Caleb Mason | Partner
Caleb Mason has a long track record of success in complex cases, in federal and state courts, from investigation and trial through appeal. He’s also a widely-cited commentator on criminal justice and legal affairs. Caleb was formerly a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of California, and has practiced here in Los Angeles for the past decade.
Georgetown University (J.D.)
Colby College (BA)
Columbia University (Ph.D.)
Recent Case Results
- Conviction vacated, case dismissed. Caleb’s client was serving a 14-year sentence for drug trafficking when Caleb took on the case for appeal. Caleb attacked the evidence underlying the identification of the client and the credibility of the case agent. After protracted litigation in the Ninth Circuit and the District Court, the government agreed to vacate the conviction and dismiss the case. The client walked free and went home to his wife and three young children.
- $2.26 million judgment for false arrest. Caleb’s client had been falsely accused by her neighbor, a sheriff’s department detective, of attempting to run over the neighbor’s daughter with her car. She was arrested, lost her job, and faced years in prison based on the accusation. Video evidence proved that the accusation was meritless, and the court issued a judgment of factual innocence in favor of Caleb’s client. Caleb then filed a civil rights lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, alleging that the accusation was malicious and retaliatory, and part of a long-running dispute between the neighbors after Caleb’s client had complained to the sheriff’s department that the detective was parking her cars in the client’s driveway, and driving across her driveway and lawn, so she wouldn’t have to move her cars in her own driveway. Caleb’s client was so afraid of her neighbor after the false accusation that she was driven out of her own house and forced to relocate. The evidence at trial showed that the detective had intervened with a sheriff’s department sergeant after the initially responding deputies had determined that no arrest was necessary—a fact which had not been mentioned in the arrest reports. After trial in federal district court, the jury found that the detective had maliciously used her official authority to procure Caleb’s client’s wrongful arrest, and awarded damages of $2.265 million, one of the largest civil rights judgments of the year.
- Charges dropped, client declared factually innocent by court. Caleb is one of only a few lawyers in California who have won multiple contested motions for a judicial determination of factual innocence under Penal Code section 851.8. Being accused of a crime brings a lot of collateral consequences, even if the charges are dropped or the defendant is acquitted. Section 851.8 is the only way for a person accused of a crime to obtain a final court order finding that he or she is actually innocent of the charges. But the motions are very rarely granted, because the law sets a very high standard, essentially the converse of the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in a criminal prosecution: the petitioner has to prove based on the evidence that no reasonable person could believe he committed the offense alleged. Courts very rarely grant the motions, particularly when the prosecution opposes them. And the prosecution almost always opposes them, even when it drops the charges or loses at trial. Caleb is one of only a few lawyers in California who has prevailed in factual innocence motions over government opposition, and he’s done so in high-profile cases. Here are two examples:
- Caleb’s client was a high-profile entertainer accused of sexual assault. Caleb investigated the case and coordinated with the DA’s office and the LAPD, urging them to drop the case based on evidence of factual innocence. The DA ultimately agreed. Caleb then sought, and won, a judicial determination of factual innocence under Penal Code section 851.8.
- Caleb’s client was a retired police officer accused of sexual assault and kidnapping, and facing a possible life sentence. Caleb investigated the case and was able to prove—based on analysis of street-surveillance-camera footage he was able to obtain from the city—that the allegations were not consistent with the facts. He attacked the DA’s case at a day-long preliminary hearing, following which the DA decided to drop the case. Caleb then marshalled that forensic evidence and sought, and won, a judicial determination of factual innocence under Penal Code section 851.8.
- Client acquitted on First Amendment defense. Caleb’s client was a political blogger charged with making threats against FBI officials on his blog. The FBI arrested him in a predawn raid and held him in custody for a year before trial. His only alleged crime was his political speech. Caleb took on the case and mounted a First Amendment defense at trial. He put on evidence, including expert-witness testimony from a tech-industry journalist, showing that the types of statements and images that the government charged as “threats” were in fact ubiquitous in social media political discussions. He cross-examined multiple FBI agents, and established that they hadn’t closely or fully read the client’s blog, or placed it in context, and that the client had never done anything “threatening” other than post the blog. Caleb argued to the jury that the First Amendment has to protect speech we don’t like to hear-- vulgar, unpopular, rude, and offensive speech. Constitutional rights protect the marginalized and outcasts, the least among us. The jury acquitted Caleb’s client on some counts, and deadlocked on the remaining ones. The judge ordered the client released immediately, and the government dropped the remaining charges.
