Inmates Treasured, Victims Shunned by Two California State Agencies

By Michele Hanisee

If there are two agencies agency full of bureaucrats in California who cannot do enough for prison inmates while tromping on crime victims, it is those who work at the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) and those who make policy at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

The OAL is nominally tasked with ensuring “that agency regulations are clear, necessary, legally valid, and available to the public,” yet this agency has demonstrated in its dealings with the death penalty and Prop 57 just how it treasures prison inmates and has contempt for crime victims. CDCR, of course, is charged with incarcerating convicted criminals, “rehabilitation” of same, and parole supervision of a limited number of inmates.

The death penalty and Prop 57 are two stark demonstrations of the underlying motivations of the two agencies.  Within only a few months of passage, CDCR and OAL have greased up and ready to go prison releases, in stark contrast to their deliberate, years long, foot-dragging on death penalty protocols.

For nearly TEN YEARS after a federal judge stopped California from using a three-drug protocol, CDCR deliberately dragged its feet on adopting a new protocol even though the judge had ruled that a one drug protocol could be used instead.  CDCR spent more than EIGHT YEARS exploring other three-drug protocols and then sitting on a single drug protocol before being sued in 2014 by Kermit Alexander, whose mother, sister and two nephews were murdered in 1984, and Bradley Winchell, whose sister was raped and murdered in 1983.

After a Sacramento Superior Court Judge rejected CDCR’s argument that Alexander and Winchell lacked standing to bring a lawsuit, CDCR agreed to settle the lawsuit and submit the one-drug protocol they had been sitting on for over a year to the OAL.  The CDCR regulation was submitted in October 2015 to the OAL. The OAL then granted extension after extension to the public comment period until the California Supreme Court placed on hold Proposition 66.  Prop 66 was approved by voters in 2016 to speed up death penalty appeals and provide justice for victims.  Scarcely had the ink dried on the Supreme Court order than the OAL issued a 25-page decision disapproving the new CDCR death penalty regulations, citing the need for public comment, inconsistencies and ambiguities in the regulation, and a need for justification for some regulations.

Among other issues, the OAL was troubled by the decision to use a 7.5-gram dose when 5 grams was sufficient, why there was a $50 limit on the inmate’s last meal, and what the monthly inspections of the death chamber entailed.

Contrast the feet dragging on the death penalty regulations with the absolute rush by OAL and CDCR to develop and implement regulations to allow early release of prison inmates under Prop 57.  First, CDCR claimed and OAL decreed that the regulations were “emergency regulations.”  “Emergency” is defined by Government Code section 11342.545 as a need to “avoid serious harm to the public peace, health, safety, or general welfare.”  So, yes, you have read correctly—-both agencies believed serious harm would be done to the public peace, health and welfare if prison inmates were denied a chance to be paroled years early!

By invoking the “emergency” exception in connection with Prop 57, CDCR benefits by limiting public comment and by allowing the regulation to take immediate effect for 180 days after it is submitted to the Secretary of State. In this instance, both CDCR and the OAL have trampled on the constitutional rights of victims. One prime example is the elimination of the right of victims, as set forth in the California Constitution, to attend any parole or post-conviction release hearing.  CDCR has now limited the victim to a written statement submitted to a hearing officer.

As the ADDA pointed out in a letter to the OAL, nothing in the language of Proposition 57 eliminates or conflicts with the provisions of the California Constitution,in Article 1, Sections (b)(7) and (8), that are commonly known as “Marsy’s law.”  CDCR was directed to adopt regulations “in furtherance” of Proposition 57 but it has no legal authority to draft regulations that exceed the scope of Prop 57 by eliminating the Constitutional rights of victims. While hot and bothered by the cost limits for last meals, the OAL apparently hasn’t mustered the time to read the California Constitution and question CDCR’s abrogation of victim’s rights in these “emergency” Prop 57 regulations.

It will likely take a court to rule on CDCR’s attempt to eviscerate victim’s rights guaranteed in the California Constitution.  What is abundantly clear, however, is that for CDCR and the OAL, the rights of victims pale in importance to those of the prison inmates who victimized them.

