Judge David Reed reduced the charges against two Yolo County men to misdemeanors, following a preliminary hearing on Wednesday. The two men, Robert Peterson and Jason Benoist, were charged with felony conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor petty theft.
While the judge agreed there was enough to hold the men on conspiracy charges, he reduced that charge to a misdemeanor for both men. As a result, Deputy DA Matt De Moura offered both men three years of probation, which they accepted.
On December 7, 2014, Davis police received a call from the complaining witness that he heard someone in the back of his truck parked at an apartment complex in West Davis. He then heard someone remove something from his truck, which he believed to be his toolbox.
Officer Michael Nash of the Davis Police Department testified that they spotted the suspect’s vehicle, which took off on Russell Boulevard, headed east. The vehicle made a right turn onto southbound A Street (which is one way in the other direction), where police briefly lost sight of the vehicle. The officer then caught them on 4th Street, where they were cited and released for petty theft.
The officer later said that a toolbox was located on the side of the road, apparently ditched. It was damaged, with damage consistent with being thrown out of a vehicle and hitting the ground.
There were three people and a dog in the truck when it was stopped. In addition to the two men, there was a woman. According to Mr. Peterson, the officer testified, the men got a call from the female who asked them for a ride to Davis to locate a friend – a transient who they claimed had just lost another friend, but was unaware of this news.
They did not know how to find this transient and they were driving around Davis attempting to locate him.
However, he said Mr. Benoist didn’t know why they were in Davis. He said they got lost, the dog had to go to the bathroom, and they stopped to walk the dog until he did his thing.
Defense Attorney Rod Beede, representing Mr. Peterson, argued that this was a classic case where a petty theft charge was attached to a conspiracy charge in order to elevate misdemeanor petty theft conduct to a felony.
He argued that there was no evidence to support a conspiracy charge and that, at most, this amounted to aiding and abetting on the part of his client to Mr. Benoist, who was the one seen taking the toolbox.
He noted that the value of the toolbox was only a few dollars and that they should be cited for petty theft and this should be reduced to a misdemeanor case.
Deputy Public Defender Dean Johansson joined in Mr. Beede’s argument, adding that there was no evidence of an agreement between the two men to support a conspiracy charge. He noted that his client, Mr. Benoist, had made the decision to grab the toolbox and no evidence presented suggested there was a conspiracy between the two men to commit any crime.
However, Deputy DA Matt De Moura countered that there was circumstantial evidence of an agreement. He noted that the men drove to Davis. They went to Arlington Boulevard in order to commit the crime. While they contended they were lost, he pointed out that, while driving on Russell Blvd., they had to go over the 113 freeway and past its onramps, which would have taken them back to West Sacramento.
Moreover, he argued that they drove down A St. the wrong way in order to throw the evidence from the truck.
He further argued that the inconsistency of their stories was evidence of a conspiracy. He said their cover story was a front and there was sufficient evidence to hold them to answer for conspiracy to commit a crime.
Judge Reed actually split the difference here. He granted the defense motion to reduce the conspiracy charges to a misdemeanor under Penal Code section 17B, which allows a felony to be reduced to a misdemeanor if the underlying charge is a wobbler.
In this case, the judge ruled that there was sufficient evidence to support the charge of conspiracy but he believed it amounted to misdemeanor conduct.
Following the ruling by the judge, the case settled with the defendants pleading no contest to the charges in exchange for a probation sentence.
—David M. Greenwald reporting