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Interview with Penny Cooper, “Champion of the Marginalized”

Penny Cooper has a real and enduring legacy, as is reflected in the documentary about her life and work entitled Penny: A Documentary Film. Penny practiced for 36 years in San Francisco after graduating from UC Berkeley School of Law in 1964 and is now retired.  She was a “lawyer’s lawyer” and was one of the first women criminal defense lawyers to try a major white-collar crime case, but she would tell you she preferred defending people charged with general criminal offenses.  She argued before the United States Supreme Court, which is rare for any lawyer, let alone a female.  She was known for her cross-examination skills and a long list of wins and high-profile acquittals; yet in-spite of this she has a keen understanding of the most important aspect of what it means to be a criminal defense attorney, that is that “[i]t’s not just the drama of going to court and objecting and winning or losing, it’s really managing people’s lives when they get into difficulty or trouble.” The documentary aptly described her as a “champion of the marginalized.” Penny was inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame by the California State Bar’s Litigation Section in 2010, with long-time law partner, Cris Arguedas.  It was such an honor to interview one of the true legends of the criminal defense bar. I feel so lucky to have had an opportunity to have met and listened to this true defender, who forged a path for many of us to follow. I hope you will be as inspired by Penny Cooper as I am.   How did you get interested in criminal defense and what kind of cases did you handle? I am a product of the 60’s. I graduated from law school in 1964 from Berkeley.  The fall of 1964 was the free speech movement. We were just getting the civil rights amendment passed.  It was an era where everybody felt strongly one way or another about civil rights and criminal defense.  It was the only thing I was really interested in. I practiced for 36 years and I handled every kind of case.  My greatest day of practice was when I was coming home after having handled a traffic case for some guy who owned a winery who had entered the freeway the wrong way and was ticketed. I was representing him and I got the case dismissed because the law had been repealed. That same day, as I was driving home, I learned that we had won our case in the United States Supreme Court – United States vs. Merchant, 480 U.S. 615 (1987). This is the best way to express the breadth of my practice. I did everything from handling a traffic case in a little municipal court to arguing and winning a case before the United States Supreme Court. Without question, you were a pioneer for women in the field. What was it like to be one of the few women in the field when you started and did you know at the time that you were opening doors for other women in criminal defense? I have a very close female friend whom I went to law school with, and we laugh about it all the time because we didn’t even know what feminism was and we didn’t realize we should have been treated differently. We were just treated the way we were and it was really bad, but we just kind of laughed at it and soldiered through.  The dean of the law school was William Prosser, who was one of my teachers and he didn’t believe that women should be in law school – period. In my section, there were 90 people and only 3 women – and he didn’t call on women because he just figured it was a waste of time. In that era that’s just what people believed. Nick Johnson, who was another professor and who later became Lyndon B. Johnson’s head of the Federal Trade Commission, believed that it was so ridiculous to have women in law school; he said he was going to treat women equally — so in our class he called on man – woman – man – woman. Then we had a professor who transferred from Harvard, named Raoul Berger, and he would say “now stand up like a man and recite.” And we just took it all.  And we kind of laughed about it and still laugh about it.  It was only years later that we realized we had a right to expect something else. In law school we even had a segregated conference room where we would take our breaks and the men were someplace else. I remember when JFK was assassinated, we had to get permission from the dean to be able to watch the television, which was located in the men’s conference room. Here we were at Berkeley, the bastion of liberalism, which wasn’t so liberal back then. So, when I entered the public defender’s office there was only one other woman at the time but she was on her way out. The guy who hired me, the public defender, told me he didn’t really think women belonged in that office because it was like sailing down a sewer in a glass bottom boat. ...
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UK Millionaire Acquitted of ‘Accidental’ Rape

