12 August 2011

LWOP Sentence For Zapata Murder Upheld On Appeal

The Colorado Court of Appeals has upheld the convictions of a man charged with first-degree murder and other counts in what prosecutors said was the bias-motivated killing of a transgender Greeley woman.

Allen Andrade of Thornton was convicted in 2009 of deliberately beating 18-year-old Angie Zapata to death with a fire extinguisher in 2008 after learning she was biologically male. Defense attorneys argued Andrade had planned to meet Zapata for sex and snapped after learning she was born male.

From here.

Adrande was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. His main appellate arguments, an argument that the jury should have been giving an instruction mitigating his criminal culpability because he was drunk, and seeking to suppress the murder weapon from evidence, were mundane. My post from the day that he was convicted on April 22, 2009, is found here.

Given the fact that Adrande had at least three prior felony convictions in his fourteen years of adult life, and was charged as a habitual offender and was taped making a telelphone call from jail admitting to the killing (albeit arguably with a lower level of intent), made a confession to police (albeit arguably with a lower level of intent), and was arrested in possession of Zapata's stolen car, 32 year old Adrande would have gone to prison for 40 years to life, and also faced the 24 year sentences on other charges that he received, even if the appellate court had reversed the first degree murder conviction. He was convicted of a hate crimes charge, but given his first degree murder and other convictions, any appellate issues he could have raised related to that conviction wouldn't have mattered because they would have constituted harmless error at their worst.

The August 11, 2011 opinion of the Colorado Court of Appeals in case 09CA1310 People v. Allen Ray Andrade, was unpublished. It appears that the case was argued on the basis of the briefs with no oral argument in the case available in the Colorado Court of Appeals online archive of oral arguments.

Andrade could make a discretionary appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court, could make a state level collateral attack on his conviction after that, and could bring a federal habeas corpus petition after that according to strict procedural limitations. But, given the lack of a death sentence, the lack of a right to counsel for collateral attacks, the lack of a credible claim that he was not the one who killed Zapata, his long criminal history, and the weakness of his arguments on direct appeal and the weight of the multiple damning pieces of evidence against him, none of those efforts are likely to be successful. There is a good chance that he won't even bother with further appeals, although he does have nothing else to do for the rest of his life. And, Adrande is extremely unlikely, given the fact that he was not sentenced to death, has a long and serious criminal record, and there is no doubt that he was guilty of some serious crimes this time around, that he will ever receive executive clemency.

American Criminal Justice: Cheap, Final, Harsh and Fast

In practice, it is astoundingly unlikely anywhere in the United States, in the state or the federal system, that someone who is convicted of a crime and not sentenced to death, whose conviction is affirmed on direct appeal, will not have that conviction later overturned or will have that sentence commuted.

I'll also restate a note that I made in a previous post:

The speed with which very serious criminal cases like this one progress is notable. The murder took place on July 15, 2008, and was discovered two days later. Thirteen days after the murder was discovered, there was an arrest. Pre-trial dismissal for lack of evidence was ruled out less than two months after the discovery of the body.

The trial was completed, the jury convicted, and the sentence imposed on April 22, 2009, nine months and one week after the murder was committed, and less than nine months after he was arrested. The direct appeal of right was resolved yesterday, fifteen months and twenty days after he was convicted, and thee years and twenty-seven days after the murder was committed. For all intents and purposes, the criminal justice system is now done with this case and he is the Colorado Department of Corrections' problem until he dies.

The sentence is rarely this long, but the general timeline in this case isn't unusual for a serious violent felony. Not every criminal case is so swift, but a very large share of all criminal convictions do result from arrests very shortly after the crime is committed and are based on convictions after trials where the evidence is overwhelming or guilty pleas, which move cases even faster. The constitutional right to a speedy trial rarely makes headlines, and isn't something most people are even aware of, but it has a pervasive effect on the pace of criminal proceedings in the United States.