- Improper supervised release violation sentence reversed, clear rule established for all releasees. Caleb’s client was finishing a period of federal supervised release. On the last day before the term expired, her probation officer called her in and told her he was going to try to have her sent back to custody for allegedly violating the terms of her supervised release. He filed his petition that day, and then, weeks later, filed another petition making dozens of new allegations. Caleb was appointed to represent the client on appeal, and he challenged the probation officer’s actions. He argued—in a case of first impression in the Ninth Circuit—that the government could not bring new and unrelated violation charges after the supervised release term had ended. He argued the case before a panel of Ninth Circuit judges, and the court agreed, in a published decision that now protects the rights of all federal defendants throughout the western United States.
- Firefighters’ First Amendment rights vindicated in high-profile retaliation cases. Caleb has represented firefighters’ unions around Southern California, including two high-profile civil-rights lawsuits alleging that city officials retaliated against the unions and their members for exercising their First Amendment rights to engage in political speech and organization. City officials were alleged to have instituted meritless, retaliatory disciplinary investigations against union leaders, cancelled promotions and promotional exams, refused (during a major wildfire season) to allow firefighters to deploy with wildfire crews, and secretly surveilled and video-recorded union members around the firehouse. Both cases settled on the eve of trial after a long and hard-fought discovery process. In one case, the City of Downey settled with the union and its members for $3.7 million. In the other case, the City of La Verne settled with the union and its members for $5.5 million.
- Felony threat charges dropped in high-profile case. Caleb represented a client in a high-profile case involving alleged death threats phoned into a mosque, just before the 2016 election. Caleb investigated the case and found significant evidence indicating that the client had been misidentified and was not, in fact, the caller, and the government dismissed the threat charge.
- Complete defense judgment in large financial fraud case. Caleb defended a major financial institution in a multi-million dollar fraud case. After a lengthy trial, the court found in favor of Caleb’s client on all counts.
- Settlement for family of jail inmate who committed suicide. Caleb represented the family of a jail inmate who hung himself in a holding cell while a jailer sat in the next room on the other side of a glass window. The case alleged that the City and the private company that was contracted to run the jail failed to properly monitor the inmate and provide him with proper protection and treatment. The case settled for a confidential amount.
- Negligent homicide cases. Caleb has represented multiple clients charged with negligent homicide after being involved in fatal car accidents. He has secured dismissals or no-custody probation dispositions for every one.
- Case dismissed in fraud and embezzlement case. Caleb represented the family members of a business executive who was alleged to have embezzled money from her company. The company sued the family members for receipt of stolen property, alleging that the executive had used company money to pay credit card bills for various expenses that benefited the family members. Caleb challenged the legal grounds for the suit, arguing that even if the allegations were true, the facts couldn’t support tort liability for the family members. After Caleb filed his brief, the company dropped all its claims against his clients.
- Case dismissed in inheritance dispute. Caleb represented a client who was embroiled in an inheritance dispute with a sibling. The sibling demanded a bigger share of the inheritance, and then filed a lawsuit accusing Caleb’s client of sexually assaulting him more than forty years earlier. Caleb challenged the suit in court, arguing that it was a transparent attempt to extort more money from the inheritance. The court agreed, dismissed the suit with prejudice, and imposed monetary sanctions on the sibling.
- Supervised release term reduced, entire fine returned by government. Caleb took on the appeal for a client who had been given a lifetime term of supervised release and a large fine for a non-violent offense. Caleb challenged the sentence on appeal, and during the proceedings, the government agreed to return the fine payment to the client, reduce the supervised release term to ten years, and allow the client to emigrate to Israel, where he is a citizen, immediately upon his release. The money is now waiting for the client, to support his fresh start and new life.