A man who claimed he accidentally penetrated an 18-year-old woman when he fell on her was acquitted of rape charges by a British jury. After brief deliberations, millionaire Ehsan Abdulaziz was found not guilty, despite some very strange explanations of what happened, according to the New York Daily News. Money Can't Buy Me Love? Abdulaziz, 46, is a millionaire property developer with an apartment in London. He was apparently out drinking at an exclusive nightclub in August 2014 and invited two women to join him at his pricey private table. Then, he offered them a ride home in his Aston Martin. They ended up at his apartment for a drink instead. The two women -- one 24 and the other 18 -- stayed the night. The younger one slept on the sofa in the living room. Abdulaziz claimed in his defense that he had sex with the older woman and in the morning just fell on the younger one. He accidentally penetrated her when he just meant to ask if she needed a t-shirt or a taxi home. The considerate older gentleman said in his defense that the woman pulled him as he was making his offer and he fell. He admitted his penis may have poked through his underwear. "I'm fragile, I fell down but nothing ever happened. Between me and this girl, nothing ever happened." As for evidence of semen? He said it was possible he had some on his hands after the sexual encounter with her friend. The young woman had an altogether different story. She said Abdulaziz raped her. She woke up in the early morning to find the man forcing himself on her as she slept on the sofa in his London apartment.What Are the Elements of Rape?In criminal law, the elements of rape are satisfied if there was 1) non-consensual sexual intercourse that was 2) committed by physical force, threat of injury, or other duress.According the the young woman's account, Ehsan Abdulaziz used physical force without her consent to commit the sexual act. By her account, rape would have occurred. However, the jury found differently ... Jury Deliberates Briefly The British newspaper, The Mirror, reported that the case took an unusual procedural turn. Twenty minutes of evidence were heard in private. The jury apparently did not spend long pondering the tale anyway, perhaps finding it tasteless. After only 30 minutes of deliberations, it rendered a verdict of not guilty. Abdulaziz was acquitted. Charged With a Crime? If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime, speak to a lawyer. As this case makes plain, a creative defense can go a long way. Get help from a criminal defense attorney. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) What Is the Role of a Jury in a Criminal Case? (FindLaw) Criminal Trial Overview (FindLaw)
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How Much Do I Have to Steal to Be Charged With a Felony?

The fifty states all define crimes slightly differently, so there is not a single blanket answer for when a theft graduates from a misdemeanor to a felony. The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is the severity of the crime involved, or in the case of a theft, the value of what was stolen. But there is more to it. Three factors impact a theft charge: what was stolen, how much was stolen, and the alleged thief's prior record. Petit or Grand? Perhaps you have heard of the expression petit theft (sometimes also called petty theft). Petit means small in French and petit thefts are small crimes, or misdemeanors. Some states limit petit theft to up to $500 or $1,000, charging a defendant with a felony if the item stolen is worth more than the statutory amount. But some states may charge differently depending on the type of item stolen, perhaps distinguishing between livestock and labor or services. Depending on the state there may also be a separate crime for a particular type of theft. Theft applies to almost anything stolen, including goods, money, livestock, or the value of labor and services. General or Specific? Depending on the state, the theft will either fall under the small or large category, petit or grand. But some types of theft get separate categories all their own. Obviously, stealing a car is a big deal. So much so that grand theft auto is its own, separate, felony charge. Grand means big in French and grand theft is simply a big steal. Prior Convictions Again it depends on the state, but a prosecutor can generally charge someone more severely when they have prior convictions for the same type of crime. Theft is a crime of moral turpitude, legally speaking, and it does tend to be punished more severely the more the defendant is accused. Depending on how the state statute is written, it is possible to steal something of minimal value -- like a candy bar -- and still trigger a felony conviction resulting in an extensive prison sentence. At that point, the charge is not based on what was stolen or what it was worth but on the defendant's own record in combination with the theft. It is also important to note that theft is considered a crime of moral turpitude for immigration purposes and even a conviction for the most minimal theft can impact an application. Got Caught? If you or someone you know has been charged with theft or anything else, do not delay. Speak to a criminal defense attorney right away. Criminal convictions can have serious consequences in all areas of a person's life. Get help defending yourself. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) Larceny Penalties and Sentencing (FindLaw) What Is the Statute of Limitations for Theft? (FindLaw Blotter)
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First Trial in Freddie Gray Homicide Ends in Mistrial

