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yungchic
06-05-2014, 04:38 PM
Hi guys :)

As you can guess from the subject, my questions are law based. Any clarification I can get would be really appreciated.

A bit of background: My story is set in California, where my protagonist, a teenage girl, takes the fall for her sister in a vandalism incident. From my research I've found that certain types of vandalism are considered misdemeanours, and the First time Offenders Programme differs from state to state.

Now for my questions:

1. My MC lied to protect her sister, but eventually the truth is discovered. Will she still face punishment for her lie (assuming all other charges are dropped)?

2. The First Time Offenders Programme allows for the complete expunging of a person's rap sheet once it is satisfactorily completed. In the state of California is this automatic or does the person need to apply for it?

3. Does a period of 6 months sound believable enough for such a programme? My rational is that the police never saw her in the act, but she did have a spray can in her possession and was running from the scene of the crime.

Thanking you in advance for your assistance!

King Neptune
06-05-2014, 05:26 PM
You probably should look at the California Attorney General wbsite and see the details. The details of how long, etc. depend on the crimes involved.

melindamusil
06-05-2014, 05:56 PM
I can tell you that in the county where I live (in MO, not CA), we have a program called Youth Court for nonviolent offenders under the age of 18. It meets once a month. Offenders are "sentenced" to do things like community service, writing apology letters, or writing essays about why their offense was wrong. If they complete their sentence, their record is (automatically) expunged when they turn 18. If they do not complete their sentence, the offense stays on their record for the rest of their life. Now this may not immediately affect them - it's not like the police are going to throw a kid in a jail for misdemeanor trespassing and spray painting a mural somewhere - BUT for the rest of their life, anytime they apply for a job or apply for a mortgage, anything that might cause a background check, that incident's going to appear.

yungchic
06-05-2014, 06:20 PM
Thanks so much for your prompt replies @King Neptune and @melindamusil.

WeaselFire
06-06-2014, 12:43 AM
If she ever was convicted of a misdemeanor vandalism, she really had a bad lawyer or was an idiot. :)

Normal would be a restitution order, pay for or clean up the damage. Rarely does anyone go into any program for a misdemeanor in the US. Rarer still would be a charge for a crime other than a ticket to appear and a fine. It's like a speeding ticket.

She might get put in a program for troubled teens or some other diversion program, but that's not based on a single incident like this.

If you need this kind of thing, make the vandalism cause something bigger. They stole a stop sign which caused a wreck for example.

Jeff

yungchic
06-06-2014, 02:20 AM
@ Jeff : I see.....
Okay how about this scenario: apart from the vandalism her sister and friends damaged other property within the same time period. My mc was caught at the scene of the vandalism but refuses to out the perpetrators. Would that be sufficient for her to be placed in such a program? Keeping in mind this is not the first time the sister engages in such activity.
I need it to be serious enough to threaten my MC's chances of a scholarship. Serious enough for her to hide it.

T Robinson
06-06-2014, 02:51 AM
You've left out a critical element: her age. Juvenile offenders are treated very different. If she was not involved, why did she have a spray can?

If she is a juvenile, there probably would not be talk of first offender/deferred adjudication. The records are sealed anyway to the average person.

A misdemeanor is 12 months, so 6 months is no problem if you decide to go that route.

If someone did not do the crime and is not locked up, there is very little incentive to plead to the charges.

Suggestion: leave everything like it is. She was caught with a can of green spray paint. The vandalism is in red paint.....but nobody notices till it gets in front of the judge. That creates the tension about scholarships and any decent lawyer has her acquitted, or more likely dropped (nol prossed or dismissed) before it goes far at all.

yungchic
06-06-2014, 03:02 AM
@T Robinson : thanks for the input. And you're right, I should've mentioned her age earlier. My WIP is YA and my MC is 17.
She had a spray can in hand because she was fighting with her sister when the cops came. My MC is the eldest and is.very protective of her wayward sister.
I also need her to be in some sort of program which forces her to clean the vandalised store since its.there she meets the other mc.
Please excuse my ignorance of US laws. I am not a citizen :)

T Robinson
06-06-2014, 03:06 AM
If she is 17, she is a juvenile. Just have the juvenile court assign her to clean the place. That's all you have to do.

yungchic
06-06-2014, 03:11 AM
Ok. So.probation isn't necessary? And the.records remain clear?

