Compiled by Alexander Ramirez
The Vanguard is an online news group that provides in-depth coverage of courts in California and around the nation. Since 2006, The Vanguard has been dedicated to transparency, democracy, open government and social justice. The team of 40 to 50 interns monitors live court proceedings in more than six different counties throughout California, from the Greater San Francisco Bay Area all the way through the Central Valley and towards Southern California. These are some highlights of this week’s coverage.
Sacramento County Superior Court
Dept. 61 – Stephanie Boulos, Genesis Guzman, John Arceno, and Sam Zou saw a wide variety of cases in court. These included a defendant entering a golf course during closed hours and engaging with nearly $950 worth of equipment, before taking a club and beanie and walking away. Other cases included sodomy at a school and a defendant struggling with developmental disabilities have their charges dropped by Judge Goodman. The shift ended with continuations and no-shows.
Dept. 63 – Benjamin Porter and Linhchi Nguyen heard a case in Dept. 63 of the Sacramento Superior Court in which a homeless defendant in a poor mental state was given an opportunity to meet with a social worker about going to a residential rehab program rather than immediately entering a plea. In Sacramento Dept. 61, Prosecutor Nikita Skokov had to correct a probation report which erroneously stated that the defendant had 5.3 g of meth rather than the much smaller actual amount of 0.2 g.
Later in the same Dept., Judge Goodman drew laughs after observing a misunderstanding in which a defendant was not in fact evading the police, but evading his girlfriend. “I haven’t heard that one before,” Judge Goodman said. “I wonder about that relationship.”
Yolo County Superior Court
Dept. 7 – Annika Sial and Alexander Jimenez heard several preliminary hearings and pretrial conferences in Yolo County. In Dept. 7, Judge David W. Reed denied defendant Larry Earl Purdy II’s request for release without bail or bail reduction. Purdy was arrested on May 29 2021 and held in custody for 8 charges related to possession of weapons and/or controlled substances with a bail of $20,000. Purdy’s attorney, Richard Van Zandt, argued that Purdy should be released without paying bail because Purdy has child support obligations that render him unable to afford the bail cost.
In addition, Van Zandt said that being unable to attend work while in custody may threaten Purdy’s high-paying job. Reed denied Purdy’s request for release or bail reduction on the grounds that Purdy is a threat to society. Reed will hold Purdy’s preliminary hearing on Thursday, June 17.
Alameda County Superior Court
Dept. 605, 701 – Christopher heard a number of requests for continuances, sentences, and closing arguments between Dept.’s 605 and 701 of the Alameda Superior Court. In Dept. 605 a sentencing was heard for a permanent resident of the state of New York. Prior to the sentencing, a request for a continuance was granted based on the nature of the defendant’s long-distance permanent residency. However, the defendant was at his home in New York during the sentencing this court hearing as well, leaving his counsel to appear 977 in his stead.
While in California, the defendant committed a vehicular violation that required restitution of up to $4,000. His counsel pleaded no contest to the charges and accepted the restitution and accompanying fees. The sentence also required a stay-away order from the state of California for the defendant.
Sacramento County Superior Court
Dept. 9, 61, 63 – Zoey and Karisa visited numerous court hearings including Sac 9, Sac 63, and Sac 61. In Sacramento Court 9 there was a case about a robbery that occurred more than two years ago in which the defendant is accused of robbing over $950 of merchandise from Home Depot. The original charge was changed from grand theft to second-degree commercial burglary as the defendant had been advised by his immigration lawyer that the new charge would have fewer consequences. Depts. 63 and 61 cases were pretty short and Judges Michael Bowman (Sac 63) and Geoffrey Goodman (Sac 61) issued a few bench warrants for people that did not show up to court. Other matters were put off to later dates with many of which were changed to later dates.
Dept. 23 – Anika and Ganga heard two preliminary cases in Sacramento Superior Court’s Dept. 23. Jackson Hadden, a legal intern under the supervision of Prosecutor Leland Washington, called upon Officer Brian Herrin to share his testimony involving an enforcement stop. Officer Herrin shared that he stopped defendant Kevin Eugene Humphrey for stopping his vehicle at a red light past the limit line.
