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Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca withdraws guilty plea

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who pleaded guilty in February to a single charge of lying to federal investigators as part of a plea deal, has withdrawn his guilty plea as of last Monday. Baca will now face trial, at which the government may bring more serious charges including obstruction of justice and conspiracy as well as the lying cause of action. Baca's decision resulted from U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson's statement last month that he would reject Baca's plea deal, which only called for a maximum of six months' prison time for the former sheriff.

Judge Anderson threw out the plea deal, deciding that the sentence was too lenient in light of Baca's role in obstructing an FBI investigation of county jails. The prosecution agreed to the deal largely because of Baca's willingness to plead guilty; however, Baca's attorney has argued that Baca should not serve any time because he is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. The FBI investigation was aimed at uncovering deputy violence towards inmates resulting in hospital visits as well as deputies covering up for one another. Anderson felt that six months in prison "would not address the gross abuse of the public's trust," nor "the need to restore the public's trust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system."

Baca's attorneys expect the prosecutors to bring the same, more serious charges, as those brought against Paul Tanaka, Baca's former second-in-command. Tanaka was convicted earlier this year for obstruction of justice charges resulting from the same FBI investigation. Tanaka was sentenced to five years in prison. Seven other she riff's officials convicted and sentenced in the same obstruction case received a year and a half to more than three years in prison.

Baca's attorneys plan to use the prosecutor's words from Tanaka's trial - in which they argued that Tanaka, not Baca, was the mastermind behind misleading the FBI - to Baca's advantage. Additionally, Baca's dementia may progress and materially affect his mental capacity. If Baca is unable to understand the legal proceedings, a judge may declare him incompetent to stand trial.

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