DA Drops Case Rather Than Turn Over Phone in Arreola Case

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Yolo-Count-Court-Room-600In a move that surprised the judge and defense counsel, rather than turn over the phone to the defense, in the DA’s own office, Deputy District Attorney Sara Jacobsen dropped the charges in the Oscar Arreola case.

She indicated that they needed more analysis and thus more time to pursue the case.  So rather than put the matter on hold as Judge Gaard suggested, she dropped the charges.

However, she did indicate that the case would eventually be re-filed, stating, “I’d rather dismiss and refile.”

The move caught everyone involved off guard and they could only speculate the motivation as to whether the DA was hoping the matter would go before a different judge who would rule differently on the evidence or whether the DA was trying to buy time in order to be able to preserve evidence.

This followed a ruling late last week by the Third District Court of Appeals that denied a writ filed by the Attorney General’s office at the behest of the DA’s office.

The people have cited chain of custody issues, as well as conflicting orders by Judge Gaard.  They have consistently argued that the defense “has no right to an independent examination of the cell phone.”

However, both Judge Gaard and now the appellate court have ruled against them.  The defense believes there is something on that phone that the DA’s office does not want them to get  ahold of.

“Had the Superior Court simply allowed a representative from the. District Attorney’s office to be present during the examination-as the Superior Court originally ordered on March 25, 2011,” the writ argues, “these concerns would have been eliminated, along with any concerns relating to the District Attorney’s duty to maintain the chain of custody of the cell phone.”

They continue, “But the Superior Court did not do so and instead chose to compromise by ordering the examination to take place at the District Attorney’s office.”

They add, “However, this does not lessen the concern because the Superior Court ordered the expert’s examination to be private, without any personnel from the District Attorney’s office present. Thus, the District Attorney is in no better a position of protecting the integrity of the data on the cell phone than they would be if the examination were to take place at the expert’s own office.”

The question is whether this is simply a smokescreen.

Already this case was questionable when the victim, who alleged Mr. Arreola, her former boyfriend, raped her, acknowledged that they had sex multiple times following the alleged rape, including the week of the rape.

The victim at that time also revealed there were additional text conversations between her and the defendant.  This is at the heart of the battle now.

The case caught our attention when Deputy DA Sara Jacobsen defied an order by Judge Gaard to turn over evidence to the defense.

Judge Gaard had ordered the DA to turn over Mr. Arreola’s cell phone to the defense.  In response, the prosecutor in the case, Deputy DA Sara Jacobsen, had said to Judge Gaard on the record and in open court that the DA would not comply with that court order.

Ms. Jacobsen informed Judge Gaard that while she understood the order, “I have still been informed by my supervisor that we will not be turning the phone over.”

However, just as it appeared that Judge Gaard would order the DA to show cause or face contempt, everything changed.

At a hearing on April 18 with Judge Gaard unexpectedly absent, a court order that lacked a proof of service  and was never sent to the public defender’s office, suddenly appeared in the file.  It appeared to contradict the previous order and to allow the DA to keep custody of the phone.

Filed on April 13, it ordered the People “to make available defendant Oscar Arreola’s cellular telephone for defendant’s expert’s inspection on April 18, at 9 am in Department 8.”  However, the defense could only view the phone “on the premises of the Yolo County District Attorney’s office on April 18, 2011.”

Judge Gaard, the following week, explained that this would have given the defense the ability to analyze the phone without the DA investigator being present.

The defense maintains they have the right to inspect evidence, unfettered by the DA’s office looking over their shoulder.  Moreover, Mr. Johansson argued it was unreasonable to require his expert to bring all of his equipment down from his office in El Dorado county and inspect the phone in the DA’s office.

Meanwhile, Ann Hurd argued that they were ready to comply with the order that they had seen on April 18.  However, she argued that there was nothing in that order that indicated the defense would be physically testing the phone or that the tests would be out of their presence.

Judge Gaard clarified the order, that it was to be on the premises of the DA’s office, but no DA was to be present.

Ann Hurd replied that if that is the court’s order, they will ask for a delay until May 12, to file a writ to the court of appeals.

Deputy Public Defender Dean Johansson objected that, for the second time, the DA’s office is refusing the court’s order.

On April 13, Judge Gaard had ruled that the People had a reasonable opportunity to “copy or otherwise memorialize the contents of the phone.”  She ruled, “Given the fact that the prosecution has had the ability to analyze the phone, in light of the qualifications of the expert who will analyze it for the defense and the defense’s agreement to waive any chain of custody objection, the People don’t have a valid reason for objecting to the defense request.”

