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About Los Angeles Criminal Law Center

Los Angeles Criminal Law Center is sponsored by The Rodriguez Law Group, a criminal defense firm serving Los Angeles, CA and the surrounding areas. The Rodriguez Law Group was founded by Ambrosio E. Rodriguez, a former prosecutor with over 18 years experience. During his time as a prosecutor, Mr. Rodriguez handled serious criminal matters including sex crimes and death penalty cases. The information on this site is intended to assist anyone going through the criminal justice process.

Understanding the Burdens of Proof in Criminal and Civil Cases

Let’s say that, after getting into a car accident, you’re arrested for drunk driving. You’re charged with DUI and then, to make matters worse, you’re named in a personal injury lawsuit. The driver of the other car claims that they’ve sustained severe injuries and that you’re to blame. 

Here’s the good news – the results of your criminal case won’t necessarily impact the results of your civil case. The reverse is true, as well. You could find that you walk away from your criminal DUI case scot-free, only to find that you’re held liable in the civil suit. This is often the case when defendants face both criminal and civil repercussions after an accident.

Why? One of the biggest reasons is that different burdens of proof are required to prevail in criminal and civil cases. Here’s what you should know.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: The Burden of Proof in Criminal Cases

When you’re charged with a violation of state or federal law, the government has to prove that you’re guilty. In order to do this, prosecutors must demonstrate that you are guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” What’s involved with meeting this burden of proof? There’s no hard and fast definition at the federal level. In fact, the definition has been the source of contention in the courts for years. Most states have taken it upon themselves to provide a definition and clarify the meaning in jury instructions.

In California, the state tells jurors that a “reasonable doubt” exists when they are left “with an abiding conviction that the charge is true.” Jury instructions continue, explaining that “evidence need not eliminate all possible doubt because everything in life is open to some possible or imaginary doubt.” So, in the simplest possible terms, beyond a reasonable doubt means that, based on the evidence, the charge is very likely true. Upon analysis, you’re left with the impression that there’s a very slim chance – if any – that the charge is false.

This is an extremely high burden of proof. It’s also quite subjective. One juror might decide that they are persuaded that the charge is true beyond a reasonable doubt, while another might disagree. 

Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest burden of proof, which is why it’s reserved for criminal cases. The government cannot secure a conviction unless this lofty burden is satisfied by direct and/or circumstantial evidence.

A Preponderance of the Evidence: The Burden of Proof in Civil Cases

The burden of proof in civil cases is much less than in criminal ones. In personal injury cases, the burden of proof rests with the plaintiff. So, the accuser – or person who got hurt – has to convince a factfinder that their allegations are true based on a preponderance of the evidence.

A preponderance of the evidence means that the allegations are more likely true than not. Specifically, it means “the burden of proof is met when the party with the burden convinces the fact finder that there is a greater than 50% chance that the claim is true.” So, in theory, a plaintiff could convince a jury to decide in their favor just by making it seem that their side of the story is slightly truer than the defendant’s.

Are There Other Burdens of Proof?

Yes. Sometimes there are situations when different burdens of proof will come into play. This is true in both criminal and civil matters. Here are some other burdens of proof that might be relevant to your criminal or civil case.

Reasonable Suspicion: A police officer must have a “reasonable suspicion” that you’ve broken the law or done something wrong before you can be stopped. This involves more than a hunch or gut feeling. Rather, this suspicion must be based on articulable facts and the totality of the circumstances.

Reasonable to Believe: A police officer can go back and search a vehicle again if they have “reason to believe” that there is additional evidence of a crime. The level of proof needed to establish this burden is somewhere between reasonable suspicion and probable cause.

Probable Cause: Probable cause means that there’s “a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found.” There’s no set percentage that establishes this probability. However, courts have traditionally reasoned that 51% is a good threshold.

Clear and convincing evidence: Clear and convincing evidence requires a higher degree of certainty than a preponderance of the evidence. One court held that this burden is satisfied if a factfinder believes that the “evidence is highly and substantially more likely to be true than untrue.”

Whether you’ve been charged with a crime or involved in a civil lawsuit, burdens of proof will play a critical role in your case. That’s why it’s always best to make sure that you are represented by a qualified attorney who specializes in the type of case you have.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay on Your Breath?

It is well known that alcohol can stay in your system for a while and it is not safe to drive after you have been drinking. It is also known that if alcohol is detected on your breath you will get you in trouble if you are caught drinking and driving.

But how long does it stay in your system? Does it take hours or days to clear your body? How does your body process alcohol? When will it no longer be detectable if you are pulled over? Are there ways to reduce the effects of alcohol on your system?

How long is alcohol measured in your system?

There are two main ways that are used to detect alcohol in your system: urine and breath. Urine is a more accurate test but it is harder to administer in the field if a police officer has pulled over someone suspected of driving drunk.

For this reason, breath is the preferred method that is used to determine someone’s alcohol level fairly quickly. A urine test can tell if you have been drinking in the past 12 to 48 hours.

A breathalyzer is a small machine that measures your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). It is portable and easy to use by police officers in the field. BAC is the amount of alcohol you have consumed over the past 24 hours.

It is measured in percentage points and the total is usually below 0.10%. Any result higher than 0.02% is considered not safe for driving. However, each state has a different number that indicated drunk driving. In California, that number is 0.08%.

