How Jose Ines Garcia Zarate avoided a murder conviction

Garcia Zarate, an illegal immigrant who had already been deported several times, was acquitted of murdering 32 year-old Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier, and the President of the United States is responding with his usual restraint:

 

Mind you, some anger is understandable considering that Garcia Zarate wasn’t legally in the country to begin with, and was arguably on the streets because of San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” policies:

The judge in the trial did prohibit discussion of Garcia Zarate’s immigration status and the mention that he was deported to Mexico, but returned to the U.S. five times. Instead, jurors were told to focus on the events surrounding Steinle’s death.

[…]

Garcia Zarate, who also used the name Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, had been deported five times before the deadly encounter. He had finished a federal prison sentence for illegal re-entry into the United States and was transferred in March 2015 to San Francisco’s jail to face a 20-year-old charge for selling marijuana.

But three months before the deadly encounter on the pier, Garcia Zarate was released after the district attorney dropped the marijuana charge — despite a request by federal immigration authorities to detain him for yet another deportation.

His immigration status, however, has nothing to do with whether he is guilty of murder.  Writing for the conservative site RedState, Sarah Rumpf explains why he was likely acquitted:

…The main issue is that the defense was able to present a credible case that the shooting was an accident, and the prosecution aggressively overplayed their hand. Add in a misguided police interrogation strategy and you have reasonable doubt…

[…]

…we have a defendant with zero connection to Steinle. He had a history of drug crimes but no known violent crimes. The bullet that killed Steinle hit the ground and then ricocheted upwards. There was a video possibly showing another group of people disposing of the gun where Garcia Zarate said he found it.

Reviewing the SIG Sauer website shows [the handgun used in this case, which had been stolen from a federal officer a few days before] cost $1,000 or more. You can see how defense counsel could easily argue that a homeless illegal immigrant would be unfamiliar with one.

All of this adds up to the defense presenting a plausible explanation for how Garcia Zarate could have fired the gun and killed Steinle by accident. That’s reasonable doubt. 

The prosecutors were under tremendous political pressure. People wanted Kate Steinle’s killer’s head on a platter, even before Donald Trump ever tweeted her name.

So it’s not that surprising that “San Francisco prosecutors told the jury that Garcia Zarate intentionally brought the gun to the pier that day with the intent of doing harm, aimed the gun toward Steinle and pulled the trigger,” as the Chronicle reported, adding that the Assistant District Attorney also “spent much of the trial seeking to prove the gun that killed Steinle couldn’t have fired without a firm pull of the trigger.”

This seems to be a classic example of prosecutorial overreach.They pushed hard for a first degree murder verdict, which requires not only proving that the defendant killed the victim, but that he did it intentionally, and that it was premeditated (planned or thought out beforehand). [emphasis in original]

For the record, Garcia Zarate was convicted of a firearms offence, and it will likely head to his deportation.  Again.

One quick but important note: Garcia Zarate is not going free. The jury did convict him of a lesser charge of being a felon in possession of a gun, and he now awaits sentencing, which will be 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison. He has already served two years and will get credit for that time, but even if he is not given the maximum sentence, there is an outstanding U.S. Marshals Service warrant against him, and despite the sanctuary cities policy, San Francisco apparently does turn over undocumented immigrants to the feds when they have a warrant. So he is either getting deported, or spending more time in prison first, and then getting deported.

This case does raise real concerns about American immigration and border policies – the very concerns that arguably got Trump to the White House.  It should not be an excuse for the President to call into question the integrity of his own country’s justice system.  But then again, look who we’re dealing with.

I’ll give federal prosecutor (and veteran blogger) writing under the name “Patterico” the last word:

…My gut tells me that prosecutors were handed a flawed case with a bad interview. Once the defendant has a lawyer appointed, deficiencies in the interview will never be clarified. I’m reluctant to play armchair quarterback from the comfort of my living room.

There’s plenty to be angry about here. San Francisco’s self-righteous sanctuary city policy clearly cost Kate Steinle her life. The man who handled the gun that shot her had no business being on the streets of San Francisco. He should have been deported, yet again. But thanks to leftist lawmakers, he wasn’t, and a beautiful young woman died as a result.

But that fact alone does not make this verdict wrong. Once you understand the law, it’s easy to see that the verdict may well have been correct.

