By Tiffany Devlin
WOODLAND – Deputy Public Defender Richard Van Zandt argued in Yolo County Superior Court Wednesday that the Yolo County DA’s that police don’t have to come to court to testify—although they could attend live trainings and go on vacation—was “hypocritical” and “fundamentally inconsistent.”
Judge David Reed refused to change the prior ruling.
“I view this issue as different than whether a person is available or not available due to other commitments such as vacations or training, and I don’t consider that hypocritical or dispositive,” said Judge Reed.
On February 20, defendant Marco Antonio Solis Jimenez was charged with possession of a controlled substance while armed, along with individual charges of carrying a loaded firearm, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of narcotic paraphernalia. Jimenez was also charged with driving unlicensed and driving an unregistered vehicle.
While Van Zandt moved to continue his 1538.5 motion (motion to suppress evidence of an unreasonable search or seizure), he expressed concern about the previous ruling regarding live witness testimony involving the law enforcement officer as the witness. An interpreter was also given to translate for Jimenez.
“Since the issue of bringing the officers to court was litigated last time, I’ve seen a couple motions from the DA about continuances regarding officers’ availability,” Van Zandt began, “and they include officers going on training and officers going on vacation, and not being available.
“Especially with the training aspect, I think it’s fundamentally inconsistent for a party to do a continuance because the officer’s in training, but then say it’s too dangerous for the officer to come to court and testify because of the Coronavirus,” said Van Zandt, “so, I’m asking the court to reconsider its earlier ruling on not allowing officers to come to court to testify.”
Deputy District Attorney Matt DeMoura responded, claiming that nothing has changed to require more in-person testimony.
“The court has been very accommodating with Zoom, and this has become our reality for the time being: to minimize foot traffic in the court, and to minimize exposure of all citizens and law enforcement and all court personnel,” DeMoura explained.
“So, given that there are mechanisms set up for officers to testify and other witnesses to testify, there’s nothing to suggest that it can’t be accomplished. Although maybe it’s not as effective, given people talk over one another and things like that, it still works, and we’ve grown accustomed to this and there’s nothing to say that it’s not appropriate for this further hearing,” DeMoura concluded.
Van Zandt continued to argue that there is no harm in the officer coming to court, considering the courthouse has been taking necessary precautions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I mean in the end, to me, testimony from an officer regarding the case that he/she worked on is more important than going to a training in person,” Van Zandt insisted, “but the current position of law enforcement, including Mr. DeMoura’s office, is that training is more important. It’s okay to do in-person training, but it’s not so important to do in-person testimony… that’s the disconnect I see here.
“I think the court should reconsider the prior ruling and prioritize that testimony is more important than training. I mean, the officer can still go to training in other cases and other circumstances, but if he/she is gonna go to training, then he/she is gonna testify in certain cases where defense makes an offer of proof on why the officer should come to court… I think it’s just hypocritical to argue one thing, but then do another,” Van Zandt argued.
“The court previously denied the request to require the People to produce witnesses live in court,” Judge Reed stated, “but conditioned that if issues arise during the remote testimony, they could reconsider that the witness comes to court.
“I view this issue as different from whether a person is available or not available due to other commitments such as vacations or training, and I don’t consider that hypocritical or dispositive.” Judge Reed dissented.
“I believe the court’s ruling adequately protects the defendant’s right to confront witnesses, and I believe that right will be adequately respected under its previous order,” Judge Reed continued, “and that previous order allows the court to vary if the circumstances of this case justify it… The court does not feel it is significantly different enough to justify changing its ruling in this case.”
The case has been continued to Nov. 4.
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