Topete Case Continues To Highlight Flaws in Yolo County Justice System

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Yolo-Count-Court-Room-600Judge Richardson Denies Six Month Continuance, but Pushes Back Trial At Least Until January 2011 –

Judge Paul Richardson denied the motion of Marco Topete, acting as his pro per counsel, a motion to continue the jury trial for an additional six months.  In so doing, he argued that the burden for a continuance was on the moving party to extend the trial and that in his motion Mr. Topete had not shown good cause.

Specifically, he failed to provide a timeline of how much time he would need, he failed to identify specific investigations that were needed and the time it would take to complete these investigations, and failed to identify expert witnesses that would be retained and the work they would need to perform in preparation for the trial.

Nevertheless, the facts of the case dictated that Judge Paul Richardson acknowledge that January would be the very earliest that a trial would begin.  In part, that is due to the retention now of both Thomas Purtell and Hayes Gable as advisory counsel. 

Mr. Gable informed the court that he is the midst of a Federal Court Trial that he expects will last 45 days, going three days a week, which would take him into late January.

The people argued vigorously against any future delays.  Garrett Hamilton, the supervising Deputy DA, told the court, “It is my understanding that pro pers in Sacramento County… are entitled to two hours a week in the law library.”

He continued, “[Mr. Topete] has to understand that’s one of the downsides of representing himself.  I’m sure he’s finding that out.”

Mr. Hamilton also objected to any asserted “right to confidential counsel,” arguing, “He didn’t like the fact that his office, for lack of a better term, his jail, was subject to surveillance.  That’s also something that’s just a reality of his living conditions and the situation that he’s in.  That cannot possibly be a basis to continue because he wants to confidentially prepare.  Sacramento, I’m sure, has rules, especially for people who are in custody for killing police officers or deputy sheriffs.”

Garrett Hamilton had objections to any further delays based on the appointment of Mr. Gable as advisory counsel and his federal trial schedule.  “Here’s the thing, we’re talking about giving him two lawyers for advisory counsel,” he argued, “The reality is for a trial date, it doesn’t matter what Mr. Gable is doing for the next six weeks because Mr. Purtell, who is yet another advisory counsel, can work with Mr. Topete to get ready for a trial, especially if Mr. Gable is going to agree to let him use his computer, his fax machines, and his secretary that Mr. Purtell was so adamantly complaining about.”

Mr. Topete then met with his advisory lawyers.  Following a lengthy recess, he agreed to take on Mr. Gable and Mr. Purtell as advisory counsel, under the condition that his trial be postponed until March.

Judge Richardson said that there would be no bargaining by the court and certainly not over the issue of advisory counsel.  He said he would set an appropriate date and he cannot guarantee that March would be an appropriate date. He said he was not precluding it, however, he did not want to be in a position where the court was bargaining over a trial date.

Mr. Topete told Judge Richardson that he was not trying to bargain, but he was concerned about Mr. Gable’s trial schedule. He also expressed concern about Mr. Purtell’s stated position regarding the need for resources, stating, “If Mr. Gable is not going to be available, given his trial schedule, then he’s not going to be available for either Mr. Purtell or myself.”

Judge Richardson responded, “That is the reality, you hit on something, I just don’t want to be in that position.  I will take into account the need you will have to meet and confer with your advisory attorneys in this case.”

Judge Richardson argued that this arrangement will expedite the case, as both are not only skilled attorneys, but also very familiar with all aspects of the case.

However, that did not stop District Attorney Jeff Reisig from grandstanding about the issue and the need for a fair and speedy trial, not only for Mr. Topete but for the family of the victim.

“What I would ask the court to keep in mind is while the defendant has the right to a fair trial, we appreciate and respect that,” Mr. Reisig said.  “Marcy’s Law guarantees that the victims in this case also have the right to a fair trial, to a speedy trial, and to due process.”

“I bring that up because the family that’s behind me, has been here going on over two years, quietly and patiently waiting for a trial.  So as we sit here today after 28 months, talking about coming back in two weeks to set a trial. I would urge the court, let’s set the trial today and acknowledge that this family of the victim has a right to due process, as well.”

While that may make a powerful emotional argument and the DA likes to speak about reality, the reality is that they need to take the time to get this right, the first time.  Because the worst thing that could happen to the family of the victim is that they go through the whole trial, they convict Mr. Topete, and they have a flawed court process and it gets thrown out after ten years and suddenly they have to come back and have another trial ten years down the line because they rushed things through today.  How will the family of the victim feel then?

The other issue that was addressed was Mr. Topete’s time allotted to him at the Sacramento County Jail’s law library.  Judge Richardson issued an order to allow him his designated two hours.

