However, Mr. Ramirez attempted to withdraw his plea, citing ineffectual counsel, and Attorney Robert Spangler was appointed to investigate whether there was a legal basis for this claim.
Yolo County Chief Deputy DA Jonathan Raven issued a statement expressing surprise by the decision by Mr. Ramirez to withdraw his plea, calling it “buyer’s remorse,” but also stated that it was not uncommon for a defendant to seek to back out of an agreement.
The victim’s attorney, Amar Shergill, was more strident, suggesting that Mr. Ramirez should take the plea agreement offered.
“He should be careful what he wishes for,” Mr. Shergill said. “He could wind up in front of a jury and do worse than the 13-year sentence he agreed to.”
The key question is whether Mr. Ramirez uttered racial slurs during the attack. Mr. Ramirez’s wife, who was present, told Fox 40 News in Sacramento that alcohol, rather than racism, had clouded his judgment.
“My husband made a huge mistake, but race was not involved and there were no racial slurs,” she told the TV station.
According to the DA’s press release in March, “During the cab drive, Ramirez shouted racial epithets and accused Mr. Singh of being Muslim. Ramirez punched Mr. Singh in the face approximately ten times while Morales punched him from behind.”
As the Vanguard reported on March 8, according to Mr. Singh’s testimoney, as Mr. Ramirez punched Mr. Singh, he shouted profanity strung together with racial epithets, at one point calling the victim Osama Bin Laden and at another point calling him an Iranian.
Mr. Singh, who was wearing a turban at the time of the assault, responded by saying, “I’m from India. I’m not a Muslim.”
However, according to Officer Bowers’ reports, there is no indication that Mr. Singh ever mentioned to Officer Bowers that any comments regarding ethnicity or race were made to him during the assault.
As Public Defender Tracie Olson, who represented the co-defendant Mr. Morales, argued in a [Penal Code] 995 motion to dismiss following the preliminary examination, “Even if it is assumed that Mr. Ramirez made the inflammatory statements to Mr. Singh – namely, “F- you, Osama Bin Laden” and “F- you, Iranian” – all witnesses agree that the statements were made contemporaneously with the assault and after the issue or disagreement regarding the money occurred.”
Penal Code 995 allows for moving to dismiss if the preliminary exam produces insufficient evidence to be held to answer for the alleged crimes.
As she argued, “The law does not criminalize intolerant or bigoted language.”
Instead, “The law criminalizes actions that are motivated by intolerance or bigotry.”
“While Mr. Ramirez’s statements are circumstantial evidence of his motivation, this is the only evidence of a biased motivation that exists,” she continued.
Fox 40 confirms part of this view, as they note, “A copy of the police report obtained by FOX 40 shows Singh said nothing about any racist comments until two days after the attack. Singh also originally told West Sacramento Police that two men had tried to rob him, but later told officers no attempted robbery took place.”
Mrs. Ramirez told Fox 40 that her husband normally “…is not the kind of man to go around attacking people,” but that he was very drunk. She said they would “…like to go to trial and leave it up to a jury.”
However, in our view that would be an unwise move for Mr. Ramirez.
It is true that he probably did not commit a hate crime.
Moreover, having observed the hearings, I would understand how Mr. Ramirez, whose attorney was repeatedly denigrated by Mr. Fall, would believe his attorney failed to provide adequate representation. That is something that Judge Fall, who is known for his temper and criticism of attorneys, may wish to think about.
At the same time, there is no doubt that Mr. Ramirez was involved in a senseless and particularly vicious act. There is very little doubt that Mr. Ramirez, even if he beat the hate crime charge, could well face charges for attempted murder and be convicted of those and therefore potentially face much more time than that he was to have been sentenced to.
The co-defendant in this case is another story, and based on the evidence available, is likely innocent of all charges. He pled to PC 245, assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury. The court imposed 300 days in jail and Mr. Morales has currently 238 days credit for time served (including good behavior).
In a statement to the probation department, “Mr. Morales has always maintained the he did not assault Mr. Singh, nor did he aid Mr Ramirez’s assault of Mr. Singh.”
He had the corroboration of several witnesses.
Ultimately, he took the plea deal because he was “aware that if a jury found otherwise and he was convicted of attempted murder and the alleged hate crime enhancement that he could have been sentenced from 7 to 13 years in state prison.”
With a wife and four children, and their primary source of financial support, he simply “accepted this plea offer because he wants to ensure a life with his family, not because of his culpability in the crime.”
His counsel further offered, “Mr. Morales is sorry for what happened to Mr. Singh; he plays the images of what he saw back in his mind and is disgusted by the memories.”
Mr. Morales felt the need to plead to charges that he did not feel he committed. He watched while Judge Fall held him to answer for the charges in the complaint. He then had to watch the DA add the attempted murder charge after the fact.
As his attorney Tracie Olson said, “He never had the chance to address that charge head on at the preliminary hearing.”
By accepting the plea, Mr. Morales sought to avoid the risk a jury trial entailed. It is of course easy to sit back from the sidelines and criticize a decision when you are not the one taking the risk and having to pay the consequences.
Unfortunately, our system sets it up that an innocent person has to plead to something that he did not do as the best course of action.
Mr. Ramirez would be wise to take the plea agreement that he has been offered. What he did was horrific and he deserves proper punishment for it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting