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21Aug/12Off

Innocent Man Still Behind Bars Two Years After Judge Ordered Release

Imagine a judge declaring that you’re not guilty of a crime, but you’re still in prison because a deadline was missed? Would this be considered a travesty of justice?

Daniel Larsen was in a California prison serving a life sentence when he received the news he had awaited more than a decade. A federal court in Los Angeles had thrown out his conviction for carrying a concealed knife.

English: This office building in Sacramento, C...

English: This office building in Sacramento, California is home to the main office of the California Attorney General. The building, located at 1300 I Street, was constructed in the mid-1990s. {1} Photographed by user Coolcaesar on June 13, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two judges concluded that jurors who convicted Larsen would never have found him guilty had they heard from additional witnesses who saw a different man with the knife. Larsen’s attorney, who has since been disbarred, failed to adequately investigate the case and identify the witnesses before the trial, the judges found.

But two years after he was supposed to be released, Larsen remains behind bars while the California attorney general appeals the decision. The state’s main argument: He did not file his legal paperwork seeking release on time.

California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, whose office maintains that evidence still points to Larsen’s guilt, accuses him and his attorneys of filing a petition seeking his release more than six years after he was legally required to do so. Prosecutors question whether the judges had the authority to hear Larsen’s petition for release.

The standoff offers a window into what is often a defendant’s last chance to have a criminal conviction overturned.

Larsen turned to the federal court to file a habeas corpus claim after exhausting his appeals in California state courts. In overturning Larsen’s conviction, the federal court found he was “actually innocent” under the law because it had no confidence in the outcome of the original trial.

Prosecutors have long been frustrated by the seemingly endless appeals from inmates claiming innocence, many of whom were convicted on solid evidence. Robert Weisberg, a professor at Stanford Law School, said the attorney general appears to be trying to prevent an onslaught of legal claims by prisoners who have tenuous arguments. States want to make it nearly impossible for inmates to reopen their cases in federal court, which force prosecutors to retry cases in which they have already won convictions, he said.

“What they’re saying is, this guy had his chances. At a certain point the music has to stop, and a case just has to be closed,” Weisberg said. “We’re afraid that lots of people who were not unjustly convicted are going to be encouraged to frame their case as the injustice of the century.”

Larsen’s attorneys say prosecutors are interested only in a win for win’s sake. They contend that evidence that Larsen is innocent is strong enough to overcome any need to meet legal deadlines.

The wrangling over byzantine legal rules governing federal habeas corpus laws could take several more years to resolve.

On Monday, Larsen’s supporters delivered copies of online petitions to the attorney general’s office in downtown Los Angeles demanding the man’s release.

“He’s living in legal limbo just waiting to be released,” said his fiancee, Christina Combs.

The attorney general’s office declined to comment.

Larsen’s legal saga began in June 1998 at a parking lot outside a Northridge bar.

Two police officers responded to a report of a bar fight and testified that they saw Larsen take a shiny metal object out of his waistband and throw it under a car. They said they searched the area and found a double-edged knife about 6 inches long.

Larsen’s attorney, Michael Edward Consiglio, did not call any witnesses on Larsen’s behalf, despite his client’s claims of innocence. Jurors found him guilty and, because Larsen had two prior convictions for burglary, he qualified for a lengthy prison term under the state’s three-strikes law and was sentenced to 28 years to life.

From prison, Larsen contacted nine different attorneys for help until the California Innocence Project picked up his case in 2002.

After the group’s legal claims were repeatedly rejected in state courts, the organization filed a last-ditch habeas corpus case in federal court in 2008. A year later, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Suzanne H. Segal heard what jurors at Larsen’s initial trial never did — testimony from three witnesses who said they saw a different man, not Larsen, with the knife.

Among the new witnesses was a correctional officer visiting from Tennessee who formerly served as a police chief in North Carolina, and his wife. After listening to the witnesses, the judge described Larsen’s claims as one of the “extraordinary cases where the [prisoner] asserts his innocence and establishes that the court cannot have confidence in the contrary finding of guilt.” She found that Larsen’s attorney failed to provide a competent defense.

U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder agreed and ruled that Larsen could be released even though his legal claim missed the federal court’s deadlines.

If a loved one was the victim of wrongful incarceration that was caused by negligence or some other form of reckless behavior, it is important that you contact a committed and dedicated personal injury lawyer to help you decide if you should file a lawsuit. A competent and reputable injury lawyer can help you receive the compensation you deserve for your pain and suffering.

20Aug/12Off

Innocent Man Still Behind Bars

Some legal experts say that it’s better to let 100 guilty people go free than to put one innocent person behind bars. What if there already is an innocent person behind bars with 100 guilty people?

The fiancée and supporters of a man they say has wrongly served nearly 14 years in prison will present more than 90,000 signatures to the California Attorney General’s office Monday, hoping to apply pressure for the man’s release.

 

The Justices of the United States Supreme Cour...

The Justices of the United States Supreme Court with President George W. Bush, October 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Daniel Larsen was sentenced to 27 years to life under California’s three-strikes law, after a judge found Larsen guilty of possession of a concealed weapon in 1999. But in 2010, a federal judge declared Larsen innocent and reversed his conviction. The judge said Larsen’s attorney was incompetent and that Larsen never received constitutionally fair representation.

Supporters, including the California Innocence Project, have been fighting for his release. On Monday, Larsen’s fiancée, Christina Combs, as well as Bryan Banks, the NFL hopeful who was exonerated earlier this year after spending five years in prison, plan to hold a rally to raise awareness about Larsen’s plight.

The California Attorney General’s office has appealed the federal judge’s ruling on grounds that Larsen never deserved a reversal in federal court because he missed his deadline for filing a writ of habeas corpus, which should have been filed within a year of his sentencing.

“And meanwhile Danny is rotting in prison,” said Jan Stiglitz, co-director of the California Innocence Project.

On a June night in 1998, police officers responded to a call that shots had been fired outside of the Gold Apple Bar in Los Angeles. Officers reported that they saw Larsen toss a knife underneath a nearby car. A subsequent search turned up a six-inch double-edged knife. A jury later found Larsen guilty of being an ex-felon in possession of a weapon -– he had two prior felonies for burglary.

But the California Innocence Project dug up witnesses who contradicted that story, including a former law enforcement official who said he stood within five feet of Larsen and saw another man throw the knife under the car.

Stiglitz said Larsen’s attorney never carried out basic procedures -– like hire an investigator to find witnesses who could have proved or raised doubt that he was carrying a weapon.

“If he had done his work and contacted these witnesses,” Stiglitz said of Larsen’s attorney, “then he would have been able to prove that Danny hadn’t thrown the knife under the car.”

By the time these witnesses were brought to the Innocence Project, the deadline for filing the writ of habeas corpus had passed.

Stiglitz said Larsen shouldn’t be held in prison because of a legal technicality, especially after a federal judge reversed his sentence.

The attorney general’s office did not return calls seeking comment.

If a loved one was the victim of wrongful incarceration that was caused by negligence or some other form of reckless behavior, it is important that you contact a committed and dedicated personal injury lawyer to help you decide if you should file a lawsuit. A competent and reputable injury lawyer can help you receive the compensation you deserve for your pain and suffering.