Hypocrite of the Year Award

The Award for the “ Hypocrite of the Year” goes to — S.F. District Attorney George Gascon! For those unfamiliar with San Francisco politics, Gascon is the ex-police chief who was elected District Attorney of San Francisco in late 2011. In winning the award, he had to prevail over a field of politicians, Wall Street Bankers and Used Car Salesmen, and compete against such luminaries as Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, and hundreds of Pentagon generals, all of whom trip over each other to lie, cheat and steal. Gascon still comes out at the top of the heap.

In a press conference held on March 15, 2012, Gascon announced that he was “deeply concerned” that Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi might have plead guilty to a crime he did not truly believe he had committed. He explained that his office “is not in the habit of taking a guilty plea from somebody who is not guilty.” He continued: “If the defendant in this case believes he is not guilty then we should go to trial and let a jury decide.”

Anybody who has ever been within two miles of a courtroom would immediately recognize the utter hypocrisy of this statement. Gascon heads an office that accepts pleas from literally hundreds  of criminal defendants every day who are admitting guilt to offenses they did not commit so that they do not run the risk of going to prison for the rest of their lives for crimes they  also did not commit. Gascon’s office so over-charges most criminal defendants and conjures up accusations that are nothing short of ludicrous for the sole purpose of raising the stakes so high that the accused cannot afford to risk trial. Our judicial system not only acknowledges that this is a daily occurrence, but depends upon this coercive process in order to function. If even 10% of those who are arrested demanded a jury trial, the entire judicial system would come to a screeching halt. Courtrooms would be backed up for years within a month or two of the entry of defendants’ not guilty pleas.

That Gascon would dare to make such a disingenuous comment only underscores the daily unspoken collusion between trial courts and prosecutors to assure that innocent people go to prison, rather than fight their unjust arrests and prosecutions.

A few examples should suffice to demonstrate how obvious this is:

1.  In 1991, Franky Carrillo was convicted of murder, and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.  His conviction was based upon the testimony of numerous witnesses, who had been coerced by the police, and coached by the District Attorney into giving false testimony to convict Carrillo. After 20 years in prison,  producing a letter from the actual perpetrator of the crime admitting to its commission, and presenting evidence from every witness who testified against him that their testimony was false and coerced, Carrillo’s conviction was overturned, and he was released from prison. The important lesson from this case is that not one police officer was prosecuted for coercing witnesses into testifying against an innocent man, not one District Attorney was disbarred or even disciplined for suborning perjury, and the trial judge who sentenced Carrillo to two life terms in prison has never been questioned as to why and how he could allow such a shameful process to take place in his courtroom.

Has any District Attorney been prosecuted for over-charging a defendant, for cooperating with the police in fabricating false evidence against an individual or for sending obviously mentally ill or innocent defendants to jail? Gascon’s shameful posturing about District Attorneys never accepting guilty pleas from innocent people scrapes the bottom of the bucket!

It would have been impossible for the witnesses who initially testified against Carrillo to get their stories straight in front of the jury unless the D.A. had coached them and worked with them in convicting an innocent man. This is par for the course, not an aberration.

2. Dennis Lawley spent 23 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. He thought he was the Beast of Revelations from the Bible, and suffered from raging mental illness. He then killed himself in his cell this year. The trial judge allowed Lawley to represent himself at trial in spite of Lawley’s open and obvious psychosis.

During trial, the District Attorney presented the case to the jury, arguing that Lawley shot his victim with his own .357 gun and was the sole perpetrator of the crime. Lawley explained that the gun he was accused of using in the crime was not the one that killed the victim and was never used in the crime. He explained that his gun was actually buried in a field in Modesto in the Central Valley of California. The D.A. mocked Lawley’s argument, and ultimately obtained a  conviction for the crime. 20 years later, Lawley’s appellate attorney and a series of investigators went to the field and located the missing gun, which was right where Lawley had said it was.

Did the D.A. admit his error, and work to have Lawley released? Of course not, he changed his theory of the case to suggest that there were two guns used in the crime, and that Lawley was guilty under his new explanation for the crime.

Was the D.A., or the Attorney General who fought to keep Lawley in prison until he killed himself punished in any way for their blatant lies and fabrications? Certainly not – our city and state attorneys never are held accountable for their manipulation of the legal system.

Did the trial judge who upheld the jury’s sentence of death ever publicly acknowledge his shameful actions in allowing Lawley to represent himself in spite of his obvious mental illness. Unheard of!

3.  Ross Mirkarimi was elected sheriff of San Francisco County in 2011. He was to be sworn in as sheriff in 2012. But prior to assuming the role of sheriff, Mirkarimi was arrested for having assaulted his wife, an immigrant who swore that he had not abused her, and for intimidating their  two-year old child (Mirkirami, himself, was a serious candidate for the “Hypocrite Award” due to his dual role as S.F. County Sheriff as well as a suspected wife abuser.)

Mirkarimi plead not guilty to the charges, and demanded a jury trial. After weeks of reading about every aspect of the case in the local media, as presented to them by D.A. Gascon, Mirkarimi plead guilty to the misdemeanor offense of false imprisonment. For weeks before the pending trial, the people of San Francisco, from which the jury to try the case would be chosen, were treated to videos and pictures of the victim of the crime, to alleged testimony from numerous other victims of Mirkarimi’s misconduct, and to a daily barrage of information provided by Gascon’s office to assure a conviction in the case. Was this appropriate behavior on the part of the District Attorney? Did he get away with trying the case in the press insead of in the courtroom? Ah, but the District Attorney is an honorable man, who would NEVER accept a plea from an innocent person.

The Mirkirimi case has gone off the charts. District Attorney Gascon graciously shared with the city of San Fancisco, prior to Mirkarimi’s trial, the chronological history of every woman Mirkarimi had dated since the age of eight, along with a description of the inappropriate conduct he engaged in with each of them. The descriptions were bolstered by pictures, declarations and videos of each of his prior transgressions.

4. When Oscar Grant was murdered in cold blood by the BART police in Oakland in the early hours of New Yearve 2009, it was months before anybody could even hear what murderer Mehserle’s defense was. The District Attorney explained that an ongoing investigation was in process, and that it would be “unfair” for Mehserle’s to be tried in the press prematurely. How considerate of the D.A. in that case.

5.  In the case of the Davis police officers who blithely and openly pepper-sprayed non-violent demonstrators sitting on a sidewalk on campus, the District Attorney worked long and hard to protect the privacy rights of the police while an interminable investigation was pursued. Were the policeman’s actions discussed publicly by the D.A. prior to trial or was the case tried in the press? No. Are criminal charges even pending against the offending police officers? No.

When a police officer is the potential defendant, privacy rights come to the fore and foreshadow all other considerations; yet, when a poor person or someone the D.A. dislikes commits a crime, the person is so lambasted in the press that (s)he does not stand a chance if the case were ever to go to court.

The double standard that exists in this country regarding the forces of law ‘n order versus the citizenry, especially for minorities, is so blatant and outrageous as to bring chills to any law-abiding citizen. Gascon’s abuse of the system is only the tip of the iceberg.

Luke Hiken is an attorney who has engaged in the practice of criminal, immigration, and appellate law. Read other articles by Luke, or visit Luke's website.