What Are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE)?

For the most part, many of us have not read or heard about ACE’s, the acronym for adverse childhood experiences. Whereas highly negative experiences as a child often create indelible marks in his/her brain impacting child development, they do not have to be irreversible. For more information of significant interest, see the following:  https://acestoohigh.com/2012/10/03/the-adverse-childhood-experiences-study-the-largest-most-important-public-health-study-you-never-heard-of-began-in-an-obesity-clinic/

Negative childhood experiences inevitably can cause anxiety, toxic stress, fear, shame, disappointment, anger,  hopelessness, helplessness, despair and depression. They can arise from one or more specific incidents of neglect; physical, sexual, verbal and/or emotional abuse; and  family dysfunction in general.  When the feelings that arise from such experiences become intolerable, they can move from being an acute and temporary problem to a chronic and continuing episode. For far too many, they not only impact a child’s development but frame their adult life. They are often linked to and the causal factor behind substance abuse; mental illness; criminal behavior; separation and divorce; neuro-psychiatric and neuro-psychological problems, major medical health conditions as well as auto-immune diseases; work absences and employment problems. However,  learning more about this scourge and most importantly obtaining appropriate and if necessary ongoing care and treatment can alter the fabric of life.

Far too many examples are evident in the news every day, yet there are clues that either were ignored &/or rationalized by parents, siblings, relatives, peers, friends and associates. Become more aware of those you love and with whom you associate so that their personal feelings are addressed, if only to be the one who listens and hears the challenges and struggles they may experience. Hopefully, encouragement will suffice; however, recommending one obtain counseling and professional guidance may ultimately be the best remedy and tool for accommodating negative feelings and ultimately reduce  the ACE score.  Also, see https://www.socialjusticesolutions.org/2014/08/07/q-pediatrician-screens-parents-kids-trauma-ace-score-9/



There is no doubt student truancy in the public schools in California has reached an epidemic level. As a former prosecutor serving as a Deputy Attorney General with the California Department of Justice, I saw first hand the criminal history of countless individuals as part of my caseload. In the past three decades I have been in private practice and one of my areas of focus has been criminal defense; the same patterns have been the same and in some ways have become worse.Such individuals have many similarities, but there was and continues to be a common thread that frequently starts in elementary school.

Although not a psychologist, I have personally had enough cases in which I have utilized forensic experts to know that deviant &/or improper conduct and behavior is often an individual’s effort to cry out for help. Without intervention when an individual evinces trouble, the problem will likely escalate; it can start with a simple infraction, but often escalates to misdemeanor crimes and even felonies. While there is no substitute for loving parental guidance, it is also true that everyone needs and benefits from having personal goals; the importance of achieving even little steps towards realizing them cannot be overstated.

Whether one gets into trouble in the classroom, on the playground, comes late to school or is truant, it starts at a very young age. While many focus on the financial aspects in that schools lose money when students do not attend class, the child and society are hurt much more.We spend far too much money at the other end of the spectrum having to incarcerate than we should to educate.


Couple pleads not guilty to child endangerment charges

A couple pleaded not guilty to felony child endangerment charges.

They were accused of leaving their 4-month-old son in a car. His temperature rose to dangerous levels, and he died in a hospital.

Can anyone reconcile a parent’s lifetime guilt as a result of allowing their child to die because they were using narcotics and forgot they left their infant child in the car when they remained inside their residence (perhaps using more drugs), notwithstanding the ever rising and burning temperature in their closed vehicle from the summer heat?  It is despicable and unforgiving.

This type of conduct only underscores the failure in our system to educate individuals at a very young age as well as adults through relentless media Public Announcements that drugs destroy one’s ability to exercise judgment, causing obvious lapses in memory as well as an inability to function in simple daily activities.

Is there a scintilla of evidence the parents are remorseful? The reporter failed to include any such references, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusion(s).



Four child welfare workers will be fired after death of boy

Los Angeles county officials say that four child welfare workers were negligent and guilty of many missteps in a case involving an 8-year-old boy named Gabriel Fernandez. As a result of their lapses, the boy died. The four workers have received letters informing them that they will be fired.

Fernandez died in May. He was found with broken ribs, burns, and a fractured skull. His mother and her boyfriend have been charged with murder and torture, and though the Department of Children and Family Services received many complaints of abuse, they had been discounted and not dealt with.

