Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog
     


Improper Fingerprint Evidence in Los Angeles Criminal Courtrooms

Posted on: October 21, 2008 at 3:55 p.m.

Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers who defend burglary, murder, and other serious crimes in Southern California courtroom frequently contend with expert testimony related to fingerprint evidence. For example, in trial, a crime scene expert would testify that a print was lifted from the point of entry in a burglary case, and then a scientific examiner testifies that Defendant's prints (based on an expert comparison) match the lifted print from the entryway. In trial, jurors find this testimony very compelling because the use and knowledge of fingerprints science (whether you are providing your fingerprints at the DMV, the notary public, or for some other formal documentation) is part of everyday life for many.

A necessary step in trial preparation for a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer is to hire a defense fingerprint expert, to reexamine the work of the prosecutor's forensic examiner to deterimine whether the testing and comparison of the lift to the defendant's prints was done accurately.

The importance of reviewing law enforcement forensic work cannot be overstated. A recent confidential report, regarding LAPD fingerprint testing, concluded that people have been falsely implicated in crimes because the department's fingerprint experts wrongly identified them as suspects. The 10-page internal LAPD report highlighted two cases in which criminal defendants had charges against them dropped after problems with the fingerprint analysis were exposed. LAPD officials do not know how many other people might have been wrongly accused over the years as a result of poor fingerprint analysis and do not have the funds to pay for a comprehensive audit to find out, according to police records and interviews.

Subsequently internal discipline investigations led to the firing of one fingerprint analyst, who had been involved in both of the mishandled cases. Three other analysts received suspensions. In addition, two supervisors responsible for overseeing the unit were replaced, staff was bolstered and oversight tightened, she said.

There are 78 forensic print specialists assigned to the unit, according to the department's website. They are not sworn police officers but among the hundreds of civilians who fill specialty jobs in the department. After prints are lifted from a crime scene, the specialists run them through automated databases to find possible matches and then analyze those to seek a more precise match. Two other analysts are then supposed to check the work for accuracy.

LAPD department officials, however, described a poorly run operation, in which records and evidence were left lying around or misplaced, and supervisors "were stuck in the old way of doing things." Pressed to explain the sloppy work of the unit, the commanding officer of the Scientific Investigation Division, speculated that "people were reviewing the work of friends and just rubber stamping it without really reviewing it."

In one of the cases highlighted in the report, a man was extradited from Alabama to face burglary charges after an analyst matched his prints to those found at the scene. The mistake was missed by two reviewers and was caught only when a third reviewer was preparing to testify at the trial.

In the other example, Maria Delosange Maldonado, a pregnant hospital technician, was charged in February 2006 with breaking into a San Fernando Valley cellphone store. When questions were raised about the accuracy of the print analysis, the LAPD said the prints could not be reexamined because they had been lost. The audit characterized the fingerprint identification in that case as "erroneous."

The LAPD's internal investigation challenges the widely held view that forensic matches made by fingerprint experts are airtight. The authors of the internal LAPD report recalled the infamous example of an Oregon man who was linked through faulty fingerprint analysis by three federal agents to the 2004 terrorist train bombings in Madrid.

Tagged as: police misconduct




Falsely Accused of Murder: Los Angeles Men Freed after 4 Months in Custody - Wrong Identification to Blame Says Prosecutor

Posted on: September 6, 2008 at 10:58 p.m.

Two Hollywood men who spent nearly four months in a Los Angeles County jail walked out free after a murder case against them was dropped, in Los Angeles, California. The men, both 20, had been charged with murder and attempted murder in a drive-by gang shooting in April that left one man dead and another injured. "This matter is dismissed in the interest of justice," Superior Court Commissioner Henry J. Hall said Friday afternoon, prompting applause by family members sitting in the courtroom.

The men, still wearing their blue jumpsuits, left the courthouse in downtown Los Angeles about 6:30 p.m. Relatives yelled, clapped and rushed toward them. "I feel like a million bucks," said one, "I knew I was wrongfully accused. I just had to wait it out."

