New Laws for 2012

A number of new criminal laws went into effect in California on January 1, 2012, including:

DUIJudges may now impose a ten (10) year driving ban on people who receive three DUI convictions in a period of 10 years.

DUI CheckpointsLaw enforcement is now prohibited from impounding vehicles at sobriety checkpoints if the driver's only offense is driving without a license. This change comes about in response to reports last year that some local police agencies were impounding unlicensed drivers' vehicles as a means of collecting revenue from the fees charged by towing companies as well as the fees charged to release the cars from storage. An unlicensed driver may now simply leave his vehicle at the checkpoint and then have the car retrieved later by a licensed driver. Police, sheriff, and CHP officers are still allowed to impound vehicles of drivers who have had their licenses revoked or suspended.

Cough Syrup with DextromethorphanDextromethorphan, an ingredient in many cough medications, is used by some recreational drug users because of the high it produces when the drug is consumed in large quantities. Because of this, it is now an infraction with a fine of up to $250 for stores to sell over-the-counter dextromethorphan containing cough syrups to anyone less than 18 years of age.

Synthetic CannabisIt is now a misdemeanor for anyone to sell, distribute, or possess a synthetic cannabanoid.

Open Carry of HandgunsIt is now a misdemeanor to openly carry (have visible) an unloaded handgun in certain public areas. The impetus for this law was that police agencies were receiving calls from citizens reporting someone carrying a weapon when on investigation it was found out that the weapon was not loaded. Police argue that their time and resources are better spent dealing with issues that pose a real threat to citizens' safety. The new law provides exceptions for parade participants, hunters, people engaged in target shooting, and others.

Cell Phones in PrisonAs evidence came to light documenting the number of state prisoners in possession of cell phones, the legislature passed a law making it illegal for prison inmates to possess cell phones and establishes penalties for doing so. In addition, anyone smuggling a cell phone into a prison can also be charged with a criminal violation. Before this, prison regulations banned cell phone possession by prisoners. The new law is meant to stiffen the penalties.

Shark Fin BanWhile "shark finning" - the practice of cutting off a shark's fin and then discarding the rest of the carcass - was already illegal in California, the sale or possession of shark fins is now banned. This new law comes as a result of concern that shark populations around the world are declining. Some Asians prize shark fins for their perceived medicinal value and as an ingredient in soup.