After speaking with the defendant during the enforcement stop, Officer Herrin noticed Humphrey’s “red and bloodshot” eyes,” “fidgety” mannerisms, and “rambling” speech. As a result, Officer Herrin asked the defendant if he had used meth. Humphrey admitted that he had used meth the previous day. Then, Officer Herrin conducted a field sobriety test (FST) in which he found a white mucus-like coating and gray bumps inside Humphrey’s oral cavity. The defendant’s pulse was also elevated. Since these signs indicate smoking, Officer Herrin arrested the defendant for a suspected DUI and then searched his vehicle. Officer Herrin found two containers of methamphetamine and a glass pipe used for smoking inside a Crown Royal bag on the floor on the right passenger’s side.
Humphrey waived his Miranda rights and admitted that the methamphetamine was his. Attorney Stephen Hirsch, defending Humphrey, argued that the police officer “never observed [the defendant] going at an unsafe speed…or making abrupt lane changes.” The only violation is that Humphrey stopped a “little past the line at a red light.” According to Hirsch, the results of the FST can be explained by Humphrey’s prior medical conditions. Humphrey suffers from asthma and high blood pressure and has screws in his right ankle. Hirsch also shared that the defendant barely slept the night before his arrest. These factors could be the reason for the defendant’s “modified balance test…to be eleven seconds off.”
Considering that the defendant did not exhibit bad driving behavior and his medical conditions could have affected the FST, Hirsch claims that there is “not enough evidence of impairment.” Judge Laurie Earl, on the other hand, believed there to be sufficient evidence to continue to a jury trial.
In the second preliminary hearing, Deputy District Attorney Saron Tesfai asks Judge Laurie Earl to grant a motion to consolidate two cases involving assault and battery with a deadly weapon, vandalism and threatening to cause great bodily injury. Defense Attorney Shelby Alberts, representing defendant Tabitha Walls, argues for the judge to deny the motion to consolidate since the felony case against her client is weak and consolidation will only strengthen it. She also asserts that the charges made against the defendant occurred in two different places and therefore should be treated as separate cases.
Judge Earl decided that the alleged crimes committed by Tabitha Walls all fall under the same class and can be consolidated. DDA Tesfai calls upon Officer Scott Eckert to share his testimony about being dispatched in a police call to a situation “involving assault with a deadly weapon.” Upon initial arrival to the scene of the alleged crime, Officer Eckert saw “one female who was screaming” and he “immediately recognized that she was the issue in that household.” Based on her behavior, his partner detained the female, the defendant Tabitha Walls.
The other female in the house directed the officers’ attention towards a trash can where Officer Eckhert then retrieved a knife’s blade. Then, he goes further into the house and comes across the victim in a bathroom with the door kicked in.
Officer Eckert attempts to question the victim but the victim was “shaking and scared” and could barely speak. Eventually, the victim tells the officer that an argument about the defendant getting a ride home broke out, compelling Walls to vandalize the victim’s car by slashing its tires. Then, Walls tried to stab the victim “with an overhand grip on his neck and left ear,” according to Officer Eckhert.
The victim was able to defend himself with a chair by creating some distance between himself and the defendant. He then was able to run and hide in the bathroom before Wells allegedly kicked the door in.
Judge Earl concluded that there is sufficient evidence for the matter to continue to jury trial. The next hearing date is August 16.
Dept. 31 – Savannah Dewberry, Karisa Cortez, and Annika Sial went to Sac 31 where a case about an inmate was heard. The inmate’s name is Kenneth Neal Hammond Jr. who stabbed another inmate. During closing arguments, the defense attorney argued that there was not enough evidence to prove premeditation. The prosecution called two witnesses to the stand who were both guards at the facility. Officer Masterson was the first to appear and a majority of the hearing was from his questioning. Both sides questioned the first witness twice and the second one once.
Dept. 35 – Sam, Annette, and Priana saw Ger Cha, who was taken into custody at the time, appeared in court to give updates regarding his ongoing mental health treatment through the Mental Health Diversion program. This program allows some criminal defendants to get mental health treatment when they are accused of a crime. His attorney made a thorough and compelling argument of why Cha could be fully taken care of when he is out of custody. The attorney explained that “we do have the option of evaluating and placing him in a board and care facility,” where he will receive 24-hour care and supervision from the facility, as well as medical and psychological support. Judge Marlette granted a request to transfer Cha to a care provider on Thursday since the care facility requires a two-day notice in advance. Later, Judge Marlette also asked for a progress report 30 days after Cha’s transfer.
