Unfamiliarity with Charges Leads to Court Confusion in Catalytic Converter Case

By Roxanna Jarvis and Ankita Joshi

SACRAMENTO, CA – There was much confusion about what defendant Matthew Hamilton was to do regarding the next steps of his court case here in Sacramento County Superior Court Monday.

Since the switch to online court, there have been several instances where there has been a heightened sense of confusion during some court proceedings. The Hamilton case was just another example of this.

Hamilton is charged with selling catalytic converters without a proper license. At the beginning of his hearing, it was unclear to his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Tatiana Cottam, as to what would happen to Hamilton.

“Ms. Cottam you’re here on this matter, and what are we doing?” asked Judge Geoffrey Goodman.

“I’m not sure, your Honor. We would have to ask Mr. Hamilton what he would like to do today,” answered Cottam from her remote office.

When asked by Judge Goodman what she meant, Cottam replied, “That means Mr. Hamilton, in my discussions with him, will not communicate with me what he would like to do with his case so I think the court will have to inquire.”

Hamilton was present in the courtroom and stood with his hands clasped together in front of him.

As Judge Goodman proceeded to ask if there was an offer available for Hamilton, Deputy District Attorney Frederick Gotha recited the terms of one year of informal probation, a 30-day work project, and minimum fines and fees.

When asked if he would like to accept that offer, Hamilton appeared unknowledgeable about the terms and asked, “If I do accept the offer today, Your Honor, I would just like to know the stipulations of the probation?”

After this question, Judge Goodman also seemed unclear about the charges held against Hamilton.

He followed with, “What is this BP code section? I am not familiar with it. And the explanation ‘failure to keep written records or set out a written record,’ what is this?”

Gotha was able to clear up some of the confusion by explaining the BP (business and professions) code section in relation to the charges present for both Hamilton and the codefendant. In this case, the violation was for selling catalytic converters without a business license.

As the proceedings continued, Judge Goodman presented the option for Hamilton to opt for a preliminary hearing, but got confused again, as he thought Hamilton was charged with a felony.

The confusion stemmed from the fact that Hamilton’s case is a co-defendant case. The co-defendant, Sharon Vandermaiden, faced 10 charges, but Hamilton is only charged with misdemeanors.

Since Vandermaiden’s case has not been resolved yet, it was concluded that Hamilton would have a preliminary hearing if he chose not to take the plea.

Once this confusion had settled, Judge Goodman went back to address Hamilton and asked, “Ok Mr. Hamilton, we’re all in suspense, what do you want to do? You wanna fight this charge, in which we would set it for preliminary hearing or we wait and see what the co-defendant does? What do you wanna do?”

Hamilton responded with, “As long as there would be no restrictions on doing business further in the future with the correct business license, I would agree to that.”

However, still looking for further clarification, Hamilton continued to ask, “How do I go about getting a property release? Is that a possibility?”

DDA Gotha and Judge Goodman were able to provide clarification by outlining that, “Any property that you can lawfully claim will be returned to you,” once the Vandermaiden’s case has also been resolved.

Subsequently, Hamilton chose to accept the plea, and plead no contest to two misdemeanors related to catalytic converters and was sentenced to 90 days Sheriff’s Work Project and a year informal probation.

Later during the hearing, Vandermaiden’s case was called. She was not present, but her Court Appointed Counsel Byron Roope was there to give her plea of no contest.

Judge Goodman, unaware that Vandermaiden was the co-defendant, asked DDA Gotha, “So this is another catalytic converter thing?”

After DDA Gotha informed Judge Goodman that Vandermaiden was the co-defendant, he replied, “Oh so this is the co-defendant, I see. You didn’t tell me that this was gonna be a resolution as well….”

Goodman chuckled as he noted how much less confusing Hamilton’s case would have been if they knew Vandermaiden was going to resolve.

Ankita Joshi is a second-year student at the University of San Francisco, pursuing a major in International Studies and a minor in Political Science. She is originally from Sacramento, CA.

Roxanna Jarvis is a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley, currently majoring in Political Science with a minor in Public Policy. She is from Sacramento,

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