Sunday Commentary: No Justice for Justice

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In the days following the arrest and charging of Samantha Green for the death of 20-day-old Justice Rees, there was anger and outrage throughout the county, and especially in Woodland. So many different kinds of things went wrong in this case, it’s hard to put a finger on just one.

One point that remains difficult to fathom and stomach was how the baby was allowed to remain in the custody of the mother when the baby was born with meth in his system. Confounding that is the reputation for Yolo County and Yolo County Child Protective Services for being among the toughest around in terms of willingness both to remove babies from dangerous situations and to terminate parental rights.

We have personal experience, both in terms of the willingness of Yolo County to act, and the reluctance of several other counties to do the same.

It is unfortunate that state laws, designed to protect the vulnerable children, act to shield public agencies like Yolo County from scrutiny. Yolo County put out a statement noting, “Due to the ongoing investigation concerning the death of Justice Rees, however, state law prohibits Yolo County from releasing any specific case records at this time.”

“As we and the community mourn the loss of this child, we are sympathetic to the media and the public’s desire for more information,” said Yolo County Counsel Phil Pogledich. “However, child welfare records are confidential under state law and, generally, cannot be released until the completion of a criminal investigation into the circumstances of a child’s death. We will promptly release all that can be disclosed following the completion of the criminal investigation in this matter.”

However, our chief concern at this point is the criminal matter. Many were stunned that Ms. Green was charged with involuntary manslaughter following the initial investigation and arrest. Remember, the reputation of the Yolo County District Attorney’s office is to charge everything to the hilt.

Instead, they stunned many by charging Ms. Green with a charge that would have allowed her to be released in, at most, four years. This fact belies the inequitable nature of our criminal justice system.

We just ran a series of studies on Juan Fuentes, who was sentenced to 16 years in jail. If we believe the account of events, Mr. Fuentes was involved in a fight with several other individuals against an individual who sustained no injuries, and Mr. Fuentes may have taken the victim’s bicycle.

Ms. Green was charged with killing her baby, and yet her sentence would have been one-fourth of the one given to a man involved in a fight and a robbery. And the jury didn’t reach a verdict on the assault charges in that case.

Naturally, the Yolo County Public Defender’s office wasn’t going to look the gift horse in the mouth. They submitted on Monday a motion for a change of plea. We don’t know what she would have changed the plea to, but the most likely outcome would have been a plea to the sheet.

In a plea bargain, there is an agreement, between the defense and prosecution, that the defendant would accept a charge or some charges in exchange for the remainder of charges to be dropped. In a plea to the sheet, the defendant pleads to all charges filed in the case, with no prior agreement regarding the sentence to be recommended to the judge.

The defendant, of course, has every right to plead guilty without the consent of the prosecution. The judge then has the sentencing guidelines to consider.

What happened in the case of Samantha Green is that the defense calendered the matter for Friday, indicating they would submit a change of plea. The very next day, the prosecution filed for an amended complaint with the stated intention to substitute the charge of involuntary manslaughter with murder.

Now the case went from a four-year sentence to a potential life term.

The Public Defender’s Office cried foul, arguing that this represented vindictive prosecution based on the timing of the DA’s declaration to file an amended complaint.

Deputy DA Robert Gorman argued that, while he agreed it had an appearance of potential impropriety given the timing of the change, the reality was that this was a complex case, very new, with an ongoing investigation. He maintained that they had new evidence that would support the charge.

There are, naturally, many people who will look at this crime and want to see the book thrown at the defendant here. Any time an innocent baby is the victim, the public’s sensibilities are violated.

There is no doubt in my mind that, based on the timing of the filings, the DA’s office filed for the amended complaint in response to the defense’s announcement that they were going to plead to the sheet. There can be no doubt there.

At the same time, I have little doubt –at least at this point – that, despite the fact that the DA was not willing to come forth with the new evidence, they probably do have a case for murder here. Ms. Green is naturally innocent until proven guilty.

Did they jump their timeline because of the potential for Ms. Green to plead to the sheet?  Probably, but we’ll never be able to prove it.  But, given the time, there can be little doubt that the DA expedited their filing so that they did not lose the opportunity to charge her with murder later.

Judge David Rosenberg was correct, the prosecution has a huge amount of discretion in how to charge a case, when to file charges, and the ability to file charges even during the trial if evidence warrants new charges. In the criminal justice system, the prosecutor is the single most powerful figure, because the DA’s office is the gatekeeper into who gets charged and with what.

In Yolo County there is little doubt that this prosecutor is going to charge most cases to the maximum extent possible. In this case, it was stunning that they would have initially charged her with something less than murder, not surprising that they would amend the complaint, and not surprising in the least that the judge would sign onto it.

