Not Making It to Court as Promised Cost Defendants Thousands of Dollars; Others Who Appear Skate Till Next Hearing

By Jose Medina and Esha Kher

WOODLAND, CA – Failure to appear on court dates can make a defendant’s life much more difficult while traversing an already confusing legal process—bench warrants are issued to absent defendants trying to make sense of the oftentimes legal proceedings.

But, while issuing these bench warrants, the legal system and courts overlook a defendant’s circumstances that could cause them to miss an important court date—the current pandemic, financial hardship, lack of transportation and even no internet to appear in court remotely.

Take Dept. 1 in Yolo County Superior Court this week.

It had a mixture of cases from those involving more than $100,000 in bench warrants to others ending in continued out-of-custody release under a defendant’s own recognizance (OR), with no bail requirement and only a promise to appear.

Judge Tom Dyer presided over the arraignments and reviews of the day and dealt out OR releases based on whether the defendants were present or not, regardless of the reason.

Three defendants were served bench warrants for failing to appear—including Diego Martinez, Montaje Lewis, and Allen King.

Martinez was charged with possession of controlled substances, bringing controlled substances into a jail facility, auto theft, and receiving a stolen vehicle. He was given a notice to appear for his auto theft charge, but failed to appear. He was then issued a $20,000 bench warrant for his absence.

Lewis was absent from his arraignment hearing and charged with bringing a controlled substance into jail, theft, auto theft, and has a prior felony conviction. Given that he has had a prior felony conviction he was issued a costly $95,000 bench warrant.

King was charged with burglary, possession of controlled substances, possession of paraphernalia, and probation violation. He failed to appear for his arraignment for violation of mandatory supervision.

According to Michael Morgan from the Probation Department, King’s supervising probation officer had notified him of the hearing and he was given orders to appear on Zoom.

Morgan further elaborated, saying “he was going to appear on Zoom from the West Sacramento Probation Department, but did not appear back from lunch, and the officer could not reach him by phone at this point.”

Given King’s absence, Judge Dyer issued a $20,000 bench warrant.

While Martinez, Lewis, and King face more challenges to their ongoing legal proceedings, others are facing a much smoother outlook.

Two defendants were approved for continued release under their own recognizance thanks to their appearance in court. The defendants were Jeffrey Shedrick and Tyler Waters.

The first defendant to be given a continued release was Shedrick, who despite being charged for “failing to appear on a felony charge while on bail with an enhancement related to a felony being committed while released on bail” was given a continued OR release by Judge Dyer. He was also charged with possession of a controlled substance.

Deputy District Attorney Carolyn Palumbo, the prosecutor in Shedrick’s case, further supported the continued OR release, stating, “I’d be ok with him remaining out, since he showed up today. I think that’s fine.”

The second defendant, Waters, was present for his hearing and charged with receiving a stolen vehicle, possession of a controlled substance, and had a prior felony conviction. He was given a preliminary hearing date by the court.

When asked if she wanted to be heard on the case, DDA Palumbo added that Waters “was given a notice to appear today. Since he has appeared I would ask that he be released on his own recognizance subject to search for controlled substances.”

Noting that Waters was present and accounted for in court, Judge Dyer said, “Mr. Waters you did show up today and the court has every confidence that you will continue to show up in future court dates and will continue to release you on your own recognizance.”

All of these defendants faced similar charges of vehicle theft and possession of controlled substances yet three of them are facing harsher obstacles in their legal proceedings because they did not attend court dates.

Esha Kher is an undergraduate student at UC Davis studying Political Science and Computer Science, hoping to pursue a career in corporate law. She is passionate about legal journalism and political advocacy that provokes new perspectives and sparks conversation among the public.


Jose graduated from UC Davis with a BA in Political Science and has interned for the California State Legislature. He is from Rocklin, CA.

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