In 2014, former Los Angeles city councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife, Flora, were convicted on charges of perjury and voting fraud. According to news reports, the couple lived in Sun Valley, but claimed they lived in Panorama City so that Alarcon could represent the district. The Alarcons appealed the conviction, and were successful.
According to an article at the Los Angeles Times, a panel of justices with the 2nd District Court of Appeals found the trial judge in the case had issued improper instructions to the jury. Superior Court Judge George Lomeli instructed the jury in the case, however the appeals court justices ruled that “we cannot conclude that the instructional error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Alarcon was convicted on one count of perjury, and three counts of voter fraud; his wife was found guilty on one perjury count and two counts of voter fraud. The Alarcon’s defense attorney argued at trial that the couple were renovating the Panorama City residence, and planned to return to it as their permanent residence. However, the jury ultimately found the couple guilty, saying they weren’t convinced the Alarcons intended to live in the home they were renovating after hearing from Deputy District Attorney Michele Gilmer and former City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel.
Arguments were primarily over domicile, with Lomeli instructing the jury that there is a “rebuttable presumption” that in order for an office holder to consider a residence his domicile, he/she must have lived in that residence at some point in the preceding year. The appeals panel found the judge’s error essentially shifted the burden of proof away from the prosecution.
While this case is focused on politics rather than a serious crime such as burglary or distributing drugs, it is a criminal case nonetheless. Anyone who has been convicted of a criminal offense has the right to appeal the conviction or sentence, particularly in cases where errors were made or the defendant’s rights violated.
The appeals process is tough; in order to be successful if you’ve been found guilty of a crime in Michigan, it is imperative to work with an attorney who is skilled and experienced in criminal appeals. Even then, there is no guarantee of success however you have an increased chance of having your conviction overturned. An appeals court seldom finds fault with a lower court’s decision, but it does happen.