By Galen Yun
A motion for a new trial in the matter of Mr. Kenneth Escobar was dismissed today despite protests from Mr. Escobar’s attorney, Ms. Arielle Brown. Ms. Brown argued that video evidence was unconstitutionally withheld and doctored before Deputy DA Gabriella Jarvis sent the possibly exculpatory video to the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.
Mr. Escobar was convicted of false imprisonment and domestic battery, after drinking heavily with his wife at a Giants game and getting into an altercation with her. Mr. Escobar has no prior criminal history.
Prosecutors are required by the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process guarantee to turn over any material that could clear a defendant of their charges. This doctrine was determined in the case of Brady v. Maryland. Ms. Brown worried that Ms. Jarvis may have committed a Brady violation, which occurs when the prosecution possesses evidence that is material and favorable to the defendant’s case, but fails to turn it over. “Material and favorable” mean that had the withheld evidence been available at trial, there was a reasonable probability that the outcome of the case could have been different.
In her argument before the court, Ms. Brown asserted that the video was both material and favorable to the defense because it could have been used to show that witnesses made inconsistent statements before and during trial. This in turn could be used to convince the jury that the witnesses were not credible.
Ms. Brown did not have the chance to use the non-doctored video evidence to impeach witnesses during trial because that video evidence was not turned over to her until mid-March, 2019, well after the trial had begun. When she did receive the full video, the judge refused her request to recall the witnesses for new questioning. Ms. Brown requested the video multiple times over the course of five months before the judge ordered the prosecution to turn over the video.
The video that was initially turned over to Ms. Brown in February of 2019 was only forty-eight seconds long, despite testimony from person who turned over the video that all the videos he sent to the police were over a minute long. The videos that Ms. Jarvis showed during trial—received from the same source—were each over two minutes long.
In a different 2018 case, the court admonished Ms. Jarvis for providing late discovery to the defense. That case was dismissed as a sanction against the DA’s office.
During Mr. Escobar’s trial, the judge ruled that the failure to turn over evidence was a discovery violation rather than a Brady violation. Discovery is the portion of a trial where parties obtain evidence from the opposing side. A discovery violation is considered a less heavy infraction than a Brady violation.
Ruling on the motion for a new trial, the judge was “not convinced there would have been a different outcome” had the defense been given the video evidence prior to trial. To this, Ms. Brown replied, “That is why we have twelve jurors.” The judge claimed that at trial, the defense did not request a mistrial in the face alleged prosecutorial misconduct by Ms. Jarvis. The record, however, reflected that Ms. Brown not only requested a mistrial, but also asked to extend the trial once she belatedly received the complete video, and to call back the witnesses for questioning in light of the newly-gained evidence. Despite correcting herself, Judge Castellanos maintained that there would be no new trial.
The judge then moved to sentence Mr. Escobar. The prosecution insisted that Mr. Escobar serve a thirty-day jail sentence. Ms. Brown argued that Mr. Escobar is a father to a two-year-old, and works as a construction manager, is employed at the Olympic Club, and drives for Uber to provide for his daughter and now-expecting wife. Ms. Brown asserted incarceration would impair his ability as a provider, and suggested that GPS monitoring would be the best way for Mr. Escobar to balance the punishment and his duty to his family.
Judge Castellanos pushed back against Ms. Brown’s suggestion of GPS monitoring as an alternative to jail time, reasoning that Mr. Escobar must be punished, that his punishment would serve as a deterrent, and that inebriation was no excuse for his behavior. This stood in contrast with the demeanor Judge Castellanos took with the case heard immediately before Mr. Escobar’s.
In the preceding case, the judge did not fight the sentencing of a man who drunkenly assaulted a taxicab driver to probation that included ninety days of GPS monitoring. The sentenced man beat the cab driver so severely that the driver suffered broken ribs.
In Mr. Escobar’s case, the judge claimed that she couldn’t be convinced that Mr. Escobar would not repeat the same offense, even though Mr. Escobar’s wife stated this was an isolated incident. Despite her initial resistance, Judge Castellanos relented after hearing Ms. Brown’s argument and ordered Mr. Escobar to serve thirty days of GPS monitoring, in addition to fifty-two weeks of domestic violence counseling.