Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorneys hear many stories from clients about officers being too aggressive, coercing consents to search, forcing Miranda statements, and even planting evidence. LAPD Internal Affairs is supposed to investigate all complaints of police misconduct. Some say that how can LAPD police and thoroughly investigate its own.
A recent report and finding by the Police Commission confirm this claim, concluding that Los Angeles Police Department investigators routinely fail to fully investigate citizens' complaints against allegedly abusive officers, often omitting or altering crucial information in ways that help exonerate the officers, according to a report to be released today. Further, the report raises questions about the department's ability to police itself, adding to still-unresolved problems highlighted in previous reports. The audit, which is expected to be presented to the civilian Police Commission today, examined how 60 complaints filed against officers in recent years were handled by the officers' supervisors and investigators in the department's internal affairs group. In 29 of the cases -- nearly half of the time -- it found some sort of flaw, including investigators who inaccurately recorded statements and failed to interview witnesses or identify accused officers. In some cases, investigators failed to address allegations of misconduct at all. "
In several of the cases reviewed, the report concluded that the investigators' conclusion that the accusations against officers were "unfounded" would have been different if the investigations had been handled better. In one complaint about excessive force, a witness said in a tape-recorded interview shortly after the incident that there had been too many officers surrounding the man to get a good view of what happened. But in their report, the internal affairs officers paraphrased the witness' comments much differently, writing that the man "had a clear and unobstructed view and did not see or hear the alleged acts occur." Problems with paraphrasing in this case and several others, the report found, were the reason the officers were ultimately absolved of any wrongdoing.
In another case, two men said they were injured -- one suffered a broken or badly sprained elbow -- by a group of officers using excessive force while trying to break up a party. The report faulted investigators for failing to interview two witnesses or retrieve any of the documents on file about the incident. Investigators failed to identify any of the officers involved in the altercation and did not include any photographs of the injuries the accusers sustained -- a basic component of an excessive-force complaint.
Better training may be required. Police officers who become members of internal affairs receive only a five-day training course on how to conduct investigations. Complaints are usually filed with a sergeant at a local police station who conducts interviews and passes the claim to internal affairs. Internal affairs handles the more serious cases -- several thousand each year.
Los Angeles Criminal Lawyers are able to obtain a police officer's record of prior misconduct through two sources: (1) The District Attorney's Brady Unit, set up after the Rampart scandal; and (2) Los Angeles City Attorney's Office, which represent LAPD in court, after litigating a Pitchess Motion before trial. Both of these procedures are utilized soley within the criminal justice system. L.A. criminal settlement and defense issues are greatly affected when it turns out that one of the investigating officers has a history of misconduct.
Tagged as: california criminal laws
California criminal law requires a unanimous verdict - which means all 12 jurors must agree that the defendant on trial is either guilty or not guilty. If the jurors cannot reach a unanimous decision, the judge declares a mistrial and the DA must decide whether to reprosecute the case or not. In a retrial, the DA would have to call all the witnesses again, bring in all the physical, direct, and circumstantial evidence - in other words, do the trial from scratch, as if the first one never even happened. Obviously, the expense and time is great, and many prosecutors will seek to reach a plea bargain with a defendant, to avoid a retrial. As a result, for most Los Angeles Criminal Lawyers, a hung jury represents a de facto legal victory, which often results in a very favorable case disposition for the criminal client.
One way to avoid a hung jury in the first place is to allow the prosecutor and defense attorney the opportunity to reargue their positions in front of the jury, in attempt to clear up any confusion. This is generally more helpful for the prosecution, and the defense will object to the procedure. Recently the California Court of Appeal ruled a trial judge, in San Joaquin Court, did not abuse her discretion in reopening closing argument in order to break a jury deadlock in a criminal case. The court affirmed a defendant's robbery conviction, which resulted in a 25-year-to-life prison sentence under the Three Strikes Law. In doing so, it rejected the defense argument that there was no statutory support for the judge's decision to allow a new round of closing argument after jurors reported that they were deadlocked.
Prosecutors charged defendant with robbing a USA Gas Station in Lodi, with Hayes using a firearm and Young a BB gun that simulated a firearm. A police officer who knew defendant and his family identified him from a photo that was made from a surveillance tape, and the two clerks who were working at the time of the robbery identified him from a photo array. A police detective testified to an unrecorded interview in which defendant
admitted his involvement, said he was sorry, identified a co-Defendant as the other robber, and suggested he would
Tagged as: motion to dismiss unlawful police search
Car stops are a frequent means of police investigation, which lead to arrests for the possession of narcotics, firearms, and other contraband. If the traffic stop is unlawful, the Constitution states that what the police found in the car is not admissible in court, and thus typically the criminal charges of possession are dismissed. A recent California decision further defines the extent of justification officers need for a lawful car stop, and provides an argument for Southern California Criminal Attorneys to suppress improperly obtained evidece.
A recent California Court Of Appeal decision dealt with the issue of a police officer who testified that he stopped a vehicle because it had an expired license tag, and that he didn
Tagged as: counterfeit goods pc 350, dui drunk driving defense vc 23152, probation and sentencing laws
Who says there is no corruption in the police? Prosecutors frequently argue in drug possession cases that the officers finding the drugs are honest and reliable, such that their testimony should be believed. L.A. Criminal Defense Lawyers retort that we live in an imperfect world and that there are a few "bad apples" in any profession. It is left up the jury to decide whether the police, or that accused are telling the truth.
So what happens when the accused on trial are police officers? And further that the government uses others disgraced officers, as their witnesses, in their case in chief to prove corruption? A current criminal jury trial in Los Angeles provides an example of dirty dealing by local LAPD officers. During recent testimony, a former state corrections officer, sitting handcuffed in court, identified a Los Angeles police officer accused of participating in a series of home-invasion-style robberies staged to look like legitimate police raids, who is on trial. Rodrigo Duran, the former prison guard, told a federal court jury that he witnessed ex-LAPD officer William Ferguson commit several crimes while dressed in his police uniform, riding in a patrol car stolen from the police academy.
When asked to identify Ferguson for the record, Duran raised his cuffed hands and pointed a finger at the defendant, who sat impassively in a dark suit next to his attorney. Ferguson and his brother Joseph, a suspended Long Beach police officer, went on trial this week for their alleged involvement in a band of rogue officers and others accused of committing more than 30 robberies or attempted robberies at locations across Southern California.
These are not the only defendants, who are former police officers. The admitted ringleader in the case -- a former Los Angeles police officer Ruben Palomares -- and 14 other defendants have already pleaded guilty, and many have begun serving sentences in federal prison. The Ferguson brothers are the only defendants thus far to fight the charges detailed in a 54-count indictment alleging civil rights violations.
William Ferguson is accused of posing as Palomares' partner during many of the robberies, in which the officers and others allegedly stole drugs, money and other valuables while pretending to conduct narcotics raids between 1999 and 2001. Joseph Ferguson is accused of driving his brother and Palomares to the LAPD academy to steal cars to be used in the robberies and of acting as a lookout outside some of the locations while they were being robbed. He is also accused of making a fake 911 call that resulted in the arrest and eventual imprisonment of one of the drug dealers who had been providing information to them but was asking for a larger share of the take.
Prosecutors plan to call victims from at least 15 of the robberies to testify, according to a 43-page trial memorandum by Assistant U.S. Atty. Douglas M. Miller, the lead prosecutor on the case. They also plan to call Palomares to testify against his alleged former cohorts. Much of the testimony this week came from victims of robberies, who described people dressed as police arriving at their residences, saying they were there to search for drugs. Some said they were held at gunpoint or handcuffed as their houses were searched. One man wiped away tears as he described a 2001 encounter in which he said he was beaten with a baton and hit over the head with a sap because the "officers" didn't find the drugs they were looking for.
