Not Guilty: What Happened In The Steinle Trial?

This murder case captured media attention across the county after Trump used Zarate Garcia as exhibit number one as to why our borders need to be tighter and that sanctuary cities put our citizens at risk.   Trump argued that Kate’s life would not have been lost if San Francisco was not a sanctuary city.  Supporters of sanctuary cities argue that a single man’s actions should not dictate how we formulate policy regarding undocumented people living and working within our borders.  Former Sheriff Mirkarimi made the fateful decision to demand that the feds bring Garcia back to San Francisco for a mere marijuana case.  When the case was dismissed, the sheriff’s department then released Garcia.  It just did not make sense to bring him back in the first place unless Garcia was facing serious charges.

Regardless of the immigration debate, why did the jury acquit Garcia of the most serious charges?  I expected that jury would struggle between murder in the second degree and involuntary manslaughter.  Instead, the jury found him guilty of possessing a gun as a felon and acquitted him of murder and the lesser charges.

Gonzales

The jury did not find Garcia responsible because they must have believed that the gun accidentally went off.  Matt Gonzales, Garcia’s attorney, presented evidence that this type of gun has accidentally fired in the past.  Further, Gonzales obtained a concession from the medical examiner that the bullet was deformed consistent with a ricochet.  There was also testimony that there was an indentation on the pier that would have been caused by a stray bullet.  These facts supported the notion that Garcia was not aiming at Steinle.  The People presented evidence to the contrary, but clearly it did not convince the jury.

Second, the defense presented video evidence showing a group of people congregating in the same spot where Garcia later sat.  It supported the Defendant’s theory that Garcia had found a gun discarded there.  It seems like a leap that the gun went off accidentally, but there was no witness to shooting and one could not make out what happened from surveillance video.

In Garcia’s statement to the police, he admitted shooting the gun at a seal.  His statement was wildly inconsistent with what we knew to be true.  For example, he claimed he was five feet away from Steinle when in fact he was more than 90 feet away.  The back and forth between the officers and him did not help clarify, and the defense claimed that Garcia only admitted shooting the gun after the police failed to accept the explanation that it was an accident.  Gonzales’s ability to have the jury disregard portions of his client’s statement was crucial to the acquittal of the murder charges.

Immediately afterwards, Trump criticized the verdict.  Matt Gonzales notably said that the President should refrain from criticizing the verdict because by doing so, he is criticizing the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt.

Diabetic Driver Regains His License in Superior Court

“I was driving behind my girlfriend when she got into a terrible accident on 880.  I parked my car and helped her out, just before someone else hit her car with his.   My heart was beating rapidly, and I was excitable when I spoke to the officers.   They suspected me of drinking and driving and asked me to take their breath tests.  I was surprised  when they told me that my BAC was over the legal limit.  I had not had a drink for eight hours.”

I retained the Law Office of Asit Panwala, and he quickly discerned that my diabetic condition had affected the accuracy of the breath tests.  The District Attorney refrained from charging me, but the DMV sought to suspend my license.

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Asit called an expert, Jan Seminoff, at the DMV hearing, who explained how uncontrolled diabetes will lead one’s body to produce isopropanol.  Seminoff also explained that the PAS devices cannot differentiate between ethyl alcohol and isopropanol, and that one could not be certain that that the results were accurate in this case.  The DMV hearing officer was convinced, but he wrongly believed the law did not differentiate between different types of alcohol.  Thus, the hearing officer suspended my license.

Asit is persistent.  He told me that we should file a writ of mandamus in Superior Court challenging the DMV.  The deputy attorney general fought him vigorously, but Asit prevailed  and the Superior Court ordered the DMV to reverse the suspension. I am grateful for Asit’s help.  D.C.

 

 

 

He stood by my side.

Life can throw a wrench in your plans. My ex-wife abused me for 2 years – physically and mentally. Unbeknownst to me, she had been recording our arguments. One day while going to work, the police confronted and arrested me.  Asit was recommended to me by an acquaintance. Asit was my top choice, but he was very upfront and mentioned that he had an upcoming trial. I decided to go with another lawyer. 
Six months later, the case was still dragging with no progress. I reached out to Asit to get his professional opinion. We set up a consultation and Asit was extremely diligent  He asked for my police records and relevant discovery. Prior to our conversation, Asit had gone through all the details of the case. In that one hour discussion, I felt he knew my case details better than my existing attorney. I switched to him.  
Asit is very meticulous, hardworking and professional. He filed a motion to compel, forcing the Deputy District Attorney to acknowledge that they had lost the recordings of the police interviews of my ex-wife, hamstringing our ability to cross-examine her.  I went to trial, but I had a lot on the line because I am here on a  work visa.
 I was nervous as we picked a jury, but Asit was personable and calm.  Asit gave a remarkable opening statement.  The next day, the deputy district attorney asked for a mistrial because he did not believe he could get a conviction after Asit’s powerful opening statement.  He claimed that it was unfair that Asit had commented on the fact that my ex-wife had unilaterally withdrew money from our joint account after charges were filed.  The judge told him it was time to reconsider his plea offer.  He offered a plea to disturbing the peace, and I accepted it because it would not affect my immigration status.  Thank you Asit, for standing by my side. B.P.  

Pistorius’s Sentence Increased

The Court of Appeal in South Africa found Oscar Pistorius’s sentence “shockingly lenient,” and increased his sentence to the minimum of 15 years.  Given that Pistorius served one year and seven months in prison and house arrest, the remainder of his sentence is 13 years and five months commencing from the date of his murder conviction (July 6, 2016).

