San Diego Violent Crimes Attorney
I am Vista and San Diego violent crimes attorney Peter M. Liss, and I can help you. I have personally defended hundreds of individuals who have been arrested and charged with:
- Animal Abuse
- Assault With a Deadly Weapon
- Car Jacking
- Child Abuse
- Criminal Threats
- Domestic Violence
- Drive-By Shootings
- Gang Crimes
- Guns & Weapons Offenses
- Hate Crimes
- Attempted Murder
- Vehicular Homicide
- Violent Sex Crimes
and other related crimes. I can also help you if you face a potential “third strike” under the three-strikes law. If you need a when you need a top criminal defense because you are facing these types of accusations, please call me today. You will receive top-quality representation for a reasonable fee.
What is a Violent Crime in California?
Generally speaking, a violent crime is any crime that involves force or the threat of force, but California state has a specific list of crimes considered “violent offenses,” meaning that when charged as a felony, they are subject to the state’s three strikes law. If you are convicted of a felony violent crime, it is a strike whether or not you go to jail or prison. If you get sent to a state prison, you will be required to serve 85% of the sentence before being eligible for parole.
Enhancements Related to the Use of Force
In some cases, the use of force determines which charge is filed. A good example is when the prosecutor decides whether an offense should be charged as a typical theft or a robbery. If the suspect knocked the victim over, it is up to the prosecutor to determine whether or not this is enough force to justify the much more severe robbery charge. In cases like this, a San Diego violent crimes lawyer may be able to show that because minimal force was used, a lesser charge should be filed.
Some of the Most Common Violent Crimes
In general, violent criminal offenses carry stiff penalties in California and require a lawyer experienced in defending serious legal violations like these. There are many different violent crimes in California, and each carries distinct penalties and requires a unique method of defense. These are some of the most commonly charged types of violent offenses in San Diego County:
Assault and Battery
These are the most commonly charged violent crimes in San Diego. While often confused with one another, assault and battery are two distinct offenses. Battery means intentionally using force or violence on another person without their consent. Assault is the threat or attempted use of force paired with the ability to cause injury.
Battery can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending primarily on how serious any resulting injuries were. If “great bodily injury” occurs, battery becomes a strike under the three strikes law. Penalties may include jail, prison time, fines, probation or parole, and other consequences.
It is worth noting that mutual combat is not technically legal in California but that prosecutors will rarely file charges in these cases unless one party suffers dramatically worse injuries than the other.
Gun Laws and Other Weapon Offenses
Commonly violated gun laws in California include having a concealed firearm, unlawfully discharging a firearm, brandishing a firearm, possession of an unregistered firearm, carrying an unlicensed firearm, shooting at an inhabited dwelling or vehicle, unlawful selling of a firearm, carrying guns and certain drugs at the same time, improper storing of a firearm and other criminal offenses.
When it comes to what weapons are illegal to possess in California, state law prohibits the possession of switchblades, assault weapons, brass knuckles, most concealed weapons and more. Additionally, the National Firearms Act prohibits possessing or using a machine gun or silencer. While most knives and swords are legal to carry with you, it is illegal to conceal the weapon.
Similarly, some people are subject to additional weapons restrictions. For example, those convicted of any felony, or misdemeanor gang crimes, domestic violence or hate crimes cannot possess firearms; and those convicted of any felonies cannot have stun guns or pepper spray.
Penalties for violating weapons laws may include jail or prison, fines, loss of the right to own a deadly weapon, and other consequences. Additionally, using a firearm while committing certain crimes can add more prison time of 10, 20 or 25 years to life to the penalty, depending on whether the gun was fired or if anyone was injured or killed.
Gang and Hate Crime Enhancements
Both gang and hate crimes are not actual criminal charges in California but “enhancements” to other offenses, meaning you cannot be found guilty of these accusations unless you are first convicted of another underlying charge. In the case of gang crimes, the prosecution must prove that you committed an offense related to gang activity. You do not need to be a gang member or be listed on the gang registry to face these enhancements -simply breaking the law to help a gang or to join a gang is enough.
Prosecutors may add hate crime enhancements to a charge if they believe you targeted the victim based on their race, ethnicity, origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability. It does not matter whether or not the victim was a minority; if anyone attacks another person based on those protected characteristics, they can face hate crime charges.
For either enhancement, those charged with a misdemeanor will be convicted of a felony instead. In cases where the crime was already a felony, those convicted of a gang crime will have 4 years added to their sentence, and those convicted of a hate crime will have 3 years added. For notably serious crimes such as drive-by shootings or murders, gang crime laws add an extra 10 years of prison time to the sentence, rather than the standard four. Additionally, those convicted of a gang-related felony will have a strike added to their record.