The most dramatic testimony came out recently when jurors began hearing from Duran, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors. He faces a potential life sentence but stands to receive a significant reduction as a result of his cooperation. Duran said he was recruited to join the ring by Palomares, a former high school buddy in Huntington Park. Duran said Palomares told him that another old friend -- this one a drug dealer -- was tipping him off to where rival dealers had stashes of drugs or cash. Under the deal they had worked out, Duran said, Palomares and his companions would show up at the locations dressed as police and say they were there to serve a search warrant for drugs. If they found any, they would turn them over to his dealer friend and her husband to sell and then get a cut of the profit. If they found money, they would split it.
"He said we'd be able make some money by doing the jobs she wanted us to do," Duran recalled under questioning by prosecutor Jeffrey S. Blumberg from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C. Duran described several "jobs" he participated in along with Palomares and other crew members, including William Ferguson. Duran said Palomares and Ferguson would wear their LAPD uniforms, along with guns and badges, and employ police tactics while conducting the robberies. At one point, Duran said he looked on as the two officers, both in uniform, loaded a stolen 50-gallon drum filled with marijuana into the back of pickup truck owned by Palomares' cousin. Duran said the drugs were later sold and he received a $3,500 cut of the profit.
Blumberg asked Duran, who had no previous criminal record, why he accepted Palomares' invitation to become involved in the ring. "Greed," he said. "It was all about trying to help myself out because I was hurting financially." "Did you think you'd get caught?" the prosecutor asked.
"Never," Duran replied. "Why's that?" Blumberg asked. "Because we were law enforcement."
In sum, Los Angeles Criminal Lawyers must often present compelling arguments to a jury about why a client's story of police corruption is believable, despite the officers' denials. The pending trial of corrupt cops provides a great example that officers may be imperfect, have the same temptations as the rest of the public, and lie to cover up corruption.
Tagged as: federal law and defense, high profile defense
Los Angeles Criminal Lawyers frequently encounter cases where the possession of marjinuana is legally justified under California's Medical Marijuana initiative. The reason these cases are criminally filed is that the investigating police officers either ignore or do not understand the law justifying the legal possession of numerous ounces of marijuana, even if there is substantial money or scales nearby. As long as the possession is to treat a person's diagnosed medical condition, then it is completely lawful under California state law.
Criminal Defense in California courts must include pointed cross-examination of police officers' background, training, and experience in investigating not just drug sales cases, but specifically the experience officers have in medical marijuana cases. Just because an officer has many busts for cocaine, methamphematine, PCP, or ecstacy, does not make him an expert witness for legal opinions about whether the recovered marijuana is possessed for sale, in light of the California Medical Marijuana initiative.
Recently the Fourth District Court of Appeal found that police officers who have only limited experience dealing with people who possess marijuana legally do not have a sufficient basis to determine whether such persons intend to sell it. In a unanimous opinion, the court reversed a conviction for possessing marijuana for sale based on a lack of evidence, saying the police officer upon whose expert testimony the conviction was based had no expertise in differentiating between individuals who possess marijuana lawfully for their own consumption, and those who possess it unlawfully with the intent to sell. The court explained:
Fake rolexes? Gucci sunglasses? Fendi purses? Pirated DVDS? The manufacturers of these high-end items lose millions of dollars in sales, and aggressively pursue counterfeiting by hiring undercover investigators nationally. The investigators in turn chronicle what they observe in a gray-market storefronts and turn over the product of their investigations to local police agencies. An example of someone who may be investigated is an individual selling Gucci sunglasses for $20 in Downtown L.A., or Venice Beach. If the glasses were not produced by Gucci, they are considered counterfeit, even if their quality is the same or better. Even if the seller is honest with the potential buyers that the item is a fake, California law states that it is criminal to sell an item with a counterfeit label such as Gucci or Fendi on an article, without the manufacturer's consent. This is known as a trademark violation, and the criminal consequences for such conduct include large fines, jail, and prison.
