Defense Request Backfires – Routine Arraignment Prompts Custody Concerns

By Mia Machado

FRESNO – A defense attorney’s request to remove the defendant’s children from a criminal protective order prompted a new debate over custody concerns involving that defendant—in effect, the request backfired.

Defendant Roni Rene Toste appeared in Fresno County Superior Court Friday morning for arraignment on felony and misdemeanor charges relating to a domestic violence incident that occurred Sept. 22.

Represented by defense attorney Martin Taleisnik, Toste entered pleas of not guilty to all counts, denying all allegations, and requesting that the case be set for a pre-preliminary hearing.

Before moving forward with the arraignment, however, attorney Taleisnik requested that Judge Francine Zepeda consider leaving the defendant’s children out of the criminal protective order (CPO), citing the similar decision made previously by Judge Amy Guerra when the case was still in Family Law court.

While stating that any decision she made about the defendant’s CPO would supersede any previous orders made by Judge Guerra, Judge Zepeda agreed to listen to the facts of the case before making a decision.

However, after learning of the defendant’s history of alcohol abuse and the details of the incident, Judge Zepeda expressed concerns about Toste’s current unsupervised custody of her children and the need for further action.

Despite deciding to deny attorney Taleisnik’s request, Judge Zepeda agreed to reconsider leaving the children out of an amended CPO later on, granted the defendant completes at least four sessions of counseling and two AA meetings a week.

Following Judge Zepeda’s agreement to consider attorney Taleisnik’s request, Deputy District Attorney Nicole Idiart conveyed the People’s decision that if the court decided to leave the children out of the CPO, the DDA would request a form of mandated counseling.

DA Idiart clarified that although she did not think a full protective order was necessary for the children, she reserved concerns about the defendant’s consumption of alcohol around them, as well as the defendant’s aggressive behavior toward law enforcement.

Relaying the facts of the case, DA Idiart explained that during the altercation, the defendant “was quite intoxicated as well as the victim,” and “there was a lot of screaming.”

When law enforcement arrived on the scene “she was screaming at them to leave, she shoved one of the officers, and during all of this, the children, aged 10 and 11, appeared to be extremely distraught and crying.”

Toste had allegedly ripped the victim’s shirt off, and law enforcement documented a scratch across the victim’s face as well.

“So it’s really sad you know. What the children had to witness during this incident,” DA Idiart explained. While noting the defendant’s previous violation involving alcohol from 2004, Judge Zepeda interrupted in order to address attorney Taleisnik.

“I wasn’t there, but I am concerned about the sheer amount of visitation without anything further that the mother needs to do,” asserted Judge Zepeda.

Pointing out that custody between the two parents is split “almost 50/50,” Judge Zepeda reasoned that “based on what the children saw, to have that kind of unlimited contact” is concerning.

Agreeing with DDA Idiart, Judge Zepeda concluded that the defendant “may likely need a few counseling sessions before we get the children back with her half time.”

In response to Judge Zepeda’s tentative decision, attorney Taleisnik argued the court neglected to consider “the violent nature of the victim as well,” and the role the defendant plays in supporting her children through online classes.

Nonetheless, Taleisnik said Toste “will obviously do and abide by” the ruling.

Judge Zepeda maintained her position about the need for counseling and rejected the defense’s CPO request.

Leaving the children on the current CPO, Judge Zepeda explained that in order to reconsider her ruling, she would like the defendant to attend four sessions of counseling—in the nature of anger management and alcohol abuse—as well as two AA meetings a week.

Once completed, Judge Zepeda intends to redo the CPO.

Addressing the defendant, Judge Zepeda voiced that she was “really sorry” and understands that the process will be “crappy,” but that she doesn’t make the decision lightly.

Contingent on the terms of Judge Zepeda’s agreement, all parties will reconvene on Jan. 8 to resubmit a new CPO without the children, and continue with the case’s preliminary hearing.

Mia Machado is a junior at UC Davis, currently majoring in political science-public service and minoring in Luso-brazilian studies. She is originally from Berkeley, California

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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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