No Physical Evidence in Drive-By Shooting Case That Ends with a 55 Year Sentence

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courtroom.jpgTo read the accounts in the paper, taken almost verbatim from the Yolo County District Attorney Office’s press release, an 18-year-old Woodland gang member was sentenced to 55 years for a drive-by shooting that occurred in 2008, in Woodland’s Campbell Park.

Ramiro Leon was handed down the sentence for attempted murder along with enhancements for criminal street gang activity and firearms.

The incident was considered a gang related drive-by shooting which according to the District Attorney’s Office in their official release and the subsequent article in the Woodland Daily Democrat resulted from gang friction on a bus coming from Cache Creek High School. 

Mr. Leon was barely 17 at the time of the shooting and according the DA’s version, shot several times from a passenger seat of a car as it was passing the park. One young man was hit and seriously injured. Bullets also struck a car that was parked along the park, narrowly missing a young woman sitting in it. 

Witnesses said at the time that two vehicles, a pearl Chrysler 300M and a red Scion, drove past the southern corner of the park, off Thomas Street and just north of Molly Avenue. Witnesses also reported hearing about five to six shots.

However, that clean version of events falls apart rather quickly upon scrutiny of the evidence.  First, there is no physical evidence to prove Mr. Leon’s guilt in this case.  There was no gun introduced into evidence.  That is the first red flag above and beyond the unusually long sentence for a non-lethal crime.

The case appears to rely solely on several witnesses, however, the witnesses themselves are suspect and moreover, their stories shift consistently from what what was told to the police, to what was told during a preliminary hearing and finally what was testified.

One of the witnesses was only 14, she was not present at the scene, but claimed that Mr. Leone had come to her house the next day and confessed the crime to her.  However, at some point she recanted her testimony.

Key evidence was given by one of the witnesses that Mr. Leon was on his way to the park with at least one other gang member.  However, Mr. Leon seemed to believe they were outnumbered and therefore their odds in the fight would not be good.  He spoke of his gun and went back to get it.

However, it is clear that even the DA acknowledged the weakness of this testimony.  In the “People’s Motion to Strike the Enhancement/ Finding of Premeditation/ Deliberation,” Deputy DA Garrett Hamilton wrote:

“Regardless of whether she or [another witness] told the complete truth about what they knew was supposed to happen, the actions of Ramiro Leon spoke volumes about what HIS intentions were that day.”

From the defenses motion, part of this may be due to the fact that one of the witnesses testified that Mr. Leon’s intent was “shoot the gun ‘in the air.'”  This acknowledgment underscores the tenuous nature of a case reliant solely on eyewitness testimony, unreliable eyewitnesses at that.

The prosecution is also not clear on how many shots were fired, but there were at least three since one hit and severely wounded an individual and two hit a car, narrowly missing a second individual.  The People go on to say, in a statement that indicates possible doubt, “While it may not be known how many times he shot, the jury was provided evidence that at least three shots were fired” and the witness “testified that she removed four casings from the back of her car and flushed them down the toilet. If that testimony was accurate, one shot fired by Ramiro Leon was flung into the residential neighborhood that afternoon with an unknown resting place.”

“If that testimony was accurate”?  Do they doubt the veracity of their own witness and yet in part rely on her testimony to convict this young man and send him to prison for effectively the rest of his life?  Should they not have to prove this?  Remember this is the prosecution on at least two cases admitting their witnesses were less than reliable.

Given the unreliability of the testimony from the witnesses, it would seem even more imperative that there be at least some physical evidence tying Mr. Leon to the gun that shot into the crowd, however, there is no such evidence introduced.

Defense maintains that Mr. Leon is innocent on all charges and is appealing the ruling.

As part of the appeal, defense is arguing that the punishment of 55 years represents a violation of the 8th Amendment as cruel and unusual punishment.

Writes defense counsel Rod Beede:

While California has ruled (see People vs. Demirdjian (2006) 144Col.App 4th 10) that two consecutive terms of 25 to life for a 15 year old who committed two special circumstance murders does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment the Leon case is different for the obvious reason, there was no homicide and no special circumstance, Defendant child Demirdjian if he had been an adult, over 18 years of age (he was 15)would have been eligible for consideration of the death penalty. Nevertheless, on behalf of the defense, Defendant child Leon disagrees with this case even in homicide special department and eventual sentence by this Honorable Court to so much prison circumstance allegations, but again distinguishes Leon for the reasons stated above.

Defense then cites Nunez from 2009 in which a 14 year old was sentence to life without parole for a case that did not involve a homicide and this was found unconstitutional under the 8th Amendment as cruel and unusual punish.

“The defense on behalf of Defendant child Leon asserts simply that the above authorities and the constitutions of the State of California and the United States forbid extreme sentences for children in non-homicide convictions. Obviously, the law has changed radically over the last several decades, both in California and throughout the United States. Even so, it is simply atrocious, unconscionable and unconstitutional to give decades of prison time to children as young as 14 (Leon was 17) in non-homicide non-sexual cases.”

