

In 2011, an electronic device or household appliance was stolen in an estimated third of completed burglaries. This probably reflects how much more common these items are and the demand by those willing to pay for stolen electronics and appliances.

If you or a loved one are facing burglary charges, Orange County criminal defense attorney Mark Raymond McDonald can help. He is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call (888)686-7874 for a free consultation.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

California Homicide Rates

How Common are Homicides in California?

According to statistics from the California Attorney General’s office, the rate of homicide, the unlawful killing of a person, has been going down in the state. Though that is good news for everyone, it still leaves potentially hundreds of people facing charges for this crime.

In 2013 1,745 homicides were reported. This is a 7.1% decrease from 2012 and a 27.1% decrease from the 2004 numbers. The 1,745 homicides indicate a rate of 4.6 homicides per 100,000 people in California. This is a decrease of 8% from the 5.0 rate in 2012 and a 31.3% decrease from the 6.7 rate in 2004. The rate reached a high of 7.0 in 2005. The homicide rate in 2013 is the lowest since 1964.

Men are the majority of homicide victims (82.1%) and the largest proportion of victims has also been consistently Hispanic (42.4%). As far as age, the largest percentage of victims is 18-29 but over half (56.4 %) of white victims were aged “40 and over.”  A friend or acquaintance killed approximately 46.9% percent of victims. Strangers were the next most common group (30.9%) and 16.5% of homicides were by a spouse, parent or child.  The street or sidewalk is the most common scene of a homicide (36.5%) and 25.5% percent of homicides were in the victim’s residence and 14% were in another person’s residence.

In California, homicide can be charged as murder or manslaughter. A murder conviction requires a showing of "malice aforethought" which is the defendant's intent or state of mind. A prosecutor would need to show the defendant had express (a deliberate attempt at murder) or implied (actions without care for another’s safety or with extreme recklessness) malice for a conviction.

There are two types of murder charges in California, first and second degree. First degree murder cases normally involve premeditation, deliberate planning and an intent to kill. State laws include special circumstances a prosecutor must show to charge someone with first degree murder. If none apply, a second degree murder charge can be pursued.

If you or a family member are in Orange County and have been charged with homicide, or are being investigated in a homicide case, it is critical you get legal help because many of those convicted of murder spend the rest of their lives in prison. Contact criminal defense attorney Mark Raymond McDonald by calling (888)686-7874 today.


Friday, January 02, 2015

Threatening Social Media Posts

When is a Threat Made on Social Media a Crime?

There is no lack of strong statements and opinions on social media, but when do these comments cross the line enabling the writer to be criminally charged with making a threat? In December of 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case where this is the key issue.

Anthony Elonis is a Pennsylvania resident convicted of the federal crime of making threatening statements relating to his estranged wife and law enforcement officials on the internet. He claims he had no intention of frightening anyone, his writings were "therapeutic" and they helped him cope with his broken marriage.

His attorney, John Elwood, argued that the prosecution needed to prove Elonis intended to create fear in others and make them feel threatened in order to be found guilty of the crime. "If he knows [his wife] is in fear he does not have the right to carry on," Elwood was quoted as saying.

Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben, representing the federal government, told the justices Elonis’ intent was irrelevant and that the standard should be whether a reasonable person would have felt threatened. He said that the court needs to make it easier to hold people accountable for their words, and that Elonis’ use of rap lyrics did not turn threats into an artistic or therapeutic expression.

Elonis was sentenced to nearly four years in prison after being convicted of threatening to injure another person for posting writings such as: 

• "There's one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I'm not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts."
• "I've got enough explosives to take care of the state police and the sheriff's department."
• "Enough elementary schools in a ten mile radius to initiate the most heinous school shooting ever imagined. And hell hath no fury like a crazy man in a kindergarten class."

In order for  Elonis to be convicted of the crime of threatening in the state of California the prosecution would not need to show that he intended to follow through on his alleged threats.  All the prosecution would have need to show is that his alleged threats to commit a crime that could result in great bodily injury or death caused his ex-wife fear. 
If you have questions about social media, crime and legal issues involving threatening, contact criminal defense attorney Mark McDonald at his Orange County office by calling (888)686-7874 today for a free consultation.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Grand Juries in California

How Do Grand Juries Work in Orange County?

