Orange County's 34-year-old Valentin Aguilar repeatedly molested his 11-year-old daughter on New Year's Day 2008 and Senior Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Herrera, who had a solid prosecution case, couldn't wait to declare the child predator guilty.
During her closing argument before jury deliberations and a verdict, Herrera said, “I would submit to you that the presumption [of innocence] is now gone because the trial is over and we have proven each and every element of these crimes so that you can return a verdict of guilty.”
After his conviction, Aguilar–carrying a 5-foot-5 and 230 pound frame–didn't argue he's innocent at the California Court of Appeal based in Santa Ana.
Given that a defendant carries the presumption of innocence until a unanimous jury declares otherwise, he claims Herrera foiled his right to a fair trial in January.
This month, a three-justice appellate panel–William W. Bedsworth, William F. Ryaarsdam and Richard M. Aronson–determined that the prosecutor's comments consisted of “the sort of premature declarations of victory” that can arm defendants with appeal issues.
“Occasionally, prosecutors do get a little carried away with the perceived strength of their case and want to declare victory by telling the jury they have already carried the burden of proof in the trial, thus rebutting the presumption that controlled the case at the beginning of the trial,” wrote Justice Bedsworth on behalf of his colleagues. “Such boasts to the jury may be inelegant, but they dod no constitute prosecutorial misconduct.”
Bedsworth also noted that even if Herrera's statement had been error it would have been “harmless” because the evidence of Aguilar's guilty was substantial.
The father fondled his “daughter's breasts more than 10 times, touched her vagina once, masturbated in front of his daughter on two occasions and once put on a pornographic movie in her room and told her to look at it,” according to the justice's recounting of law enforcement evidence.
Upshot: Aguilar–now 38–will continue to serve his 18-year prison sentence inside California State Prison at Imperial.
R. Scott Moxley’s award-winning investigative journalism has touched nerves for two decades. An angry congressman threatened to break Moxley’s knee caps. A dirty sheriff promised his critical reporting was irrelevant and then landed in prison. The U.S. House of Representatives debated his work. Federal prosecutors credited his stories for the arrest of a doctor who sold fake medicine to dying patients. Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.