Defendant Unable to Afford Private Defender, Requests More Time Despite Judge’s Disapproval

By Alexander Pleitez and Anna Zheng


SACRAMENTO, CA – In a pretrial conference this week in Sacramento County Superior Court, defendant Herman Tillman requested more time to gather money for his own private defender because he felt uncomfortable being represented by a court-appointed, free public defender. 

Judge Patrick Marlette opposed the idea, stating he wanted to “keep this case going.”

Tillman has two charges against him, including the alleged possession of a loaded firearm in a public space and obstruction of public justice. His Assistant Public Defender is Alan Donato.

However, Tillman began to discuss his complications with his case, specifically who would be defending him. He went on to talk about difficulties he had with not only gathering money but just finding an attorney willing to defend him.

“I’m trying to look for other [attorneys] but this my life your Honor. I’m trying to do what’s best for my life. I understand that you got to give me time and I’m trying. I’m not the richest man, obviously.[…] But some people wouldn’t take my case because they got other cases going on,” the defendant said.

Judge Marlette understood Tillman’s concerns, but the case was about two years old, so the judge’s time concerns were also noted.

Marlette urged Tillman to accept Donato as his lawyer, arguing, “This offense was alleged back in December 2019 like over a year and a half ago. […] You’re not going to find a better lawyer than Donato. If you have the money to hire a lawyer, you’re free to do that. But if the problem is [money]… I can’t give you time just to get the money put together to do it.” 

“We have a trial going on here who have victims on the other side and complaining witnesses on the other side of the trial, so I don’t wanna go out on here for too long,” Judge Marlette said. “Why don’t we just let Donato handle this for you?”

In response, Tillman stated, “I don’t feel comfortable […] I apologize it’s taking me so long [but] if  you know my record, I’m new to crime. I don’t know nothing about law or anything like that, so I’m trying to hire someone.”

Judge Marlette continued to pressure Tillman and addressed a preconceived misunderstanding defendants often have in court. 

“I can’t tell you the number of times it happens [when] the DA walks up and says ‘I want eight years out of this case’ and the judge says ‘I think the case is worth six years’ and the defendant, the guy in your position, thinks his lawyer should be able to walk in and say ‘no it’s going to be four and everyone has to agree to that,’” said Marlette.

Judge Marlette wanted to convey to Tillman that hiring a private attorney would not change the amount of time he would have to serve. Only the judge presiding over the case would have control over this matter. 

“Mr. Donato will make the best counteroffer on your case that he can, but he absolutely cannot control what the district attorney offers or what the judge says they give you if you plead.”

Judge Marlette further reassured Mr. Tillman, “If there is bad news, it’s Donato’s job to let you know what that bad news is, he’s not the source of that bad news”.

The defendant understood the judge’s point of view but then brought light to his own feelings. He wanted to get across that he did not feel comfortable with this public defender because he feels misrepresented, as if he were an outsider.

“I’m not saying that’s what it is [..] it’s hard for me to even relate to you by nature because I’m on a different side of the fence.[..] I have to find the right defense. [I can’t] give away six years of my life because I don’t have the means to really defend myself… that’s a lot for me. I have a daughter that I haven’t even met your Honor,” Tillman said.

Judge Marlette decided to give Tillman until his next trial date, Aug. 30, to scrape together enough funds to afford a private attorney. 

Alexander Pleitez is a senior at South San Francisco High School planning to major in Political Science or Biology, currently residing in the Bay Area, and hopes to sharpen his writing skills and garner work experience with new opportunities.

Anna Zheng is a fourth year at UC Davis from Sonoma, California. She is studying International Relations and Economics with the intent of pursuing a J.D. degree in the future. Ultimately, she hopes to pursue a career in consulting, finance, intellectual property or business immigration law.


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About The Author

Koda is an incoming senior at UC Berkeley, majoring in Philosophy and minoring in Rhetoric. He is from Ventura, CA.

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