By Monica Han and Sam Zou
SACRAMENTO, CA – Assistant Public Defender Gina Le tried her best to exclude the value of a car, which the defendant allegedly stole, from being entered as factual evidence during this week’s preliminary hearing here in Sacramento County Superior Court.
Because of her insistent claim on the invalidity of the witness’ testimony regarding the approximate value of the car, the court eventually issued a waiver to continue the preliminary hearing to another date.
Defendant Angel Salas is currently facing two felony charges for stealing a vehicle. Salas appeared for his preliminary hearing, during which the court called on two witnesses, Officer Steven Chang and Deputy Samuel Meza, to provide testimony.
In his testimony, Chang mentioned that the caller reported that the vehicle was stolen. When asked the specific model and registrant of the car, the caller responded that it was a 1996 silver Honda that belonged to his wife.
Le interrupted Chang’s testimony and objected to the witness’ testimony on the grounds of double hearsay, explaining that not only did Chang receive all the information via a phone call, but Chang also learned of the owner of this car through another proxy—the victim’s husband.
However, the official records later showed that the victim was indeed the official owner of the vehicle in question. This would not be the first time that Le challenged the testimony of Officer Chang during the hearing.
The car in question was allegedly a family car. The victim regularly used the car to drive herself to work. When asked about the approximate value of the vehicle, Chang was again interrupted by Le, who claimed that the testimony lacks the factual foundation for the estimated value of the car.
Deputy District Attorney Toni Linarez proceeded to her next question. When asked about whether Chang received any knowledge from the victim claiming damage to the car, Chang started off by saying that “her brother stated that…”
But before Chang could finish, Le objected for the second time, again claiming double layer of hearsay because the victim did not directly describe the condition of the car. Judge George A. Acero sustained Le’s objection this time.
Still unable to enter into the official records the approximate value of the stolen car, Linarez asked if she could point the courtroom to the direction of a case law. She stated that it is “well-established that the victim of a crime can estimate the value of their property,” and as the owner of the car, the victim should be expected to know the approximate value of her vehicle.
Despite Linarez’s explanation, Le refuted that the DA still needs to “establish some type of basis for that knowledge; some type of facts to commit to that conclusion [of the value of the vehicle].” This is the third time Le objected to Chang’s testimony.
Judge Acero was unable to decide whose claims were valid. He decided to delay whether this evidence is considered valid, commenting that “I’ll have the witness testify to the value” for now, but also “let me look at that [the specific case law pointed out by Linarez].”
The court then called Deputy Samuel Meza as the second witness in this case, who described the detailed process regarding Salas’s arrest on Jan. 15.
According to Meza, he was driving westbound on 37th Avenue, where he happened to notice the defendant driving east. When the deputy looked at the defendant’s car, he noticed that Salas leaned over in his driver’s seat, appearing to be reaching somewhere in his seat area. Meza also noticed that Salas was not wearing a seat belt.
Meza began to follow Salas’s car, which only accelerated before making an immediate right turn to the shoulder of a driveway. Meza claimed that he heard the defendant’s tires screeching as the car suddenly turned under acceleration.
It was when Meza conducted a vehicle stop that he learned Salas was on probation and had no driver’s license, which gave the officer sufficient cause to detain the defendant and place him in the back of the patrol vehicle.
When he later conducted a records check, Meza found that the vehicle was reported stolen, which prompted him to contact the registered owner of the car and later help the victim retrieve the car.
Overall, Le made multiple objections during both testimonies, and claimed a double hearsay on foundation rejection, questioning the validity of statements regarding vehicle damage, worth, and factual evidence further provided by the officers.
DDA Linarez argued that someone who is familiar with the vehicle with vehicle rights should be able to determine the value of the car, but Le retorted that the value of the car did not come directly from the registered owner, and there was no way to determine where that value came from.
Le insisted that the objection should be sustained, since there is no factual basis, and the foundation problem and double hearsay issues persist. “[The victim] is not the owner. She’s not a qualified witness,” Le argued.
“I’ve never run into this issue where the individual driving the vehicle on a daily basis and has personal knowledge to the value of the car cannot establish the value of the vehicle,” Linarez said, and added on that the value of the vehicle is not necessary to prove violation of VC § 10851 (a), anyway.
“Case law is not necessary when the level of proof is so low,” Le claims. “It needs to pass through hearsay. It still needs to get through evidentiary basis.”
Le argued that these are specific intent crimes, and further stated that there is no evidence that the defendant knew the car was his, in the first place, or that it belonged to someone else. Salas cannot be held to answer the charges as felonies, Le concluded, and requested a waiver of continued preliminary hearing.
The issue is whether the daughter can contest the value, Judge Acero confirmed. Judge Acero took the case under submission to research and look deeper into the issue.
Monica Han is a recent graduate from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in English. She is from Los Angeles, California.
Sam Zou is currently a third year Political Science major student at UCLA. Within the field of political science, he is particularly interested in political economy and international politics. He hopes to contribute his passion for political science through contributing to the local community and beyond.
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