The Case of the Out-of-State Defendant, and Whether He Has an Attorney or Is Representing Self in Court

PART I. By John Arceno, Natalia Claburn, Ned Meiners, Sam Zou

SACRAMENTO, CA — Co-defendants and spouses Jeffery Moss and Taylor Morris had a tumultuous hearing this week in Sacramento County Superior Court—they said they traveled from Georgia, were nearly penniless, and one, Moss, chose to represent himself. Kinda.

This story has two parts as the defendants had two court appearances in one day. This is Part 1:

They are each facing five charges including identity theft and weapons possession. If convicted they could be sentenced to up to four and a half years in prison.

The couple were arrested in Sacramento County May 28, but, according to Moss, had traveled across the country to return for their court appearance.

The hearing began when the deputy claimed that the couple was causing a disturbance in the back of the courtroom and advised Judge Patrick Marlette to hear the co-defendants’ case.

In a surprising turn of events, Moss refused his court-appointed Assistant Public Defender Kyra Nickell. Instead, he explained he would be representing himself in the matter.

When asked if he was prepared for such an undertaking, Moss claimed he had “a little bit of legal training.” On the other hand, his wife Morris accepted legal representation from private counsel Kevin Mighetto.

Upon this announcement, Judge Marlette made it clear to Moss that he would be facing a trained prosecutor, receive no assistance from the court, and cannot appeal the verdict he is given on the basis that he was not competent to represent himself.

“I was falsely arrested and I’m on a GPS monitor without an address in Sacramento at all,” began Moss. “I live in the state of Georgia and I drove back 48 hours straight to get here today.”

Seemingly frustrated, the defendant continued, saying “the money the officers took in this case was all we were living off of. We were on vacation and we’ve been homeless ever since. It’s been seven weeks we’ve been homeless on the streets, no home, no car, no nothing. Nobody will help us.”

Judge Marlette noted that there had previously been a public defender appointed to help him, an offer he had refused.

At this point, Morris also chimed in and claimed that her attorney did not understand their situation and that she was not comfortable working with him.

The judge explained to Morris that she should tell her representative what she would like to say and if it helped her case, he would listen, causing Morris to become a bit frustrated. Morris then had a loud aside with her attorney, stating that she was “not a convicted felon” and her unemployment had been “wrongfully taken.”

Over the course of the hearing Judge Marlette repeatedly emphasized that while they have the Constitutional right to represent themselves, it is often better for a defendant to seek help from a trained legal professional.

“If the two of you stand there without any legal representation, I’m just going to warn you that’s not a good decision at all,” explained the judge.

Judge Marlette entered pleas as “not guilty” for both defendants, and scheduled their preliminary hearing for July 22.

As the deputy tried to usher the couple out of the courtroom to move on to another case, Moss unexpectedly walked back to the stand and told Marlette that he did, in fact, have legal representation after refusing to sign a legal form identifying that he would self-represent.

Confused, Marlette reminded Moss that he had just stated and defended the fact that he was representing himself. Moss then claimed that “Lexington Law” was the firm representing him and that he had forgotten to mention his representatives because he had hired them “on the drive [from Georgia to California].”

Clearly frustrated with the situation, Judge Marlette came to a compromise with Moss. If he returned to the courthouse after lunch with his alleged legal representative, Marlette would strike Moss’s claim of self-representation from the record and allow him to have a defense attorney.

However, if they don’t appear with the aforementioned legal representation, Moss will be required to represent himself on the charges. Either way, the two Georgians have a preliminary hearing to attend in Sacramento next month.

PART II: By Alexander Ramirez and Benjamin Porter

SACRAMENTO, CA – Co-defendants Taylor Marie Morris and Jeffrey Scott Moss appeared in Department 63 of the Sacramento Superior Court on Wednesday afternoon, after making a morning appearance.

Morris and Moss both briefly sparred with Judge Michael Bowman amid confusion surrounding Moss’s legal representation and desire to not enter a not guilty plea, despite Morris’s already having done so.

Both Morris and Moss face felony charges of false personation and carrying concealed firearms as felons, while Moss alone faces two additional counts concerning unauthorized communications with prisons and prisoners.

