By Lemuel Herg
On the 25th of January, 2018, Judge Paul K. Richardson presided over Department 13 to see the final closing statements of Deputy District Attorney Daniele Schlehofer and Deputy Public Defender Emily Fisher for the jury trial of People v. Ricky Emmanuel Pierson.
The day began with a debate between the attorneys and the judge. There was contention over whether or not to include the defendant Ricky Pierson’s past two drug-related convictions, once back in 2010 and another time in 2017. Ms. Fisher’s argument asserted that it would not be a fair trial to have the convictions show up in the catalogue of evidences offered to the court—she claims the documents were superfluous and gave an unfair prejudice against Pierson.
Ms. Schlehofer countered the Ms. Fisher’s points by saying that the 2017 conviction was a Health and Safety Code section 11378 possession of meth with intent to sell conviction with a no contest pleading—and as such falls under admissible convictions, allowing the evidence to be used in a limited scope to, in Ms. Schlehofer’s case, prove the defendant’s intent to steal.
To both of the arguments, Judge Richardson explained that the court acts as a gatekeeper, and as such the court has the responsibility to control what gets seen and known by the jury, with the intent of ideally showing the jury a clear and concise picture so as to not confuse their judgment. With that being said, the court ruled that Pierson’s 2010 conviction would not be public evidence presented to the jury because the lack of relevance to the current trial had a chance to contort the jury’s judgment.
The 2017 section 11378 conviction, however, was ruled to be added as a limited form of evidence to help give context to the defendant’s actions and motive. The reason why the 2017 conviction was decided to be added is twofold: for one, it was already mentioned in Officer Bell’s testimony, and two, Pierson’s change of plea document already released all his past convictions anyway, so, regardless, the jury might be able to put the story of the past convictions together.
After the removal of the 2010 conviction document and the addition of the 2017 conviction document, the jury entered the courthouse and buckled down for the rest of the trial.
The prosecution began with a PowerPoint which helped to recap for the jury what happened the night of October 6, 2018. For a quick summary, the police got an anonymous call about an African American male in a white shirt with a gun near a 7-Eleven. As Officer Juan Barrera neared the 7-Eleven, he spotted a man who matched the description and drove his car into the park where Pierson tried to avoid the officer by riding away on his bike. Eventually the two meet, and once Officer Barrera is sure there is no threat of a weapon, he checked his video camera in the car and found that Pierson threw something onto the ground—later identified to be a large bag filled with four mini bags of meth—2.5 grams in total.
To supplement her summary, Ms. Schlehofer attached pictures taken from the video to illustrate the defendant attempting to throw the meth away.
The bulk of her argument was her demonstration on how the evidence perfectly lines up to cover all five conditions of H&S section 11378, possession of methamphetamine for sale.
Note: these are just a few of the examples that Ms. Schlehofer used.
- Pierson possessed a drug.
- There was video showing that Pierson was holding and then later threw away the drug.
- Pierson knew that he possessed a drug.
- Pierson avoided the officer, showing cognition of what he was doing.
- Pierson knew that the drug was a controlled substance.
- Pierson referred to the drug as “dope” and his prior 2017 conviction shows experience with the drug.
- Pierson had intent to sell the drug.
- Four small baggies in one big bag, all perfectly weighed, along with a nighttime setting in Fremont Park, showed his intent.
- Pierson had a usable amount to sell.
- Testimony from Agent Miller showed that Pierson had a usable amount to sell.
For intent, Ms. Schlehofer also brought up the defendant’s previous conviction in 2017 and explained how in that time too, Officer Bell caught him holding 18.5 grams of meth, which he tried to throw away but failed.
Afterwards came Ms. Fisher’s defense. She started her argument with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., and immediately emphasized how most of the events that happened that night were merely confirmation bias. From the start with an anonymous caller who called about an African American with a gun, to Officer Barrera’s confirmation bias of finding a repeat offender with a bag of meth, everything has just been characterized as malicious and misinterpreted.
The basis of her argument came to this definition of a district attorney’s job to prove intent “beyond a reasonable doubt.” in this case, there was no decisive direct evidence that can do that—nothing like a receipt of purchase to prove a sale. Due to that, most of Ms. Schlehofer’s evidence was in fact situational evidence. But for situational evidence, Ms. Fisher said that there is a law that states that if there is both a guilty interpretation and an innocent interpretation for a situation evidence, the court must consider the innocent interpretation—for in law, the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.
Ms. Fisher disagreed with Ms. Schlehofer’s interpretation that Pierson throwing away the bag of meth was showing an intent to sell—rather, Ms. Fisher reinterpreted it as Pierson already being high, and wanting to throw away the bag as to not be taken away by Officer Barrera so he can enjoy it later. In fact, Ms. Fisher essentially reinterpreted the entire story to make Pierson a consumer and buyer of meth, but not a seller. For example, when he went to the park to meet up with the other people, he was in fact buying—which is why he had a large sum of cash in his pocket, for easy access to make a quick purchase.
To that, Ms. Schlehofer’s counter argument focused on Ms. Fisher’s claim to having no direct evidence to prove a sale. She explained that no evidence is needed to prove a sale actually happened, just the evidence to prove that there was intent to sell—evidence seen by the 2017 conviction and the suspicious bagging of the meth into four equal parts.
After the arguments settled, there was a small issue in which Ms. Fisher tried to claim prosecutorial misconduct by Ms. Schlehofer and to call for a mistrial. However, both attempts were overruled by Judge Richardson. After that was the time for the jury to give the verdict.
The verdict came out as not guilty for a count of H&S section 11378 possession of meth with intent to sell, and guilty for a count of H&S section 11377 possession of meth.