By Heather Hamilton
WOODLAND – The criminal justice system is designed to punish people for their bad acts, and encounters with the system are dreadful for most and come with long-lasting consequences, court experts say.
And while you don’t see many defendants expressing gratitude for the court’s orders, when Marco Sunseri appeared in Yolo County Superior Court June 5, he and his father expressed sincere gratitude for the court’s generosity.
Sunseri faced possession of narcotic paraphernalia and vandalism misdemeanors.
Sunseri’s case was heard by Judge David Reed. Sunseri was represented by Deputy Public Defender Joseph Gocke, and Deputy District Attorney Christopher Bulkeley appeared on behalf of the prosecution.
During the pretrial conference hearing, the judge granted release to the defendant on his “own recognizance” (O.R.), which means with no payment of bail money and no posting of a bond.
Sunseri was granted O.R. release on the following conditions: he must be released from custody to his father and transported to Eugene, Oregon, where they will live together, he must obtain mental health treatment, and must work out restitution with the victims.
Sunseri understood that if he did not receive mental health services, his O.R. would be revoked and he would be brought back into custody.
Sunseri said he had no objection to seeking out treatment, and was accustomed to using such services, but that it had been difficult to do so recently. He explained that he had been unhoused for the past 18 months and that he struggled to address his mental health when dealing with homelessness. He confessed he was immensely grateful that, through the court’s resolution, he was being reunited with his family..
Sunseri’s father, Stephen, and the defendant appeared in court via Zoom. The father of the defendant said that he appreciated the court’s generosity toward his son’s behavior. He was more than willing to drive to Yolo County and pick up his son, which allowed him to be out of a cage and in the comfort and care of his family.
During the hearing, the father explained the defendant received notice that his Social Security benefits were cancelled because of his conviction. The court found this notice to be in error as the defendant, at this stage in time, has been charged but not convicted. The Social Security Administration will be contacted to resolve the issue. The defendant is ordered to pay restitution but his income source is currently unavailable.
The court allowed the defendant to be released and transported out of state, and Mr. Gocke explained that he could file a 977 motion (for a Penal Code section 977 waiver) that excused Sunseri’s presence at future court appearances.
The defendant will have a hearing on June 18, but filing this motion will allow him to waive his appearance and remain in Oregon with his father, the court said. The court offered several accommodations in response to Sunseri’s felony charge.
Court observers noted that “friendly” outcomes are the rarity in usually combative criminal court, and certainly the defendant and the defendant’s family don’t normally thank the court as Mr. Sunseri and his father did.
In this case, the court didn’t play the ogre role but appeared to be working to help change the defendant’s life for the better.
The court also allowed the father to appear by Zoom—it’s next to impossible to get family in courtrooms now because of COVID-19 restrictions.
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