Your health is not the most important thing.  Your freedom is.

Most people consider their health as the most important thing in life.  Whoever thinks that never spent any time in prison.  There is one thing that is far worse than having poor health: losing your freedom.

You can be in bad health and still have a good quality of life if your relationships with loved ones, your mobility, and your finances are intact.  Dealing with declining health, and even end-of-life issues are as natural and necessary parts of life as growing up.  But as unpleasant as poor health can be, it shrinks to insignificance in comparison with losing one’s freedom.

No one can ever be prepared to deal with the soul-crushing agony of being incarcerated.  Everything that makes life worth living is suddenly taken away, not the least of which is one’s ability to choose in even the most trivial matters.

Health?  An inmate’s diet is a catalogue of cheap, disgusting bulk food, totally bereft of discernible taste or even passable nutritional value.  Even a relatively short prison sentence can in actuality be a life sentence for anyone suffering from health issues requiring decent food, medicine, and competent medical treatment.  The sad fact is that many incarcerated persons die of preventable illnesses due to poor health care in prison.

The psychological impact of prison can destroy a person from within.  Without one’s freedom, the sense of loss of control is more than many people can endure.  You cannot be close to your loved ones or friends.  You cannot go anywhere but within the physical confines of your incarceration, and often times that space is less than you might find in a motel bathroom.  You may have to share this small space with a cellmate that not only is not of your choosing, but indeed may be sexually aggressive or even a homicidal threat to you.  Prisons are very lightly guarded due to budgetary constraints, so violent crimes against inmates are not only prevalent, but in some institutions, very likely to occur.  It is a fact that prisons are the highest crime areas in America.  The suicide rate is prison is the highest of any population.

The loss of one’s job and reputation are further consequences that will outlive incarceration.  The shame and disgrace of losing one’s freedom not only leaves a scar on one’s soul, it forever changes the way our former colleagues, friends and family members will see you.  Regaining one’s financial and social life after incarceration can often be impossible.  Stigma and shame follow the convicted person like a dark shadow.

The more educated the incarcerated person is, the more likely he or she will have a license of some sort placed in jeopardy by a criminal conviction.  A felony conviction will preclude obtaining or keeping any license to practice medicine or law, and licensed occupations like real estate agents, accountants, and the like are also in danger of being refused or cancelled.

If you are faced with a criminal charge, you face the loss of the most precious thing you have: your freedom.  Finding and obtaining the legal representation of the best attorney you can get is paramount in our quest to retain your freedom and to avoid the loss of everything that makes your life worth living.  Price shopping, do-it-yourself legal research, and other such follies will result in poor legal representation at the most critical time in your life.

My name is Michael Ross, and I am proud to offer the most comprehensive and professional legal representation available.

I offer personal representation in each and every case I accept.

I offer unprecedented accessibility to every client.

I offer over twenty-five years of experience in every area of criminal law.

Please contact me at (415) 345-1335 if you wish to obtain quality legal counsel in your criminal matter.

The Cost of a Good Lawyer – Or: How Much Is Your Freedom Worth?

If you have been accused (or you think that you may be accused) of a crime, you will soon have to make a decision as to which attorney will be representing you.

You will be concerned about the cost of good legal representation, and you should be.  You have a great deal at stake.  It has been said that your health is the most important thing.  I disagree.  Your freedom from incarceration is the most important thing.  You can be free but in poor health and still have an acceptable quality of life, but if you go jail, your quality of life drops to zero.

Having established the importance of obtaining the best legal representation, it must quickly be stated that price-shopping for legal representation in a criminal matter is as foolish as trying to find the cheapest doctor for a serious medical condition.

Like many experienced criminal attorneys, I set my retainer on a “sliding scale” based on the seriousness of the case and my client’s ability to afford private counsel.  This issue of cost of representation is part of the initial client interview, where other factors such as the confidence of the client in the attorney and the indispensable chemistry between client and counsel has its beginnings.

If you have reason to believe that you are the target of a criminal investigation, you need to seek legal representation immediately, before you are charged by arrest or a criminal complaint.

Some people wait until they are facing the criminal complaint that has already been charged by the prosecutor.  It can be a costly mistake to wait for this stage.  In certain cases, this may result in the prosecution being avoided altogether if your attorney is able to convince the prosecutor that the case is too weak to bring to court.   In cases where the case never comes to court in the first place, the attorney’s representation may have begun even before you are arrested or charged with an offense.  Your attorney should begin a conversation with the prosecutor and law enforcement immediately, at the pre-charging stage of your case.  It cannot be overemphasized that early intervention by your attorney may be pivotal in the case not being charged at all.

