By Sarah Gregory
The trial of Gregory Anthony Steele began on the morning of June 28, 2016. This trial was organized after a West Sacramento police officer arrested and searched a wanted man for failing to make contact with his parole officer on April 13, 2016.
Methamphetamine and a single live .22 caliber bullet were found in the defendant’s pant pockets. He was charged with possession of live ammunition and possession of a controlled substance. The arresting officer, Jason Mahaffey of the West Sacramento Police Department, stated Steele admitted that the methamphetamine was his, but denied any knowledge of the .22 caliber bullet.
The defendant was represented by the Yolo County Public Defender’s office.
The trial began with Judge Paul Richardson providing the jury with a set of instructions and informing the jury what charges the defendant was facing. He explained the standard procedural steps of a trial that would take place and asked the jury to stay impartial while listening to statements made by the attorneys as well as testimony from any witnesses.
The prosecutor commenced the opening statements. He counseled the jury on the facts of Mr. Steele’s case and reminded the jury that the defendant was originally forbidden from handling a gun or ammunition of any kind because he is an individual who has previously been convicted.
Next, the defense spoke to the jury. She gave a characterization of the defendant and listed the circumstances regarding his case.
At the time of his arrest, the defendant was having difficulty in his life. He was homeless and struggling with drug addiction. Rather than run from the arresting officers, Mr. Steele was cooperative and acknowledged his relapse.
She continued with the argument that the officers failed to conduct a thorough investigation and discover how the defendant came to have that .22 caliber bullet.
On the day of the arrest the defendant was spotted by Officer Mahaffey eating prawns in front of a barber shop in West Sacramento, which the defendant claimed he paid for from money he received while panhandling.
The officer identified the defendant as a wanted man and pulled up next to the defendant in a clearly marked patrol vehicle. He then proceeded to inform the defendant of his impending arrest, while allowing him to finish eating his lunch.
After the defendant finished, the officer began a standard pat down, beginning on the right side of the body. The officer found 0.5 grams of methamphetamine in the front right pant pocket and a single live .22 caliber bullet in the left.
When the officer brought out the drugs, he remarked to the defendant: “Oh, you’re slipping,” to which the defendant replied, “Yes, I was.” However, when the defendant was shown the .22 caliber bullet, he immediately denied any connection to the object whatsoever.
The prosecutor called Officer Mahaffey to testify about the arrest. Prior to discussing the arrest, the prosecutor asked the witness about his experience as a member of the West Sacramento Police Department. The witness listed several of his previous job titles and summarized his duties, such as identifying and resolving problems.
The witness claims he was aware of the defendant’s status as a wanted man due to daily briefings at the precinct.
Shortly after taking the defendant into custody, the officer sent the methamphetamine to the DOJ (Department of Justice) for verification and cataloguing.
The witness acknowledged that he had watched a recording of the arrest in preparation for court.
The prosecutor asked the witness to open two sealed envelopes and reveal the methamphetamine and .22 caliber bullet to the court. The witness then testified to the authenticity of the evidence and verified that no one had tampered with it.
The defense cross-examined Officer Mahaffey. She asked the witness how the defendant reacted to his impending arrest. The witness noted that the defendant remained calm. The defense established that the defendant could have simply run away from the officer, but chose not to.
She also asked the witness if he had found anything else on the defendant. The officer had indeed discovered miscellaneous objects in the defendant’s other pockets, but could not recall what they were. The defense indicated that the officer was not paying attention at the time of the arrest because he failed to catalogue any of the defendant’s other belongings.
She then asked the witness about the .22 caliber bullet, specifically if he had noticed it before he took other objects out of the defendant’s pockets. The witness stated that he had not noticed the .22 caliber bullet before it was taken out of the defendant’s pockets. The defense asked the witness if he only discovered the bullet once he placed it on the ground.
At this point, the prosecutor objected to the question as hearsay, while the defense argued that she was simply establishing the officer’s state of mind during the arrest. This resulted in a two-minute sidebar, after which Judge Richardson eventually overruled the objection.
The defense verified that either the witness, or any other member of the West Sacramento Police Department, had failed to conduct a search regarding how the defendant ended up in front of the barber shop and as to where the defendant might have received the methamphetamine and .22 caliber bullet.
The defense indicated the defendant’s lack of history with guns. She asked the witness if he had tested the defendant for GSR (gunshot residue) to prove that the defendant had an actual connection with the .22 caliber bullet.
Judge Richardson verified with the defense and prosecution that the methamphetamine was real. He also asked the jury to disregard the fact that the defendant has an existing criminal record.
Next, the defense called the defendant, Mr. Steele, to testify. The defendant had watched the same recording as the officer and was able to provide validity to the officer’s story of the arrest.
The defense asked how the defendant acquired the pants he was wearing during his arrest. The defendant testified he had bought them at a Goodwill store two days prior.
He also admitted to a struggle with drug addiction, and his aversion to guns because of severe consequences for individuals who have previously been convicted in possession of firearms and ammunition.
The prosecutor cross-examined the defendant. He asked the defendant if he intended to sell the .22 caliber bullet. The defendant reiterated that he does not regularly concern himself with firearms.
The prosecutor then asked the defendant if he was aware that his possession of methamphetamine would be ruled as a misdemeanor as opposed to a felony due to Proposition 47.
The defense objected to the necessity of the question. Judge Richardson overruled the defense’s objection. The defendant answered the question and stated that he was aware of this because he had previously used Proposition 47.
Judge Richardson asked the defense and prosecutor if they had any more evidence to show. The prosecutor asked for time to prepare a rebuttal. The court was excused for two hours. When the court reconvened, the prosecutor announced that he wished to withdraw his request for a rebuttal and agreed along with the defense that he had no more evidence to provide.
Judge Richardson apologized for the delay and restated the set of instructions he had given the jury at the beginning of the trial. He stated that each member needs to decide for themselves if the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The prosecutor began the closing arguments. He urged the jury to look at the facts and suggested the defendant might have a motive to lie about his knowledge of the .22 caliber bullet.
Judge Richardson asked the jury not to consider the consequences of the verdict for the defendant for any reason.
Next, the defense commenced her closing argument. She recalled her questions to both witnesses, such as if the officer had conducted a thorough investigation. She also admitted the defendant’s guilt on possession of a controlled substance and urged the jury to think about the main issue: if the defendant had knowledge of the .22 caliber bullet in his pocket.
The prosecutor spoke again, in response to the defense. He argued that the officer did not need to carry on an investigation because there was direct evidence in front of him at the time of the arrest, the bullet.
He also disagreed with the defense and stated the defendant most likely had knowledge of the bullet because it was in the same pocket as other items of value to the defendant.
Shortly after, the jury was sent off to deliberate.
After an hour, the jury reached a verdict. The defendant was found not guilty of possession of live ammunition. However, he was found guilty of possession of a controlled substance.