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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Hillside Strangler Still Filing Appeals

Hillside Stranglers
The saga of the “Hillside Stranglers” continues. We’ve mentioned Angelo Anthony Buono Jr. in a previous post. Kenneth A. Bianchi, along with his cousin Buono was convicted of multiple murders in the late 1970s.

For the last 40 years, Bianchi has filed multiple lawsuits and more than a dozen personal restraint petitions professing his innocence to the crimes. These petitions come in spite of the fact that Bianchi pleaded guilty on October 19, 1979, in order to escape the death penalty, The Bellingham Herald reports. He agreed to a guilty plea for killing Western Washington University students Karen Mandic and Diane Wilder.

He also pleaded guilty to five hillside strangler killings in California. He received two life sentences for the murders in Washington and five life terms for the killings in California, according to the article. His claims of innocence stem from what he calls illegal searches and seizures. He says that the death penalty was hung over his head to compel him to plead guilty for a lighter sentence.

Death Penalty Ruse

Bianchi pleaded guilty to five of the 13 “Hillside Strangler” slayings in exchange for avoiding the prospect of a death penalty sentence, according to the article. Evidence brought to light in recent years gives some reason to believe that Bianchi could not have been responsible for the Western Washington University students’ deaths.

In June, he filed three petitions, in which he pointed out that the FBI has now discredited the science behind hair evidence used in the case. What’s more, he claims that he could not have killed Mandic and Wilder based on the time clouding in the victims’ eyes. Bianchi’s third appeal asserts that two of his pubic hairs found in the house where Mandic and Wilder were murdered were planted.

On August 29, the Court of Appeals dismissed Bianchi’s three recent petitions, the article reports. The record states that “He has been filing petitions challenging his conviction on ineffective counsel grounds, and on other grounds, since the 1980s.” Bianchi filed all three petitions acting as his own legal counsel.

“The courts in my three legal briefs gave each lip service, never ruled on the merits, never recognized the truth of each, and dismissed based on procedure, not merit. All my briefs have true and correct merit,” Bianchi said. “I’ve had courts ignore my facts, and instead adopt information from old news stories. Facts are the most important part of any petition, and over the years, as facts came to my knowledge, and through case law a legal ground arose, I filed.”

Bianchi, 68, is incarcerated at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer

Please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower if you or a loved one require legal assistance. With more than three decades of experience, Attorney Brower can help you achieve the best possible outcome in any case.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

"Rapid DNA" Testing Concerns

rapid DNA
DNA evidence is an invaluable asset to law enforcement agencies across the country. Microscopic genetic material can lead to the arrest of criminals who do their best to evade detection. Before the advent of DNA sequencing, detectives had to go to extraordinary lengths to meet the burden of proof. They often had to rely on eyewitness accounts or confessions to close a case, both of which can be unreliable.

In the 21st Century, detectives hope that perpetrators will leave behind genetic breadcrumbs, so they can be sure that the person being charged is the culprit. Advances in technology have made it easier to narrow down who was behind a crime.

As we've pointed out in previous posts, just because a suspect's DNA is left behind at a crime scene does not mean that the case is closed. The "Golden State Killer" eluded authorities for years despite leaving genetic evidence behind at the scene of a crime. Finally, a technique called genetic genealogy and Americans' desire to learn about their ancestry lead to an arrest.

Still, the process of analyzing genetic evidence is not fast; it can take months to conduct lab work and identify a suspect. The slow and tedious process could be significantly hastened thanks to a new device called "Rapid DNA," The Los Angeles Times reports. The machine cuts down the time it takes to analyze DNA to about 90 minutes.

Solving Crimes and Privacy Concerns

Colorado-based ANDE and Massachusetts-based Thermo Fisher Scientific are the two companies leading the way with Rapid DNA, according to the article. The devices are already in use in California; Contra Costa, Sacramento, and Orange counties have the machines at their disposal. The Orange County district attorney's office has had Rapid DNA for about five years.

Privacy advocates are concerned that police will test people without their informed consent, according to the article. Some forensic scientists worry that law enforcement will mishandle evidence and potentially compromise prosecutions.