A 55 year sentence in this case seems extreme, a week later a guy who was sentenced for killing a 17 year old boy will only serve a maximum of ten years in prison after he reached a plea agreement and pled no contest to voluntary manslaughter and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.  Yes, the person had a criminal history.  Deputy District Attorney Garrett Hamilton was also involved in this case.

So we have the 378 prison sentence for Ajay Dev for a case lacking physical evidence and a credible witness, 55 years in this case, and then we have on the other hand, a ten year sentence for a killing and a one year sentence for Bret Pedroia, the brother of the Red Sox star second baseman.

In the murder case the family was outraged.  The victim’s sister told the Daily Democrat, “They offer him a deal when he murdered a child … that’s really a slap in our face.”

The DA cited a potential issue of self-defense and the failure of some witnesses to cooperate.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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28 thoughts on “No Physical Evidence in Drive-By Shooting Case That Ends with a 55 Year Sentence”

  1. Mr.Toad

    The ten years for killing Billy Martinez seemed short especially in light of Leon’s 55 to life but one of the problems of trying these things in a blog instead of in court is that you lose facts and context on the blog as compared to the deliberations in court. So let me make some clarifications.

    In the case where Billy Martinez was killed there was an independent witness who observed that Billy had a gun when he was shot. This fact made trying Michel a much riskier proposition so a plea deal was negotiated.; Michel still got 10 years, an amount of time that, while not life, is still a serious penalty.

    In the case of Ramiro Leon you fail to mention that this was the second gang related drive by shooting of a kid leaving school in Woodland. In the first case the assailant, who was 14 at the time of the shooting got 23 years to life but that was not enough to deter Ramiro Leon and his friends from committing the same kind of crime again. Maybe Ramiro will get his sentence reduced upon appeal and personally I hope he does get his sentence reduced from consecutive to concurrent, but, if handing down a sentenc of this magnitude is what it takes to get the kids in Woodland to stop acting out their gangsta rap fantasies with National Rifle Association approved weapons so be it.

    Let’s not shoot the messenger by attacking the judicial system that is trying to keep the streets safe so that children can have egress from school without their parents worrying that they are going to get shot for some schoolyard incident. Instead of going after the DA, Judges and Juries you should be going after the culture of violence; the gangs, the media and the gun promoters, who, you seem to think should be protected by their constitutional rights to association, speech and arms. As for me I would rather protect the rights of the victims to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Instead of lamenting the reactionary nature of our criminal justice system we need to be proactive teaching young people how to avoid violent resolutions to minor conflicts. We need to teach these kids to love one another, to share their greater commonality instead of brutalizing one another over their minor differences.

  2. E Roberts Musser

    DPD, I am unclear what your main objections are/point is. Are you arguing circumstantial evidence is insufficient, there must be some physical evidence at all times? Are you arguing this kid never should have been tried? That the jury got it wrong? The jury system doesn’t work? The kid may have been guilty but the sentence was too harsh? Our sentencing system is unfair? Plea deals make the whole system unfair? The witnesses were lying? There is a vast conspiracy between the police, the DA, the judges, witnesses, the jury to convict young kids who are innocent so the county can get more grant money?

    Mr. Toad makes very valid points. The criminal justice system is very imperfect. Trials are extremely messy. Law enforcement and the DA have to go with what they’ve got for evidence. The jury must make its judgments on the evidence presented. It will never be a perfect system, ever. It is not clear to me, from anything you’ve said, what exactly it is that you consider unfair or unjust in this case – just a lot of vague innuendo that something doesn’t feel right because it wasn’t the perfect case.

    To put it more succinctly, if you had been the DA, and were faced with the task of trying this case, what would you have done differently? I suspect many will disagree with your answer, so how does the DA satisfy everyone’s sensibilities to make everyone happy? Or perhaps you are demanding the impossible – absolute perfection as YOU see it?

    I’m not trying to be rude or combative here. I expressed a concern about this entire Judicial Watch idea – because I get the feeling you’ve already decided the judicial system in Yolo County is extremely unfair, and are tailoring your commentary to fit your preconceived notion. I too am bothered by some matters that have occurred, but Monday morning quarterbacking outside the parameters of the courtroom is a limited exercise at best. There are a number of considerations that are completely outside the control of the judicial system; perfection can never be achieved; there is a difference of opinion among citizens about how tough to be on crime; where to draw the line is not always clear.

    I would suggest zeroing in on clear problems, rather than scattershot criticism of everything, throwing mud and hoping something sticks. Hopefully it would be more apt to uncover the true issues that need to be looked at. Just my two cents worth, anyway…

  3. David M. Greenwald

    My objections are as follows:

    First the sentence is too long, particularly given the problematic nature of the evidence.