Ms. Jacobsen had responded, “To be clear, we’re not objecting to it.  We’re saying we’re not going to turn it over unless somebody can be present to ensure that nothing is destroyed.

Judge Gaard responded, “You’re saying that, and I just told you that that’s not going to happen.”

Ms. Jacobsen responded that she needed another court date since she was told “we will not comply with that order.”

Judge Gaard responded, “Maybe you would like to get someone over here this morning to tell me why you’re not going to comply with the court order.”

Due to the dismissal, the hearing for the Pitchess motion, regarding officer personnel records, was not heard either.

—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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8 thoughts on “DA Drops Case Rather Than Turn Over Phone in Arreola Case”

  1. David M. Greenwald

    It’s worse than that, now you have a kid who knows he will be re-arrested, he had just bailed out with the help of relatives after spending three months in custody, to me the DA is playing games with people’s lives.

  2. JustSaying

    [quote]“The case caught our attention when Deputy DA Sara Jacobsen defied an order by Judge Gaard to turn over evidence to the defense.”[/quote]Are you sure this really is what happened, now twice? It seems there’s a difference between “defying a judge’s order” and arguing about what the order means (and what [u]might[/u] happen if the judge “clarifies” the order in a way the DA doesn’t want it to be changed).

    Your first-hand knowledge about what happened puts you in a better place to evaluate, but this looks like the kind of back-and-forth that goes on frequently in a courtroom. What did the judge do that made you think she was going to “order the DA to show cause or face contempt”?

    Was Mr. Johansson defying a judge’s order when he said on the record and in open court that “it was unreasonable to require his expert to bring all of his equipment down from his office in El Dorado county and inspect the phone in the DA’s office”?

    Seems as though the parties could have come to agreement if the judge hadn’t made confusing and conflicting orders. Why didn’t the defense want the DA “looking over their shoulder” as they evaluated evidence? But, when the judge ruled that their evaluation could be in private if they waived any CoC issues, how did Ms. Hurd attempt to justify the DA’s intent?

    The defense thinks they’ll find exculpatory evidence on the phone. Maybe the DA’s evaluation hasn’t been able to turn up anything yet that could make this such a critical issue to the defense, and he wants time to keep looking.

    Facinating story, David. It’ll be interesting to see whether this charge is refiled.

  3. Fight Against Injustice

    It sounds like the DA dropped this case for one of two reasons:

    1. They don’t want the defense to have some information that is on the phone.
    2. They finally realized how weak their case is.

    If this statement below is true, then this is a weak case.
    “Already this case was questionable when the victim, who alleged Mr. Arreola, her former boyfriend, raped her, acknowledged that they had sex multiple times following the alleged rape, including the week of the rape.”

    I can’t imagine a woman would willingly have sex with someone who has raped her in the past.

  4. Iyah

    The one thing I am still having issue with is:

    “On April 13, Judge Gaard had ruled that the People had a reasonable opportunity to “copy or otherwise memorialize the contents of the phone.”

    On April 13 when the Judge said this the prosecutor already had this phone for quite some time. Now is is late May – an additional 1.5 months and they still have not copied or otherwise memorialized the contents of the phone. The DA’s office made a big To Do in the papers about their new Hi-Tech unit in their office. Answer me this – Why can’t they copy the contents of the phone? Maybe they should take the phone down to Verizon and ask them to do it. What a waste of our tax dollars in all directions, beginning with an inability to copy a cell phone to wasting court’s valuable time and ending with playing games with this man’s life.

  5. debjeff051510

    If you have sat in a Yolo County Court for any length of time it would become quite clear to you that Yolo County Court is a JOKE! The District Attorneys Office in that county does whatever the heck they want. I have seen Mr. Vroman from that office practically throw himself on the ground kicking and screaming!!!!! WOW!!! So when is Yolo County going to be accountable for its County Offices and the people working in them? Missing files, missing papers, da says they did not get order to produce in time when clearly the defense lawyer has certified mail reciept with a signature from his office in court. They have been allowed to lie in open court and noone does anything about it. When you fix whats going on behind the scenes in your county then you might be able to get “due process”. Come on Yolo County the rest of the world is on board when will you decide to comply?

  6. JustSaying

    [b]debjeffetc.[/b], where are you from? Please be more specific about what you’ve seen in our county courtrooms. What ARE you talking about here? Thank you.

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