Our client, age 21, was out from North Carolina and in Los Angeles visiting a friend. It was a spring afternoon in mid-April when the sun did not set until almost 7 p.m. and it stayed light for about twenty minutes later.
Our client and his friend were walking in Palisades Park near the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Ocean Boulevard, near the grass that overlooks the cliffs rising from the wide, white sand of the Santa Monica beach, the Santa Monica Pier to the south and Pacific Coast Highway. It is a well-known view made famous in movies and photographs.
Behind them on Wilshire Boulevard there was a modern office building rising about ten stories high and the famous Bungalow Hotel where Howard Hughes lived for months at a time. There are well manicured lawns, palm trees and mature eucalyptus trees.
In response to this scene, our client took out a Sharpie pen and wrote “SWAG” on concrete railing nearby. A uniformed Santa Monica Police officer observed our client do this and immediately approached our client and issued him a citation for violation of California Penal Code § 594, vandalism.
Our client, who is African American, accused the officer of racial profiling and protested the ticket, saying he was being discriminated against. Two more police officers were called to the scene because our client was enraged that he was issued such a ticket.
Soon, however, the officers left and our client opted to sign a promise to appear in the Airport Courthouse about four months later rather than be taken to the police station, booked and held for court within 48 hours.
The client then returned to North Carolina with one souvenir he really did not want.
After a week back in North Carolina, near Durham, he called Greg Hill & Associates and spoke to Greg Hill about his ticket for vandalism. The client assumed resolution would merely involve paying a small fine. Greg explained that vandalism was a misdemeanor and he could be jailed for a maximum of six months and / or fined up to $500, plus penalties and assessments, which could boost the total amount owed to about $2.400.
However, Greg explained, California lawmakers recently enacted a new law providing for judicial diversion, which Greg then explained what that involved. Greg explained that for all misdemeanors except certain excluded offenses (domestic violence (both Penal Code § 273.5 and § 243(e)(1)), stalking (Penal Code § 646.9), and any misdemeanor sex offense requiring registration under Penal Code § 290), defendant could ask the judge to suspend proceedings an allow defendant to complete a program of diversion. If defendant completed the program, the case would then be dismissed and the court file sealed, allowing defendant to legally represent to others in the future that the case never existed.
Greg then explained to the client what a program of diversion could include for a vandalism charge. Greg explained that it was likely that diversion would include a judge’s order that he perform several days of community labor or community service as well as restitution to the City of Santa Monica for any expenses involved in repairing the cement or cleaning it of the graffiti.
The client then hired Greg Hill & Associates and Greg appeared in the Airport Courthouse about three weeks later. Greg was familiar with the Santa Monica City Attorney, a very kind older man who was patient and respectful. Greg asked the city attorney what terms of judicial diversion would be acceptable to him and whether a restitution amount had been calculated.
The city attorney said that instead of judicial diversion, his office was authorized to offer city attorney diversion for a much shorter period and with kinder terms than judicial diversion, particularly no restitution owed.
The terms were that our client would be required to perform two days (16 hours) of court-approved community labor in North Carolina. This would mean Greg would need to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney in the same city or county as where our client lived to ensure that whatever volunteer work our client did was approved by the local court there so that our client would satisfy the requirements here.
The client was quite happy that he did not need to pay any fine and seemed eager to find court-approved community labor. Our office did in fact find such a program (luckily) and the client worked for 16 hours and received a letter of completion that Greg later took to court sixty days after the arraignment. The case was then dismissed under Penal Code § 1385, “in the interests of justice,” which meant the client could request the court record and police report be sealed if he so desired.
For more information about vandalism and graffiti, please click on the following articles: