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LA DA Loses Appeal to Block Release of Convicted Child Sex Offender

September 13, 2018 - 8:48 am
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(CNS) -- The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office today lost its appeals court effort to block the release of a man who was detained for more than 17 years while awaiting trial on whether he should be committed as a sexually violent predator for committing lewd acts on a child.

In a 71-page ruling, a three-justice panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected a petition from the District Attorney's Office seeking to overturn Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Bianco's Jan. 8 decision that George Vasquez be freed from custody.

Vasquez was convicted in 1995 of four counts of lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 14 and was sentenced to 12 years in state prison, according to the ruling. The charges involved several boys from his South Los Angeles neighborhood, the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this year.

In September 2000, the District Attorney's Office filed a petition seeking to have Vasquez committed as a sexually violent predator. A series of attorneys represented Vasquez as he awaited trial on the prosecution's petition before attorney Mark Brandt was appointed to represent him.

Brandt subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the petition, saying his client had been denied his due process right to a speedy trial.

Bianco agreed, and the appeals panel concurred.

"It may well be there was strong evidence in the People's favor, but it was the government's burden to prove Vasquez was an SVP (sexually violent predator) and Vasquez had a right to present evidence showing he did not pose a risk to the public. He was denied this right for 17 years," the appellate panel found.

The appellate court panel noted in its ruling that Bianco had conceded the "potential risk to public safety that attends Mr. Vasquez's release from custody, albeit 23 years after his crimes were committed."

"However, the court cannot subordinate the rights of citizens under the United States Constitution in favor of concerns over public safety," according to the appellate ruling. "Seventeen years awaiting trial for a two- year commitment is far too long a delay, and leaves this court with no choice."

In its appellate court filing, the District Attorney's Office contended that the lower court's ruling was "simply erroneous" and that a long history of evaluation reports recommending Vazquez's commitment as a sexually violent predator "suggests a risk to public safety particularly since it took him 15 years to begin participating in a sex offender treatment program."

The District Attorney's Office declined to comment on the appellate court panel's ruling.

But Vasquez's appellate attorney, Robert S. Gerstein, said he would not be surprised if the District Attorney's Office tries to take the case to the California Supreme Court.

"I felt we had such a powerful argument," he said, saying it was "so egregious to delay the trial for 17 years."

Bianco had ordered Vasquez to be released from Coalinga State Hospital, but that was put on hold until the appellate court panel made its decision.

Vasquez is not expected to be released from custody for at least 60 days, according to his appellate attorney.