- Sentence vacated where court did not allow client to speak at sentencing. Caleb took on the appeal for a client charged with minor participation in a white-collar crime. The sentencing judge interrupted the client when he began his sentencing statement by apologizing to the court, and told the client that his apology was “b.s.” The client stopped speaking. Then the prosecutor stood up and made additional accusations. The client never got another chance to speak for himself. Caleb took the appeal and argued that the client had been deprived of his constitutional and statutory right to speak on his own behalf at sentencing. The Ninth Circuit agreed with Caleb’s argument, vacated the sentence, and remanded the case for resentencing before a different judge. The client received a reduced sentence on remand, and is now free and back with his family.
- Judgment against MySpace for illegally sharing client’s data. Caleb represented a client who had filed a pro se lawsuit against MySpace alleging that it illegally shared his private data with the government without a warrant. Instead of defending itself in the suit, MySpace argued that it wasn’t liable because its parent company had shifted its assets around through a series of shell companies, and that the “MySpace” that the client had sued had, in the interim, ceased to exist. Caleb investigated and researched a host of corporate records and public filings, and laid out for the court the whole history of the company’s maneuverings. The company, the court ultimately stated, had acted like “an 8-year-old playing hide and seek,” and entered a judgment for Caleb’s client.
Published decision: http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2018/02/28/17-50140.pdf
- Pro bono cases. Caleb has taken on numerous pro bono cases over the years, and achieved significant results for his clients. For example:
- Caleb successfully challenged the deportation of a Chinese man who had converted to Mormonism and feared persecution in China.
- Caleb took on the appeal of a woman whose husband and three children were U.S. citizens, but who had not become a citizen herself. After her husband died, the government sought to deport her to Mexico, despite the fact that her three minor children were U.S. citizens who had never lived in Mexico. Caleb successfully challenged the deportation order in the Ninth Circuit, and the client was granted residency.
- In another case, Caleb successfully challenged a deportation order against an Indonesian woman who sought asylum due to religious persecution. The government had changed her hearing date in a letter sent by regular mail, moving it to an earlier date. Like most immigrants, she didn’t have a lawyer, and when she appeared for the originally set hearing date, she was told that she’d already been ordered deported. The immigration court then rejected her written statement that she didn’t receive the notice, for failure to follow technical pleading requirements. Caleb took her case pro bono to the Ninth Circuit, and won, establishing a precedent that the if the government sends immigrants notices by regular mail, it is not entitled to a presumption of receipt, and that the government cannot reject pro se submissions based on technical pleading rules.
Published decision: http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2007/08/24/0474076.pdf
- In another case, Caleb represented a prisoner who sued pro se because he was denied dental care for months, while suffering in agony with abscesses that prevented him from eating. The government claimed there weren’t enough dentists available in the area to call anyone in—despite the fact that the prison was located just outside Las Vegas, a major city with plenty of dentists. The trial court sided with the government, but Caleb took the case on appeal in the Ninth Circuit and won.
- Workplace discrimination and harassment cases. Caleb has also represented plaintiffs alleging workplace discrimination—including, for example, a female electrician who was the only woman at a large construction site and alleged that she was sexually harassed by her supervisor; female creative employees at a large ad agency who alleged harassment and discrimination in pay—and has represented and advised companies responding to discrimination and harassment claims. And he has represented companies and business owners in numerous contract and business-litigation disputes.
- Victim’s rights cases. Caleb has represented crime victims as a Marsy’s Law attorney, defending their rights and interests in criminal proceedings, including multiple victims in a high-profile torture and abuse case. And he has represented numerous plaintiffs in section 1983 civil-rights cases, challenging abuses of power by government officials, including cases of excessive force, sexual assault by law enforcement officers, and retaliation against public employees.
