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/




“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

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


Teen Recruits Smuggling Drugs Across Border: Feds (Sam Spital)


“Channel 7 San Diego online news on November 16, 2012 reported both Mexican and American teenagers, as young as 12 years old, are being recruited by drug cartels to smuggle drugs (referred to as “mules”) across the border. Federal Agents of the Homeland Security report that last year there were 190 and so far this year nearly 130 teens who were recruited at malls, arcades and outside schools, as well as through social media, such as Facebook, were caught smuggling narcotics.. These minor children are told they will not face serious penalties in the Juvenile Court system and can earn from $50 to $500 to carry drugs under their clothing. Initially only targeting young boys, the drug cartels are using young girls as well.

At one time marijuana was the drug of choice, and now it is methamphetamine (commonly referred to as “meth”), which is a stimulant and highly addictive narcotic. Some people use meth because it can help them lose weight, although the results are extremely short lived as the body builds a tolerance and more and more has to be taken to the point it has little or no value, but by that time the individual has become addicted to it and cannot stop. Others use meth for increased energy, sexual pleasure and by those who suffer depression. Without strict controls and supervision by a competent physician, the drug can lead to brain damage and even death. Parents need to maintain open communications with their children to the point they dialogue on life issues, pick up on their children’s activities, who are their friends and are alert to changes in behavior. While society has seemingly advanced in technical ways, open and regular communications and everyday discussions seem to have been lost to text messaging and chat rooms.”




Articles: Delinquency

November 02, 2004
By Blair Clarkson
Daily Journal Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES – The juvenile-delinquency court has been called everything from a revolving door to the unwanted stepchild of the justice system. Critics lament a sloppy system that strands minors in youth camps for months or years without effective treatment, only to send them back to court soon after their release.

The new state Rule of Court Section 1479, unveiled in July and presented to lawyers, social workers, judges and child advocates at a family and children’s law conference on Friday, attacks the problem by expanding the delinquency attorney’s role to include advocacy after the court case is finished.

“It’s giving emphasis to a new and important way to start representing kids,” said Jo Kaplan, a prominent delinquency lawyer and juvenile-court commissioner. “This rule says that delinquency counsel have a responsibility to see that the delinquent gets treatment.”

“If you don’t advocate for them to get treatment and services, they’re never going to get better,” Kaplan told an audience at the 9th annual New Beginnings conference in Los Angeles. Objectors, however, said delinquency attorneys have full calendars and lack the time and money to act as social workers for each of their clients.

While Joan Croker, head deputy in the juvenile division of the Los Angeles County public defender’s office, supports post-disposition advocacy, she says financial realities make it impossible. “In a perfect world, we would do this for every single client,” Croker said. “But nobody can afford that. The system doesn’t have the time. We need more funding to do it the way it should be done.”

Delinquency attorney Pat Rice, who joined Kaplan on Friday, insisted the job can be done. “Scheduling will be a hassle with juggling new hearings and follow-ups, but you’ve just got to do it,” Rice said. “All we really have to do is think a little differently.” The new rule outlines a dual role for delinquency lawyers. In addition to learning everything possible about a client’s particular mental health and personal life, the advocate must review the client’s treatment plan continually, see that it is fully executed in rehabilitation camps and work with the child toward permanent solutions. The extra work will cut into the high recidivism that attorneys say is a product of lack of follow-up to ensure that the delinquent child receives the particular educational or psychological services he or she needs in youth camps and juvenile facilities.

An Orange County report cited by the League of Women Voters Juvenile Justice Commission found that 8 percent to 12 percent of juvenile offenders accounted for 60 percent of juvenile crimes. “Nobody ever checks up on these kids,” Kaplan said. “This is really an opportunity for lawyers to figure out a way to check on their clients to see that they’re getting the remedial help they need.” Recent scathing rebukes of the California Youth Authority and other juvenile camps have raised awareness among delinquency advocates about the dearth of services for children in the system. The state has the highest rate of youth incarceration in the country, and overcrowding has limited youth camps’ ability to provide help, according to the state legislative analyst’s office. A concerted effort to correct these problems is long overdue, said Sue Burrell, a staff attorney at the Youth Law Center. “This rule says very loudly that cases should be brought back to court if kids aren’t getting what they need at camps,” Burrell said. “One of the sad things is that everybody acts as though the case is over after disposition. “But that’s when the whole rehabilitation process is supposed to take place.” Yet Burrell, a former L.A. County public defender, acknowledges that more funding and staffing and lighter caseloads will be needed to offset the huge amount of additional work and investigation demanded from delinquency attorneys. “The system has to provide resources to make sure it can be done,” she said. “It’s hard to expect that public defenders can do all this without help.”

Sam Spital, a former deputy attorney general and probation officer now representing delinquents at Spital & Associates in San Diego, says he has little pity for critics of the rule change.