After 16 hours of deadlocked jury deliberations, the judge finally declared a mistrial in Baltimore Police Officer William G. Porter's trial in the homicide of Freddie Gray. Jurors told the judge they could not reach a verdict on any of the charges against Porter, the first of six officers to stand trial after Gray died in police custody last April. The Baltimore Sun is reporting that a new trial date for Porter will be set on Thursday morning. Homicide, but Is It Manslaughter? Six Baltimore Police officers face charges relating to Gray's homicide. Porter specifically was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office. Each of the six is scheduled to be tried separately and consecutively, although it is unclear how Porter's mistrial will affect that schedule. Gray was allegedly the victim of a "rough ride," during which suspects are handcuffed but not secured to a seat in a police vehicle and then intentionally battered by a rugged and bumpy ride to the station. Gray suffered fatal injuries to his spine after being placed in police custody, and an investigation suggested his arrest may have been illegal in the first place. Deadlock in Death Case Porter's trial lasted two weeks and jury deliberations spanned three days. It was apparent to Judge Barry G. Williams that further discussion wouldn't lead to a verdict: "You clearly have been diligent," he told jurors. "You are a hung jury." Following a deadlocked jury, prosecutors have the option of a retrial on any charges on which the jury was unable to come to a verdict. And because the jury did not decide any of the charges in this case, double jeopardy doesn't apply. Prosecutors declined to comment after the mistrial ruling, citing a "gag order that pertains to all cases related to Freddie Gray." Related Resources: Mistrial Declared in Baltimore Police Officer's Trial (Reuters) Baltimore Offers Freddie Gray's Family $6.4M to Settle Civil Claims (FindLaw's Injured) 6 Police Officers Involved in Freddie Gray Homicide Indicted (FindLaw Blotter) 4 Updates on Recent Police Shootings (FindLaw Blotter)
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Do I Need a Lawyer at My DUI Arraignment?

You've been arrested for a DUI, your arraignment is coming up, and you're itching to tell your side of the story. Maybe you weren't drunk, or you think the breathalyzer was broken, or you shouldn't have been pulled over in the first place. All you have to do is explain this to the judge, and everything will be all right. Not so fast, my friend. While an arraignment might be your first court appearance, it's not a full-blown trial. And while you may not be able to win your case at arraignment, you could lose it. So here's why you might want a lawyer by your side at your DUI arraignment. Arraignment ABCs An arraignment is a court hearing when a judge reads the formal charges against a defendant. In case of a DUI, you will be notified of all the charges against you, and ask how you plead. You can enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. You may have even already been offered a plea bargain by the prosecutor on the case. Based on your plea, the judge will set your case for further proceedings, whether that is a trial and associated pre-trial proceedings, or further hearings or appearances related with a plea of guilty or no contest. If you've been in custody since your arrest, the judge may also alter your bail amount or release you on your own recognizance. Putting the Defense in DUI This may all seem very straightforward, but DUI arraignments can be complicated. While you're not required to have a lawyer present at arraignment, you have a legal right to one, in part because courts recognize the importance of arraignments in the criminal process. For instance, most DUI defendants don't know whether the plea deal they've been offered is a good one or not, or how to argue for reduced bail. And once you've entered a guilty plea, it's difficult to withdraw. You don't have to go through a DUI alone, so why try? An experienced DUI attorney can advise you on your rights, assess the merits of your case, argue for your release, and even plea bargain on your behalf. If you've been charged with DUI, you should contact a defense lawyer about your case, preferably before your arraignment. Related Resources: Browse DUI / DWI Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) 5 Things a DUI Lawyer Can Do (That You Probably Can't) (FindLaw Blotter) Why Do DUI Cases Take So Long to Resolve? (FindLaw Blotter) DUI Court Procedure (FindLaw)
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Criminal Consequences of Stealing Packages

It is a federal criminal offense to tamper with the mail. So no matter how delightful and intriguing the neighbor's deliveries seem, avoid the temptation to pilfer a package from their porch because you're short on Christmas gifts. Theft of a letter, post card, package, bag, or mail from a US post office or a collection center associated with USPS is subject to fines and up to five years imprisonment, according to the United States Code, Section 1708. Receiving mail that was stolen is similarly punishable. Postal Police The United States Postal Inspection Service is the federal law enforcement and security arm of the Postal Service. It has 3,000 Postal Inspectors and Postal Police Officers charged with safeguarding the nation's mail system and combating mail theft and fraud. The Service has 1,600 Postal Inspectors who investigate postal-related crime, such as identity theft, mail bombs, postal robberies, and burglaries. In an average year, postal police make about 10,000 arrests of criminal suspects, they say. Many of the arrests are for mail theft or possession of stolen mail. Additionally, the Inspectors respond to an average of 900 postal-related assaults and threats, leading to hundreds of arrests. The Service investigates roughly 3,000 mail fraud cases and about 4,000 reports of suspicious substances and items in the mail, including mail bombs. According to the Service, "the overwhelming majority of incidents are nonhazardous." Non-Governmental Deliveries The United States mail belongs to the federal government and is protected by it. But that does not mean that you can steal from other delivery services. Although not all packages come with the heft of the feds behind them, it is still a crime to steal. Last year, a Texas woman caught a man stealing a package from her porch on camera. "Just backed up like they belonged here. Gentleman comes out the back of the car, grabs the package, puts it in the car and they leave," explained the theft victim. The thief was later arrested and charged with theft. Too Tempting? If you do end up charged with theft of mail or any other crime, do contact a criminal defense attorney. Counsel can defend you, whether or not you are guilty. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) Theft Defenses (FindLaw) Shoplifting (FindLaw)
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‘Suge’ Knight Case: When Can a Judge Revoke Bail?

Last week, we blogged about music producer Marion "Suge" Knight's arrest on suspicion of murder for allegedly running over two men with his car. One of the men died. Today, a Los Angeles judge revoked Knight's bail, which had been set at $2 million. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department claimed that Knight was a flight risk. Under what circumstances can a judge revoke bail? Flight Risk, Criminal History, Danger to Others Bail, of course, is security ensuring that a defendant will come back to court for his trial. Instead of remaining in jail pending, and during, trial, a defendant can pay 10 percent of the bail amount to a bail bondsman, who promises the court that the defendant will appear. Bail schedules are set by law and are roughly proportionate to the offense committed. Knight's bail of $2 million is on the highest end of the amount a judge can require in California. A judge can revoke bail or set a particular bail amount for a number of reasons, but bail is typically revoked when a defendant, who's out on bail already, commits another crime. That didn't happen in Knight's case, but the district attorney apparently thought Knight was enough of a risk that he asked for bail to be revoked during Knight's plea hearing. The California Penal Code allows a judge to consider such things as the defendant's criminal history, the maximum sentence he could face, the danger to others if the defendant is out on bail, and the way the crime was committed. There's one instance where a judge can't release a defendant on bail at all: When a defendant is charged with a capital crime and "the proof of his or her guilt is evident or the presumption thereof great." In order for that to be true, though, the defendant would basically have to be found at the crime scene with the bloody knife. In Knight's case, however, there's at least a dispute about what happened and whether Knight accidentally or intentionally ran over the victim. Check All the Boxes In Knight's case, the sheriff's department and prosecutors asked the judge to revoke bail not only because of the risk that Knight might flee the jurisdiction, but also that he might intimidate witnesses while he's out. The possibility of forfeiting $2 million might not be enough of an incentive to stay in Los Angeles, given that a guilty verdict could mean life in prison, thanks to Knight's criminal history. Knight served five years in prison for beating up a rival of Tupac Shakur on the same night that Shakur was killed while driving in Knight's car. Knight went to prison in 1997 for violating the terms of his probation, was released on parole, then went back to prison in 2003 for violating parole by hitting a parking lot attendant. Related Resources: Suge Knight Charged With Murder in Fatal Compton Hit-and-Run (Los Angeles' KABC-TV) Failure to Appear in Court: What Can Happen? (FindLaw's Blotter) After Arrest, How Long Until a Bond Hearing? (FindLaw's Blotter) Wiz Khalifa Skips Court Hearing on Pot Bust; Arrest Warrant Issued (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice)
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