Houman Fakhimi

State v. Allen Shows Murder Cases Require Experienced Defense Lawyers

A recent court case out of Maryland shows that judges can make mistakes that can violate the rights of a defendant. When something like this happens in our area of California, an experienced Fullerton criminal defense lawyer should be hired, because he or she can zero in any any errors and save the client from a possible conviction.

Charges of murder in Fullerton are the most serious a person can face in California. They are the only charges that can lead to the death penalty -- the most serious penalty in the state.

It seems nowadays that unusual cases of sexual crimes, child abuse and animal cruelty tend to grab news headlines because maybe the public has become somewhat desensitized to homicide. But when a person dies and another person's life is on the line with murder charges in Califronia, it must be taken seriously.

In the case of State v. Allen, officials made mistakes at not one, but two trials for a man facing first-degree murder charges.

In 2001, Jeffrey Allen and John Butler, who were friends, were at Butler's house. Allen asked for Butler to drive him home, but he refused. Allen then grabbed the man's car keys, jingled them in front of him and threatened to drive himself home.

The two got into a fight, during which Allen stabbed Butler repeatedly with at least one kitchen knife, court records show. He then drove off in the car until he crashed and was arrested by police. A grand jury indicted him on charges of first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree felony murder, second-degree murder, armed robbery and other charges.

At the first trial, a careless mistake by a judge threw a wrench into the situation. During jury instructions, the judge told jurors that they could find Allen guilty of first-degree felony murder whether they found he intended to commit the robbery before or after the murder.

A brief explanation: There are two ways in California, and in most states, to be charged with first-degree murder. One way is to prove that a person planned and executed the murder. That's premeditated murder. The other is to prove felony murder, which is when evidence suggests that a person killed someone while the suspect also was committing another felony, such as a robbery, burglary or a sex crime. Both crimes need to be proven to prove felony murder.

After being convicted of first-degree felony murder, second-degree murder, armed robbery and the lesser charges, he appealed. On appeal, a court ruled that an "afterthought" of robbery isn't sufficient to support a felony murder charge. They upheld the other convictions, but sent the case back for a trial on the felony murder charge alone.

In the second trial, another mistake by the judge proved costly. Despite objections by the defense and the state, the judge told jurors not once, but twice that the defendant had previously been convicted of robbery.

While jurors didn't have to find him guilty of the armed robbery again, they had to make an independent finding that the state had proven that Allen killed Butler and he did so during a robbery to prove felony murder.

By the judge telling jurors he committed the robbery, the jury may have been led to lean toward convicting the man. Luckily, an appeals court again corrected the foolish mistake of a judge and awarded another trial. Let's hope the state stops wasting time and money and doesn't go through with another trial.

Contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (714) 705-6701 as soon as possible if you are charged with a crime. Protecting your rights and setting up an aggressive defense at the beginning stages is critical in defending against criminal charges.