Honest Mistake or Grand Theft of Casino Winnings?

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Cache-Creekby Jackie Snyder

Closing arguments took place on the morning of July 1, 2015, in the case against Dorothy Dacosta.  The trial began Monday and only lasted a few short days.  Once the trial was placed in the jury’s hands on July 1, a guilty verdict was reached in less than two hours.

The defendant was charged with grand theft.  Her charges included theft by larceny and theft by appropriation of lost property.  According to the closing argument delivered by Deputy District Attorney Michael Vroman, the defendant Ms. Dacosta came across an empty slot machine, while gambling at Cache Creek Casino earlier this year, that contained a slip/ticket made out for $5,635.

A man, who was using the machine, had hit the jackpot but had left the machine unattended while he was operating an additional slot machine.  The defendant then took the ticket and proceeded to a cashier to cash it out.  She provided the cashier with her identification and within 16 minutes of finding the ticket left the casino and began to spend some of the winnings on various items.

Ms. Dacosta was later apprehended by police who identified her through her players’ club card and video surveillance.

In his closing arguments, Mr. Vroman argued that, due to the fact the defendant took the action to take the slip/ticket after knowing it did not belong to her, and then proceeded to cash the slip/ticket out, this proved she was guilty of the crimes of which she had been charged.

The DDA stated to the jury that, while the defendant was testifying, he had questioned her about each element necessary in proving she had committed the crimes in question.  Mr. Vroman stated that through the defendant’s own testimony she admitted to fulfilling each element.  This, according to the DDA, leaves the jury with only one choice – to find the defendant guilty.

Mr. Vroman pointed out, for example, that it was after 3 am in the casino, there were very few people on the high stakes floor and had she simply approached the other people, she would have encountered the rightful owner of the ticket. He noted that, when questioned about this by a sheriff’s deputy, she claimed, “Well, of course if I had asked that they would have claimed ownership.”

He noted that, under the jury instructions for wrongful appropriation of lost property, the defendant is required to make a reasonable attempt to locate the true owner. In this case, Mr. Vroman argued that the defendant did not ask the people gambling on the floor, she did not ask the casino staff, and she cashed out the ticket in roughly four minutes, leaving after 16 minutes.

The DDA concluded by stating that the defendant had the means to find the owner of the slip/ticket but she failed to take reasonable steps in finding the owner.  She did this, according to DDA, because she wanted the money for her own use.

During Deputy Public Defender Peter Borruso’s closing argument, he argued that her actions themselves showed the lack of a guilty conscience. Mr. Borruso argued that the defendant had only taken the slip/ticket after she had looked around and could not immediately locate the owner.  He argued that the casino surveillance video shows that Ms. Dacosta did not ever actually see the victim, nor did she see the victim using the machine.

The DPD stated that the defendant, while cashing out, went through casino personnel (not a machine) to collect her money.  In addition, she provided her identification. The casino security was able to easily locate her, by tracing the information she provided, to her home and then to her place of work.

This, according to Mr. Borruso, shows that she was not trying to deceive the police.  Mr. Borruso also claimed that the defendant was very cooperative and forthcoming with the deputy who questioned her.

When she was contacted by the sheriff’s deputy, she immediately agreed to come down to the jail. Once she was down at the jail, she was forthcoming with what she had done – her claimed actions were not contradicted by later evidence.

She acknowledged that she made a mistake and realizes (now) that she could have made more of an effort to locate the owner of the slip/ticket.  Mr. Borruso stated that the defendant had a reasonable explanation for what she did.  He claimed the defendant made a mistake and that laws allow for people to make mistakes.

The facts of this case were not in dispute, but rather the underlying law. Mr. Borruso relied on a mistake of fact defense, arguing that Ms. Dacosta was not guilty of the crime because she had a reasonable belief that the property was abandoned.

A mistake of fact defense relies on the defendant’s conduct to have been lawful, under the facts as she reasonably believed them to be.

