Sheriff’s Deputy Takes the Stand in Meth Case

methby Tiffany Yeh

People v. Silva, involving the alleged sale of methamphetamine, resumed with the testimony of an expert witness on the behalf of the prosecution. The most contentious exchanges occurred after today’s court session, when Judge McAdam, the defense and the prosecution were discussing motions.

The expert witness was Gary Richter, who obtains information from informants and others on behalf of the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department. Deputy DA Robin Johnson asked him about text message exchanges between someone known as “Scratch” and the defendant, and another exchange between an unnamed person and the defendant.

DDA Johnson’s questions led the expert witness to say that the supplier may have been supplying methamphetamine to the defendant. In addition, the witness interpreted part of the text as including an offer from Scratch to “front” the defendant methamphetamine in order to help the defendant begin a business again.

In another of the text messages, the defendant mentioned he has a job as a tattoo artist, makes money somehow, and has been “doing it” for 20 years. The expert witness takes that to mean that the defendant has been in the methamphetamine world for 20 years. He mentioned a couple times that methamphetamine leads to a “vicious cycle” of using and selling.

In a different text message exchange, an unnamed person texted the defendant asking, “Is it easier for you to get crystal?” The defendant replied, “Yup.”

The prosecution’s expert witness interpreted this as a person trying to buy crystal methamphetamine from the defendant.

The unnamed person then asked, “How much? Green or white?” The expert witness said that “green” refers to marijuana while “white” refers to methamphetamine and very rarely refers to cocaine.

A brief five-minute break occurred. The judge seemed noticeably flustered or frustrated, and apologized in some manner, out of the jury’s presence, about Deputy Quy Ha’s brief one or two minute presence in the courtroom during the trial today. Deputy Ha had been sitting behind the defendant for a minute or two.

He had been assigned to be in this courtroom and to provide transport for the defendant. Judge McAdam apologized for cursing during sidebar. He stated that Deputy Ha was reassigned to a different courtroom.

The trial resumed. A digital scale, a syringe, 2.295 grams of methamphetamine in a bag, and 0.880 grams of methamphetamine in another bag was found with the defendant.

The expert witness stated that he could see the 0.880-gram bag as being sold later as four separate sales.

DDA Johnson’s argument centered on the presence of two separate bags of methamphetamine, as opposed to one single bag of methamphetamine.

In addition, the prosecutor painted the defendant as trading or selling meth for food. There were track marks on his arms, meaning he had probably used methamphetamine earlier in the day. The defense would later argue that the track marks meant the defendant used methamphetamine – thus, along with other reasons, he was not as likely to be a methamphetamine seller.

The expert witness testified that 0.1 gram is a commonly used amount, while 0.2 gram was a commonly sold amount.

Deputy Public Defender (DPD) Paul Borruso questioned the witness about his informants’ motivations for providing information to him.

He stated that he has one volunteer informant while all other informants are from jail (accused of crimes, or with pending charges). The witness has to get approval from “higher-ups” before he is allowed to offer informants leniency.

Questioned about who the “higher-ups” were, he replied that they were from the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office. He stated that if informants testified for three cases then there might be some contract or benefits they could get.

Sometimes the informants will sign contracts. The informants are usually people arrested for narcotics and other crimes.

The expert witness admitted that if they “say what I want to hear they may get out of trouble.” Among the informants are heavy meth users. Methamphetamine’s effects include irrationality and paranoia.

The amounts in question, roughly 2.25 grams and 0.85 grams, were admittedly not normal amounts to sell, stated the witness.

DPD Borruso cited a National Highway Transportation Study from 2014 that stated that binge use of methamphetamine can go up to 5.0 grams. The total amount from the case is around 3.11 grams. His argument is that the defendant could have easily used that amount in one day.

Mr. Borruso asked the witness if he was aware whether money had been found in this case. The witness replied that he did not recall hearing that money was found. DPD argued that money should be present if the defendant had been selling.

The DPD also presented a line of questioning that made the witness assert that one set of texts could have been a person brokering a methamphetamine sale, introducing the unnamed person to a source of meth from someone else.

If someone were to sell methamphetamine, they would make more money if they did not use it themselves. The expert witness agreed to DPD’s argument when questioned. He stated, “They’re their best customers sometimes.”

To the appearance of a knife with the defendant’s other belongings, DPD Borruso asked questions that led the witness to answer that homeless people used knives for a variety of things, including opening cans. The defendant did not have any firearms on him. Drug dealers usually have firearms on them because drug dealing is dangerous.

After the jury was out of earshot, the most dramatic and almost tense part of the court session occurred.

Near the end of the afternoon session, Mr. Borruso had asked the expert witness whether he had heard about Prop. 47, when there was an objection to the question. The judge sustained the motion, then Mr. Borruso interjected, saying, “This is very important.” This plea of sorts led the judge to call sidebar on the issue. Mr. Borruso continued his questioning, but with a different question altogether.

Later, Judge McAdam stated that the defense’s concern about the witness’ bias, being from a law enforcement background, was not relevant. He also said that discrimination on the part of the witness who assisted the DA was not a problem. The judge’s point seemed to be that Prop. 47 is complex. After Borruso stated that Prop. 47 turns misdemeanors into felonies, he said he did not think that working for sheriff’s office necessarily meant the witness was biased, but that he thought that it was “brand new information” and a “new area for court to decide.” Judge McAdam stated that Mr. Borruso had not mentioned that before while counsel had been at sidebar. It sounded like the judge might be open to rehearing the motion regarding Prop. 47.

Judge McAdam discussed the Deputy Ha matter as the combined fault of the deputy, defense, prosecution and judge – and the sheriff’s department in assigning him to that courtroom. What had occurred was that Deputy Ha was transporting the defendant from the downstairs of the courthouse to the fourth floor. When the deputy had asked Mr. Borruso if it would be fine, he thought that he was only going to transport the defendant, not be assigned to be inside the courtroom too. Borruso did not want the deputy to get in trouble so he agreed to have Deputy Ha transport the defendant downstairs and up to the fourth floor, also not realizing that the deputy would be in the courtroom, sitting behind the defendant. DPD Borruso did think it was strange that the deputy was assigned to transport the defendant because of the deputy’s role in this case.

DPD Borruso made an oral motion for mistrial, which was denied by Judge McAdam, who asserted that the deputy was in the courtroom for a short period of time, others weren’t likely paying attention and the defense did have knowledge of it. The motion was denied.

Afterward, the defense and the prosecution clashed brilliantly on jury instruction motions. DPD Borruso wanted a unanimity instruction. He argued that the jury should have to decide which baggie or both is possessed for sale. The prosecution’s own witness was wavering on whether each bag was for personal use or for sale. DDA Johnson vigorously objected to this motion. Judge McAdam denied the motion.

DPD Borruso then made a motion for dismissal. He said that, through the prosecution’s own witness, the possession for sale or for personal use of the two baggies of methamphetamine was not made clear. The court said that the “jury may find it unreasonable to find it for personal use only,” and the motion was denied by Judge McAdam.

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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