Nicole Valera – Criminal Defense

Fighting the system, one case at a time…

The Press – Friend and Foe


I woke up this morning to get ready to go to court – just have one  matter and I will be done in court for the day.  I was going through my morning routine, which includes reading the news, getting my breakfast ready, picking out the clothes I am going to wear, when I came across this LA Times Article “Judge Halts Execution of Rapist and Murder”.  I am an opponent of the death penalty so this article piqued my interest, and especially the way the article was titled.

That title is meant to get you incensed – how on earth could a judge do such a thing? Save a rapist?  Save a murderer? Halt this monsters’ execution?

But if you read the article, it’s about the legality of the method in which a person is put to death in California. It reveals that recent inmates who have been executed in California may have not been completely anesthetized and may have suffered extreme pain from the cocktail of injections they received.  The way I read it, it suggest that the method in California may be cruel and unusual punishment, which is unconstitutional in our great nation.

It’s not about a judge “saving” a murderer or rapist.  The title is the first thing you read – it’s the theme that you carry with you while you read the article.  Will the average reader be able to read that article objectively?  Is the title just meant to grab the readers’ attention? Or is it meant to create fear that our justice system is getting soft and we need to toughen up on crime?  Because I can tell you, from working the front lines, a criminal defense attorneys’ job just gets harder and harder.

In my mind, I’ve always framed the death penalty issue as a human rights issue, and an issue for humanity.  I am sure that there are philosophers out there who can put it more eloquently than I will ever be able to express, so I will simply say that I oppose the death penalty.

The Press can be a friend to a cause as well – take for example, Jose Antonio Vargas and his series on the AIDS epidemic in Washington DC.  His work has inspired the documentary “The Other City”, a powerful film chronicling the real life experiences of those suffering from HIV/AIDS in our nations’ capital.

I don’t think the LA Times article does anything helpful for the anti-death penalty cause, and I have no idea if that was even the point.  I saw the title, was interested, and then immediately annoyed.  That title was there to get me to click on it.  Thoughts?

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September 29, 2010 Posted by | General Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Juvenile Criminal Defense – 2 very different stories


I had a juvenile criminal case today which I was able to settle favorably.  The minor was a very nice kid, 14 years old, who came from a stable 2 parent, middle class household.   He made a silly mistake and his parents stepped in right away to correct the behavior.  The criminal courts stepped in as well, which cued my entry into the whole thing.  I have hopes that I was able to settle the case in a way that would allow my client to lead a happy and productive life, but also learn from his experience and not repeat the behavior.

Today I spoke with a fellow criminal defense attorney friend of mine who had a 14 year old client – only he was not a juvenile court client, his case was being adjudicated in adult court.  Even though he was not an adult, he was being treated as one. I didn’t get a chance to ask my friend what he was charged with, but for a 14 year old to be in adult court, it was probably a very serious crime, perhaps murder, attempted murder, or something of the sort.

I started to wonder if there were any similarities between her client and mine.  Was it possible that her client came from a middle class background?  From a stable 2 parent household?  Did he go to school?  Did his parents step in with a firm hand the first time he had a brush with the law?

I don’t know, but I am guessing that my client and hers came from very different backgrounds.  That while the above questions could possibly be answered in the affirmative, it was likely that they would not be.  Representing juvenile clients has been some of my most rewarding work as a criminal defense attorney, but it is not without its moments of unbelievable sadness.  It’s sometimes difficult to get out of bed in the morning and make your way to the office or to court.

The best you can do is remember who you are fighting for – the underdog, the under represented, the often misunderstood, and sometimes, the under cared for.   Remembering that makes it easier to keep fighting.

September 28, 2010 Posted by | General Thoughts, Juvenile Criminal Defense | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Less is More


Blue ribbon

Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes being a good criminal defense lawyer means saying less is more. That’s probably the best lesson I ever learned when I first started out, and it has carried me to many victories.  I think the pressure to speak and ask questions is high, especially when 1) you don’t think your client trusts you, and/or 2) Your client is paying you a lot of money and you feel like you have to sing for your supper.

Yesterday I won a juvenile court adjudication/trial for a marijuana possession charge.  The police department had put up a fight when I requested the police report (as I documented on my private Facebook page a couple of days ago), so I just sent out a subpoena and they faxed the report over. I can honestly say I have NEVER had to subpoena an initial report.  EVER.  I guess there’s a first time for everything.

Anyway, when I got the report I was pleasantly surprised.  I don’t know if this is just the cynical criminal defense attorney in me, but maybe they didn’t want to send me the report because they realized how weak it is.  Anyway, I ended up doing the trial, even though my client was offered a diversion.  He felt very strongly about standing up for his principle and having his day in court.  I can’t agree more.  But sometimes you have to do a risk analysis, no matter how strong your principle is.  Even though I felt the case to be weak the diversion was tempting.

I have to say that the judge/referee in this case was extremely fair.  One thing you learn is how to size up your bench officer, but this is the first time I’d been in front of him and I didn’t know anyone else who had.  Even though I had a solid defense I proceeded with caution.  Although it was prudent, it wasn’t needed.  He could tell right away where the big hole was in the case, I asked 2 questions to clarify, and he dismissed it upon my 1118.1 motion.

