By Dorrin Akbari
SACRAMENTO, CA – Over the vehement objections Monday of a deputy district attorney here in Sacramento County Superior Court—even after he learned a defendant’s continuance request was to bury his stillborn child—Judge Timothy Frawley agreed to delay sentencing for 30 days to allow Joseph Arceneaux to make funeral arrangements for his baby.
Deputy District Attorney Mark Ott was noticeably irritated by the request, having previously granted Arceneaux a three-month continuance for the birth of the baby on the condition that sentencing would be finalized Monday.
DDA Ott’s irritation stemmed from his belief that the defendant planned to continue putting off his case with more “excuses” since the granting of the first continuance.
“I had told [Arceneaux] I’m going to [grant the earlier continuance], but that’s going to be the drop-dead date. There’s not going to be any more excuses because what’s going to happen is that child is going to be born and there’s going to be some medical intervention or something,” said Ott.
Ott, at this point in court, did not yet know that the baby was stillborn.
Making it clear that his opposition to the continuance was a matter of principle, an exasperated Ott said, “I’m forced to be the hard guy, but the fact of the matter is that I told the defense the only way that I would agree to that three-month continuance was if the case was going to be sentenced today.”
Arceneaux, who had remained silent throughout Ott’s argument, hesitantly asked the judge if he could be allowed to speak.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, your Honor. My daughter was supposed to be born. She was stillborn. The most I’m asking for is a month so that we can make funeral arrangements and lay her to rest,” he said quietly.
As a somber silence overtook the courtroom, it became apparent that neither Judge Frawley nor DDA Ott had been aware of the precise reason for the continuance request.
“Does that move you, Mr. Ott?” asked Judge Frawley earnestly.
But, with only the slightest indication of a change in tone since his initial argument, Ott replied, “Unfortunately, I’ve planned for many funerals in my lifetime. It doesn’t take two weeks.”
“I just lost my grandfather. We just had the funeral. It’s just one thing after another,” said defendant Arceneaux, seeking sympathy from the DDA.
Arceneaux’s attempt to elicit compassion from Ott seemed to go for naught, with the DDA noting, “It’s always one thing after another. It’s what we do at this job.”
Assistant Public Defenders Jessie Morris and Naomi Coady both appeared on behalf of the defendant to petition the court to grant Arceneaux’s second continuance request.
APD Morris’s appearance was solely in relation to the continuance request, which he had submitted. Arceneaux’s primary counsel, Coady, was present in anticipation of judgment and sentencing should the defense’s request be denied.
PD Morris, who had a personal relationship with the defendant’s grandfather, stepped in: “Your Honor, the child’s body is still at the hospital. She hasn’t been moved to a funeral home yet. When we talk about arrangements—they have to be made.”
Having heard from both parties, Judge Frawley granted the defense’s request for a 30-day continuance “despite reservations and over Mr. Ott’s well-stated protest.”
While Judge Frawley had been more sympathetic to Arceneaux’s situation than DDA Ott, he made it clear that this would be the final continuance granted on Arceneaux’s case, noting, “Mr. Arceneaux, be prepared to go into custody next time.”
Arceneaux, awaiting firearms possession sentencing, will appear in Sacramento County Superior Court again on April 26, after his child’s funeral.
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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