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Trial Of Garcia Zarate, An Undocumented Immigrant Accused Of Killing Kate Steinle, Raises Important and Interesting Legal Issues Regarding Intent

Posted by Seth Chazin | Nov 21, 2017 | 0 Comments

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Judge Samuel Feng of the San Francisco Superior Court has begun the process of instructing the jury in the trial of the People vs. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate and has told members of the jury that they are ‘the sole judges of the evidence.'  The jury has been reminded of the charges against Garcia Zarate - Penal Code Section 187 murder in the second-degree, Penal Code Section 245 assault with a semi automatic weapon, and Penal Code Section 27920 possession of a firearm. The jury was also reminded that they can find the defendant guilty of first-degree or second degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, or decide on a not guilty verdict. Judge Feng told them that they should not let bias, sympathy, race, or any other similar factor influence their decision.

These instructions were followed by the prosecution's closing argument. Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia's argument lasted 70 minutes, and maintained that on the night of July 1, 2015, Garcia Zarate took a concealed gun to Pier 14 in San Francisco and played ‘his own secret version of Russian Roulette.'

The Defense then presented their closing arguments and maintained that Garcia Zarate found the gun, and when he lifted it, it accidentally fired, ricocheted off the ground before traveling 78 feet and hitting Kate Steinle. They asked for an acquittal, declaring that Zarate did not have any intent to kill.

The gun was stolen by an unknown person from the personal vehicle of a Federal Park Ranger four days before the shooting. The Park Ranger was an agent of the Bureau of Land Management. The Steinle family is suing the Bureau.

If the jury finds that Zarate had the intent to kill Steinle and he is found guilty of second-degree murder, Garcia Zarate faces 15 years to life in prison. If they find that there was premeditation associated with his intent to kill her, Zarate faces 25 to life. If the jury finds that the killing was not intentional, but accidental based on a grossly negligent act of Zarate, the jury can find him guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

His case has gained notoriety due to his status as an undocumented immigrant. He had been transferred to San Francisco's jail in March 2015 to face a 20 year old charge for selling marijuana. There was a request to detain him for deportation, however, the San Francisco Sheriff's Department released him after the marijuana charge had been dropped.

President Trump has unfortunately used this case as a justification to restrict immigration and to withhold federal funding from cities with sanctuary city laws, like San Francisco.

Further Reading:

CBS SF Bay Area: Prosecutor: Steinle Shooter Played ‘Russian Roulette’

CNN: Trial of undocumented immigrant in Kate Steinle killing nears end

KTVZ: Trial of undocumented immigrant in Kate Steinle killing nears end

ABC7 News: Judge in Kate Steinle murder trial instructs jury on deliberation process

About the Author

Seth Chazin

Seth P. Chazin has aggressively defended clients in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases for over 30 years. He has extensive experience representing criminal defendants in federal and state court, while handling both state and federal appeals as well.


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“The death penalty is a lie, a misguided mistake born of anger and frustration. Capital punishment has become a perverse monument to inequality, to how some lives matter and others do not. It is a violent example of how we protect and value the rich and abandon and devalue the poor. The death penalty is a grim, disturbing shadow formed by the legacy of racial apartheid and bias against the poor that condemns the disfavored among us, but corrupts us all. It’s the perverse symbol elected officials use to strengthen their ‘tough on crime’ reputations and distract us from confronting the causes of violence. It is finally the enemy of grace, redemption and all of us who recognize that each person is more than their worse act.”
- Bryan Stevenson