    Second, there is no physical evidence, which is obviously not required, although it is suspicious that they were not able to tie a gun to the bullets. However, if you do not have physical evidence, you have to have credible eyewitness accounts, and the eyewitnesses were all over the place. One recanted. The other two gave very different accounts to the police that they gave in court (twice). And I don’t mean mildly different, I mean in one case he showed one of them the gun at his house prior to the incident, but not when she testified. So to me, you are convicting solely on the basis of sketchy testimony and the prosecutor acknowledges this in his motion, but discounts it.

    So those are the two objections.

    The third objection is more of a passing comment which is the fact that the DA’s office is inconsistent in terms of their prosecutions, throwing the book at people for lesser crimes and allowing people tried for far more serious ones to get off much lighter.

    You say, “but Monday morning quarterbacking outside the parameters of the courtroom is a limited exercise at best” but in fact in many cases we have been in the courtroom and watched the trials, so this is far from simply Monday morning quarterbacking.

  4. Rich Rifkin

    This piece bothers me. It is two different ideas confusing each other:

    First, you (apparently) don’t think he should have been convicted. You say that the eyewitness testimony was not credible and there was no forensic evidence proving his guilt. That means (based on what you know) you would have voted “not guilty.” That’s fair enough, if that is your opinion*.

    Second, you think 55 years is too long for “attempted murder along with enhancements for criminal street gang activity and firearms.” Again, that opinion is fair enough, if that is what you think. But it does not make sense to me that you should conflate that with your feeling that the man was not proven guilty*.

    By conflating these two distinct matters, it sounds as if you would think that if there was much more conclusive forensic evidence in this case, you would have no problem sending this guy away to prison for a long time (though maybe not as long as he was sentenced to).

    I won’t give my opinion as to Mr. Leon’s guilt or innocence or whether the evidence of his guilt was strong enough to convict. (I don’t think juries always get it right, but they heard the full case in court and I did not, and beyond this story I don’t know any of the facts.) But in my opinion, I think people [i]who are guilty[/i] of “attempting to murder” should be treated exactly the same as those who actually kill someone**. I don’t see why we should go softer on a guy just because he can’t shoot straight or because his victim happened to survive the attempted killing. The crime is the malice aforethought to want to take someone’s life and then act on that desire.

    *I am not saying that you have said he is innocent. Rather, you seem to be saying the prosecution failed to prove him guilty to your satisfaction.

    **If we had a functional death penalty in California–we don’t–I would favor executing all murderers and attempted murderers (whose guilt is certain). But since that is not an option, I would sentence him to life in prison in Afghanistan. If he happens to escape, he can have a nice life over there.

  5. Bystander

    You are right on, David. Yolo County’s sentencing system is grossly unfair. The deliberate shooting of a kid and 10 yrs. compared to all the other sentencing of those whose sentence is extreme. The whole legal sentencing is unfair. Why isn’t there a standard on sentencing for the same type of crime? It seems to be on how good your attorney is and who the judge is. It’s no longer that the DA, Judge and Jury are right.

  6. David M. Greenwald

    Rich:

    “By conflating these two distinct matters, it sounds as if you would think that if there was much more conclusive forensic evidence in this case, you would have no problem sending this guy away to prison for a long time (though maybe not as long as he was sentenced to).”

    Rich: You seem pretty clear on my point. The sentence is about thirty years longer than it would have been because of enhancements. In other words, the enhancements are weighed greater than the crime itself.

    From my view, I don’t see why premeditated attempted murder is made worse because a guy is accused of doing it in furtherance of a criminal street gang and with a gun. The result is really what matters and it’s the same.

    We can go back and forth on murder vs. intent, but while intent certainly means a lot, so too does the outcome.

    Another point is that I think strength of evidence should weigh into sentencing, I’m a lot more comfortable with a longer sentence when I’m more certain that the guy did it. Based on my review of the case and attendance of my assistant at trial, I’m far from convinced of the guilt here.

  7. Rich Rifkin

    [i]”The result is really what matters and it’s the same. We can go back and forth on murder vs. intent, but while intent certainly means a lot, so too does the outcome.”[/i]

    Forget for the moment all the enhancements and so on. Just focus on the person who tries to murder someone.

    Say you have a guy who (in his right mind, but jealous) decided to kill your sister*. He intentionally gets his gun, loads it with ammo, travels to where she is, takes aim, fires off a few rounds, hits her in the chest and flees. Eyewitnesses and forensic evidence prove beyond all doubt he is guilty.

    You think that guy deserves less punishment if she survives her organ damage, blood loss, trauma and multiple surgeries? He is not in your mind the same as a murderer? If the sentence for him is say 25 to life if she dies and 5-8 if she lives, does that make any sense?

    From what a trauma nurse told me (about 15 years ago, so maybe somewhat out of date), life or death in shootings is often just a question of how quickly the victim gets to the trauma center. Gets treatment in 10 minutes or less, she lives; later than that, she dies. Insofar as that is the case, you think it is less of a serious crime, deserving less punishment, if the attempted murder happens to take place near a first-rate hospital?

    *I don’t know if you have a sister. It’s just an example.

