Thank you Authority Magazine for this fun interview about criminaldefense work.
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Thank you Authority Magazine for this fun interview about criminaldefense work.
The Criminal Courts Bar Association (CCBA) has announced that it will honor Karen L. Goldstein as the 2020 Trial Attorney of the Year with its prestigious Jerry Giesler Memorial Award. The award, one of the highest honors a trial lawyer can receive in the Los Angeles criminal defense community, will be presented at the CCBA’s 67th Annual Awards Dinner on March 28, 2020, at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Of particular distinction, is that Ms. Goldstein is only the fifth female attorney to be given this acknowledgement in the organization’s history. The award is named after the highly esteemed defense lawyer Harold Lee Giesler (known professionally as Jerry Giesler), a brilliant courtroom tactician and skilled trial attorney who took on the most challenging, high-stakes criminal cases over his 50-year legal career.
Karen L. Goldstein – Persistent, Principled, Passionate Criminal Defense
Ms. Goldstein has been practicing criminal defense since 2003, and represents clients accused of state and federal crimes, including child molestation, rape, RICO, and murder. As the founder of her own legal practice, she is one of the few female practitioners who has dedicated her career to fighting both state and federal criminal charges. With this award, the CCBA acknowledges the complex state and federal jury trials Ms. Goldstein undertook in 2019, including a child molestation trial where a hung jury voted overwhelmingly for not guilty, a result that saved her client from serving a life sentence. Ms. Goldstein works in criminal defense because she has, “a strong desire to fight for the underdog and to protect constitutional and human rights,” she says.
A member of both the Indigent Criminal Defense Appointment (ICDA) Panel and the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) Panel in Los Angeles where she accepts appointments from the state and federal courts to represent indigent clients who cannot afford to hire a private attorney, Ms. Goldstein firmly believes that clients from all socio-economic backgrounds deserve a vigorous defense.
She offers clients her fierce tenacity coupled with aggressive but compassionate representation to ensure that they receive the best possible outcome. Ms. Goldstein’s colleagues in the defense community respect her for taking on, and winning, demanding criminal cases, particularly in the area of sex crimes defense in the #MeToo era.
With a law firm whose motto is, “Persistent, Principled, and Passionate” Criminal Defense Ms. Goldstein’s approach is simple: apply laser focus to each case, handle every detail meticulously, and offer relentless advocacy. She appreciates that every one of her clients is facing stressful and often life-changing circumstances, and that she owes them nothing less than an individualized and exceptional defense.
Ms. Goldstein has been consistently named a Southern California Super Lawyer in the area of criminal defense from 2012-2020, a recognition of her status in the top 2.5% percent of criminal defense attorneys, and has also been recognized as one of America’s Top 100 Criminal Defense Attorneys. She is a member of the California and Washington, D.C., Bars and is currently in the process of being admitted to the New York State Bar. Ms. Goldstein has also earned a 10-star rating from her clients on avvo.com, an online legal directory that allows clients to provide ratings and reviews.
“Karen Goldstein fought for me. Karen Goldstein defended me. Karen Goldstein won me the privilege to return to my family with my head held high. I appreciate everything that she did for me and my family and I would wholeheartedly recommend her to represent any of my friends or family, should they ever need a criminal defense attorney.” – Former client, J.B.
A Legal Career That is in Her Blood
Ms. Goldstein cites her father, a retired attorney, as among the most important role models in her life. He has had a tremendous influence on her career, and she is proud to follow in his footsteps. An aspiring lawyer since a young age, she graduated from Choate Rosemary Hall cum laude in 1995, after being named as an “Adlai Stevenson Junior Fellow” whereas she was invited to present to the student body and faculty about Mr. Stevenson’s career and values.
Upon her first visit, Ms. Goldstein was immediately drawn to Georgetown University, a diverse, international community that has always been known for valuing social justice, and service to others, since 1789. She graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts from Georgetown with a double major in History and English; and was selected for a sought-after Honors Thesis program in her school’s History Department.
Ms. Goldstein later earned her Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center, graduating cum laude. During her third year at Georgetown Law, she served as a student attorney for the Domestic Violence Clinic, where she represented alleged victims of domestic violence in D.C. Superior Court and fought to secure restraining orders for them in court. Ms. Goldstein also assisted in teaching first year students’ legal research and writing in her role as a Law Fellow.