The only undeniable crime here was committed by San Francisco leftist policymakers. If anyone needs to be held accountable now, it’s them.

 

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Harper and the Supreme Court

Now that the Conservatives have won a majority government, it’s worth revisiting this April 22 column by Adam Radwanski of The Globe and Mail, about the effect this could have on the highest court in the land:

Of the nine justices who serve on the Supreme Court of Canada, three – Ian Binnie, Morris Fish and Louis LeBel – will hit the mandatory retirement age of 75 within the next four years. Another, Marshall Rothstein, will come very close to it. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin would be 71 by the end of a majority government’s mandate, and Rosie Abella would be 68.

In other words, Mr. Harper would have an excellent opportunity to shape the country’s top court. And given that court’s enormous role in shaping public policy, particularly since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect nearly three decades ago, that could be a very transformative power.

If one were looking for signs that the abortion debate is about to be reignited, this would be a better place to start than the musings of a backbench MP. Realistically, though, it seems unlikely that Mr. Harper would overload the judiciary with raging social conservatives. If his goal is to firmly establish the Conservatives as the country’s dominant national party, then returning the focus to hot-button social issues that helped derail its past campaigns would be a dubious strategy.

But if his goal is also to subtly shift the country’s laws and institutions and culture of governance toward something more in line with his party’s vision for the country – as opposed to the one held by the Liberals – there is much that the Supreme Court could help with. From property rights to issues of federal-provincial jurisdiction to law and order, not to mention the balance between national security and individual liberties, there’s all sorts of room to help turn Canada into a more small-C conservative country.

Left-wing bloggers picked up Radwanski’s piece and ran with it, raising the spectre of radical right-wingers being appointed to the Supreme Court to implement Harper’s Hidden Agenda™.

Considering that Canada has nothing like the conservative legal movement in the United States (the Canadian Constitution Foundation is no Federalist Society), I’m not sure where Harper would find these radical right-wing judges in the first place.  As Radwanski admits, Harper’s appointments to date – Justices Marshall Rothstein and Thomas Cromwell – are no fire-breathing radicals.

Still, maybe this will re-open a debate on the Prime Minister’s near-absolute power to appoint Justices to the Supreme Court of Canada, with little scrutiny by Parliament.  (A power that, needless to say, left-leaning Canadians didn’t seem to mind when Liberal Prime Ministers were making the appointments.)

Justice in Venezuela

Barack Obama or Stephen Harper might get angry about court decisions they don’t like, but I wouldn’t expect either to toss the offending judge in prison on trumped-up corruption charges.  (One Democratic Congressman wants to impeach the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court over the Citizens United ruling, but I doubt Justice Roberts is losing any sleep over it.)

Under “Bolivarian Socialism,” things are different:

As a judge María Lourdes Afiuni thought courts had the ultimate power to jail people, but as a prisoner in a cramped cell she now believesVenezuela has a higher judicial authority: Hugo Chávez.

The judge has spent a year among murderers and drug traffickers in Los Teques women’s jail, just outside the capital, Caracas, and if the Venezuelan president has his way she has another 29 to go.

Afiuni does not doubt her fate lies with Chávez, who demanded her detention after she freed a banker accused of corruption. “There is no judicial independence,” she told the Guardian. “I’m here as the president’s prisoner. I’m an example to other judges of what happens if you step out of line.”

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others, say the jailing of the 47-year-old single mother is politically motivated and shows how an over-mighty executive has blurred the separation of powers and eroded democracy.

[…]

Few had heard of Afiuni until 10 December 2009 when she granted bail to Eligio Cedeño, a banker charged with evading currency controls. He had been in jail for almost three years without trial, exceeding legal limits. He fled and is now in the US seeking asylum.

Chávez, who had taken a close interest in the case, was furious. He went on TV the day after the release and said Afiuni was a “bandit” who took a bribe. “This judge should get the maximum penalty … 30 years in prison! That judge has to pay for what she has done.”

He told the head of the supreme court that the case should be treated with “firmness”. Afiuni was charged with corruption and abuse of power. In May prosecutors said they had found no evidence of illicit payments but accused the judge of “spiritual corruption”. There is no trial date.

Good thing Chavez was elected, because I was starting to think he might be a dictator or something.