It is heartbreaking that these people knew that a child was most likely being hurt but they did nothing to stop it. Hopefully the firing of these four employees marks a change and sends a message to other employees that this behavior and these serious mistakes are not all right.

The challenge for Child Protective workers is that they are faced with making complex decisions in the investigation of abuse &/or neglect. On the other hand, they have the benefit of engaging in a dialogue with their managers and even confer with experts in the field to make appropriate decisions.

Erring on the side of caution protects the child(ren), but doing nothing exposes the child(ren) to serious and life threatening injuries. Perhaps the real conundrum involves the huge case load they have, in which many contend they need greater and ongoing education and training.



College student gets jail time for rigging election

Matthew Weaver, a former Cal State San Marcos student, was sentenced on Monday to one year in prison.

Weaver stole 750 student passwords to rig a student council election in his favor. He used a key-logger to gather information, and he was caught on the fourth day of the election, when computer technicians noticed unusual activity on one of the campus computers.

Weaver did not think before he acted. He called his behavior “childish, foolish and arrogant.” Some might argue that it was the crime of an entitled kid, and it seems as though he has learned his lesson. Whether a mistake or not, the ultimate price will be the unintended consequences that were not previously considered. It appears, however, the defendant has remorse.




“On February 6, 2013, the UT San Diego electronic edition reported that a teenager was arrested for arson and vandalism of a Day-Care Center, causing about $70,000 in damages. The suspect was shortly thereafter booked into Juvenile Hall.

The reporter did not reveal whether she contacted the parents, the school and/or any friends of the boy to ascertain whether he was having any challenges in school, with his peers and/or home environment. It would not be unusual for there to have been previous signs and/or indications that therapeutic intervention was necessary and appropriate. What motivated this 14-year old to do these types of crimes is however unclear, but the boy admitted to the charges.

Many therapists and forensic experts have opined that often individuals with rage and aggression also have a lack of impulse control, and these crimes are their way of crying out for help so their life can be different. Unlike others in society, they have no healthy way to express their overwhelming anger. Sadly, these types of crimes often progress beyond significant property damage cases but can lead to serious injury and even death.

If the family cannot afford private counsel, the Judge will appoint a Deputy Public Defender to represent the boy. The goal is rehabilitation and not just punishment and to deter others from committing crime. The strategy of defense counsel will initially be to perform a thorough investigation as well as to obtain a forensic evaluation.”

–Sam Spital

3 teens injured after fireworks explosion in Encinitas-All 3 treated for face, arm, leg injuries (Sam Spital)


“The ABC Channel 10 online edition on January 31, 2013 reported three boys, two who were age 15 and a third who was 17 years old, were all hospitalized due to injuries they each sustained when they were playing with fireworks that exploded. The three teenagers had to be treated for facial, arm and leg injuries after they were flown to neighboring hospitals from Encinitas, a tony North County city.

While fireworks are illegal in many cities and states, it is unclear whether there was any parent at home at the time. Each year around July 4tth, there are similar stories of children, teens and adults who have been seriously injured when lighting various types of fireworks, and that is certainly the primary reason they have been outlawed. However, being close to Tijuana and other parts of Mexico makes it much easier for fireworks to be taken (illegally) across the border and brought into San Diego. One business that was started over 30 years ago is Phantom Fireworks. They have over 1,200 locations throughout the United States and is also known to supply fireworks on the 4th of July to numerous retail chains https://www.fireworks.com/locations/

It is estimated that about 2,000 individuals sustain eye injuries in the United States due to fireworks each year. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2011, there were approximately 10,000 individuals who were treated in hospitals due to injuries from using &/or lighting fireworks. Nonetheless, in some cities in the United States it continues to be legal to purchase and use fireworks as long as a permit is obtained by the municipality. Regardless, personal injury attorneys have filed various lawsuits from time to time against the manufacturer of fireworks as well as the sellers; yet, this does not seem to have a huge impact on the manufacturing, distribution and sale that continues year after year. Many cities help sponsor shows, however, in an effort to curb the improper or unlawful use or display fireworks.”