  8. Rich Rifkin

    [i]”I think strength of evidence should weigh into sentencing. I’m a lot more comfortable with a longer sentence when I’m more certain that the guy did it. … I’m far from convinced of the guilt here.”[/i]

    I can understand that sentiment. However, under our system, if the evidence (to the jury’s satisfaction) does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty as charged, he is “not guilty.”

    Many jurors have felt defendants “probably did the crime,” but ruled not guilty due to insufficient evidence. But once they pronounce guilt, they are declaring that the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt he is just as guilty as if he confessed to the crime and there was an undisputed videotape of him firing the gun.

    You may be correct that in this case he should have been found not guilty, because (you seem to think) the case against him was not proven. But unless their decision is overturned on appeal, he must be treated the same as anyone else so convicted.

    I don’t like your idea of giving lighter sentences to people who are convicted based on weak evidence. If the evidence is so weak, he should not be found guilty at all.

    Juries are, of course, always instructed: “The defendant is not guilty, unless the evidence is strong enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty. The defendant does not need to prove anything.”

    This jury believed the evidence was strong.

  9. Fight Against Injustice

    I think the point David is trying to make with this article is that there is no consistency in the Yolo County Justice System.

    It seems that the DA has a lot of latitute when it comes to how he is going to charge people for crimes. There seems to be an artificial set of criteria as to why some people get charged one way and others get charged another way. This sets up a unfair system when it comes to prosecuting a case too.

    Overall David is right to bring up the point that the punishments should fit the crimes. Right now in Yolo County it almost feels like the DA is using a “dart board” to decide how to charge, who to give a plea bargain, and what cases to prosecute through the courts. Remember that the sentencing is significantly tied to the way the charges are put down.

    This type of inconsistency along with a “must get a conviction” mentality and possibly a “cash for convictions” incentive is what is probably leading to the injustices that people are complaining about.

  10. nena8

    “The third objection is more of a passing comment which is the fact that the DA’s office is inconsistent in terms of their prosecutions, throwing the book at people for lesser crimes and allowing people tried for far more serious ones to get off much lighter.”

    David, your ‘passing comment’ should ring a deafening alarm within anyone who reads your article. One by one you bring to the public’s attention cases that point to the Yolo County’s corrupt justice system and the DA’s office motivation to win convictions more than pursue justice. The list of victims grow long – here are a few: Robert Ferguson; Ernesto and Fermin Galvan; Jeffrey Lockwood; Anthony Gino Roman; Santiago Rodriguez Ochoa; Khalid Berny; Halema Buzayan; David Serena, Ajay Dev (www.advocatesforajay) and now Ramiro Leon. Read about Yolo County’s “Cash for Conviction Program”, https://www.davisvanguard.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3321:qcash-for-convictionq-program-in-das-office&catid=74:law-enforcement&Itemid=100.

  11. alanpryor

    I was recently called for Yolo County jury duty but was eventually dismissed without serving. During the selection process, though, I was very surprised to see that almost all of the prospective jurors were middle-aged to elderly white people (like me). Looking at the names of the questionable convictees in Yolo Co. posted above by nena8, I’m guessing that most were of non-Caucasian descent. I would like to see an analysis of the racial make-up of the juries that have consistently come down with these seemingly (by David’s analysis which I trust) questionable verdicts of people of color.

    Is the 800 lb. gorilla in this room that nobody is talking about the fact that in Yolo Co. white juries may be systematically (and possibly wrongfully) convicting people of color by a judicial system that profits on convictions no matter the merit? Yikes!…shades of the deep South in the 50s and 60s.

  12. E Roberts Musser

    DPD: “First the sentence is too long, particularly given the problematic nature of the evidence.”

    Sentence too long for attempted murder? For attempted murder, I would put a person found guilty beyond a reasonable dounbt away for the rest of his natural life. I don’t want to give the perpetrator another bite at the apple. So how does a DA or legal system make everyone happy – those who want the book thrown at an attempted murderer and those that want lighter sentences for attempted murder? Nor can you necessarily fault a particular DA for SENTENCING GUIDELINES – which are determined by the LEGISLATURE.

    DPD: “So to me, you are convicting solely on the basis of sketchy testimony and the prosecutor acknowledges this in his motion, but discounts it.”

    You admit you were not in the courtroom to see facial expressions, reaction to questioning, etc., which is also crucial evidence. The jury decided upon guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So I am assuming you believe the jury got it wrong. So what are you really saying here??? Are you indicting the jury system??? What would be a better system in your opinion???

    I do think commenters make a good point when delineating the problem of all white juries sitting in judgment of someone who is a minority. But unfortunately who are the people most able to serve on juries bc they have the time??? Retired elderly who don’t have to work – who have enough money to retire on comfortably. That is the reality…

    DPD: “The third objection is more of a passing comment which is the fact that the DA’s office is inconsistent in terms of their prosecutions, throwing the book at people for lesser crimes and allowing people tried for far more serious ones to get off much lighter.”

