Fending off the Government
By Sonoma Business
Belligerent. Aggressive. Makes judges and prosecutors mad as hell. Held in contempt of court for offending a judge. Doesn’t give a damn. That’s Stephen Turer, a criminal defense attorney ins Santa Rosa for 22 years. Few lawyers match Turer’s no-holds-barred style of litigating. Most attorneys in criminal defense work know that they have to go from a trial one week back to the D.A.’s office the next week to plea bargain. They don’t want enemies. Turer makes enemies and comes back again anyway.
“We hold the line against police and government intrusions,” Turer says. The Bill of Rights, he says, was not made to protect us from criminals; rather, it was crafted as a defense against excessive government power. Turer bristles at government abuses: people whose homes are searched with bogus warrants; police obtaining all the telephone numbers called by a suspect in a drug case. The trend, according to Turer: expanding police power and diminishing individual rights. “My role is to fight back,” he snaps.
Not that he thinks every client who walks through the door is innocent. But some are. He recalls a recent case where a man was accused of vehicular manslaughter after his vehicle struck and killed two people. The police thought the man had been drinking. “His blood alcohol level was zero,” Turer says. He succeeded in getting the case dismissed.
Turer has represented numerous defendants in murder cases, including one murder-for-hire case a few years ago in Rohnert Park, known locally as the “baked potato case” because the killer testified that he brought a baked potato to the scene to use as a silencer on his gun. Turer’s client was charged with hiring the man to kill his ex-wife. The D.A. sought the death penalty; because of a hung jury, the conviction was reduced to life in prison without parole, Turer says. His defense: the killer lied about any contract to hire him for the murder.
In his first murder case, Turer defended a man charged with killing the host at a party in the West County and also charged with kidnapping. According to Turer, the man had attended the party, lost track of his wife and asked to look for her in the host’s trailer. The party’s host, says Turer, refused to let him look and punched him around. He went home, got a gun, kidnapped and forced another person to drive him back to the party, then shot the host. Turer fashioned a defense based on self-defense. “We got to jury to believe that whatever by client did was justified,” Turer recalls. The client was also acquitted on the kidnapping. Turer found an expert who convinced the court it was possible from blows to the head for a person to be unconscious and still perform actions such as kidnapping and driving.
According to Turer, prosecutors have a tremendous advantage in the court system because most judges are former district attorneys. “they were trained as D.A.s. They have the mindset of a D.A.” The system is weighted against defendants, he claims. “I’m arguing against a D.A. who played pinochle with this judge, who socialized with the judge,” Turer says. “My job is to stop them.” For Turer the battle is against an oppressive justice system. “It’s easy being a prosecutor. You have the public and the weight of the system behind you. The challenge is to stem that awesome power to make sure people are not trampled.” Plainly he relishes the fight. “Because I’m aggressive, they don’t like me,” he says. “I’m not afraid to call them on their bulls–t. I’m not afraid of them.”
He doesn’t always win though. Years ago Turer was found to be in contempt of court – twice. One time he pursued a line of questioning with a witness after the judge told him to stop. In the same case Turer made a statement the judge perceived to imply that the court condoned perjury. Turer was sentenced to five days in jail, a sentence he worked off by community service.
“Trying cases with me is not something a judge looks forward to,” he admits. Last year Turer defended a black man accused of robbing three girls who worked as clerks in an ice cream store. Part of the evidence was videotapes of the robber. Turer presented evidence to show that his client was too short to have shown up on the tapes. Turer claims the jury was racist. “Three little white girls said they saw him,” he says. “He was bald, and he looked terrible. That’s one of the few cases in my career I feel terrible about. He was wrongfully convicted. He got 18 years for something I don’t think he did.” Sometimes juries and the larger society they represent need to convict someone of a crime that has been committed even if it’s not the culprit, Turer says. “There’s a mental relief in convicting someone.” People can go with their lives thinking the evil criminal has been removed from their midst.
Source: Sonoma Business