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Law Office of Ronald G. Brower Blog


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

O.C. Prosecutors Committed Malpractice

snitch scandal
In 2011, a man walked into a Seal Beach hair salon and took eight people's lives. The massacre made headline news, and the criminal case that followed put the Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCDS) into the national spotlight for its practices.

Some of our readers may remember we covered the trial of Scott Evan Dekraai in previous posts. The horrific murder deserved our attention on its own, but what it revealed about a longstanding practice of collecting evidence was a cause for pause as well.

Scott Dekraai was sentenced to eight life sentences for the mass murder at Salon Meritage in Seal Beach. The jury that found him guilty heard evidence from a jailhouse informant named Fernando Perez, who claimed Dekraai professed his guilt. What the panel of jurors didn't know at the time was the informant's history. Perez, it turns out, was a veteran government informant.

The Dekraai trial and conviction were the impetus for the so-called "snitch scandal." The defendant's attorney alleged that OCDS was improperly using jailhouse informants, but he was found guilty regardless. The allegation led to a massive investigation, which revealed a long history of misusing informants, withholding evidence, and misappropriation of funds among the Orange County District Attorney's Office and OCDS.

New Report Reveals Prosecutors Committed Malpractice

The snitch scandal resulted in many retrials and reduced sentences in homicide cases. Now, a new report shows that prosecutors in the Dekraai case "made a deliberate choice not to find out the criminal and informant history of Fernando Perez," according to The Los Angeles Times. The report showed that prosecutors ignored evidence that Perez was a longtime jailhouse informant for various law enforcement agencies going back to 1999.

"These apparent acts of deliberate negligence have had devastating consequences to the victim's families, the Orange County criminal justice system and its law enforcement agencies," the report states. "During the first six months of the Dekraai case ... the prosecution team repeatedly ignored clear and compelling evidence that Perez was a veteran federal confidential informant."

The report called for "severe disciplinary" action against the prosecutors in the Dekraai case. However, the resignation of former Assistant Dist. Atty. Dan Wagner and Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Scott Simmons last year protects them from facing repercussions for their actions.

Orange County Defense Attorney

Ronald G. Brower, attorney at law, can help you or a loved one with criminal legal matters. Please contact our office today to learn how attorney Brower can advocate for your family and bring about a favorable outcome.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

OC Court User Portal for Lower-Level Criminal Cases

criminal cases
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to rely on technology even more than before in the 21st Century. Many of us were already spending too much time on our smartphones and tablets prior to the start of this cataclysmic event. Now, relegated to the safety of our homes, such devices are ever-more our windows to the world.

We accomplish everyday tasks online that we used to handle in person. Business meetings occur over video conferencing platforms, as do doctor appointments. The legal system relies on the virtual tools, as well; most courthouses across the country will only permit essential persons to enter.

Packing courtrooms with people is an easy way to transmit the coronavirus, even if social distancing guidelines are observed. While jury trials are currently underway, reducing the number of people in the building is beneficial.

Uncertain of how long the dangers will persist, Orange County Superior Court introduced an online portal – funded by the Judicial Council of California – for traffic infractions and lower-level criminal cases, The Orange County Register reports. The tool is called the Court User Portal.

Resolving Criminal Offenses from Afar

The CUP dashboard makes the handling of low-level offenses easier for users. Some of the functions were previously spread over the entire OCSC website but now are consolidated. If you are facing minor infractions, all you need to do is create an account that allows you to deal with one or several pending cases. Once logged in to the portal, one can:
  • Search for cases or citations.
  • Reserve a court date.
  • Make payments or establish payment plans.
  • Submit electronic correspondence to the court.
CUP will also send users email or text reminders regarding future hearing dates or payment due dates, the article reports. Orange County Superior Court Presiding Judge Kirk Nakamura said:

“The portal will provide an essential channel for access to justice, especially during the challenging times of COVID-19 when we must maintain social distancing.” 

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

Attorney Ronald Brower has decades of legal experience and can successfully advocate for you or a loved one. Please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower to learn more.

