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.

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Los Angeles Appeals Court Throws out Red Light Camera Conviction

The use of red light cameras in California to issue tickets to motorists based on photo evidence has been dealt another setback. On January 23, 2012, the Second Appellate District of the California Court of Appeals, which is based in Los Angeles, decided the case of People v. Borzakian, and threw out a red light camera ticket that was issued by the Beverly Hills police department.  In its opinion, the court discussed at length another red light camera ticket case (People v. Khaled) in which an Orange County appeals court recently threw out a red light camera ticket conviction on hearsay and foundational grounds.

The court noted that the maintenance logs should have been excluded from evidence because the officer who testified on behalf of the Beverly Hills Police Department could not lay the necessary foundation.  This was because the City of Beverly Hills had contracted the responsibility of maintaining the cameras to a company called Redflex, but nobody from Redflex appeared at trial to testify as to the maintenance logs.

The court further held that once the maintenance logs were excluded, the photographs had to be excluded as well.  Once the maintenance logs and the photographs were excluded, there was a total lack of evidence to support the conviction.  Thus, the court held, the conviction must be set aside.