    DA’s use the tactic of bringing pressure to bear in order to get a plea deal from a defendant. Plea deals ultimately save taxpayer dollars, to avoid the expense of a trial. Those who plead out usually get a lesser sentence, and those who don’t plead out get the book thrown at them. Those who fail to plead out as requested by the DA are made an example of to other potential defendants. So would you do away with plea deals to make sure sentencing is more consistent??? At what expense to the taxpayers and potential defendants??? I say potential defendants bc there is only so much money to go around. Try every case, and it becomes an impossible task. So how do we deal with defendants that cannot be brought to trial bc of a lack of funding??? Try only a finite number of cases, and don’t prosecute petty crime??? Let serious criminals walk???

    Bottom line, life is messy. Any system you put in place is not perfect, in fact is far from perfect. But if you don’t like THE SYSTEM, suggest alternatives to your LEGISLATOR. But I’m not convinced vilifying the DA for the “crime of plea dealing” which results in inconsistent sentencing is useful.

    Let’s take another tack. Suppose you were DA for a year. I suspect you would prosecute far less. For instance, it sounds like you would not have prosecuted this case in particular. Suppose you did not, and this same person then escalated his violent propensities – bc he got away with it before. Then citizens clamor for justice from the DA (you), who is being criticized for being “soft on crime”. Criminals know the DA is not as hard on crime, and ramp up criminal activity.

    A DA is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t – and it is to a great extent a political job. The DA is ELECTED, so must appeal to potential voters. That is the reality, albeit a harsh one. Life is harsh, messy, imperfect…

  13. Rich Rifkin

    [i]” Are you indicting the jury system??? What would be a better system in your opinion???”[/i]

    Japan did not have our same jury system from 1943-2009. They just recently re-introduced the lay jury system we use.

    What they did instead was they used a three-judge panel, which served as their jury. The result was worse for criminal defendants at trial. The conviction rate was over 99 percent.

    The judges who served as jurors had some insulation from politics. However, they were politically appointed, they did have professional ties with the Ministry of Justice (which prosecutes cases) and they had a strong pro-prosecution bias. Defense counsel in Japan could not ask for one of the jurors to be removed from a case (as opposed to what is done in the lay jury system).

    The result was often less fair to criminal defendants than is the case in our system. The widespread perception of bias (among the Japanese public) led, ultimately, to changing the system back to a lay jury system.

    The bias of the judges is not the only explanation for the high conviction rate. Some think it had to do with the cases which went to trial. That is, any case which was not a slam dunk for prosecutors was settled or dismissed. So the judge-jurors only got easy cases. The reason for the quick settlements and dismissals of weaker cases was said to be due to a lack of funds for prosecutors.

    Another thing different in Japan is that their prison sentences tend to be much shorter than they are in the U.S. Ours are determined by sentencing guidelines, set legislatively. In Japan, at least before they reformed their system, the judge-jurors determined the sentences (though I think they had basic guidelines which evolved over time).

    Japan has the death penalty, too. It is not commonly used, except in cases of multiple homicides. But just like here (and in most countries), the death penalty for murderers is popular:

    For example ([url]http://www.angus-reid.com/polls/view/us_britain_and_canada_endorse_death_penalty/[/url]): [i]”Most people in the United States, Britain and Canada support relying on the death penalty for homicide convictions, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 84 per cent of respondents in the U.S., 67 per cent in Britain, and 62 per cent in Canada share this view.”[/i]

    Same thing in Chile ([url]http://www.angus-reid.com/polls/view/most_chileans_approve_of_death_penalty/[/url]): [i]”The majority of people in Chile are in favour of applying the death penalty in their country, according to a poll by Ipsos. 62.5 per cent of respondents agree with capital punishment in Chile, while 36.7 per cent oppose it.”[/i]

    Same in Czecho ([url]http://www.angus-reid.com/polls/view/czech_overwhelmingly_support_death_penalty/[/url]): [i]”A large majority of people in the Czech Republic are for the implementation of the death penalty in the country, according to a poll by CVVM. 62 per cent of respondents share this point of view, unchanged since June 2008.”[/i]

    Even in most countries which have abolished the death penalty (and most U.S. states which have abolished it), majorities favor execution of murderers.

  14. David M. Greenwald

    Elaine:

    “Sentence too long for attempted murder?”

    Not necessarily. My understanding is that he got 25 years for attempted murder and an additional 30 for enhancements. It’s the latter more than the former I object to.

    “You admit you were not in the courtroom to see facial expressions, reaction to questioning, etc., which is also crucial evidence. The jury decided upon guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So I am assuming you believe the jury got it wrong. So what are you really saying here??? Are you indicting the jury system??? What would be a better system in your opinion??? “

    A lot packed in here.

    I was not personally in the courtroom for this one, however, based on what was told to me by someone who was and our reading of the court record, the testimony was inconsistent from the witnesses. Frankly, I’m not sure the jury would know some of that, although in the motions, I think the statements by Mr. Hamilton are pretty telling, he admits there are problems with the testimony. That is a red flag.

