Voluntary Manslaughter

Escort Convicted of Voluntary Manslaughter in Heroin Overdose of Google Executive (CA Penal Code 192(a))

A 27-year-old woman has been sentenced to 6 years in prison for her involvement in the death of a Google executive, on a private yacht.  Prosecutors argued that she was guilty of manslaughter for providing the amount of heroin that he took, resulting in the overdose that ended his life.  What this case really amounted to was an attempt to answer questions of personal responsibility, was it the girl’s fault for leaving the executive as he lay dying on the floor of the yacht or was it his own fault for having agreed to take part in illegal drug use?  Prosecutors claim that the woman was responsible for his death as she not only administered the dose of heroin in question, but also because she did not stop to help him.

What are the elements of the crime of manslaughter?  How could a call girl be arrested, and sentenced, on such a charge, when someone else clearly asked her to administer an illegal drug?  First, it is useful to point out that there are 2 different types of manslaughter identified by California law, voluntary manslaughter (CA Penal Code 192(a)) and involuntary manslaughter (CA Penal Code 192(b)).  When someone kills another person unintentionally, they may be charged with involuntary manslaughter.

If you unintentionally cause the death of another person while you are in the midst of committing another crime (such as involvement with illegal drugs or prostitution, in this case), but that crime is not a felony (acting without ‘due caution’), then you could be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in a court of law.  Involuntary manslaughter is always treated as a felony by California law.  Penalties include up to 4 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.  However, if you intentionally acted with disregard for another person’s life, then you will likely be charged with voluntary manslaughter, which carries with it a possible sentence of up to 11 years in prison and a similar fine.

First District Court of Appeals in Oakland Overturns Murder Conviction

The First District Court of Appeal in Oakland has unanimously determined to reverse the decision of two lower courts to effectively overturn a murder charge against Jamie Thomas in the death of Samuel Navarro.  This higher appeals court decision was made on the basis that jurors in the original trial were not given the option to consider that Thomas had acted in a fit of passion.  Thus, the second-degree-murder charge against him (for which he has already been sentenced 40 years to life) has been overturned.

The original incident happened in 2007 in Oakland, on Pearl Street – a traditionally peaceful neighborhood.  It began with a complaint concerning Thomas’s car blocking the Navarro’s own.  A series of arguments followed, with one ending in several men ganging up on Thomas, beating him.  Testimony revealed that, at that point, Thomas retrieved a rifle from his car – at which point, a threatening Navarro dove for the weapon and Thomas fired.  The original Alameda County jury’s decision was that Thomas had not been acting in self-defense and he was convicted of second-degree murder.  In 2012, an appeals court upheld this decision, including new arguments from the defense that hearing Thomas’s own rap lyrics, which encouraged violent random shootings, had unduly prejudiced the jurors. However, they were not allowed to consider a manslaughter verdict at the time and this is the key sticking point for the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Importantly, the difference between murder and manslaughter is difficult to decipher in California law.  The main dissimilarity between the two is planning; in order to prove murder, the prosecution must be able to show that there was forethought in the crime.  This, if Thomas indeed acted in the heat of passion, a voluntary manslaughter charge would be more fitting and the penalties lessened to a great degree ( 3, 6, or 11 years in state prison versus the 40 years that Thomas has been sentenced).

Reexamination of Evidence Leads to Prison Release of Modesto Man Convicted of Arson (CA Penal Code §451 )

72-year-old George Souliotes was convicted of arson (CA Penal Code §451 – malicious arson) and murder (under the “felony murder rule”) over 16 years ago.  Though he maintained his innocence in the incident – the deaths of three of his tenants in an apartment building he owned (6-year-old Daniel Jones, 3-year old Amanda Jones, and their mother Michelle, 31).  Witnesses in the original case testified that Souliotes harbored animosity toward the family, who he was trying to evict.  Evidence at that time included the presence of a particular chemical on his shoes and at the scene and undependable eyewitness testimony that placed him in the apartment complex just before the fire.  After two different trials – one of which ended in a hung jury and the other which resulted in his conviction – the Santa Clara University Law School branch of the Innocence Project took the case on.