The Law Blog's attention has recently been turned to criminal counterfeiting cases, which are appearing more often in Southern California Courts. Manufacturers and distributors of counterfeit items are being arrested more frequently. Los Angeles criminal lawyers are now facing the prospect of defending criminal charges brought pursuant to Penal Code Section 350. The biggest criminal defense challenge in these cases is to keep clients out of custody. The clients usually have clean prior records and often do not realize, before being arrested, that their entrepreneurial activity was illegal. Mistake of law is not a defense in California courts. Penal Code Section 350 states in part:
"(a) Any person who willfully manufactures, intentionally sells, or knowingly possesses for sale any counterfeit of a mark registered with the Secretary of State or registered on the Principal Register of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, shall, upon conviction, be punishable as follows:
(1) When the offense involves less than 1,000 of the articles described in this subdivision, with a total retail or fair market value less than that required for grand theft as defined in Section 487, and if the person is an individual, he or she shall be punished by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment; or, if the person is a corporation, by a fine of not more than one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000).
(2) When the offense involves 1,000 or more of the articles described in this subdivision, or has a total retail or fair market value equal to or greater than that required for grand theft as defined in Section 487, and if the person is an individual, he or she shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, or in the state prison for 16 months, or two or three years, or by a fine not to exceed two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine; or, if the person is a corporation, by a fine not to exceed five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000).
(b) Any person who has been convicted of a violation of either paragraph (1) or (2) of subdivision (a) shall, upon a subsequent conviction of paragraph (1) of subdivision (a), if the person is an individual, be punished by a fine of not more than fifty thousand dollars ($50,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or in the state prison for 16 months, or two or three years, or by both that fine and imprisonment; or, if the person is a corporation, by a fine of not more than two hundred thousand dollars ($200,000).
(c) Any person who has been convicted of a violation of subdivision (a) and who, by virtue of the conduct that was the basis of the conviction, has directly and foreseeably caused death or great bodily injury to another through reliance on the counterfeited item for its intended purpose shall, if the person is an individual, be punished by a fine of not more than fifty thousand dollars ($50,000), or by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or by both that fine and imprisonment; or, if the person is a corporation, by a fine of not more than two hundred thousand dollars ($200,000).
In a recent LAPD sting in the Los Angeles Downtown shopping district, known as the Santee Alley, 26 people were arrested and $8 million of counterfeit goods were confiscated. It was reported in the press that more than 140 law enforcement officers descended on Santee Alley Police and seized more than 50,000 items, including pirated CDs and DVDs as well as near-perfect reproductions of designer merchandise. The street value of the goods seized by officials with the Los Angeles Anti-Piracy Task Force was estimated at more than $8 million. "It sends a strong message going into the holiday shopping season that this kind of activity is not going to be tolerated," said LAPD Capt. Jodi Wakefield. "If they are going to be doing it, we are going to be arresting them." But some shoppers in the alley said they felt sympathy for merchants. "It's a Catch-22," said Ron Brown, 39. "It's trademarked merchandise. It kind of hurts the manufacturer. [But] especially this time of year, you kind of feel bad -- people are just trying to make money, survive and feed their families. People are out there trying to make a living. Unfortunately it's illegal." Officers with the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department cordoned off a blocklong section of 11th Street on either side of Santee Alley. Aided by investigators for design companies, the officers examined merchandise such as watches, purses and perfume. They found copycats that carried designer labels, including Prada, Rolex, Fendi and Gucci, officials said. "I'm a librarian by trade, so I know about copyright laws," said Becky McIntosh, 60, of Idaho, wandering the fashion district after returning from a Southern California cruise. "I can't in good conscience do it -- I know it's taking away the profit of the original designers." But shopper Jackie Williams, 41, a part-time nurse from Corona, toted a few handbags she had just picked up and saw the issue in simpler terms. "If people choose to buy the real Coach, they can go to Nordstrom," she said. "For me," she said of Santee deals, "it's something I like."
Despite the debate about whether such investigations help society, counterfeiting will continue especially with the inflow of counterfeit goods from China. As a result, Los Angleles criminal lawyers will stay busy defending Penal Code Section 350 violations in court.
