By Roxanna Jarvis
FRESNO – For one Fresno man, it’s better to be homeless than stay with family – he didn’t get either after he was sent back to jail because of his preference.
Because of that exclamation in Fresno County Superior Court, an arraignment judge set hefty $20,000 bail – rather than releasing him with no bail – to keep Jeremy Clayton, in jail. He was charged with unlawfully taking a vehicle and domestic violence.
Prior to his entrance, Judge Francine Zepeda expressed her confusion as to why Clayton was in her courtroom in the first place, asking, “You know what, why is this here? I don’t consider this a [domestic violence] case.”
When finding that it was one of the rare instances when one partner takes the other’s vehicle, she understood. “Well, that’s what this is. I guess we’ll arraign him on it,” Judge Zepeda said.
Because the battery was a misdemeanor, Judge Zepeda was prepared to release Clayton. After appointing Deputy Public Defender Eric Hansen as his lawyer, she asked Clayton about his living situation if he were to be released.
“Mr. Clayton, do you have a place to live if the judge releases you separate from your wife?” Hansen asked.
Clayton replied that he has a place to stay with his sister, who also resides in Fresno County, and said that he isn’t working, but looking for a job. For his past work, Clayton stated, “I do donations for the homeless. But I don’t really call it work.”
Deputy District Attorney Autumn Goodrich objected to Clayton’s release because they “hadn’t had any contact with the victim” in the case, but rested their argument because of the less serious nature of the case.
“Noting that the misdemeanor charge is a domestic violence case and the auto theft is a felony, we’ll submit to the court,” said Goodrich.
Judge Zepeda initially made the decision to release Clayton on the condition that he wear an ankle monitor, adding, “That’s the only way you’re going to be released, sir.”
She continued to discuss the procedures for filing paperwork and being released until Clayton asked the mere question, “What if I choose to be homeless?”
Pausing for a second, Judge Zepeda explained that since he’d be on probation, it would be difficult for him as he’d need to report to them.
“You need to find a place to live,” she continued. “It’s difficult with the court for you to choose to be homeless because they need an address for you.” The judge then asked if he wanted her to hold off on his release while he thought about it.
“I’d rather be homeless,” Clayton answered.
Judge Zepeda gave a quick reply, “Well, I’m not gonna release you if you’re gonna be homeless.”
DPD Hansen then jumped in and attempted to change Clayton’s mind. “Yeah, but you’ll have the opportunity to live with your sister as you explained to the judge.”
Judge Zepeda stood firm with her decision, stating that she isn’t going to release him unless he stays with his sister. After the judge set his bail to $20,000, Clayton could be heard in the back quietly speaking. “She’s not gonna let me stay…I’m sorry.”
Judge Zepeda, who may not have heard the first part of his sentence replied, “Okay, that’s fine. I understand that there are people that don’t wanna live with family for many different reasons, so I’m not going to release you then.”
In addition to keeping Clayton in custody unless he bails out, Judge Zepeda issued a protective order prohibiting him from having any kind of contact with his wife.
Roxanna Jarvis is a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley, currently majoring in political science with a minor in public policy. She is from Sacramento, California.
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