- Expert witness and legal scholarship. Caleb has also served as an expert witness in drug smuggling cases, and has published dozens of articles on criminal law and procedure, including the first empirical study of the labor market for cross-border drug mules, based on a large-scale analysis of data drawn from thousands of arrests and prosecutions along the U.S.-Mexico border. And his article applying the second verse of Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” as a Fourth Amendment training tool has been adopted by educators and agencies across the country, in high school and college curricula, casebooks and textbooks, bar review and continuing legal programs, and law enforcement academies and training programs. Caleb also serves as a commissioner on the police commission (civilian oversight panel) for the City of Claremont, California.
-The Market for Mules: Risk and Compensation of Cross-Border Drug Smugglers, (with David Bjerk), 39 INTERNATIONAL REVIEW OF LAW AND ECONOMICS 58 (2014) (peer-reviewed)
-Fractured Group Speech Acts and the Holding of NFIB v. Sebelius, THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT DECISION, Routledge 2014 (Fritz Allhoff & Mark Hall, eds.) (peer-reviewed)
-Inter-Judge Sentencing Disparity on the Federal Bench: An Examination of Drug Smuggling Cases in the Southern District of California, 25 FEDERAL SENTENCING REPORTER 190 (2013) (with David Bjerk) (peer-reviewed)
-New Police Technologies, the Good-Faith Exception, and the Development of Fourth Amendment Law: Warrantless GPS Tracker Evidence After United States v. Jones, 13 NEVADA LAW JOURNAL 60 (2012)
-The Confrontation Clause and the Border Patrol: Applying the “Primary Purpose” Test to Multifunction Agencies, 96 MARQUETTE LAW REVIEW 793 (2013) (with Jessica Berch)
-Framing Context, Anonymous Internet Speech, and Intent: New Uncertainty About the Constitutional Test for True Threats, 41 SOUTHWESTERN LAW REVIEW 43 (2011)
-Blind Mules?: New Caselaw and New Data on the Border Smuggling Industry, CRIMINAL JUSTICE Vol. 26, No. 3, at 16 (Fall 2011)
-Jay-Z’s “99 Problems,” Verse 2: A Close Reading With Fourth Amendment Guidance for Cops and Perps, 56 ST. LOUIS UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW 567 (2011)
-Reprinted in HIP-HOP AND THE LAW: THE KEY WRITINGS THAT FORMED THE MOVEMENT, Palsgrave-Macmillan, 2015 (D. Cummings, ed.,)
-Reprinted in Slate: Longform, Sep. 12, 2012
-International Cooperation, Drug Mule Sentences, and Deterrence: Preliminary Thoughts from the Cross-Border Drug Mule Survey, 27 SOUTHWESTERN JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW 189 (2011)
-The Police-Prosecutor Relationship and the No-Contact Rule: Conflicting Incentives After Montejo v. Louisiana and Maryland v. Shatzer, 58 CLEVELAND STATE LAW REVIEW 747 (2010)
-A Rational Post-Booker Proposal for Reform of Federal Sentencing Enhancements for Prior Convictions, 31 NORTHERN ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW 339 (2011) (with Scott Lesowitz)
-The Use of Immigration Status in Cross-Examination of Witnesses: Scope, Limits, Objections, 33 AMERICAN JOURNAL OF TRIAL ADVOCACY 549 (2010)
-Reprinted in: 31 IMMIGRATION & NATIONALITY LAW REVIEW 923 (2010)
-What is Truth? Setting the Bounds of Justiciability in Religiously-Inflected Fact Disputes, 26 JOURNAL OF LAW AND RELIGION 91 (2010) (Peer-reviewed).
-An Aesthetic Defense of the Nonprecedential Opinion: The Easy Cases Debate in the Wake of the 2007 Amendments to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, 55 UCLA LAW REVIEW 643 (2008).
-Faith, Harm, and Neutrality: Some Complexities of Free Exercise Law, 44 DUQUESNE LAW REVIEW 225 (2006).
-Doctrinal Considerations for Fast Food Obesity Suits, 40 TORT TRIAL AND INSURANCE PRACTICE LAW JOURNAL 75 (2004) (Peer-reviewed).
