Writes Deputy PD Hutchinson, “The overwhelming objective evidence proves that the Yolo County District Attorney’s prosecution of defendant in the above action is a vindictive prosecution motivated by a desire to punish defendant for exercising his constitutional right to a jury trial…”
The motion attached declarations from 14 attorneys in the Public Defenders Office, each of them attesting to the fact that they had never had a client charged with possession of pruno. Public Defender Tracie Olson, who was not among those filing affidavits, had previously told the Vanguard that she had never before heard of pruno prosecution in this county. “I can’t recall a single case.”
No one, not anyone in the Yolo County Public Defender’s Office, or the five private attorneys who are members of the conflict panel, argued Mr. Hutchinson, “can recall a single case, other than that of defendant, in which a defendant was criminally prosecuted by the Yolo County District Attorney for possession of pruno in the Yolo County Jail.”
It is not that possesion of pruno is rare.
“Although it is not uncommon for jail staff to find inmates in possession of pruno or to have consumed pruno, these incidents are generally handled administratively,” Mr. Hutchinson argues. “Indeed, other inmates who were found to be in the possession and/or under the influence of pruno during the same time period as defendant, and even on the very same day, were not prosecuted.”
He concludes, “There is simply no reasonable explanation, other than a desire to punish defendant for going to trial, as to why the Yolo County District Attorney, having not prosecuted any inmate for possession of pruno in recent memory, would suddenly choose to prosecute defendant, and only defendant, for such a crime.”
The case was set for a prehearing conference on the new charge, however, they will delay that hearing until October 15 as Mr. Couzens will have until October 8 to respond to Mr. Hutchinson’s motion.
On August 17 the Vanguard reported that 18-year-old Jesus Arias had been found guilty of a violation of probation, possession of a stolen weapon and a gang enhancement stemming from an incident in which the gang task force visited his home the day after his 18th birthday and found a rifle in his mother’s closet.
It was following the guilty verdict that what seemed a small and routine case turned strange, due almost entirely to decisions made by the prosecutor on this case.
As we reported on September 13 , Mr. Arias was found in possession of pruno – which is a form of “prison wine” or a homemade alcohol. Several individuals in the jail where Mr. Arias is being held waiting for sentencing were found in possession of pruno, yet only Mr. Arias has been charged with the crime.
At the September 10 sentencing hearing, DDA Couzens for the first time took the position that Mr. Arias should be sentenced to prison, despite the fact that the probation report recommended the court suspend imposition of sentence and place defendant on probation for three years.
DDA Ryan Couzens stood and stated that the defense motion’s claim that the two cases are connected is “just not true.” However, out of the other side of his mouth he acknowledged that the two cases were connected.
According to court transcripts quoted in the motion, Mr. Couzens stated, “Well, there’s, sort of, some griping about the new case, and then paragraph seven is, sort of, the basis for the motion to continue, which is ‘the new case could impact sentencing in the above action.’ That’s just not true …. We’re just awaiting sentencing on that case.”
“I can tell the court and counsel right now that, the new case, we’re willing to offer to just dismiss it with a Harvey waiver if he is willing to go to prison on the existing case, and it can be for, basically, the lowest calculable term, whatever the low-I’m not sure how, exactly, we would work out-working the time together with his custody credits or whatever. But that’s an offer we’re willing to make. But it’s just not legally correct that the new case affects the sentencing in the previous one.”
According to the motion, DDA Couzens had offered two separate probation offers to the defendant, the latest occurring just before the trial began.
Writes Mr. Hutchinson, “At the sentencing hearing, however, Mr. Couzens stated that the People were requesting that defendant be sentenced to prison, and would dismiss Case No. 10-4177 only if defendant were, in fact, sentenced to prison.”
“After Judge Rosenberg advised Mr. Couzens that he was inclined to give defendant a chance on probation, Mr. Couzens requested and was granted leave to file an amended complaint,” Mr. Hutchinson continued. “The amended complaint, which Mr. Couzens had signed the previous day, alleged a prior strike, based on the guilty verdict in Case No. 10-1587, which made defendant statutorily ineligible for probation.”
“There can be no dispute, however, that Yolo County Jail staff finds inmates in possession of pruno on a fairly regular basis,” Mr. Hutchinson continued in arguing that it was the sentencing hearing rather than the commission of the offense that led to the prosecution. “The only thing that distinguishes defendant from these other inmates is the fact that only the defendant had exercised his right to a jury trial and was pending sentence.”
