Court of Appeals Upholds Murder Convictions over Bruton/Aranda Rule Objections

On January 20, 2012, the Court of Appeals upheld the murder convictions of Javier Fuentes and Maria Alaniz, for the murder of then 18-year-old Walter Lopez in October 2006. The two were also convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in August 2006, and Javier Fuentes was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon on two other men in June or July of the same year.

During the appeal, the defense provided an argument that the LA Superior Court Judge Susan Speer wrongfully allowed the testimony of Billy Lazaro against the defendant Javier Fuentes. The testimony included information that Lazaro witnessed Fuentes telling Lopez “we’re gonna get you” and that Lopez told Lazaro on multiple occasions that Lopez was going to be a victim of a 187.

The defendant’s lawyers claimed that the defense was wrongfully allowed because it violated the Bruton/Aranda Rule. The Bruton/Aranda Rule bars using the out-of-court statements of a non-testifying defendant to incriminate another defendant at a joint trial before a single jury. Justice Patti Kitching explained that the evidence did not violate the rule because they were the statements of Javier Fuentes. Furthermore, the testimony did not violate the rule in respect to Alaniz because the testimony did not incriminate Alaniz. In addition, the justice said that Alaniz’s Confrontation Clause rights were not violated because the statements were not made to police and could not be held testimonial.  Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed the murder convictions of Javier Fuentes and Maria Alaniz.