Michele Hanisee is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. 

A Rush to Judgment Poses a Public Safety Threat

By Eric Siddall

If you need any further proof that state legislators do not value public safety, consider Senate Bill 10 (SB 10)  and Assembly Bill 41 (AB 41) which will change our current bail system. Make no mistake, there is a problem with our current bail system. There is no question that it is unfair to the poor. Nor does it make sense that bail for violent criminals serves any public interest. But these two pieces of legislation are not the solution.

Senate Bill 10 and AB 42 change the bail system drastically. These two bills allow defendants, including those accused of capital crimes that carry the death sentence, to remain free pending their trial if they meet certain criteria.  Further, when considering bail, the legislation gives scant weight to the criminal history of an arrestee or the arrestees’ prior history of failing to appear in court.  The fact that our state constitution prohibits the release of those accused of capital crimes makes no difference to the authors of this legislation. The fact that our state constitution mandates that public safety be the primary factor in weighing pretrial release is ignored by these bills.

The authors of SB 10 claim they are following the federal model. The federal system does not use bail. This part they follow. But in the federal system, if you are a danger to the public, you are not released. You are held without bail. So, what does Sacramento do? True to form, they chop up the federal system and keep the worst while removing the best.

There are other flaws that challenge common sense. Under our current bail system, public safety, the criminal record, and the history of failures to appear are central.  Instead, these bills instruct a court not to give undue weight to factors such as criminal history…”  and “distinguish between failure to appear and willful failure to appear.”  Yes, you read that correctly: the lengthy criminal history of a defendant is now given scant consideration, and if there are past failures to appear it will now have to be shown that was a deliberate decision-an impossible and impractical standard.

Probably the most laughable part of SB10 is the requirement of the individual counties to set up services for defendants to make sure they come to court at their appointed time. Does this mean wake-up calls and room service for our defendants and will a failure to answer the phone call reminding “John the criminal to show up to court” be considered “willful?”

What about the victim? What does the victim get? They get nothing. They get no peace of mind that the person who attacked them is safely away. Instead, they get to go to bed knowing that the person who harmed them is still free. They get to ride the courthouse elevators with the person who raped them. What does Sacramento think is going to happen with cooperative witnesses? Do they really think victims are going to want to come to court when they know the state has turned their back on them? Why should anyone report a crime when our own government re-victimizes the victim and protects the predator?

The question law enforcement needs to start asking is how does the public expect us to ensure its safety when politicians continue to do everything to undermine this goal. Not only have they released convicted felons in the tens of thousands, they now seek to ensure violent defendants remain free to roam the streets while awaiting trial.  A recent Los Angeles Times story examined the drastic fall in arrests rates in California while the crime rate has risen and quoted politicians wondering why this was happening.  Should this legislation pass, it sends another strong signal to law enforcement that they should not even bother with making arrests since the legislature wants defendants to remain free.  When will our state politicians stop prioritizing the criminal and start focusing on the victim?

To read previous ADDA blogs regarding the bail system, please see (1) Does the current bail system penalize the poor? & (2) The Assault on Safety Continues: Eliminating Bail is the Latest Target.

Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. 

Common Sense Criminal Justice Reform Legislation

By Scott Dominguez

A series of three bills affecting the criminal justice system sponsored by our fellow prosecutors in the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office have been introduced in the Legislature and deserve passage.

Senate Bill 194 allows the initial term of probation to be extended to beyond the initial maximum term following a probation violation.  Under current law, if probation is revoked after a hearing during the term of initial probation, a defendant may be placed back on probation but that probation must expire on the date of the original probation grant.

This bill removes this anomaly regarding probation revocations, and will make rehabilitation more meaningful.  In most situations, a violation of probation is indicative that rehabilitative efforts are not succeeding.  This bill will provide additional time for the courts to monitor someone who is found to have violated their probation, and will give the defendant time to comply with the terms of probation designed to make the defendant a productive member of society.

