By Coco Wang
WOODLAND – A woman was accused of petty theft in a violation of probation hearing and was represented by a law student intern who was supervised by Deputy Public Defender Daniel Hutchinson. Judge Paul Richardson initially found the defendant in violation of probation when the law student presented in court, but reconsidered after Mr. Hutchinson stepped in to make additional arguments.
Perla Alvarado was accused of misdemeanor petty theft for allegedly stealing items worth $36 from a Walmart in West Sacramento in March 2019. A jury trial took place in Nov. 2019 and was vacated. A violation of probation hearing took place on Friday, March 6, 2020.
The prosecution’s witness, RL, testified. RL worked as a loss protection associate at a Walmart in West Sacramento.
At around 9:25 am on March 12, 2019, RL was on duty and noticed a female walking into the store through live surveillance cameras. RL identified the female to be Perla Alvarado and claimed that he kept an eye on her since she entered because she was carrying two purses, which seemed suspicious.
After the defendant walked in, RL claimed that he saw her, through watching the surveillance cameras, going to the woman’s wear section, selecting a few shirts, and slipping one or more clothing items into one of her purses. Afterward, RL claimed that the defendant went to the food department and browsed for some time. Eventually, RL claimed that he saw the defendant go back to the food section, pick a few items, and head to a self-checkout.
At this point, RL stated that he walked out of his office and stood roughly 10 feet away from the self-checkout counter, where he saw that the defendant scanned several items and paid. However, RL stated that he did not see the defendant take any item out of her purse.
After the defendant finished the transaction, RL saw her heading to the deli department to order hot food, which she paid for with cash at the self-checkout. As the defendant was about to exit the store, RL stopped her at around 10:41 am in an attempt to talk to her. But since the defendant understood very limited English, RL also attempted to communicate with her through hand gestures, to no avail.
Eventually, RL claimed that a site supervisor at Walmart generated a receipt of the items found on the defendant, which had a value of $34.42 before tax, or roughly $36 after tax.
The law student representing the defendant argued that Ms. Alvarado had split her transactions into two because she was using food stamps, which only applied to food items, and the witness mistook this action for stealing. Additionally, the defendant’s financial statement identified that the defendant spent roughly $36 in total at Walmart, which was the exact amount of the value that she was alleged to have stolen.
At this point, the court stated that, since the witness was a trained employee who had been doing his job for years, it was unlikely that the witness made a mistake and held that the defendant violated her probation because it was more likely than not that she had stolen the items.
Although the court had decided, Mr. Hutchinson requested the court to allow him to make an argument, which was permitted. Mr. Hutchinson stated that Walmart in West Sacramento was not cooperative with their investigation and had ignored twice their request to release either the security footage or the transaction records made by the defendant on March 12, 2019.
In addition, Mr. Hutchinson argued that the items shown on both the receipt of the allegedly stolen items as well as the receipt of the defendant’s purchased items displayed a man’s shirt as opposed to a woman’s shirt, which was what RL claimed to have seen.
Mr. Hutchinson claimed that the witness was not a trained peace officer but an employee at Walmart; RL could have simply been a lazy employee who did not fulfill his job because he failed to keep a record of the items purchased by the defendant, which was very easy to do.
Moreover, Mr. Hutchinson compared the value of the food items on the receipt generated by Walmart and found that it was close to $12, which was almost the exact amount of one of the transactions made by the defendant as shown on her financial record. In this case, the defendant would have to purchase and steal items of the exact value in the same category, which would be too much of a coincidence, as Mr. Hutchinson argued.
Additionally, Mr. Hutchinson stated that he did not believe RL had any conversation with the defendant due to their language barrier; he simply took over the items from the defendant and had them scanned.
Judge Richardson reconsidered the case and decided that it had not been established that the defendant had stolen the items, and let the defendant return home.
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