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California statute under scrutiny amid Torrance police scandal

Torrance Police Department headquarters
Torrance Police Department headquarters.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Dec. 20. I’m Justin Ray.

The Torrance Police Department scandal has raised questions about racial bias in policing and how evidence of police bias can result in criminal cases being thrown out or overturned. But when it comes to cases of law enforcement misdeeds, there is a California statute that fails to help people overturn convictions that were tainted by improper conduct.

The statute, 1473.6 — established after the LAPD Rampart scandal — does not serve formerly incarcerated people. To understand how it comes up short, you must understand three different classes of prisoners: those whose cases are pending, those who are currently incarcerated, and those who have served their time and no longer are in custody.

If the case is pending, there is a pathway: You can go to a court and a judge can dismiss the case if she/he deems it appropriate. If a person is currently incarcerated, they can file what is known as a habeas corpus petition, which asks the court to review a person’s case and consider any factors pertaining to the case that may have been unjust.

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But if they have served their time, meaning they’re not in custody and they’re not on probation, they are legally out of luck. There is no remedy.

It all has to do with what is legally defined as “new evidence.” The statute says that a person who is no longer in custody may try to have their case dismissed under certain narrow circumstances, one of which could be “newly discovered evidence of misconduct by a government official committed in the underlying case that resulted in fabrication of evidence that was substantially material and probative on the issue of guilt or punishment.”

However, the statute adds that “evidence of misconduct in other cases is not sufficient to warrant relief under this paragraph.” This means, for example, if an officer (such as one of those implicated in the Torrance scandal) was shown to have racial bias.

Let’s then say that another person had been indicted and served time for a prior, separate case in which that same officer played a central role.

The problem is, the fact that an officer has shown racial bias in one case, or incident, is not a reason in itself to question the conviction in another, separate case. Under the statute, there has to be proof that an officer did something wrong (such as commit perjury) in that particular case.

But defense lawyers argue that certain courtroom outcomes might be very different if juries knew when an officer giving testimony was known to be guilty of bias, or worse.

“This law was supposed to correct unjust convictions,” Nick Stewart-Oaten, an attorney with the L.A. public defender’s office, told The Times. “The problem is that it is so narrowly written that even if newly discovered evidence proves that the key witness against the defendant was a racist who repeatedly committed perjury in other cases, it is not sufficient. If the goal is truly to correct mistaken convictions, this law should require a court to overturn a conviction if the newly discovered evidence would likely have changed the outcome at trial.”

This all matters because there are collateral consequences to being a felon. If you are one, you no longer can own or possess a firearm. You also will find it difficult to obtain a job that requires a license in California, like being a barber, locksmith, massage therapist or real estate agent. Applications also ask if you have been convicted of a felony, which could jeopardize your chances of employment.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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L.A. STORIES

Where we love to take out-of-town guests to eat in L.A. The restaurant industry is still struggling during the pandemic. Fortunately, many of us still harbor that undeniable desire to get together with loved ones around a table to eat some food. We asked Times writers: Where do you like taking visitors to eat? From Redondo Beach to Atwater, Sherman Oaks to K-Town, here are some answers. Los Angeles Times

Drakeo the Ruler, whose surrealist slang made him one of the most original stylists in Los Angeles hip-hop, died Sunday morning from injuries after a stabbing at the Once Upon a Time in L.A. festival. He was 28. The rapper, born Darrell Caldwell, was raised in South L.A. and attended Washington High in the Westmont neighborhood. He quickly developed an idiosyncratic but evocative palette of lyrics. I recently wrote about other rappers whose lives were taken too soon in the city. Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday that the administration failed to anticipate the variants that have prolonged and worsened the COVID-19 pandemic and that she underestimated the role that misinformation would play in prolonging the disease that has killed 800,000 Americans. “We didn’t see Delta coming. I think most scientists did not — upon whose advice and direction we have relied — didn’t see Delta coming,” she said. “We didn’t see Omicron coming. And that’s the nature of what this, this awful virus has been, which, as it turns out, has mutations and variants.” Harris made the comments during a wide-ranging interview with The Times that touched on immigration, women’s health, the criticism she has received for her management style and her role as a history-making leader. Los Angeles Times