-Conciliatory Eclecticism and the Philosophy of Kenelm Digby (2001) (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University) (on file with Butler Library, Columbia University) (Study of the philosophical works of Sir Kenelm Digby in the context of seventeenth-century intellectual developments such as the promulgation of Cartesianism and corpuscularianism, the impact of science on religion, and the foundation of the Royal Society.)
-Economic Rights and Global Capitalism: A Reply to Shue and Pogge, in CULTURAL INTEGRITY AND WORLD COMMUNITY 245 (Yeager Hudson & Cheryl Hughes eds., 2000) (peer-reviewed).
Caleb’s scholarship is widely cited by courts and commentators. He is ranked among the top 3% of authors in the Social Science Resource Network (SSRN), ranked by number of downloads. Many of his papers are available on SSRN at: http://ssrn.com/author=610079.
Popular and Practitioner-Oriented Publications
-“Don’t Pretend the Kavanaugh Facts Are Unknowable,” The Atlantic, Sep. 28, 201
-“On Criminal Justice, Kavanaugh Might Be More Centrist than Kennedy,” The Crime Report, July 24, 2018
-“Can Steve Bannon Claim Executive Privilege? Absolutely Not.” Op-Ed, Los Angeles Times, January 19, 2018
-“Jeff Sessions Can’t Shut Up,” Op-Ed, Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2017
-“Why Did South Carolina Punt on the Slager Case?” The Crime Report, May 8, 2017
-“Will Gorsuch Be Another Scalia on Criminal Justice Issues? Not Likely,” The Crime Report, Feb. 1, 2017
-“Utah v. Strieff: No Consequences for an Admittedly Illegal Seizure,” The Crime Report, Aug. 8, 2016
-“Why Is California Thumbing Its Nose at a Federal Court?” The Crime Report, March 17, 2016
-Reprinted in Prison Legal News, May 5, 2016.
-“Gang Validation, Good Time Credit, and the Ex Post Facto Clause in the California Prison System,” The Crime Report, Jan. 14, 2016
-“Challenging the Reliability of Drug-Dog Alerts After Florida v. Harris,” CaseText, Aug. 17, 2015
-“Was the Ferguson Grand Jury Misled?” The Crime Report, Feb. 19, 2015
-“What DAs Across the Country Can Learn from Ferguson,” The Crime Report, Jan. 6, 2015
-“Lender Liability to Guarantors: Doctrine, Pitfalls and Strategy,” Los Angeles Daily Journal, Nov. 24, 2014
-“Crime and ‘Religious Immunity’: Congress Needs to Set Limits,” The Crime Report, October 15, 2014
-“Refusing to Testify Against Your Church,” The Crime Report, October 14, 2014
-“The Real Fourth Amendment Problem: Getting Substantive Issues Decided at All,” The Crime Report, July 9, 2014
-“Cell Phone Ruling Is No Threat to Effective Policing,” The Crime Report, July 8, 2014
-“The Myth of ‘Activist’ Judges,” The Crime Report, Dec. 10, 2013
-“Can the Fourth Amendment Protect You from NSA Snooping?” The Crime Report, July 16, 2013
-“Searches and DNA: The Court Gets It Right,” The Crime Report, June 11, 2013
-“Drug Sniffing Dogs and 18th Century Justice,” The Crime Report, April 2, 2013
-reprinted in Salon as “Justice Scalia, Civil Libertarian?”
