By Ankita Joshi and Angela Patel
SACRAMENTO, CA – Prosecutors continue to protest virtually all suggestions that people—who are not convicted and are awaiting trial—should be released from jail either at all, or without paying sometimes large sums of cash.
Here in Sacramento County Superior Court this week, defendant Stephen Fear is a case in point.
Fear’s bail was ultimately reduced from $100,000 to $25,000 by a judge—a rarity because judges usually follow the prosecutor’s lead. Fear simply had an inability to pay, despite the prosecutor’s objection.
Judge Geoffrey Goodman was initially impatient with the Defense Attorney Michelle Trigger’s request to reduce bail, and was not pleased with an interruption from her after addressing a question to Deputy District Attorney Lauren Weiss.
The hearing began with Judge Goodman questioning Trigger about why there was no financial statement present with the motion to reduce bail. While the presumptive bail was set at $0, Judge Goodman repeatedly asked Trigger what bail amount would be the most reasonable for Fear.
He highlighted his confusion by asking, “What if I thought bail was appropriate and he could afford it? Why couldn’t I do that,” and, “Are you prepared to argue that he’s indigent… because you highlight the fact that he’s working.”
And while Trigger maintained that presumptive bail was $0, and would be the most beneficial for the defendant, she also noted that Fear’s family would be able to make $25,000 bail regardless of the hardship it would present.
DDA Weiss objected to the reduction in bail, arguing Fear poses a “particular individualized risk to the public.”
She noted that the victim and Fear might have exchanged a few words prior to the assault, but Fear had acted “seemingly relatively unprovoked, at least not physically provoked” and had “assault[ed] another human being to the point where that individual died as a result of his head injuries.”
And while Fear has a minimal criminal history, with the only conviction being a drug misdemeanor in 2014, DDA Weiss maintained that the incident was an “extraordinary act of violence.”
Judge Goodman noted that the cause of death was the victim falling and striking his head, not an intentional killing by the defendant. However, DDA Weiss argued that the victim became unconscious and fell after trying to get away from the defendant, with Fear ultimately fleeing the scene.
While questioning DDA Weiss, Judge Goodman appeared frustrated after Trigger attempted to answer a question about Fear’s maximum sentence.
Judge Goodman remarked, “I asked a question and I didn’t hear the answer… and Ms. Trigger, don’t interrupt me. I’m talking to Ms. Weiss, I’ll give you an opportunity if I think you need it.”
At this point, Trigger had not been given a chance to comment on DDA Weiss’s objection, but Trigger did not say anything more after Judge Goodman’s comment.
Ultimately, Judge Goodman chose to defer to the doctor’s ruling that the killing was not intentional, and the charge was involuntary manslaughter.
He agreed to reduce the bail to $25,000 because of the defendant’s financial position, but he imposed Level 5 conditions of release, including an order to stay away from the gas station where the attack occurred.
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.
Angela Patel is a rising third year at UCLA majoring in Sociology and English. She is originally from the Bay Area and loves reading, writing, and hanging out with her cats.
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