Assembly Bill 1128 is a bill backed jointly by prosecutors and the criminal defense bar.  Current law regarding the disposal of evidence that is held by the court allows such disposal after the first appeal, ignoring the fact that rapid advances in technology may make it possible to obtain forensic results unavailable at the time of initial tests.  Such additional tests can both validate prior evidentiary conclusions and potentially uncover potential wrongful convictions.  This bill will require that in the most serious cases, such evidence be retained for the length of incarceration, and specifies that the court be the custodian of the evidence.

The final bill is Senate Bill 230 that addresses  issues involved in human trafficking, recognizing that just as in domestic violence or sex crime cases, the victim may sometimes recant because of misplaced loyalty to the perpetrator.  Under California Evidence Code sections 1108 and 1109, the legislature has authorized the court to allow prior incidents of conduct by a defendant involving domestic violence and sexual assault to prove the charged crime. Since human trafficking cases often involve similar dynamics, SB 230 will authorize a court to consider allowing prior incidents of conduct in a human trafficking case.

Criminal Justice reforms need to come with common sense checks and balances that address real world situations that prosecutors deal with on a daily basis.  The ADDA supports these three bills and urges passage by the legislature.

Scott Dominguez is a Director of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. 

A “Spring Cleaning” of Our State Prisons

By Eric Siddall

In January, we sent a Public Records Act (PRA) request to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) requesting:

  • All emails, correspondence, or texts between the governor’s office and parole board members, staff, and attorneys regarding the implementation of Proposition 57, including discussion of any rules and regulations proposed from November 4, 2016, to the present;
  • All telephone logs, voicemail recordings, and notes between the governor’s office and parole board members, staff, and attorneys regarding the implementation of Proposition 57

Rather than siding with transparency, the CDCR denied our request and refused to provide the documents. We requested these items because the governor made it clear during the Prop 57 campaign he would be active in helping to develop the regulations if the initiative passed.  Given CDCR’s dismal history in creating release programs and properly evaluating parolees for release, the public certainly deserves to know how these regulations were to be developed.That history includes a 2011 audit finding CDCR failed to properly implement the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS) software program that that was to evaluate inmates likely to be successfully rehabilitated and integrated into public life upon parole.  Similarly, an audit in 2008 found CCDR simply ignored state law in parole decisions, with supervisors often ordering the release of inmates without properly documenting the reasons and altering the reports of parole agents to justify those releases.

However, the regulations have been developed. They were released by CDCR this past week: Guidelines for revisions to sentences and credits. We had repeatedly blogged that violent inmates would be getting early releases thanks to Prop 57, a charge Governor Brown hotly disputed. Well, it turns out the new guidelines call for inmates serving sentences for violent crimes to receive a 5% increase in credits awarded for “good time behavior,” meaning those inmates will be released earlier than they would have been before Prop 57.

As we also pointed out, the list of crimes most people and common sense would consider “serious” and/or “violent” don’t fall within the extremely narrow definition of Prop 57.  “The enhanced credits of one month per year for participating in “self-help” programs will now apply to crimes, such as assault with a deadly weapon, battery with serious bodily injury, arson of forest land causing physical injury and many others. In short, even more violent inmates released to the streets earlier. In addition, a CDCR’s “emergency regulation” will classify as a “non-violent” offender an inmate currently in prison for a “violent” offense but who has completed serving time for that violent offense and is still serving time on other offenses.

Further, prosecutors and victims will only have 30 days to contest the parole release of the “non-violent” inmates who have completed their base sentence.   The opposition must be in writing and there is no anticipation that parole board hearings with attendance by prosecutors or victims will be allowed. That, of course, is in sharp contrast to Governor Brown’s promise during the campaign that he would work to address this lack of live participation by prosecutors or the victims.   Further, while inmates will be given the right to request review of a hearing officer’s parole decision, neither victims or prosecutors will be allowed that right.  Finally, unlike parole grants for inmates serving life with parole terms, there will be no review of any parole board decision by the governor.

The CDCR changes in parole eligibility are set to take effect April 12, 2107, if state regulators give approval, with final approval set for October 2017 after consideration of public comment. However, inmates will begin accruing early release credits while the public review is ongoing.

