By Derrick Pal
WOODLAND, CA — A discrepancy between a defendant’s no contest plea and her belief that she was not guilty created confusion in Yolo County Superior Court Monday, but it was eventually cleared up by the judge explaining the meaning of no contest to the defendant.
Defendant Esther Garcia was charged with voluntary manslaughter and enhancements for use of a deadly weapon.
Judge David Rosenberg began the hearing, stating, “I had a brief conversation with the counsel, Mr. Schaub for the People, Mr. Gocke for defense, and I am advised that the parties have entered into a plea agreement.
“I have the plea form, it indicates that the parties have reached an agreement to resolve this case,” stated Judge Rosenberg, noting, “Ms. Garcia will receive a four-year state prison sentence in exchange for her no contest plea…voluntary manslaughter which is charged in this added Count 2, and for her admission to the use of a deadly weapon as alleged in the count enhancement.”
The judge added, “The four years is based on Ms. Garcia receiving the lower base term of three years for the manslaughter violation…plus one additional year for the use of a deadly weapon charged in the count enhancement. As noted, the aggregate is four years prison.”
After confirming with counsel that this plea agreement was accurate, Judge Rosenberg asked, “Ms. Garcia, is this your understanding of the plea agreement that you are entering into?”
“Yes sir,” replied defendant Garcia.
So far, so good.
But when the judge added, “So, Count 2 was just added. Count 2 alleges that on or about Oct. 7, 2020, you committed a felony…voluntary manslaughter. At to that charge, what is your plea?” asked Rosenberg.
At this point, the defendant remained silent and did not answer.
Judge Rosenberg asked, “Is your plea a no contest plea, ma’am?”
“Yes, yes,” responded the defendant.
“All right, no contest is the plea,” stated the judge, further asking, “You understand I treat a no contest plea as if it were a guilty plea?”
“I’m not sure,” responded the defendant, adding, “I don’t feel like I’m guilty, but…”
After hearing this, Rosenberg stated, “All right, now Mr. Gocke, do you want to have a conversation with your client?” to which he agreed.
Judge Rosenberg then addressed the defendant, stating, “You understand this plea agreement is for voluntary manslaughter. If you don’t feel you can enter a plea of guilty or no contest, I cannot take this plea. So, you need to talk to your attorney, to see where we go from here.”
After the defendant took time to discuss with her attorney, Deputy Public Defender Joseph Gocke said, “I think she’s prepared to go forward with the plea form I provided to the court.”
Judge Rosenberg responded, “Over the years, it’s been the court’s experience that defendants sometimes don’t quite understand the concept of no contest. And so, we’ll proceed, and see how it goes.
“So, the charge that I reviewed with you is a charge alleging the felony of voluntary manslaughter. As to that charge, how do you plead?” asked Judge Rosenberg again.
“Not guilty, I mean guilty, I’m sorry,” said defendant Garcia, while laughing at her mistake.
“All right, well, I’ll take a plea of guilty. There is a count enhancement which alleges use of a deadly weapon, do you admit that is true?” asked the judge, which defendant Garcia confirmed.
“The court will accept the factual basis to support the plea to Count 2 and the admission to count enhancement,” stated Rosenberg.
“Is there a motion by the People as to Count 1, and the count enhancement to Count 1?”
Deputy District Attorney Preston Schaub confirmed, stating, “Yes your Honor, in regard to the count enhancements, I would just like to make a record because we do have strikes and nickel priors alleged. Both of those documents, the police reports, and the social histories, just…the history of mental illness, I think was a factor through that original incident,” explained DDA Schaub.
“That, combined with the age of the incident, leaves me to believe that there are unusual circumstances and that if the court were to be given that discretion to strike those offenses, the court would likely be inclined to do so…I would be comfortable making a motion to dismiss those enhancements at this time…as well as Count 1,” stated DDA Schaub.
Judge Rosenberg confirmed that the motion is granted, and the case enhancements are dismissed.
“So, the court does find that Ms. Garcia understands her rights. She understands the nature of the crime charged; she does understand the consequences of her plea,” noted Rosenberg, adding, finally, “The court finds that she has knowingly, intelligently, understandingly, and voluntarily pled, and has waived such rights, and the right to have the charge read in full.”
With that, Judge Rosenberg set a further hearing for May 27 at 1:30 p.m. in Dept. 14 for receipt of the probation report and sentencing.
Derrick Pal is a fourth-year student at Sacramento State majoring in Criminal Justice and pursuing a minor in Sociology. He is from Elk Grove, California.
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