San Francisco – It was an unusual scene last week where two jurors came back to court during the sentencing hearing for Aleksandr Rotkin, who was convicted previously of attempted kidnapping. They told San Francisco Superior Court Judge Victor Hwang that, while they believe the legal elements were met for attempted kidnapping, they felt that the law was unjust as applied in this situation.
The jurors said that the letter of the law for kidnapping “was unconstitutionally unfair.” It was far too vague and too broad. They said when they think about the act of kidnapping, “this is not the set of facts that would support it.”
Deputy Public Defender Bonnie Chan agreed with the jury.
“Mr. Rotkin lost everything after the DA filed a motion to detain,” she argued. “He lost his job he’s had for a while—(having to cross) state lines commercial driving. He lost his child. He was evicted from his apartment since he was not able to pay while in jail and all of his belongings in the apartment have been removed.”
Judge Hwang indicated that he shared some of the concerns of the jury. He said, “I can’t change the law,” however.
He said during the preliminary hearing the case came to him and he was able to reduce the charges from kidnapping to attempted kidnapping.
On May 14, 2019, the mother ran out from the bottom level of the residence in San Francisco. She was seen on surveillance video running to an unknown car trying to get in.
Mr. Rotkin came out of the residence confused as to what the mother was doing. Mr. Rotkin was holding the baby in his arms, saying something to the mother and gesturing for her to come back into the house. They all went back into the house.
But five minutes later, she emerged again with the baby in her arms, and and she ran down the sidewalk and asked a neighbor to call 911 for help. Mr. Rotkin came outside and said something to her and gestured for her to go back inside. She tried to run in the other direction.
Mr. Rotkin is seen bear hugging her from behind, apparently attempting to prevent her from trying to run back into the street.
Afraid for the baby’s safety, Mr. Rotkin stayed behind her and attempted to convince her to go back into the house, as he was afraid for her emotional state. At one point he went so far as to get down on a knee, pleading for her to return.
At no point did he touch her or attempt to hold her.
However, at some later point, he did have his arms wrapped around her, attempting to get her to go back into the house. He then pushed her while still behind her to guide her back into the house. She continued to refuse.
Neighbors testified about their 911 calls and how they had no idea what was going on. They were not afraid for Mr. Huang, they were more concerned about the baby because he was crying.
During sentencing, the defense submitted a memo arguing that Mr. Rotkin should not be required to do additional jail time. Meanwhile, the DA argued that he should remain in custody at sentencing due to the fact that he was homeless – despite the fact that the reason he was homeless in the first place was that he was in custody.
Prior to this incident. Mr. Rotkin was gainfully employed and a productive member of society.
The mother never wanted him to go to jail or be prosecuted. She wanted him to get counseling and maybe work on their relationship.
One of the jurors said that this seemed like the best option, as well.
“Any additional custody time would not benefit any parties involved,” said Ms. Chan.
After hearing the jurors, Judge Hwang praised the jury system, noting the care and diligence of two jurors coming back to ensure that justice occurred in this case.
Based on the defense memo, Judge Hwang, while denying a motion for a new trial, ordered a mental health assessment for the defendant and then sentenced him to 297 days in jail – which was effectively time served.
—David M. Greenwald reporting