Missing Witnesses, Confusing Officer Testimony Lead to New Deal for Defendant

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By Eric J. Trochez

SACRAMENTO – In a preliminary hearing in Sacramento County Superior Court last Thursday, the prosecution had three witnesses to call to the stand. But it never got that far.

After the first witness, the other two were nowhere to be found. When a recess was called to track down the missing witnesses, the defense decided to pack it in and accept the new plea deal instead.

It all started on January 8, around 2:50 a.m. in the morning when Ace Saavedra was arrested at an Enterprise Truck Rental depot parking lot and charged with possession of a firearm after misdemeanors, a felony crime.

Judge Ernest Sawtelle told the parties that the suppression motion and the preliminary hearing will be held concurrently. He then called on Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Gong to call her witnesses.

Gong started by calling Deputy Ulises Dominguez, who described the arrest taking place at an Enterprise Truck Rental depot parking lot and that there had been only one vehicle.

Gong then asked if he had spoken with a certain witness on the scene. Dominguez confirmed he did. Gong then asked a series of questions, specifying the connection between the witness and the defendant, including how did the witness arrive at the scene? Who was the witness with? Was the witness in a car with the defendant? Where was the witness staying?

Dominguez could not recall much of what occurred. And this caused some confusion.

Dominguez clarified that he was listed as having written a report on the incident by the district attorney’s office, but he never did. The testimony being provided was based solely on his recollection of the matter.

Gong continued and asked if the witness on the scene told Dominguez the defendant was on searchable probation. Dominguez said that he asked the witness if he was and if he knew he was on probation, which the witness confirmed.

Gong proceeded to ask if the witness had arrived in the car in the parking lot and if there was someone else with him. Dominguez stated that he was picked up and that the witness pointed at the car. When asked to confirm that he was associated with the car, Dominguez said, “Nope. He just said he got picked up and that was it.”

Gong followed up with another question: “So, previously, he was in that car?”

“I don’t recall,” admits Dominguez.

After asking again if the witness was previously in that vehicle, defense counsel Ryan Friedman objected, saying that Gong is leading the witness. Judge Sawtelle responded with a soft affirmation, “He did say he can’t remember.”

Gong expressed her confusion, stating that the witness said he was picked up and it was in the vehicle in the parking lot. After rephrasing the question once more, Dominguez then confirmed this to be the case.

Friedman objected again, saying the testimony was based on hearsay and recollection without solid evidence. Judge Sawtelle overruled this objection, stating that preliminary hearings are the place for hearsay and it is admissible.

Gong asked once more whether or not the witness was previously in the vehicle, to which Dominguez responded, “If [the witness] came with the gentleman, the car he would’ve came in would be the one in the parking lot.”

The direct examination ended and the cross by the defense begins.

Friedman began by confirming details about the case, such as the date, location, and whether Dominguez was dispatched. Then he asked details about the location, specifically if it took place at the Enterprise Truck Rental depot parking lot, if the lot had chain link fences and is where big trucks can be rented. Dominguez said yes.

Friedman asked to confirm whether there was an adjacent street to the lot, a side street as he refers to it, and if Dominguez spoke to the witness there. Dominguez didn’t recall. He stated he only saw and spoke with the witness, a patrol police car, and never saw the witness elsewhere.

Friedman then shifted his line of questioning toward the car. He asked if there was anything wrong with the car and its parking. The officer was unsure of any legal violations because the car was too far away, approximately 80 meters from where he spoke with the witness. Dominguez stated it looked like it was normally parked.

Friedman asked more questions in relation to the car: Was the witness in direct contact with the car? Was the witness the owner of the car? Did the witness have the car keys on him? Dominguez said no to the first two questions and was unsure if he had the keys, stating he wasn’t searched.

Dominguez then talked about the witness’ probation which allowed the police to search the vehicle. Friedman asked if they searched the vehicle as a probation condition, to which Gong objected.

Judge Sawtelle sustained the objection, stating Friedman can ask Dominguez why he searched the vehicle, but he can’t ask Dominguez to explain why the other officers searched the vehicle. Friedman then asked if the vehicle was searched and if the search was done after discovering the witnesses’ searchable probation conditions. Dominguez confirmed.

Deputy Dominguez was excused and another deputy was called. However, an Officer Nunez appeared instead. Realizing this to be the wrong officer, Gong asked if another officer is present with him, to which this officer responded, “Only the ones dealing with my same case”—but “his” case is a different case, not the current one with defendant Saavedra.

Judge Sawtelle called for a short recess to give Gong time to round up her other witnesses. When the case was called back, however, the witnesses were not called.

“I believe Mr. Friedman you’ve had a chance to talk with your client and you are interested in accepting the new offer from the People. Is that correct?” asked Judge Sawtelle.

“Yes, your honor,” said Friedman, confirming a “no contest” plea for his client.

The offer was as stated: The Count 1 felony is lowered to a misdemeanor. Defendant is given a minimum of one year court probation, along with 60 days in county jail, 10 days of which he has credit and can apply to a work program or home stay alternative if he so wishes for the rest of the 60 days.

He is to be given searchable probation, where he or his vehicle is subject to be searched by police or probation officers at any time and any location. He also asks for minimum court fines and fees and a stay away order from Enterprise Truck Rental.

The judge also confirmed that the defendant can no longer own, possess, purchase, or receive firearms, ammunition, or ammunition feeding devices and must relinquish all such items. His total fines and fees are $220.

Eric J. Trochez is a recent graduate from UC Davis. He is from Los Angeles, California. He majored in Political Science and Italian. His hobbies include video games and YouTube. Subscribe to my channel @Tromanzo ND (lol).


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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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