As Mr. Gorman indicated, they will have to substantiate that charge at the preliminary hearing – that’s why such processes are in place and, given their public nature, they are the best and most fair option.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not point this out, the media spectacle was particularly unseemly to me. Why some cases end up high profile and not others is unclear. On Friday, the courtroom was packed with reporters.

Judge Rosenberg allowed tweeting from the courtroom by reporters. He granted one audio recording, a still photographer, and video footage without sound from one of the news stations.

The worst aspect was the video cameras and still photographers lined up on Third Street to capture the shot of Ms. Green being escorted by Sheriff’s Deputies from her holding cell to the main courthouse. One must wonder what public good that serves and, fortunately, it is a practice that will end as we get a new and larger courthouse, the opening of which has been delayed until June.

—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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32 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: No Justice for Justice”

  1. sisterhood

    “Ms. Green was charged with killing her baby and yet her sentence would have been one-fourth of the one given to a man involved in a fight and a robbery.”

    Nauseating. And her sentence will be lighter than Ajay Dev’s, (a brown skinned man), even if she is convicted. Kamala Harris must be asleep at the wheel.

    Is there any word on Mr. Dev’s brief?

  2. Tia Will

    My limited understanding at this point is that the mother was known to be addicted to meth. It would appear from reporting to date that she was or had recently been under the influence of meth at the time of her delivery. It would appear that baby Justice was exposed to meth and that this was known to medical and social service workers and yet he was released to the care of his mother and the extended family.

    What I would hope to see come out of this case is a review of processes and the realization that there is no safety for children in the home of meth dependent adults. Having grandparents identified as the responsible party is a singularly bad idea. These were the same people who were ostensibly in charge of raising the meth addict. Why exactly do we expect a better outcome from a family structure that has so obviously broken down in the first place.  Having served in the capacity of making family reunification recommendations for several years, I can attest that this is often not a winning strategy and certainly not when the mother is an active user at the time of the attempted reunification.

    I cannot speak to the legal side of this issue. However, from the medical side, this I know.

    1. Meth abuse is a disease. Just as we would not leave an infant in the care of a totally uncontrolled epileptic ( not because they are evil or a demon, but because their disease is uncontrolled) we should not be leaving children in the care of meth addicts regardless of what a family member says they will or will not do to mitigate the situation.

    2. Parental rights should never be given a higher priority than the well being of a child. To me it does not matter if the issue is meth addiction or domestic violence, the well being and safety of the child should be paramount. If this means that we should change laws to protect our most vulnerable, then we should do so.

    3. As a society, we should do what we can to prevent these tragedies. What we cannot do as has been amply demonstrated by the complete failure of “the war on drugs” is to stop people from using drugs. What we can do is to remove children from these toxic environments, every child, every time. This was a clear societal failure and this is where I see the opportunity for the most future benefit. Repeating, no child should every be returned to the home of a currently using meth addict.

    1. hpierce

      Tia:  this is NOT a “trick question”.  You have written about an implantable birth control device, that I recall you saying was highly reliable for pregnancy prevention, with little no adverse indications.  Forgetting any legal/ethical issues, would that device/medication be counter-indicated for a meth addict?  Strictly from a medical perspective.  I realize that this was not probably a “test group” for the device/medication, but was curious.  Am coming from the standpoint that meth addicts who are “active” in their addictions, should not be bearing children.

      1. Tia Will

        hpierce

        I think that this is a great question. I am in San Francisco so am not willing to look up the full profile of Nexplanon at this time. Off the top of my head, I am only aware of four contraindications to the use of Nexplanon. 1. A known progesterone dependent tumor 2. Undiagnosed uterine bleeding 3. Current pregnancy 4. Depression that has previously been demonstrated to worsen with administration of progesterone. As you might imagine, these would be very uncommon in the reproductive age group seeking contraception. I am unaware of any contraindication to a drug addict ( any drug, including alcohol or tobacco) using the Nexplanon.

        The known side effects are very mild. Usually involving a light but unpredicatble bleeding pattern which most women tolerate very well. This combination of attributes in addition to the fact that once in place there is nothing that the woman need to do for three years ( after which it must be replaced) makes it ideal for use for large segments of the population. What would be needed would be:

        1. The willingness of the manufacturer to make their money off bulk sales rather than off an extremely inflated per unit price. This is not a new device. Implantable progesterone has been around for around 20 years. Only the dosing and packaging has changed over time so this is not about the “cost of innovation”. It is about the profitability of keeping things as they are for the benefit of a few.