So again, less is more.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | Juvenile Criminal Defense, The Latest, Wins | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Never a Dull Moment at a DUI Checkpoint


A sobriety checkpoint in East Haven, CT. Also ...

Image via Wikipedia

After getting stopped at a DUI checkpoint for the 2nd time this year I thought that it was time to blog about it and let you know my perspective which may be unique since I’m a criminal defense attorney.

The first time I was stopped at DUI checkpoint was in Santa Barbara. I had driven up from Los Angeles in order to give a speech at my alma mater UC Santa Barbara – A large part of my speech revolved around how I became a criminal defense attorney. A dear friend of mine, Ashlee, had agreed to come with me, and the free night at Bacara was probably a big draw as well.

I was naive about the traffic and thought that 3 hours would be plenty of time to get there. It wasn’t. I had to start putting on my makeup while sitting in traffic and changed into my suit in the bathroom. I gave my speech and Ashlee and I decided to go back to the hotel right away to shower and change. Right outside of the campus we got stuck in the DUI checkpoint. It was also a license checkpoint and they were stopping every single car. I suppose that’s the new guise now – make it a license checkpoint because then you have a constitutional reason for stopping everyone, whereas if it was only a DUI checkpoint then they would not be able to stop every single car, but instead follow a pattern.

As well pulled into the checkpoint the nice sheriffs deputy asked for my license, which I couldn’t find since in the flurry of rushing to the speech I had frantically thrown every item in the car this way and that. I calmly explained to him I would be happy to look in the trunk for it since I thought that’s where it was. He said ok, followed me to the back of the car and watched as I opened the trunk (which was thankfully free of contraband). I still couldn’t find my wallet. I gave him my drivers license number and he agreed to run it for me. As we were waiting he asked where I was headed and what I was doing in town. I told him I was staying at the Bacara, that I was a lawyer and that I had just given a speech at the university. He asked what kind of law and hesitated. He smiled and said, “Ohhhh, you must be a criminal defense attorney!” I smiled back and he said, “Well, let me know when you want to come to the good side.” I laughed it off and he came back letting me know I was good to go and that I was properly licensed.

Technically he could’ve given me a ticket for driving without my license, despite the fact that I was actually licensed. But the nice deputy didn’t seem to mind so, who am I to argue with the law?

The second time this year I was pulled over in a DUI checkpoint was last night. I was taking my friend’s brother home and the both of them were in my car. The traffic began to get heavy and I looked up to see the DUI checkpoint signs. I saw the motorcycle officers sitting to my left on the corner near the legally required turnout, knowing that just down the street there were more officers waiting to pull over those who were trying to abode the checkpoint.

We started to reminisce about the first time I had been pulled over in a checkpoint (Ashlee was in the car with me again – I’m going to start thinking twice about driving with her…) and as we drove by the motorcycle cops Ashlee decided to give them a nice parade wave.

I looked at her with daggers in my eyes and I said, “What did you wave at them for? Now we’re going to get pulled over for SURE!” She laughed maniacally, and I guess it didn’t matter because I wasn’t intoxicated, but who wants to talk to cops unless they have to?

As I watched several cars in front of us get waved through the checkpoint, I tried to count how many cars in front of me had gone without getting stopped. I was trying to establish that the city of Redondo Beach was complying with the constitutional guidelines set forth for them. I couldn’t figure it out since we had been placed in a single lane there was a gigantic moving truck in front of me blocking my full view.

As expected, we were stopped. I’m almost positive that the motorcycle cops had radioed ahead to the cops at the front to make sure we were stopped. I guess they figured that Ashlee had to be drunk to wave at them during a DUI checkpoint and were thinking that the driver (me) would be drunk as well.

The officer politely (and cheerfully, I might add) asked me for my drivers license. I gave it to him and he immediately asked if I had been drinking. I said no, with a smile and he said, “Just drunk people in the car, huh?” I smiled back at him and said nothing. Ashlee’s brother joked with the cop, “No officer, but we do have a Waver up here in the front” pointing to his sister. The officer laughed and asked if she had perfected her parade wave yet. He handed me back my license and waved me through.

Which brings me to some interesting thoughts – I have often asked a client who is stopped in a checkpoint what the pattern was for pulling cops over. What I mean by that is that cops have to pull over people in a DUI checkpoint with a formula mandated by a supervisor – for example, every 3 cars, or every 4 cars. When I was in that checkpoint, you couldn’t tell what the pattern was just because of the flow of traffic.

Another interesting thought – the officer asked if I had been drinking – if I had said yes I would’ve been pulled out of the car – he didn’t get close enough to smell any alcohol emitting from my breath, nor could he see whether my eyes were bloodshot and/or watery (which they were due to laser surgery that I had years ago). Just that question alone probably gets a lot of people without the officer having to do much work up to that point.

Anyway, Ashlee and I will no longer be driving in the same car. Although it was highly educational, I’ve had enough of going through DUI checkpoints.

September 1, 2010 Posted by | DUI | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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