“If you don’t have the time to follow up with your clients, don’t take the case,” Spital said. “Is it about the money you get or about keeping them from coming back into the court system?”

Verdict reached but sealed in trial of teen accused in rapes of two girls


‎”On October 26, 2012, the CBS online news reported a 17 year old boy was tried as an adult in the San Diego Superior Court and found guilty of rape, kidnapping and sodomy by force upon two girls who were friends taking a walk in a local park. These horrific and unspeakable crimes were committed in conjunction with a second defendant who faces a separate trial, and no doubt the reason the Judge sealed the verdict pending the outcome of that ongoing trial.

According to the Deputy District Attorney, the two teenagers were smoking marijuana when they saw the two girls, at which point one of the boys held a knife and used threats to force them to a secluded place where they were brutally and repeatedly attacked and subjected to a ‘30- to 40-minute series of sexual assaults that included every imaginable kind of rape.’ The police account reflected the defendant’s admission as well as the following statement: ‘(Expletive) happens… The body is weak when it sees flesh.’

The Defense Lawyer argued her client was not guilty and acted out of ‘impulse;’ he ‘cooperated after his arrest and admitted what he did.’ The article did not report and, therefore it is heart-wrenching there was no evidence of remorse, mitigation &/or recognition of wrongdoing of the savage behavior by the defendant who faces up to 325 years to life in State Prison. The reader is left wondering if either defendant has any redeeming quality having taken away the innocence of two girls who are and will be scared for life.”SAM SPITAL, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY

Boy accused in transit sex assaults

“Published in the October 8, 2012 online edition of the UT San Diego, it was reported that a 15 year old juvenile was arrested and taken into custody for a series of sexual assaults on women who had boarded a local transit bus and later exited on their way to their destination. The suspect was charged with false imprisonment, indecent exposure and felony sexual assaults. At least one of the incidents took place around noon and apparently began September 28th. Just two days after Crime Stoppers published the facts of the most recent offense the boy was identified and arrested by Deputies from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

It is possible the District Attorney will charge the suspect as an adult. Nonetheless, psychological testing and counseling are critical to help this individual deal with his aberrant and unlawful behavior, as well as complete lack of respect for others. It is hoped the private attorney that is retained or the Public Defender’s Office will seek necessary and appropriate care and treatment because detention or incarceration alone is usually not an effective deterrent for sex crimes.”SAM SPITAL, CRIMINAL LAWYER

Funding treatment for boy accused in murder at issue (Sam Spital)

“On September 25, 2012, the UT digital edition reported a 10 year old boy is accused of murder and assault with a deadly weapon.

Apparently, another child tried to separate two neighborhood children who were in an altercation in which one was threatening the other with a knife; the fatal stabbing took place in a location adjacent to a mobile home park near El Cajon.

The criminal case was suspended by the Court due to the child offender being held mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Now, it is unclear what will take place because juvenile offenders are generally taken to Juvenile Hall, at the expense of their parents. Until the boy is deemed competent, however, he needs to be placed in a residential treatment facility as a result of the evaluations of two psychiatrists who claim he suffered from mental and developmental issues from fetal alcohol syndrome.

In the interim, the attorney for the boy charged with the above crimes is looking for funding.

The conundrum here is the lack of funding to treat individuals in society before they commit heinous crimes that later become a reality after a homicide, much like the unparalleled situation when the barn door gets closed when the horse gets out.

When will we as a society know we cannot spend too much money for the treatment of mental health issues? When will parents and others obtain education to identify and properly deal with symptoms that inevitably occur leading up to eventual improper &/or uncontrollable behavior (certainly we cannot allow the surge of criminality as we have seen in recent times)?

As a criminal defense attorney, I personally share the sadness of the victim’s family and the juvenile offender’s loved ones. But that grief is outweighed by a concern that society and our schools are not doing enough to identify and prevent the factors that lead to criminality.”

Sam Spital, Criminal Defense Lawyer

Report: 55 Percent of Arrested Juveniles Tested Positive for Drugs

“In a study released to the news media September 6, 2012, it was reported that 55% of juveniles who were arrested in San Diego County tested positive for drugs. The study also discovered that 58 percent of adult males and 63 percent of adult females arrested also tested positive. Our schools need to place a greater emphasis on education and prevention inasmuch as those who use drugs have the highest incidence of other crimes, such as petty theft (shoplifting), DUI, vandalism, etc. Equally important is the sanctions imposed by the Courts, which should continue to place a greater focus upon intervention and sobriety, and perhaps use more creative incentive programs along with the standard support systems as part of the sentencing protocols.”

Sam Spital, Criminal Defense Lawyer

Ratings and Reviews

BBB 10.0Samuel Eugene Spital
Samuel E. SpitalClients’ ChoiceAward 2021 Samuel Eugene SpitalClients’ ChoiceAward 2020
avvo rated 10/10 in Criminal Defense avvo rated 10/10 in Juvenile Law avvo rated 10/10 in Licensing
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