After mistakenly thinking that a “Mr. Morris” was considering representing “himself,” Judge Bowman was corrected by prosecutor Colin Stephenson of the District Attorney’s office, who explained that it was in fact Moss, not Morris, who had been weighing that option. When asked if it was still his intention to represent himself, Moss added to the confusion.

“Your Honor, I need to ask for a continuance because my lawyer wasn’t able to fly out of Atlanta to be here on time,” Moss said.

When questioned, Moss said that he did not know the name of the attorney that was supposed to fly out for him, saying, “I didn’t even get the chance, he was just trying to get here as soon as possible.”

Judge Bowman then asked Stephenson if he would agree to another continuance, causing Stephenson to express his concern regarding the confusion with Moss’s counsel.

“Judge, to be honest, I don’t really understand what is going on as far as the attorney situation or not with Mr. Moss,” Stephenson said. “Judge Marlette this morning went through a whole Faretta advisement because he was requesting to represent himself, but then he refused to sign the Faretta advisements once they were completed and sent to him, and then after all of that, said that he had ‘The Lexington Law Firm’ representing him.

”So I’m just a little bit unclear as to if he actually has a lawyer or if he wants to represent himself or if he completely is aware of the ramifications of what’s going on. I’m a little bit unclear, or I guess concerned is a better way to put it.”

Judge Bowman said he shared attorney Stephenson’s concerns, but was still willing to give Moss another continuance where he will either have an attorney next to him, or be representing himself.

Before proceeding, Stephenson noted that it might be a logistical concern given that Kevin Mighetto’s client, Morris, had entered not guilty pleas earlier in the day.

Tensions rose when Judge Bowman said he was “going to go ahead and enter not pleas on Mr. Morris’ (correction) Moss’s behalf.” It was unclear if Judge Bowman was under the false impression that Moss, in addition to Morris, had entered or intended to enter not guilty pleas.

When Morris informed Judge Bowman that Moss “doesn’t want to do that,” Judge Bowman interrupted her, saying, “Sir, Sir, Ma’am, I’m not asking you what he wants.”

Moss chimed in to say that he “didn’t enter no not guilty plea,” prompting Judge Bowman to remind everyone that that was why he did so “on your behalf.”

In reply to Moss’s assertion that he “didn’t ask you to do that on my behalf,” the judge simply said, “I know, well, I’m here to help.”

At this point, Moss scoffed and moved away from the view of the livestream as Judge Bowman tried to set a preliminary hearing date. Judge Bowman asked Moss to return to the view of the livestream and also set a date before the next hearing to give Moss the opportunity to get in touch with his lawyer.

When asked how much time he needs to get in touch with his lawyer, Moss responded, “Honestly, I don’t know, sir. I’m homeless, don’t have no way of nothing, so…y’all literally throwing me back out to the streets again with my…”

Moss’ voice seemed to crack before he was interrupted by Judge Bowman asking if he was able to hire counsel while in his current state, to which Moss responded that he hired it through a third-party.

“Okay, let me do this. Let me give you a couple weeks, come back in on—today’s the sixteenth—how about if you come back June 30 at 8:30? Right now, you have the public defender’s office, but on that date we’ll come in and see whether or not you have new counsel. Two weeks from this date.”

John Arceno is an incoming fourth year English and Political Science student at UCLA. He is passionate about the arts and transfer advocacy. His involvement within the SoCal Dance community informed his decision to pursue entertainment law, and he hopes to apply to law schools in the upcoming application cycle.

Natalia Claburn is a first year student at UC Davis majoring in English and minoring in Political Science. She is from San Francisco, California and plans to one day work in the justice system.

Ned Meiners is a Legal Studies student at City College San Francisco. Originally from Maine, he currently resides on Bernal Hill in San Francisco.

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.

Alexander Ramirez is a third-year Political Science major at the University of California, Davis. He hopes to hone his writing skills in preparation for the inevitable time of graduation.

Benjamin Porter graduated from UC Davis in 2020 with a BA in Music and a BS in Environmental Policy Analysis & Planning. He is originally from Seattle, WA.

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