By Jade Wolansky
The preliminary hearing in the case against Charles Arthur Cochenour was presided over by Judge David Rosenberg in Department 14. The defendant is an elderly grey-haired senior who had to rely heavily on a front-wheeled walker. He spoke feebly when answering Judge Rosenberg.
Mr. Cochenour was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance and two misdemeanor counts for simple possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia. The principal core of contention was whether Mr. Cochenour had intent to sell the drugs.
Sergeant Ryan Mez of the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office was the first to testify. The prosecutor, Deputy DA Alexander Kian, asked him to recount Mr. Cochenour’s arrest.
Sgt. Mez described that on July 8, 2016, at approximately 9:44am, he observed a green vehicle parked far away from other vehicles. When he approached from the driver’s side he saw two individuals with syringes in their hands. Cochenour appeared to be ready to inject the needle, which had 40cc of black liquid inside.
Sgt. Mez stated that, when he asked the defendant to put his hands up, Mr. Cochenour tried to hide the syringe. Inside the vehicle, Mez found a white straw with black residue, aluminum foil, a small metal spoon, a small digital working scale, and a container with the letters “DRE.” After discovering this evidence, Sgt. Mez asked the defendant for his statement. When Cochenour said he didn’t feel good and was confused, Mez halted his questioning.
The prosecutor proceeded to ask Sgt. Mez the specific amounts of heroin he found in the vehicle. Mez replied that the syringe the defendant was holding contained 40cc, as already stated, the foil had .09 grams, and 23.4 grams were in the defendant’s pocket. Sgt. Mez stated that he used a narcotics test kit to verify that the substances found were indeed heroin.
Next, the prosecutor asked for further details about the three “containers” where the heroin had been found: syringe, pocket, and foil. The defense objected to the use of the word “container.” Judge Rosenberg interceded and clarified that the three “containers” would now be referred to as “quantities.”
During cross-examination, the defense attorney, Deputy Public Defender Stephen Betz, asked Sgt. Mez about drug consumption techniques. Sgt. Mez verified that users often utilize tin foil to smoke heroin with a heat source. He also verified that a spoon and water are used to transfer heroin into a syringe to “shoot up.”
The defense inquired whether Sgt. Mez had found pay-owe sheets, large amounts of cash, cutting agents, or unused baggies – essentially, items that are commonly found with drug sellers. Sgt. Mez replied that he had not found any of these items.
Agent Shad Begley, a member of the Yolo Narcotic Enforcement Team (YONET) as well as an officer with the West Sacramento Police Department, was the next witness to testify. The prosecutor had him testify as an expert witness on drug-related crimes.
The prosecutor began questioning Agent Begley on his qualifications and background in drug investigations.
The prosecutor asked Agent Begley about common heroin user and drug distributer practices. Begley stated that most users consume .1 grams to .2 grams per session. He explained that users usually do not carry more than one dose of heroin. This is because they are cognizant that they most likely lack the self-control to prevent themselves from overdosing. In addition, drug users are fearful they might be robbed. If they carry a small amount, the losses are less severe than if they had carried their entire stash with them.
Next, the defense began by calling into question Agent Begley’s credibility. Mr. Betz asked if Agent Begley read literature on drug crime, outside of his training courses. For instance, he mentioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s fact sheets on drugs. Agent Begley replied that he had not, and that most of the literature came from his training classes.
The defense then asked Begley in how many cases he had testified as an expert witness. Agent Begley replied that he had never done so before.
At this point, the defense argued that Agent Begley did not qualify as an expert witness. Judge Rosenberg ruled that Agent Begley did qualify.
The prosecutor proceeded to ask about the astounding amount of heroin found in the defendant’s vehicle. He requested Agent Begley to calculate how long 23.5 grams (the amount was rounded up from 23.49) would last.
Agent Begley answered that, if the defendant used .1 gram per session, 23.5 grams would be 235 dosages. Each dosage puts a user under the influence for three to five hours on average (four was used for calculation purposes). Agent Begley totaled that the defendant would have 940 hours of being “high.” He stated that most users consume heroin four times a day. Therefore, the defendant would have 57.8 days’ worth of heroin.
The prosecutor then asked Agent Begley to verify how it would be impossible for 23.49 grams of heroin to be solely for personal use. Begley responded by stating that, taking into account all the information gathered, and his knowledge that drug users often don’t carry more than they need for one session, he strongly believed that the three quantities found could not just be for personal use.
The defense asked Agent Begley to reaffirm that he had heard Sgt. Mez’s testimony that no items commonly found on drug sellers, such as packaging or payment and sales records or cutting agents, were found. Agent Begley confirmed this.
The defense also asked Begley to corroborate that drug users who have a greater tolerance to a drug would require a larger dosage than others, and that some drug users sometimes “binge” use. The witness agreed.
Agent Begley was asked if the defendant was on file in drug investigation records. He replied that Mr. Cochenour was not.
The defense asked about heroin cost. Agent Begley answered that it was cheaper to buy the drug in bulk.
The prosecutor and defense then gave their final arguments. Judge Rosenberg ruled that the case required a jury’s decision.
Judge Rosenberg set the defendant’s arraignment for September 8, at 10am.