LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A judge has ordered the release of a man convicted of having sexually assaulted little boys while in his 20s, asserting that his Constitutional rights had been violated by repeated delays in bringing the case to trial.
Just before George Vasquez was scheduled to get out of prison some 17 years ago, Los Angeles County prosecutors made a plea to the court: Don't free him because he's too dangerous to live in public. They argued that Vasquez needed to be confined at a state hospital, where he could receive mental health treatment for his disorder. So he was locked up while awaiting a trial to determine whether he met the state's definition of a sexually violent predator. If so, he'd be hospitalized for a two-year term.
A judge Tuesday ordered Vasquez's release, ruling that repeated delays in bringing the case to trial had violated the 44-year-old's constitutional rights, the Los Angeles Times reported. The decision could prompt similar release requests from dozens of other sex offenders from Los Angeles County who have been confined to a state hospital for years awaiting trial.
In his written ruling, Superior Court Judge James Bianco acknowledged the potential risk to public safety but said the delays in Vasquez's case were "oppressive to the maximum degree." He noted that requests for postponements came from both prosecutors and defense attorneys. But, he said, that changed in 2014, when prosecutors began pressing for a trial. From then on, Bianco said, the delays were caused "almost entirely from defense counsel's need to prepare the case for trial."
"There was a systemic breakdown of the public defender system," Bianco ruled, noting that five deputy public defenders had handled the case at different times.
In the years since Vasquez was sent to a state hospital, one of the state's two psychologists who examined him has concluded he no longer qualifies as a sexually violent predator, Bianco wrote.
Deputy District Attorney Richard Ceballos said the ruling is frustrating for prosecutors, who can't legally force the defense to trial, The Times reported. While much of the blame rests with the public defender's office, Ceballos said, it was "disingenuous" for the judge not to shoulder some of the blame since Bianco "and other judges" didn't replace the public defender's office sooner.
"The end result is a convicted child molester is going to be released," Ceballos said. "I'm really afraid he will molest again."
The boys he molested while in his early 20s were between 6 and 8 years old.
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