–Sam Spital


Competency trial postponed for teen accused of stabbing mother’s fiancé (Sam Spital)

Commentary by Juvenile Defense and Criminal Law Attorney Sam Spital:

“On January 8, 2013, CNS Channel 8 online news printed an article regarding a 17 year old boy facing attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon charges in adult court and life in state prison if convicted for repeatedly stabbing the fiancé of his mother multiple times with a butcher knife in the head and neck and who will soon have a competency hearing. This is a process in which a defendant is evaluated to determine whether he is competent to understand the charges and assist his attorney in order to stand trial. The Public Defender handling the case was reported to have said his client has serious psychiatric issues and a diagnosis of mental illness.

It is noteworthy that Penal Code section 1367 (a) mandates a person cannot stand trial or be sentenced for a crime if he/she is mentally incompetent. In order to arrive at such a conclusion the defense attorney must rely upon a psychiatrist or forensic psychologist to evaluate the accused; then, the mental health expert is placed under oath and must testify at the competency hearing it is his/ her professional opinion that because of the mental illness of the accused the defendant is incapable of understanding the nature &/or purpose of the criminal proceedings or is incapable of assisting in his/her defense &/or cooperating with defense counsel.

Further, it is the burden of the defense to prove the defendant is incompetent pursuant to PC 1367 (a). In the case of Medina vs. California, 505 U.S. 437 (1992), No. 90–8370, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the California Supreme Court and held there is a presumption of competency and there is no violation of the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution by requiring a defendant to prove by a preponderance of the evidence he is not competent to stand trial. In the stabbing case herein, it will now be up to the defense to present sufficient evidence to avoid a trial in the underlying criminal case.

An excellent resource for anyone who would like to know more about competency hearings and how a Superior Court in California evaluates the issue of competency to stand trial can be reviewed by clicking the following link that is a ‘bench guide’ for judges: https://www2.courtinfo.ca.gov/protem/pubs/bg63.pdf.
Once again, society is faced with having to deal with horrific crimes that might have been prevented had the accused received appropriate care and treatment. It seems more money is spent by our government to incarcerate criminals than to prevent crime through education as well as timely and appropriate intervention. Sadly, many insurance carriers and HMO’s place strict limits on the number of sessions one can have for the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.”

–Sam Spital


22 students arrested in drug sting (Sam Spital)


“Fox 5 digital news reported on December 12, 2012 an illegal drug ring was discovered by an undercover drug investigation in which officers posed as students in several high school campuses in the Temecula Valley area of Riverside County, a community adjacent to San Diego. In total there were 22 arrests of which 20 minors were taken to Juvenile Hall and 2 adult students taken into custody were arrested for sales of narcotics and child endangerment. Seized in the sting were cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine (meth), ecstasy, LSD, marijuana and illegal prescription drugs.

It strains credulity that so many of our youth fall into the trap of experimenting with and/or using drugs to feel good. Life has many challenges, but equally true is the fact there are far greater opportunities. However, we have to question whether our schools are providing sufficient information, case studies and material in their curriculum as well as using appropriate resources to build self-esteem, positive values, goals and dreams to motivate students to achieve happiness. Instead, far too many students experiment with drugs in order to get ‘high.’ Substituting artificial, extremely dangerous and addictive drugs only to provide an extremely short lived result can only lead to a trap as in the case of quick sand, offering no long term pleasure, relief &/or remedy while posing the risk of a life time of further complications as well as death. Although so much money is spent to solve social ills and problems, it hardly seems to have had a sufficient impact to reduce the scourge of illegal possession, use and sales of drugs and narcotics.”

–Sam Spital

Boy, 15, charged with murder in Vista stabbing (Sam Spital)


“It is a sad commentary in today’s society that so many individuals’ lives will be adversely impacted by a 15 year old boy who otherwise could have used his youth as an opportunity to grow to be a productive adult and realize the happiness found in achieving goals and paying forward. Instead, the UT San Diego News posted an article on November 21, 2012 about this teenager who was charged as an adult for Assault with a Deadly Weapon and Murder with Gang allegations in connection with the stabbing death of a competing gang member in a local park in Vista. The boy faces 30 years to life for the killing.

The reporter did not include any family history, explanation, and/or mitigation regarding the offender; and of course, the reader is left with a question whether any possible exculpatory evidence might exist to explain, much less to demonstrate justification for the brutal attack. The defense counsel will likely perform a thorough investigation with family, friends and potential witnesses to better evaluate the facts of the incident as well as to determine whether the defendant has any remorse that can be presented at the penalty phase of the court case.”

–Sam Spital


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