Emotional Detention Decision Highlights Difficult Choices in Courtroom


By Phoebe Glick

FRESNO— When remanded into custody following review of seven of 20 outstanding cases against him, Diego Magana broke into tears.

Magana, a veteran and single father of two young children, appeared in Fresno County Superior Court Tuesday for diversion reviews on six misdemeanors and one felony charged against him.

Magana is accused of several counts of driving with a revoked or suspended license, as well as possession of drug paraphernalia, failure to maintain lights in his car, having no evidence of current car registration, and having a concealed firearm in a vehicle. These offenses allegedly occurred in 2013 and 2018.

A felony case is also pending against Magana, for domestic violence against a spouse or cohabitant allegedly committed in April of 2020.

Magana has been in military diversion programs meant to help rehabilitate veteran defendants accused of low-level offenses in lieu of criminal convictions. These programs are specialized to different offenses and needs, and often charge fees to replace criminal fines or cover operating expenses.

Magana had been reporting to a military diversion program, having been recommended to it in 2018 in a case dating back to 2013. There was confusion as to which program would best suit Magana, who says his program supervisor had recommended anxiety classes instead. “I didn’t really know where to go after that,” said Magana.

Judge Ana de Alba had received an email forwarded from Magana’s supervisor saying he had not been participating in classes. The email also noted the pending felony against Magana, which meant he would be better served in veteran’s court as opposed to criminal court.

Assistant Public Defender Justin Bendana informed the court that Magana, a veteran, suffers from a traumatic brain injury as well as PTSD. He is also a single father of two children. Bendana argued that “remanding him [into custody] is not the way to go, especially in the midst of a very deadly pandemic.”

Deputy District Attorney Lauren Meegan argued for Magana to be remanded to custody. Meegan noted that Magana had failed to appear for an arraignment in his felony case, and said that detention would speed the criminal justice process. Not only would Magana be assured to appear in court, “this is a quicker way to get him in [veteran’s court],” argued Meegan.

Bendana and Magana assert that Magana’s bail bondsman had not supplied Magana with the arraignment date.

In addition to concern for Magana, Meegan brought up a concern for the public safety. “It’s frankly disheartening and concerning that… he did pick up a felony” very recently, Meegan said.

Judge de Alba remanded Magana into custody with a bail amount of $25,000, citing the fact that it would “get [Magana] before a judge much sooner” and would aid in addressing Magana’s other open cases. She also asked PD Bendana to communicate with Veteran’s Affairs to find an appropriate program for Magana.

Magana protested, “I promise you; I’ve been coming to court every time for the past two years.”

In the end, Magana was reduced to tears, crying out, “My kids!” He visibly sobbed with his head down, as the bailiff patted him on the back. It was unclear whether this was for comfort or to handcuff Magana, who offered the bailiff his hands behind his back as he continued to cry.

The court broadcast screen went black, and the court went on a 20-minute recess.

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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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