Tagged as: federal law and defense
When an officer approaches you on the street, or knocks on your door at home, does that mean you are not free to leave, and/or that your must allow admission into your home? There are no clear answers and Southern California Criminal Attorneys litigate, almost daily, difficult search and seizure motions by filing Motions to Suppress pursuant to Penal Code Section 1538.5
If the situation is considered a "consentual encounter," under Search and Seizure caselaw interpreting the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, then police officers do not need a reasonable basis or reason to speak to the person, i.e. they are just making "small talk" -- which means that the officer can come up to the person and begin speaking. Of course, if you follow this train of reasoning, the person can just walk away right? Can the person just shut the door in the officer's face? While in theory the answer to both questions is yes, how many times will police officers just let the person walk away, or stand having a door slammed? Probably never. If anything, the police officer will find an articulable basis to "detain" the person, to explain his belief that the person is involved in criminal activity. This reasonable basis is required to justify law enforcement's intrusion on the person's right to privacy under the U.S. Constitution. The greater the intrusion, the greater the need to justify the search and seizure under criminal constitutional law. Thus, police officers entering a person's home requires a much greater level of lawful justification, than detaining someone on the street.
A recent court of appeal decision clarifies further for all criminal lawyers in Los Angeles - what is a "detention" (requiring justifying) under the Constitutional framework, as opposed to a consentual encouter (requiring none). The First District Court of Appear ruling states that a police officer
Tagged as: probation and sentencing laws, violent crimes defense
Grand Jury Investigation of High-Profile Individuals: Indictments of Barry Bonds in California, and Bernard Kerik in New YorkPosted on: November 16, 2007 at 6:24 a.m.
What is a Grand Jury? A grand jury investigates civil and criminal matters in proceedings closed to the public. A civil grand jury investigates the operation, management, and fiscal affairs of the county and the cities in the county. A criminal grand jury has constitutional authority to indict a suspect after finding probable cause that he or she committed an offense. The prosecutor presents the case to the grand jury in the form of testimony and other evidence and may answer questions that members of the grand jury have concerning the law. A grand jury is not supposed to receive evidence that would be inadmissible over objection at trial. However, even if the grand jury hears evidence that would be inadmissible at trial, the indictment is not void if there is sufficient competent evidence to support the indictment. Once the presentation of evidence is completed, the grand jury deliberates in secret. A 19-member grand jury may bring an indictment when 12 or more jurors conclude that the evidence presented establishes probable cause to believe that the accused committed the offense. Probable cause is the same standard used by the magistrate at a preliminary hearing: whether the evidence would lead a person to believe and conscientiously entertain a strong suspicion of the guilt of the accused.
Why are celebrities and public officials often investigated through Grand Juries? The proceedings are secret investigations, witnesses are ordered not to reveal what they testified to in front of the Grand Jury, and thus the media is often unaware that an investigation is even happening, or the details surrounding it. The grand jury process often precludes the glare of media attention on witnesses, as well as the subjects of the investigation. The process is fair, in part, because an ongoing grand jury investigation does not mean someone will necessary be indicted for a crime. Thus, if there is insufficient evidence for an indictment, a person's name and reputation may be preserved without the taint of a public criminal investigation picked apart by the media. On the other hand, the prosecutors can coax reluctant witnesses to testify, and can take years to gather evidence and testimony they need to a build a case against a target. Also, the "secret" aspect of the process harkens back to the inquisitorial processes in criminal courts centuries ago.
Keep in mind that an indictment is just a criminal accusation made by a grand jury. The defendant still has the right to a jury trial to defend himself. Recent examples of grand juries investigations of high-profile figures include baseball player Barry Bonds and Former NYC Police Commissioner Bernand Kerik.
