Assembled by Macy Lu
The Davis Vanguard is an online news forum that provides coverage of criminal justice reform and courts throughout California and the nation. In 2006, the Davis Vanguard began to cover Davis and Yolo County groundbreaking, local news concerning government and policy issues affecting the city, schools, and county. In the past few years, the online news source has been able to expand to Sacramento and the surrounding regions.
Today, the team has grown to about 40 to 50 interns who monitor and report on live court proceedings in more than six different counties throughout California, from the State Capitol of Sacramento to the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley and Southern California.
This week, Dec. 21 through Dec. 24, 2020, Vanguard interns covered stories from Sacramento, Yolo, Contra Costa, Fresno, and Suffolk courthouses as well as the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. The most notable stories in this synopsis include a resolution for a manslaughter case, a conviction by evidence from a social media post, and the immediate release of a defendant who had been incarcerated for 30 years.
SACRAMENTO COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT
Reporter Linhchi Nguyen: Several attorneys ended up requesting to waive time on Wednesday in Sacramento Dept. 62. Many had to trail their case because either the co-council was ill or the defense attorney was unavailable. In one hearing, Sacramento Public Defender Joni O’Connor proposed a confusing re-sentencing request for her defendant, Brain Kul. She asked whether Kul could serve a concurrent two-year sentence on top of his mandatory supervision. However, Judge Michael A. Savage was unsure whether it was even “legal” for him to change the sentencing when there was no good reason to do so. Savage told O’Connor that he has “never done this before” and is unsure whether he should alter the sentencing before consulting with others. After asking the bailiff and other attorneys, multiple people expressed their confusion about O’Connor’s request. Thus, she decided to return to court on Friday, Jan. 8 in order to double check on the legality of her request.
Reporter Alana Bleimann: This week Alana attended court watch twice in Yolo, Sacramento, Contra Costa, and Alameda superior courts. On Monday she heard over 30 arraignments and motions and on Wednesday she heard over 15 arraignments and motions. Most notably, in Sacramento Dept. 15 defendant Robert Hasse was charged with criminal threat of death or great bodily harm to another person, after trespassing on his victim’s front lawn and making threatening remarks. The victim’s boyfriend and 13-year-old daughter were present and fearful for their safety after Hasse said he would “kill them all.” After Officer Jared Dailey recounted the events, Judge Kevin J. McCormick found him guilty of the charges and requested that he return in Jan. of next year for further proceedings. In Alameda Dept. 702 Judge Delia Trevino denied three defendants release on OR even though multiple public defenders claimed their clients were at risk of catching COVID-19.
Reporter Danae Snell: Sacramento Dept. 15 consisted of two preliminary hearings Wednesday morning on Dec. 23, 2020. One of the preliminary hearings displayed how one post on Instagram could lead to potential criminal charges and jail time. Defendants Marcus Grisby and Shannon Morris experienced first-hand the risks that can occur off just one or two posts on Instagram when they were required to sit in court for a preliminary hearing in front of Judge Kevin J. McCormick from the Sacramento Superior Court. Sacramento Police Officer Jonathon Monroe was able to conduct a search warrant after both of the defendants posted videos of themselves possessing firearms. Normally this action by itself would not warrant law enforcement’s involvement; however, both of the defendants have prior convictions that resulted in their inability to possess firearms. Technology and the use of social media has proved to be beneficial to law enforcement for detecting crime.
Reporter Evie Sun: On Dec. 23 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 62, Judge Savage denied defendant George Tutt a release from custody after his fifth felony violation. The defendant was previously charged with two misdemeanors on the “Possession of Narcotic Paraphernalia” and four felonies ranging from “Unlawful Use of Personal Identifying Information” to “Burglary” starting from 2018.
Reporter Anika Khubchandani: On Dec. 21, in Sacramento Superior Court’s Dept. 60, Public Defender Patricia Beza Contreras and Matthew Micheal Chisholm from the DA’s Office came to a resolution in the case involving defendant Norva Patton. The resolution is that Patton admits to voluntary manslaughter of her cohabitant and serves a sentence of 6 years in addition to admitting her previous strike which will double her total sentence to 12 years in state prison. Since Patton has not only been agreeable throughout proceedings but also has “only one prior felony conviction” with “no misdemeanor convictions since 2006,” Chisholm believes the resolution is appropriate. However, the victim’s sister strongly disagrees. Under Marsy’s law, she has the right to deliver a statement before the court. She feels that the sentence is extremely unfair since the victim “didn’t even have a weapon” to defend himself with. Since the defendant is a woman, the victim’s sister suggests that the court is treating Patton “more leniently.”
Judge Scott Tedmon gives the victim’s sister his condolences and Chisholm acknowledges “the level of pain” experienced firsthand by the victim’s family. Ultimately, Judge Tedmon agrees that the resolution is appropriate by allowing the case to go forward to but he assures the victim’s sister that the deal on the table is only based on a conditional plea. “This matter will be sent to probation for a pre-sentence report for a recommendation,” says Tedmon. Therefore, the decision made by the court is not binding.
