By Tanya Decendario
MARTINEZ, CA – Trial counsel and the judge here last week may have been sympathetic to a defendant seeking asylum in the U.S., but the defendant allegedly caused a vehicle collision and then told police he was carjacked—the judge said the case is moving forward.
Assistant Public Defender Paul Rives appeared at Contra Costa County Superior Court, on behalf of his client Franyer Nava-Velasquez, and requested Judicial Diversion (which enables non-violent felony offenders to avoid jail or probation, and enroll in treatment programs).
The PD informed the court that Nava-Velasquez is from Venezuela and is currently seeking asylum in the U.S. He added that the charges against Nava-Velasquez could lead to the delay of his naturalization.
Deputy District Attorney Brianna Waite explained that Nava-Velasquez’s charges could have been filed as a felony, rather than a misdemeanor because of the danger involved.
The DDA said she discovered that the defendant has had more than 10 vehicle violations, including running red lights, failed turn signals, passed solid double yellow lines, passed vehicles on the wrong side of the road, and a collision into a concrete island.
She acknowledged the possibility that the cases he’s involved in can, indeed, impact the status of his naturalization, adding, “I understand that there might be some potential for ICE to have additional attention direct towards Mr. Nava-Velasquez but that seemed a little bit remote.”
PD Rives remained concerned about Nava-Velasquez’s citizenship status, adding, “With the naturalization, you have to demonstrate the period of time you build moral character..any kind of conviction would jeopardize application for citizenship.”
Judge John Devine recounted the charges, explaining Nava-Velasquez allegedly drove about 100 mph and caused a collision, putting the public at a high risk.
“Mr. Nava-Velasquez goes into the police station and essentially tells them that he was a victim of carjacking…makes the false report after what the court considers extraordinarily dangerous actions out on the freeway with respect to the community,” said the judge, turning to PD Rives.
PD Rives explained Nava-Velasquez’s fear of law enforcement and his battle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“He did suffer greatly and was diagnosed with PTSD and received one to two years of treatment for PTSD. I believe that shapes his feelings or attitudes towards law enforcement. When the officer initiated the traffic stop (is) when Mr. Nava-Velasquez acted out in fear..fear of being caught.. Being in trouble,” he added.
Defense counsel added, “If you understand his background, it’s more of desperation and panic that ‘what’s gonna happen to me if I get arrested? Am I going to get deported? How am I gonna be treated by law enforcement?’ It’s from his prior experience.”
“This can result in deportation and he’d have to go back in Venezuela,” noted the PD.
DDA Waite stated that she fully understands his fear of law enforcement, considering his record, arguing, “At this point in 2019, he apparently has been in the US since 2016, so for three years…He should know to obey traffic stops.”
She further said, “Even beyond that though, if he is so concerned about American law enforcement, he actually takes the time to go into the police station and make a fake carjacking report just to get away with what he has done.“
When Nava-Velasquez arrived at the police station, he was questioned because of a red type seat belt rash and scratches on his body, added DDA Waite, explaining that his injuries hinted at his involvement on the collision.
“He laughed about it and he said it was an allergic reaction,” said the DDA, noting, “He’s lucky that no one was killed. He’s lucky that nobody believed his fake carjacking report.”
She repeated, “We can file this as a felony. He could have been facing felony charges here. Our office is willing to work with defense on immigration but diversion in this case is not appropriate at all.”
The judge agreed with the DDA and stated, “It puts the public in extraordinary risk. It’s still against the conduct and it’s not just a bad decision or a couple bad decisions, but it’s repeated bad decisions,” he said.
Judge Devine denied PD Rives’ request for Judicial Diversion. Nava-Velasquez’s pretrial conference is set for April 13.
Tanya Decendario is a third-year student studying Legal Studies at UC Berkeley. She is originally from Sonoma, CA, but currently resides in Albany, CA.
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