By Ned Meiners
SACRAMENTO, CA – It’s a free piece of advice judges often give to defendants wanting to represent themselves in court, and it was repeated this week by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Savage: “It is generally not a wise choice to represent yourself in a criminal matter, do you understand that?”
Defendant Jose Coronado responded that he did understand, and understood as well that he is charged with one felony count of resisting arrest—accused of physically resisting an officer—and faces up to three years in state prison if convicted in the case.
Earlier that morning, when Coronado stated his intent to represent himself in criminal proceedings, the judge advised against it and said that the defendant would have to complete the requisite paperwork before such a hearing could proceed.
When the defendant returned an hour and a half later, paperwork completed, the judge explained what was at stake: Coronado would receive no special treatment, be opposed by a trained prosecutor and be subject to the rules of procedure and evidence, the same as a licensed attorney.
If convicted, Coronado cannot appeal based on the claim that he was incompetent to represent himself.
When asked if he had any training or knowledge of the legal system, the defendant-turned-barrister replied, “Generally, Yes…Yes…No.”
When asked to clarify what this meant, Coronado responded, “What can I say?…Should I say that I watch ‘Law and Order SVU’ and I’ve been watching court cases and I didn’t do anything?” Coronado continued, “That’s why I’m representing myself; I don’t want to waste anybody else’s time. I learned my lesson.”
Judge Savage then counseled the defendant, “I can guarantee you that what you see on TV and what the real world is like, are two completely different things.”
When a somewhat exasperated Judge Savage asked the defendant how he would like to proceed, Coronado responded, “I’d love for it to be dismissed, sir. I learned my lesson. I called the police that day myself and they wrestled me in front of my mom. I’m sorry I said anything.”
At this time, it is unknown why police officers allegedly “wrestled” Coronado. Although Coronado is charged with one count of resisting arrest, it is unclear exactly what he was being arrested for, as that is the only charge.
Deputy District Attorney Ryan Roebuck was asked if he was ready to dismiss the case. He replied that he was not and that Coronado had a misdemeanor DUI charge stemming from another event.
The judge explained to Coronado that the next step was to negotiate the case or set a preliminary hearing. Roebuck offered the defendant a 30-day felony sentence in county jail and 2 years of probation.
Coronado responded, “I can’t do a felony, sir. I’m a good man, sir.”
In the absence of a deal, they scheduled a preliminary hearing. Judge Savage explained that it would be within 30 days, unless the defendant cared to go longer. Coronado played it cool, stating, “Whatever is convenient for you guys, I’ll be here.”
However, things changed. Bravado aside, Coronado later accepted the services of a free public defender, who will represent the defendant May 10 at another pretrial hearing, not the preliminary hearing, on both the resisting an officer felony, and the outstanding DUI case.
Ned Meiners is a Legal Studies student at City College San Francisco. Originally from Maine, he currently resides on Bernal Hill in San Francisco.
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