-“Plain View Computer Searches: General Petraeus’ Waterloo,” The Crime Report, Jan. 8, 2013
-“Drug Traffickers: Is Prison Time a Deterrent?” The Crime Report, Dec. 11, 2012
In The News
- NPR News, Nov. 19, 2018 (on the use of politicians’ rhetoric as evidence in criminal cases)
- MSNBC News, Dec. 26, 2017 (on White House attacks on the FBI)
- Law & Crime Network, Nov. 17, 2017 (on the Adam Matos murder trial)
- MSNBC, “Hardball,” Aug. 11, 2017 (on the Russia investigation developments)
- MSNBC News, Aug. 4, 2017 (on government leaks and DOJ subpoenas to journalists)
- MSNBC News, July 15, 2017 (on the Russia investigation and Trump campaign meetings)
- MSNBC News, June 10, 2017 (on the Russia investigation and Comey testimony)
- MSNBC News, May 20, 2017 (on the Russia investigation)
- Cheddar TV, January 12, 2017 (on conflicts of interest created by Trump family businesses)
- Cheddar TV, Dec. 23, 2016 (on constitutional issues raised by Palantir and government data-mining)
- CNN, Aug. 31, 2016 (on United States v. Wexler, internet threats case)
- Multiple networks, Aug. 2016-present (Joseph A. Bank suit commercial)
- MSNBC News and “Alex Witt Show,” July 2, 2016 (on the H. Clinton email investigation and the B. Clinton / L. Lynch meeting)
- MSNBC, “Alex Witt Show,” June 18, 2016 (on the Orlando shooting investigation)
- BBC News, Jan. 11, 2016 (on the Sean Penn-Chapo Guzman interview)
- MSNBC News, Nov. 3, 2015 (on the Houston anti-discrimination ordinance)
- MSNBC News, Sep. 9, 2015 (on the Kentucky gay-marriage standoff)
- MSNBC News, Sep. 8, 2015 (on the Kentucky gay-marriage standoff)
- MSNBC News, Sep. 3, 2015 (on the Tom Brady Deflate-Gate decision)
- MSNBC, “The Cycle,” July 30, 2015 (on the U. of Cincinnati shooting)
- MSNBC, “The Cycle,” July 20, 2015 (on the Bill Cosby deposition)
- Associated Press, July 11, 2015 (on contraband watch in California prisons)
- MSNBC, “The Cycle,” June 24, 2015 (on the Boston bombing case)
- MSNBC, “The Cycle,” June 5, 2015 (on the Dennis Hastert investigation)
- MSNBC, “The Cycle,” May 15, 2015 (on the Boston bombing case)
- San Diego Union-Tribune, May 2, 2015 (on border drug smuggling)
- MSNBC, “The Cycle,” May 4, 2015 (on the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore)
- MSNBC, “The Cycle,” Apr. 13, 2015 (on the South Carolina police shooting)
- MSNBC, “The Cycle,” Apr. 8, 2015 (on the Boston bombing case)
- MSNBC, “The Cycle,” Apr. 7, 2015 (on the Boston bombing case)
- MSNBC, “The Cycle,” Feb. 17, 2015 (on the Chris Kyle murder trial)
- MSNBC, “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,” Dec. 4, 2014 (on the police-prosecutor relationship)
- MSNBC, “The Cycle,” Dec. 4, 2014 (on Eric Garner case)
- MSNBC, “The Cycle,” Dec. 3, 2014 (on Eric Garner case)
- MSNBC, “The Cycle,” Nov. 25, 2014 (on Ferguson grand jury decision)
- MSNBC, Nov. 24-25, 2014 (on Ferguson grand jury decision)
- MSNBC, “The Cycle,” Nov. 21, 2014 (on Ferguson grand jury deliberations)
- MSNBC, “The Cycle,” Aug. 19, 2014 (on Ferguson investigation)
- USA Today, June 16, 2014 (on GPS tracking and United States v. Jones)
- The Guardian, June 2, 2014 (on contraband watch in U.S. prisons)
- St. Louis University Law Journal online, April 30, 2014 (on the 10-year anniversary of “99 Problems”)
- NBC News, May 30, 2013 (on cross-border drug trafficking)
- SFGate, February 6, 2013 (on the Chappell v. Mandeville case)
- Christian Science Monitor, April 4, 2012 (on the George Zimmerman case)
- Christian Science Monitor, March 29, 2011 (on the Barry Bonds case)
- KPCC, Madeleine Brand Show, July 13, 2012; Huffington Post, July 10, 2012; Slate, July 11, 2012; Gawker, July 11, 2012; Above the Law, July 11, 2012; Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2012; Hollywood Reporter, July 13, 2012; Riverfront Times, July 30, 2012 (on my “99 Problems” article)