The recent controversies over the failure to indict police officers in Missouri and New York have cast a spotlight on grand juries and how they work.  California has its own unique grand jury system.

Being a member of a grand jury is a year long, full time job. Though it is supposed to be representative of the county’s residents, only those who can get by on $50 a day need apply. You need to be a U.S. citizen at least 18 years old. There is an application process, applications are reviewed, applicants interviewed and background checks are done (members cannot have any felony convictions). Nineteen people sit on a grand jury in California, plus alternates.

Grand juries have two purposes.  In the civil context, grand juries investigate and report on allegations of misconduct against public officials and local government, and decide whether or not to present formal accusations requesting their removal from office. 

In the criminal context, grand juries weigh criminal charges and determine whether indictments should be returned. In a criminal case, a prosecutor will go to a judge with evidence that an individual committed a crime. Having a grand jury look into the case is an alternate route for the prosecution. The prosecutor needs to show to the grand jury that a crime took place and there is probable cause that the accused committed the crime. 

In both the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, the police officers under investigation testified to the respective grand juries. In California, that would be highly unusual, because most of the time those under grand jury investigation are not aware they are being considered for an indictment as the proceedings are secret.

If you are in Orange County, California, and being investigated by a law enforcement agency but charges have yet to be filed, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and liberty. Call criminal defense attorney Mark Raymond McDonald at (888)686-7874 today for a free consultation.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Domestic Violence Conviction Could End a Military Career

Unless a conviction for a domestic violence charge involves enough time away from work to result in the defendant being fired, it normally wouldn’t impact one’s job status. For those serving in the military, a conviction of one of these charges could end one’s career.

Domestic violence claims among military families are not unusual. According to the Department of Defense, in fiscal 2011 military social workers worked with 14,237 people in response to domestic violence reports. If that alleged violence occurs off base and civilian law enforcement are involved, subsequent charges would be handled through the civilian criminal justice system. If you find yourself in this situation, we can help. We do not represent service members in court martial or military separation issues, but we can refer you to a qualified, experienced attorney who does.

The Lautenberg Amendment of 1996 amended the federal Gun Control Act, which was created to prevent domestic violence offenders from carrying firearms or ammunition. There is no exception for military members. If one is convicted of a domestic violence crime, that person will be restricted from carrying a weapon and ammunition. That often will prohibit a service member from fulfilling their duties for combat duty or training, making it likely that they will face discharge. That discharge could have a devastating effect on someone planning on making a career of military service or who has served nearly enough time to qualify for retirement benefits.

If a commanding officer suspects that you may have a qualifying conviction the officer must secure your access to any government issued firearms or ammunition (unless you’re deployed) and any privately owned firearms or ammunition stored on base. You would be referred to the command’s staff judge advocate to determine if you have a qualifying conviction.  If you do, you will be unable to complete annual training requirements that will require the use of firearms or ammunition (such as marksmanship training). 

While it’s never a good thing to be convicted of a domestic violence charge, service members need to be especially wary of domestic violence claims. With a career possibly at risk, service members need to have a criminal defense attorney represent them every step of the way in the civilian criminal justice system. If you’re a member of the military in Orange County, California, facing domestic violence charges contact The Law Offices of Mark Raymond McDonald at (949)460-6421 or (800)595-8159 today for a free consultation.


Monday, November 24, 2014

I’ve Been Pulled Over by the Police. What Do I Do?

If you’ve been pulled over by a police officer for suspected DUI, act and speak professionally. Do not be angry or yell at the officer. Do not complain about that important meeting you’re missing or that you really want to go home. Do not do or say anything that may be interpreted by the officer as a threat. You do have rights that need to be protected, but being confrontational is not the way to go.

Detained But Not in Custody

During a traffic stop you are considered “detained” which means you are not “in custody” but also not free to go. 