The decedent Heriberto Osorio, 19, was killed on North Oxford Avenue in Hollywood early on the morning of April 20. Police arrested the two suspect about an hour after the shooting, and prosecutors filed charges a few days later. If convicted, they could have faced life in prison. The Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney on the case said the men matched the physical description given by witnesses and were in the immediate area of the shooting shortly after it occurred. Witnesses also identified both men in a field show-up, singling out one of the men as the gunman. Both men had prior criminal records and police believe at least one had gang affiliations. They both are construction workers.

Defendants had denied any involvement and told police that they were at a nearby McDonald's restaurant at the time. Despite the arrests, Los Angeles police detectives discovered the possible involvement of other individuals in the shooting, according to the prosecutor. One woman has since been arrested on suspicion of aiding and abetting, but police are still searching for the gunman.

Prosecutors realized that the clock on the McDonald's camera was incorrect and that Defendants said the car they were driving was at the fast-food restaurant just minutes after the shooting. Although the McDonald's video did not show them, it did show the van -- a different vehicle than witnesses said was used in the shooting, according to the prosecutor.

Thereafter, after reviewing the case, the L.A. criminal prosecutor made a motion to dismiss the case, which was scheduled for a preliminary hearing next week. "When we put it all together . . . it became clear to me at that point there was reasonable doubt, and, in fact, it was likely they didn't commit the crime," he said. "If someone is in custody improperly, we have to release them as soon as possible."

Tagged as: jury trial defense, police misconduct




Sex Crimes Defense in California: Conviction Reversed due to Withheld Evidence at Trial

Posted on: August 6, 2008 at 9:11 p.m.

The failure to disclose evidence by a criminal prosecutor is a defense attorney's fear. Is a prosecutor willing to win at any cost, so that he or she will hide or fail disclose evidence favorable to a criminal defense attorney? While in practice in Los Angeles courts this phenomenon is rare, a recent criminal law case addressed what happens when evidence is withheld from the defense.
Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers have many tools to prevent a prosecutor from hiding the ball, including filing informal and formal discovery motions pursuant to Penal Code Section 1054.

Specifically the California Court of Appeal ruled a videotape of the medical examination of the alleged victim of a sexual assault, in the possession of a medical professional who works with police and prosecutors, should have been turned over to defense lawyers as potentially exculpatory evidence. The justices said the tape might have been helpful to attorneys for Agustin S. Uribe because it supported a defense expert

Tagged as: motion to dismiss unlawful police search, police misconduct, sex crime accusations




New Trial Ordered for Criminal Defendant after Government Witness Found Lying

Posted on: July 26, 2008 at 7:40 p.m.

Sometimes Los Angeles criminal prosecutors use government witnesses without sufficiently checking into their background. Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys use discovery requests, both formal and informal, along with the work of tenacious investigators, to obtain as much information as possible about a government witness prior to cross-examination.

In a recent appeal, a criminal defendant earned the right to a new trial, after successfully proffering evidence that the star prosecution witness had presented the trial court with a forged military document and repeatedly lied under oath about being a combat veteran. A divided panel held that Ninth Circuit Judge Richard C. Tallman, sitting by designation for the Idaho District Court, abused his discretion in denying David Roland Hinkson

Tagged as: police misconduct




Police Misconduct: Using a Pitchess Motion in Criminal Defense - Penal Code Section 1043

Posted on: April 7, 2008 at 4:11 p.m.

A successful Pitchess Motion may at times be a powerful tool for defense counsel.

Defendants are entitled to relevant "discovery," ie. police reports and witness interviews, contained in the personnel files of an arresting officer. Typically, Los Angeles criminal attorneys file this motion before the preliminary hearing in cases where there are allegations made against arresting police officers of racial discrimination, excessive force, or some other misconduct which is relevant to the criminal case.

Prior misconduct evidence can then be used to impeach the officers in the current case.

Tagged as: california criminal laws, police misconduct









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