In what began as a routine drug possession for sale and transportation case took several odd turns that led Judge Paul Richardson to deny a holding order on the sale and transportation charges for the main target of the investigation, Jeremy Deaton.
Agent Gary Richter, a Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputy working for YONET (Yolo Narcotic Enforcement Team), testified as both the investigating officer and expert witness for the prosecution. He described receiving a tip on January 8, 2015, by a confidential informant that led Agent Richter and a YONET team to conduct surveillance on a motel on Main Street in Woodland.
They observed the suspect leaving the motel in a van, the van drove around the block and doubled back to the motel. Driving an unmarked car, they tailed the subjects and eventually put the lights on. The van did not immediately stop, but ultimately yielded.
The subjects were detained at this point – Jeremy Deaton and a female, Shawndra Cline, also known as Shawndra Duffy. Agent Richter testified that they conducted a search of the motel room. He said they found roughly .3 grams of meth along with multiple broken meth pipes in the motel room.
He said that the motel room was registered under a fictitious name, but he found indicia in the form of bills and medical documents that tied the room to both Mr. Deaton and Ms. Cline (as referred to by Agent Richter, while the court referred to her as Ms. Duffy).
Agent Richter further testified that the van was searched and they found a scale in Ms. Cline’s purse. Agent Richter said they he had a female deputy search Ms. Cline’s person and after a lengthy search they uncovered a bag of meth, approximately half an ounce, in Ms. Cline’s vagina.
After describing fully his investigation, Gary Richter was asked to testify as an expert witness. The defense stipulated to this for the purposes of the preliminary hearing. Agent Richter testified that, in his expert opinion, having worked in YONET for four years and having taken various training courses on drugs, the drugs found in Ms. Cline’s vagina were possessed for the purpose of sales.
He argued this based on several factors. First, the amount of the meth was routinely a standard for sale. Second, while he has seen some drug users with scales in their homes to make sure they are getting the proper amount, her having a scale in her purse suggested that she intended to sell the meth.
Third, he believes that when they delayed in pulling over, this indicated that they were hiding the drug. Finally, he cited the information given to him by the confidential informant.
Under cross-examination from Deputy Public Defender Teal Dixon, representing Mr. Deaton, she asked Gary Richter the nature of the information provided by the informant. After some discussion, Deputy DA Larry Eichele stated that, for the purposes of the preliminary hearing, the information should be privileged under the statutes that protect confidential informants. He noted that should this case go to trial, he would likely be required to disclose the content of the informant’s tip, but not at this time.
Judge Richardson would overrule the objections of Ms. Dixon, but stated that, for the purposes of the preliminary hearing, the surveillance and investigation would be the basis for the belief that this meth was possessed for sale.
This would turn out to be a critical error on the part of the prosecution.
The burden of proof in a preliminary hearing is probable cause or is it more likely than not that a reasonable person would reach a given conclusion. In this case, he warned the prosecution he thought the leap here was too great from Ms. Duffy possessing the meth in her person to believing that Mr. Deaton by extension possessed that meth for sale.
Judge Richardson stated that he had not seen enough evidence to connect the drugs found on Ms. Duffy’s person to Mr. Deaton.
With no direct evidence tying the meth to Mr. Deaton, Judge Richardson declined to issue a holding order. Mr. Deaton was held to answer on the misdemeanor possession charges and Ms. Duffy was held to answer on the transportation and sale of meth charges.
Judge Richardson declined to release Ms. Duffy on her own recognizance despite indications that the case could be settled as soon as Friday when they meet again. Mr. Deaton still has to deal with violation of probation charges on previous drug cases that were handled as Prop. 36 matters at the time.
—David M. Greenwald reporting