By Jacob Mccollum and Mia Machado
WOODLAND, CA – Yolo County Superior Court Judge Tom M. Dyer was pretty adamant here last week that public safety was the reason he won’t release a defendant awaiting trial.
Judge Dyer set a defendant’s custody status at no bail, despite admitting the “possible injustice” of making his decision after the defendant had already been released for posting bail.
“Given the serious and violent circumstances,” Judge Dyer ruled that any less restrictive option will not be sufficient to ensure the safety of the public.
Defendant Serena Morenocarrera appeared virtually to court Friday for the arraignment on two new felonies and the review of various older charges, allegedly committing new crimes including, assault with a deadly weapon, vehicle theft, forgery, burglary in the second degree, perjury and vandalism.
She also faces enhancements for allegedly committing various crimes while out on probation or a bail bond. Public Defender Tracie Olson was appointed to the defendant’s case.
Deputy District Attorney David Robbins motioned to increase the defendant’s bail to $1 million, arguing that the defendant’s repeated use of violence and long track record indicates that any less restrictive option to control the defender will be “insufficient to keep the public safe.”
While the defendant is currently out of custody for posting bail at $25,000, DDA Robbins asserted that many of her crimes were previously committed while the defendant was out on a bail. Without a high bail, DDA Robbins explained that they will be unable to keep her in custody.
After PD Olson explained that the defendant’s case is a “complex set of circumstances” that need to be considered with greater context, she asserted that raising the defendant’s bail or no bail, would be detrimental to the contract the defendant signed, and that she would lose money.
At this point in the case, PD Olson argued the best course of action is to order the less restrictive means, such as using an ankle monitor.
Judge Dyer questioned the efficacy of the GPS and expressed “serious concerns” that the defendant poses a safety risk if “out on any amount of bail.” He set her custody status at no bail and ordered her to surrender herself within 24 hours.
DDA Robbins drew the court’s attention to the repeated use of weapons between all these cases, in particular the continued use of a vehicle in a “reckless and dangerous manner.”
DDA Robbins also highlighted the impacts these alleged crimes had had on the community. He cited one victim, referred to only by her initials, who had lost her leg as a result of defendant Morenocarrera’s alleged actions.
“And she has still continued to use these vehicles to harm others, whether it’s property, or their person” the DA said. The DA also alleged Morenocarrera had continued to use other weapons such a baseball bat and pepper spray and that these new crimes had been committed while the defendant was out on bail.
That bail was the crux of the conflict between the two motions. In her last case, Ms. Morenocarrera’s bail was set at $50,000, but she was able to be bailed out on less on that, on a $25,000 bail bond. The DA alleges that, after posting bond for one crime, Ms. Morenocarrera continued to carry out other reckless, dangerous, and illegal activity.
“She’s continued to disrespect this court by violating the law,” he said, adding again that without $1 million bail, DA Robbins said he will be unable to keep her in custody, and “keep the public safe.”
PD Olson explained that of the two new complaints that were filed today, only one is really “new,” and the other is not an incident that occurred while Morenocarrera was out on bail, but an investigation that was completed while Morenocarrera was on bail.
The investigation involved the fraudulent purchase of a car. PD Olson emphasized that this new charge needed to be put in context of the original charge: the two are not random unrelated incidents.
The second alleged incident, committed most recently by date, involves the same person involved in a previous case. In fact, the alleged victim actually bailed out Morenocarrera on the alleged fraudulent purchase charge.
PD explained the defendant’s case is a “complex set of circumstances where there is a mutually unhealthy relationship that is abusive on both sides.” Olson said Morenocarrera sought help from Empower Yolo, a domestic abuse support center, as a result of the incident.
PD Olson also pointed out that, despite the unfortunate family situation, Morenocarrera had met all other conditions of her bail and court appearances.
“At this point what we have is someone who bailed out of jail, entered into a contract with her bail bondsman, followed the rules that were given to her when she was first incarcerated…She comes to every court appearance, she’s in regular contact with me, she contacted me as soon as she got out of jail.”
Olson also stated that Morenocarrera is not a flight risk as she is from the community and that there are other means besides incarceration to ensure the safety of the community. She noted defendant already has a GPS ankle monitor which provides law enforcement real time updates as to her location and direction.
Given that she had already posted bail, and that the most recent incident is less a pattern of criminal disregard than a complicated and unfortunate domestic dispute, Olson argued that justice would be better served allowing Morenocarrera to remain in the community with an ankle monitor.
Rather than sending Morenocarrera back to jail, Olson asked the judge that he order the defendant to seek help at Yolo Empower once a bed is available.
Judge Dyer stated that in the opinion of the court the defendant has been involved in a series of escalating incidents, including “very serious allegations of theft and great bodily injury events.” He cited the court’s doubt at the utility of the GPS device.
Judge Dyer conveyed that it seems the defendant “gets caught up in focusing on getting after someone and she does it…I’m not sure an ankle monitor is going to stop whatever impulses that your client has, and has difficulty tamping down when they occur.
“There’s a trust element here in addition to the violent occurrences…At this point, I’m looking at some really high end violent occurrences… and it’s just piled on top of one another…I’ve got real concerns that [the defendant] is going to be a public safety risk while she is out on any amount of bail,” the judge said.
He confirmed that there is clear and convincing evidence to find the defendant eligible for no bail “given the serious circumstances,” and that a GPS device will not be sufficient to ensure the safety of the public.
He set her custody status at no bail after admitting to understanding the “possible injustice” of the defendant having already posted bail and released on the same charges. But that the public safety concern outweighs the individual’s liberty in this case.
After issuing a no bail order, Judge Dyer ordered the defendant to surrender herself to the custody of Yolo County. A preliminary hearing is set for May 13.
Mia Machado is a junior at UC Davis, currently majoring in Political Science-Public Service and minoring in Luso-brazilian studies. She is originally from Berkeley, California. She is a team member on the Chesa Boudin Recall – Changing the Narrative Project.
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