>As a result of these new rules, CDCR is expect to grant early release to at least 9,500 felons in the next four years, violent and serious offenders among them, with little opportunity for opposition by victims. As Senator Scott Wilk pointed out recently, “through a host of ‘reduce prison population at any cost’ measures, our governor and the legislature have already partnered to release nearly 50,000 criminals from our jails and prisons.”

The proposed new rules are yet another blow to victims of crime and the public. The only thing remaining is the inevitable spike in crime and subsequent denial by Prop 57 supporters that the early release of thousands of inmates led to that increase in crime.

Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. 

Sensible and Needed Reforms to AB 109 and Prop 57

By Eric Siddall

Assemblyman Ian Calderon has proposed a sensible reform to fix some of the problems of AB109 and Proposition 57. This legislation came about when it was clear that the gang member who murdered Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer was given repeated 10 day “flash incarcerations” for each of his five separate parole violations. Under the prior system, he could have spent a year in prison for just one violation.

AB 1408 implements three basic reforms. It requires county probation departments to seek parole revocations for a third violation. It requires consideration of an inmate’s entire criminal history by the parole board. Lastly, it increases information sharing between the state and the county regarding the criminal history.

AB 109 artificially deflated the recidivism rates. It did so by shifting parole responsibility for many felonies to county probation departments.  AB 109 also shortened parole violations by creating a new system of 10 day “flash incarcerations.” AB 1408 will help address these shortcomings.

In a recent blog we highlighted the violent history of the “Most Wanted” parolees being sought for parole violations by the LA County Probation Department. It certainly does not help public safety when repeated parole violations are dealt with by a slap on the wrist via a 10 day “flash incarceration.”

Assemblyman Calderon’s legislation is a sensible first step to advance public safety.  He noted this legislation was a product of intense discussion with law enforcement, and that it endeavored “to set some practical ground rules and enhance the tools available to law enforcement operating under these reforms.”

We noted in a previous blog the failure of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to publish offender information that had previously been available for years.   With the vast majority of parolees now supervised by county probation it is hard to assemble accurate information on parolee recidivism.  The state should certainly provide that information so the public can evaluate whether this attempt at “parole reform” has been effective, or simply a way to game statistics regarding recidivism rates.

The problems AB 109 has created can only be addressed via state legislation.  We applaud Assembly Calderon for taking the first step in that direction.

Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. 

Statute of Limitations Must Govern State Bar Actions

By Michele Hanisee

Last week’s decision by the California State Bar to file disciplinary charges against former Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich based on conduct that occurred 31 years ago, should cause unease to every attorney in the state. This action of the State Bar, which acts as the administrative arm of the California Supreme Court, cannot be squared with that court’s long-held beliefs on timely filing of actions in both criminal and civil cases.

An integral part of the law is the concept of a statute of limitations. In Wood v. Elling Corp (1977) the California Supreme Court reiterated the broad policy behind statutes of limitations: “Statutes of limitation … are designed to promote justice by preventing surprises through the revival of claims that have been allowed to slumber until evidence has been lost, memories have faded, and witnesses have disappeared. The theory is that even if one has a just claim it is unjust not to put the adversary on notice to defend within the period of limitation and the right to be free of stale claims in time comes to prevail over the right to prosecute them.” In a subsequent opinion, Addison v. State of California (1978) the court reiterated the policy reasons for statutes of limitation, writing that they “serve a distinct public purpose, preventing the assertion of demands which, through the unexcused lapse of time, have been rendered difficult or impossible to defend.”

California State Bar Rule 5.21 (A) states that a disciplinary proceeding based solely upon a complainant’s allegation of misconduct must begin within five years of the alleged violation. However, Rule 5.21(G) states the five-year rule does not apply if the source was “independent” and not based on a complaint. In other words, if a damaged party complains, there is a statute of limitations. If the State Bar chooses to act on its own, in the absence of a complaint from an aggrieved party, they can go as far back in time as they please.