Oscar Pistorius has been forced to sell his house to meet spiralling legal bills

In the American legal system, it is unheard of for courts of appeal to increase the sentence of a defendant.  It may happen under South African law, although it is rare. Pistorius will have to serve at least half of his sentence before he is eligible for parole.

Fighting for the Voters In The California Supreme Court

The Law Office of Asit Panwala continues to fight for the voters of Morgan Hill who were deprived of their right to vote in a referendum.  More than 2,500 registered voters signed a petition calling on the City to either repeal a zoning ordinance that would provide a huge financial windfall to a out-of-town hotel developer or place it on the ballot for voter approval.  The City working closely with River Park Hospitality refused to follow the California Constitution and place it on the ballot for voter approval.

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The trial court found for the City, but Panwala successfully persuade the  Sixth District Court of Appeal to reverse the trial court in City of Morgan Hill v. Bushey, etc., et al., (2017) 12 Cal.App.5th 34.  The case will now be heard by the California Supreme Court.

Asit Panwala of the Law Office of Asit Panwala and J. Randall Toch from the Toch Law Firm represent the Hotel Coalition and the voters in this matter.  Their brief was submitted to the Supreme Court last Thursday.

Just Follow the Law: Making Courts Accessible

The Law Office of Asit Panwala successfully sued the Superior Court of Santa Clara County for a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The Superior Court has agreed to take measures so that it does not happen again in addition to paying monetary damages.

ADA

In March of 2016, the Superior Court denied a request for CART (Computer-Aided Real Time Transcription) services to a litigant who is hard-of-hearing.  His hearing aids do not help in a courtroom setting.  CART services allows one to read what is being said, just like captioning on TV. Instead, the client came to court and could not understand the arguments being made in his case or the questions from the Court. The Superior Court denied the accommodation because it was made three days in advance instead of five as required by a rule of court.  The Court denied the request minutes after receiving it, without making any real effort to find a CART provider.

In discovery, the Law Office of Asit Panwala learned that eleven other persons were denied CART services including five based on the timeliness of the request.

ADA No. 2

As a result of the public settlement, the Superior Court has promised to maintain a list of independent CART providers, undergo sensitivity training, highlight on their website that they will try to accommodate requests made less than five days before the hearing as well as pay a significant amount in damages.  See Panwala v. Santa Clara County Superior Court, case no. 5:16-cv-5914.

Asit Panwala hopes this resolution will remind the Courts that they have an obligation to be accessible to the public including those with disabilities.  He hopes that they will “just follow the law.

The greatest threat to our democracy is ignoring our Constitution

Rather than allow the voters to vote on a controversial zoning measure, the City of Morgan Hill  has now petitioned the California Supreme Court to hear their arguments to why the Constitution should be ignored.  The Sixth District Court of Appeal rebuked the City in an unanimous decision in City of Morgan Hill v. Bushey, et al. (2017) 12 Cal.App.5th 34, requiring the City to either repeal the controversial zoning ordinance or place it on the ballot for voter approval.

Constitution

The right to referendum is found in article 2, section 9 of the California Constitution, and the Sixth District found that voters could reject one zoning designation for another if they both equally conform to a general plan amendment.  River Park Hospitality, the out-of-town developer that owns the parcel at issue, would profit greatly if the zoning was changed also sought review in the California Supreme Court.  The Law Office of Asit Panwala in conjunction with the Law Office of J. Randall Toch filed an answer to their petitions on behalf of the Morgan Hill Hotel Coalition.  Answer to Petitions for Supreme Court Review  We expect that the Supreme Court will decide whether they will hear the case in next two months.

Panwala convinces the Court of Appeal to protect voters’ rights

Yesterday, the Sixth District Court of Appeal issued an unanimous decision affirming the right of voters to exercise the power of referendum. Asit Panwala, attorney for the Morgan Hill Hotel Coalition argued that the Court of Appeal needed to reverse the trial court’s decision preventing voters from rejecting one zoning designation when several others would equally conform to an amended general plan. Morgan Hill’s choice of zoning would have provided a financial windfall of two million dollars to out-of-town hotel developer. The City argued that the voters could not reject their choice of zoning.

The City had relied on DeBottari v. City of Norco, a Fourth Appellate Division case, to argue that the voters could not choose leave in place an inconsistent zoning because it is the same as “enacting” invalid zoning. Panwala argued that the logic of DeBottari was flawed and the Court of Appeal agreed. The City of Morgan Hill will now be ordered to repeal the zoning ordinance or place it on the ballot for voter approval. Panwala is ecstatic that the voters will ultimately have the final word as the Constitution requires.

vote

Decision attached. H043426

Panwala convinces the Court of Appeal to protect voters’ rights

Yesterday, the Sixth District Court of Appeal issued an unanimous decision affirming the right of voters to exercise the power of referendum.  Asit Panwala, attorney for the Morgan Hill Hotel Coalition argued that the Court of Appeal needed to reverse the trial court’s decision preventing voters from rejecting one zoning designation when several others would equally conform to an amended general plan.  Morgan Hill’s choose of zoning would have provided a financial windfall of two million dollars to out-of-town hotel developer.  The City argued that the voters could not reject their choice of zoning.

The City had relied on DeBottari v. City of Norco, a Fourth Appellate Division case, to argue that the voters could not choose leave in place an inconsistent zoning because it is the same as “enacting” invalid zoning.  Panwala argued that the logic of DeBottari was flawed and the Court of Appeal agreed. The City of Morgan Hill will now be ordered to repeal the zoning ordinance or place it on the ballot for voter approval.  Panwala is ecstatic that the voters will ultimately have the final word as the Constitution requires.

Voting Rights

The decision is attached.  H043426