John Balazs is an attorney in Sacramento, California, specializing in criminal defense, including appeals, habeas corpus, pardons, expungements, and civil forfeiture actions. After graduating from UCLA Law School in 1989, he clerked for Judge Harry Pregerson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. John was an Assistant Federal Defender in Fresno and Sacramento from 1992-2001. He currently serves as an adjunct professor in clinical trial advocacy at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. Please email EDCA items of interest to Balazslaw@gmail.com. Follow me on twitter @balazslaw.
This blog is for informational purposes only. Nothing in this blog should be construed as legal advice. The law can change rapidly and information in this blog can become outdated. Do your own research or consult with an attorney.
A split federal appellate panel on Monday upheld a Sacramento judge’s ruling that a death row inmate’s conviction and sentence for a gruesome double murder in Chico almost 29 years ago was tainted by racism and cannot stand. [Crittenden v. Chappell, No. 13-17327]
Two years ago, U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller threw out the jury’s 1989 guilty verdict and death sentence of Steven Edward Crittenden. Mueller faulted the prosecutor’s dismissal of the only African American in the jury pool and ordered the state to set Crittenden free unless Butte County cranked up a new trial within 60 days.
Mueller concluded that prosecutor Gerald Flanagan was substantially motivated by race when he used one of his peremptory strikes to eliminate Manzanita Casey from the jury that would sit in judgment of Crittenden, who is African American.
An inmate at a federal prison in central California has agreed to plead guilty to killing a correctional officer seven years ago to avoid a possible death sentence, federal prosecutors said.
Jose Cabrera Sablan, 47, agreed on Friday to plead guilty to murder in a negotiated agreement that will put him in prison for the rest of his life, U.S. Attorney Ben Wagner in Sacramento said in a statement.
Sablan is currently serving life with a chance of parole. The plea deal "would eliminate the possibility of release," Wagner said.
Fresno Bee, 6/27/15; update: Sablan was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on September 29, 2015]
In United States v. Sammy Stone, Attorney General Holder had authorized the government to seek the death penalty in 2012 on Stone's charge of murdering his cellmate at USP Atwater in 2003. Recently, the defense convinced Holder to deauthorize the case after further information came to light and Stone agreed to a life sentence. He pled guilty in Fresno federal court on January 13, 2014. Stone was represented by defense attorneys Don Knight and AFDs Lexi Negin and Tivon Schardl.
The upcoming trial of an inmate charged with killing a federal correctional officer at the U.S. penitentiary in Atwater has been moved to Southern California, in part because of a highway’s name.
Over the objections of prosecutors, a Nevada judge on Monday agreed to move the long-awaited trial of inmate Joseph Cabrera Sablan from Fresno’s federal courthouse to the Los Angeles area. The soon-to-retire U.S. District Judge Philip M. Pro cited a poll, the local population and pre-trial publicity in granting the defense request for a change of venue.
“The court also finds it reasonable to presume that some potential jurors will be influenced by the fact that a major highway running through the middle of the Fresno division has been named the ‘Correctional Officer Jose V. Rivera Memorial Highway’ in honor of the victim in this case,” Pro noted.
Pope Francis called for abolition of the death penalty as well as life imprisonment, and denounced what he called a "penal populism" that promises to solve society's problems by punishing crime instead of pursuing social justice.
"It is impossible to imagine that states today cannot make use of another means than capital punishment to defend peoples' lives from an unjust aggressor," the pope said Thursday in a meeting with representatives of the International Association of Penal Law.
"All Christians and people of good will are thus called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether it be legal or illegal and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty. And this, I connect with life imprisonment," he said. "Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty."
A federal judge on Tuesday threw out the death penalty of a transient who fatally stabbed a man 33 years ago on a bank of the American River in Sacramento and fled in the victim’s car.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton adopted the recommendation of a magistrate judge that a lesser sentence be imposed on Larry Junior Webster, unless the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office initiates a retrial of the penalty phase within 90 days.
“We’re glad the guilt phase was not overturned,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi said. “We will take a hard look at the penalty phase and decide whether we want to retry it.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Dale A. Drozd had found that Webster, the recipient of a Bronze Star for combat bravery in the Vietnam War, was denied a fair trial in the penalty phase because his counsel was incompetent. Karlton agreed with Drozd that Webster was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to “effective assistance of counsel” due to his lawyer’s “failure to investigate and present a mitigation case ... to the jury.”
A man convicted of killing an Atwater correctional officer was sentenced Friday to life in prison, the U.S. Justice Department reported.
James Ninete Leon Guerrero, 48, of Guam, pleaded guilty in March to a single count of murder in U.S. District Court in Fresno for his role in the 2008 death of correctional officer Jose Rivera. U.S. District Judge Phillip Pro accepted the plea agreement in March, allowing Guerrero to avoid the death penalty.
James Ninete Leon Guerrero, of Guam, pled guilty today in Fresno federal court to one count of murder by an inmate serving a federal life sentence for his role in the stabbing death of officer Jose Rivera in June 2008. No. 1:08-CR-0259-PMP. The conviction requires a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole. The Attorney General withdrew its request to seek the death penalty as part of the plea agreement.
Before the plea, Guerrero had been scheduled to begin an Atkins evidentiary hearing today. (In Atkins v. Virginia, 538 U.S. 304 (2002), the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment bars the execution of mentally retarded defendants).
Today's Sacramento Bee reports on Judge Mueller's 9/30/13 order granting habeas relief and overturning the petitioner's two first-degree murder convictions and death sentence because of the prosecutor's unconstitutional peremptory strike of the only African-American in the jury pool in Crittenden v. Calderon, No. 95-CV-0602-KJM-GGH.