Also noteworthy in today’s hearing is Sean Bethel’s case. Bethel was charged with “unlawfully and knowingly possessing…images depicting a person under the age of 18,” reported the District Attorney Chang. On Dec. 11, 2020, multiple individuals reported Bethel for showing images of himself as well as child pornography alongside it. The content was later disseminated via social media as well as direct messaging. In addition, on Nov. 8, 2020, Bethel was also charged with sending images of child pornography to a CVS store for them to print the contents. The defendant and the prosecutor have come to a resolution before the hearing today. Bethel pleaded no contest for both counts of the charges and received a sentence that required him to stay in prison with a floor of 180 days and a lid of three years. He would also be registered as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Dept. 61 – Angie Madrid, Sophia Barberini, and Joseph Cohn sat in on multiple continuances in Dept. 61. Judge Geoffery Goodman moved through the cases swiftly, seemingly becoming agitated by any interruptions in the courtroom. This irritation was evidenced when defendant Shanice Boone attempted to speak to her lawyer after he requested a continuance on her case. Asserting that his courtroom was not a “forum for discussion with [a] client,” Goodman attempted to brush past her case and move on to the next. Defense Attorney Stratton Barbee, however, was able to convey to Goodman the importance of listening to the defendant, asserting that the defendant’s house has recently burned down and she cannot afford to continue with the SCRAM device that was a part of her bail conditions.
Dept. 61 – Jeramie, Linh, and Michelle watched multiple Sac 61 scheduling sessions and pleas. Both requests for preliminary hearings for two separate cases were resolved very quickly. The first defendant Adrian Correa was accused of possession of a controlled substance and loaded firearm for 180 days and the other defendant Gonzalez was accused of possession of a controlled substance and loaded firearm for four years. The majority of the Sac 61 session was taken up by the case for defendant Wheeler’s motion for bail under the most restrictive, pretrial release conditions. The motion, in the end, was denied by Judge Goodman because of the defendant’s past criminal record and his aggressiveness during the current case. In his current case, defendant Wheeler, the passenger during a car ride, fired a gun at the driver during the motion. Then, after coming to a stop, the defendant moved the decedent’s body onto the highway to be run over by many cars during the night.
Dept. 63 – Koda Singluff, Anna Zheng, and Alexa Kendell attended Dept. 63 of Sacramento Superior Court. Judge Patrick Marlette saw numerous defendants both in person and over zoom. One of the cases featured a man who was caught hiking with a machete and .8 grams of methamphetamines. Judge Patrick Marlette also oversaw a preliminary hearing involving multiple robberies. Khloe Fillmore, the defendant, was being charged with a string of robberies that she participated in with her ex-boyfriend. She is specifically being accused of acting as the getaway driver. Due to the lack of evidence and no prior criminal history, Judge Marlette decided that she was to be released from custody with GPS monitoring as she awaited her trial.
Another one of the cases we heard involved a man named Iram Chaudhary, who embezzled $183,460 from Amazon. Chaudhary was employed at Amazon in North Sacramento, where he would frequently call Apple products to his station to then secret them in another area of the facility. Before leaving the facility, he would put the products into his backpack to secretly embezzle over 110 Apple products. Chaudhary ultimately pleaded to count one of a felony violation of Penal Code Section 503 and was scheduled for sentencing on July 29.
Yolo County Superior Court
Dept. 7 – Jeramie, Linh, and Michelle also saw Yolo 7 which was having a preliminary hearing for defendant Jose Trinidad Perez Meza, charged with multiple violent felonies including sexual battery, kidnapping, and assault with intent to rape.
Dept. 11 – Koda, Serene, and Tatiana saw Judge David W. Reed of Yolo’s Dept. 7, engaged in a variety of cases regarding probation violations and scheduling future hearings. During the earlier half of the day, defendant Joshua Ryan Adragna prompted discussion over reckless use of an operating vessel. Adragna was in possession of a boat and found extremely intoxicated during the event. Although the Harbor and Navigation Code were unclear, Judge Reed handled the case as “someone on a first DUI” due to Adragna’s blood pressure being “very high.”
