A panel of justices on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Tuesday from attorneys for former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, who said his 2017 convictions on federal charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and making false statements should be reversed because of legal errors.
Baca's appellate attorney, Benjamin Coleman, urged the court to find Baca's defense at trial was improperly prevented from telling jurors about the ex-sheriff's Alzheimer's disease diagnosis and that there were problems with the use of a key prosecution witness' testimony to suggest Baca was warned in advance about breaking the law.
Baca, 75, was sentenced to three years in prison, but has been free on bail during the appeals process.
He was convicted during a second jury trial of masterminding a scheme in which members of the LA County Sheriff's Department hid an inmate-turned-informant from FBI agents investigating civil rights abuses inside County jails, then lying when questioned by the federal government.
Baca's first trial ended in a mistrial in late 2016 when jurors deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of acquittal. Months before that, the trial judge rejected Baca's offer of a guilty plea because the plea agreement with prosecutors did not contain enough prison time.
Ten other Sheriff's officials, including former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, were convicted in connection with the obstruction of justice case, and 11 other ex deputies were convicted of other crimes discovered during the FBI investigation.