How long is alcohol in your system?

Alcohol is classified as a depressant. It begins to metabolize in your body quickly and it does not stay in your system for long. Length is relative though, and it will be in your system for at least a few hours.

The rate of metabolization is virtually the same for every person. The rate is about 0.015 BAC every hour. This means that a person with a BAC of .15% will have no traceable alcohol in their system after about 10 hours.

As soon as you start drinking, the alcohol enters your digestive system. From here, about 80% goes to your intestine and is digested like other drinks or food. The other 20% is absorbed into your blood vessels and goes to your brain.

This is when you start to feel buzzed or drunk. After the alcohol makes it through your blood vessels and brain, it is finally removed from your body through your liver. If you have issues with your liver, it can take even longer for the alcohol to leave your system.

What factors can affect how long alcohol is in your system?

How much and what type of alcohol you drink has an impact on how long it stays in your system. The stronger the drink, the longer the effects will last. One beer takes around two hours for your body to metabolize. One glass of wine can take three hours. Having several drinks in a row or drinking some hard liquors will take several hours longer to digest.  

Other factors that can affect how long alcohol stays in your system include age, weight, and medications you may be taking. For example, a smaller person will feel the effects of alcohol faster than a larger person.

It also matters if you are drinking on an empty stomach or have just had a big meal. Additionally, sipping one drink slowly affects you less than binge drinking several drinks quickly.  

Ways to reduce the effects of alcohol

Food and water are great ways to help minimize the effects of alcohol. Food may help your body absorb and metabolize more quickly. Water can help reduce your BAC, but it will still take time for this to work. If possible, while drinking, try to alternate drinks between water and alcohol. This will help lessen the effects of the drinks and it will also help lessen the chances of a bad hangover the next day.  

It is a myth that coffee or energy drinks will help speed up your metabolism and make the effects wear off quicker. The only thing that can help do that is time. Remember, if you have had any form of alcohol, you need to exercise caution before getting behind the wheel of a car and driving. If you do drive after a few drinks, you risk being arrested for a DUI.   


Understanding California’s Self Defense Laws

No one wants to be the victim of a violent crime. For that reason, California law recognizes the need to protect yourself and others from harm. This right is known as self-defense. It can be used as a legal defense to actions that would otherwise be considered criminal, including assault, battery, and even murder.

If self-defense is properly used, it could clear you of any wrongdoing. However, note that there are several key elements that must be proved in order for this defense to be successful.

Self-Defense and Defense of Others Overview

Now, for self-defense to apply, you must have believed that you were in imminent danger of physical harm. This means that your immediate use of force must have been necessary for the situation. Further, you are not allowed to use any more force than is necessary to protect yourself. For example, if someone goes to punch you, it wouldn’t be reasonable to pull a gun on them.

Note that the law only allows you to use deadly force when there is a threat of deadly force. However, there is no duty to retreat in California. In other words, if someone threatens you with deadly force you may stand your ground and defend yourself. This is true even if you have the opportunity to run away.

Defense of Property and Others

Under state law, you also have the right to defend other people. So long as the person you were defending was justified in using force, you may use the same amount of force in protecting them. In addition, self-defense also applies to property. This includes personal property, such as your wallet, as well as real property, like your house.

Remember, in all situations involving self-defense, the fundamental question is whether the force used was reasonable. So, in terms of protecting property, you would need to ask yourself whether someone else in your situation would have believed that the amount of force you used in the situation was necessary to defend your belongings.

Self-Defense for the Initial Aggressor

It’s important to note that even individuals that initiate the use of force can still claim self-defense in certain situations. For example, let’s assume that you started a fight and then made it clear to the other person that you wanted to stop. If they had an opportunity to stop but continued to attack you, you would be justified in using a reasonable amount of force to protect yourself. 

But, remember, if the force you use goes beyond merely protecting yourself, you would be considered the aggressor again and would not be able to claim self-defense. Because these cases can be complicated, it can be helpful to reach out to a qualified attorney that can evaluate the specific facts of your case and advise you on how to proceed.  

Reasonableness of Belief that Force was Necessary

As discussed, issues of self-defense often turn on the reasonableness of your actions in light of the circumstances. This means that it’s not important if your use of force was actually necessary to protect yourself.

Now, this standard can seem vague and confusing. But, state law does provide some guidance to help determine what is considered reasonable behavior under the circumstances. Specifically, the law looks at things like:

  •  The relationship between you and the other person,

  • The words spoken to you, and

  • The body language of the aggressor.

For instance, take a situation where someone you didn’t know pointed an unloaded gun at you and began to make angry threats. Now, in this situation, you had no reason to believe the gun was unloaded. In this case, it would be reasonable for you to shoot the person to protect yourself, even though there was no actual threat.

Imperfect Self-Defense and Voluntary Manslaughter 

In cases where your use of deadly force was not reasonable under the circumstances, you may still have a legal defense available to you. This is referred to as “imperfect self-defense,” and it could result in your offense being downgraded from murder to voluntary manslaughter. Imperfect self-defense might apply, for example, if you were involved in a fight started by another person where you used more force than necessary and ended up killing them in the process.

Note that this defense will not completely exonerate you of the charges. However, voluntary manslaughter carries less severe penalties than murder. Specifically, if you are convicted of this crime, you could face 3 to 11 years behind bars, compared to 15 to 25 years for murder.