After proceeding with multiple court evaluations, Judge Reed found himself to be impacted by defendant Humberto Jr. Tejeda’s case. Tejeda has had a long history of misdemeanors, which included a new case filed on May 14th of this year. Tejeda has served time in local prison over the second-degree burglary. As of May 21, he owes 408 days of Mandatory Supervision. Judge Reed held that Tejeda must fulfill the requirements of his Mandatory Supervision Order by reporting to a probation officer and staying 100 yards away from the Woodland Library. In Judge Reed’s final statement, he explains that a lot of young men go to prison that it becomes a revolving door. He hopes that Tejeda evaluates his actions and pursues a different path in life. Tejeda thanks Judge Reed for his words of wisdom, and is set to appear in court on June 21.
Fresno County Superior Court
Dept. 1 – Anika and Peter heard a variety of arraignment, sentencing, and continuance hearings in Fresno Superior Court’s Dept. 1. In his arraignment, defendant Allen Wayne Clem pled no contest to a DUI charge and a charge involving evading a peace officer. Deputy District Attorney Leonel Salazar shared that the defendant “blew past a red light driving at 100 mph near a residential area.” He failed to stop when a police officer flashed his lights and sounded his siren at the defendant, forcing the police officer to chase him at speeds of 60-100 mph. Once the police officer was able to pull over the defendant for an enforcement stop, Clem admitted to “drinking a pint,” causing the officer to search his vehicle.
Clem’s blood alcohol content was 0.13. Inside a backpack, the officer found 30 blue tablets of oxycodone and marijuana. Judge William Terrence acknowledges that Clem has no criminal history but still stresses the gravity of driving under the influence and driving at high speeds by saying that Clem “put a lot of lives in danger.” Judge Terrence sentenced Clem to 20 days in an adult offender work program, and a fine of $1,400 and three years of misdemeanor probation.
Rosanna Rodriguez Covarrubias pled no contest to reckless driving while under the influence. Covarrubias was also convicted of reckless driving while under the influence in November 2018. Deputy District Attorney Leonel Salazar said that the defendant’s erratic driving prompted a patron at the bar she was just at to call 911. Covarrubias had been kicked out of the bar for aggressive behavior. Covarrubias hopped into the back seat to avoid responsibility for driving the vehicle when the police pulled her over. Covarrubias had a blood alcohol content of 0.18. Covarrubias’ driving while under the influence violated the probation from her November 2018 conviction.
The defense attorney, Public Defender Eduardo Cortez, argued for leniency, stating that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings and monitoring of the defendant could improve her behavior. Judge William Terrence chastised Covarrubias for her second DUI conviction while just being “30 years old.” He further stated that if she “cannot hear alarm bells going off, I’m not sure what else this Court can do.” Judge Terrence sentenced Covarrubias to 25 days in an adult offender work program, a fine of $1,945, three years of misdemeanor probation and also that she must attend two AA or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings for five weeks.
During Gonzalo Cortez’s arraignment hearing, Public Defender Eduardo Cortez asks the court to “continue the arraignment to investigate collateral consequences.” Deputy District Attorney Leonel Salazar does not object to the continuance but also requests a criminal protective order (CPO) from Judge Terrence to protect the victim and the victim’s daughter in a domestic violence case. The case originally “arose when the confidential victim’s nine-year old daughter called 911 to state that the confidential victim’s boyfriend was touching her,” according to Salazar. When the victim returned home from a trip, she “found the defendant in her bed drunk.” She told the defendant, her boyfriend at the time, to move. The victim and the defendant had been living together for a year at that point.
After being instructed to move, “an argument arose and the defendant stood up and pushed the victim several times” and “grabbed her by the jacket and tried to force her out of the apartment.” The victim was able to break free and told the defendant to leave again. When the defendant continued to refuse, she threw a cup of water at him. Gonzalo Cortez “denies pushing or shoving the victim but admits that he put hands on her to help himself get up.” The defendant does not have any criminal history involving domestic violence but he does have two previous DUI convictions from 2019 and 2020. Judge Terrence grants the defense their continuance until July 22.
Dept. 10 – Lois Yoo and Alexander Pleitez, saw Judge Zeneca take on a handful of domestic violence review cases as well as assignments and prelims about probation in Fresno Superior Court Dept. 10. One of them centered around Allen Sell who had a progress report stating that Sell had perfect attendance to his required classes and was taking it all seriously. The confidential victim was also present and requested for the restraining order to be changed to peaceful contact order. The victim reportedly also attended ten classes, which included those intended for people with a history of abuse. Judge Zeneca swiftly modified the order to peaceful contact as the victim requested.
