Judge Reduces Charge to Misdemeanor in Vandalism Case

By Aska Smith

A preliminary hearing in the case against Justin Lopez, charged with vandalism, occurred today.

Officer David Asaro was called to testify about a vandalism incident that occurred on May 4, 2018, in West Sacramento. Officer Asaro came to assist Officer Joshua Carruth on the scene. Carruth was interviewing witnesses and a police air unit was overhead, explaining where the suspect was in a nearby location.

Asaro headed to the location and followed where he heard the sound of somebody jumping fences. The air unit updated the location of the suspect: he was in a park and then crossed another fence, from there lying down in the backyard.

Asaro located the suspect and took him into custody. The suspect complied to verbal commands and was detained in handcuffs. Asaro then contacted the owner of the truck the suspect was alleged to have vandalized. The truck’s rear window was damaged, and the estimate was about $500 to repair the damage.

Asaro stated the suspect seemed intoxicated, due to his slurred speech and the odor of alcohol. However, the suspect was still able to walk and converse with the officer.

Officer Carruth testified that he was directed to Summerfield Drive to speak to witnesses on the night of May 4, 2018. Carruth and Asaro went into a nearby backyard while listening to the air unit, which was advising the officers that the suspect climbed over another fence.

Carruth was trying to set up a perimeter for responding units. Asaro apprehended the suspect and brought him out to Carruth’s car. Carruth spoke with the owner of a car that was vandalized.

A car, a truck, and a backyard fence had allegedly been vandalized by the suspect. The owner of the car did not actually see the suspect vandalize the car, however, the victim’s brother claimed that he heard noise and saw somebody throw something at the car when he looked outside.

The car repair damage was about $1,900. Mr. Lopez was put in the back of Carruth’s patrol car by Asaro and was transported to the police station. The backyard fence that was vandalized was repaired, with virtually no cost.

Carruth spoke with Lopez and wrote a police report stating that Lopez appeared to be intoxicated and apologized repeatedly for his actions.

Judge David Rosenberg granted a defense motion by Deputy Public Defender Lisa Lance to reduce the felony vandalism charge to a misdemeanor.  He did so over the objections of Deputy DA Rachel Raymond.  Ms. Lance noted that Mr. Lopez had a good job, excellent character references and a chance to pay off restitution quickly.

She further argued that the victims were less concerned with punishing Mr. Lopez and more concerned with receiving restitution, and one did not want to see this charged as a felony.

Ms. Raymond countered that this was not a first time offense.  Lopez had previously received a strike for a bar fight.  As such, she couldn’t support reducing the charge.

Judge Rosenberg, in what he termed a close call, ruled for the defense.  Weighing heavily in Lopez’s favor were the character reference letters and the overall facts of the case.  The judge did note that this was not a situation that could be chalked up as a one-time thing.  Moreover, he saw the connection between the bar fight and the alcohol-related incident here.

He decided that Lopez would be put on probation for 18 months and must pay back the victims for the repair costs. Felony charges were reduced to a misdemeanor. The owner of the car would be paid back $1893, the owner of the truck would be paid back over $700.

Lopez will pay in $200 monthly payments beginning August 15. Furthermore the judge ordered Lopez to stay away from alcohol or establishments that primarily serve alcohol. Lopez will be searchable and testable for alcohol at any time.

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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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  1. PhilColeman

    With the precaution that courtroom summaries judged worthy of publication in this venue are invariably presentations from the defense perspective, this case falls far short of achieving felony vandalism status. The defendant’s noted prior was barely worth mention. Something’s missing in this story and it’s not Mad Dog Reisig at work. There’s something else.

    There is constructive value to this story, a revelation of a perpetuated myth: District Attorneys do not have unbridled discretion to file and pursue overcharged cases. Defense attorneys have several options in the form of motions to the court invoking various due process protectins.

    Here, we find a presiding magistrate reducing the case to a misdemeanor. Judge Rosenberg could have also summarily dismissed the charges. This is just one of many examples of checks-and-balances that monitor every aspect of our criminal justice system.  This nonsense that the district attorney is the all powerful guru of criminal court behavior is — nonsense.

    1. David Greenwald

      I happened to be in the courtroom waiting for another matter and watched it. You say, “something’s missing in this story…” It was a little strange because the Deputy DA was very aggressive to the point where Rosenberg got so irritated he halted the proceedings, took all the other matters and finished the last 15 minutes at the end of his afternoon calendar. He then did something that is exceedingly rare – he overruled the prosecution and reduced it to a misdemeanor over the Deputy DA’s objections. I have almost never seen him do this in my nine years of court coverage. You say this is one of many examples of checks and balances, maybe, but we don’t see it very often at all.

      Last week I was talking to one of the defense attorneys, she said other than Judge Fall, judges in Yolo are extremely reluctant to rule against the prosecution.

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