        2. A societal shift to accepting that it is no one else’s business what form of birth control a woman chooses, or a doctor chooses to place.

        3. An acceptance of the concept of prevention over remediation or worse yet punishment once a poor outcome has occurred.

        Lots of changes needed before we will see a proactive approach to the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

    2. Topcat

      What we can do is to remove children from these toxic environments, every child, every time. This was a clear societal failure and this is where I see the opportunity for the most future benefit.

      Yes, it is a tragedy to see children born into an environment of drug abuse.  It’s also tragic to see children born into environments of alcoholism, violence, and neglect. It would seem to make sense for societal institutions to do everything possible to provide birth control options so that people don’t bring unwanted children in to the world.  It always baffles me when I see opposition to providing birth control options to people.

      1. hpierce

        With “druggies”,whether that be alcohol, meth, (pick your poison), “judgement” as to wanted or un-wanted pregnancies due to a pleasurable act isn’t much ‘on-the radar’ (or “on” anything else).  I have reservations about pro-active birth control under the opinion that it can increase what I consider to be irresponsible sex.  But by ~ a 500:1 factor, I prefer that  (‘pre-emptive measures’) to retro-active birth control (abortion and/or killing your infant).  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d rather give someone the coerced choice between incarceration and mandatory birth control than to do nothing.

      2. David Greenwald Post author

        I generally agree with your point. Until the rise of meth, I would have unequivocally argued that I would prefer most drugs to alcohol in terms of harm. I think meth is different, it permanently alters brain chemistry in ways that we are only recently fully becoming aware of. Mind you, I was very in favor of Prop 47 because incarceration is going to do very little for most meth addicts, but I do think meth is very bad.

        1. Davis Progressive

          not david, but i would put meth above most of those.  you can break your addition to cocaine, you can be somewhat functional on heroin, you’re gone on meth.

  3. sisterhood

    “Having grandparents identified as the responsible party is a singularly bad idea. These were the same people who were ostensibly in charge of raising the meth addict. Why exactly do we expect a better outcome from a family structure that has so obviously broken down in the first place.”

    YES.

     

    1. tj

      CPS  –

      The County CPS office may have some explaining to do about the plan they made for the baby’s protection.   It would       seem obvious that it was not a good plan at all.    Some of the county’s social workers are “air heads”, no common sense at all.

      When employment options for women were limited, low salaries for social workers weren’t so important, but now women have many high paying fields to choose from.  Fewer bright and capable women are interested in being a county CPS social worker, and so this case with baby Justice is the result.   If we value child protection, we need to pay more for social services.

      Also sad to say, it sometimes happens that children who are more adoptable are more likely to be removed from their parents than a child who is less adoptable.  In this case we have parents with drug problems, possibly not overly intelligent, and adoptive parents may be less available for a child who was born with meth and had troubled parents.

  4. PhilColeman

    “In the criminal justice system, the prosecutor is the single most powerful figure, because the DA’s office is the gatekeeper into who gets charged and with what.”

    The level of discretion given to each element of the criminal justice system is one of very few areas where I’ll claim expertise. I devoted many years of study to discretionary justice in every form, and at every phase of the justice system. My Master’s Thesis was on this topic.

    The arresting officer has the greatest discretion in the criminal justice. Everybody else is a distant second. The arresting officer is the only true “gatekeeper” because only when that officer opens that gate does the rest of the criminal justice components even become aware, and have the opportunity to use their powers of discretion. Notwithstanding the many legal safeguards in place to correct or punish a “bad arrest,” the arrest has already been made, and many irredeemable consequences remain forever.

    A county district attorney sees only a tiny fraction of instances where citizens are at risk for prosecution. Thousands of other instances where a valid prosecution COULD LEGALLY be achieved are, instead, settled at the “entry” law enforcement level. It’s a marvel at how seldom these judgments are so “just” and an even greater marvel that law enforcement discretion is administered so wisely that everybody else is essentially unaware of this dynamic.

     

    1. Tia Will

      Phil Coleman

      an even greater marvel that law enforcement discretion is administered so wisely that everybody else is essentially unaware of this dynamic.

      I have a couple of questions about this last statement. It would seem to me that there is a possibility that other factors than wisdom might come in to play with regard to public unawareness of this dynamic. It seems to me that police frequently defend the actions of other policemen even when they may be aware that his or her conduct was suboptimal.It also seems that since the media focuses more on criminal activity ( probably because it sells more since it is fear based) than they do on inappropriate police activity, we have a greater awareness of the former than the latter. A third possibility is that most of us who obey the laws and who happen to be fortunate enough to live in a city like Davis, perceive the police as there to protect us, and are thus very accepting of their behaviors and explanations thereof whereas we might have a very different view if we were ourselves law abiding but living in a crime infested area.  Just some thoughts about alternative explanations from someone whose expertise could hardly be further removed from yours.

