By Mariel Barbadillo
Sentencing in the case of the People v. Darnell Dorsey was scheduled for December 2, 2016, but Judge Paul Richardson ruled to continue the matter for another month.
On November 2, 2016, Mr. Dorsey was found guilty of assaulting his girlfriend’s 20-month-old son, Cameron Morrison, inflicting great bodily injury resulting in death, violations of California Penal Code sections 273a and 273ab.
Mr. Dorsey’s attorneys, Deputy Public Defenders Joseph Gocke and Martha Sequiera, filed a motion to continue. They asserted their client’s 8th Amendment right to present information that would be helpful for parole release from his potential sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
Judge Richardson reminded counsel that Mr. Dorsey’s sentence is doubled due to his prior robbery conviction, making his potential sentence 50 years to life in prison.
The defense requested more time for their social worker to gather information about Mr. Dorsey’s background, such as his social history and school records, to preserve the issues for consideration in future parole hearings.
If not preserved, Mr. Gocke contended, the information could be lost, considering Mr. Dorsey’s decades-long sentence.
Mr. Gocke reminded the court that Mr. Dorsey was 21 years old at the time of the incident, fitting the parameters of what California law considered “youth.” According to California Senate Bills 260 and 261, anyone who commits a crime under the age of 23 is considered a “youthful offender.”
Furthermore, Mr. Gocke stated that it is the defense’s obligation to pursue an investigation into their convicted client’s social history and present the information to the trial court for use in parole hearings. Not doing so would constitute ineffective assistance of counsel, despite the fact that Mr. Dorsey declined to speak to probation.
At this point, the People were given an opportunity to respond. Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin stated that Mr. Dorsey’s young age provided him with an earlier parole hearing, after serving only 25 years as opposed to 50 years.
However, the defense would be able to present information about Mr. Dorsey’s social history to the parole board, not necessarily the trial court. It does not affect Mr. Dorsey’s sentence, as he faced a mandatory minimum of 50 years to life, with no discretion by the judge
With regards to Mr. Dorsey’s prior strike for robbery, the defense had not filed a Romero motion to dismiss the strike (requesting that the court not consider the prior strike in sentencing). Mr. Gocke responded by saying that filing a Romero motion would be dependent on the information gathered by the social worker.
Judge Richardson reminded the defense that the trial lasted approximately two months and, with the possibility of conviction, there was ample time to prepare a Romero motion and gather social history information to preserve for the record.
The prosecution asserted that Mr. Dorsey should be sentenced and they could meet again in January for the defense to present the social history.
Ms. Sequiera responded that the defense must present the information to the trial court specifically. Additionally, Mr. Gocke had been sick for two and a half weeks, which left the defense little time to work with the social worker to investigate Mr. Dorsey’s social history.
Ms. Serafin again told the court that Mr. Dorsey should be sentenced, and they could bring him back from prison once the information was prepared.
Ms. Sequiera rebutted that it would be an issue of jurisdiction, since, once sentenced, Mr. Dorsey would be remanded to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and cannot be easily brought back to Yolo County.
Judge Richardson decided to “err on the side of caution” due to the defense’s issue of ineffective assistance of counsel. He admitted he understands the People’s position, but he does not want to risk error.
Judge Richardson requested that the defense file the Romero motion by January 6, 2017, and that the prosecution file any opposition by January 20. The judge will then rule on the motion on January 31 at 10 AM.