If you have already been charged with a crime in the criminal courts, your attorney should bring years of courtroom experience to bear in handling your case.  Many attorneys, even a few who claim to be criminal defense counsel, fail to understand the importance of aggressive, competent representation at court.  A common example of this is the handling, or rather mishandling, of the Preliminary Examination in felony cases.  The “Prelim” is like a mini-trial, heard by a judge only, with no jury.  The prosecutor is required offer evidence justifying the case going forward to the trial court.  Some defense counsel fail to understand that this hearing is an opportunity to subpoena and cross-examine nearly every alleged victim and witness in the case.  If your defense attorney has not taken advantage of this opportunity, it is lost until the uncertainty of trial before a jury.  If the “Prelim” is properly handled by your defense attorney, the prosecutor’s case against you may be severely damaged to the point where it may be reduced to a misdemeanor by the judge, or even dismissed altogether.

The central point is that, if you are the target of a criminal investigation or have already been charged with a crime, you will need the best defense counsel you can afford to best help preserve the freedom that is now in jeopardy.

The Boston Marathon Bomber – Jury Selection

Jury selection in the trial of the alleged Boston Marathon Bomber, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, is currently underway in Boston’s Federal Courthouse.  But seldom in recent history has a selection of a fair and impartial jury been more problematical.

A group of over 250 potential jurors, collectively called the “venire,” was summoned by the Federal Court in an effort to seat a fair and impartial jury in this, one of the most infamous trials of the 21st Century.  In addition to the twelve jurors who would end up trying the case, the court also needed an additional six alternate jurors, some or all of whom would take the place of any juror who could not complete the trial because of medical necessity or some other compelling reason.

In an effort to cull a jury acceptable to both the prosecution and defense from the group of potential jurors, a lengthy questionnaire was given to each prospective juror to fill out. The 100-plus questions on the form included inquiries about their respective media sources for news (and, of course, in particular the Marathon bombing), any relations or acquaintanceships with any of the victims or witnesses of the bombing, and their feelings regarding the importance of respect for the rule of law and the necessity for the prosecution to prove its case against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt.

But by far the most important and sensitive subject on the questionnaire was the inquiry into each potential juror’s feelings regarding the use of the death penalty.  There are few subjects more polarizing in American society than the death penalty.  Many legal scholars not only consider the death penalty barbaric and ineffective as a deterrent to crime, but unconstitutional in itself as a “cruel and unusual” form of punishment.

However, in order for a person to even qualify to sit as a juror on a death penalty case, he or she must be willing to at least consider the death penalty as a possible appropriate punishment for the crimes charged in the trial.  It has been eloquently argued that the mandatory exclusion of any potential juror who will not even consider the use of the death penalty automatically loads the jury panel with people who are more biased in favor of using of the death penalty.

The defense team for the defendant has also argued that the method of selection of the venire, that is, the group of citizens from whom the final jury panel is selected, is prejudicial and biased in that it targets mainly white, middle-class persons and that it unfairly excludes racial, certain religious groups, and even younger people in the community.   Given that lists of potential jurors are commonly created from the pool of registered voters, staffing an inherently fair and diverse jury list is largely dependent on how the aforementioned groups are represented in voter registration.

Challenges to unfair jury selection occasionally belie less assailable problems within the trial process.  In an emotionally loaded case like the Boston Marathon Bomber trial, such a defense challenge could accomplish indirectly what it failed to achieve directly, a change of venue to a another federal court district less directly effected by the massacre at the Boston Marathon.

San Francisco Defense Attorney Arrested in Courthouse

Much ado has been made over the arrest of San Francisco deputy public defender Jami Tillotson at the San Francisco Hall of Justice on January 27th for her alleged obstruction or delaying of SFPD Sergeant Brian Stansbury who was attempting to take photographs of two men in the court hallway.  Ms. Tillotson was arrested for an alleged violation of Section 148 of the California Penal Code.
A careful viewing of the video taken of the incident by another deputy public defender seems to show Ms. Tillotson moving in between one of the two men and Sgt. Stansbury as he attempted to take their photographs.  Before the issue of whether Ms. Tillotson’s conduct thus constituted an obstruction or delaying of Sgt. Stansbury’s lawful duties, several important laws must be considered.
In order for a jury to convict a person arrested for a violation of Section 148 of the Penal Code, 1.) The peace officer must have been lawfully performing or attempting to perform the duties of a peace officer, 2.) The arrestee must have either resisted, obstructed or delayed the peace officer in the performance or attempted performance of those duties, and, 3.) When the defendant arrested person acted knew, or reasonably should have known, that the peace officer was performing or attempting to lawfully perform the duties of a peace officer.
However, a peace officer is not lawfully performing his or her duties if he or she is unlawfully arresting or detaining someone or using unreasonable or excessive force when making or attempting to make an otherwise lawful arrest or detention.
A peace officer may only legally detain someone 1.) If the person consents to the detention, or 2.) If specific facts known or apparent to the officer lead him or her to suspect that the person to be detained has been, is, or is about to be involved in activity relating to crime, and the same facts would have given rise to the same suspicion in the mind of a reasonable peace officer.
It should be carefully noted that any other detention by a peace officer is unlawful, and therefore the evidence would not support a conviction for a violation Section 148.
Some who have viewed the video have come to the conclusion that a little diplomacy on both sides would have served both the two men involved and the interests of justice.  Others have expressed outrage, claiming that no resistance was given by Ms. Tillotson.
The exercise of the duties of the offices of both police officers and public defenders are sometimes difficult and certainly subject to later scrutiny.  However, the power to arrest and place an attorney in handcuffs for attempting to exercise the attorney’s duty to protect a client should be used only in the most extreme and exigent circumstances.  Whether that was the case here will evidently be decided either in the criminal courts of the City & County of San Francisco, or in a civil rights violation case in the Federal Courts, or perhaps both venues.

