October 13, 2009 By Wallin & Klarich

The California Third District Court of Appeal reversed a 2006 second-degree murder conviction. People v. Dungo, 2009 DJDAR 12630. In Dungo, the defendant was convicted and sentenced to 15-years-to-life for choking his girlfriend to death.

This reversal came after Melendez, discussed in the previous blog. In the California case, the criminal defense attorney successfully argued that the defendant’s rights were violated when the defendant’s counsel was not able to cross examine the medical examiner that performed the victim’s autopsy.

The medical examiner that performed the autopsy initially testified but was not answering competency questions very well. Therefore, the prosecutor pulled the actual examiner and placed the examiner’s supervisor on the stand to testify instead.

The court found that by allowing the substitute witness, the trial court violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront his accuser. While the defendant admitted to choking her, he claims that it was because he was overcome with rage and asked the jury to find him guilty of manslaughter instead of murder.

This explains why the medical examiner’s testimony was so crucial: if he had been choking her for a while and there were additional signs of injury then the prosecution could prove murder. However if the defendant choked her for a short period of time then it substantiates the defendant’s claim that it happened out of rage.

Thus, when the appellate court applied Melendez to this California case, the court held that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront those witnesses against him was violated because the defense was not able to cross examine the medical examiner that actually performed the autopsy.

It is important to contact a criminal defense attorney who can provide clarity in terms of your rights under the Constitution. If you or someone you love has been accused of a crime in California, contact the skilled Southern California criminal defense lawyers at Wallin & Klarich today at 1-888-280-6839 or www.wklaw.com for a consultation of your case. We can help you.

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