In the Trutanich case, the “independent source” is a Federal District Court habeas ruling issued in 2016, thirty years after the trial in which the alleged misconduct occurred. The bar alleges that Mr. Trutanich knew or was “grossly negligent in not knowing” that two witnesses had testified falsely, and that Mr. Trutanich withheld Brady material from the defense. That ruling occurred 16 years after the California Supreme Court denied Barry Williams’ habeas petition which contained similar allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.

The bar complaint vividly illustrates the ills the California Supreme Court warned of in its decisions on statutes of limitation. In the Trutanich case, the two witnesses the court ruled had testified falsely were deceased by the time of the habeas hearing. The handful of witnesses still alive, including Mr. Trutanich, all testified they had little memory of the events in the case which happened long ago. With minimal testimony provided by actual witnesses to the events at issue, the federal court’s decision was based on inferences from fragments of documentary evidence and testimony on patterns and practices of police agencies.

Similarly concerning is the State Bar’s assertion that discipline should be imposed for an alleged violation of Brady v. Maryland, which is a policy designed to protect the due process rights of persons facing a loss of liberty at the hands of the state. For that reason, the Brady decision and its progeny have held that even an inadvertent or unknowing failure by a prosecutor to turn over material evidence violates due process. However, in this instance, the State Bar is not seeking to protect the due process rights of an accused who is being threatened with imprisonment by the state but regulating the conduct of attorneys. This action of the State Bar is essentially asserting the State Bar can seek to revoke a prosecutor’s bar license for failure to turn over evidence that was completely unknown to that prosecutor.

Without delving too far into the merits of the factual allegations, the evidence recited by the District Court is that, “evidence obtained from the prosecution’s file indicated that the prosecution might have been aware of [the witness’s] identity, address and her telephone number.” [Emphasis added.] An attorney from the ACLU told the court in a memo that they did not received a copy of the page with the witness’s address because it was written on the back of one of the pages of the reports (the inference being the back of the pages were not copied). Mr. Trutanich testified at the hearing before the District Court that he was unable to locate the witness to serve her with a subpoena but that a copy of the subpoena listing the witness’ last known address was given to the defense.

It should be troubling to everyone, whether a supporter or Mr. Trutanich or not, that The State Bar of California has elected to bring charges 31 years after the fact, without any claim in the charges of actual knowledge by the attorney of the misdeeds that underlie the alleged misconduct. Even proposed Rule of Professional Conduct 3.8(d), which would govern prosecutorial discovery and Brady requirements, requires some scienter for there to be misconduct.

However, even if true, should a Brady violation be considered an offense exempt from any statute of limitations? The state legislature certainly does not think so; in 2015 the legislature enacted amendments to Penal Code section 141 which make it a felony crime for a prosecutor to intentionally withhold Brady evidence. Yet, the legislature did not deem it necessary to exempt that crime from the usual statute of limitations.

Finally, while the state bar might claim that it instituted proceedings only after the federal court ruling, that excuse is insufficient given that the allegations of the misconduct had been publicly raised decades before. For example, in 2000, the same claims regarding the detective and informant were raised in state habeas proceeding. After extensive discussion, those claims were rejected by the California Supreme Court in a published decision. Even if one disagrees with the Supreme Court’s conclusion and finds the federal court conclusion about the same conduct more credible, the important point is that the allegations of misconduct were in the public arena and available for the state bar to pursue at a time when witnesses were alive and memories fresher. Instead, the state bar chose to sit on its “independent source powers,” only deciding to pursue the claims when a different conclusion on the allegations of misconduct was rendered decades later.

Courts and legislatures have long held that there are very few instances where a statute of limitations should not apply to conduct, be that conduct negligent or willful. The State Bar’s assertion of a lifetime exemption from the statute of limitations for attorney misconduct, simply because the bar initiated the proceedings, is an abuse of its powers. In accordance with its stated policy reasons for statutes of limitation for crimes, the Supreme Court should place limitations on the time frame in which its administrative disciplinary arm can bring charges of attorney misconduct.

Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.

The LA County “Most Wanted List” and AB 109

By Michele Hanisee

Controversy swirls around AB 109, with the recent murder of Whittier Officer Keith Boyer by a parolee whose multiple parole violations resulted in nothing more than 10-day “flash incarcerations” being the most recent and tragic example of AB 109’s failures.  No definitive study has been done on the fallout from AB 109, but anecdotal evidence abounds to rebut the defenders of AB 109 who vehemently insist that its provisions have not made our communities more dangerous.

One repository of evidence of how AB 109 has made our streets less safe is found in the description of 120 persons currently on the “L.A.’s Most Wanted” list of the Los Angeles County Probation website, with whereabouts unknown.  For each wanted person there is a recitation of their criminal history, which unquestionably makes them dangerous.  Each listing then helpfully answers the next logical question of why county probation is supervising such a dangerous person: “Under the Governor’s Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011, better known as Assembly Bill 109 (AB 109) the responsibility of lower-level offenders was shifted from the State to Los Angeles County,” with the wanted person “qualified to be released to the supervision of probation, under AB 109, because his current commitment offense…was defined as non-serious and nonviolent under the California penal code.”

The laundry list of prior crimes these wanted parolees had been convicted of establishes their dangerousness.  They include attempted murder, robbery, lewd and lascivious acts with a minor, oral copulation, sodomy, elder abuse, battery with serious bodily injury, terrorist threats, possession of loaded firearms, and burglary. However, because their most recent stint in prison was for, as the probation department notes, a “non-serious and nonviolent” offense they are supervised by county probation rather than state parole.  Of course, if eventually caught these dangerous parolees will face a maximum of 180 days custody[MH1]  in county jail, not state prison.

So these dangerous convicted felons have disappeared into our communities and are refusing to report to probation. Would it be cynical to suspect that it is because they are up to no good and perhaps committing more crimes at the expense of L.A. County residents? Of course not. It is a more convenient truth to believe that AB 109 hasn’t made our community more dangerous.

Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. 

The Criminal Justice Shell Game

By Eric Siddall

When criminal justice experiments are not supported by structural reform, the result is more senseless murders, like Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer. It is time for the state to stop its cheap attempts at fixes to the criminal justice system, and implement meaningful reform. AB 109, Prop 47, and Prop 57 have been failures. All were hastily crafted social experiments passed without input from law enforcement or victims’ rights organizations. They were passed because the state was being cheap. Sacramento has been derelict in its duty to the People of the State of California.

Here is the nasty little secret of these three experiments. Sacramento was tired of paying the bill for public safety, so they decided to pass the buck to the counties. AB 109, moved low level offenders from state prison, which the state pays for, to county jails, which the county pays for.

It also curtailed the power of parole agents (paid by the state) to monitor and punish parolees. Instead it shifted the responsibility to probation. Guess who pays for probation? The county. Guess who has next to no expertise in dealing with harden criminals? Probation.

Here is what we lost. Parole agents specialized in dealing with hardened criminals who had been sent to prison. If a parolee was found in violation, parole could send him back to prison for a year. Parole agents were no joke. They kept tight control over their wards. Today, thanks to “reforms”, a parole agent can only punish a parolee with 10 days in the county jail.<

Prop 47 reduced many crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Misdemeanor offenders are sent to county jail. Again, the county pays the bill. Notice the trend.

Prop 57 gives the parole board (different from parole agents) unfettered power to release state prisoners. Interestingly, this reform did not address the issue at the county level. Again, the net result is less expense for the state.

So, while it is true that these reforms on their own did not cause Officer Keith Boyer to get murdered by Mejia, it is irresponsible to ignore the fact that the state has, over the last decade, wiped its hands of its public safety obligations and shifted the burden of monitoring harden criminals to probation-an organization not equipped to deal with the Mejia’s of the world. Did these reforms on their own allow Mejia to murder Officer Boyer? No. But the state exiting the public safety business did contribute!

Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. 

Parole board once again wants to free a dangerous criminal

By Eric Siddall

The state parole board continues to demonstrate that it cannot be trusted with the public’s safety. We are especially concerned because this non-elected body now has unfettered power to release felons thanks to Prop 57.

