By Anna Okada
HUMBOLDT – Credit COVID-19 for helping get charges dismissed against a defendant here in Humboldt County Superior Court this week.
Judge Christopher Wilson dismissed charges against defendant Bowen Stephens after Assistant Public Defender Jessica Bennett explained that Stephens has no phone nor computer to access a drug diversion class over Zoom.
Stephens was eligible for a drug diversion program in replacement of time in custody for drug possession.
Drug diversion classes are usually available in person, but under the COVID-19 pandemic, many are taking place online. Bennett requested for Stephens’ charge to be dismissed, since he demonstrated willingness to complete the “PC 1000” class, but was ultimately unable to do it because he doesn’t have a phone or computer.
Deputy District Attorney David Moutrie, however, instead requested more time for Stephens to complete the class.
The hearing was characterized by more than one Zoom-related challenge: DDA Moutrie, from the beginning of the call, had difficulties hearing Bennett. Moutrie said that he will physically go to the courtroom for his subsequent cases. He described “a significant echo” and stated that it was hard to understand what was going on in court.
Nonetheless, Moutrie repeated that Stephens has yet to complete the drug diversion class that was part of the original agreement for Stephens’ charge. “The agreement is not to start the program, it is to complete the program,” Moutrie argued.
Judge Wilson ruled that Stephens showed “substantial compliance with diversion requirements” despite his inability to attend the drug diversion class, and emphasized that Stephens hasn’t committed misdemeanors nor felonies in the past 12 months.
Wilson decided to dismiss Stephens’ charge, citing the COVID-19 pandemic and Stephens’ financial inability to access Zoom.
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