By Alana Bleimann
SACRAMENTO – The question here in Sacramento County Superior Court this week is whether defendant Steve Hancock stole one or two cars—and if he did, should he stand trial for a felony or misdemeanor?
At Hancock’s preliminary hearing, Assistant Public Defender Juan Corona argued a “17b motion” to remove a felony charge for a stolen automobile from the Maita Honda Dealership.
In order for Hancock’s charges to be reduced to a misdemeanor, Judge Kevin J. McCormick would have to accept the Penal Code §17(b) motion, which asks a judge to reduce a felony to a misdemeanor offense. This can only be possible if the felony is classified as a “wobbler” (a charge that originally could be a misdemeanor or a felony).
The facts of the case, as presented by the prosecution, stated that in February of this year, at approximately 6:10 a.m., peace officer Barron Cox responded to the location of Maita Honda, a car dealership located in Sacramento county.
A white Honda Civic had allegedly been stolen from the lot by an employee, according to the manager of the dealership, who said, “Another salesperson had someone interested in buying the car and they went to the lot and it was missing.”
The employee in question was identified as the defendant, Steve Hancock.
Hancock was identified by the manager after he reviewed surveillance footage and “saw Hancock leave in the white vehicle.” Hancock was seen walking through the dealership and “went into an area where employees log in and out of work” and exited from another door. From this point, the viewer of the footage could see the white Honda drive away.
“I don’t recall seeing Hancock get in the car though (in the video),” admitted Officer Cox.
There was also another collection of footage from two days after the incident.
“We were viewing the rear parking lot entrance…a white Honda with a silver Honda pulls behind it and seconds later Steven and a female were walking into the dealership through the rear doors.”
The female’s identity was classified by locating her driver’s license in Hancock’s desk at home. The relationship between the female and the defendant was not disclosed.
When the two individuals walked into the dealership the manager said that he asked Hancock for the keys back and told him to “go home.”
The female walking with Hancock said she had property in the silver Honda and was taken outside where she retrieved a bag with kids’ toys in it.
At this point, the manager realized the silver Honda was also from his store and he reported it as stolen.
The condition of the silver Honda was originally “brand new and shouldn’t have had more than five miles,” but when it was recovered it “was soiled on the inside and over 250 miles gone.”
The condition and number of miles in the white vehicle after being returned was not noted in Officer Cox’s report, although it “could be in another officer’s report….I do not recall any physical damage [on the white Honda],” he added.
The value of the silver Honda was $23,250 and the value of the white Honda was $22,380.
Public defender Corona questioned the officer, who revealed that Hancock only took the white Honda and the female took the silver Honda, with Corona suggesting the charge should only be a misdemeanor.
The process for test driving vehicles was not disclosed and that when someone wants to test drive a vehicle they have to show their driver’s license; but this conversation never happened between the dealership manager and Officer Cox.
Officer Daniel Hanson spoke to Hancock, who said he was an employee at Maita Honda for approximately four months. He also said he never took any vehicles home from that dealership, although he mentioned a woman who contacted him a week earlier to arrange for a test drive of the vehicle.
Part of Hancock’s job at the dealership was to test drive vehicles with potential customers. This woman was the same female seen in the second set of video surveillance footage.
In arguing in favor of the 17b motion in his closing argument, public defender Juan Corona stated that Hancock has a minimal record with only a domestic violence case from 2013 in which he successfully completed probation. Additionally, Hancock was employed and has a young son.
“The rehabilitation process can still be accomplished with a misdemeanor conviction… I understand why he should be a convicted felon….he has shown that he is a productive member of the community…knows right from wrong…booking him with a felony would be a disservice to him and his family,” Corona argued.
Deputy District Attorney Emilee Divinagracia called it “felonious conduct,” saying “the defendant took two cars and at least one of them he had for two days….there’s a reason he was given trust over these vehicles….he violated this trust by taking them for the weekend and lies about it all the way up until he is arrested.”
Judge McCormick found the 17b motion to be a reasonable request, but ultimately said “he [Hancock] is in a position of trust” and that he did steal the vehicle.
Further proceedings and an arraignment is set for December, with a trial to follow.
Alana Bleimann is a junior at the University of San Francisco majoring in Sociology with a minor in Criminal Justice Studies. She is from Raleigh, North Carolina.
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