In a legal victory for federal prosecutors, an appellate court on Friday ruled that government attorneys can use evidence seized from the residences of two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies in their money-skimming trial.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a ruling by a federal judge who had determined that the seized evidence--which allegedly included nearly $16,000 in stolen cash--could not be admitted as evidence against deputies Nancy A. Brown and Michael J. Kaliterna because of faulty search warrants.
The former officers were on trial last year with seven other narcotics crew members for allegedly skimming drug money when U.S. District Judge Edward R. Rafeedie made his ruling.
In severing their cases from the others, Rafeedie ruled that the warrants used to search their homes and vehicles were not supported by probable cause and that investigators who obtained the warrants had not acted in good faith.
Rafeedie's ruling left Brown and Kaliterna in limbo after government attorneys appealed the judge's decision. The remaining defendants were convicted in the money-skimming case, and Assistant U.S. Atty. Jeffrey C. Eglash said prosecutors are now ready to proceed against the two deputies.
"I'm obviously pleased with the decision," Eglash said. "I hope that we can get an early trial date from Judge Rafeedie, and we look forward to presenting our case against Brown and Kaliterna."
Attorneys for both deputies, however, said they plan to petition for a review by the full Court of Appeals in hopes of overturning the unanimous decision by the three-member judicial panel.
"I'm surprised and disappointed with the decision, but I am hoping we will prevail with the (full) court, and Judge Rafeedie's ruling will be upheld," said attorney Leonard Levine, who represents Kaliterna.
Roger Hanson, who represents Brown, said that he also will petition for a review.
If Rafeedie's ruling had been upheld, it would have been a serious blow to prosecutors who contend that $13,280 found in Brown's home and $2,770 discovered in Kaliterna's residence were part of cash stolen by the deputies during a 1989 FBI sting operation.
But while Rafeedie barred the admissibility of such evidence, the Court of Appeals upheld the validity of the warrants used to search the deputies' homes.
Judge Arthur L. Alarcon, who wrote the opinion, said a review of the record shows officers who obtained the warrants and conducted the search had "reasonable grounds" to believe that the warrants were properly executed.
"Although the information obtained in that investigation does not appear to us to support a finding of probable cause, it nevertheless provided the officers with a reasonable basis to suspect that Brown and Kaliterna were involved with a group of rogue officers who were engaged in corrupt activities," Alarcon wrote.
Judges James R. Browning and Thomas G. Nelson concurred.