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

OpenX, a Pasadena-based ad tech company, agreed to pay $2 million to settle allegations that it amassed data on children and skirted regulations intended to protect data privacy. The venture-backed firm used code to “inadvertently” pull location specific data from users even when they opted out and sold children’s data to third-party advertisers. “To put it plainly, it was a mistake,” the company admitted in a blog post. “In this situation, an unintentional error was made.” Dot.LA

Law enforcement officials are looking for the person responsible for a violent machete attack that took place in unincorporated Los Angeles County just outside Malibu on Nov. 30. According to Lt. Jim Braden, Malibu’s liaison to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, both the attacker and victim were transients thought to be living in encampments in Tuna Canyon just outside city limits. Malibu Public Safety Commissioner Chris Frost said the suspect “very seriously injured” his victim. “His camp is supposedly somewhere about a mile up from PCH in the county area, but he hasn’t been located at this time,” Braden said. Malibu Times

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

COVID-19 cases continue to rise in L.A. County as Californians brace for winter surge. Los Angeles County health officials reported 3,512 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, more than double the number of cases recorded just a few days before. Health officials expect the number of Omicron cases to rise, as the variant is believed to be more contagious than Delta and better at evading immunity generated by vaccines or previous infections. Although there are early indications that Omicron might cause less severe illness than other variants, hospitals could be overwhelmed if enough people are infected, health officials say. Los Angeles Times

Why advocates want healthcare for all Californians — regardless of immigration status. As the pandemic has made clear, the consequences of failing to offer even routine healthcare to every resident of the state can have dramatic, deleterious effects during a health crisis. Among those disproportionately vulnerable and affected are immigrant workers, ages 26 to 50, who often have little or no access to affordable healthcare. “Immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, are part of the backbone of the economy of many different sectors in California,” said Sarah Dar, director of health and public benefits policy at the California Immigrant Policy Center. “They’re Californians in every other way except for our social safety net, and that’s what we think is wrong and we’re trying to change.” Capital and Main

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Forty years after a Stockton teenager went missing, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office said recent tips led them to search “an undisclosed area” of the county. Jose “Che” Dominguez was 16 years old on Aug. 2, 1981, when he vanished. He was last seen walking to a friend’s house. His sister, Corina Garcia, said since that day, all her family has ever known are rumors about what may have happened to him. “I don’t have proof. I don’t know for sure, and all I can go on is what we’ve heard,” Garcia told FOX40 last year. “Due to the ongoing and open nature of this investigation, no further details will be made available at this time,” the sheriff’s office wrote. FOX40

“May Rindge fought the longest court battle in California history in an attempt to keep coastal Malibu all to herself.” At age 22, Rindge met Frederick Hastings Rindge, the only surviving member of a well-to-do family from Cambridge, Mass. They got married, and in 1892 he purchased Rancho Malibu Topanga Sequit — one of the last of Southern California’s untouched Spanish ranchos. It had a coastal village called Humaliwo, later changed to Malibu. At the time, the only way in or out of Malibu was a series of steep canyon trails or makeshift beach roads. There was one alternative route — a private dirt road running through Frederick’s property, where the Pacific Coast Highway is today. Years of lawsuits and escalating tensions took place, even after Frederick died. But May Rindge vowed never to let anyone take Malibu away. How does it end? You have to read the article! KCRW

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Cloudy 66 San Diego: Cloudy 62 San Francisco: Overcast 57 San Jose: Overcast 59 Fresno: Cloudy 51 Sacramento: Overcast 49. Watch this video of Jennifer Garner bathing her cat.

AND FINALLY

Celebrity birthdays

Jonah Hill was born Dec. 20, 1983. Currently playing in theaters and set to hit Netflix on Dec. 24, “Don’t Look Up” stars Hill, Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Rapper DaBaby was born Dec. 22, 1991. His career took a hit after he delivered a diatribe to the crowd at Miami’s Rolling Loud in late July.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


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