Also, while the exact number will probably never be determined, the marginal cost of this criminal justice system of investigating and litigating this case to trial was almost nil, as most of the people involved, the police, DA who prosecuted the case, the judge and court clerks who handled the case, and the defense lawyers in the case, are on the public payroll on a salaried basis, and even if the personnel costs for everyone involved was prorated on an hourly basis, this case probably cost less to investigate and litigate through an appeal than a typical serious automobile accident that results in some injuries but not a death or a six figure contract dispute. All of the investigation and litigation costs combined for all parties were probably less than the costs associated with nine months of pre-conviction incarceration.

Of course, incarcerating this murderer for the rest of his life will cost the people of the State of Colorado something on the order of a million and a half dollars in today's funds after adjusting for inflation, and the State of Colorado probably spent hundreds of thousands of dollars incarcerating him before his most recent conviction on prior felonies and no doubt, for juvenile offenses as well.

If the death penalty had been sought and secured, it probably would have cost the State of Colorado more in additional litigation costs and death penalty implementation than it would save in incarceration costs from his premature death, or at least wouldn't have saved very much. It is also worth recalling that death sentences are overturned much more often than murder convictions. For example, the results in all the cases that produced post-conviction reversals of death sentences that were finally resolved between April 1973 and 2000, 54 cases were retried and produced a death sentence on retrial, 223 led to a murder conviction with a sentence other than the death penalty, and 22 cases ended with a determination that the defendant was not guilty of a capital crime. Thus, more than twelve out of thirteen death penalty sentence reversals ultimately kept a capital murder conviction in place, and some of the one in thirteen cases where a capital murder conviction was itself reserved still left some serious felony conviction in place rather than leading to a finding of outright innocence of any crime (the cases where there is a chance of innocence on all counts due to factors like mistaken identity or police frameups are the ones groups like the Innocence Project prioritize).

Deprived of any hope of release, little meaningful activity to carry out in prison, convicted of a sex related crime, and marked with a long track record of violent offenses, one can expect that Andrade will start his prison career at a very high security level and stay there, and that he will not be a model inmate.

One would like to think that people serving long prison sentences provide some benefit to society while they are there apart from staying out of the lives of law abiding citizens while they are incarcerated, although our system of criminal justice certainly doesn't make that a priority and is perfectly happen to simply waste and right off any contribution that incarcerated people could make for the most part.

For all the twists and turns of the criminal justice system that make headlines and feature in crime fiction, reality is that the vast majority of criminal prosecutions produce convictions for something, that a minority of cases go to trial and a minority of those cases that are appealed are reversed on direct appeal, that it is fairly unusual for even a criminal sentence to be reversed on appeal, and that executive clemency is almost non-existent. Also, the percentage of people who escape from incarceration in a state prison is infinitessimal, and is even smaller in the case of prisoners in the highest security environments who have committed serious violent crimes (a large share of all escapes are walk aways from community corrections facilities, work release programs or minimal security facilities housing the least serious offenders). And, convicting someone of escape once they are rearrested, given the availability of prison records, DNA evidence, fingerprints, photographs and so on, is little more than a formality.

By the time the police make an arrest and a prosecutor files charges the probable future is usually very clear, and the vast majority of the time that there is a conviction it sticks. And, it is done very cheaply.

Pretty much the only way to have a reasonable chance of escaping some punishment for a crime is to not get arrested in the first place, and of course, that usually is what happens.

Why point all of this, which is obvious to those familiar with the system except politicians, for the most part?

First, there has been a lot of criticism that the Warren revolution in constitutional criminal procedure has made it easy to escape punishment from the criminal justice system. The reality is that there isn't much merit to that assertion. People who are arrested for serious crimes are usually convicted of something and usually get long prison terms if they have criminal records and committed really serious crimes, indeed, longer terms than anywhere else in the world pretty much.

Second, there has been a strong conservative movement to cast doubt on the capacity of the criminal justice system to handle terrorism suspects. But, there is extremely little evidence to suggest that it is not an effective way to punish them and there is considerable evidence to show that the due process protections and fairness of the criminal justice system, relative to more draconian approaches proposed to deal with terrorism, is better at preventing incapacitation of one terrorist from causing future terrorist acts inspired by action taken against the first terrorist. The claimed need for deprivations of civil liberties is premised on the incapacity of the civilian criminal courts to secure convictions and impose long sentences for terrorist acts which is simply not supported by experience in these cases.

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