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People v. Vang Highlights Need For Aggressive, Attentive Santa Ana Criminal Defense Lawyer

November 10, 2011
By The Law Offices of Vincent J. LaBarbera, Jr. on November 10, 2011 1:32 PM |

In People v. Vang, a man was convicted in San Diego of assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury in connection with an attack in 2008.

The issue on appeal was whether Vang's judge should have allowed an expert to answer questions from a prosecutor that were thinly disguised as hypothetical questions that referred to facts in this case. The expert was commenting about whether Vang's crime was gang-related. Testimony revealed he is a member of the Tiny Oriental Crips street gang, according to court documents.
In cases of alleged gang violence in Santa Ana, prosecutors will likely try to prove that a person is affiliated with a street gang, and that the act they are accused of committing was tied to that gang.

If they can prove it, a defendant can be sentenced to many more years in prison. But as an experienced Santa Ana criminal defense attorney well knows, this may not be as easy as it seems. Police and prosecutors must find people who are willing to testify under oath that the defendant is a member of a gang. Police testimony may not be enough.

The victim received a call at his home from a caller whose voice sounded familiar. He met up with Vang and they started walking down the street so they could "hang out." As the 20-year-old rounded a corner, he was struck in the back of the head from behind. He lost consciousness.

A San Diego police detective witnessed the beating and broadcast what he was seeing. He testified that he saw four men in the vicinity and three began beating the fourth and he fell to the ground. Two picked him up and beat him more.Two then backed away and a third hit the victim with a stick or pipe in the head. A second officer arrived and witnessed the beating as well.

Four defendants were arrested nearby, but the stick that the detective said he observed was never found. The victim was hospitalized and interviewed. He said he may have been attacked for disassociating himself from the gang or for overhearing something he shouldn't have.

At trial, an expert was called in by the state to show the case was gang-related. A detective was allowed to testify as an expert, testifying that the gang occupied a certain portion of the city as its territory and mainly included Laotian members. He opined that the defendants and victim were members.

The problem came in when he was allowed to answer hypothetical questions from the prosecution. Over objection from the defense, the judge allowed the detective to answer questions about a "young baby gangster." On redirect examination, the prosecutor took it a step further and asked questions based on the facts of the case in "hypothetical" form and then asked the detective if he felt the case was gang-motivated.

The detective again said he felt it was gang-related. The defendant was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison. His co-defendants got four years, 12 years and probation.

The Supreme Court of California, after reviewing a court of appeal ruling that the judge erred in allowing the testimony, found that the appellate court was right in finding error, but the panel of judges doesn't believe the error would have changed the course of the verdict. Therefore, it allowed the sentences and verdicts to stay in place.

If you are facing felony charges in Orange County, contact the Law Offices of Vincent J. LaBarbera Jr. to discuss your options. With three decades of experience, Attorney LaBarbera has argued more than 200 criminal trials and appeals. Call (714) 541-9668 for a confidential appointment to discuss your rights.

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