No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118

Stupid Lips Sink Trials

Defense: Was there any evidence linking my client to the residence?
Officer Joe Salazar: Well... there was, but I'm not supposed to talk about it.


Let's just say that Joe ain't my favorite person. I blew 6 days of non-paid time just to hear him say something stupid like that and cause the mistrial.
Since we never got to the end, I will just hit the highlights in People vs. Cazares, Castro and Carrillo (take 2). It appears that there was a previous trial (another mistrial? who knows?) and occasionally lawyers on both sides would refer to testimony given at both the prelim hearing and the first trial.

Anyway, here's the facts, as best as I can determine them.

On March 31st of 2004, for some reason shrouded in legalistic mystery, the LAPD set up a surveillance team to follow a car. The aforementioned Salazar was the case agent in charge of this whole operation. The surveillance involved six officers in plainclothes and plain cars and a police helicopter. Obviously, someone suspected something, but the jury was given no reason for why the surveillance took place.

The car (containing the three C's) was followed to a residence in Long Beach, which they entered. After an indefinite period of time, a second car (a truck) drove up (containing a 4th person, one imagines, but not identified at the time). Two of the original three got in the truck, while the third got in the original car. Surveillance followed the original car to a laundromat, where C1 got something that looked like a laden pillowcase or bag out of the trunk, threw it into a dryer and, without turning it on, hung out outside talking on his cel. Eventually, he retrieved the bag, put it in the trunk and went off driving. At this point, he appears to have engaged in 'counter-surveillance' driving. Lots of stops and U-turns, etc.

Eventually, the car and the truck meet at a liquor store where a Chinese fire drill takes place. One officer notices an extra person is there, making two in each car at this point.

Somewhere in here, surveillance at the residence breaks down, and there is a total of 30 minutes when the house isn't being watched at all.

More unusual driving takes place. Eventually the car and truck meet somewhere else, and the cops roll in and bust them. There is no contraband in either car. If you're wondering about the bag in the laundromat, it's curious to note that at the first trial, one of the officers denied that it had been found in the trunk. This might lead one to suspect that it had been jettisoned somehow. Now, however, he remembers better. The bag was found in the trunk, and it was discovered to contain: clothing.
This 'remembering' business really pissed me off. He tried to pass it off as "well, there was no contraband, so I didn't think it important." Obviously, it was important when he noticed a suspect put the bag in the dryer and not turn it on.

With everyone collared, the po-po's get a warrant to search the house. They find, hidden in various places (in a closet, in the dishwasher...) 35 kilograms of cocaine. Wholesale value of $420,000 - street value of a few million.

They fingerprint the drug packages and get nothing. Nothing else is ever fingerprinted. Not the mirrored closet door where the drugs were hidden, or the dishwasher where drugs were hidden. Not the plastic wrap used (presumably) to package the kilos.

No one ever investigated to see in whose name the utilities were placed. Old mail lying around the residence was not taken into evidence (since it didn't match the names of any of the C's)

The cars were never examined for traces of drugs.

All of the defendants had cel-phones. None of the records were checked.

C1's wallet was found in one of the bedrooms where coke was found. Otherwise, nothing connects the two other people with the residence, other than the fact that they were inside it for a couple hours. No evidence was presented that they had ever been there before.


I'm not sure this is a reasonable scenario (as in reasonable doubt), but it's entirely possible that after everyone left the house, during the time when surveillance broke down, the Cocaine Fairy, wearing a neon green jumpsuit and wings, walked up the street with a big sack, went into the residence and distributed 77 pounds of cocaine throughout the house and then left.

There's absolutely no evidence that there was cocaine in either car.
There's absolutely no evidence that any of the three touched the cocaine.
About the best one could say is that the three spent a couple hours inside a house that had 35 kilos of cocaine hidden in it.

Now, I'm not really all that naive. More than likely they're all three as guilty as sin. But. If you asked me whether the prosecution had proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt (though the prosecutor hadn't finished her case by the time of the mistrial) I'd have to say definitely 'not proven' in two cases, and my mind was still open about C1. (Of course, they tell you to keep an open mind throughout the trial, so even if my mind was closed, I'd have to lie and say it was open; but I'm saying it really was open.)

So.... coming to a Superior Court near you: People v. the Three Amigos Part III.
Tags: jury

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