By Dorrin Akbari
SACRAMENTO, CA – Defendant Mya Montgomery struggled to understand the terms and implication of her plea, turning to her interpreter and Judge Michael A. Savage repeatedly for help before accepting a plea deal on her record in exchange for her freedom.
Four and a half months pregnant and hard of hearing, Montgomery looked on from inside a cage in the Dept. 62 courtroom as Assistant Public Defender Naomi Coady requested that her client be released on her own recognizance.
PD Coady noted that Montgomery had been unable to have contact with her two young children while in custody and had been forced to call upon family members to fly in to care for them in her absence.
Advocating for her client, Coady argued that Montgomery had ties to the community, had lived in the Sacramento area for several years, had a steady job, was pursuing her Masters, and received SSI because she was hearing impaired. Aside from a felony in 2007 from when she was a juvenile, Montgomery had no other record.
Judge Savage, indicating he was open to Coady’s request, asked DDA Cody Winchester to outline the events of Montgomery’s case. Winchester described the facts as follows:
The defendant placed an order at a pizza place. It was determined that she was unable to pay for it. Witnesses claimed Montgomery attempted to snatch the food from the counter but was stopped by an employee.
Montgomery then proceeded to a cooler filled with beverages and began throwing soda onto the floor. When an employee intervened, the two of them engaged in a minor altercation, during which the defendant threw several punches that didn’t land.
The employee placed Montgomery, who was pregnant at the time, in a headlock. Montgomery was able to get out of the headlock and placed a chokehold on the employee.
Police were contacted by a phone, which the defendant damaged during the incident as well. Montgomery provided the police with a false name and date of birth but was correctly identified with a fingerprint scanner.
In light of the events, Winchester requested the defendant serve 90 days and offered to dismiss the petty theft charge as part of the plea—citing Montgomery’s disputing of the facts as they related to the theft.
“Okay, then I think we can settle it,” said Coady.
Shaking her head, Montgomery cut off Coady as she prepared to begin settlement discussions: “I was attacked while pregnant.”
“I apologize. I was wrong,” acknowledged Coady to Judge Savage. In light of Montgomery’s objection, the two prepared to set a date for her preliminary hearing.
With her trial date already set, Montgomery interjected: “Will I be released?”
“No, he’s not releasing you,” replied Coady.
“Oh, well I want to settle then if I’m going to have to stay [in custody].”
The court waited in silence as Montgomery’s court-appointed ASL interpreter relayed the terms of her plea deal to her.
She was to plead to the misdemeanor charges of battery and damaging property. In exchange, she’d be released on her own recognizance and serve the remaining 61 days of her 90-day sentence through the Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program rather than in county jail.
All parties appeared to be in agreement until it came time for Montgomery to enter her plea.
“To that charge [of battery] as a misdemeanor, how do you plea?” asked Savage.
“Not guilty,” replied Montgomery.
Following some coaxing from Coady, Montgomery changed her plea to “no contest.” However, when informed that Judge Savage would find her guilty based on her plea, the defendant pushed back, stating, “But I don’t want to be guilty.”
“Well then you get to go to trial,” retorted Savage.
“Oh, I see what you’re saying. Okay. I get it…The result of everything that you’re saying will be my release and the 90 days?”
With the end goal of her release in sight, Montgomery accepted the terms of her plea without question. She left the courtroom with two new charges on her record in exchange for the ability to see her children again.
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.
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