    Do I believe the jury got it wrong here? I think that’s possible. I don’t see that they proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Am I indicting the jury system? I have problems with it. When we talked to Jeff Austin in the Galvan case it really cemented for me that there are problems with jurors in some cases that make determinations of innocence and guilt early on, don’t wish to discuss it, and therefore are not doing due diligence. I also know that some juries have gotten it right even in tough cases, but I fear that may be the exception rather than the rule.

    I’m not sure whether there is a better system per se, although there are people I respect who believe that Europe’s system is better. What I don’t understand is that we train lawyers for years to study the law, we rely on professional and trained judges who not only are trained in the law, but have to go back to the law in order to give instructions to jurors on the law and proper conduct, and yet we rely on laymen to apply the law and determine guilt and innocence. As a poster in a previous topic suggested, we don’t rely on amateurs to do surgery or a whole host of other things, why are we relying on amateurs to determine guilt or innocence.

    And that leaves out the question of a jury one’s peers, when almost all of the juries I have seen have been heavily white, middle class, and try minority, working class people, is that really their peers?

    I am not saying I have the solution, but I do think there is a problem with our jury system, maybe reform is a possibility.

  15. Logos

    It appears that juries in Yolo County remain abjectly indifferent to the production of physical evidence as a predicate and legal justification (see People v. Dev) to convict a given defendant of a crime punishable by imprisonment.

    Traditionally, eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable and easily impeached on cross examination. Consequently, the requirement to corroborate and harmonize eyewitness testimony with evidence collected and qualified by a proven forensic methodology is the rigorous minimum a jury should demand of the prosecution.

    Regrettably, Mr. Leon’s affiliation with the gang culture was sufficient to obtain a conviction.

  16. Fight Against Injustice

    Rich, David, and E. Roberts:

    You have been conversing about the jury’s responsibility in the justice system, but I would like you to talk about the DA’s responsibility. To get the conversation going, I am going to leave you with two quotes.

    “The prosecutor has more power over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America.” by Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson.

    “Your job as assistant U.S. attorneys is not to convict
    people. Your job is not to win cases. Your job is to
    do justice…Anybody who asks you to do something
    other than that is to be ignored.” by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

    In 2008, the California Commission on the Fair
    Administration of Justice conducted a series of hearings
    specifically examining the issue of prosecutorial
    misconduct and accountability. The Commission
    identified systemic weaknesses within the criminal
    justice system that contribute to a lack of prosecutorial
    accountability.

    This is exactly what is happening in Yolo County. There is no real accountability for the DA’s office–the position with the most power over American’s lives. The DA’s office sets the charges and can load them up if they so choose. An example of this is the three boys that were found innocent of rape. They each were given somewhere around 45 charges for a one night incident. I am not sure how anyone can come up with 45 wrong doings in one night. Luckily, they were found innocent. And yes, this case cost the taxpayers a lot of money because it was a ridiculously weak case that the DA pushed forward. It also cost the defendants hundreds of thousands of dollars to prove their innocence.

    Because you have never been arrested for a crime where you were innocent, you may not fully understand the complete and utter disgrace one feels. Not only is the emotional stress incredible, but you will probably go bankrupt defending yourself.

    So then your choices become plea bargaining for something you didn’t do–which ruins your reputation and future working possibilities. Or you can defend yourself in court which ruins you financially. What do you do? That’s why it is so important that the DA’s office does a thorough investigation before prosecuting a case, and that they do not push cases through that are very weak with no evidence.

    Articles and discussions like these are the only real ways for accountability. Reisig is running unopposed so the voters can’t vote for someone else.

    People need to be educated about what is happening in their community. Not all communities are like this. There is a lot of unrest in Yolo County….and for good reason.

  17. E Roberts Musser

    DPD: “My understanding is that he got 25 years for attempted murder and an additional 30 for enhancements. It’s the latter more than the former I object to.”

    He would be out in 12 years if he only got 25 years. I’m all for enhancements for attempted murder if it keeps him in for the full 25 years and beyond, so he won’t actually murder someone else the next time he attempts to kill a selected victim…

    DPD: “Am I indicting the jury system? I have problems with it…
    I’m not sure whether there is a better system per se,…”

    Well, how about a professional jury system? That solution has been suggested. Of course, as with anything else, there are potential problems with that too…

    DPD: “I am not saying I have the solution, but I do think there is a problem with our jury system, maybe reform is a possibility…”

    But reform is a problem for the LEGISLATURE, not the DA…

    FAI: “So then your choices become plea bargaining for something you didn’t do–which ruins your reputation and future working possibilities. Or you can defend yourself in court which ruins you financially. What do you do?”

    You point out very real imperfections in the plea bargaining system. But you haven’t said whether you would eliminate plea bargaining and try every case? Prosecute far fewer crimes or skip prosecuting petty crimes altogether?

    FAI: “That’s why it is so important that the DA’s office does a thorough investigation before prosecuting a case, and that they do not push cases through that are very weak with no evidence.”

