Jonas Lara is a photographer who was arrested for photographing graffiti [artists/vandals—take your pick] in action. Re the discussion about the case in our comments section, we've heard from a TOP reader who's a California criminal lawyer (he prefers to remain anonymous in this context). He had this to say: "California has a written criminal code, and over a hundred years of appellate court opinions construing that code. Aiding and abetting a crime is one of the first subjects taught in a first year crim law class. Of course media reports of the facts of any given case are almost useless in determining what really happened, but it seems to me that it would be difficult to convict a photographer for taking pictures of a crime. Citizens have no duty to stop a crime or even to report it. Unless he did something to encourage or facilitate the crime, it seems to me that they'd be hard pressed to convict."
Penal Code section 594:
(a) Every person who maliciously commits any of the following acts with respect to any real or personal property not his or her own, in cases other than those specified by state law, is guilty of vandalism:
(1) Defaces with graffiti or other inscribed material.
Whenever a person violates this subdivision with respect to real property, vehicles, signs, fixtures, furnishings, or property belonging to any public entity, as defined by Section 811.2 of the Government Code, or the federal government, it shall be a permissive inference that the person neither owned the property nor had the permission of the owner to deface, damage, or destroy the property.
(b) (1) If the amount of defacement, damage, or destruction is four hundred dollars ($400) or more, vandalism is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison or in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or if the amount of defacement, damage, or destruction is ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or more, by a fine of not more than fifty thousand dollars ($50,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.
Our lawyer friend again: "What follows is what one court said about whether being at the scene of an act of vandalism is enough to support a conviction for aiding and abetting. It's a juvenile case, but the reasonable doubt standard of proof is the same. (The appellate court is referring to the lower court's [the 'juvenile court'] denial of a section 701.1 motion, which asserted that the evidence was insufficient. The Court of Appeal disagreed.)"
In denying the section 701.1 motion, the juvenile court stated: 'I think that the circumstances of the setting of the fire, plus the statements of the minor before, during and after this occurred, establishes circumstantially that he was an aider and abettor.' The court cited People v. Campbell (1994) 25 Cal.App.4th 402, 408-410, 30 Cal.Rptr.2d 525, noting in that case one codefendant 'did not independently happen by the scene of the crime' and was with the principal and returned with him 'to the scene of the crime and together they approached the victims...and their concerted action reasonably implied a common purpose.'
In People v. Campbell, supra, 25 Cal.App.4th at pages 408, 30 Cal.Rptr.2d 525 to 410, the Court of Appeal upheld convictions of attempted robbery and attempted murder because the aider and abettor 'knew...and shared [the principal's] intent to rob [the victim] and that in a supportive role, he affirmatively facilitated [the principal].' ( Id. at p. 410, 30 Cal.Rptr.2d 525.) The aider and abettor in Campbell was seen with the perpetrator, both before and during the crime—and assumed a position in front of the victims 'to intimidate and block them, divert suspicion, and watch out for others who might approach. Such conduct is a textbook example of aiding and abetting.' ( Id . at p. 409, 30 Cal.Rptr.2d 525.) This case is clearly distinguishable from Campbell. There was no evidence-either direct or circumstantial—in the prosecution's case-in-chief that Michael instigated the arson and vandalism, facilitated or promoted the crimes or acted as a lookout. He was a bystander, nothing more. The undisputed evidence that Michael went to the playground with five friends—including the three who set the jacket on fire—and left with the same five friends did not establish—directly or inferentially—that he aided and abetted the crimes. Michael was on the basketball court, not in the area of the gym apparatus. Under these circumstances, the fact that Michael went to the school and left the school with the three perpetrators is not enough to make him more than an innocent bystander.
Seems to me that the most pertinent information here is "citizens have no duty to stop a crime or even to report it," and that arriving and leaving with the perpetrators is not enough to make someone more than an innocent bystander.
Photographer Jonas Lara's trial is scheduled for today.
(Thanks to Anonymous)
ADDENDUM: A couple more factoids. 1. Several readers have opined that they think Jonas is clearly "an accessory." He hasn't been charged as an accessory, and it's not at issue anyway: "accessory" means someone who assists a criminal after the crime, and you can't be an accessory to a misdemeanor—only to a felony. 2. Jonas is a Marine Corps veteran with a service connected disability. (Not pertinent, just thought you might be interested to know.)
ADDENDUM #2: "I keep reading wild allegations on the Internet where people fantasize about my part in the graffiti," says Lara. "For the record, I maintain neutrality in my work. I do not encourage, nor do I help plan or anything even remotely close to that. People keep asking if I knew [the taggers] would be there. Of course I knew. I don’t know how that translates into me being guilty of the crime of vandalism. Does a photojournalist with a magazine blindly drive around at night hoping that he stumbles on a story? No, he conducts research and receives tips on where a story might occur. The painting would have taken place regardless whether I was there or not." (Source.)
ADDENDUM #3: The Jonas Lara Legal Defense Fund.
Send this post to a friend
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.