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Thursday, July 16, 2020

Jury Selection Work Group

Jury Selection Work Group
Discrimination and racial bias have no place in the United States of America; the Constitution affirms this idea. However, the majority of Americans understand that achieving equal rights has been a hard-fought battle.

Many Americans tend to attach discrimination to the southern states, which were once home to slaveholders. The truth is that people in any state can harbor biases towards a demographic. Even today, in the 21st Century, ethnic minorities continue to fight for the rights afforded to any citizen of this nation, from the workplace to the courtroom.

In the year 2020, we are still addressing disparity concerns across the country. Last month, we wrote about a study on jury selection conducted by UC Berkeley Law’s Death Penalty Clinic. Their research found that racial discrimination is happening in California courtrooms when prosecutors and defense attorneys select jury pools—those citizens who are charged with deciding the innocence or guilt of a defendant.

As we pointed out in our previous post, both prosecutors and attorneys are afforded the right to excuse a potential juror without reason during jury selection. The process wouldn’t come to anyone’s attention in a racially homogenous community. However, the majority of cities in California are diverse; they consist of a multitude of ethnicities.

Jury Selection Discrimination

Researchers found that California prosecutors excuse African-American jurors in nearly 75 percent and Latinx jurors in about 28 percent of cases. However, white jurors were struck in only 0.4 percent of cases. The findings pushed lawmakers to act and put forward Assembly Bill 3070. The legislation states:  

This bill would prohibit a party from using a peremptory challenge to remove a prospective juror on the basis of the prospective juror’s race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, or religious affiliation. The bill would allow a party to object to the use of a peremptory challenge to raise the issue of improper bias based on these criteria.

This month, the Supreme Court of California named the members of a newly created Jury Selection Work Group. Over the next year or so, the group will research:
  • Jury Selection
  • Diversity in California Jury Pools
  • Unconscious Bias
“The right to trial by a jury of our peers is central to our justice system, and we must continue to safeguard that right,” said Justice Kathleen O’Leary, the work group chair. “We join a broad statewide and national dialogue that is focused on ensuring juries fairly represent the communities they serve.”

Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer

Attorney Ronald Brower can help you or a loved one achieve a favorable legal outcome in California. Please reach out to our office today to learn how we can advocate for your family during these challenging times.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

"Golden State Killer" Pleads Guilty

Golden State Killer
Last month, HBO began airing a six-part documentary miniseries about the survivors and investigation of the infamous "Golden State Killer." The network is well known for diving deep into "true crime" stories, which have helped bring victims and their families the justice they deserve.

In 2015, Robert Durst, a wealthy New York real estate heir, was arrested just before the final episode of "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst" aired. Despite being a suspect in multiple murders going back to the 1980s, Durst was able to maintain his freedom.

The director of the docuseries, Andrew Jarecki, was friends with one of Durst's victims, writer Susan Berman. After directing a feature film based on Durst's biography, the real estate heir reached out to Jarecki and agreed to be interviewed. It was a decision that would prove to be his downfall.

Captured audio and video, combined with new evidence, gave the Los Angeles police department the power to obtain a first-degree murder warrant in connection to Berman's death. Durst was arrested in New Orleans by the FBI the day before the miniseries finale. His trial began on March 2, 2020, The Los Angeles Times reports. Six days of hearings later, the judge postponed the trial to a later date owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Golden State Killer Pleads Guilty

Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., 74, a former police officer, was arrested in 2018. Using innovative DNA tracing techniques, authorities concluded that DeAngelo was the Golden State Killer. In previous posts, we have discussed how law enforcement was able to land on a suspect involved in heinous crimes more than 40 years old.

One day after HBO aired, "I'll Be Gone in the Dark," DeAngelo pled guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of kidnapping, USA Today reports. Authorities could not charge the Golden State Killer with rape because of the statute of limitations.

It's unclear whether the docuseries motivated the former police officer's decision or if he was only trying to be spared of capital punishment. Whatever the case may be, DeAngelo avoided death row with his confession in a makeshift courtroom allowing for social distancing in a ballroom at Sacramento State University.

 Part of the plea agreement included the requirement of admitting guilt.

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

Please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower if you or a loved one requires legal assistance. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who have lost someone they care about to the coronavirus.

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