Barry Bonds was indicted today. The slugger became baseball's all-time home run king in August, and was charged by a federal grand jury in San Francisco on perjury and obstruction of justice charges after a four-year investigation into whether he lied under oath about his use of steroids. Bonds, 43, faces four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice, the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco announced. (The Indictment Reads: "Bonds is charged with knowingly and willfully making false material statements regarding his use of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances while under oath during his testimony before the federal grand jury that was conducting the investigation into [BALCO], and with obstructing justice in the same investigation," the office said in a news release.) BALCO founder Victor Conte pleaded guilty to distributing steroids after a 2003 raid of his company by the Internal Revenue Service, and Bonds would later tell a grand jury investigating BALCO that he may have unknowingly received designer steroid products known as "the cream" and "the clear." In testimony leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, Bonds said he believed one of the products was flaxseed oil, a claim met by doubts from those who watched him increase his previous season-high home run total of 46 to a record-breaking 73 in 2001. Bonds' insistence of unknowing steroid use launched a subsequent grand jury that investigated whether he had committed perjury.
Bernard Keric, the former New York City police commissioner and protege of presidential hopeful Rudolph W. Giuliani, appears to be drawing to a close with a possible indictment. A grand jury that has been hearing evidence for several months on whether Keric committed tax evasion and other charges, The investigation stemmed from a $240,000 renovation of Kerik's apartment in 1999. Authorities alleged that most of the work was paid for by mob-connected builders who sought his help winning city contracts -- a charge he denied until a misdemeanor guilty plea in state court last year. Before the scandal broke, Giuliani endorsed Kerik's nomination in 2004 to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kerik then announced he was withdrawing as President Bush's nominee because of tax issues involving a former nanny.
Tagged as: counterfeit goods pc 350, high profile defense
Statutory Rape: 10-years Imprisonment and Sex Offender Registration is Cruel and Unusual Punishment, Court RulesPosted on: October 29, 2007 at 11:22 p.m.
California law makes it illegal for anyone to have consentual sex with anyone under the age of 18. The criminal offense is also known as the California Statutory Rape law, Penal Code Section 261.5. The greater the age difference in the intimate relationship, the more serious the consequences in a criminal court. If the age difference is less than three years, the offense is a misdemeanor (informal probation, community service, and jail). If the age difference is greater than 3 years, the offense is known as a wobbler under California criminal law, meaning it could be prosecuted as either a felony or a misdemeanor (a felony means the possibility of prison time).
The difference between the Statutory Rape law and Child Molestation is in the latter the victim is under 14 years old and even a reasonable belief that the victim is older is not a defense in criminal court. The Statutory Rape law does allow the defense that the older person believed that the victim was actually older than 18 years old, ie. he/she told me he/she is twenty....he/she looked and acted much older...the bottom line the jury is left to decide whether the defendant truly and reasonably believed that the victim was 18 or older.
A recent case out of Georgia state court highlights an example where the state's Statutory Rape law was applied too aggressively to a consensual relationship. Genarlow Wilson in 2005 was convicted of aggravated child molestation for having oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. He was sentenced to 10 years without parole, the mandatory minimum under Georgia law at the time. But the state's high court, in a 4-3 decision, found that the sentence amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment." In California, criminal defense lawyers know that this type of case would probably not have been prosecuted. And even if it was, the case would have been pursued through the juvenile court process resulting in a home on probation disposition.
And on Friday afternoon, Wilson, now 21, a former high school honor student and football star, walked free from the Al Burruss Correctional Training Center after 32 months behind bars. He was calm, soft-spoken and relieved. "I'm finally happy to see we've got justice," Wilson said at a news conference outside the prison. "It's just a whole new beginning. I've got fresh breath, a new life."
Wilson's case also highlighted the increasingly strict sex-offender laws that have become common in Georgia and other states. If his conviction had been upheld, Wilson would have had to register as a sex offender upon his release. Georgia law would have prevented him from living or loitering within 1,000 feet of schools, day-care centers, parks, churches, swimming pools or school bus stops. His lawyer stated, "This is an awakening of parents everywhere... have a conversation with your teenager." She added: "Dangerous sex predators are out there. Those are the people who should be subjected to harsh laws, not Genarlow Wilson."
