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Home blog Criminal Defense New Law Could Overturn Decades-Old San Bernardino Murder Conviction

New Law Could Overturn Decades-Old San Bernardino Murder Conviction

By Michael Guisti on February 17, 2015

San Bernardino, CA — Jurors carry a heavy burden in our criminal justice system. They must weigh all the evidence and testimony presented at trial and determine whether or not they believe the defendant to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, even when a jury's decision meets the ideal of perfect objectivity, the verdict is only considered as valid as the evidence and testimony on which it is based. If an eyewitness recants their testimony or evidence is shown to have been faked or otherwise tampered with after the fact, that can serve as grounds to appeal a jury verdict and overturn a conviction.

In 1993, Pamela Richards was found strangled with her skull crushed in San Bernardino County. In 1997, her husband, William Richards, now 65, was convicted of murder. Richards' attorney Jan Stiglitz has been working hard to have his conviction overturned because it was based partly on the testimony of forensic dentist Norman Sperber, who has since recanted his testimony that a wound found on Pamela Richards' body could only have been inflicted by William Richards' teeth.

Since then Richards' appeal was heard in San Bernardino County court where his conviction was overturned. However, a state appellate court reinstated the conviction and the matter was ultimately decided by the State Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision determining that because the recanted evidence did not definitively rule out Richards' as the murderer it was not grounds to over turn his conviction.

However, this case did inspire a new state law which requires recanted expert testimony to be treated as false evidence which is generally considered to be an excellent grounds for overturning a conviction, and eliminates the distinction between expert and eyewitness testimony. Stiglitz hopes that the law, which was signed into law in September and is now in effect, will lead the State Supreme Court to reconsider the matter of her client's conviction.

Because direct, personal knowledge of a crime would preclude someone from jury service (and possibly require them to testify as a witness themselves), jurors must rely on the accuracy of witness testimony and evidence. While it is the job of a prosecutor to convince jurors of a defendant's guilt, a criminal defense attorney's role is to cast doubt on that evidence. That's all it really comes down to, if a juror has reasonable doubt of a defendant's guilt, they are obligated to find them not guilty.

For over 16 years, the legal experts at the Law Office of Michael L. Guisti have been defending clients against all kinds of criminal charges throughout Southern California. We've succeeded in having charges like domestic violence, robbery, sexual assault, murder, fraud, and theft reduced or dismissed in courtrooms in San Diego, Los Angeles, and all over Orange County.

Nobody wants to need an attorney, but without legal representation most people don't have the knowledge and experience to successfully defend themselves at trial. Our dedicated team of legal professionals are ready to go to work for you, so that you can keep your life on track while we deal with your legal problems.

Our offices in Santa Ana, Newport Beach, Irvine, and Garden Grove are conveniently located near major population centers and courthouses in Orange County to better serve our diverse local community. As part of our dedication to helping our client base, we offer foreign language assistance as needed.

So if you've been charged with a crime in the Southern California area, call us today at (714) 707-2797 for a free consultation.


Thanawala, Suchin. "California man's murder case prompts new state law." http://www.scpr.org/news/2015/02/15/49864/california-man-s-murder-case-prompts-new-state-law/. 89.3 KPCC. 15 February 2012.

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