• The officer is not obligated to read you your Miranda rights at this point. If asked questions about whether you have been drinking and how much, your answers can be used against you. 
• You have the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and can refuse to answer questions. 
• What you must do is provide your driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. You’re under no obligation to answer questions that may incriminate you.

The No Win Situation: Field Sobriety Tests

The officer may ask you to perform some field sobriety tests. 

• These tests are voluntary and interpreting your performance is extremely subjective. 
• They are supposed to test motor skills, divided attention and information retention. 
• If the officer decides that you failed the tests, he or she could testify in court that you were unable to satisfactorily perform these tests. 
There are many potential issues that can impact your performance, whether you’re intoxicated or not. 
• You don’t know what these tests are and have never done them before. 
• There are flashing police lights, traffic driving by, you are nervous, you are hoping no one who knows you sees you, you do not hear or understand the instructions. 
• If you ask that instructions be repeated or there was one mistake, the officer could decide you failed the test.
If asked to take such tests, politely say no and state they are too subjective and not mandated by state law.

The next step could be a request to take a roadside breath test known as a PAS (preliminary alcohol screening, commonly known as a breathalyzer). If you are on probation for a DUI conviction or are under 21, you must submit to that roadside test. Otherwise, it is another field sobriety test you can refuse to take. 

If you submit to the test and the result is over 0.08%, it may provide the probable cause to arrest you. If you do not submit, the officer must decide if there is probable cause to arrest you or not. If there is no probable cause, you cannot be lawfully arrested and any subsequent chemical test and blood-alcohol result could be excluded from evidence by the court at trial.

Probable Cause and Tests

If there is probable cause to arrest you, you are required by law to submit to a chemical test, either by breath or blood. 

• Breath test results are more easily disputed in court because your breath cannot be preserved. 
• With a blood test, you have a right to have the samples retested by an independent lab to determine the accuracy of the government’s test results. 
• If you refuse the chemical test after being lawfully arrested for DUI, you can still be forced to have blood drawn from you. The results can be used against you in court and it could increase the punishment for refusing the chemical test. 

If you’ve been pulled over, you should refuse to answer questions that may incriminate you and refuse to take field sobriety tests.  But if you are arrested, take the blood test and hope for the best. If you’ve been charged with DUI in Orange County, California, it’s not something to take lightly. Contact The Law Offices of Mark Raymond McDonald at (949)460-6421 or (800)595-8159 for a free consultation.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Impaired Driving is Illegal, Whether Due to Alcohol or Drugs

Most people might imagine those arrested for driving under the influence would be pulled over after drinking too much at a party or a bar. For increasing numbers of drivers their impairment has nothing to do with drinking and everything to do with using drugs, both legal and illegal.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that in a 2007 survey more than 16% of weekend, nighttime drivers tested positive for illegal, prescription or over-the-counter drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). More than 11% tested positive for illegal drugs. A 2009 NHTSA study found 18% of fatally injured drivers tested positive for at least one illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter drug, according to NIDA.
California law was changed this year so that it distinguishes between those operating under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both. State law defines "drugs" as any substance other than alcohol that could affect your nervous system, brain or muscles. You would be considered “under the influence” if a drug impairs you to the point that you can no longer drive like a sober person under similar circumstances. It doesn’t matter whether the drug is illegal, over the counter or a prescription medication.

There are no current, reliable roadside tests for drug use by drivers. Due to that lack of equipment the investigation should be led by a drug recognition expert trained to spot drug impairment. This makes it even more critical that someone pulled over and questioned exercise their rights to legal representation and not to make any self-incriminating statements to law enforcement. 

The best way to avoid a conviction for driving under the influence of drugs is to not use illegal drugs and if you’re taking medications be aware of how they may impair your ability to drive. Ask your physician or pharmacist if a medication could impair your driving. Don’t take medications for the first time then get behind the wheel because you may end up being surprised when a police officer pulls you over.

DUI due to drug use is a serious offense which can have far ranging consequences.  If you have been arrested for DUI, call Orange County, California criminal defense attorney Mark Raymond McDonald at (888)686-7874 for a consultation today.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Young Irvine Man Convicted of Murder of Father
While a lot of crime happens out on the street between strangers, many of the most serious offenses happen inside the home between family members.  Some of these crimes are the result of mental illness, others occur out of anger or fear.  In a recent Orange County case, a young man has been convicted of killing his father in their Irvine home. 

