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Ex-LA Sheriff Lee Baca likely headed to prison after Supreme Court declines to review case

Alex Wigglesworth, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is likely headed to prison after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a last-ditch, long-shot request to review his case Monday.

The high court denied Baca's writ of certiorari, filed July 18, which would have reopened his case for review after a panel of judges from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that his conviction for helping orchestrate a scheme to interfere with an FBI investigation into abuses at the county's jails was fair and legally sound. The justices also denied his requests for another hearing or a new hearing in front of the entire 9th Circuit.

Baca, 77, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, was sentenced in 2017 to three years behind bars after a jury found he oversaw a plan to interfere with a federal probe into abuses in Los Angeles County jails and later lied to prosecutors about his role in the scheme.

"The Supreme Court missed an opportunity to right the significant legal wrongs that occurred in Sheriff Baca's case," his attorney, Nathan Hochman, said in a statement.

In the filing, Baca's attorneys had asked the justices to consider two issues. The first was whether the trial court had properly instructed the jury about the obstruction of justice counts. The instructions had stated that the government had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Baca acted with an intent to obstruct the federal grand jury investigation, but did not have to prove that he acted with a consciousness of wrongdoing.

His attorneys argued that the corruption statute does require the government to prove that Baca had a consciousness of wrongdoing, "similar to criminal willfulness."

 

Baca's attorneys also asked the high court to review the trial court's use of an anonymous jury, in which the jurors' identities were unknown even to the defendant and attorneys. The 9th Circuit had ruled that the district court's decision to empanel an anonymous jury was reasonable because of the highly publicized nature of the case and Baca's position as a former high-ranking law enforcement officer.

Baca's attorneys asked the justices to clarify whether the lower court should have considered alternatives, including sequestration or limited disclosure of the jurors' identities to attorneys.

The Supreme Court declined to consider those queries. The justices agree to hear only a fraction of the thousands of cases presented to them each year.

The decision marks the end of the road in terms of securing Baca's freedom, Hochman confirmed.

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