Mr. Vroman countered that the property was not actually abandoned because no one would knowingly abandon a $5600 winning ticket. Instead, he argued that she simply failed to carry out her due diligence of finding the owner and, therefore, she did not have a reasonable but mistaken belief that the property was abandoned.

After Mr. Vroman’s rebuttal to Mr. Borruso’s closing argument, additional jury instructions were read by Judge David Reed.  The case was then handed to the jury.  Less than two hours later the jury came back with a guilty verdict.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch puts 8 to 12 interns into the Yolo County House to monitor and report on what happens. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org

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16 thoughts on “Honest Mistake or Grand Theft of Casino Winnings?”

  1. Tia Will

    This is an example of a case that I cannot imagine why we are wasting the time and expense to pursue in court. The defendant freely admitted her actions. Why not simply have her give the money to its rightful owner with a stern admonition not to do it again and call it a day ?  Is determining motivation so important that we spend probably  many times the amount of money she took to determining what we already know happened ? What is the penalty here and will it cost us even more money ?

     

    1. David Greenwald

      I sat in during the closing arguments as we were training a new intern (not Jackie Snyder who has been with us since January). That was my reaction as well – or as I put it, such a typical Yolo County case.

    2. PhilColeman

      Tia:

      “Why not simply have her give the money to its rightful owner with a stern admonition not to do it again and call it a day?”

      I think you do not understand the role of the Yolo DA, or any DA. He is formally presented a case for criminal prosecution and specific charges are requested. He can charge the case or not charge. The DA cannot invoke an order of restitution, which is your proposal for a simple solution. However, a court sentencing after conviction can invoke an Order of Restitution. But it’s not that simple.

      The victim who did suffer the monetary loss has greater legitimacy in speaking to the matter of restitution than you or I. The victim could oppose such a notion, courts probation departments dread the idea of being forced to becoming bill collectors, and orders of restitution have a poor history of being fully repaid. If we are seeking a low-cost solution to a case like this, it will not be found in an order of restitution. It costs taxpayers more to monitor and enforce a protracted process of restitution, and it often fails in its intent.

      1. Tia Will

        Phil

        My comments regarding the legal system are often not a criticism of the actions that have been taken within the system that we have now, but rather a criticism of that system and a consideration of how things might be done in a more efficient, less costly manner than we are doing now.

        A large part of my job as a member of our administrative team for the past 10 years was to look at the systems that were in place, analyze whether or not they were cost effective and whether or not their might be a more efficient way to meet the patients needs. I tend to look at most systems from this point of view. Since I have no expertise in the legal system, I am frequently questioning, not saying that I know better, only that I see waste and opportunity for improvement.

  2. PhilColeman

    Simple question, not trying to be snarky or sarcastic, or anything like that.

    Why is a criminal case already tried and adjudicated being questioned after the jury verdict? There is a mild intimation by the rhetorical question column title that the guilty verdict was quite possibly wrong. Had the writer opined that was an unjust finding and presented evidence in support, then the column would make some sense.

    Judging from the article content alone (note qualifier), the People more than adequately met the burden of proof for both charges. The Defense, to be fair, had few cards to play to fight either charge. In particular, the rendering by the Defense concerning the “good faith effort” required to avoid the misappropriation of lost property complaint was weak, very weak.

    One of the potentially enticing side-bar stories was missed or ignored. A casino review of surveillance tapes for that hour of the morning. Could there possibly have been a discovered pattern where that casino employee was routinely trolling the slots looking for unclaimed tickets? Maybe that was done by casino staff, and a simple phone call to casino security would be the basis for a far more interesting story.

    A final suggestion to all legal interns in pursuit of a story like this: Remind oneself of the concept of “due diligence” and contact the lead Public Defender in the case and ask if there are plans to appeal the case finding. If the answer is no, another post-trial examination and report would probably be more fruitful.