Active in her Community
A community advocate both professionally and personally, Ms. Goldstein is generous with her time and is also philanthropic with local arts organizations. She supports: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Planned Parenthood, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), and The Centre Theatre Group. Through the nonprofit organization Motivating Our Students through Experience (MOSTe), she mentors young female scholars from underserved communities with the aim of helping them get into college, many as first-generation college students. She is fluent in French and speaks Spanish conversationally.
Karen Goldstein is thrilled to receive this honor. The Criminal Courts Bar Association, which is comprised of defense attorneys, judges, and prosecutors from the Southern California criminal justice community, is a trusted and respected organization, and has an important voice on criminal justice issues. Please visit
https://www.laccba.org for tickets and information about the annual awards event.
Media Inquiries: For more information about Karen L. Goldstein or to schedule an interview, please contact Amy Levy Public Relations at 310-444-5250.
Over the past month, school shootings have unfortunately become a pertinent topic in California. Earlier this month, a 16-year-old killed himself after supposedly shooting five students at their Los Angeles suburb high school. Two teens died; three others were injured.
More recently, L.A. authorities arrested a 13-year-old middle-schooler because they suspected he planned to commit a school shooting. Other students told teachers they heard the teen threaten to shoot students. Police found evidence to believe the teen had the ability to commit the violent offense and, therefore, arrested him. He will possibly be charged with making criminal threats or attempted murder.
Thinking About Sentencing When The Unthinkable Happens
School shootings are undoubtedly tragic. They shouldn’t happen, and too many people, including children and adults, have lost their lives to gun violence committed by teens. Conversations surrounding this teen violence, however, most often revolve around gun control. That is an important conversation, but so is the value of proper sentencing and treatment of teens accused of violence.
In many school shooting incidents, the young perpetrator takes his own life. Those who do live to face the consequences of their actions face the most severe of sentencing. From a criminal defense and humanity standpoint, it is crucial we ask whether adult-level, life-long sentencing is appropriate for the minors who commit violence in our society. These teens committed awful acts in these cases, but they are still children. They are often children suffering from mental health issues.
There Is More Than A Gun Behind The Violence
Since school shootings have become more common in the U.S., researchers have tried to study the cases and find commonalities among the tragic incidents. While the people involved all certainly have their unique stories, the United States Department of Education claims to have identified some common factors among many of the teens behind the violence:
• History of depression
• History of attempted suicide
What do these common factors tell us? They tell us that underneath the violence was or is a teen struggling with mental and emotional health problems. In many of the school shooting cases, the teens who perpetrate the violence don’t survive; it becomes too late for the community to help them once the immeasurable damage has been done.
In the case of the recent teen arrested based on the suspicion he’d commit future violence, maybe it is not too late to reach him. There are signs of depression and other mental struggles his community could identify and address through the proper medical routes. Mental health counseling, sometimes medication, and even simple improved communication between a kid and his family can make a life-saving difference.
A pediatric study found that teens who self-report mental health problems such as depression are more likely to have access to guns. To compound that concern, other research shows if there is a gun available to a teen, the chance he will commit homicide increases by three times compared to a teen with no access to a firearm. We know the young teen in the recent case did have access to a gun, which further supported authorities’ decision to step in and act upon the suspected threat.
Defending A Teen Is Defending His Right To Hope
When a case involves violence against children by children, emotions run deep. In any criminal case, defendants are entitled to a fair legal process. When the defendant in a case is a teenager – a child, stakes are so high.
A teen facing murder or attempted murder charges has a lifetime ahead of him that will be directly altered by the outcome of the case. As a defense attorney in Los Angles who handles murder and violent crimes cases on a regular basis, the question always remains: will this young client get the chance to try to improve his well-being and outlook on the world through counseling and emotional education, or will the system treat him like a lost cause? And it is my job as a zealous criminal defense attorney to ensure the former and not the latter.
The Supreme Court of California found this week that public Facebook communications are disclosable to the defense pursuant to a lawful subpoena. Criminal lawyers have circulated this ruling, Facebook v. Supreme Court, widely in the Los Angeles defense community that I am part of. However, another important course of argument for the defense to pursue that has not received as much attention is also alluded to in the Facebook decision. In my view, the defense may also be able to argue that federal limits on disclosure of private or restricted electronic communications are unconstitutional when they undermine Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.