When the group of law students began investigating, they wanted to revaluate the evidence against Souliotes, including the state criminalist’s testimony that the flammable liquid on his shoes matched what they believed to be the origin point of the blaze.  By 2005, they were able to prove, through chemical testing, that the liquid on the shoes was not at all the same as the flammable liquid that had led to that fateful night’s conflagration.  Since this new evidence has arisen, Souliotes has been rightly released – and informed by a federal judge that his original set of defense attorneys were incompetent, as they had called no witnesses to testify on his behalf during the second trial.  It seems as if someone should apologize for the pain and suffering that Souliotes has gone through over the years, but District Attorney Birgit Fladager has stated that her office will make no such move – especially since, despite the overwhelming evidence, she still holds on to the belief that the man is guilty.

Oregon University Graduate Murdered in Emeryville (CA Penal Code §187)

In mid-June, Sacred Heart Prep School and University of Oregon sociology graduate 22-year-old Aya Nakano was on his way home from a friendly game of pick-up basketball when he was involved in a fender bender on Market Street near the corner of Stanford Avenue.  His silver Jeep Cherokee was rear-ended by another silver car, a four-door sedan. The drivers of both vehicles did exactly as they should have, as all good citizens do – they exited their vehicles to speak to one another, ostensibly to exchange insurance information and to discuss the minor accident.  However, an argument of some kind ensued and Nakano was shot to death at point-blank range.  The two men in the silver sedan fled down Market Street and have yet to be brought in for questioning.

Many people in the Bay area are asking the same question that Nakano’s mother has expressed: how are we to understand a society that allows something like this to happen to someone who has so much promise – and was simply trying to do the right thing. But, local law enforcement officials suspect that this case just isn’t that simple.  They are currently investigating whether or not the supposed accident was actually a set up, a plan for the murder of Nakano.  There is video surveillance footage of the incident, but Nakano’s family is offering a $35,000 reward for further information.  If the two assailants are discovered, they will, of course, face murder charges pursuant to CA Penal Code §187 – whether the charges will be first degree murder, second degree murder, capital murder, or first degree felony murder will depend upon the evidence uncovered in this ongoing investigation.

Paramedics Contaminated Crime Scene in Monte Sereno Millionaire Slaying

Until recently, there was really only one suspect in the November murder of Ravi Kumra, former owner in a Saratoga vineyard and entrepreneur – Lukis Anderson (26) of San Jose, whose DNA was found in the slain millionaire’s home. For months, local law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys alike have tried to figure out how Anderson could have been in two places at once – both black out drunk in a hospital and in the midst of murdering Kumra, whose home was far away.  New evidence suggests, however, that there is no mystery at all.  In point of fact, the paramedics that responded to the grisly scene at Kumra’s Withey Road mansion were the same that brought Anderson to the hospital 2 hours before for high-level intoxication (5 times the legal limit) from a local liquor store.  The two employees of a local ambulance company (Santa Clara County Ambulance) now stand accused of not having followed proper procedure when it comes to cleaning themselves between calls.

Though Anderson has now been released, he spent a lengthy 5 months in jail for the murder of Kumra, even though Anderson had never met the victim or anyone else who was present at the mansion at the time of the murder.  There was nothing to tie him to the crime except the DNA evidence found on Kumra’s body.  It was impossible for Anderson to have committed the crime, seeing as he was in the hospital for more than 12 hours after the attack.

Dying Declaration Exception Used in Suisun City Stabbing Case (CA Evidence Code §1240 – §1242)

The victim in a stabbing on Worley Road in Suisun City managed to give local law enforcement officials the name of her attacker before expiring.  After an argument on the 1300 block of Worley Road, the unnamed target was stabbed repeatedly.  Police have yet to release the name of the suspect, but are on his or her trail.

This brings up an interesting legal question, namely whether or not utterances that would normally be considered inadmissible in court because they are considered hearsay could be admitted because they are “dying declarations.”

