In January 2007, California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer Mark Magrann saw a vehicle traveling at 101 mph on the 405 Freeway in Irvine, stopped the driver and issued a ticket to a United Kingdom driver's license-toting man who would vanish.
Six months later at a Harbor Court trial in Newport Beach, Magrann identified James Kendell Wilkinson of Dana Point as the offender, but then Wilkinson said he hadn't been the speeding driver and showed Judge Pro Tempore Kenneth C. Jones his Nevada driver's license with a different name and date of birth than the speeder.
Magrann admitted to Jones the production of the Nevada license made him “doubt” his assertion against Wilkinson but he still claimed he was “98 percent sure.”
Jones wasn't impressed with the government's evidence and found Wilkinson not guilty.
Afterward in the courthouse hallway, Magrann questioned WIlkinson and, because he felt the winning defendant showed the same “arrogance” displayed by the speeder, opined that he was now, after the case had closed, “sure” Wilkinson had been the driver.
Losing the traffic ticket issue didn't sit well with the CHP officer, who mulled over his lose for a month and then contacted Wilkinson's wife, the registered owner of the speeding vehicle, to demand additional information.
When he didn't get the answer he wanted, the officer contacted CHP Investigator Theresa Pines, who launched an investigation into Wilkinson and, incredibly, decided to execute a government search of the man's home in hopes of finding the United Kingdom license.
Pines failed, but the CHP officers refused to drop the matter. They went to the Orange County District Attorney's office and, based on Magrann's post-trial decision that Wilkinson positively had been the speeder, successfully pushed for Wilkinson to be charged with perjury.
At the June 2010 perjury trial, Wilkinson testified again that he hadn't been the speeder and wasn't even in California on the date of the ticket. He'd been in Las Vegas. Charmaine Wilkinson, his wife, testified that she had been in the vehicle during the incident and that the driver was her husband's cousin, a British national.
But Magrann reassured the jury of his now thoroughly positive stance that Wilkinson was lying and jurors bought it in part because of a leap of logic: the officer provided home-search recovered records that the defendant had collected three other, unrelated traffic tickets during his life.
The judge sentenced Wilkinson to 45 days in jail and then subjected him to criminal probation for three years.
Wilkinson challenged the conviction at the California Court of Appeal based in Santa Ana, arguing that law enforcement officials abused the ban on double jeopardy because the traffic court judge had already accepted his out-of-state explanation to find him not guilty of speeding.
In August 2011, the state appellate justices–Richard M. Aronson, Eileen C. Moore and Raymond J. Ikola–declared themselves impressed with the CHP actions and the perjury prosecution.
The California Supreme Court refused to consider the case, but Wilkinson finally found relief in recent weeks with federal judges, who lambasted the state judges for making four huge legal reasoning mistakes to uphold the perjury conviction.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Frederick F. Mumm studied the entire case as well as Supervising Deputy Attorney General Peter Quon, Jr.'s assertion that Wilkinson was the one advancing “unreasonable” arguments.
But Mumm noted that the central issue in both the traffic and perjury cases had been the driver's identity.
“The traffic court either affirmatively concluded [Wilkinson] was not the driver or found that the government had failed to meet its burden of showing [Wilkinson] was the driver,” Mumm wrote. “Under either circumstance, the traffic court necessarily decided that [Wilkinson] was not the driver.”
Therefore, Mumm concluded, prosecutors had given police an illegal, second chance to win a conviction and “forced” Wilkinson to “run the gauntlet a second time with respect to the identity issue.”
The federal judge finished by slamming the state appellate justices for their error-loaded, pro-police opinion.
“The Court of Appeal's decision reveals a fundamental misconstrual of Supreme Court holdings regarding collateral estoppel in criminal cases,” wrote Mumm. “Therefore, [I conclude] that the Court of Appeal's decision was not merely erroneous. It was an unreasonable application of clearly-established federal law.”
The perjury trial violated Wilkinson's Fifth Amendment right to be free from double jeopardy, he determined.
Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Gary A. Feess supported Mumm's findings and officially tossed out Wilkson's perjury conviction.