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Don’t LIE to your attorney!

I never understood why people lie to their attorneys. Do they fail to understand the concept of attorney client privilege? Do they not trust their attorney? (Then they should get another attorney!) When I was a prosecutor defense attorney’s would always tell me that their clients lie to them all of the time. I actually never truly cared before, but now since I have joined the fraternal ranks of Criminal Defense Attorney’s I can’t help but ask “WHY?”.

Now, I actually understand why a client might lie about when they are going to pay their attorney, but what I am referring to is lying about relevant parts of their case. 

As a prosecutor I was often lied to. I prosecuted my share of Domestic Violence cases with recanting victim’s. So I heard the “I just slipped and fell” lie. I even once heard the I slipped and fell out of a moving vehicle on the I-5 south lie. That is a funny story I will have to tell one day. In addition, I have had defendants lie to me. I used to work with cooperating individuals/informants with great regularity. Many of them would lie to me. They were always trying to get over on the system. I have heard the “I haven’t used since I got arrested” as I am looking at the fresh track marks on the defendant’s arms, LIE. I have seen defendants where for every two transactions they do for the Feds they do one for themselves. Defendants have a vested interest in lying to law enforcement. I get it; I understand it; and as a prosecutor I expected it. 

But when you lie to your attorney about an important part of your case you actually hurt your chances of success. Your attorney is progressing and preparing for one scenario (your lie), while time is being lost. This squandered time could have been spent preparing the best defense or response to the truth. 

I recently caught a client in a lie. It wasn’t a big earth shattering lie that is going to change the world. Its was a little lie that caused me to waist time. It was a lie that if the client had actually thought about it before he lied he would have realized that eventually I was going to discover that he had lied. However, when I caught him in the lie it brought back all the memories of defense attorneys telling me (when I was a prosecutor) that their clients always lie to them. 


Find an attorney you can trust.


Daniel Adkins Jr,? Another Trayvon Martin? Has the stand “your ground laws” created a perceived license to kill?


The issues surrounding the shooting of Trayvon Martin filled the media for weeks. In addition, it filled the conversations of people on facebook, linked in, twitter and in coffee shops everywhere. I personally had several conversations with associates, friends and people who randomly discovered I was an attorney, about the situation. In all honesty I had mixed feelings about the issue. I think that a person should not have to flee from an attack and risk being attacked in flight where they are less able to defend themselves as someone is attacking from behind. However, Zimmerman rightfully or wrongly created the interaction with Trayvon Martin, by following him even after he was advised by dispatch that he should stop. Under California Law an initial aggressor can only claim self defense if they clearly communicate to the other party that they would like to cease fighting and retreat. California Law further does not allow for the creation of the need to use of self defense, self defense cannot be contrived.  Clearly, Tray’von Martin and Daniel Adkins Jr. were not in California they were in Florida and Arizona respectively. However, both of these cases create a growing concern that the stand your ground laws are being used as a swords to initiate conflict. Would Zimmerman had followed Trayvon Martin if he did not have a gun? Would Zimmerman have refused to stop following Trayvon Martin if he did not believe he could shoot Tray’von Martin if he felt threatened?

I know I have several friends that are gun rights advocates who will contrast these situations with the numerous situations where gun owners stop robberies and crimes in process. However, Trayvon was not a robber, and he is now gone forever.

the story of Daniel Adkins

An Attorney You Can Trust.

Talking to the Police

I want to start this post by indicating that some of my closest friends are police officers. My first roommates from my college summer bridge program is a police officer and we are still good friends to this day. Hence I have a high level of respect for officers, I think most are honest and they are just trying to do their job. However, like any group of people officers are going to have their bad apples, and since there are sufficient examples of this in the news I will not elaborate.  ( Yes that was my “Some of my closest friends are _______” preface)

Now the other day I was sitting at a bar, and for everyone that knows me well they of course know I was only having water. Regardless, while I was at this “establishment” (that sounds better than “bar”) I ended up talking to a gentleman and the conversation eventually progressed to what I did for a living. Sometimes I hate telling people what I do because it inevitably leads to questions and requests for free legal advice often concerning areas of law I haven’t dealt with since the bar exam.  As a prosecutor it was more annoying because I did not take on clients so I had absolutely no financial interest in people knowing what I did for a living. Now that I am in private practice I need to be more proactive in trying to build possible business connections, but I am a work in progress in that area. So, I told the gentlemen my story, the Readers Digest version of course (DA for over ten years now in private practice primarily criminal defense). The gentlemen who was in town for a convention, then asked me an interesting question “When will it benefit a suspect to talk to the police?” I thought about this for a moment.

