(Pictured above: Defense attorney Karen Atkins.)
Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa dismissed murder charges against 14-year-old Ricardo Juarez – the teen accused of having fatally stabbed Luis Angel Linares in a March 14 gang brawl – because the prosecution filed papers a day later than it should have. Prosecutor Hilary Dozer, however, has already prepared the paperwork to refile the charges, and will be doing so first thing Tuesday morning. The district attorney’s office had to file them quickly to keep Juarez in the custody of Juvenile Hall. Juarez has already been rearrested. The case will now start back at the beginning, with Juarez facing the same adult charges-murder with gang enhancements.
Public defender Karen Atkins filed a motion to dismiss the charges on several grounds, but the prosecution filing its charging documents a day late stuck with Ochoa. A code in the penal law states that if the papers aren’t filed within 15 days of the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, the case must be dismissed. The prosecution argued that, while Juarez has a right to a speedy trial, the delay had no impact on that right, and that the penal code section wasn’t applicable here, but more of historical interest. “It wasn’t an issue of major import,” Dozer said. Atkins said that, while it was a technicality, it was important for the prosecution to follow the letter of the law to ensure a fair trial for her client. “We’re glad it was dismissed and anxious to get the case going,” she said. She also said after the hearing that she hopes the district attorney’s office would reconsider charging her client as an adult, but it doesn’t seem likely that will happen. “The reasons that supported that decision (to charge him as an adult) then remain the same now,” Dozer said. “Justice compels us.”
The decision also won’t impact Atkins’ quest for photos from the Santa Barbara Independent, taken shortly after the incident occurred. Judge Brian Hill, who has presided over the Juarez case almost in its entirety, found the paper and its photographer Paul Wellman in contempt of court for not handing over photos he took that day. The paper appealed the decision, which a Court of Appeals elected not to hear. The paper will now be appealing to the California Supreme Court. “We’re very, very much eager to get photographs from your paper,” she said.