Judge Holds Defendant to Answer Despite Conflicting Testimony during Prelim

Sacramento – In March, sheriff’s deputies responded to a call of shots fired and, following a search, they found three cell phones with about 20 to 50 baggies of Xanax pills – which they estimated originally to contain about 300 pills, but it turned out to be over 900.

Darius Pinos is facing charges of possession for sale.  Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ernest Sawtelle held Mr. Pinos to answer for those charges at what is scheduled to be an October 16 trial, despite evidence put on by Defense Attorney David Grow that the pills may have belonged to a third party, Austin Harmon, who was charged separately in this incident.

Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Meier responded to the call of shots fired and was informed that someone in a PT Cruiser-like vehicle was involved.

When that vehicle drove by, he followed and the driver got out.  At this point the deputy searched the vehicle and found the three cell phones and 20-plus baggies with Xanax pills.

Deputy Meier testified that Mr. Pinos was placed under arrest and he allegedly told the deputy that both some methamphetamine and the Xanax were his.  According to the deputy’s testimony, there were 945 separate pills.

After being qualified as an expert, Meier indicated that in his opinion the pills were possessed for sale as “no one holds on to that quantity for personal use.”

In addition, he testified that sales of drugs often take place over multiple cell phones, therefore the presence of three cell phones in the car was also indicative of intent to sell.

Under cross-examination, the deputy noted that he was called after a report of shots fired.  Two women had walked past a vehicle and heard a loud explosion come from the vehicle.  However, when he searched the vehicle, he didn’t find a firearm.

He also testified that personal usage of Xanax varies by the extent of use, but a hardcore user might use between 3 and 5 pills a day.

In an unusual move, the defense attempted to call Austin Harmon as a witness.  Mr. Harmon was allegedly in the vehicle at the time of the arrest, and was already sentenced for his role in the incident.  However, when the defense attempted to call him, his court-appointed counsel, Tamara Soloman, advised him to take the “5th” in response to all questions.

The judge ultimately put a stop to the questioning, but ordered him back in case the matter went to trial.

Meanwhile, the defense used its own investigator, Scott Drageset, a public defender investigator and former police officer.

He testified that he spoke to Mr. Harmon in March of 2019.  Mr. Harmon indicated that they were using “weed” and drinking on the night in question.  He said that Harmon told him there were people talking smack and that they lit off firecrackers in order to scare them off.

Meanwhile, Mr. Harmon told Mr. Drageset that the pills were his.  He claimed he had about 200 to 300 pills and that he had used them since he was a teenager for anxiety.  He told the investigator that Mr. Pinos did not know they were in the car.

Mr. Harmon said he threw them in the back of the vehicle and Mr. Pinos had no idea they were there.

However, under cross-examination, Mr. Drageset indicated that at the time he talked to Mr. Harmon, he was unaware that the quantity of pills was 945 rather than 300 and that baggies were found on the front dashboard rather than in the back of the vehicle as Mr. Harmon indicated.

During arguments, Mr. Grow requested a “no holding order.”  He indicated that the big baggie belonged to Mr. Harmon.  He indicated that, in speaking with Mr. Drageset, Harmon’s statements were pertinent because they were declarations against penal interest when made.

He argued this represented uncontested evidence by Mr. Harmon.

However, Judge Sawtelle immediately rejected the arguments of the defense counsel for the purposes of the preliminary hearing, finding sufficient cause that Mr. Pinos committed a crime in this case.

He noted even if Mr. Harmon’s testimony is accurate, that still leaves two-thirds of the pills to be Mr. Pinos’ and in his possession.

Moreover, the judge also noted that the pills were found in the front of the vehicle rather than the back

A jury trial will be held on October 16.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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