Steven Bruno shot his father Ernest Bruno after the two had an argument about Steven’s circumstances.  Steven’s parents were divorcing and he was living with his father, Ernest Bruno, in a Newport Beach condo.  According to Steven, Ernest became angry with him because he could not find a job.  His father packed the car with Steven’s things and the two began to verbally argue and physically fight.  Steven claims that he became fearful so he grabbed his father’s pistol and locked himself in the bathroom.  He says that he planned to commit suicide but instead exited the bathroom and shot his father twice.  He then took his father’s money and car, locked the body in the home office and started driving to Ohio to see his internet girlfriend.  Steven’s brother arrived at the condo, found pools of blood and stained linens and called the police.  The police found Ernest’s body in the office.  Steven was eventually arrested in Colorado after being pulled over for a broken taillight and speeding.

Steven confessed to shooting his father but claims that it was out of fear.  His attorneys claim he was suffering from mental illness at the time of the shooting.  At trial, the prosecutor tried to paint Steven as a cold-blooded killer.  But, the defense maintained that the killing was accidental.  The jury found the prosecutor’s case more believable and handled down a guilty verdict.  Steven is now facing 40 years in prison.

If you have been implicated or charged with homicide or another serious violent crime, you need a seasoned criminal defense attorney on your side.  Contact Orange County, California attorney Mark Raymond McDonald at (888)-686-7874 for a consultation today.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Laguna Beach Businessman Indicted for White Collar Crime
Crime is not isolated to those with a low socioeconomic status or that lack a formal education.  The wealthy and business savvy are often involved in criminal activity.  Anyone has the potential to commit a crime, but when the stakes are high, the temptation can be too much for some to resist, as evidenced by a recent California case. 

Recently, an Orange County, California businessman has been charged with a serious financial crime.  Wealthy 49 year old Brady Bunte of Laguna Beach owns a tequila company and a chip company in Mexico and owned a mortgage company in the United States.  Trust One Mortgage, owned by Bunte, was based in Irvine, California, and in 1998 was reported to employ almost 150 people and was allowed to provide services in 29 states.  The company, although now reportedly out of business, is at the center of Bunte’s criminal charges.  Bunte is accused of making 43 fraudulent requests for funding through his California mortgage company. Many of the requests were approved and Bunte allegedly collected $17.9 million in funding from National City and PNC during the years of 2007 and 2008.  He apparently paid back approximately $5 million to these companies but is still on the hook for $12 million.  

In September, Bunte was indicted on one count of fraudulent request for funding   encompassing the 43 instances.  He was arraigned in a U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, California earlier this month.  For the crimes, Bunte could potentially serve 30 years in prison and have to pay a $1 million dollar fine.

These allegations might come as a shock to some as Bunte and his wife were regarded as high society citizens, appearing in magazines and attending charity events.  It is important to remember that anyone can commit a crime and that this includes the most affluent among us.

If you have been implicated in a white collar crime, you should retain a seasoned criminal defense attorney to handle your case. Contact Orange County, California attorney Mark Raymond McDonald at (888)-686-7874 for a consultation today.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Man Could Go To Prison For Death of Wife 20 Years Ago
Murder is the most serious offense you can be accused of.  For some people, being suspected of murder can go on for many years.  That is what happened in a recent Orange County criminal case.

Paul Curry met his future wife, Linda, while they both worked at the San Onofre Nuclear Plant in 1989.  Paul was an engineer and chemist at the plant.  The pair married approximately three years later when Linda was 48 and Paul was 35.  Linda had been chronically ill for years before meeting Paul.  Linda had taken out considerable life insurance policies and unbeknownst to Paul, made her sister the beneficiary.  The couple lived together in San Clemente, California until 1994, when Linda died.  Soon after her death, Paul tried to collect on the life insurance policies but was denied because Linda’s sister was named to inherit.  Paul fought to collect Linda’s life insurance and ended up receiving over $500,000 in proceeds.  

