Too often, those who face criminal charges are judged on their past instead of the circumstances that bring them before the court. Prosecutors in some jurisdictions — especially Sacramento County — will vigorously pursue a weak case if the accused has a lengthy or substantial criminal history. This short-signed approach overlooks the fact that in the vast majority of cases, a jury would never hear about the defendant’s criminal history.
The laws of evidence limit what the prosecutor can present. Generally, they can show a jury only the circumstances of the new case. They cannot show a person’s criminal history in order to argue “once a criminal, always a criminal.” A conviction must be rooted in only the evidence related to to the circumstances of the case.
A Friedman Law Firm client faced these troubles in a 2016 case. Decades ago, he was a gang member during his teenage years. As a youngster he was charged with murder, but convicted of manslaughter for the killing of a Compton area drug dealer. After this conviction, the law was changed to introduce “Three Strikes” legislation. After his release from prison, the client suffered a variety of additional, but minor offenses, which is typical of the State’s revolving door of justice.
In his late 20’s, client had cleaned up his act and disavowed the gang mentality and lifestyle. He relocated out of the Los Angeles area and moved to Northern California to get a clean start. He began working in construction, and eventually saved enough money to open his own small business.
Unfortunately, while in his 50’s, client was involved in a minor domestic dispute. The district attorney seized upon the defendant’s checkered past, and attempted to seek a punishment grossly disproportionate to the harm caused by alleging the client’s decades old strike prior.
Fortunately, Mr. Friedman was able to persuade a judge to dismiss the client’s past from being used against him at sentencing in the new case. Ryan Friedman vigorously argued that the court should, in the interests of justice, and pursuant to the the authority of Romero, dismiss a decades old strike conviction for manslaughter. Over the prosecutor’s objections, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge agreed , and dismissed client’s strike enhancement.