By Mia Machado
WOODLAND – Agreeing with the defense, Yolo County Superior Court Judge Peter M. Williams granted a motion to reduce defendant Joseph Peper’s drug possession charge from a felony to a misdemeanor late last week.
But that’s just part of what Peper faces in court here.
While the defendant—represented by Deputy Public Defender Erin Dacayanan—is facing a myriad of more serious charges for an incident that occurred in December of 2020, his second preliminary hearing only pertained to a singular charge picked up earlier, in August.
While the defendant’s charge—possession of the controlled substance methamphetamine—is usually charged as a misdemeanor, the defendant’s case had been enhanced to a felony, because of a previous strike on his record.
After witness testimony from the officer who reportedly arrested and confiscated the methamphetamine from the defendant, it was determined that only a gross weight of the substance—the drug and its packaging—was recorded.
Requesting that the charge be reduced to a misdemeanor, Dacayanan asserted that if the defendant did not have a prior strike, such a small possession “would otherwise be a misdemeanor for anybody else.”
Despite Deputy District Attorney Michael Vroman’s concerns that Peper’s drug use could become “an extremely dangerous situation for the people around him,” Judge Williams ruled to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor from a felony, “in the interest of justice.”
Court began with witness testimony from Corporal Evan Black, a member of the Woodland Police Department, who was asked about the officer’s arrest, drug confiscation, and following actions before booking the evidence.
Through DDA Vroman’s line of questioning, it was established that “in the early morning hours of August 30, 2020, at about 4:20 in the morning,” Black was assisting another officer in a vehicle burglary investigation and made contact with an individual who he confirms to be the defendant, Joseph Peper.
While conducting a patdown of the defendant, the officers discovered a “plastic baggy containing methamphetamine,” said Officer Black, referring to the substance as “crank,” who asked Peper if the substance was indeed methamphetamine, and the defendant confirmed.
Based on their findings, the defendant was arrested. Prior to booking the baggy into evidence, Corporal Black affirmed that the substance was both tested and weighed, finding the defendant in possession of a gross weight of 0.51g—or approximately half a gram—of methamphetamine.
Defense Attorney Dacayanan, proceeding with her own line of questioning, focused primarily on the weighing of evidence.
After reaffirming that the bag weighed approximately half a gram with the meth in it, Dacayanan questioned “that’s what you call a gross weight? When you weigh everything all together, the drugs and that packaging?”
“Yes,” Corporal Black confirmed.
Attorney Dacayanan, first creating a distinction between gross weight and what is considered a “net weight” (when just the drugs are weighed), asked, “Did you perform a net weight of the drugs that you found?”
“No,” replied Corporal Black.
“Okay so we don’t know what that net weight would be, do we?”
“I do not. No,” replied Corporal Black.
Once the witness was dismissed, DDA Vroman presented the court with two discovery documents.
Judge Williams asked if the attorneys wanted to proceed or to reserve debate. Mr. Vroman stated that he would reserve. Attorney Dacayanan, however, invited the court to consider reducing the defendant’s felony offense to a misdemeanor.
As she began to explain her reasoning, Judge Williams interrupted, asserting that he agrees, and that the case “is absolutely a wobbler.”
A wobbler is a crime—such as the possession of a controlled substance—that can be punished as either a felony or a misdemeanor in California. Penal Code section 17 provides judges, as well as prosecutors, the discretion to reduce a wobbler felony to a misdemeanor.
Attorney Dacayanan continued, explaining her reasoning for the motion.
Pointing to evidence gathered by Officer Black and the fact that only a gross weight was collected, Attorney Dacayanan asserted that “this is half a gram of meth, we don’t know if it’s half a gram of packaging, so it’s less than half a gram of meth.”
Attorney Dacayanan explained that prior to his arrest, the defendant was otherwise in complete compliance with his parole. His arrest on drug possession “took place well before the events that happened at true value,” at a time when he was “meeting regularly with his parole agent, when he had his GPS monitor on, [and] when he was going to his mandatory counseling sessions.”
Attorney Dacayanan admitted the defendant “obviously needs substance abuse treatment…that’s what’s predominantly clear” from both cases heard, but that the defendant should be treated just as any other defendant found in possession of half a gram of meth, “or less.”
Judge Williams then addressed DDA Vroman, indicating that although he was “candidly inclined to reduce [the charges],” he first wanted to hear if there was a “good faith reason why [he] shouldn’t do that.”
Vroman admitted that, “frankly,” had the defendant not done what happened at True Value, “the motion would be better taken.”
Referring to the charges of the defendant’s separate case—including threatening a crime with the intent to terrorize—DDA Vroman argued that the defendant appeared to be under the influence of “a controlled something, presumably methamphetamine given the statements provided by corporal Black.”
He asserted that because the defendant not only took property under the influence but “became extremely violent when confronted about it,” he is convinced that the defendant’s use of methamphetamine “obviously is an issue.”
Addressing the defendant’s compliance with parole, Vroman argued that he “may have been complying with some of the requirements, maybe even most of the requirements, but obviously a requirement of his parole is to not violate the law and not possess drugs.
“He’s not in compliance with that,” Vroman reiterated.
The defendant’s use of controlled substances, according to Mr. Vroman, “becomes an extremely dangerous situation for the people around him.” Based on the defendant’s conduct, he does not believe the motion to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor is appropriate.
In response, Attorney Dacayanan reiterated that his drug possession charge took place in August, whereas what happened in (the other crime) took place in December. “At this point in August, [the defendant] had been on parole for a year, he hadn’t sustained any other violations,” and was attending treatment classes.
“Yes” attorney Dacayanan admitted, “down the line [the defendant] picked up this other offense that we just heard about at True Value, but he’s facing his lumps there judge, he’s facing two additional strikes there.”
Agreeing to grant the defendant’s motion, Judge Williams noted that “the only reason this would be a felony is because of his prior strike,” a charge that was not linked to drug use.
With charges reduced to a misdemeanor, Joseph Peper’s case is set to proceed with an arraignment on Jan. 22.
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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