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Failing to Pursue a Fugitive: Serna Motion in Los Angeles Warrant Cases

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Dec 27, 2008 | 0 Comments

Clearing a Los Angeles Bench Warrant always requires immediate action by a criminal lawyer and the client. The sooner the client is in court, the less likelihood the court will place him or her into custody.Our law firm has handled numerousmisdemeanor and felony warrant matters, where thewarrant was recalled and the client stayed out of jail. Wepresent the client's background, and mitigation evidence in court to justify the immediate release.

Another way our firmdefends a criminalwarrant is to attack its legal validity in court, through a Serna motion which allows the defense to argue that the police and prosecution failed to seek the client out, and serve the warrant on him. Further, because of this untimely action,the defense is prejudiced andunable to present evidence of mitigation in court.

A recent California decision dealt with what constitutes untimely police action warrantinga case dismissal.TheCourt held thatthe State of Californias failure to aggressively pursue disgraced politicallobbyist Norman Hsu after he fled from justice 16 years ago before sentencing on a plea to a grand theft charge did not violate his right to a speedy trial.

Upholdingdefendant's conviction and three-year prison sentence, the Court concluded that the former Democratic Party fundraiser was more to blame for the delay than the government, and rejected his contention that he should have been able to rescind his plea agreement because the judge who was required to sentence him under it retired eight years ago.

Defendant was charged in California in 1991 with 16 counts of grand theft after the collapse of an alleged pyramid or Ponzi scheme in which he solicited investments in a fictional latex glove business, but used money obtained from later investors to pay earlier investors.

Defendantentered a no contest plea in 1992in San Mateo Superior Court to one count of grant theft, with an admission that he took more than $100,000, under an agreement which called for a three-year sentence.

However,Defendant fled prior to sentencing, and spent a number of years in Asia before returning to the United States in the late 1990s.

In 2003, with no effort to hide his identity despite his fugitive status,he began contributing to, and collecting contributions for, political candidates and other causes. By 2007, he had raised over $100,000 in bundled funds for Hillary Rodham Clintons 2008 presidential campaign, even though he was neither a party member nor registered to vote.

WhenDefendant learned that year that he was about to be arrested on a bench warrant from the 1992 charge, he arranged for his surrender in August and appeared in court and posted $2 million cash bail. However, when he once again failed to report for sentencing, another bench warrant issued, and he was taken into custody by FBI agents and extradited to California after falling ill on an Amtrak train in Colorado bound for Denver.

Back in California,Defendant moved to dismiss the charges on the basis that the 15-year delay in sentencing violated his constitutional rights, claiming that authorities could easily have found and arrested him during those years.

The court reasoned that, While it is unclear how Hsu could have engaged in such prominent political activity without being detected, [his] flight to avoid being sentenced must be weighed more heavily than the ensuing failure of the government to apprehend him, the judge wrote.

Pointing to the prosecutions declaration that there are more than 100,000 arrest and bench warrants outstanding in California at any given time,thecourtopined that the government should have discretion concerning how to allocate its finite investigative resources andcannot be expected to pursue each of these 100,000 individuals with the effort it might expend to capture, for example, a serial killer.

Tagged as: bench warrants


Forex Marketiva on May 12, 2010 at 2:54 p.m. wrote: Thanks for sharing this.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...


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