By Lisbeth Martinez
WOODLAND –A 60-year-old man was charged with two felonies, including corporal injury to a spouse/cohabitant and an attempted threat to terrorize, in an arraignment here in Yolo County Superior Court this past week.
On Feb. 4, a complaint filed by one of the alleged victim’s sons, charged that the defendant, Muhammad Choudhry, grabbed a knife and threatened to kill the victim.
Also, Deputy District Attorney Carolyn Palumbo noted the victim has suffered many years of domestic violence during her marriage with the defendant.
Choudhry is in custody for the alleged felonies. At the beginning of the arraignment, DDA Palumbo said the victim and the defendant would need an interpreter because they only spoke Punjabi. Judge David Reed took that into consideration and had the interpreter call the defendant through the phone.
Via Zoom, the victim and her son were present to make a statement before any decision was made in regard to the defendant’s custody status, including whether he could be released without bail—on his “own recognizance.”
First, the son give his statement. Unlike his parents, the couple’s son did know English, so he did not need an interpreter. The son asserted that “my mother…fears for her life.” According to him, his other two brothers were also there to witness when his father threatened his mother.
Next, the victim shared her statement with the use of an interpreter. Judge Reed highlighted that the defendant would be able to understand his wife, since they both understand the same language. “I would like you to listen to the witness and translate to the court what she is saying,” Judge Reed said to the interpreter.
According to the interpreter, the victim said she believed that the defendant should stay in jail because she no longer wants to face the danger.
“He threatens me while calling. I am fearful of him,” she said. The judge asked for clarification of whether the defendant was calling her from prison, but she corrected herself by alleging that he would call her before he was held in custody.
The victim ended her statement by asserting that “he beats me, he threatens me.” At this moment, the son leaned in and told his mother something in Punjabi. The defendant’s public defender interrupted, exclaiming, “Your Honor, can we not have her son coach her on what to say.” As a result, the mother proceeded to say she had no further statements.
The Yolo County Deputy Public Defender representing Choudhry received an email noting that the victim was now requesting a no contact order, which currently was only a no harassment order.
“I would like the Court to simply clarify if this is coming from the complaining witness herself and she wants no contact whatsoever,” said the public defender. DDA Palumbo responded that she was okay with the court asking the alleged victim herself if she is okay with a no contact order.
Judge Reed explained to the victim that currently she only had a no harassment order, which means that the defendant is allowed to stay in contact with her, as long as it’s not harassing or threatening contact.
The judge asked the victim if she wanted a stricter order of no contact, “which means he would have to stay away from you and have no contact with you.”
The victim responded via the interpreter: “He may contact me on the phone. What I don’t want is that he should come close to me.” Following the victim’s approval, Judge Reed stated that he would be assigning the new protective order of no contact
The defense stated that the OR report has a lot of aggravating information, including allegations from the charges.
“There is one allegation, from one of the brothers, that Mr. Chaudhry took a knife and threatened to kill his wife,” he said.
However, the DDA said this allegation only came from one of the couple’s sons, even though there were two other sons present who said nothing about any threats or a knife. In addition, the defendant’s attorney said that the complaining witness herself did not state any of this information on the police report.
Chaudhry’s attorney also mentioned that the bruise, which was the primary evidence for the charge, was not photographed by the police officer. According to the victim, the bruise was allegedly caused by a push. Due to their judgment on cultural sensitivity, the police officer decided not take pictures of it or record it on his body camera.
“I am not sure if we are going to have him paint it for us at the preliminary hearing. But, my client will be facing four years of prison time, and that is inappropriate,” said the PD, who said he considers the lack of photo evidence to be destruction of evidence.
“This is a 60-year-old man with no record, and the ODARA [Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment] assessment gives a point to him for apparently confining the victim. Which again, I have no idea where that comes from because it is not on the SOR [sex Offender Registration] report or the police report,” said defense counsel.
The ODARA is an actuarial risk assessment that calculates how a man who has assaulted his female partner ranks among similar perpetrators with respect to risk.
In this assessment, according to the defendant’s counsel, Choudhry received a point for threatening to kill the complaining witness. However he does not find this result plausible because this allegation comes from only one of the four witnesses.
Choudhry got another point for the complaining witness having two or more children with the client, and another point for barriers to support. The defense counsel said he didn’t know where this was coming from because the victim does have money and she has three adult sons who had no problem protecting her. The defendant also received a point for the victim’s concern for future assaults.
This is being used to keep the defendant in custody and the district attorney shared that he went over all the points and the score. As a result, he concluded the score is arbitrary, and stated that the ODARA tool is a very inaccurate tool because it does not account for court involvement for all the conditions the court can impose on a defendant when releasing.
“It is not just to keep this man in custody in a pandemic when we can have him released,” stated the public defender, asserting the defendant would not be living in his home, but rather the defendant would be using $1,800 a month of income from unemployment to stay in a motel room.
DDA Carolyn Palumbo responded by telling the court that the victim had been stuck in a 30-year-old marriage where she had been subject to the defendant’s aggression. According to the sons, “this is a cultural situation where the defendant seems to think his wife is his property.”
Palumbo noted the defendant explained earlier in the arraignment that she is fearful for her life and safety when the defendant is released. She had also said in the police report that she is fearful when her sons are not around to protect her.
Palumbo claimed that, should the defendant be released, there is no certainty that the victim’s sons can be with her all day, every day, to protect her. The DDA proceeded to ask the court for the preliminary hearing to be confirmed if the court wanted more information, such as information from witnesses.
Judge Reed said the defendant will have no rights to OR, and, based on the circumstance, the court did not find it appropriate to let him out of custody unsupervised. As a result, bail was set at $25,000 and a preliminary hearing was set for Feb. 25 in Dept. 7 at 9 a.m.
Lisbeth Martinez is a third year at UC Davis, double majoring in Communication and Political Science. She currently lives in Shafter, California.
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