By Linhchi Nguyen
SACRAMENTO – In a preliminary hearing on Friday at Sacramento County Superior Court, the district and defense attorneys argued over whether a bag of methamphetamine found in a hotel room indeed belonged to the defendant.
The defendant, Lom Phanhkomh, was arrested after two Sacramento police officers found a bag of methamphetamine and an unlawful firearm in his hotel room on May 16. Phanhkomh was accompanied by his girlfriend, who was the primary occupant of the hotel room.
Defense attorney Steven A. Hirsch insisted in court that the actual owner of the methamphetamine was not Phanhkomh, but his girlfriend.
One of the police officers who arrived at the scene, Officer David McDonald, testified that he first located Phanhkomh in the hotel’s parking lot. Upon searching the defendant, McDonald did not find any illegal substance on the defendant’s person nor in his car.
After detaining the defendant, McDonald went up to the defendant’s hotel room, where the defendant’s girlfriend was located. According to Phanhkomh, he rented the room under his name, but it was mainly occupied by his girlfriend. She was staying there for about two weeks due to a fight she had with the defendant, while Phanhkomh only stayed for a couple nights prior.
As Officer McDonald searched the room, he came across two grams of methamphetamine in an unopened bag at the top of a nightstand. McDonald stated that it was “in plain view,” where anybody would have seen it. He also located a purse belonging to the girlfriend, which contained two meth pipes inside.
When asked about the methamphetamine, the defendant denied that it belonged to him.
Hirsch pointed out to the judge that the meth was located “apart from Mr. Phanhkomh’s belongings. It wasn’t in the drawer with his wallet and other personal belongings. It was instead on top of a table top surface, visible and accessible to everyone in the room.
“Basically,” he stated. “It was in an area where [the defendant’s girlfriend] had the immediate sole access as a sole occupant of the room.”
Therefore, Hirsch concluded that “there is insufficient evidence that the defendant was involved in any possession of the methamphetamine described.”
Furthermore, the officers discovered a .38 super handgun on the nightstand. Although Phanhkomh‘s probation status prohibits him from possessing any firearm, Phanhkomh admitted to owning the gun.
Hirsch argued that the fact that Phanhkomh “flat out denied that the methamphetamine belonged to him but he did not deny the firearm belonged to him…proves his credibility in denial of possessing the methamphetamine.”
In his rebuttal, Deputy District Attorney Nick Karp claimed that the two meth pipes in the purse of the defendant’s girlfriend indicate that two people were consuming the methamphetamine, rather than just the girlfriend herself. Furthermore, Karp argued that the location of the meth on the nightstand could still prove that it belongs to Phanhkomh since Phanhkomh usually slept on the side of the bed that was closest to the nightstand.
Karp lastly brought up the fact that the defendant admitted to smoking methamphetamine just a week prior to his arrest.
After reviewing the evidence and statements, Judge Julie G. Yap decided that there is sufficient evidence to believe that the defendant is guilty, given “the argument…relating to the location of the methamphetamine in the room, that it was near the defendant’s items, including his wallet.”
She added that other supporting evidence includes “the registration of the room to the defendant and the other circumstantial evidence, including some of the statements.” Judge Yap asked the attorneys to proceed in setting dates for the trial and trial status conference.
But before they continued on, Hirsch asked if there was any way for the defendant to resolve the case so that the defendant would stay out of custody in order to work and support himself and his family. Hirsch further suggested a “one year county jail and one year probation” sentencing for Phanhkomh.
“Not today,” Judge Yap responded. “This court would not be entertaining that.” But she offered to set another status hearing date if Hirsch believed it would be helpful in achieving his client’s goals.
Hirsch ultimately decided that he would discuss this matter with the district attorney before their next court date.
Phanhkomh will be returning to Sacramento Superior Court for his trial status conference on Jan. 21 at 1:35 p.m. His trial will be on Monday, Jan. 25.
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