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Charles Head

Other Exonerations in Orange County, California
On the night of September 5, 2005, police in La Habra, California, responded to a burglar alarm at the home of 31-year-old Charles Head.

The police said they first announced themselves and then entered the house, which was empty, in an effort to secure the premises. During their search, according to the police report, the officers found a loaded Tec-9 automatic pistol in an upstairs bedroom. There were 26 bullets in its 30-bullet magazine.

The officers took the weapon and left a note stating what had happened and how the gun could be retrieved. Separately, another officer spoke to a neighbor, who said that someone had fired a gun in the neighborhood about two weeks earlier. The neighbor had collected three empty shell casings. She gave these to the officer, who said they appeared to be similar to the casings on the bullet found in the Tec-9’s magazine.

Since 2005, California has banned most assault-style weapons, although persons who owned these guns and registered them prior to the law’s enactment were grandfathered in.

The police said they could not find a registration for the weapon and declared it an unregistered assault weapon. In a letter sent to Head informing him of the situation, the police incorrectly referred to the weapon as a Luger.

Head said he called the La Habra Police Department and was told that his weapon would be returned if he obtained a release form from the California Department of Justice. His girlfriend filled out the paperwork for the form, and she also referred to the weapon as a Luger. The Department of Justice appeared to confirm his registration of the weapon in a letter dated January 13, 2006, but also referred to the weapon as a Luger, on January 13, 2006. Police arrested Head when he went to the police station on February 16, 2006, to retrieve the weapon. He was charged with illegal possession of an assault weapon and perjury.

Head pled guilty in Orange County Superior Court to the possession charge, which was reduced to a misdemeanor, on April 27, 2006. The perjury charge was dismissed. He was fined $1,000, sentenced to three years on probation, and required to perform community service.

On February 28, 2008, a federal grand jury empaneled in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California indicted Head on mail fraud.

According to the indictment, Head oversaw a fraud scam between 2004 and 2006 that would solicit struggling homeowners and promise them financial relief and a chance to repair their credit. These homeowners often unwittingly signed away the title to their homes. Then the straw buyers tied to Head stripped the equity from the properties and sold them, leaving the homeowners without property and with more financial hardship.

The case took years to go to trial, but a federal jury in Sacramento, California, convicted Head on February 13, 2013, on charges of mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Sixteen other individuals either pled guilty or were convicted at trial for their involvement in the scheme.

At Head’s sentencing hearing on September 3, 2014, federal prosecutors used the weapon conviction as an enhancement. Head’s attorney said the conviction had been in error. The gun had always been properly registered in Head’s name. Head said he bought the weapon in the late 1990s, after he left the military.

“I can’t go back and change the plea in this case, but it was not factually supported,” his attorney said. “And my position is that if Mr. Head’s counsel had given him accurate information, then that conviction should not have ever been entered because it didn’t have the factual predicate necessary for the conviction.” U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller said the state courts were the proper venue for that issue, and she sentenced Head to 35 years in prison.

On January 7, 2021, Head filed a pro se motion to withdraw his plea and vacate his conviction for illegal possession of a weapon. On February 19, 2021, the Orange County District Attorney filed a stipulation, agreeing that the weapon was legally registered to Head at the time of his arrest and joining in Head’s motion for the dismissal of his conviction. Judge Jonathan Fish of Orange County Superior Court granted the motion to vacate the conviction and then granted a separate order to dismiss the charge, ruling that Head was “factually innocent.”

In 2022, Head filed a pro se civil-rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against several La Habra officers involved in his case.

Also in 2022, Head filed a petition in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California to adjust his sentence based on the weapons conviction being dismissed.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 5/9/2022
Last Updated: 5/9/2022
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2005
Age at the date of reported crime:31
Contributing Factors:Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No