Drummer on defense
Before moving back to Chico to practice law in 2006, drummer and criminal defense attorney Michael Erpino worked at the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office for seven years. After graduating from Chico public schools Erpino honed his drumming chops at the Percussion Institute of Technology in Los Angeles before earning a bachelor’s degree in Pan-African Studies from Cal State Los Angeles and a master’s in interdisciplinary studies from Chico State. At Chico State he interned at Community Legal Information Center (CLIC) under Paul Persons and was inspired to enter law school and become a criminal defense attorney. Some may recognize Erpino as the conga player of Brutilicus Maximus or, more recently, pounding the drum kit with The Fat Stickies.
What kind of cases do you typically deal with?
Our office [Erpino is an associate with “DUI King” Joe VanDervoort] specializes in drunk driving defense, and I also handle all other criminal defense matters, from misdemeanor domestic violence, theft, drug possession, and assaults to felony sex cases and homicides.
Do you see any troubling things in local courts?
There seems to be a trend in Butte County to make every crime a “gang crime” if possible. That’s probably because there’s additional federal and state funding for law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office if they can say a crime was gang related, so it’s been my experience that suspects—and it’s usually young men of Hispanic descent—are labeled as “gang members” when they’re still in junior high, and that label is entered into a law enforcement database and follows them for the rest of their lives. Anyone they hang out with is also now a “gang member” by association, so the problem is compounded, and then any crime any of them commit is usually characterized as a gang crime.
How about L.A.?
Los Angeles is a whole different world. The courts handle thousands of people every day. Many of them are mentally ill, so I’ve seen people fighting with bailiffs, defendants with screens and towels wrapped around their heads so they can’t spit on people, and people covered in their own feces being asked if they understand and waive their constitutional rights. It’s kind of surreal, and it’s a shame there aren’t more appropriate facilities to house these people.
Why should anyone hire a defense attorney?
I guess if you get a $25 parking ticket, it would be crazy to pay a lawyer a bunch of money to handle it. But if it’s anything more serious than a parking ticket, you want an attorney to assess the government’s evidence against you, so he or she can tell you if you have any legal defenses against the charges, and to help present your side of what happened. And with many crimes there are often consequences far beyond the court case. For example, some convictions can be used against you if you pick up an unrelated offense in the future, and you could face driver’s license suspension, loss of gun or voting rights, registration as a drug or sex offender, civil liability, and child custody consequences. A knowledgeable attorney can advise you on all of these issues.