The Stored Communications Act (SCA) imposes a federal limit on compelled disclosure from Internet sites, including Facebook. The SCA declares that, generally, service providers like Facebook may not disclose stored electronic communications except under specified circumstances. Exceptions include when a social media user consents to production of communications that she posted, and when such communications are compelled by law enforcement through search warrants or prosecutorial subpoenas. The defense, until this week, was long at a disadvantage when it came to obtaining production of electronic communications from servers like Facebook.
This week, the California Supreme Court ruled in Facebook v. Superior Court that public posts fit the SCA’s lawful consent exception, and that a provider must disclose public communications pursuant to a subpoena that is authorized under state law. Private or restricted communications between Internet users are deemed protected. There is some ambiguity to this ruling. For instance, how does a court distinguish public and private? Does a user need to set her entire profile as “public” in order for the communication to fall within an exception? Is there a limit on the number of people a communication can be sent to before it falls within the exception and can be compelled? The Court also left open whether accounts that were public and then changed to private could be subpoenaed. These issues are ripe for litigation.
Importantly, the Court also did not resolve the issue of whether the SCA is unconstitutional to the extent that it purports to afford providers a basis to refuse to comply with defense subpoenas. The defendants in the Facebook v. Superior Court matter argued that the SCA infringed their federal constitutional rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to a fair trial, to present a complete defense, and to cross-examine witnesses support their subpoenas. No court has ever found the SCA to be unconstitutional on this ground. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument on the basis that a criminal defendant’s right to pretrial discovery is limited, though it has observed that the SCA might eventually need to be declared unconstitutional to the extent that it precludes enforcement of such a trial subpoena issued by the trial court itself, or by defendants, with production to the court.
Given the Court of Appeal’s observations, and the Supreme Court of California’s decision to decide the case on other grounds, it seems that defendants may be able to raise this constitutional argument when electronic communications are treated as restricted or private and thus not producible. I seek production of social medial communications in many of the criminal cases that I defend, and I am very excited to litigate this issue in the future.
The Supreme Court held in McCoy v. Louisiana that the Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to choose the objective of his defense and to insist that his counsel refrain from admitting guilt, even when counsel’s experienced-based view is that confessing guilt offers the defendant the best chance to avoid the death penalty. In doing so, the Court overturned a Louisiana inmate’s death sentence because his lawyer had told the jury against the inmate’s objection that the inmate was guilty. This case is an important reminder for defense counsel about important ethical limitations on their role as counsel.
The majority in McCoy acknowledged that the defendant’s lawyer was “in a difficult position: he had an unruly client and faced a strong government case.” The defense lawyer’s apparent purpose in McCoy was to demonstrate that the defendant was suffering from a mental defect and incapable of forming the crime’s requisite specific intent. This was a reasonable, but unethical, strategy to help his client avoid the death penalty.
I find it helpful to return to the California Rules of Professional Conduct to confirm my ethical obligations to the client, court, public, and other counsel. Each case involves unique ethical considerations, even though the roles of counsel and the client are seemingly clearly defined. For instance, a criminal defendant’s lawyer may be responsible for what the Court describes as “trial management,” including what evidence to object to and what arguments to pursue. On the other hand, the defendant has the right to make certain fundamental decisions, including whether to plead guilty or waive the right to a jury trial, as well as the decision to maintain one’s innocence. These distinct roles can rub against each other in contexts like in McCoy, where a client if found to meet the low threshold of being fit stand trial, but may not, from the lawyer’s perspective, be making a reasonable tactical decision for her case. Ultimately, McCoy reminds defense counsel that clients who are fit to stand trial must respect a client’s autonomy.
The Court’s ruling in McCoy highlights the principle that the client alone is the master of his defense. This precept finds resonance in the Sixth Amendment, which grants the right to put on a defense directly and personally to the accused-not to his lawyer and not to the state. Accordingly, my approach is to offer well-researched, candid legal advice to my clients on the strength of the case against them, and all other relevant factors. I explain to my clients my opinion on whether it is best to enter a guilty plea or go to trial, and make sure they understand the relevant factors they must weigh to decide which course of action to take.
Overall, I think it is extremely important to having meaningful dialogue with clients about fundamental decisions that they must make for their cases. Defense lawyers must remember that, at the end of the day, it is the client whose life is on the line, and effective representation requires us to respect our clients’ autonomy while providing them with all relevant information and thoughtful legal advice.