Someone could face both gang crime and hate crime enhancements if the prosecution believes they were acting on behalf of a gang and targeted someone based on one of the protected characteristics. For example, suppose a man commits felony battery on a Jewish person to join a white power gang. In that case, he could face both enhancements, potentially adding seven years and a strike to the sentence for the initial battery charge.
Murder, Manslaughter and Vehicular Homicide
Murder is the unlawful, unjustified, intentional killing of a human being. Manslaughter is an unlawful killing of a human being without intent to kill. Vehicular homicide — also called vehicular manslaughter — means unlawfully killing another person with a vehicle without intent to kill. Attempted murder is an unsuccessful attempt to unlawfully and intentionally take someone’s life.
These crimes are legally complex, with potentially severe penalties. Murder is punishable by 15 years to life for 2nd-degree murder and 25 years to life imprisonment for 1st-degree murder, which involves premeditation and deliberation. If “special circumstances” apply to the murder, the penalty is life without parole or the death penalty. In this context, special circumstances include:
- Financial gain
- A previous murder conviction on your record
- Escaping arrest
- Murder of a witness or law enforcement officer
- The use of poison or a bomb
- Lying in wait
- Drive-by shooting
- Deaths that occur during the commission of a felony
- Murders performed as part of a hate crime or gang crime
Manslaughter or attempted murder is punishable by a prison sentence or probation.
While assisted suicide is legal in California, the aid can only come from a licensed physician, and the patient must be terminally ill and not suffer from diminished mental capabilities. If you killed someone who wanted to die, even if they begged you to do so, and it falls outside the very narrow scope of legal assisted suicide, you could face murder charges.
The Best Defenses to Violent Crimes
There are many different defenses to these criminal accusations, and not every defense will apply to every situation, though in some cases, your attorney may choose to use multiple defenses. Never attempt to mount any defense without first speaking to your defense attorney. Also, remember that police have all kinds of tricks to get people to confess or say things that can later be used against them, so you should never speak to any law enforcement officer without your criminal defense attorney present.
While sometimes the best option is to agree to a plea bargain that will minimize the charges or sentencing you may face, other times, it’s better to fight the accusations altogether. Some common defenses used in these types of criminal cases include:
You Were Acting in Self-Defense
One of the most effective defenses in violent crime cases is to argue that you were acting in self-defense because this defense fully shields you. To successfully use this defense, you must show that you or someone else was in immediate danger and that you used no more force than necessary to stop the threat. If you killed someone when you were not actually in imminent danger, or if you unnecessarily used deadly force, you may be able to argue that you performed imperfect self-defense, meaning you should face manslaughter rather than murder charges. You can also use force to protect your property, but this defense does not work in cases involving deadly force.
Challenging the Evidence
While shows like CSI may have convinced the public otherwise, forensic science has many problematic issues. Some studies show that blood splatter analysis may be complete junk science. Similarly, just because an eyewitness identified you doesn’t mean you are guilty, as multiple studies have shown that eyewitness accounts can be highly unreliable.
Law Enforcement Errors or Misbehavior
If police tricked you into confessing after denying you of your right to see an attorney, or if officers searched your home without a valid warrant, your attorney may be able to prohibit the resulting evidence from being used against you. In cases of grave misconduct or where there is too little remaining evidence to secure a conviction, the case may be dropped altogether.
An Alibi Backs Your Story
If someone has accused you of a crime, but you have a reliable alibi proving you could not have been at the crime scene when the crime was committed, this may be a critical piece of evidence showing your innocence.
The Incident Was a Result of an Accident
Most (though not all) violent crimes require the defendant to have acted with intent. So, for example, if you were playing baseball and someone leaned in to tell you something right as you swung the bat, you couldn’t be charged with battery no matter how badly they were injured.
You Were Acting Under Duress
If someone forced you to commit a crime by threatening your life or someone else’s, you can argue that you had no choice. However, this defense cannot be used in homicide cases, as it is not considered valid to trade one life for another.
You Were Unaware You Were Breaking the Law
Again, this defense does not apply to all crimes, but you can only break some laws willingly. A good example is if you were accused of possessing an illegal weapon. Even if you had an assault rifle with a silencer in your car, if your defense lawyer can reasonably argue that you did not know it was there, for example, you were able to show that someone put it there without your knowledge, you are not guilty.
A Parent’s Right to Discipline
This defense is only applicable in cases involving alleged child abuse. Even then, it only works when the parent can claim they were using reasonable discipline, which excludes any instances where the parent punched, kicked, choked, or caused a traumatic injury to the child. As long as these circumstances apply, you may be able to argue that you were using no more force than necessary to discipline your child.