By Prince Sahota
The trial of James Edward Horton commenced in Yolo County Superior Court on June 22, 2016, and presentation of evidence was completed on June 23. This trial was organized following an alleged fighting incident on February 18, 2015. The prosecutor argued that the defendant challenged a grandfather and grandson to a fight at the Quik Stop convenience store located at 1400 E. Main St. in Woodland. The defendant maintained that he was harassed by the City of Woodland Police Department prior to this incident, that he was the victim of a police conspiracy, and he is currently bringing forward a police misconduct lawsuit. He said these conditions motivated the police to retaliate by having him arrested.
The defendant is charged with the following crime: challenging another person to a fight in a public place according to California Penal Code section 415, subsection (1). This crime is considered a misdemeanor.
The defendant has elected to represent himself (in propria persona).
The session commenced with the jury selection process, or voir dire, conducted by the Honorable Daniel P. Maguire. Each party was given a 15-minute time window to ask groups of potential jurors questions about their experiences. The first sampling of jurors was asked to describe themselves in terms of their identity, education, family and personal lives. Each party utilized a single laminated document which had each juror’s information on it, organized by the jury seating.
Judge Maguire asked the potential jurors if they knew any of the witnesses he named. Next, his honor asked if the jury had any attitude toward law enforcement. Further, he inquired about the jury’s experience with assault, battery and fighting.
The judge asked that the jury treat the prosecutor and the self-represented defendant as equals during this trial. He declared that each witness should be judged by the same standards of credibility. Judge Maguire asked the jury if they had any reason not to be impartial in this case.
Mr. Horton questioned the first set of jurors. He wondered if the jury had any bias about police misconduct. He asked multiple questions which forced the parties and judge to have a side bar.
Next, the prosecutor interviewed the jury. He asked them what they thought about his being a lawyer, while the defendant was not. The prosecutor wanted to know if they thought it was okay for the defendant to make legal objections and use court procedure. He further asked if the jury thought it was appropriate to bring this case to trial. At this time, a juror made a direct observation of the defendant’s behavior pattern, and the judge told him not to do that.
Each party exercised a peremptory challenge (dismissing a potential juror without the need to state a reason), allowing them to dismiss unfit jurors.
A second round of jury selection occurred. The jurors were asked to describe themselves and answer questions resembling the first jury sample. During this time the defendant asked that the court refer to him as indigent rather than homeless, to which the judge agreed. Defendant Horton asked the jury whether they were comfortable with his making legal objections during trial.
After this round of interaction, the jury was selected, followed by two alternate jurors. The parties did not challenge.
Judge Maguire read the complaint, summarizing that the defendant was charged with said Penal Code violation.
The prosecutor gave his opening statement. He argued that a grandfather, “PK,” a victim, called the police and asked them to respond to the Quik Stop because he and his grandchild, “L,” were under attack. The prosecutor alleged that “L,” a six-year-old child, was shouted at after entering the convenience store restroom. He maintained that the defendant “yelled, hit me” and lunged toward the grandfather and child.
Defendant Horton spoke to the jury. He announced his rights under the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He confided in the jury that he left Ohio and traveled to California to hike, for personal reasons. He informed the jury that charges filed against him in 2013 were dropped. After this, the prosecutor moved to strike testimony. The judge requested that Mr. Horton focus on the present issue.
On the day of the incident, the defendant said he was on his way to the law library, and stopped at the Quik Stop to use the restroom. He said that he was combing his hair. He noted that he saw a small child in costume-like clothing and he told the child, “Hey little buddy, I’m in the bathroom.” He said that, when the grandfather called the police, he (Horton) was yelling about a false report being made against him. He said that the police arrived on the scene very quickly. Lastly, defendant Horton stated that the police did not look for exculpatory evidence (anything favorable to the defendant, which would tend to exonerate him).
The prosecutors called the grandfather PK to testify about the facts as he remembered them. Prior to answering questions, the judge, the bailiff and a court technician collaborated to give PK a hearing device. The witness testified that he was putting gas in his van and proceeded to the store to purchase a beverage for his grandson L, and the child wanted to use the restroom. PK testified that he saw the defendant in the restroom with his grandchild.
This compelled him to push the door open and this caused the defendant to be knocked backward. He said the defendant was yelling. Mr. Horton asked that the witness be impeached.
Afterward, according to PK, he and L proceeded to the store counter, where the defendant harassed them. Defendant Horton objected on the grounds that the witness was dishonest in his testimony.
The prosecutor played a sound recording of the 911 call made by the witness, and a transcript of the call was provided to the jury.
PK testified that the confrontation continued outside of the convenience store. He testified that he and his grandchild were pinned against the wall of Quik Stop between a Redbox movie rental machine and a machine to fill bottles of water. The grandchild was hiding behind PK. The witness stood in court and showed a fighting stance, with the right foot in front of the other and with arms raised to the shoulder level. He testified that a stranger intervened to stop the fight.
The defendant moved to claim prosecutorial misconduct. The judge said that this cannot be addressed in the jury’s presence.
Mr. Horton cross-examined witness PK. He asked if the witness knew any of the police officers involved. Mr. Horton asked PK if he heard or saw him walk by L and say something while PK was filling up with gas. The witness admitted that the defendant walked into the store first. The testimony, Horton said, was argumentative. The defendant asked that the witness’ testimony be impeached. The judge mediated their discussion.
Next, “SG,” a sergeant with the Woodland Police Department, gave testimony. He said that he responded to a disturbance where a man allegedly was bothering a small child. He said that he was looking for a man wearing tan pants and a plaid shirt. He parked in a plaza across the street and then he contacted defendant Horton.
He said he did not get a statement because Mr. Horton wanted a lawyer.
Mr. Horton cross-examined SG. Mr. Horton suggested that police should look for exculpatory evidence and that they have a duty to investigate. He asked if the police arrived for an investigatory stop consistent with Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).
“SG” said that Mr. Horton matched the suspect description when he was found at a one-minute walking distance from the incident scene. When the defendant asked if police arrived at an active crime scene, SG said no. The prosecutor objected to the defendant’s limiting the answers to only yes or no.
The police officer was concerned about Mr. Horton’s mental health, and wanted him to have access to resources.
During this cross-examination, defendant Horton argued that the police used a confidential informant to set up a fact scenario where he would be arrested.
The parties will be holding closing arguments and the case will be turned over to the jury for deliberation.