By Yuanqi Ivy Zhou
MERCED, CA – Sometimes Zoom communication is not all that easy—take this exchange in Merced County Superior Court late last week.
Frustrated by Deputy District Attorney Misty Compton’s interruption of his argument vouching for the defendant’s release, Assistant Public Defender Vincent Andrade startled the courtroom by screaming, “Don’t interrupt me, Ms. Compton. I am talking!”
Compton then left the Zoom call, claiming there were connection issues.
Communication over Zoom has been the root of various tensions arising in courtrooms across the nation.
In a May 2020 article from The National Law Review, titled “The Pros and Cons of Zoom Court Hearings” by Shalini Nangia and Julia A. Perkins from Varnum LLP, they discuss the concerns of conducting motions and evidentiary hearings via Zoom. One of the cons is that “judges cannot control a virtual courtroom the same way they can a real courtroom in terms of […] who is talking to whom.”
Throughout a Zoom hearing, many issues can arise, ranging from technical ones such as internet connection and microphone placement to legal ones such as consent to review over digital technology and privacy.
These issues can lead to tension when different parties cannot comprehend one another’s speech in a heated conversation, especially on serious topics such as the defendants’ legal rights and responsibilities in the case of the People v. Christopher Kelly Vasquez in Merced County Superior Court
Vasquez was charged for a violation of his probation on June 8. After Vasquez’s original release for drug abuse and domestic violence, he was put on probation to check on his conduct. During his probation period, he was subject to the completion of the Merced County Rescue Mission program. Though the court gave him the opportunity, Vasquez still violated his probation on June 8.
A month later, Merced Superior Court was in the process of having a hearing for Vasquez’s violation of probation under the supervision of Judge Paul Lo when the rise in tension between APD Vincent Andrade and DDA Misty Compton occurred. The two parties were discussing whether or not Vasquez should be released on his own recognizance.
Andrade argued that Vasquez should be released for graduating from the Merced County Rescue Mission, and he has a job he can return to upon release. Furthermore, he stated that although Vasquez is still struggling with drugs as shown from the positive drug test in March, he has not caused more trouble and only has one violation involving “contact.”
Andrade concluded that Vasquez is “a gentleman with one felony and with a little bit of a drug problem” and should be released for him to keep his employment, which can help him avoid worse choices like drug abuse.
Thinking that Andrade was finished with his monologue in defense of Vasquez’s early release, Compton cut in and asserted, “He [Vasquez] is charged with six violations; how many chances does he get?”
To which Andrade responded, “Don’t interrupt me, Ms. Compton. I am talking!” Compton then fled the scene, claiming that she had connection issues—for a whole 20 MINUTES.
After those 20 minutes, Compton signed back onto Zoom and calmly stated the facts on behalf of the People. She added that Vasquez was referred nine times to the batterers program, referred to and terminated from BI, and went to the Merced County Rescue Mission program. Though Vasquez completed the program, program administrators still recommended that he go back.
Judge Lo agreed with her statement by stating, “Sometimes we are too overly optimistic that people can just overcome substance abuse just by doing one program. What we know about substance abuse is that it has to be dealt with over a lifetime.”
Furthermore, the court said, Vasquez was only employed part time, was reported to have tested positive in a March 2020 drug test, and would not provide probation with his new address after moving. The DDA concluded that “probation cannot help Vasquez anymore” and that “probation has already done everything that they could possibly do.”
After a heated conversation, Judge Lo ruled that although Vasquez violated his probation and is dealing with substance abuse, he is actively attending behavior therapy classes and has not violated any new laws.
Thus, the court will release him on his own recognizance and give him two years of extended probation and another year for him to complete batterer treatment classes, stating that this is “the final opportunity for you to do things right on probation.”
Public Defender Andrade stated that he will continue to fight for Vasquez’s early probation termination and file a motion to include Vasquez’s anger management classes at the Mercy County Rescue Mission to reduce the number of classes required for a probation termination. At the end of the hearing, Vasquez was told to report to probation and contact Andrade upon release.
Though this hearing ended peacefully with the release of Vasquez to probation, there existed more than a little tension as a result of the miscommunication between various parties—the judge, the defendant, the public defender, and the district attorney—all attempting to negotiate with one another at the same time over Zoom.
To sign up for our new newsletter – Everyday Injustice – https://tinyurl.com/yyultcf9