Garrett Hamilton spoke, “I just don’t think we’re in the position to tell the Sacramento Jail to change their policies and privileges for pro pers.”

He reiterated that he is not aware of any right for Mr. Topete to confidentially prepare his case without the jail’s surveillance.  “If we need an authority to address that, we can.  But he’s in the jail, they have to watch him.”

Judge Richardson reminded Mr. Topete that he knowingly signed an agreement whereby he would not get any more time in the law library than pro per defendants are ordinarily allowed.

Judge Richardson said, “When you waived your right to counsel there were several things that you signed off on.  One was that you were not entitled to, nor would you receive any special consideration or assistance from the court.”

“If I am in custody I will receive no more library time or privileges than are available to any pro per defendant.  In addition to provision number nine, that I will seek no extra time for preparation,” he continued.

For whatever reason, Sacramento County allows considerably less time in the law library than other counties.  For instance, Tulare County allows more access, up to ten hours per week.

It seems like an odd system overall, individuals are entitled to counsel, and they are allowed to represent themselves in trial, yet the system imposes additional burdens on pro per defendants beyond their simple lack of expertise.

As such, Mr. Topete is under around-the-clock surveillance, even as he attempts to prepare his own defense, which should be privileged information. 

To me, the first priority in this case should not be speed, but to do it correctly.  As I stated earlier, a misstep by the prosecution, whether it is in denying the defendant’s rights or the failure to move the trial to a location that will ensure a more fair trial, may result in the case being overturned.

If the concern is with the rights of the victim’s family, and Mr. Reisig certainly referenced Marcy’s Law at least twice, then perhaps they ought to consider how the victim’s family feels if all of these shenanigans end up with the verdict being tossed out down the line.

In any case, Judge Richardson understood that, while he may desire to move the trial along, the reality is that we are looking at least into January, and probably March or later, before this trial begins.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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3 thoughts on “Topete Case Continues To Highlight Flaws in Yolo County Justice System”

  1. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “If the concern is with the rights of the victim’s family, and Mr. Reisig certainly referenced Marcy’s Law at least twice, then perhaps they ought to consider how the victim’s family feels if all of these shenanigans end up with the verdict being tossed out down the line.”

    What shenanigans are you referring to? Topete has been assigned not just one advisory counsel but two; will probably get the trial delayed until March; agreed to the 2 hr time limit wrt access to the law library; waived his right to complain about the lockout of the press/public during his arraignment. The defendant has shot himself in the foot over and over again by thinking he can represent himself in a system of rigid rules that is extremely complex and confusing. Topete has the right to be stupid, and has to take the consequences of being stupid as well. Being stupid is not an appealable issue in so far as I am aware…

  2. JustSaying

    I was under the impression that this article would “Highlight Flaws in Yolo County Justice System,” so where are they?

    From your account, it appears Judge Richardson carefully applied conditions already approved by the defendant in his pro per agreement. Furthermore, he gave well-reasoned explanations for the date he selected in pushing the trial into next year.

    Although I can appreciate your repeated expressions of concern for the feelings of the victim’s family, I’m left wondering what you possibly could mean by “all of these shenanigans (that might) end up with the verdict being tossed out down the line.”

    Every crime victim’s family understands (even though they might not appreciate it much) that trials end in not-guilty findings as well as guilty verdicts that are over-turned on appeal. I’d guess that all but one of the parties involved in the investigation and trial have confidence that they’re taking “the time to get this right, the first time….”

    You seem to suggest there’s something wrong with the prosecutors arguing against further delays in this trial. Is “justice delayed is justice denied” for anyone but the accused? DA Reisig cited the California constitution’s amendment guaranteeing “a [u]victim’s[/u] right to justice and due process”–why do you label it “grandstanding” for him to use the law to argue against yet even more delays.

    Isn’t it the DA’s constitutional duty to work for “a speedy trial and a prompt and final conclusion of the case and any related post-judgment proceedings” for the victims (as well as the person charged)?

    If anything, this article actually continues to highlight the flaws–no, the outright stupidity and possible arrogance–in deciding to defend one’s own self in a capital murder trial. Why would Mr. Topete waste time asking for things he’s already agreed to forego, then not even attempt to “show good cause” for the things he’s requesting?

    Maybe it’s time for the Judge to have a hearing to determine whether Mr. Topete is unable to understand the proceedings against him or properly to assist in his own defense, let alone [u]handle[/u] his own defense.

  3. E Roberts Musser

    JustSaying: “Maybe it’s time for the Judge to have a hearing to determine whether Mr. Topete is unable to understand the proceedings against him or properly to assist in his own defense, let alone handle his own defense.”

    Nice summation above. As to your last comment, fortunately the insanity defense does not include the “stupidity defense”.

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