Last week, parole recommended that Charles Manson follower Bruce Davis be granted freedom. While Davis is not one of the better-known Manson thugs, his involvement in two 1969 murders was no less brutal.

Davis admitted to attacking stuntman Donald “Shorty” Shea with a knife and holding musician Gary Hinman at gunpoint while Manson sliced his face. Hinman was ultimately tortured for three days before being murdered.

This is certainly not the first time the board has unconscionably and irresponsibly proposed to free brutal criminals. Yet, under Prop. 57, it will have the ultimate power to decide which felons get released.

Prop. 57-falsely marketed as a crime stopper-makes felons eligible for early release from state prison. Sentences handed down by judges, statutory punishments determined by the Legislature, and plea agreements between prosecutors and defendants are now irrelevant. The release decision rests solely with the parole board.

Regrettably, the board has repeatedly shown it is incapable of shouldering this immense responsibility.

In addition to recommending parole for Davis, board panels recently proposed to free Manson family killer Leslie Van Houten and cop-killer Voltaire Williams, who played a central role in the 1985 murder of LAPD Detective Thomas Williams (no relation).

Gov. Brown rejected the panel’s parole recommendation for Van Houten, and he rejected an earlier parole recommendation for Davis in 2016. We hope he does so again.

Parole denial for Davis would be a small victory for public safety. Prop. 57 will unleash a torrent of offenders, many of them dangerous and violent, into our communities. Unlike murderers like Davis, the governor will have little authority to intervene with these felons. It’s a safe bet that it won’t take long for rising crime statistics to expose the tragic folly of this awful, radical experiment.

Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.

Why Local Law Enforcement Should Not Be Immigration Agents

By Eric Siddall

A prosecutor’s job is to seek justice for all people who are victims of crime, whatever their legal status in this country. To accomplish this goal, there needs to be cooperation from victims and witnesses, willing to both initially tell the police what they observed and then willing to testify in court. However, people will not cooperate when they believe there is a personal downside for aiding law enforcement.  Sometimes it is because there is a threat of retaliation from a criminal or their associates. In the cases of those who are in the country in violation of immigration laws, it may be the fear of deportation.

In 1979, in recognition of this reality, LAPD adopted, Special Order 40, to “provide courteous and professional service to any person in Los Angeles while taking positive enforcement action against all individuals who commit criminal offenses, whether they are citizens, permanent legal residents or undocumented aliens…. Police services will be readily available to all persons, including the undocumented alien, to ensure a safe and tranquil environment.”

This policy of not using local and state law enforcement to question people about immigration status is not about political correctness. It is about the effective administration of justice. There is no question that we should cooperate with the deportation of criminals once they have completed their sentence here in the United States.  However, if undocumented residents feel they cannot go to the police without fear of deportation, then they will not report crime. This part of our community will become a natural target for criminal street gangs and human traffickers, confident that those they prey on will stay silent for fear that cooperation will be a quick ticket to deportation.

Those of us charged with enforcing the laws of California should be worried about the rhetoric that is now coming from Washington.  The specter of using federal power to compel local law enforcement to act as agents of the federal government will hamper the ability to prosecute criminals and provide justice for crime victims. It is heartening to see that our state leaders, including Governor Brown, and local leaders, such as Mayor Garcetti, understand the need to stand against this misguided policy. They are defending a policy that has served California well for the past 38 years.

We will only be safe when all members of our community feel invested and know they can trust law enforcement. This is because cases are built on information gathered on the street. They are built upon witnesses reporting to officers. They are built upon gaining cooperation from people who have legitimate fear of gang retaliation.  Cases are won and justice is served when a witness-because of trust and faith in law enforcement-steps into that witness box and, in probably one of the more courageous and selfless acts, explains to a jury what happened on the night a stranger was murder by a ruthless gang member.

Only if local law enforcement remains focused on our jobs-enforcing state and local laws-can we ensure we will have a community ready and willing to step forward and help us make, and prove our cases.

Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.