      Your thoughts about my alternative suggestions ?

    2. David Greenwald Post author

      I think there is an element of truth to what you say. However, the DA’s office has the ability to dismiss the case, charge the case, increase or lower the charges. There is more safeguard in my opinion about a bad arrest than bad prosecution. JMO. And of course in the days where Grand Juries are on the wane, it’s more rare for people to be charged without arrest. Bottom line, you raise a strong point but in the end it doesn’t change my mind.

  5. Tia Will

    Topcat

    It would seem to make sense for societal institutions to do everything possible to provide birth control options so that people don’t bring unwanted children in to the world.  It always baffles me when I see opposition to providing birth control options to people.”

    I have advocated for free long term highly effective birth control for any woman who does not desire pregnancy for as long as I have been in medicine and would gladly provide my services for free in weekend or after hours clinical settings for any woman who desires it. I would also recommend making birth control pills over the counter with pharmacist consultation just as Plan B already is.

    I would go further and recommend Nexplanon ( the rod that is placed in the upper arm) to any young woman who even believes it is a possibility that she might becomes sexually active. This would apply to any teen who goes to any party where alcohol or drugs will be present since much first time sexual activity “just happens” at least according to the young women who show up in my clinic afterwards terrified that they may have become pregnant or acquired an STD from their unplanned sexual activity.

    Think how much money we would save in social and legal services by the simple measure of providing free birth control to any woman who is not deliberately attempting to conceive. This is the ultimate in primary prevention and would be entirely voluntary. I am baffled by the ongoing resistance to such a simple concept which would greatly lower the number of abortions as well as the number of abused and neglected children thus providing what seems to me to be a win – win strategy which should have appeal regardless of any political bias one may have. Of course it does not address certain religious beliefs, but then, since it would be voluntary, no one would be forcing anyone to go against their beliefs.

    1. Topcat

      Think how much money we would save in social and legal services by the simple measure of providing free birth control to any woman who is not deliberately attempting to conceive. This is the ultimate in primary prevention and would be entirely voluntary. I am baffled by the ongoing resistance to such a simple concept which would greatly lower the number of abortions as well as the number of abused and neglected children thus providing what seems to me to be a win – win strategy which should have appeal regardless of any political bias one may have.

      Yes Tia, I agree with you 100% on this.

    2. Miwok

      Of course it does not address certain religious beliefs, but then, since it would be voluntary, no one would be forcing anyone to go against their beliefs.

      So of course they will all claim to love kids, and refuse Birth Control of any kind, and no one will ever propose sterilizing these morons, “because they might someday want to have more kids”. Riiight.

      Could we all agree these addicts or even casual user alter brain chemistry to the point they could be considered mentally unstable? Oh, wait, they closed all the institutions for treating that.

      1. Tia Will

        Miwok

        So of course they will all claim to love kids, and refuse Birth Control of any kind”

        I do not believe this to be true.

        My experience with addicts is that if you catch them at a lucid moment, many will realize that they are in no shape to be having children. The main problem that I have encountered with drug abusers is their impulsivity. This is the beauty of the long acting implantable devices. The addict does not have to do anything but consent one time. If you can get her to agree, and you do the placement in real time, you have gained her three, or five, or ten years of contraceptive protection. This is a tremendous improvement over condoms or birth control pills which she has to remember to buy or take on a daily basis. Of course no system is perfect, but this is so much more effective that I advocate strongly for giving women this option. What many people do not realize is that the Nexplanon is as effective as sterilization and is fully reversible if and when she does get her life together.

    1. Davis Progressive

      marijuana is unlikely to cause a mother to kill her baby.  if it did, you’d see a bunch of hippies in prisons and instead you have a bunch of meth addicts.  do the math.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        Given the recent actions of Daniel Marsh, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown, I think anything is possible. I think some are also now more aware of it’s deleterious role, ironic as we now move towards more decriminalization. I do know that psychiatrists note that it can lead to psychosis in teenagers (I defer to any psychiatrists here). It does interfere with higher brain functions.

        I also know that if someone gets high / dabs (wax), and then does some cocaine or meth or alcohol, at least in the recent past,m if something bad happens, the other factors will get the blame.

        I think with the recent medical studies, and upswing in crime in some states that had decriminalized marijuana use, we’ll see more tracking of such cause and effect.

    2. Tia Will

      TBD

      ” I thought drugs were harmless? Did she also have THC in her system?”