According to California Evidence Code, hearsay (statements uttered by persons who may not be reliable witnesses or that cannot be appropriately substantiated) is not admissible as evidence in a court of law.  However, there are several exceptions to this rule (Chapter 2, CA Evidence Code). Outright confessions are one example of this, but so are dying declarations (CA Evidence Code §1240-§1242). A dying declaration is exactly what one may think – a statement made by a victim as they are taking often their last breaths.  This is not considered hearsay because the victim has direct knowledge of the crime.  A dying victim has every right to alert law enforcement officials to the identity of their assailant and to the circumstances of their demise.  Other exceptions to the hearsay rule concerning evidence are: official records, former testimony, scientific publications, and statements made against abusers by children under 12 years of age.

VIOLATIONS OF CALIFORNIA LAW PREVENTS NEW EXECUTION RULES

Officials in the California system who have authored a bid for new rules on execution, including using a different method than most states in the U.S., have evidently not bothered to “do their homework” when it comes to state laws on the subject.  The need for a change in the system and methods of execution is simply unnecessary and, for many citizens, unreasonable.  There is, to be sure, a long and hotly debated history of capital punishment in the state of California.

Before the 1972 case, People v. Anderson, there were 709 executions carried out in California, beginning in 1778 when San Diego County officials shot several Native Americans charged with conspiracy to commit murder.  People v. Anderson caused the death penalty to be revoked in the state, until it was reinstated in 1978.  Yet, since 2006, there has been a moratorium on executions in California due to a decision made by U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel, who found so many problems with the state’s methods when executing prisoners that he stopped the process entirely.

Now, California prison officials are attempting to return to the era of capital punishment – with one serious problem that the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco cannot allow.  What is that issue?  They have completely altered and re-written the state’s execution rules to include, not one injection of lethal substances, but three: an anesthetic, a paralytic, and potassium chloride (which causes an electrolyte imbalance and thus causes the heart to stop). Most states use a large dose of one medication – a strong barbiturate that prevents pain and prevents the possibility of a prisoner becoming conscious during the process.

Whatever your thoughts may be on capital punishment in general, it is certain that most Californians would agree with the new ruling that prevents “cruel and unusual punishment” as suggested by the recent changes submitted to the court by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.  It makes sense for the First District Court of Appeal to reject these changes because they are, in fact, unreasonable and simply unlawful.  The authors should have done a little more research before submitting this re-written document – and it is frightening that the very Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation representatives are so unaware of the laws in the state to which they are duty-bound.

24-YEAR OLD MADERA COUNTY MURDER CASE REMAINS UNRESOLVED (CA Penal Code §187)

In 1989, then 20-year-old Michael Pizarro became famous – for all the wrong reasons.  He was accused, and then convicted, of sexually assaulting and then murdering (CA Penal Code §187) his 13-year-old half-sister, Amber Barfield.  24 years later, no one can be sure whether or not Pizarro did it. On the one hand, there is a good bit of circumstantial evidence to link him to the crime and, on the other hand, there’s no real proof to be spoken of in the case.  The latest issue, in Pizarro’s third trial on the matter, is the fact that a juror used the Internet to research the previous trials and applied that forbidden information to his decision.

There are some things that are known about the case – Pizarro had been drinking the entire afternoon of the incident, for one.  When his then wife, Sandy, took their infant child and his half-sister, Amber, to look for him after an argument at a local party, Pizarro acted strangely, running away from them and, at one point, even lying down in the street in front of their vehicle. Amber exited the truck and went into a nearby field to look for him, Sandy heard a scream and saw the light from Amber’s flashlight, and the girl was found the next morning close to the same area. She had been sexually assaulted and smothered to death.  DNA evidence shows that someone of the same blood type as the accused had committed the crime, but Pizarro insists it was not he.  Instead, he says he threw the flashlight at Amber and left her in the field, then passed out in some nearby bushes.