My response was something like this:

Generally a person suspected of a crime can gain very little by talking to a police officer or detective before or after being arrested. First, if the officer or detective believes that they have probable cause to arrest the person it is probably nothing that the person can say that will change the detective or officers opinion that the officer has probable cause to arrest the person. If the detective or officer does not believe that they have probable cause to arrest the person, they are probably interviewing the person in hopes that the person interviewed provides them with enough information to establish probable cause to arrest the person.

In addition, a person that is being interviewed by an officer or detective never truly knows what the officer or detective already knows. Therefore a detective or officer can ask a person a seemingly innocent question on its face that does not appear to be incriminating, however the officer or detective may already have incriminating information that they are trying to corroborate with seemingly innocent non-incriminating questions. Therefore always carefully consider your right not to talk to the police. It is generally more prudent to ask the officer or detective to interview you with your attorney present, so that your rights can be protected.

An Attorney You Can Trust

Expungement? Should I Get One? Why?


Over the last ten years as a practicing attorney I have been asked several times what does it mean to have your criminal record or your conviction expunged. Many people mistakenly believe that after a certain number of years a criminal conviction simply disappears like ancient debts eventually fall off of a person’s credit report. However the criminal justice system doesn’t quite work that way. Even when a person is legally eligible for an expungement or if they have a legal right to an expungement it still does not happen automatically. Nothing (well almost nothing) happens automatically in the criminal justice system.

So first we will discuss what needs to be done to have your conviction expunged and then we will proceed to a discussion of whether or not it is something that you should do or that you should suggest to a love one. The first thing you need to find out is if you are eligible for an expungement. Generally if you go to prison for a crime you are not eligible for an expungement. If you were placed on probation and you failed to complete all of the terms of your probation you may not be eligible. For example if you failed to pay your fines or your restitution. The easiest way to determine if you are eligible is to contact an attorney and have them review your case. Once you determine that you are eligible for the relief you need to file paper work (a written motion) requesting the expungement, pay a filing fee and appear in court. If you hire an attorney all of those things can be done for you by the attorney. However, this process can be done without an attorney, having an attorney simply makes it a lot easier and prevents you from wasting a significant amount of time. As a Deputy District Attorney I handled hundreds of such cases and I saw people coming back and forth to court (missing work) because they had not filed the paper work correctly. They failed to serve the District Attorney’s office, or they simply did not know what to request. Another benefit of having the assistance of an attorney is because your attorney will know what charges are eligible and what charges are not eligible for the relief. In addition, some of the eligible charges are at the discretion of the court therefore the court in theory could deny your motion. Hence it will be helpful to have an attorney. Generally when I am initially retained for a misdemeanor I include the expungement process as part of the services covered under the original retainer. Therefore at the time of your initial consultation I will explain the process of having your conviction expunged and I actually help you with that process. If you are hiring an attorney and you are concerned about the future consequences of the conviction you should ask your attorney about the possibility of having the conviction expunged later. Actually, your attorney should initiate that conversation, however if he or she fails to you should ask him or her about that process.

Now what is the benefit of having your criminal conviction expunged?

Penal Code section 1203.4(a) states in part that: In any case in which a defendant has fulfilled the conditions of probation for the entire period of probation, or has been discharged prior to the termination of the period of probation, or in any other case in which a court, in its discretion and the interests of justice, determines that a defendant should be granted the relief available under this section, the defendant shall, at any time after the termination of the period of probation, if he or she is not then serving a sentence for any offense, on probation for any offense, or charged with the commission of any offense, be permitted by the court to withdraw his or her plea of guilty or plea of nolo contendere and enter a plea of not guilty; or, if he or she has been convicted after a plea of not guilty, the court shall set aside the verdict of guilty; and, in either case, the court shall thereupon dismiss the accusations or information against the defendant . . .

So what does all of that mean? Well when a conviction is being expunged the person previously convicted is withdrawing their previous plea (or the judge is withdrawing the prior verdict) and the court is dismissing the case against the defendant. Now from the standpoint of the criminal justice system the conviction remains and can still effect future punishment for new offenses. However the criminal record or “Rap Sheet” will note that the conviction was dismissed in the interest of justice. However, in the civil world (unless you are applying for a government job, state issued license or a  clearance of some sort) you can legitimately say that you had not been convicted of the crime because the case was dismissed.

