Prosecutors have been well described in the media as “dogged’ and “relentless” by exerting punishment and retribution for crimes large and small against our citizenry. But there is a factual line drawn where cases of legitimate doubts are brought forward in post-conviction proceedings which do overturn convictions. For example, doubts about forensic mishandling and inept methods and new exclusionary DNA evidence paid for by the State of California should carry alot of weight to overturn a conviction. The US record number of 1831 exonerations also indicates that innocence proceedings have been successful, in part, due to prosecutors eventually admitting that some prior convictions have been faulty. Here’s a reality check: It took the Detroit DA over eight years to finally relent to the facts of an exoneration published in a recent case report. All this exoneration business varies from state to state and prosecutor to prosecutor.
Similar “actual or legal innocence” arguments have had little effect on “die-hard” prosecutors who pursue a public stance of possessing a “perfect” prosecutorial record in their jurisdictions. This is common campaign jargon used for a DA’s re-election or campaigning for higher public office.
This is not a large group, but even so, their tone-deaf rhetoric of promising justice for the victims of crime intentionally tune’s out the well publicized presence of injustices occurring to innocent criminal defendants .
What’s happening in California?
It has been confirmed that Mike Ramos, the San Bernardino County DA, will re-file murder charges against Bill Richards less than a month since the California Supreme Court vacated his original conviction in 1997.
Ramos is quinta-doubling down for his office’s 5th trial against Richards, despite California’s highest court saying that the Richards’ defense had presented strong evidence opposing his guilt at his 4th trial where he was convicted. The CSC also quashed the bitemark evidence used against Richards at this last trial.
Here is some context of Richards’ chances for freedom. Ramos has gone on the record saying he considers frivolous appeals are “clogging up” California’s Criminal Justice system. He’s also running for Attorney General in 2018.
The future trial?
A new filing of murder charges by Ramos (seen above at his AG campaign website) against Richards brings a litany of CSI high value evidence against Richard being guilty. In fact it forms a road to his actual innocence. But, for more context, California has one of the worst exoneration rates in the United States. (see pg. 5).
Plea Bargain, Bail, Jail, Parole or Trial?
Ramos is clearly maneuvering to develop his numerous powerful prosecutorial options. The first and foremost for him is to protect his history of the finality of the conviction. Everything flows from that objective. His best and least expensive bet would be to offer Richards a plea bargain in which he would offer release for time served while making Richards finally admit he committed the murder. This is weak as, from the beginning of the case, Richards has been adamant about his innocence. Plea bargains have various forms which include an Alford plea which preserves the conviction for the DA but does not require an admission of guilt.
There will be a motion to release Richards on bail from defense counsel. He is poor and destitute. He also has advanced cancer. The indigent stay in jail regardless of health issues as the DA can argue a high bail release for numerous reasons. Languishing in county jail is used as an inducement for criminal defendants to accept offers of release with strings attached. The Riker’s Island scandals come to mind in that regard. A final conflict is, if he is released, Richards faces the fate of having no income to face his dire health care needs.
Richards, just before the CSC decision, was granted parole in state proceedings which is subject to governor Jerry Brown’s approval. That is now moot since the DA has recharged Richards with murder. After 23 years, it is starting all over again.
A new trial will not necessarily occur rapidly. In some California cases, DAs can delay for years as continuances are available to both the prosecution and defense counsel. The DA may ask for more time to re-investigate the 1993 crime, but that certainly goes against common sense. The desert crime scene was obliterated many years ago.
In addition to the Supreme Court’s doubts of a successful prosecution, a new jury would have to consider some of the following:
- DNA from an unknown male has been recovered from the murder weapon.
- DNA from an unknown male was found under the victim’s fingernails.
- The Supreme Court court noted that the bite mark evidence had been “clearly repudiated” and that “new technological advances undermined” the bite mark evidence presented at trial.
- The crime scene evidence collection was faulty from the very beginning which resulted in significant evidence being abandoned or lost at the outset by the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office.
- With the bitemark evidence quashed, there is no direct (physical) or circumstantial evidence connecting Richards to the crime.
As I say above, DA Ramos does have a plan. Stay tune for future reveals.