New Court for Veterans in San Mateo County

Following a national trend of establishing courts that can specially attend to the needs of veterans, San Mateo County now has a Veterans’ Treatment Court (VTC) for current and former members of the United States Military. These courts come in response to ample research showing that imprisonment can severely aggravate PTSD and other mental health conditions military veterans often have and are part of a concerted effort to keep veterans out of jail and prison.

Participants in San Mateo County’s VTC enroll in mental health treatment and therapy and/or substance abuse counseling as well as other services like job training, and receive intensive supervision by probation. Participants may have to agree to additional probation conditions, such as wearing an electronic monitoring device, agreeing to take prescribed medications, or giving up due process rights. Upon completion of an agreed upon program, participants may have fines reduced, probation terminated early, and charges dismissed or expunged.

The eligibility requirements for VTC are:

  1.  Prior or current membership in the U.S. military and be eligible for Veterans’ Administration benefits;
  2.  Have a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), sexual trauma and/or substance abuse or other mental health issue that stems from military service; and
  3.  Be eligible for probation and not considered to be a danger to the community.

Participation is voluntary.  Participation may be to your benefit but it may also add consequences and conditions you might not otherwise have, so it’s best to talk to a defense attorney before applying to transfer your case to VTC.  The Law Offices of Thomas Greenberg can help by counseling you in this decision and by representing you in whichever court you choose.

Applying for Deferred Action With a Criminal Record

Will your criminal record be a bar to your eligibility for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals? The new deferred action immigration policy has several eligibility requirements including a relatively clean criminal record. If you have a minor conviction on your record, are you still eligible? Is it worth getting your conviction expunged or dismissed? And if you are considering a plea bargain, are there certain charges you should avoid?

If you apply for deferred action status, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will consider you entire criminal record—including arrests and dismissed convictions, but not all convictions are considered bars to eligibility.  Below is a brief explanation and links to further resources.

1. Deferred Action is a discretionary policy, but these offenses generally disqualify an individual at the outset:

  • A felony conviction (offenses punishable by more than one year of imprisonment).
  • A “significant misdemeanor” conviction. “Significant misdemeanors” include: domestic violence, sexual abuse or exploitation, unlawful possession or use of a firearm, drug sales, burglary, driving under the influence, and any other misdemeanor for which you received a jail sentence of more than 90 days.
  • Multiple misdemeanor convictions: three or more non-significant misdemeanors, not including traffic offenses (such as driving without a license).
  • Convictions suggesting that you pose a threat to national or public safety (e.g., with gang enhancements).

Even if you have the above types of convictions on your record, you may be eligible under exceptional circumstances (See INA 240(e)).

How do you know what type of conviction you have? If you are considering applying for deferred action, you should request your entire criminal record (from the FBI as well as the Department of Justice in any state where you lived or were arrested) so that you can check for the exact status of any contact you have had with law enforcement and also so that you can check it for mistakes.

2.  Is it worth it to get an old conviction dismissed or expunged?

Having an old conviction dismissed or expunged may help your application if your conviction would otherwise automatically disqualify you. The Law Offices of Thomas Greenberg has extensive experience getting old convictions dismissed and can help you.

Another option—better than getting a dismissal—would be to withdraw your plea (if it was recently entered) for good cause under California Penal Code section 1018 or have your plea vacated (undone) for legal error.  It can be a complex and difficult process to get a judge to vacate your plea, but it may be worthwhile.

3.  What about juvenile convictions?

Juvenile convictions do not automatically disqualify you for deferred action, however, they will be considered.

4. What if you have criminal charges pending?

If you have a criminal case pending, tell your attorney that you are a noncitizen and that you want to try to preserve your eligibility for deferred action. You may want to consider the following options, if available: informally deferring an entry of plea; seeking a deferred adjudication; entering a plea to a lesser, non-significant misdemeanor offense and obtaining a lesser jail sentence; pleading to an infraction or a minor traffic offense—if you are facing a DUI, you definitely want to try to pursue a lesser plea to protect your eligibility for deferred action. The Law Offices of Thomas Greenberg has been very successful in helping clients get charges reduced and protecting their immigration status.

Additional Resources:

Own the Dream

Immigrant Legal Resource Center

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services:


Realignment Laws in San Mateo

New Sentencing in San Mateo County

Criminal sentences are changing throughout California since S.B. 109, commonly called “Realignment,” has begun to be implemented.  The goal of realignment is to stop sending low-level offenders to prison and to reduce the state prison population.  The plan is to sentence people to jail instead of prison and for county probation departments to supervise people paroled form state prison.