      I do not know of anyone who believes that “drugs were harmless”. However, I do know of many people who do not seem to be able to differentiate the varying amounts of harm attributable to different drugs. From 30 + years in medicine, I would way that meth, heroin, and alcohol rank amongst the very most harmful with cocaine not far behind. Your second question makes me wonder how much you grasp about the potential harm from THC which is far from the top tier in terms of total harm done.

      Being illegal does not make a drug more harmful than if it were legal. The relative consequences of alcohol ( legal for adults) and THC surely illustrate this if one actually cares about facts.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        I agree with the drugs you note as being quite harmful, but you left off two. Nicotine, which kills 400,000 per year and causes millions to get cancer, and crack (supercharged coke).

        But I am curious as to what your stance is as a doctor on THC, especially given the recent medical studies which show that THC use in adolescents can cause up to a 10 percent reduction in IQ. Marijuana use is reportedly climbing, dabbing (wax) is a potent new delivery method with scary implications via a Butan torch, and there is still the “gateway drug” debate.

        I know when I was young, even the stoners would sometimes joke, “Hey dude, let’s go kill some brain cells.” Ten percent is a huge number, and I know the past few years I have had constant contact with an adolescent, and a young man in his late 20s, who both continually forget to complete basic life tasks – have to be repeatedly asked over and over again – and both are 2-3-4x a day dope users.

        Hopefully the recent studies, which I think pivoted off of a German study, continue to document the effects of it’s use.

        1. Davis Progressive

          i have been involved in crminal justice on one side or the other for a long time, it’s rare that i have gotten a case of marijuana for anything other than possession for sale.  usually drugs with additional charges have been meth in recent years, before that cocaine.

        2. Tia Will

          TBD

          I am happy to share my opinion as a doctor whose specialty is far removed from neurology. As with any drug whether legal or illegal, we are in a constant and ongoing state of discovery with regard to the long term effects of marijuana. Any drug used to excess, or delivered in a “supercharged” method to the brain and body can have strongly deleterious effects over and beyond what is seen when used in the usual fashion. I do not believe that adolescents should be using any drugs including any of those named so far and some that have not been named such as glue, mushrooms. This is because of what we do not know about brain development rather than what we do know about the adverse effects.

          Ideally, humans would not be using any drug including tobacco and alcohol recreationally. One can “kill off brain cells” with many different substances and can kill of lung and bladder cells very effectively with tobacco. However, since I doubt that anyone is interested in trying to reinstate prohibition, what I believe is that we should legalize all drugs for adults and impose enforceable and sensible regulations about their use. Place similar restrictions as we do on alcohol for driving. Tax them heavily as we now do tobacco and use the proceeds for prevention, treatment and rehab. Prohibition did not work for alcohol and I believe that our “war on drugs” has been both ineffective, costly in both economic and social terms, and deleterious to both individuals and families. If we had something to show for our punishment rather than prevention, treatment and rehabilitation based approach, I would be willing to rethink this. Other than full prisons which I guess is good for our prison industry even if it helps no one else, we have nothing positive to show for years of this approach.

        3. TrueBlueDevil

          Tia, thank you. I think it is extremely hard to dissuade people, especially young people brimming with energy, hormones, and “pre-adults”, as was noted in a previous article, from not taking these risks. On top of this, it is often the case that many of these drugs take time before they see a negative consequence. Besides, doing something Mom and Dad say not to do is such a good way to get a rush and poke a finger at authority, a false sense of achievement or glory. It’s a significantly harder to master organic chemistry, French, or the piano.

          DP, I find it interesting that numerous high-profile crimes we have discussed here have included the defendant using THC habitually.

          FWIW, this just popped up, another new study.

          TEEN CANNABIS USERS HAVE POOR LONG-TERM MEMORY IN ADULTHOOD
          Heavy use of drug linked to changes in hippocampus, poor memory for life events

          – See more at: http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2015/03/teen-cannabis-users-have-poor-long-term-memory-in-adulthood.html#sthash.B8ATcsD2.dpuf

    3. Tia Will

      TBD

      ” I thought drugs were harmless? Did she also have THC in her system?”

      I do not know of anyone who believes that “drugs were harmless”. However, I do know of many people who do not seem to be able to differentiate the varying amounts of harm attributable to different drugs. From 30 + years in medicine, I would way that meth, heroin, and alcohol rank amongst the very most harmful with cocaine not far behind. Your second question makes me wonder how much you grasp about the potential harm from THC which is far from the top tier in terms of total harm done. Being illegal does not make a drug more harmful than if it were legal. The relative consequences of alcohol ( legal for adults) and THC surely illustrate this if one actually cares about facts.

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