    Many, many bad criminals are put behind bars on “weak” cases, altho it is not clear what you mean by the word “weak”. By weak do you mean a less than perfect case? Case based on circumstantial evidence? All DA’s are required to bring cases only if there is probable cause. Would you like to change that standard, and to what other standard?

    FAI: “This is exactly what is happening in Yolo County. There is no real accountability for the DA’s office–the position with the most power over American’s lives.”

    Yes, there is real accountability for the DA’s office – he can be voted out. The fact that he is running unopposed is a pretty good indication the voters are satisfied with the job he is doing. If you feel differently, then encourage a qualified candidate to run against him.

  18. Rich Rifkin

    [i]”The DA’s office sets the charges and can load them up if they so choose.”[/i]

    In the preliminary hearing, my understanding is that a judge can remove any charges that he does not believe there is sufficient evidence. Is that wrong?

    I don’t disagree that prosecutors are powerful and we need them to exercise their power with caution. However, I think the “overcharging” charge is the product of two other things: 1. By statute, very often, one even simple wrong act can be seen as multiple types of crimes; and 2. The charging with multiple offenses for even a simple act is, as you and others note, a tool for getting plea bargains. That is, the defendant can plead out by removing many of those charges. It is normally only those cases which go to trial where there are so many charges piled up.

    Ultimately, a jury has to agree that the evidence is strong enough to convict on every charge they convict on.

    I don’t know of a better system for criminal trials than to allow a lay jury to decide guilt or not. However, I think there are some problems with our jury system which need improvement. Among them:

    1. Jury consultants and the voire dire process, leading to biased juries. The small minority of rich defendants* can afford very expensive jury consultants who can effectively hand-pick a pro-defense jury. That is the great exception, though. In most cases, the prosecution does a better job of weeding out jurors who are apt to be pro-defense. As such, we may be getting biased juries in many cases; and

    2. Smart, educated, working people between 25-65 generally never serve on criminal juries. As such, our juries are probably a bit dumber than would best serve justice.

    It seems to me we would do much better if the attorneys involved in the case had no role in picking the jurors. I think the judge should question the members of the jury pool and only exclude people who truly cannot be fair in the case at hand for a specific reason.

    Also, I think it should be harder for working jurors to get out of jury duty. I don’t think the problem in Yolo County is one of race. I have never actually served on a jury, but I have been in about a dozen jury pools (and I was always not chosen). The people who made it onto the juries I observed were a pretty fair representation of the races in Yolo County (though I think maybe Asians were underrepresented). However, the group which is missing is the 25-65 age group, especially people who are bread-winners for their families. People make up all kinds of sob stories about how they cannot afford to miss work.

    Most criminal trials only last 1 or 2 days at most. A few, however, go on for a week or more. What I think would be an improvement for the process would be either to push a 4 day trial into say 2 days by having longer days. Or, just the opposite, compress the jury’s working day to say only 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm, so a working person over the course of say 5 days could serve on a jury and only miss a small amount of work.

    *A friend of mine from college is a high-paid criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles. All of his clients are accused drug dealers and racketeers. They get very good legal representation. They pay big money for it.

  19. Rich Rifkin

    ELAINE: [i]”He would be out in 12 years if he only got 25 years.”[/i]

    That is wrong. We have a “truth in sentencing” ([url]http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/187109.pdf[/url]) law which requires felons to serve a minimum of 85% of their sentences.

  20. Fight Against Injustice

    E. Roberts,” You point out very real imperfections in the plea bargaining system. But you haven’t said whether you would eliminate plea bargaining and try every case? Prosecute far fewer crimes or skip prosecuting petty crimes altogether?”

    I don’t want to eliminate plea bargaining, and it makes no sense to try every case. The point I am trying to make is that the DA’s office needs to investigate cases before prosecuting them. Right now the DA’s office has a 99.4% prosecution rate on all arrests that are made. That is the highest in the state and 15% above the state average. Why? Because the DA does not properly investigate cases before prosecuting. Then the DA adds up the charges and goes for the plea bargain to get an inexpensive and easier conviction or sends weak cases to trial. The conviction numbers are what seem to be important to the DA–not justice. I am not opposed to convicting and sentencing people that are deserving, but innocent people are getting entangled in this web.

    E. Roberts,”Many, many bad criminals are put behind bars on “weak” cases, altho it is not clear what you mean by the word “weak”. By weak do you mean a less than perfect case? Case based on circumstantial evidence? All DA’s are required to bring cases only if there is probable cause. Would you like to change that standard, and to what other standard?”

    No, I do not mean a less that perfect case by weak. I am talking about cases where there is no physical evidence that a crime even took place, the DA’s main witness is not credible, and the evidence showing innocence is overwhelming. I agree that a DA should only bring cases where there is probably cause, but this DA’s office doesn’t seem to agree with that scenario. As far as changing the standards, first I would like to know what are the standards? Are there any credible standards that are followed?