Here is a link to the article on SFGate.com: http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/S-F-police-won-t-press-charges-against-6063816.php


The Hit-and-Run

Imagine that you’re trying to get out of your tight parking place at a Big Box store.  You back up and feel what seems to be a soft nudge of your bumper against the bumper of a parked car.  You’re in a hurry to get home, so you don’t bother to check for any damage, besides, it was just two cars touching bumpers, right?  You get home and take a look at your bumper.  No damage, really, but there’s a slight scuffing about six inches long that wasn’t there before.

A couple of hours later, you get a call from the California Highway Patrol.  It seems that someone got you car’s license number after witnessing the “nudge” you made in contacting another vehicle.  The CHP got your name, home address from your car’s license number, and from that got your drivers license information, and later your telephone number from the phone company.  All in an hour or so.  The officer calling identifies himself and asks if you were at the Big Box store an hour or two before.  Without thinking, you admit that you were there, and then also admit to driving your vehicle.

You’ve just incriminated yourself in a misdemeanor “hit-and-run” criminal offense.  Even though no one was injured, if there is any damage to another car from contact with your vehicle – even if the contact was not your fault – you are required to stop and exchange insurance and drivers license information with the other driver.  If the other driver is not present, then you must leave a note with that information, and also contact local law enforcement, at least by telephone, and report the damage and contact information to them.   If you don’t, you could be charged with a crime.  A misdemeanor is punishable by up to six months in the county jail and a heavy fine, so this is no mere “moving violation” ticket we’re talking about.

If you find yourself in anything like this situation, call your attorney before you speak to anyone, including law enforcement, about the incident.

New DUI News: Forced Blood Draw Ruled Unconstitutional

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Law enforcement officers can no longer force a suspect suspected of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) to submit to a forced blood draw without a court order authorizing the search.

In all too many DUI arrests, drivers have been forced to submit to a physical insertion of a medical syringe into his or her body and blood taken involuntarily even if the arrested person had already agreed to submit to a breath test.  This decision ends this brutal and unnecessary intrusion into the person of one arrested for DUI. Read the rest of this entry »

U.S. Supreme Court Expands Rights of Vehicle Passengers in Pullovers

The United States Supreme Court ruled that a driver and his passengers have been seized from the moment a vehicle car had been halted on the side of the road, and that it was egregious judicial mistake for the California trial court and for the California Appellate Courts to deny the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence seized after being stopped by law enforcement on the mere ground that seizure [of the arrestee] occurs only after a formal arrest.

The United States Supreme Court has extended to vehicle passengers the same constitutional protections that are now afforded to vehicle drivers. Read the rest of this entry »

Probation Violations

Most criminal convictions in California require defendants to serve probation as a part of their sentence. An alternative to serving a full term of incarceration, probation is actually a supervised, conditional release that California judges often impose instead of, or in addition to, jail time.

Compliance with all the terms and rules of the imposed probation is not negotiable. Failure to comply with court mandated probation can result in a charge of probation violation that could mean you’ll not only be returned to jail to serve  the remaining time on your jail sentence, but you may also have to serve additional jail time for the probation violation. Read the rest of this entry »

What Happens if I Get a DUI in California?

For the average San Francisco citizen, their first (and hopefully only) encounter with a criminal charge is a DUI arrest. By no means to be taken lightly, a DUI can affect your life in ways you probably never dreamed of. However, keeping your head about you and finding an experienced DUI attorney like Michael Ross, is probably your best bet for a good outcome in your case.

Most DUI arrests occur after a person is pulled over for an unrelated traffic violation or after an accident occurs. At the time of the pull-over where someone is suspected of DUI, the officer who stopped you will often conduct a field sobriety test. If you fail the sobriety test, the officer will then place you under arrest and take you to jail. Unless you are belligerent, the officer may not physically restrain or handcuff you, but don’t be alarmed if you are restrained. In some California counties restraining an arrestee is standard procedure, regardless of the circumstances. Read the rest of this entry »

When to Search for a Lawyer if a Loved One has been Arrested

There are few things more upsetting than learning that a loved one has been arrested. The natural impulse is to first get the person out of custody – usually by arranging for bail – as soon as possible. This is usually a mistake, resulting in the payment of an unnecessarily high bail premium, and perhaps exhausting any funds that will be required for legal representation in court. Read the rest of this entry »

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