Linda died from an overdose of nicotine and law enforcement always suspected that Paul was responsible in some way.  They did not have enough evidence to prosecute him in 1994 but reopened the case in 2007 when new evidence surfaced.  Paul was arrested and his case went to trial earlier this year. Prosecutors alleged that Paul injected Linda with a lethal dose of nicotine with the intent to kill her and painted him as a cold-hearted killer. According to Paul’s defense counsel, Linda was ill for many years and wanted to get better so she sometimes turned to unusual or rare medical treatments.  One of these unusual medical treatments involved high doses of nicotine.  The defense is arguing that this type of treatment is what led to her nicotine poisoning.  As closing arguments have been completed in the proceedings, the case is now in the jury’s hands. Strikingly, Paul could face a harsh prison sentence for a death that occurred 20 years ago.

If you were suspected of a crime, you might think you are in the clear when you are no longer being pursued by the police.  But, investigations can go on for years, even decades, and if you are a suspect, you can remain one for that period of time.  By retaining an experienced criminal defense attorney at the outset of an investigation, you increase your chances of obtaining a favorable result.  Call Orange County, CA attorney Mark Raymond McDonald at (888)-686-7874 for a consultation today.

Monday, September 15, 2014

You Could Lose Your License For DUI Arrest, Even If Not Convicted
Driving under the influence is a serious problem in the United States.  Even so, it is important to remember that not all who are arrested for the crime are guilty.  Unfortunately, even those who are not guilty can face serious consequences.  

Statistics show that approximately 186,000 people were arrested in 2011 for DUI in the State of California.  Around 20% of these people were not convicted of the crime.  Unfortunately, many of them still had their licenses suspended after beating the charges.  This is because a California law allows the Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend the license of an individual that was arrested for driving with a higher than allowed blood alcohol level.  In this instance, even if a judge determines that there is not enough evidence to proceed with the case or the charges are dropped for another reason, the DMV can still decide that you are guilty and restrict your driving privileges for a certain amount of time.  If you are acquitted of the charges after trial, the DMV is forced to lift the suspension.

The arresting agency is the one that will initially take away your license.  After you are arrested, they will suspend your license and issue you a restricted one.  Then, the DMV is provided with an official report of the incident and begins its process.  A hearing officer reviews the case and either decides to confirm or overturn the suspension.  The accused does have a right to hearing and if they request one, evidence they submit can also be reviewed.

A non-profit group has recently challenged the law and is claiming that it is unconstitutional as the hearing officer functions as a representative of the DMV and the decision maker at the same time.  They also allege that hearing officers are often pressured into deciding for the DMV and can face penalties if they do not.

DUI is a serious offense and can have direct and indirect consequences.  If you have been arrested or are suspected of a crime, you should call Orange County, CA attorney Mark Raymond McDonald at (888)-686-7874 for a consultation today.

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Archived Posts

Rapper Arrested in Orange County, California on Gun Charges
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The Impact of Additional Charges On a California Murder Case
"DUI" May Be a Matter of Opinion
Alternative Sentencing Options in the Orange County Area
Warrantless Cell Phone Data Searches: A Violation of the Fourth Amendment?
California Lawmaker Seeks Ban on 'Affluenza' Defense
Challenging the Accuracy of Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Test Results
California Supreme Court Deals a Blow to DUI Defense
Guns and Weapons Charges in Orange County
Domestic Violence in California
An Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney can Help you Through the Toughest Situations
California Lawmaker Supports U.S. Attorney General’s Stance on Drug Crime Reform
Irvine Murder Investigation Reopened
2012 “Crime in California” Report Just Released. What Does the Information Mean to Offenders?
Child Pornography and Child Molestation Charges and Sentencing
Nationwide Sting Highlights Law Enforcement Officials’ Focus on Sex Crimes
Motions: Paving the Way to Defense Victory
Sex Crime Charges in California: What Can You Expect Following a Conviction?
The New Three Strikes Law
Probation, Parole and Ankle Bracelets: What Does the Future of Electronic Monitoring Look Like?

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