In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears noted that the Georgia Legislature had altered the law in 2006 to make conduct like Wilson's a misdemeanor that would not require registry as a sex offender. Sears said that represented a "seismic shift in the Legislature's view of the gravity of oral sex between two willing participants." The Court explained that Wilson's case "does not rise to the level of culpability of adults who prey on children and that, for the law to punish Wilson as it would an adult, with the extraordinarily harsh punishment of 10 years in prison without the possibility of probation or parole, appears to be grossly disproportionate to his crime."
In Southern California, the criminal defense of sex-related offenses is common. Criminal lawyers should be aware that California child molestation law would require sex offender registration for life under Penal Code Section 290 (for sex with someone under 14). However, the statutory rape would not require such registration. And again, the bottom line here is how old the alleged victim was, not the age of the accused.
Tagged as: sex crime accusations
In Georgia, a defendant is charged with committing a heinous crime, first rape, then escaping from the courthouse killing a judge and three others. He is facing the death penaly. But because he is indigent, the state is paying for his defense lawyers fees, as is the case in all other parts of the country. Lawmakers are calling for impeachment of the judge who has approved the indigent defendant's lawyers fees.
The trial judge on the death penalty matter is subject to the ire of state lawmakers because he has approved over $1.2 in legal fees to the defense lawyers preparing for trial. No one has claimed that the lawyers have padded their bills, or been unreasonable in trial preparation work in any way. Rather, the lawmakers feel that the judge should rein in the criminal defense lawyers. Critics say DeKalb County Senior Judge Hilton Fuller has mismanaged the high-profile death penalty case. In the middle of jury selection, the case has come to a halt because of disputes about those payments.
The lawmakers have said: "How many more millions will be spent giving Brian Nichols a defense that no one, including the taxpayers, could afford for themselves?" said Republican House Speaker Glenn Richardson in a statement. "There are serious questions about the poor handling of public funds that need to be addressed. The law provides the House that authority, and we intend to investigate the matter." Richardson said he planned to appoint a special committee, headed by attorney and Republican state House Majority Whip Barry A. Fleming, to investigate Fuller's handling of the trial and whether there was an "abuse of the system."
This simply never happens. And it shows the power a government can have over a judge, if it does not like the judge's conduct. The judge appears to have done what any judge would have done in his situation -- approved reasonable legal fees for the defense. The fees are high, but should not an indigent defendant have a thorough defense, especially if he is facing the possibility of losing his life.
After Nichols arrest following the escape and homicides, the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council assigned a team of salaried defense lawyers to the case, but prosecutors raised issues about the standing of one of the attorneys with the State Bar of Georgia, and moved to disqualify the entire public defender's program from the case. The council withdrew the original lawyers, and in an abundance of caution, assembled a new team that included three outside lawyers who billed by the hour. Fuller approved those rates, which are as high as $175 per hour, in July 2005. By last August, according to court documents, they had billed for more than $700,000 in attorneys fees and $200,000 in expert fees.
Importantly, the prosecutors office also has a number of lawyers handling the case. Fulton County Dist. Atty. Paul Howard's office has assigned five assistant prosecutors to the Nichols case. They filed a 54-count indictment and submitted the names of 300 potential witnesses. Defense attorneys argue that they need a budget that allows them to mount a sufficiently vigorous defense.
The case is taking a toll on Georgia's public defender system. The Legislature cut the system's budget for the public defender's council about 20% this year. It owes the three outside attorneys more than $160,000, and has declined to pay, despite an order from Judge Fuller. On Oct. 17, Fuller halted the case after two days of jury selection after the defense attorneys asked that the funding issues be resolved. In other words, the defense lawyers want to make sure that they will paid for their months of work, just as the prosecutors.
Importantly, the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to effective counsel. So despite the pain of taxpayers having to pay for an attorney, we are ensuring that everyone who stands accused exercises to right to an attorney in court.
Tagged as: counterfeit goods pc 350
Eisner Gorin LLP has been recognized as one of the best U.S. law firms, based on the experience, professionalism, and ethics of its criminal defense lawyers and attorneys. We aggressively defend clients in all Southern California courtrooms on state and federal charges, including DUI, DMV, misdemeanor, felony, juvenile cases, in the following communities and courthouses.