So, why has this case gone on so long?  One answer could be that he’s the luckiest man in California.  The other answer is that he is simply not guilty.  The real question is whether or not Pizarro, who, by all accounts loved his sister and had never been known to exhibit animosity toward her, should now be allowed to live out his life in peace.  If three different juries found it difficult to make a decision in the case, then there is certainly room for reasonable doubt. The Attorney General’s Office is considering an appeal of this latest decision and intends to continue to attempt to prosecute Pizarro to the fullest extent of the law. Did the justice system fail Amber Barfield or has it failed Michael Pizarro for the past 24 years?

Valley Springs: 12-year-old Arrest in Leila Fowler Murder (CA Penal Code §187(a))

When Leila Fowler (8) was found stabbed to death in the kitchen of her family’s ranch style home, it was her brother (12) who seemed most upset.  Now, the young boy has been arrested in connection with the case pursuant to CA Penal Code §187(a), even though there seems to be little evidence to support this.  By all accounts, including the testimony of the children’s mother, the Calaveras County Sherriff’s Department is grasping at straws.  The boy’s original testimony was that a strange man with silver hair had broken into the home, killed Fowler, and run – that his sister was the victim of an attempted burglary turned home invasion.

Because of the violent and intimate nature of the crime, this 12-year-old will soon find his fate in the hands of a juvenile court judge – and perhaps in the hands of psychiatrists and psychologists assigned to the task of determining his mental health. In the state of California, a juvenile can be charged as an adult when it is deemed appropriate, but the offender has to be aged 14 years or older.  This is because the goal of the California juvenile justice system is not punishment; it’s rehabilitation. Yet, there are some cases in which much younger children, like this boy, may be deemed “too bad” to be considered redeemable – and the decision as to whether this boy will face life in prison or 25 years in jail will be up to the judge in the case.

A crime like this is heartbreaking; it’s as simple as that.  However, when we turn the harsh and unyielding eye of justice on to a young child, the situation becomes even less palatable.  The question on everyone’s mind is whether or not this boy was capable of changing so swiftly from a loving brother who never fought with his sister to a cold-blooded murderer.  The odds are that this is an unlikely scenario and that the Calaveras County Sherriff’s Department will end up with egg on their faces soon enough.

Defense Attorneys Now Better Positioned to Assist Clients

The state of California has learned a bit of a lesson from history.  Recently, a Second District Court of Appeals decision has strengthened the defense attorney-client relationship by making it almost as airtight as a therapist’s relationship with their patient.  It could be argued that this debate has been ongoing – at least since the 1974 and 1976 Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California I & II

In what came to be known as the “Tarasoff Case,” a fellow student from India – Prosenjit Poddar, murdered a young woman by the name of Tatiana Tarasoff.  Although Tarasoff had shared but a few exchanges with Poddar, he became unreasonably attached to her, so much so that he sought psychiatric help at his roommate’s urging.  The psychologist, Dr. Lawrence Moore, who saw Poddar on several occasions, attempted several times to have him committed after Poddar made threats against Tarasoff. However, the university police force at the time decided for themselves that Poddar was harmless and let him go. Poddar killed Tarasoff in her home less than a year later.

The Tarasoff decision brought to light the very difficult position that mental health professionals are in when clients make threats against a third party.  Yet, this may be an arguable point in the psychiatric world – it is not the same for defense attorneys.  Part of a successful defense attorney’s job is to ensure that their client receives a fair trial.  Now that the Second District Court of Appeals has determined that this right overrides the duty to report other crimes – like child abuse, for one – a balance of confidentiality and fairness seems to have been reestablished.

Though no one would argue that what happened to Tatiana Tarasoff was pleasant, Dr. Lawrence Moore neither needed nor desired to breach confidentiality with Poddar in order to prevent this horrible crime.  Many agree that it was the failure of the campus police to act on Dr. Moore’s instructions that allowed Tarasoff’s death to occur.  Now, in light of this new decision, a therapist may go directly to an individual’s defense attorney with any such suspicions and the decision as to whether to act to prevent these will be left in the capable hands of legal professionals.