By Dorrin Akbari and Sally Kim
SACRAMENTO – Judge Patrick Marlette—citing COVID-19 as a factor in his decision—delivered a lenient ruling for a defendant here in Sacramento County Superior Court last week after Assistant Public Defender Ashely Chang and Deputy District Attorney Toni Linarez both failed to arrive on time for a hearing.
Defendant Sandra Higgins sat alone among the rows of courthouse seats in Dept. 63, nervously awaiting a call back from PD Chang, who, along with DDA Linarez, had yet to check in.
Sensing Higgins’ anxiety—who was facing a 2020 petty theft charge—Judge Marlette engaged her in conversation:
“She did. She said she’d be here between 1:30 and 2,” replied Higgins as the clock reads 2:02 p.m.
“How many days did we give you?” the judge asked, and the defendant said, “They gave me 30 [days]…I tried three times [to turn myself in]…I have a really good job right now, and I don’t want to lose that job.”
“It’s good to have a job these days,” noted the judge. “Can we see if anybody has eyes on Ashley Chang or on Toni Linarez on the radio? I’m supposed to have the lawyers here before I do anything.”
A few minutes pass in silence. PD Chang rushed breathlessly through the courtroom doors. With a brief apology for her tardiness, Chang immediately got to work.
Citing Higgins’ repeated attempts to turn herself in while being turned away from the jails in light of COVID-19, Chang asked the judge to deem the defendant credit for time served, based on the early release order from Judge Bowman.
“We can do that…if you can represent that Linarez or any DA is okay with that…or that Linarez has notice and has FTA [failed to appear],” replied Judge Marlette, drawing a chuckle from Chang with his latter comment.
“[DDA Linarez] is definitely here,” remarked Chang as she checked her phone for a response from Linarez. “Oh, Miss Linarez says she’s in the [Zoom] waiting room.”
Linarez’s Zoom block appeared on the screen. With her late arrival five minutes after that of Ashley Chang, the hearing formally began.
Addressing DDA Linarez, Judge Marlette asked if there were any objections to Ms. Chang’s proposal of credit for time served, given that “[Sacramento County is] turning around anybody who’s got less than 180 [days] to serve.”
“In light of the facts of the case, I mean I would object but I will submit to Your Honor. I do understand that serving any time would potentially hold up Mrs. Higgins’ successful path that she’s on at the moment,” replied Linarez.
Before DDA Linarez could lay out the facts of Higgins’ case, Chang interjected to remind the court about the defendant’s multiple attempts to turn herself in.
According to Chang, Higgins attempted to turn herself in on Oct. 31, around the time that she had received her job offer. Higgins had, in fact, requested a later start date so that she could first serve her time.
However, the jail turned her away, providing her with a new turn in date of Jan. 31 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Defendant Higgins made her second attempt to turn herself in on that date, but was once again turned away and told to go to Sacramento’s main jail. Once there, Higgins was prevented from turning herself in for the third time.
Chang finished her statement by asking Judge Marlette once again to deem her client credit for time served.
With prompting from Marlette, DDA Linarez proceeded to lay out the prosecution’s facts of Higgins’ case:
The defendant entered a Walmart and put merchandise into a cooler within her shopping cart as well as a tote bag. Ultimately, she stole $301 worth of goods. DDA Linarez went on to describe the defendant’s multiple priors, notably petty theft charges in both 2019 and 2017 as well as a charge for receipt of stolen property in 1995 among others.
“Ultimately, this incident is caught on camera. [The defendant] admits to it and has a poor reason for why she engaged in the conduct to begin with. The offer was 30 days served in any way, shape, or form, so it is the People’s objection for credit for time served because there are alternate ways [the defendant] could serve the time,” Linarez concluded—despite acknowledging the significance of the defendant’s attempts to turn herself in.
Having heard from both sides, Judge Marlette ruled to suspend the remainder of Ms. Higgins’ time, pending her successful completion of probation, and he cited the stabilizing factor of the defendant’s job, her efforts to turn herself in to save that job, and the fact that she would otherwise have been released under the order by Judge Bowman.
Higgins left the courtroom beaming after receiving good news on what undoubtedly began as a nerve-racking day.
Dorrin Akbari graduated from UC Berkeley in 2019 with a B.A. in Legal Studies and a minor in Persian. She is from San Jose, CA.
Sally Kim is a senior at UCLA, majoring in Sociology. She is from the East Bay Area.
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