San Mateo County expects that it may have to accommodate up to 300 new inmates over the next year.  San Mateo County jails are overcrowded—125 percent of capacity—so San Mateo County is planning to expand its probation and build a bigger jail.  The county has been criticized for having a costly plan, for under-utilizing incarceration alternatives such as electronic monitoring systems, for being overzealous on detaining low-risk pretrial inmates.

What Realignment May Mean for You

Previously, if you were convicted of a felony where a sentence was imposed then you would serve that time in state prison, and if you were convicted of a misdemeanor then you could be facing time in county jail.  As of October 1, 2011, if you are convicted of a felony you might be able to serve your time in jail instead of prison, as long as you meet the qualifications.  Although some prefer serving time in prison to serving time in jail, if you stay in county jail you may be eligible for early release programs so that the full sentence imposed is not actually served.  There are many qualifications for these county jail felonies, and the rules to determine whether you qualify are quite complicated.  You should hire an experienced criminal defense attorney at the outset to make sure that if you are convicted you get the best sentence you can get.

Group seeks initiative to reform Three Strikes Law

By Tracey Kaplan

A coalition led by a group of Stanford University lawyers intends to put an initiative on the November 2012 ballot to reform California’s Three Strikes Law, the harshest such sentencing law in the nation.

The group has secured at least one major financial backer, David W. Mills, a former investment banker and Stanford Law School professor. It also hired San Francisco political consultant Averell “Ace” Smith to lead what is expected to be a fiery campaign.

In addition, the group, including Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project, is courting key Republicans such as Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, at a time when fiscal conservatives have called for prison reform.

The Legislature and voters passed the Three Strikes Law in 1994 after several high-profile murders committed by ex-felons sparked public outrage, including the kidnapping and strangling of 12-year-old Polly Klaas from her home in Petaluma. Since then, the courts have sent more than 80,000 “second-strikers” and 7,500 “third-strikers” to state prison, according to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office. As of late 2004, 26 percent of the prison population was serving time under the law.

A previous reform measure in 2004 failed by about 3 percentage points after a last-minute media blitz by then-Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Gov. Pete Wilson.

The language of the new initiative is still being worked out, but at the very least it would limit felonies that trigger the “third” strike to violent or serious crimes. In late 2004, about 3,500 — or just less than half of the third-strikers in prison — had not committed a serious or violent crime.

Under the existing law, people have received life sentences for such crimes as stealing a pair of socks, attempting to break into a soup kitchen to get something to eat and forging a check for $146 at Nordstrom.

Proponents note that the provision allowing prosecutors to charge any felony as a third strike is the harshest of some 24 similar laws in the nation, and contend it is unjust and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Supporters argue the law has reduced crime and kept the streets safer.

Backers are hopeful the measure will pass this time. One reason is the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that California must drastically reduce its prison population to relieve severe overcrowding; in a majority opinion, the court blamed a series of political decisions in the state during the past 30 years, including “the passage of harsh mandatory minimum and three-strikes laws.”

California’s budget crisis also has thrown into sharp relief the need for the state to re-examine its priorities. The state currently spends 11 percent of its annual budget on prisons and 7.5 percent on higher education. Nonviolent third-strikers are expected to cost the state almost $200 million a year for the next 25 years, according to the state auditor.

The group is aggressively courting Cooley, a Republican who has long called for reforming Three Strikes, but opposed the 2004 initiative because he said it went too far. Cooley has said 25 years to life in prison is the same sentence he gives murderers, calling it “disproportionate” for relatively minor crimes.

Scaling back the law also has the support of some conservatives, including Right on Crime, a criminal justice reform movement whose signatories include Ed Meese, attorney general during the Reagan administration, and anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist.

“I don’t think someone should be sent to prison for life when the third strike is relatively minor,” said Marc Levin, one of the group’s policy advisers. “It’s better to have the sentence fit the crime. When you have these one-size-fits-all laws, it really inhibits you from prioritizing your prison space.”

The measure also could fare better next year than in 2004 because of the greater number of younger voters and minorities expected to turn out for President Barack Obama’s re-election bid.

Proponents plan to formally kick off the campaign and submit the ballot language to the secretary of state sometime between August and early October.

The first three-strikers will be eligible for parole in March 2019.

The few dozen or so who have been released won their freedom through the cooperation of Cooley and other prosecutors, as well as Stanford law professor Mike Romano and students at the university’s Three Strikes Project, a law school clinic.

LaDoris Cordell, a former Santa Clara County Superior Court judge who is now San Jose’s independent police auditor, also obtained the release of the female three-striker in 2009 who wrote the bad check at Nordstrom.

To qualify for the ballot, the initiative needs 504,760 signatures. Political consultant Bill Zimmerman, who submitted a proposal to steer the campaign, estimated that organizers need about $10-15 million to win.

Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482.