T Robinson
06-06-2014, 03:26 AM
There are juvenile probation officers, but in a simple scenario like you have described, she might just be supervised till she cleaned the place up.

I did not ask the time period. When I was young, the police would have just brought her to the parents for them to deal with (1950/1960). If your time period is not current, you need to consider that.

yungchic
06-06-2014, 03:46 AM
Time period is current. My WIP is.contemporary.
My scenario isn't as simple as you.think. Let me.elaborate :
The MC 's sister and her friends are.behind a.series.of petty vandalisms in the area. So.far.they.haven't been.caught or identified, so the police are over eager.to.catch.them. Even if my MC was to deny any wrongdoing (which she doesn't) its a bit difficult seeing she's at the scene of the crime and holding a spray can

jclarkdawe
06-06-2014, 04:46 AM
Saying "California" doesn't tell a whole lot here. The difference between Los Angeles and Alturas is massive. However, the State is over-whelmed with criminal justice expenses and a lousy cash flow.

Depending upon which part of the state you're talking about, she gets a talking to at the police station, and told to wash the paint off. Only if she didn't clean it up would anything serious begin to happen. And even then the only goal and object would be to get her to clean it.

You know how prevalent tagging is in California?

What do you need to happen in your story? Then we can figure out what she needs to do to make that happen.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

yungchic
06-06-2014, 08:10 AM
@JClarkeDawe: Oh I see....
Well my story doesn't necessarily have to be in California. My MC is.in the running for a prestigious scholarship. Having a criminal record disqualifies her. Also as the eldest in a single family, she has to keep her wayward sister out of trouble, which sometimes means cleaning up her messed. What I need is for her to get into significant trouble that would threaten her scholarship due to her trying to drag her sister out of trouble. The MC has not committed anything wrong; just the wrong place.at the wrong time.
Any sort of assistance will be appreciated :)

jclarkdawe
06-06-2014, 04:36 PM
Okay, here's an idea for you, but first let me explain a problem with your approach.

A US college will probably ask if you've been arrested, but has no ability to check out that information. Result is the applicant should probably lie. If you get in trouble in school and it then comes out you've got a criminal record, they throw you out for lying on your application, but that's the only consequence.

Dramatically, something that sneaks up on your character and bites her in the rear are always the best choice. She can plan out how to deal with a criminal record and adjust her approach to deal with it. It won't be much of a crisis.

Instead, here's what I'd suggest. Her sister tags the high school, and your character is the one that gets caught. Police turn her over to the school to deal with. School suspends her for one week.

Your character requests her high school to send in her transcript. On her transcript are days in attendance, which shows her suspension. Scholarship people write or call her asking, "What's this suspension?"

How does that work for your story?

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

yungchic
06-06-2014, 04:53 PM
Hmm .......it just might work.....
Thanks for the idea Jim. Really appreciate it :)

Russian
06-07-2014, 05:25 AM
1. Generally, lying to law enforcement is more serious than misdemeanor charges. The judicial system places a premium on acceptance of responsibility and prosecutors hate liars. As a first time juvenile offender, she'll likely be fined or sentenced to community service for tagging. If she has a good lawyer charges will be dismissed.

2. Low level first time juvenile offenders will probably be plead down to a fine or community service. Expunging or sealing convictions is usually for much more serious offenses.

3. 6 months for tagging is about right for probation, but very excessive for incarceration in a juvenile program. Your character sounds like a cream puff. She'd be eaten alive in a juvenile program in a major US city. They're dumping grounds for girls with anger management problems from broken homes.


A US college will probably ask if you've been arrested, but has no ability to check out that information.

50 states and federal background checks will reveal arrests, charges and convictions. It will be discovered at a college with rigorous admissions standards. Even if it's missed initially, it will likely be discovered later in connection with a job application or a chance encounter with a student from the same area.


Result is the applicant should probably lie. If you get in trouble in school and it then comes out you've got a criminal record, they throw you out for lying on your application, but that's the only consequence.

I strongly disagree. Lying is immediate grounds for dismal in an academic setting because it is an integrity issue. The character would do better if she was upfront, especially if its a misdemeanor charge. Otherwise, she'll lose tuition and have yet another black mark on her record.

From a dramatic standpoint, vandalism isn't that interesting for a graduating high school student. Hit and run, DWI with an injury, drug charges, etc are more compelling. More doors are closed in those scenarios and your protagonist could be led down a darker path. She'll be disenfranchised and bitter about the circumstances. Given her age, the possibilities for poor decision making are endless. Hope that helps.

yungchic
06-07-2014, 05:29 AM
Thanks Russian. Your input has given me more things to consider :)

jclarkdawe
06-07-2014, 05:54 AM
1. Generally, lying to law enforcement is more serious than misdemeanor charges. The judicial system places a premium on acceptance of responsibility and prosecutors hate liars. As a first time juvenile offender, she'll likely be fined or sentenced to community service for tagging. If she has a good lawyer charges will be dismissed.

She's not lying. Her sister is. Every criminal defendant I represented lied to the police. I'm not sure I've heard of a criminal defendant who didn't lie. Lying is only charged when it results in serious misdirection of a serious offense. California needs to get rid of over 10% of their adult offenders. Juvenile justice is about the same. It's a system over-whelmed with people and no money.

2. Low level first time juvenile offenders will probably be plead down to a fine or community service. Expunging or sealing convictions is usually for much more serious offenses.

All juvenile records in the US are sealed, unless a specific court order is entered to the contrary. Although a juvenile record is available in certain circumstances, a school is not going to be one of them.

3. 6 months for tagging is about right for probation, but very excessive for incarceration in a juvenile program. Your character sounds like a cream puff. She'd be eaten alive in a juvenile program in a major US city. They're dumping grounds for girls with anger management problems from broken homes.

In California (not other states), this case isn't going to make it to court. She's going to be diverted. They've got serious criminal behavior to deal with.

50 states and federal background checks will reveal arrests, charges and convictions. It will be discovered at a college with rigorous admissions standards. Even if it's missed initially, it will likely be discovered later in connection with a job application or a chance encounter with a student from the same area.

Having known recent applicants to Harvard, Dartmouth, and UPenn, I can tell you that they do not do criminal background checks.

I strongly disagree. Lying is immediate grounds for dismal in an academic setting because it is an integrity issue. The character would do better if she was upfront, especially if its a misdemeanor charge. Otherwise, she'll lose tuition and have yet another black mark on her record.

Definitely, if someone catches up to the fact. I've known teachers to be hired and no one discovered their criminal past until they get busted for something new. Very rarely are background checks done with fingerprints. Misspelling the name or the social security number and it doesn't show up.

From a dramatic standpoint, vandalism isn't that interesting for a graduating high school student. Hit and run, DWI with an injury, drug charges, etc are more compelling. More doors are closed in those scenarios and your protagonist could be led down a darker path. She'll be disenfranchised and bitter about the circumstances. Given her age, the possibilities for poor decision making are endless. Hope that helps.

I know an attorney in California who is getting probation for his clients with auto thefts. Three strikes and you're out and enhanced juvenile punishments have led to a system is buried. If a judge sends one person to prison, another has to be released under Federal court orders. Take a look at what happened to the doctor in Michael Jackson's case. I don't think he even got out of county lockup because the state couldn't take him.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Russian
06-07-2014, 06:43 AM
I know an attorney in California who is getting probation for his clients with auto thefts. Three strikes and you're out and enhanced juvenile punishments have led to a system is buried. If a judge sends one person to prison, another has to be released under Federal court orders. Take a look at what happened to the doctor in Michael Jackson's case. I don't think he even got out of county lockup because the state couldn't take him.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

I don't doubt that, especially if he's in LA county. I live in Texas which is less overburdened, but is backing away from its "tough on crime" stance due to overcrowding issues. Even the federal system has changed course. The reduction in crack vs cocaine sentencing guidelines (100:1 to 18:1) was primarily driven by prison capacity constraints.

yungchic
06-08-2014, 09:17 PM
I think I know how I'm gonna incorporate this into my plot line. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise.