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"How do you defend THOSE people?" It's probably one of the most common questions criminal defense attorneys get asked. My answer? THOSE people are your friends and your family members, and maybe even you... Although I sincerely hope the best for you all, some of you may drive a little to fast, drink a little too much, lose your temper or make a mistake and anyone, on any day, can be accused of committing a crime they didn't commit. This compelling article emphasizes that very idea. It is an amazing story-- about a man accused of a brutal crime he didn't commit, a woman who would go to any lengths to gain custody of her child, and a police officer who acted with the utmost of integrity to bring the truth to light:
[www.amyguerra.com] On the cusp of Fresno's first police auditor's initial report, several recent articles addressed related issues:
From an April 13th, 2010 Fresno Bee article titled "Fresno's Police Auditor Plans First Report":
"Aubrey said he plans in May to deliver a three-month review of what he's been doing since since Jan. 1. He said the report to the City Council will include his progress in tracking 220 citizen complaints against the Police Department or inquiries about officers' actions that have come in during that time.
But the report will not include results of Aubrey's audits of Police Department investigations of its officer-involved shootings.
Public concerns about police use of deadly force, and the integrity of the department's investigations of itself, roiled Fresno's political waters for more than a decade. A divided City Council, with the strong support of Mayor Ashley Swearengin, approved creation of the position in March 2009.
The Office of Independent Review has broad authority to audit Police Department activities, but review of officer-involved shootings is the main reason for its existence. Aubrey and city officials said audit summaries will come in time."
Read more: http://www.fresnobee.com/2010/04/12/1894468/fresnos-police-auditor-plans-first.html#ixzz0mGcAJ3RJ
The article above discusses city council's concerns about the position in light of budget cuts, which in conjunction with the Fresno County D.A.'s plans to stop investigation of officer shootings, may serve to undermine public trust, an idea that Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer opposes in the article cited below:
"Dyer acknowledged that perhaps all Fresno officer-involved shootings fall into one of these categories. He wants Egan to continue investigating Fresno officer-involved shootings because public trust is fragile yet vital to his department's effectiveness.
"I just believe that the oversight provided by the District Attorney's Office is critical for any law enforcement agency because of today's environment," Dyer said. "There is incredible suspicion and skepticism of government and of law enforcement. Even with the district attorney's oversight, there is still a feeling out there amongst many that there is collusion between the two" agencies."
From an April 24th, 2010 Fresno Bee article titled,"D.A. Drops Policy to Probe Fresno Officer Shootings":
"The Fresno County District Attorney's Office has decided to end a long-standing practice of probing all Fresno Police Department officer-involved shootings -- leaving the city's new police auditor as the only check on internal investigations.
Elizabeth Egan said her department, crippled by the budget crisis, can no longer afford to routinely investigate incidents in which Fresno police officers wound or kill a civilian.
"It's not that [DA investigations] are not useful -- I believe they are useful," Egan said. But "I've cut down on everything that is not core business."
Egan made the announcement in an interview with The Bee last week as her office and Fresno police worked to answer questions from the newspaper about why at least 30 shooting investigations dating back to 2004 have, according to police, fallen into limbo after being forwarded to the district attorney for review."
Read more: http://www.fresnobee.com/2010/04/24/1909688/da-drops-policy-to-probe-fresno.html?storylink=mirelated#ixzz0mGcrf1zx
Nationally, Color Lines, a "newsmagazine on race and politics" summarized the results of a California Public Records Act request from the Fresno Police Department in an article titled "Fresno Cops Involved in Repeat Shootings Still on Duty":
A California Public Records Act Request uncovered a previously withheld list of 27 Fresno police officers involved in repeat shootings of civilians from 2002 through 2009, 25 of whom, according to an official with the Fresno Police Department, are still on active duty today. Of these 27 officers, four were involved in at least three separate shooting incidents over the same period. One officer, Michael Palomino, was involved in four shooting incidents. In the context of a statewide investigation focusing in on four major police departments, the Fresno Police Department stands out in scale. During the same period, the similarly sized Oakland Police Department had only five officers involved in repeat shootings, although Fresno enjoys a much lower crime rate.
Fresno Deputy Chief Nevarez said that the integrity and transparency of investigations is key to retaining community trust in the department. “In order to have that trust, there has to be an element of transparency,” said Nevarez. “Whatever we can disclose to the community, we will.” Yet he said the Police Officers’ Bill of Rights prevents him from releasing any information on disciplinary action that may have been taken against the 27 officers.
Read more: http://www.colorlines.com/article.php?ID=707&p=3
According to recent case law, an officer does not have the legal authority to make a promise that charges will be dismissed. In the redacted opinion People vs. C.S.A. (A122776), "[t]he trial court found defendant and the local police department entered into a cooperation agreement, the essence of which was that if defendant supplied certain information, the criminal charge and probation violations would "'go away.'" While the court recognized a limited number of circumstances under which the agreement could be enforced... the exceptions were few. Many defense attorneys are concerned that the general public is not aware of this and suggest that those who find themselves in a situation to negotiate with officers proceeed with caution:
"If the police offer you a deal in exchange for cooperation, the first thing to
do is demand to speak with a lawyer, and the second is demand confirmation
from the district attorney's office. Without that explicit affirmation from
prosecutors, a deal to help with an investigation in exchange for a shorter
sentence or reduced charges is no deal at all." (Quote from Nancy King's
blog, available here.)
About the Author
Amy K. Guerra is a criminal defense attorney in Fresno, CA. In addition to her career in criminal defense, she's worked as a freelance writer and within the non-profit sector. She continues to be active in the community and enjoys writing about issues in criminal law relative to their community impact.
How to find us...
Amy K. Guerra, Attorney at Law
2014 Tulare St. #400
Fresno, CA. 93721
Copyright 2010, Amy K. Guerra, Esq. All Rights Reserved