Plea Bargains in California Criminal Courts: The Case of Ex-Sheriff Lee Baca

If you’ve been following the legal troubles of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, some recent developments in the case have made headlines. The L.A. Times reported in February that the jail abuse scandal went all the way to the top of the Sheriff’s Office, and that Baca had lied to the FBI in order to protect his department. In order to avoid a full trial for obstruction of justice and other federal crimes, Baca’s lawyers negotiated a plea bargain. Ultimately, this was rejected by the judge, but the story highlights how plea deals work in California.

Legal Background of Baca’s Case: The LA Sheriff’s department had been under investigation since 2010, with deputies and corrections officers being accused of beatings and abuse against inmates. Authorities prosecuted and obtained convictions for more than a dozen officials involved in the jail abuse case, but Baca’s involvement wasn’t uncovered until February 2016.
As part of a plea deal he worked out with the US Attorney’s Office, Baca admitted he lied to the FBI and made other efforts to obstruct the investigation.

The plea deal definitely gave Baca an advantage going into the sentencing phase: He would be subject to a maximum of six months in prison and probation. Had he been charged with additional crimes, such as obstruction of justice, Bacas might face up to three years in prison.

Plea Bargains in California Criminal Courts: You may wonder why the criminal court system would allow a defendant to negotiate a plea deal, especially one who had admitted to lying to authorities and thwarting the investigation in a high profile case. In California, as in other states, there are public policy reasons to support plea bargaining and the process actually resolves a good percentage of all criminal cases pending in court. Plea bargaining has positive results because:

· It helps defendants avoid considerable time and cost in defending themselves at trial;
· It reduces the risk of harsh punishments and publicity for the defendant;
· It saves taxpayers money, because it avoids a costly, time-consuming trial; and,
· It spares the court of the hassle of a trial in every criminal case, as the system is already overburdened with cases and judges’ dockets are full.

Judge’s Discretion: Regardless of the plea deal Bacas reached with the US Attorney’s Office, the judge in the case must still review the terms of the arrangement, as would be the process in all criminal cases. Unfortunately for Baca, the judge threw out the plea bargain, stating that six months wasn’t enough considering the severity of the offenses. The case demonstrates how a plea bargain must still be accepted under the judge’s discretion in a criminal case.

In California, it’s possible to plead guilty to a crime and negotiate the terms of your imprisonment and/or financial penalties. However, you need a lawyer with a strong legal background in criminal law and extensive experience in defending these types of cases. To protect your rights, please contact a knowledgeable criminal attorney in San Diego who can help you negotiate with prosecutors and obtain a fair plea arrangement in California.

Ozols Law Firm
8880 Rio San Diego Dr. #22
San Diego CA,
92108