By Derrick Pal
WOODLAND, CA — A perceptive Yolo County Superior Court judge appeared to show concern for an injured defendant in a warrant hearing here this week as the defendant struggled to move in court, asking him, “Are you in pain right now, or anything?”
Defendant Alton Bruner was involved in an accident on July 19, 2020, in Yolo County and was charged with driving under the influence, a hit-and-run causing property damage, and driving without a valid driver’s license.
He also jumped off the freeway ramp—about a 40–50-foot drop—and was later found at the hospital to have alcohol in his blood at 0.06 percent.
And, while the judge did dispense with the case quickly, the defendant was unable to consult with a lawyer before Judge Tom Dyer and the prosecutor convinced him—without a defense attorney—to take a deal.
Judge Dyer began the hearing, stating, “So at this time, Mr. Bruner, the district attorney is going to provide you an offer to see if you want to resolve this case today.”
Deputy District Attorney Martha Wais explained, “The offer to Mr. Bruner is a reduced charge of a wet reckless…it would be one year of summary informal probation, the fine is $1,858, no alcohol for six months, and a 12-hour alcohol education course, as well as restitution that is to be determined.”
Judge Dyer stated, “Ok, so Mr. Bruner, you could take that offer today, I can give you a plea form you fill out, and we would go from there.
“Or you could hire your own attorney if you want to talk to an attorney further, or if you can’t afford to hire an attorney, I can appoint the public defender to represent you. Mr. Bruner, what would you like to do?”
“I want to take a plea,” said Mr. Bruner, without the benefit of legal assistance.
“You want to take a plea? Ok, all right sir, so what I’m going to do, Mr. Bruner, what I have here is a plea form, and it’s a plea form that you would either plead guilty or no contest to a wet reckless which is what the district attorney is offering you,” explained Judge Dyer.
The judge added, “And I’m also going to give you a Watson advisement,” which he explained “indicates that driving under the influence is inherently dangerous to human life, and if you do so in the future, you drive under the influence in the future and someone gets killed, you could be charged with murder.
“All right, so Mr. Bruner, you can go ahead and sit…,” started Judge Dyer, but he interrupted himself, noticing the defendant struggling to move due to injury, and asked, “Are you in pain right now, or anything?
“All right, so Mr. Bruner, are these your initials and signature on these forms that I provided you? And no one’s forced you to write these down, you’re doing so freely and voluntarily, sir?”
Judge Dyer received confirmation that defendant Bruner freely and voluntarily waived his rights (to a lawyer, and a trial, among other things) and pleaded no contest to a wet reckless.
“Ok, I am signing this, I find that the plea of no contest by Mr. Bruner is freely and voluntarily made,” stated Judge Dyer. “All right, Mr. Bruner, so you have to pay a fine of $1,858. How much would you like to pay per month, sir?”
“One hundred dollars? Can you pay $100 a month?” asked Judge Dyer, however, he noticed the defendant did not seem comfortable with this amount. “I’ll put you for $50 per month, Mr. Bruner. Your first payment is going to be due May 1, do you understand that?”
After assisting the defendant, Judge Dyer concluded reassuringly, “That should be it, Mr. Bruner, good luck to you sir. Take care.”
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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