This is based in part on the labor code which states in part:

432.7.  (a) No employer, whether a public agency or private
individual or corporation, shall ask an applicant for employment to
disclose, through any written form or verbally, information
concerning an arrest or detention that did not result in conviction,
or information concerning a referral to, and participation in, any
pretrial or post trial diversion program, nor shall any employer seek
from any source whatsoever, or utilize, as a factor in determining
any condition of employment including hiring, promotion, termination,
or any apprenticeship training program or any other training program
leading to employment, any record of arrest or detention that did
not result in conviction, or any record regarding a referral to, and
participation in, any pretrial or post trial diversion program. As
used in this section, a conviction shall include a plea, verdict, or
finding of guilt regardless of whether sentence is imposed by the
court. Nothing in this section shall prevent an employer from asking
an employee or applicant for employment about an arrest for which the
employee or applicant is out on bail or on his or her own
recognizance pending trial.

However, if the charge was a felony the expungement may not restore all of your rights (like the right to possess a firearm). This process can serve as the first step to have those rights restored. In addition, if the case can be reduced to a misdemeanor before the expungement (only certain felonies called “wobblers” can be reduced) then depending on the type of charge some of your rights may be restored.


Why I left the District Attorney’s Office? ( I am still not certain)

Some of you may be wondering why someone would leave a position that had a good salary, which was stable, that provided a certain level of recognition in the community and become a defense attorney. Well I have been asked that question many times as I approached my last day in the office. Many times I did not have a response that I felt was adequate, despite the fact that my inquisitors appeared satisfied with my various responses. I have a wide range of emotions about my new career move: Fear, Excitement; Relief; Sadness and Elation. Fear obviously for the unknown. Not Fear of the work I know that very well. Prior to becoming a Deputy District Attorney I spent time in the Public Defender’s Office as an intern where I worked in the Central Misdemeanor Unit and had my own case load with clients. The Fear pertains more so to the idea of change. I have made a leap of faith, based on a belief that at this point in my life I need this change. Excitement. I am excited for the possibilities. The possibilities to work with people I had to avoid before as a prosecutor. Excitement to have the freedom to do what I want to a certain extent. The excitement to set my own goals and achieve them. Relief. This is a weird emotion that I did not expect. However, as the anxiety of leaving the District Attorney’s Office built up there was a sense that the world did not end that day. Sadness. It was a very solemn experience to pack up my office for the last time. As a Deputy District Attorney I had packed up my office several times to begin the process of transferring to a new assignment, however packing for the last time was very somber experience. I thought back to all of the many relationships that I made over the years. I further thought forward as to how many of those relationships will change forever because of my decision. I thought back on all the experiences I had in the office. All of the things that I learned over the years about the law, the life, the court system and many more things. Elation. I have been elated about the possibilities, the amount of support and encouragement and positive feedback I have received about my new endeavor.

Donte T. Wyatt

My First Time

February 21, 2012 will be my first time. No I am not  virgin, physically, emotionally or in any other way. However February 21, 2012 will be my time. Tomorrow I will go to court for the first time in ten years and when my case is called I will not be saying ” Donte Wyatt on behalf of the People of the State of California.”  I am not quite sure how I am going to feel after I cross this final frontier. Actually, I have answered up on behalf of a defendant before, but tomorrow will be my first time after ten years as a Deputy District Attorney. I wonder how the judges and my former colleagues are going to respond. Unlike most  people that leave the office I did not send out a massive goodbye email, nor did I want an happy hour, that has never been my style. As a Deputy District Attorney I believed in just quitely doing my job. I was never a big fan of being on television or in the paper. I actually had to report myself to my supervisor once for refusing to speak to a reporter about case I was handling.  Therefore I  am almost certain there will be some people in the courthouse that will discover my recent career shift as I am making that court appearance.

One of the of the interesting things that I have been wondering  about is who from my old office is going to be friendly, who is going to  be distant, and who is going to act as if I committed a crime against nature.  As a prosecutor I was always had a friendly relationship with the defense bar. It was and continue to be my belief that you should always treat your advesaries with respect and conduct your self with a high level of integrity. Hopefully at teh very least that is what I will find tomorrow.

How a young black revolutionary became a Deputy District Attorney

One interesting thing about being a Deputy District Attorney of African descent, is the fact that from time to time someone out in the community (usually another African American) would ask me “How Can You send your black brothers and sisters to prison?” I heard the question so often I actually had about three or four pre-written scripts to answer the question. However, now that my time as a Deputy District Attorney is over I have been thinking more and more about how I got here (no here isn’t a bad place, but that doesn’t rob the question of its relevance.)

