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Crime Scene Blog


Banks are ‘commercial establishments’ — so an inmate is freed

Fri, 12 Aug 2016 23:39:38 UT

A bank is a “commercial establishment,” a state appeals court said Friday — which meant that a convicted check forger, despite prosecutors’ objections, doesn’t have to return to jail. It was another case about the meaning of Proposition 47, the 2014 initiative that reduced a number of felony crimes in California to misdemeanors, shortening their sentences considerably. Among them was shoplifting, newly defined as entering an open commercial establishment with the intent to take money or property worth no more than $950. A Riverside County man, Willie Abarca, was sentenced to three years behind bars for burglary after he tried to pass a forged $300 check at a bank in

Court overturns deportation of abused wife

Sat, 19 Mar 2016 00:46:13 UT

After seven years of assaults and rapes by her husband, Marta Bolvito Canahui fled Guatemala in 2011 and entered the United States. Held for deportation, she said all that awaited her in her native country was more abuse, with no protection from local police. But immigration courts said she had all the protection the law required, because police had responded to most of her calls in the past. The problem with that assessment, said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, is that the officers who came to the couple’s home didn’t actually do anything. Twice they issued summonses to Bolvito Canahui’s husband, but they never detained

We thought he was the same guy — never mind that 9-inch height difference

Wed, 3 Feb 2016 23:25:02 UT

When Mario A. Garcia was arrested for drunken driving in Riverside County in 2012, his jailers ran a warrant check and rushed him to Los Angeles, where a man named Mario Garcia, with the same birth date, had been wanted in a drug-dealing case since 1994. There were a few disparities, it turned out — their middle initials, their fingerprints and their criminal records. Not to mention nine inches in height and 40 pounds in weight. Los Angeles County officers realized they had the wrong man three days later and released Garcia. But a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday he has grounds for a damage suit, potentially a class action on

Court: Grabbing wife’s phone is robbery, even if it’s jointly owned

Fri, 29 Jan 2016 16:00:09 UT

Convicted of robbery for grabbing a cell phone from his wife after attacking her, Jose Aguilera argued, through his lawyer, that it couldn’t have been robbery because the phone, which he had purchased, was community property — jointly owned –and he’d intended to keep it only temporarily. Nice try. Upholding Aguilera’s conviction, the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles said Thursday that a spouse who takes property by “force or fear,” and intends to deprive the other spouse of a major portion of its value or use, commits robbery even if it’s community property. The case dates from August 2014, when Aguilera and Angelica Avila, his wife of

False police promise overturns murder conviction

Sat, 9 Jan 2016 02:24:08 UT

When police promise a suspect that he won’t be prosecuted if he tells them the truth, and he does, can he still be prosecuted? Yes, a state appeals court said Friday, as long as the promise didn’t come from the district attorney. But anything he said to the officers can’t be used as evidence against him. Based on that reasoning, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in San Diego overturned Fabian Perez’s murder conviction and life-without-parole sentence for the robbery and murder of a taxi driver in 2003. The ruling doesn’t affect the death sentence of another defendant, Christopher Jasso, who was convicted of firing the fatal shots. The victim,

Tab for one (taxpayer-funded) undercover steak: $662

Thu, 24 Dec 2015 01:51:01 UT

Your tax dollars at work. When Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow was taken to dinner four or five years ago by an undercover FBI agent posing as a businessman with mob connections, the agent chose a fancy Bay Area restaurant. Chow, testifying this week at his racketeering trial in San Francisco federal court, said he told his companion a cheaper eatery would be fine but was quickly advised that cost was no object. Unable to read or write, he looked at the menu and saw $42 next to a listing for steak, so he ordered a 16-ounce fillet. When the bill came back, he learned that it was $42 an ounce,

Murder convictions overturned because police questioned too soon

Wed, 28 Oct 2015 21:55:28 UT

Compared to the Supreme Court’s 1966 Miranda ruling — which required police to tell suspects in custody that they had the right to remain silent and consult a lawyer — the court’s 2010 decision in Maryland vs. Shatzer is pretty obscure. But Shatzer, which requires officers to wait at least 14 days before trying to question suspects who have invoked their Miranda rights, is likely to become a byword in California police stations now that it’s been used by a state appeals court to overturn a double murder conviction. The case comes from Merced County, where Bryan Bridgeford was charged with the gang-related shootings of Leonel Medina and Juan Avalos

Ticket-fixing judge not entitled to pension

Tue, 29 Sep 2015 23:47:04 UT

A Santa Clara County judge who was forced off the bench after being convicted of fixing traffic tickets in 2004 is not entitled to a pension, even though his felony conviction was reduced to a misdemeanor and later expunged, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday. All that matters under state law is that a jury found William Danser guilty of a crime in the course of his duties that was punishable as a felony, and that higher courts upheld the conviction, said the Third Distict Court of Appeal in Sacramento. A Santa Clara County jury found that Danser, a judge since 1995, had conspired with a friend, Los Gatos police

Court says minor’s ‘consent’ to sex with teacher is no defense for school district

