Car Key Entered into Evidenced before Jury Deliberation

By Danielle Eden C. Silva

The trial of Brian Nicholas Freeland offered closing statements in Department 11 this morning. Mr. Freeland is charged with the unauthorized driving of a stolen vehicle. Deputy Public Defender John Sage represents the defendant. Deputy District Attorney Shelby Davitt represents the People.

The prosecution reopened their case. They called to the stand a witness who has lived in North Highlands for three to four years. Her address had been listed on the Bill of Sale of the stolen vehicle and she did not know Mr. Freeland or the man listed on the Bill of Sale, Luciano Vargas. She was then excused.

The prosecution recalled Deputy Jose Vera, the arresting officer. He returned to the stand with the key he had when he arrested the defendant. This key appeared shaved or scratched on both sides. Deputy Vera shared he had training on stolen vehicle techniques and he himself drove a 1999 vehicle.

The deputy admitted he did not receive any locksmith training and the key came out smoothly. The key could have been worn but it could have been shaved down to fit in the ignition. The defense argued, to the untrained eye, the key seemed tampered with but there was no guarantee of such unless viewed under a microscope.

The defense requested that the officer show his personal car key. Both the 1999 key belonging to the officer and the key taken from the stolen vehicle were produced to the jury. The personal car key was returned to the officer. Deputy Vera shared he hadn’t tried to start the stolen vehicle with the key.

Deputy Vera was dismissed and the prosecution rested their case.

Mr. Freeland was recalled to the stand for the defense’s reopened case.

The defendant was handed photographs that captured the tree that fell on his blue Civic in early October of 2017. He fixed the damages with a sledgehammer and the money he received at the time was used to buy a trailer.

The defense also noted a case in mid-October. The defendant, at the time, had been using a truck and had noticed the key was not working properly. He called the Woodland PD to see if the VIN or license plate numbers were associated with a stolen car, which they denied. Later, the truck was discovered to be stolen but, due to his prior call, the defendant believed otherwise.

In cross-examination by the prosecution, the defendant noted that he didn’t feel suspicious of the black Honda Civic without the title and license plates. He had tried to get the Bill of Sale to Deputy Vera but the officer did not look for it. Mr. Freeland asked his ex-wife to get the Bill of Sale to the police but that didn’t happen either. The key turned in by the deputy had come with the car and was not used on the defendant’s blue Honda Civic. At the time, he switched license plates because he wanted to pick up his child in a safe car as the blue vehicle had a damaged windshield. The blue car is now at his sister’s house.

Mr. Freeland was excused from the stand.

The court read the jury instructions and stated the two elements of the charge.

The prosecution began their closing statement by calling this the Tale of Two Civics. The first Civic, the blue one belonging to the defendant, had been damaged. Mr. Freeland then got a new Honda Civic, different in color but same in model and make. He had gotten the car under suspicious circumstances with no title or license plates. The defendant also didn’t register the car or call in for reports of a stolen vehicle, activities he is familiar with. If it weren’t for the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), the officer would not have noticed the vehicle was stolen.

The owner of the black Honda Civic used that vehicle to get to work but instead had to use another truck. While the exact dates were up for debate, the owner was certain the vehicle was stolen on Saturday and he didn’t give any permission for anyone else to use his vehicle.

Of the two elements to proving the defendant guilty, the first, driving a stolen vehicle without consent, is undisputed. The defendant admitted to driving the vehicle and the owner stated he didn’t give anyone permission to drive the vehicle.

The second element concerns if the defendant took the vehicle and intended to deprive the owner of possession or ownership of the vehicle for any period of time. The defendant switched license plates onto the car of the same make and model, an evasive act. The license plate hid the car was stolen and the shaved key was also suspicious. There is no evidence who Luciano Vargas is and the Bill of Sale is typed. The prosecution argued the sale could never have happened or the sale happened under mysterious circumstances and the defendant chose not to check.

The defense’s closing statement began by thanking the jury and asking them to consider that anyone can be cheated or misled. He showed the photographs to the jury and noted that the defendant had gotten the second Honda Civic for interchangeable parts. The old car was going to his ex-wife and he was going to keep the new car. The money, intended to fix the old car, was actually used to buy a trailer. The defense noted that you can buy a car without the title and you can get a title from the DMV. When buying a car, a buyer would pay attention to the state of the car like broken windows or a tampered steering column. He noted that the car did not appear stolen. Additionally, the Woodland PD apparently does not take in calls to see if the VIN or license plate numbers belong to stolen vehicles.

The ex-wife noted that she went with the defendant to get the car and the handwriting on the Bill of Sale for this Luciano Vargas was not her husband’s writing. The defendant offered a phone number but the deputy did not look at it. The defense heavily noted that the defendant was not being charged with stealing the vehicle or using incorrect license plates. He noted Mr. Freeland as gullible, making him another victim as he also lost money. The facts were stated as one-sided and the defense thanked the jury again.

In rebuttal statements, the prosecution noted that the defense had said the defendant was a victim when the owner should be the one considered the victim. The tree hitting the vehicle also has nothing to do with driving the black Honda Civic. Sympathy should not be used in deciding the law. Additionally, the ex-wife was not a handwriting expert but it didn’t seem to stick into her mind that the car had been hit by a tree. No emergency situation led the defendant to not register the car and he wasn’t in good faith in thinking the car was his if he used the license plates of an already licensed car. Therefore, the defendant must not have believed he was the rightful owner.

Following closing statements, the court swore in the bailiff and released the jury for deliberation.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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