Daniel Aleman

Santa Clara County, California
Date of Crime:  April 12, 1994

“Daniel Aleman was convicted of carjacking after a judge promised to review evidence of the crime that surfaced during a closed-door juvenile hearing and then said the evidence didn’t help Aleman’s case. The 6th District Court of Appeal reversed the conviction after discovering the judge could not have reviewed the hearing transcript because it did not exist.”

“At 2:30 a.m. Aug. 12, 1994, three teenagers pulled an overheated Ford Thunderbird to the side of a road in San Jose.  Within minutes, they were approached by three men, one with a gun, who took the car.  The next morning, police arrested Daniel Aleman, 27, his 17-year-old cousin and another juvenile after a traffic stop.  The cousin admitted using a gun to carjack the Thunderbird.  He said Aleman was not involved.”

“The victims made inconsistent identifications of Aleman in the months before his trial.  When they first perused photo lineups, only one picked out Aleman.  But in a preliminary hearing in March 1995, a second victim said he was “95 percent sure.”  Convinced the recollections would be key, Aleman’s attorney sought access to the closed juvenile court hearing for Aleman’s cousin, held in November 1994, where all three victims had testified.”

“Judge Thomas Edwards, the presiding judge of juvenile court, declined to provide the juvenile file, saying his hands were tied by confidentiality requirements.  But he said he would be “happy” to review the court transcript and hand over any portion that would assist the defense.  Six weeks later, Edwards issued an order saying nothing in the file was useful.”

“At Aleman’s trial in early 1996, the defense tried to undercut the identifications, but the prosecutor insisted they were strong.  The victim who picked Aleman out of the lineup said he was certain.  The victim who identified him at the preliminary hearing recanted, but the prosecutor told the jury to believe what he had said previously.  Aleman was convicted of carjacking and possession of a firearm.  Because he had a prior record, he was sentenced to 62 years to life in prison.”

“On appeal, Aleman’s attorney asked a 6th District panel to review the records of the juvenile proceeding to determine whether Edwards had correctly denied access to the transcript.  But the panel made a surprising discovery: No transcript of the hearing existed.  And because the court reporter had died of lung cancer shortly after the proceeding, it was not possible to create one.”

“The appellate panel decided to reconstruct the testimony at the juvenile hearing from the notes and recollections of the judge and attorneys.  The effort revealed deeper inconsistencies in the victims’ identification of Aleman.  Two of the victims said the night was so dark that it was difficult to identify anyone.  And the victim who had picked Aleman from the photo lineup testified that the only two carjackers he saw clearly were the gunman – Aleman’s cousin – and a second man who was 18 to 19 years old and white.”

“Writing for the court in 1999, then-Presiding Justice Christopher Cottle overturned Aleman’s conviction, saying Edwards had violated his constitutional rights.  A conservative jurist who rarely sided with defendants, Cottle said the juvenile hearing material could have been used to raise doubts about the identifications of Aleman.  Rather than risk a second trial, Aleman pleaded guilty to carjacking – the firearm charge was dropped – and served an additional three years, for a total of eight years in custody. He was released in 2003.” – Mercury News

Posted in:  Victims of the State, San Francisco Bay Area Cases