Yolo County 1437 Case Put Off until January, Yolo DA Continues to Challenge Felony Murder Reform

Deputy Public Defender Ron Johnson speaks to the judge in October hearing as James Olague looks on

While the Fourth Appellate District of California has ruled that SB 1437 is constitutional, the Yolo County District Attorney is continuing to fight it.  Two cases before the Fourth District out of San Diego and Riverside were ruled constitutional and the California Attorney General’s Office has also argued for its constitutionality.

On Wednesday, the court had been expected to rule on the constitutionality of the law, but given the 4th District ruling as well as the Yolo DA’s Office apparently not getting the memo to brief the judge, that didn’t happen.  Instead, Judge Paul Richardson deferred questions of constitutionality and asked for both sides to begin briefing on a prima facia case.

All across the state judges began acceding to the new court ruling.

For instance, in Placer County, Judge Couzens ruled SB 1437 to be constitutional: “Not only is this court bound to follow the decision of a higher court on the issues presented here, this court finds the reasoning of the higher court to be a valid and a proper interpretation of the law.”

However, Yolo County Deputy DA Ryan Couzens, coincidentally the son of the Placer County judge, saw it differently, noting that while AB 991 was unanimously passed as clean-up language for SB 1437, “SB 1437 was never legitimately passed in the first place.”

He noted that while the 4th District ruling is binding on the rest of the state, the 3rd District Court also has it “under submission” and “if the (Yolo) court rules that it’s constitutional, they would seek a writ on that and stay the proceedings.”

Regardless of that issue, the case before the Yolo Court – Ernesto Arellano and James Olague – stems from a 2002 murder case, the Halloween Homicides which was a four-month trial and Deputy Public Defender Ron Johnson said it would take a significant amount of time to prepare.

Judge Richardson indicated that his intention would be to shift gears to make a prima facia case that could be considered along with constitutionality.

Robert Spangler, attorney for Mr. Arellano, indicated he would need at least 90 days to prepare and that he does not have the material.

Deputy DA Ryan Couzens suggested they not expend the resources in case this law were ruled unconstitutional.

Supervising Deputy DA Melinda Aiello added in a rather elevated voice that in this case, the jury instructions are fatal to either defendant asserting relief under SB 1437.

“I feel it is unnecessary to proceed,” she said.  “The People filed a response brief with the facts that have been laid out.”

She said that the jury instructions made it clear that they were found guilty under a theory of major involvement as gang members.

Ron Johnson acknowledged the conviction under a gang murder theory would make it more difficult for them to overcome it, however, he suggested that there was case law on point with identical facts and believes that the gang conviction would not be a problem in this case.

Judge Richardson asked for briefing by January 8 with a status conference set that day in Judge David Rosenberg’s court.

—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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