"There is no question that getting faster DNA results is good for everyone in the criminal justice system," said Lynn Garcia, general counsel of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. "But we have to be sure that any technology is ready for prime time and is reliable and that the people who are using it are trained." 

Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer

Attorney Ronald Brower has more than three decades of experience practicing law in California. If you are facing legal challenges, please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower to learn how we can advocate for you. 714-997-4400

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

AB 1215: The Body Camera Accountability Act

AB 1215
Privacy is vital to every American. In the Internet Age, it is difficult to maintain a small digital footprint. Each time we search the internet, our personal information is being logged and then used to target us via advertisements.

Cameras have come a long way in recent years too. Street corners in major cities are home to cameras that follow both traffic and pedestrian movement. What’s more, many police officers across the country are required to wear body cameras. The mandate is meant to ensure accountability; video footage provides the ability to determine if events happen the way an officer claims.

As technology becomes more advanced, some have raised concerns that police body cameras could soon incorporate facial recognition features. Police could identify suspects they did not even know they were looking for, which brings us closer to living in a police state.

Such technologies could result in profiling, and inaccurate facial matching could result in innocent people getting hurt. Facial recognition technology could compromise Californians’ safety and civil liberties.

AB 1215: The Body Camera Accountability Act

Earlier this year, Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) introduced Assembly Bill 1215: The Body Camera Accountability Act. The legislation came about over concerns that invasive surveillance technology could be used against the public with body cams, ACLU Northern California reports. Supporters of the bill believe that body cams should be used for police transparency and accountability, and nothing more.

Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law after it received bipartisan support in both chambers of the California Legislature, according to the article. The bill’s passage makes California the most significant state to ban the use of facial recognition and biometric tracking technology with police body cams. The law will go into effect on January 1, 2020.

“Without my bill, facial recognition technology essentially turns body cameras into a 24-hour surveillance tool, giving law enforcement the ability to track our every movement. Let’s not become a police state and keep body cameras as they were originally intended – to provide police accountability and transparency,” said Assemblymember Ting. 

Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer

Please reach out to the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower is you are facing legal difficulties. Attorney Brower brings decades of experience to the table and can help you or a loved one achieve a favorable outcome.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Former OCDA Misappropriated Funds

Orange County Snitch Scandal
In 2017, Scott Evan Dekraai was sentenced to eight life sentences following a protracted legal battle. Many Californians and those living across the country likely remember the 2011 Salon Meritage massacre that left eight people dead in Seal Beach, California.

The mass murder and subsequent trial were remarkable for several reasons, perhaps a salvo of allegations of misconduct toward the Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD). Dekraai and his legal counsel alleged that the OCSD improperly used jailhouse informants to garner evidence against him. While the claims only served to prolong sentencing for Dekraai, they played a pivotal role in the Orange County Sheriff's "snitch scandal."

A special investigation was launched into the OCSD and the Orange County District Attorney's office misuse of jailhouse informants and their keeping exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys for years.

County DA Misappropriated Secret Slush Funds

The snitch scandal investigation went on for years. While former OCDA Tony Rackauckas claimed he had nothing to hide, newly revealed information indicates something altogether different.

A notice from first-year District Attorney Todd Spitzer reveals that Rackauckas secretly spent $80,358 to hire an outside criminal defense lawyer to represent prosecutors under investigation, The Orange County Register reports. The former DA violated county policy by using money from a confidential revolving fund to pay attorney fees. He did not have county approval to appropriate the funds.

"This is a clear violation of state law and an effort to cover up more embarrassment of the District Attorney's Office, already under strict scrutiny by the courts and the state bar," Spitzer said.

The notice states that the private lawyer was hired to prep several prosecutors who were put on the witness stand for the Dekraai case and the snitch scandal, according to the article. Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, who first discovered the misuse of informants, said:

"If Mr. Rackauckas was paying outside counsel to prepare prosecutors to testify during the informant litigation, and then paying for it through a secret fund, it would appear that the department had significant concerns about aspects of the testimony that they didn't want understood by court and counsel." 

We will continue to follow this story as it develops.

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

Please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower if your family member is facing criminal charges. Attorney Brower has the experience to provide quality representation and help bring about a favorable outcome.

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