Criminal Court Rarity: Judge Disregards Prosecution, Reduces Felonies to Misdemeanors

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By Roxanna Jarvis

SACRAMENTO – Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Ernest Sawtelle did something seldom seen in criminal courts— he disregarded the recommendation of the prosecution.

As a result, defendant Michael Pierre, charged with two felonies, had both counts reduced to misdemeanors after he pleaded no contest.

Deputy District Attorney Ryan Roebuck, who opposed reducing charges, earlier recounted how Pierre assaulted the victim with a deadly weapon, a black folding pocketknife. He also was charged with assaulting another person with force likely to produce great bodily injury.

Pierre pleaded no contest to both of the felony counts charged against him. Judge Sawtelle found Pierre guilty, and ordered that he be prohibited from owning, purchasing and possessing any firearm or ammunition for a period of 10 years.

But, a rarity in most courts, Sawtelle then immediately proceeded to grant a motion under Penal Code section 17(b), which reduces a felony to a misdemeanor, after asking Pierre’s private attorney to explain why a reduction from a felony to a misdemeanor would be appropriate.

Pierre’s private attorney, David Foos, argued that Pierre has had little recent prior record, no felony record and is a contributing member of society with a job he has held for nine years. Foos also added that there would be problems in proving the counts against his client.

Judge Sawtelle interrupted, saying that Pierre did in fact have one felony back in 1993. Foos replied that it is a 27-year-old felony and that Pierre has not had any since then.

Sawtelle then noted that, in the current case, there were no injuries. Foos agreed, adding that the prosecuting witness, K.M., wished that Pierre not have a felony charge on his record.

Following Foos’ remarks, DDA Roebuck stated that “this offer was made over the People’s objection,” noting that Pierre has had eight misdemeanor convictions since his strike conviction in 1997 (although none were violent).

But the DDA did admit that the victim did leave a voicemail, clearly stating that they did not want Roebuck to oppose the offer to reduce Pierre’s felony charges.

After hearing both arguments, Judge Sawtelle said, “This is somewhat unusual for a court to reduce a sentencing, a felony, down to a misdemeanor.” He explained that all of the information presented defense counsel Foos was convincing enough to have a misdemeanor as an appropriate consequence for both of the counts.

“The court, in the interest of justice here, is going to use this discretion under 17(b) to reduce both Count 1 and Count 2 to misdemeanors,” the judge said.

Judge Sawtelle then sentenced Pierre to informal probation for three years, and for Count 1, ordered Pierre serve 180 days in county jail, whether it be a work project or alternative sentencing. For Count 2, Sawtelle ordered Pierre to pay a $150 restitution fine. Pierre was also ordered to have no contact with the victim or weapons during the three-year probationary period (although he does still have a 10-year prohibition on firearms and ammunition).

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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