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On Tuesday in Dept. 60, Co-counsel Defense Attorneys Michelle Trigger and Shelby Alberts join together to request a dismissal in their case representing Kathy E. Miller. Miller is charged with maliciously and willfully discharging a firearm at an inhabited location, endangering a child, and inflicting corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition upon the victim. As a result of her actions, Miller was ordered to complete a mental health diversion program, which she began on Dec. 20, 2019. This past year, Miller has done everything in her power to make up for her behavior. Not only has she maintained her progress with the court-ordered program, but she also continued to see her physicians and psychologist throughout the challenging times of COVID-19. Also, she attends support groups for her bipolar disorder every two weeks in addition to a support group through her church. It is obvious that Miller “continues to do exceptionally well with her treatment program,” shares Trigger. Judge Tedmon also agrees that Miller has made phenomenal progress and acknowledges her “extraordinary efforts.” “This serious case was obviously a “significant exception to what was otherwise a law-abiding life.” As a result, Judge Tedmon grants dismissal and recognizes that the decision to place Miller in a mental health diversion program was more than appropriate.
Reporter Roxanna Jarvis: On Dec. 23 in Dept. 60, there was a short calendar as the holidays were around the corner. Judge Tedmon oversaw 11 cases that day. A number of them regarded defendants that failed to complete their batterer’s treatment programs. One of the cases belonged to defendant William Wells who was in custody. His attorney, PD Joseph Cress, asked that Wells be released from custody and put back into the program. Cress stated that Wells was unaware of the bench warrant against him for not completing the program. Wells only became aware of the warrant when he went to inform the Sheriff’s Dept. of his change in address, as he was also participating in the Sheriff’s work project. DDA Renishta Lal had no objections to Wells being released and put back into both Sheriff’s work project and the batterer’s treatment program. Judge Tedmon agreed to release Wells that day, and informed him that his release was a warning – in Judge Tedmon’s words, “soft first fail.”
Reporter Nickolas Kwok: In Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 61 there were many arraignments and cases that involved moving or trailing the dates of the next court appearance. In one particular case, the defendant did not want to trail the case any longer and had an argument with his attorney about it. However, they eventually agreed to trail because it was necessary as this time has much less court dates.
YOLO COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT
Reporter Ramneet Singh: On Wednesday in Yolo County Superior Court, there were various short term hearings. In multiple hearings, there were continuations due to the need for certain information and restrictions related to the current pandemic. In two cases, there was a need for interpreters, and this created some confusion in the court. In a case of domestic abuse, the hearings needed to be continued due to the prosecutor not having images of the physical damage to the victim. In another case, the defendant was charged with violating a restraining order. The judge approved a plea deal where the defendant would serve probation time, being released under a Cruz waiver.
Reporter Macy Lu: In Yolo County Superior Court Dept. 7 and Dept. 14 on Tuesday, Dec. 22, there were a number of brief hearings that will be continued on later dates. In one Dept. 14 case, the state hospital deemed the defendant as mentally competent, but because his attorney was not present at the hearing, the court decided to keep that report off the record until she could review and decide whether or not to submit the report herself. If the defendant is recorded as competent, the court will move onto an arraignment. In another case in that same Department, one defendant pleaded no contest to committing battery against his ex-spouse and second degree burglary in her house while she was present. Because of his plea, the district deputy attorney decided to dismiss the remainder of his misdemeanor charges. He will return in February for a review.
Reporter Hannah Skepner: On Dec. 21 in Yolo County, Dept. 7, there were a total of 18 cases called in front of Judge David W. Reed. Of those cases that were called, 11 were continued or postponed to later dates due to reasons such as the need to collect further information, or because of COVID-19 related issues. Two cases involved the exoneration of bail bonds; that of defendant Monaezsha Henderson, and that of defendant Luis Salas. The most interesting matter that was called was that of defendant Shane Pryde. In this matter, Daniel Hutchinson, on behalf of the defendant, was requesting that Judge Reed release him from custody to probation so that he can go to mental health court, and be secured prior to sentencing. Pryde pleaded no contest to his vandalism charge and all other counts against him were dismissed through a Harvey waiver. The Judge granted the motion that the defendant be released to probation if a treatment facility was located.
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT
Reporter Dalia Rodriguez: On Dec. 23, Contra Costa Dept. 27 just focused on setting PTC hearings and a reset date for a trial. The court calendar was covered under an hour and the judicial officer was Terri Mockler. All the PTC hearings were set for March 11 at 8:30 a.m. in Dept. 9. The reset trial was set for Jan. 13 since it was not going on for the fifth of Jan.. One of the defendants was given a court date and a PTC hearing, but they were both set for the same day of March 11. The last case was set to be discussed next week as there were a few things that needed to be gone over thoroughly.
FRESNO COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT
Reporter Evie Sun: Due to a COVID-19 outbreak in Fresno County, most of the defendants who were scheduled to show up in Fresno Superior Court Dept. 11 on Dec. 23 were quarantined. Judge Glenda Allen-Hill, FAC Tiffany Pack, District Attorney Kendall Reynolds, and District Probation Officer Lisa Bezzant are prepared to continue matters in Jan. of 2021.
SUFFOLK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
Reporter Kianna Anvari: DA Rachael Rollins, along with the Integrity Review Bureau for Suffolk County, New York, filed an emergency petition on Dec. 22 with defendant Robert Foxworth asking for a new trial and his immediate release. Foxworth was convicted in 1991 for a homicide and has been incarcerated at MCI-Shirley in Massachusetts for almost 30 years, pleading innocent throughout his sentence. DA Rollins motioned for a new trial based on a wrongful-conviction and unfair trial. Justice Scott Kafker of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ordered Foxworth’s immediate release due to the urgency of the matter.
Macy is a junior from Orange County, CA studying Communications and English at UC Davis. She loves meeting people, reading books, and writing creatively.
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