Furthermore Mr. Hutchinson pointed out, “Although it is not uncommon, for a district attorney to make a pre-trial probation offer and then argue for the court to impose a prison sentence after a defendant is convicted at trial, that is not what happened in this case.”
Mr. Hutchinson in his motion continues, “Mr. Couzens did not simply argue for the court to impose a prison sentence based on the circumstances of the case. Rather, his office filed a crime that it had never prosecuted in recent memory, if ever, in order to prevent the court from granting defendant probation.”
He bolsters that argument by citing a discussion in which they approached the bench immediately after the jury had rendered its verdict and was discharged. Mr. Hutchinson writes, “Judge Rosenberg asked both Mr. Couzens and I to approach the bench. Judge Rosenberg asked: “‘You both agree this is a probation case?'” I responded “‘Yes.'” Mr. Couzens stated: “‘Well, I think the court can consider his entire record.'”
At the September 10 hearing, Judge Rosenberg asked Mr. Couzens and Mr. Hutchinson to approach the bench.
According to Mr. Hutchinson, “During the conversation, Judge Rosenberg asked Mr. Couzens if not for the new case, would he still be opposed to the Probation Department’s recommendation. Mr. Couzens responded ”’yes”’-it was now his position that defendant be sentenced to prison. Upon further inquiry by Judge Rosenberg, Mr. Couzens made it clear that he would not accept any resolution that did not involve defendant being sentenced to prison.”
This is an interesting revelation by itself because 186.22(a) is the stand-alone gang charge. You have a case involving a violation of probation and possession of a stolen weapon. But what do they want to stick? The gang charges.
This is very similar now to the Memorial Park incident, in which several of the co-defendants were offered “no prison time” in exchange for acknowledgments that they were gang members. This is more evidence that a priority in the DA’s office is to get gang acknowledgments. Are they doing this to help secure addition gang grant money?
A matter of concern is that during the trial, Mr. Couzens really made the case along with Detective Bautista from the gang task force, that Mr. Arias was a dangerous individual that they had to put away for the protection of the community. And yet a few weeks earlier he was offering no state prison, in exchange for admission on the gang charge.
Detective Bautista said that the way he sees it, this person does not have this gun for the purpose of hunting. He keeps it ready and can use it to commit a crime, and then dispose of it without the worry of having it connected to him, since it was a stolen weapon.
He said that gang members prefer to use stolen weapons for this reason. He said that for gang members, a gun is like a hammer for a carpenter. He also admitted that at the arrest of Arias in this case, though they found the gun, they found no gang clothing, no gang graffiti, no gang haircut, nothing to indicate that Arias was in a gang at that point – their reports also noted no gang-related objects of any kind.
The Colusa Sheriff Deputy, who encountered a drunk and boastful 16-year-old Jesus Arias, saying he was a proud Sureno and he was looking forward to putting in work for his gang, and was intending to commit criminal violent acts to build his reputation and move up the ranks, was dealt with by the Deputy with a phone call to his mother to come and pick up the boy.
The jury heard the rhyme from the MySpace page at the beginning, middle and end of the trial. The rhyme was used to emphasize the importance of guns for gangs and stated “Click click, bang, bang… kill a Nor puto win a prize, Kill a Sureno and your whole family dies… ” Despite all that fear-mongering, Probation wants to let him out. Perhaps they were told about the erased “gang” tattoo, unlike the jury who was prevented from hearing such evidence.
The bottom line is that, as I always believed, this was a thin case, based on little evidence and a lot of speculation on the level of danger that Mr. Arias represented to the community. The Probation Department agrees with that assessment and has recommended probation, despite the fact that Mr. Arias technically violated probation by knowingly being in the vicinity of the weapon.
In order to coerce Mr. Arias into prison time, Mr. Couzens has vindictively trumped up charges of pruno possession that, according to the Public Defender, is never charged in this county. The other individuals caught with the substance, all of whom are in the same position as Mr. Arias, awaiting sentencing, were not charged.
Mr. Arias should not go to prison based on possession of prison wine and Mr. Couzens needs to stop trying to waste court time and taxpayer money by pursuing this.
—David M. Greenwald reporting