UC Student Tests Right to Trial; Case Showcases ‘Overzealous’ DA’s Office, Taxpayers Pay the Price
By Crescenzo Vellucci
Secreted away in the courtrooms of most any U.S. courthouse – and Yolo Superior Court is no exception, and may even be the “poster courthouse” – little to nothing “crimes” are over prosecuted by overzealous, and sometimes vindictive, district attorneys.
Take the case – if you can call it that – of a University of California, Davis, student who was arrested at the last Jan. 13, 2017, UCD appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos, British commentator and author associated politically with the Alt-Right.
While it’s true that several hundred demonstrators pressured the campus to cancel his appearance that night, there was no violence or property destruction, according to campus police. They also reported there were no arrests. That turned out to be wrong.
Noah William Benham was at the protest and although he didn’t block doors like some did, he was “swept up” by campus police and jailed. And it’s
not as though Noah William Benham is a career criminal – he has no record, other than maybe his transcript record as a UC Davis student.
The same day Benham turned down a plea deal, the DA added a felony battery charge – he has four charges now. That’s not a coincidence. Defense lawyers say it’s a form of punishment for not playing “the game” – the DA, they say, acts like judge, jury and executioner if someone, even one not guilty, doesn’t play “the game.”
In Benham’s case, he’s charged now with felony battery and misdemeanor battery on an officer, resisting arrest and refusing to obey an order. The battery reportedly came when an officer, he claims, incurred a half-inch scratch on his arm/hand when he arrested Benham. And “resisting” can be charged if someone simply asks an officer a question during an arrest.
While this case may now just have to play out in a Yolo County courtroom to see if Benham is guilty, the cost to taxpayers for trials (costs include the jury, courtroom staff, lawyers, the judge, etc.) is mounting. A typical, low level short day trial, according to studies, would cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. Or more.
But, Yolo County is no stranger to felony trials, as pointed out in a Vanguard story in September, where the Judicial Council’s 2016 Court Statistics Report noted that Yolo County has more felony trials in absolute numbers than Alameda and Fresno.
Yolo County, the report noted, has more than twice the number of trials per 100,000 than Kern County, which is next highest. It has nearly four times the number than Los Angeles and about five times that of Sacramento.
And maybe the worst news for Noah William Benham – who maintains he won’t plead guilty to a crime he didn’t commit – is that he doesn’t have the resources, as a student, to hire his own private lawyer. He’s using the public defender’s office.
While there are some great PDs, the Vanguard has found that not only are there many more deputy DAs than deputy public defenders, the DA’s office has about five times the number of investigators, clerical and other support than the PD’s office has (21 for the PD v. 82 for the DA).
But everyone has a right to their day in court. Benham – who doesn’t appear to be a threat to society based on his appearance in court – insists he’ll press forward in the case despite those overwhelming resources by the DA’s office, even if there’s not a ton of evidence against him.
Stay tuned. The next court date is Nov. 7 in Dept. 13.