I grew up in Los Angeles and I graduated from high school in the early 90’s. Therefore I spent the most formative portion of my adolesence in the Los Angeles of the 80’s and early 90’s. I was primarily raised in a middle to lower middle class neighborhood. My family wasn’t necessarily poor, but we had financial issues from time to time. Sometimes the financial issues were severe, sometimes the issues were minimal. I generally stayed out of trouble as a young adult. I was more of the class clown type than the criminal type. However, I knew my share of drug dealers, gang bangers, wanna b’s, has been’s, and never was’s. I was an average athlete at best, but athletics like most other things in my life at the time suffered from my general lack of committment to anything. Historically I have blamed my lack of committment on the fact that the first ten years of my life I was an army brat moving every few years as my father was transfered from base to base. We finally settled down in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s. This movement caused me to place little significance to forming bonds of attachment to people, places or things. I am not sure how much of an effect that my early life as an army brat has had on me versus how much I have simply used that early life experience to excuse my less than desirable behavior. So that is a brief synopsis of my early life, now let me try to fill in some more details regarding what I was like from a political perspective standpoint while in High School and College. As a student I was very liberal, borderline radical and definitely antiestablishment. As a young adult I personally had several negative experiences with police officers that left me less than confident in their ability to be fair and impartial executive officers. ( i will go into those incidents in future post, maybe) Hence my early distaste for law enforcement was initiated by personal experience. However, the flames of my distrust were further fueled by reading and discovering the history of law enforcement’s interaction with African American people over the years. I read extensivesly about the history of the civil rights movement, and everything from J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO to Bull Connor’s exploits. As I am reading the works of Eldridge Cleaver, Baldwin, listening to the speaches of Malcolm X the Rodney King incident happens. I know at this point you must be thinking how in the heck did this young man end up spending ten years as a Deputy District Attorney.

Well overtime I gradually calmed.  I began to understand that the world around me was evolving before my eyes, but I still wasn’t ready to aid in what I still viewed as the further persecution of “my people”. I entered law school after I graduated from college. I thought I would probably become invoved in either business litigation or criminal defense.  I actually interned at the public defenders office on two ocassions while in law school and I became intoxicated with the idea of being in the courtroom.  That experienced drove me away from the idea of pursuing a career in business litigation. In addition, to enjoying my work in criminal law I also had an opportunity to talk to several practicing business litigators. My conversations with those litigators pushed me closer to a career focused on criminal law. Most of the business litigators I talked to very seldom went to trial. They spent the bulk of their time doing depositions and answering interrogatories, two activities I did not find particularly exciting.

So now (about 12 years ago) I was firmly targeting a career in criminal law, but I had not yet considered working as a prosecutor. I actually had never even given it a second thought.  The idea first crossed my mind when I was confronted by a closs associate that was working as a Deputy District Attorney. The first time we discussed  the idea I did not take his idea of me joining the District Attorney’s Office serious. The second time I was confronted by the same associate I responded by saying that l obtained my law degree so that I could help people. My associate quickly responded that the best way that someone like me could help people is as a Deputy District Attorney. Initially I did not follow his logic, but he continued by saying a Deputy District Attorney has the power to help victim’s by bringing there victimizers to justice, help the innocent by making sure they are not falsely accused and even help defendants by insuring they are treated fairly and justly by the criminal justice system. Now I was finally following his logic and it made a lot of sense to me. It made so much sense that I dedicated the first ten years of my working life to trying to live up to the standards he laid out for me. I had an opprotunity to form some of the most meaningful relationships of my life, I learned an immeasurable amount about the law and I had the opportunity to help many people. So why did I leave? Because the opportunity to help people as a Deputy District Attorney is limited because of the many obligations and requirements of an heirarchical structure of a bureaucracy, but I will expand on that later.

Life, Law, and Opinions

I began this blog to create a venue for my thoughts ideas and opinion about current events in the world and specifically in the legal community. I have spent the last ten years of my life working in the criminal justice system and I intend to continue in that pursuit. I hope that my blog will serve as an outlet and meeting place for ideas to be expressed, discussed and digested.

The criminal justice system is a mystery to many people. I have walked through the halls of the San Diego Superior Court and I have always been astonished by the number of people who find themselves lost among those few floors. The people are not lost because they do not know where they are, or where they need to go. They are lost because they do not fully understand what is happening to there loved ones and sometimes even themselves. I would often stop when requested and try to explain to the best of my ability what is going on. However, I was often limited by my position as a Deputy District Attorney. I could not give legal advice, opinions or interpretations of the law. Although, that would never be my intent, I had to go further and insure that what I said could not be interpreted in such a way. So what do you do when an elderly woman that reminds you of your grandmother looks up towards you and asks you for your honest opinion? You see the piercing look in her eyes pressing towards your soul. You stand their thinking what if I was behind those bars and my mother, grandmother, wife or daughter was in this hallway looking for answers. Well for years I would have to say I am not sure; I do not know; I can’t give you legal advice. I said these things knowing inside that I wanted to say Ma’am this is what is likely to happen. These are the possible results in this situation. However, instead I am left there wondering why does are system allow people to wander lost in these hallways.

Now today is the last day I will have those limitations, for better or for worst.

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