    E Roberts, “Yes, there is real accountability for the DA’s office – he can be voted out. The fact that he is running unopposed is a pretty good indication the voters are satisfied with the job he is doing. If you feel differently, then encourage a qualified candidate to run against him.”


    The fact that Reisig is running unopposed is no indication of the satisfaction of the voters. Most DA’s in California are running this election unopposed. I think that the percentage is close to 90% (although I will have to google that to check for sure). There was a person that thought about running against him, but said that they were afraid of repercussions from Reisig. After seeing how Reisig has treated people in his own office and his opponent in the last election, people are not volunteering to come forth–again they are afraid of him.

    Unfortunately, there are many people in the county that are afraid to say what they really think about the DA. It is also my understanding that it is too late to get someone to run against him now since the time has past for registering your campaign.

    Finally if everyone is so pleased with the job the DA and his office are doing, why are people marching in the streets against him?

  21. E Roberts Musser

    Rich Rifkin: “ELAINE: “He would be out in 12 years if he only got 25 years.”
    That is wrong. We have a “truth in sentencing” law which requires felons to serve a minimum of 85% of their sentences.”

    1)I was speaking in general terms;
    2)Your statement does not take into account early release programs bc of budget cuts and other imponderables…

  22. E Roberts Musser

    FAI: ” I am not opposed to convicting and sentencing people that are deserving, but innocent people are getting entangled in this web.”

    How do you know they are innocent? A jury said otherwise… Why do you get to decide who is innocent and who is not?

    FAI: “No, I do not mean a less that perfect case by weak. I am talking about cases where there is no physical evidence that a crime even took place, the DA’s main witness is not credible, and the evidence showing innocence is overwhelming. I agree that a DA should only bring cases where there is probably cause, but this DA’s office doesn’t seem to agree with that scenario.”

    Let’s tease your statements apart. “cases where there is no physical evidence” Does that mean you would not convict anyone on circumstanial evidence? “the DA’s witness is not credible” The jury thought the witness was credible. Again, do you get to decide who is credible, or the jury? “evidence showing innocence is overwhelming” Again, who says the evidence showing innocence is overwhelming – you? How about the jury’s decision? Doesn’t it count for anything? It sounds to me as if you do not like the jury system – that you think they get it repeatedly wrong. A DA does not work in a vacuum – a jury decides guilt or innocence.

    FAI: “The fact that Reisig is running unopposed is no indication of the satisfaction of the voters. Most DA’s in California are running this election unopposed. I think that the percentage is close to 90% (although I will have to google that to check for sure).”

    You admit you haven’t checked your facts. But let’s assume 90% of DA’s are running unopposed. It could be that 90% of the jurisdictions the DA’s are running in are very satisfied with what their DA’s are doing. If you don’t like what a DA is doing, you can create a grass roots campaign to offer your own candidate – that is the American way.

    FAI “There was a person that thought about running against him, but said that they were afraid of repercussions from Reisig.”

    There is an old expression “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen”. Any candidate for office has to have a thick skin, and be willing to take the rough and tumble of running for public office. It almost always gets ugly. Accusations get slung back and forth, all sorts of skeletions in one’s closet are dredged up for all to see. Put a good tough candidate forward, and there is no reason why that person could not have a good shot at unseating Reisig if he is as unpopular as you seem to think.

    FAI: “Finally if everyone is so pleased with the job the DA and his office are doing, why are people marching in the streets against him?”

    Marches in the street will only take you so far. You need to work within the system to get real reform, which a lot of people do not understand.

    The problem with most of your arguments is that they rail against injustices in the legal system in general, pointing out troublesome aspects of plea bargaining, the jury system, etc. But your arguments are short on specifics as to this particular DA, who had nothing to do with putting the jury/plea bargaining systems in place. For those things (general injustice of the legal system), your need to talk to your LEGISLATOR.

    I have problems with some matters the DA has handled, but I think the vilification of the DA about the unfairness of the legal system in general is not particularly useful – unless you can tie it to specific prosecutorial misconduct. Slinging general mud at the DA, hoping something will stick is just not helpful.

    Furthermore, different people disagree on the law and order issue. Some believe attempted murderers should get no more than 10 years – not life in prison. I think an attempted murderer should get life without parole – bc I don’t want him/her to get out again and get a second bite at the apple. Frequently those who serve short sentences for things like attempted murder kill again – you see it in the news all the time. So how does a DA satisfy everyone’s sensibilities?

  23. Primoris

    alanpryor wrote:

    [quote]Is the 800 lb. gorilla in this room that nobody is talking about the fact that in Yolo Co. white juries may be systematically (and possibly wrongfully) convicting people of color by a judicial system that profits on convictions no matter the merit? Yikes!…shades of the deep South in the 50s and 60s.[/quote]

    “Fact?” Oh, Puulleeaassee

  24. Primoris

    Greenwald wrote:

    [quote]We can go back and forth on murder vs. intent, but while intent certainly means a lot, so too does the outcome.
    [/quote]

    There you go again; you don’t seem to get that intent is an element of murder…

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