Sunday, March 13, 2016

Court of Appeal Rules In Favor of Defense Challenges to Indictments in Two Orange County Workers Compensation Fraud Cases (Landmark - People v. Ahmed & People v. Charbonnet). Only One Count Left In Ahmed Case and Three Counts Left in Charbonnet Case Unless Prosecutor Resubmits Cases to Grand Jury.

The Orange County District Attorney's Office has been dealt a setback in two workers' compensation fraud cases (known as the Landmark cases) due to amending and adding counts to the Indictments without returning to the grand jury. See the March 10, 2016 decision by the Court of Appeal in People v. Superior Court (Ahmed) (Charbonnet)

In the Landmark cases -- known as People v. Ahmed (with 3 named defendants) and People v. Charbonnet (which has 12 named defendants), the defenses’ writ to the Court of Appeal has successfully forced the prosecution to have to return to the grand jury if they want to add these additional counts. 

The cases are not dismissed in their entirety but they have been gutted of almost all the individual counts. The Court of Appeal on March 10, 2016 ordered the Orange County Superior Court to vacate its order last year that denied defendants’ motion to set aside the indictment. The Superior Court is now required to issue a new order granting the motion with respect to:
(1) all counts in the Charbonnet indictment except counts 1, 298 and 323; and 
(2) all counts in the Ahmed indictment except count 1 (a conspiracy count to file a false medical claim).  

The court is further directed to, at the prosecutor’s election, order the case resubmitted to a grand jury pursuant to Penal Code Sections 997, 998, and 1009. 

In the federal criminal system, proceeding to grand jury is the usual way to charge a defendant. State district attorney's office rarely go to grand jury and when they do, there are often multiple errors due to the state prosecutors being used to preliminary hearings that allow hearsay evidence, do not require the presentation of exculpatory evidence and other procedural requirements. Prosecutors in multi-defendant fraud cases or complex cases where the defendants are well represented prefer grand juries so the defense attorneys will not have the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses. 

This short cut does not seem to be serving the prosecutors well in Orange County workers' compensation fraud cases but their office seems to be patient and willing to let the cases take years. The Landmark Indictments are from June 2014. State court judges are also often unfamiliar with the rules governing Indictments and tend to apply the more lax rules governing preliminary hearings and Informations. This is what happened in this case. The details about the original Indictments and the amended Indictments are in the Court of Appeal decision.


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