    1. David Greenwald

      “One of the potentially enticing side-bar stories was missed or ignored. A casino review of surveillance tapes for that hour of the morning. Could there possibly have been a discovered pattern where that casino employee was routinely trolling the slots looking for unclaimed tickets? Maybe that was done by casino staff, and a simple phone call to casino security would be the basis for a far more interesting story.”

      That wasn’t something that came up during the trial.

      “A final suggestion to all legal interns in pursuit of a story like this: Remind oneself of the concept of “due diligence” and contact the lead Public Defender in the case and ask if there are plans to appeal the case finding. If the answer is no, another post-trial examination and report would probably be more fruitful.”

      This really isn’t the job of an intern. We train the interns to report what they see in the trial. Part of what we want to do is the public to know about what kinds of cases arise in this county that otherwise do not get coverage. The Public Defender routinely will file the statutory required notice of appeal, but that only preserves the defendant’s ability to appeal the case. If it gets appealed it would not be handled by the Yolo County Public Defender’s office.

      1. PhilColeman

        Fair enough. If the intern case summaries are limited to court evidence only, that’s an editorial prerogative.

        If this routine criminal case had the ancillary intent to scold the DA (“typical Yolo County case”) for not taking a non-prosecutorial option that is also within the bounds of editorial prerogative. But the DA did nothing wrong in the eyes of current law and did gain a conviction in a trial by jury.

         

        1. David Greenwald

          First, just explaining our purpose here. For the most part, we don’t pick the cases. They are what is on trial that we caught in a particular week. The purpose of the article is to present what happened. That is a separate issue from my perspective on the case. I agree with you – the DA did nothing wrong in the eyes of the law. The question is rather one of discretion and use of resources. Talking to people in Sacramento, this type of case would have likely settled for a misdemeanor there. It never would have gone to trial as a felony grand theft. Does that make Yolo wrong? Not necessarily, people have to draw their own conclusion there. Our job is really to give people the information to make that kind of informed decision.

        2. zaqzaq

          David states,

          “Talking to people in Sacramento, this type of case would have likely settled for a misdemeanor there.”

          My first reaction is go that you should move to Sacramento if you like how they handle crime there.  I prefer Davis in Yolo county where if you are a victim you are more likely to have your case investigated by police and prosecuted by the DA.

          I did not read in the article that the defendant was willing to take responsibility for the theft with a misdemeanor.  She may have taken the position that she did nothing wrong and would not admit even a misdemeanor.  The only time that you seem to support a strong prosecution is when a cop is charged with a crime.

    2. Miwok

      that casino employee was routinely trolling the slots looking for unclaimed tickets

      Not Mentioned above, was she an employee of the casino?

  3. Davis Progressive

    certainly phil coleman presents the law enforcement view of the situation.  my thinking however is a bit more nuanced.  on the one hand, clearly she didn’t make an effort to see if the ticket had a rightful owner.  on the other hand, if you come by a ticket in a machine and no one is around, i’m not sure the typical person would know what their responsibility is.  i suppose i would have taken it to security or staff.  but to charge her with grand theft seems over the top, particularly given that she accepted responsibility for the error.  this is where i think we should have alternatives to the standard justice system – when you think of grand theft you think a car or bike thief, i don’t see her as a particular threat to society.  that’s where i think descretion of the da has to come in and stop this kind of case from occupying the time of 13 or 14 jurors, court staff, and defense counsel for three days.

  4. Miwok

    DP, what is the “:other point of view”? Since you don’t live in the “law enforcement” view of the world, what is yours? Anything laying around is “abandoned”? Yours to keep? Do you teach your kids that too?

    That lady needed law enforcement to atone for her “error”. Most of us call it “theft” and I call it “absence of moral character”. You think she would have ever come out with regret she expressed?

  5. Tia Will

    Miwok

    I do not doubt that the DA was within his legal rights. I do not doubt that the jury got the verdict correct. My question is whether her admittance of fault and what ever cost that may lead to is worth however much it cost us in time, energy, tax payer money and loss of juror productivity just to have an admission of guilt which she was already agreeing to freely by not contesting her actions.

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