Thu, 17 Sep 2015 18:43:53 UT

A Los Angeles jury’s denial of damages to an eighth-grade student who was led into having sex with her teacher prompted the Legislature to change state law: A minor’s “consent” to sex with an adult in a position of authority cannot be used as a defense in a civil suit. That law takes effect next year. But on Wednesday, a state appeals court said the trial judge never should have let the jury consider the girl’s consent under current law, and granted her a new trial in her suit against the school district. “The victim of a crime does not bear any responsibility for the harm she suffers from the

Court says stalking doesn’t require threat of violence

Sat, 12 Sep 2015 00:36:23 UT

A stalker, the law says, is someone who repeatedly follows or maliciously harasses another person and makes a “credible threat” intended to put that person in “reasonable fear for his or her safety.” But it doesn’t have to be a threat of violence. Not if the harasser’s unwanted words and actions are the kind that would frighten an ordinary person. That was the message Friday from a state appeals court, which published as a legal precedent its ruling upholding a San Francisco man’s stalking conviction for his relentless, decade-long pursuit of a young woman. The court said Cesar Lopez first encountered the woman at a library when she was 16

Court says DOJ doesn’t have to correct mistakes in press releases

Wed, 9 Sep 2015 22:17:55 UT

If this posting contains a mistake, we’ll correct it. It’s a journalist’s moral obligation and — if the mistake could harm someone’s reputation — a legal one as well. But there’s no legal obligation for the government to correct any errors it makes in its press releases. At least not according to a federal appeals court. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a judge’s dismissal Tuesday of a suit by a former Bay Area biotech executive, W. Scott Harkonen. Harkonen was convicted of fraud in the claims he made about one of his company’s drugs. But in his lawsuit, he said the Justice Department had exaggerated his wrongdoing in a

Court: Parole OK for prisoner who denies crime

Thu, 3 Sep 2015 01:01:33 UT

The California parole board can deny release for an inmate who lacks “insight” into the crime he or she committed many years ago. But a state appeals court says a prisoner who has behaved well during 34 years of confinement, and who poses a low risk of violence to the public, can’t be denied parole merely because he continues to deny the crime he was convicted of committing. The Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles said Tuesday there was no evidence to support the Board of Parole Hearings’ April 2014 decision that Fred Swanigan was unsuitable for release. The court ordered the board to conduct a new hearing but

Legislature ready to change law that denied compensation to wrongly imprisoned man

Tue, 1 Sep 2015 00:57:19 UT

The Legislature is apparently ready to fill a gap in California’s law to compensate people who are imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit. The gap is that the law covers only those who suffered financial losses from their lockup, and apparently leaves out the down-and-outers who were unemployable in the view of the board that awards the payments. The fix may come too late, however, for the daughter of a San Diego County man who spent nearly seven years in state prison, and found out only after his release that he shouldn’t have been charged in the first place. On Monday, a state appeals court upheld the Victim Compensation and

Court blocks deportation of man targeted by Taliban

Sat, 29 Aug 2015 01:16:09 UT

When his brother-in-law was murdered by the Taliban, a Pakistani named Muhammad Islam spoke out against the terrorist organization at a memorial service, and was joined by another man named Jameel. Shortly afterward, the Taliban kidnapped both men. The Pakistani army freed them, but the Taliban tracked Jameel down in Karachi, on the other side of the country, killed him and took responsibility in a radio broadcast. Islam, knowing he too was targeted, fled to the United States in 2008, leaving behind family members who move constantly to avoid the Taliban. He entered California with a legal visa but applied for asylum two months later, saying he faced kidnapping and death

Judge who freed man from jail gets censured but keeps his job

Tue, 18 Aug 2015 23:51:22 UT

A veteran judge from Fresno is sighing with relief after a rebuke from a state disciplinary commission for illegally getting an acquaintance released from jail after an arrest for domestic violence. Superior Court Judge James Petrucelli is relieved because he kept his job. Although Petrucelli’s actions damaged public confidence in “the objectivity and impartiality of the judiciary,” and he had three previous disciplinary violations, he has a good overall record as a judge and apparently didn’t intend to break the law or abuse his authority, the Commission on Judicial Performance said Tuesday. While his misconduct might have been legal gorunds for removal in other circumstances, the commission said, it was “an

Judges switch roles: Dems uphold drug conviction, Rep says it was entrapment

Mon, 17 Aug 2015 23:02:46 UT

As unpredictable as the courts may be, one thing you can usually count on is that Republican judicial appointeees are more likely than Democrats to side with the prosecution in criminal cases and vote to uphold convictions. Usually. But not always. When a panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco voted 2-1 Monday to uphold a drug conviction based on a government sting operation in Arizona, the majority consisted of Democratic appointees, who said the defendant had “readily agreed to participate” in a fictitious crime concocted by federal agents. The dissenting judge, John Noonan — appointed to the court in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan —

Transgender inmate ‘kind of in shock’ about state decision to allow surgery

Tue, 11 Aug 2015 01:10:06 UT

A few comments, via her lawyers, from Shiloh Quine, the prison inmate who has just won a settlement from the state allowing the first sex-reassignment surgery ever approved by a state prison system, not just in California but nationwide (the rest of the story is linked here: On her reaction to the news on Friday, her 56th birthday, that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had agreed to the settlement: “I’m kind of in shock. It shows the world is evolving, and starting to understand different viewpoints and perspectives better than in the past. People are learning to recognize the humanity in everybody.” On her life until now: “It’s like being inside

Cops say man killed dog, stuffed it in barbecue

Thu, 9 Jul 2015 15:02:00 UT

A 29-year-old Elk Grove man is accused of beating a dog and then fleeing from police, who caught him before making a grim discovery — the dog dead inside a barbecue, according to media reports out of Sacramento. KCRA-TV reported that the case began at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, when Elk Grove police responded to a report of a man beating a small dog, which was identified as a chihuahua or a beagle or a mix of the two, in his yard. Arriving officers saw smoke in the home — the suspect had allegedly set a fire — and ordered him to come out, but he ran off briefly before being

Video: thieves make off with $1,000 in hats from Stonestown Mall

Wed, 8 Jul 2015 02:18:56 UT

San Francisco police released video Tuesday of four teenagers breaking into and ransacking a hat store at the Stonestown Galleria shopping mall last month. In the video, which was captured June 22 just before 10 p.m., one of the teens can be seen lifting the security gate while the other three scramble underneath and into the store. One of the three runs to the back while the other two set about picking out hats from the wall. The footage makes it appear that the thieves are seeking out specific teams or colors, as opposed to going for maximum loot. After a little more than 90 seconds, the teens make for the exit loaded

Wanted Oakley man pokes fun at cops on Facebook

Wed, 1 Jul 2015 23:36:24 UT

Tyler Belleci, 22, is wanted by Oakley police for burglary. (Courtesy/Oakley Police Department) In the age of social media, near-constant connectivity and instant access have made possible things that were unthinkable a decade ago. You can tell your favorite pop star how much you like her album, she can write an open letter and force the world’s largest tech company to change its payment policy in a matter of hours or the leader of the free world can give the New York Times suggestions on a guacamole recipe. Or, as appears to be the case with a wanted Oakley man, fugitives can use social media to taunt the law enforcement agencies trying

Urging friend to drive faster can be costly

Wed, 24 Jun 2015 22:42:45 UT

It’s a bad idea, which can have dangerous and even fatal consequences, to encourage a friend to drive faster than the law allows. A state appeals court says it can also be expensive. The Fourth District Court of Appeal in San Diego reinstated a lawsuit this week against a woman who was a passenger in a car on a trip to a drugstore in the Riverside County town of Rubidoux on Thanksgiving Day November 2009. As they entered the street, which had a 25-mph speed limit, Hayley Meyer told her friend to speed up because it was fun driving fast over the dips in the road, the court said. The driver,

Kids, dog ward off alleged Antioch intruder

Tue, 23 Jun 2015 16:45:10 UT

A 13-year-old boy and his family dog helped fend off an alleged home intruder in Antioch, KGO-TV reported. The boy, 13-year-old Redmond Collins, along with his two younger brothers, were home alone on their first day of summer vacation when a man walked in — but was scared off by their dog. “The first time, he just walked right into our house. Then, that’s when my dog scared him out and then he came back trying to bust into the house,” Collins told KGO. Collins told the station that he locked all the windows and the front door, but that the man tried to break through it. He picked up

ID theft includes using a borrowed passport

Wed, 10 Jun 2015 20:45:26 UT

There’s a federal crime, called “aggravated identity theft,” that carries a mandatory two-year prison term for anyone who commits it in the course of another felony. From the title, you might think it doesn’t apply to someone who used a passport that was borrowed from someone else. But a federal appeals court said Wednesday the law is meant to punish misuse of identity documents, regardless of how they’re obtained. In a 3-0 ruling, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the identity-theft and drug convictions of a man who tried to enter California from Mexico with a passport he had obtained from his twin brother, a

Illegal arrest? No problem, if it’s immigration

Sat, 6 Jun 2015 00:37:36 UT

Despite an illegal arrest, "evidence obtained from a source not tainted by the misconduct is admissible" to justify deportaiton -- Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

Video: Police break out windows of car chase suspect

Wed, 3 Jun 2015 02:17:14 UT

Michael Cortez (Courtesy: San Francisco Police Department)The dramatic moments just prior to the arrest of a wanted parolee in downtown San Francisco on Monday afternoon, when police smashed the windows out of his car that they had just chased across the city, were caught on video. The incident began when officers tried to arrest the man, who was later identified as Michael Cortez, 24, on the 1400 block of Innes Avenue in the Bayview district around 5:30 p.m. Cortez, who was wanted on a parole violation, hopped in a Champagne-colored Cadillac and took off, said Officer Carlos Manfredi. The driver tried to squeeze the Cadillac between a white sedan and