By Sufi Sadati
Sean Michael Duffy is faced with nine counts: possessing methamphetamine with an armed firearm, unlawfully possessing a firearm, unlawfully possessing ammunition, unlawfully carrying a concealed firearm on his person with a felony record, unlawfully carrying a concealed firearm in a vehicle that was stolen, unlawfully carrying a concealed firearm loaded and not registered to the owner of the firearm, receiving stolen property, possessing methamphetamine, and, finally, possession of burglary tools.
Newly admitted documents provided by the prosecution, Deputy District Attorney Michael Vroman, were presented regarding Mr. Duffy’s criminal history.
Certified records of prior convictions concerning stolen vehicles between 2003 and 2013 were brought to the court’s attention. Interestingly, in all of these cases Mr. Duffy opted for a plea deal, which in Mr. Vroman’s words amounted to “I am admitting to these charges, Judge. I am throwing myself at the mercy of court.”
Recalling the officers’ accounts of the night of March 30, 2018, Mr. Duffy had stated he was not a felon, though his last served sentence was just under five years ago, proving his current felon status.
Mr. Vroman argued against the notion of Mr. Duffy merely sleeping on the weapon without knowledge of its existence. He contested the comfortableness of sleeping on a “hard metal gun” as well as Duffy’s obliviousness to the 0.222 grams of methamphetamine found by the steering wheel.
There was also no possible way the defendant could possess the gun legally, taking into account his prior felonies, barring the right of weapon possession.
Examining what was found in the back of the car highlighted the issue of stolen property in the case.
The search of the Subaru uncovered people’s I.D.’s, Social Security numbers, credit cards, seven grams of methamphetamine and a Baltimore Ravens key shaved down, belonging to someone who had reported a residential smash-and-grab.
Throughout the case, Mr. Vroman hammered in the jury’s responsibility to determine whether what was reported was a reasonable conclusion. He suggested it was “not reasonable” that someone who seemed to be living in their car would leave all of their belongings, specifically their pseudo-home, as “free to a good home.”
“He didn’t know what was in that car,” was how defense attorney Jose Gonzalez-Vasquez began his final statement, advocating on behalf of Mr. Duffy’s innocence.
Mr. Gonzalez noted that just because someone is in a car, especially not their own car, does not indicate they know what is inside the car itself.
He made the distinction between this specific case and Mr. Duffy’s past of vehicle theft, and in all other cases the defendant took a plea deal, except this one. Speaking with conviction, he reminded the jury that the prior cases are not given to demonstrate “once a crook, always a crook,” but rather “that’s not how the law works.”
All of the facts of this case are based on circumstantial evidence from police officers asked to give testimonies on an event that occurred a year before.
There is essentially no evidence or acknowledgment that he, Mr. Duffy, knew what was in the car that night.
The court does not have the benefit of audio or visual evidence, with only a simple picture of the officer’s video at 1:19 am, nearly 20 minutes after the officers’ first interaction with the defendant.
The defense implied there may be a reason for the absence of audio or video evidence, an act of intent.
As previously mentioned earlier in the case, the unremarkable delivery man’s existence was cast with a shadow of doubt. Instead of calling the police, the delivery man decided to wait on the street, hoping by chance to flag down an officer. What the defense calls an “unreasonable” story is supported by the officers’ lack of follow up on who that man was.
In their testimonies, both officers claimed they were familiar with the name Sean Duffy and his relations to vehicle theft. Due to the lack of any evidence, something suspicious was concluded that morning. In addition, the recanted statement of Officer Shepard, after swearing under oath that he turned on his dash cam, raises the question of credible foundation.
Officer Shepard’s K-9 dog, Chase, was reported to be focusing on the crease in the car seats, looking for what the officer explained was “the strongest odor.” However, Mr. Gonzales pointed out the oddity that the trained dog would not go straight for the methamphetamine directly placed in the front of the car, or swiftly pick up the scent of the gun. Neither Corporal Elliott nor Chase saw the methamphetamine that was supposedly in “plain sight.”
Mr. Duffy was already out of his car when Officer Shepard began his search. The officer was in “no rush” to do a proper search, but admitted to an unorthodox approach.
The smash-and-grab that was reported was never met with any follow up. Mr. Gonzalez critiqued the officers’ sloppy work in their lack of investigation on identifying whether any of the credit cards were used, researching the three cell phones found, or fingerprinting the car itself to determine if it truly belonged to Mr. Duffy. There was not even an investigation on the status of the gun actually being registered in San Joaquin County.
Instead, the defense argued that Mr. Duffy’s past criminal cases prejudice this case. “It didn’t matter to the officers, Mr. Duffy was a known felon.”
The burden of the People to put on a case concluded with a clarification separating “reasonable versus unreasonable.”
Mr. Vroman described the intent of Corporal Elliott’s involvement as an act of altruism and duty. If this was a conspiracy to frame Mr. Duffy, why would Officer Shepard admit to performing the search in an unusual way?
Corporal Elliot did not see the gun because it was concealed under a black sweater. Vroman proposed the question: “If it wasn’t there, where was the gun?” In other words, Mr. Vroman argued, where else would the gun be found?
After ending with a few objections from Mr. Gonzalez as to speculation, the court dismissed the jury to deliberate.