The LASD Latest, the Problem with Plea Bargains, and New Sentences Under CA’s Fair Sentencing for Youth ActJanuary 13th, 2014 by Taylor Walker
One of the next big questions, following Sheriff Lee Baca’s retirement announcement last week, is who the LA County Board of Supervisors will choose as interim sheriff to take over the department until a permanent sheriff is elected 10 months from now.
A Sunday LA Times editorial calls for that temporary sheriff to use that time to gut the sheriff’s department of dishonest officers and to create a culture of openness and accountability.
The Board of Supervisors should appoint an interim sheriff for the next 10 months who embraces not just the marching orders of reform but the underlying need for real change. Such a person must be prepared to root out an entrenched attitude of resistance. He or she must be prepared to face and overcome deputies and supervisors who believe they can wait out any departmental revamp.
If the Sheriff’s Department needs a housecleaning — and it does — now is the time. Proven dishonesty should result in discharge, and supervisors uncomfortable with scrutiny and new structures of accountability should be moved aside. An interim sheriff who fires and demotes as the situation requires may well be unpopular, but that’s the point: As a short-term appointee, he or she can and should take steps that might give pause to someone seeking election or reelection.
The interim sheriff should make clear in both word and deed that dishonesty — as opposed to personal disloyalty — will be punished. Honest deputies must see that deceit will be found out and punished. If there is a jailhouse code of silence meant to protect deputies and enable the abuse of inmates, it must be eliminated. An unyielding stance against secretive conduct and deception should be adopted by the interim sheriff and should be considered nonnegotiable by the time the elected sheriff takes office.
Mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability that will transcend and outlast any single person’s leadership must be put in place. There is already an inspector general to monitor and report on jail conditions and the use of force, and to conduct its own investigations, and that’s a good start, but more is needed.
(There’s more, so make sure to read the rest.)
As a demonstration of just how urgently the LA County Sheriff’s Department is in need of reform, here are the numbers on how much the LASD is costing the county in terms of legal settlements in 2013: accounting for nearly half of the county’s total litigation costs, the sheriff’s dept. spent $43M. That’s $6M up from last year, in spite of LA County’s total expenditure being at a seven-year low. (You can find the rest of the spending report on LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina’s website.)
AND IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: BACA ASKS BISHOP TURNER TO RESIGN
In an interview with Sheriff Lee Baca on Friday, ABC 7 learned that Baca’s senior civilian aide, Bishop Edward Turner will be resigning at the behest of the sheriff, pending investigation into a list of questionable issues, including the fact that an illegal marijuana dispensary was operating on Turner’s commercial property across from his church. (A previous WLA post on the Bishop Turner story can be found here.)
Here’s a clip from ABC 7′s story:
On Friday, the sheriff appeared for an Eyewitness Newsmakers interview, where I asked whether he felt betrayed by Turner.
“I feel like he should have told me that this is going on so I didn’t catch it in a difference source. But that didn’t happen. So we are doing an investigation, but I also informed the bishop yesterday that it’d be best if he resigned from the program. We will still continue the investigation, however, and he’s indicating he will resign,” said Baca.
Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore later told Eyewitness News that Turner is resigning from his appointed position, along with two other appointed field deputies, because the sheriff is retiring, and the investigation continues as a separate matter.
PLEA BARGAINS SUPERSEDING TRIAL BY JURY
In an article for the Crime Report, Matthew Mangino, former district attorney for Lawrence County, PA, explains why plea bargains—which represents how 97% of federal criminal cases are closed—are undermining the nation’s criminal justice system by rendering trial-by-jury nearly nonexistent. Here are some clips:
Ninety-seven percent of federal criminal prosecutions are resolved by plea bargain. In state courts the numbers are comparable. The plea bargain may be the grease that keeps the criminal justice system churning, but it may also be a sign of a system in need of repair.
Judge John Gleeson, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York recently wrote, “An excessively high rate of guilty pleas is unhealthy for our justice system.”
Why? The only scrutiny a case may receive in federal court is that afforded by a grand jury and, as long-time Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau once said, he could get a grand jury to indict a “ham sandwich.”
At trial the government must prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The government must firmly convince the jury of every element of the offense and that the defendant was the person who committed the crime.
But, as Gleeson observed, “Our [grand jury] system permits indictment to be returned on an ex parte presentation consisting entirely of inadmissible evidence.”
Much of the evidence presented to a grand jury would never see the light of day in a jury trial. The burden of proof before a grand jury requires merely a showing of probable cause; it does not require showing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and does not need unanimity of the grand jurors.
What this means is that an insignificant number of offenders heading off to state or federal prison were proven guilty of anything…For 97 out of 100 people accused of a crime in federal court, all that has been proven against them is that a crime has been committed and that they “probably” committed it—the same standard that permits a police officer or federal agent to make an arrest.
FIRST JUVENILE OFFENDER TO GAIN POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE UNDER CALIFORNIA’S FAIR SENTENCING FOR YOUTH ACT
At 16-years-old, Edel Gonzalez was given life without parole (LWOP) for his involvement in the death of a woman during a carjacking. A controversial and important California law (SB 9) that went into effect last year, gives some juveniles, who were tried as adults and sentenced to LWOP, a chance of a chance at parole, if signed off by a judge. This past December, Gonzalez was the first person resentenced to life with the possibility of parole. (For backstory on the passage of SB 9, go here.)
Elizabeth Calvin, a senior children’s advocate at Human Rights Watch, tells Gonzalez’ story and explains the significance of this new law. Here are some clips:
I first met Edel in 2007. Seated at a visiting room table in a maximum security prison, he was a somber 32-year-old. I was investigating California’s use of life-without-parole sentences for teens. Before his crime, he had been solidly ensconced in a gang since age 11. He had also been suppressing childhood abuse and loss, and dealt with his pain by drinking. He’d never met his father, so older gang members provided his only adult male role models. He was thoroughly drunk when he and two adult codefendants attempted to steal a car. One of the men — not Edel — unexpectedly shot the driver. Edel was convicted of murder for his role and sentenced to life without parole.
When we met, he had been in prison 16 years, and a coffin would be his only way out. He was a man with no reason to hope. Yet he had reflected deeply on why he had been so lost at 16, and described his efforts to be a good person since that time. His virtually pristine prison record supported his claim.
“I am a different person than I was then,” he said. “I wish I could change the things I did. But I can try to live an upright life now, even here.” When he spoke about his victim, he became overwhelmed. He turned away, hiding tears and shame. “I’d tell her, if I could … I’m sorry. I don’t know how to give you my life. I would give you my heart if I could.”
A few weeks before Edel’s December hearing, I got a call from a jail chaplain in another county. He said that a youth had just been sentenced to life without parole and that during sentencing, the judge turned to the boy and said, “You are a monster.” His crime was a murder with depressing similarities to Edel’s case. A monstrous act, yes — a truth about any murder.
But a child is not a monster. And that is what this law is about. Science and law compel a court to consider the fact that a young person still is developing. No one can know who a 16-year-old will be in 22 years.