The judge stated that the victim could have as much or as little contact with Sell as desired. Both Sell and the victim were informed that if any phone calls or reports are made to the police for even just raising their voices at one another, she would automatically switch it to a full no-contact order. This was by far the most interesting case with the most detail covered, however, none of the cases seen today covered an adequate amount of ground as they lacked information, background, and an examination or even dive into the situation at hand. Which was exacerbated due to the lack of witnesses giving testimony, besides the very surface covered in the previously mentioned case, which is not enough to write an article on.
Sacramento County Superior Court
Dept. 23 – Neha Malhi, Michael Wheeler, and Karisa Cortez heard the preliminary at Sacramento Superior court. Judge Laurie Earl dismissed the previous complaint about an amended complaint charging defendants Meng Lee and Nhia Zhong for felonies of three different counts on the same day, March 2, 2019. The defendants are charged under the alleged violation of the two counts of PC 187(a) and 1 count of PC 664/187 (a). The preliminary hearing started with the witness of Detective Severi, who is the in-charge officer of this case, at the request of District attorney Aster.
According to Detective Severi, the two alleged victims arrived at the UC Davis hospital in a grey Mazda sedan car driven by 17-year-old Katylin, who according to the defendants is the person of involving both parties in the brawl which lead to the murder of two alleged victims while severely damaging third victim. The two victims arrived at UC Davis hospital around 4:19 a.m. while the third alleged victim arrived at Kaiser hospital located near 21st street and 65th Ave., which is several miles away from UC Davis hospital, at 4:43 a.m., after the 911 call was made by the alleged victim Elizah’s girlfriend. According to Detective Severi, both parties have several renditions of the incidents and during one investigation Nhia Xiong personally stated that he was the first one to swing baseball at one of the alleged victims and for the other victim he holds him down while his uncle Meng Lee, another defendant, stabbed him three times.
However, according to the defense attorneys, this is not the case of first-degree murder but rather a strong case of self-defense, as both defendants were trying to find the culprits who had vandalized their cars several times before and they were just following the procedures set by the police, which is to identify the culprits and get their license plate number for the police Dept. to begin an investigation in case of vandalizing. According to the defense attorneys, there is no clear way of knowing who started the first attack as Katylin, one of the four alleged victims, was sitting inside her car.
Defense attorneys kept raising the fact that under any scenario, defendant Meng Lee was not the aggressor one and it was the other party who was the aggressor as one of the alleged victims was highly intoxicated, which according to the defense attorneys will make one more prone to being more aggressive. And the alleged victims were the ones who were continuously damaging and to be exact vandalized defendant Lee Meng’s cars 10 times including two times on the day of this double homicide. The trial scheduling hearing date is set to be on July 29, to avoid the restrictions of Covid-19 previous to the actual hearing date of the case.
Dept. 34 – Jose Medina and Genesis Guzman heard a preliminary hearing that started off a bit differently with the defendant Aaron Dexter calling an objection to his zoom preliminary hearing and requesting it be postponed until the in-person court could return. The request was objected to by both the court and the people for lack of probable cause. The hearing continued with multiple witness testimonies and questioning that built the foundation for Dexter’s multiple offenses. He was being charged with three counts of home robberies and one count of identity theft. Dexter had broken into two of the three homes and had made himself at home sleeping and consuming the victim’s cigarettes and alcohol.
The defendant’s team argued that the lack of thorough efforts on behalf of the officers in charge of the cases to prove the victims did or did not know the defendant made for an unreliable argument from the prosecution. The prosecution countered this with arguments that the victims never approved anyone entering their homes so whether they knew Dexter or not he would not be allowed to be there. However, a prominent discrepancy was argued by the defense’s team arguing that the first victim had described a white male’s arm sticking out of their closet, while Dexter is a Black male. The court concluded that there was enough evidence to charge Dexter with all 4 accounts he was being charged with. However again the defendant’s opposition was seen when the court asked if he would like to go to trial and he couldn’t respond clearly fearing it would incriminate him. After conversing with his counselor he agreed to plead not guilty and continue to trial.
Dept. 45 – Zoey and Roselyn monitored Alameda Superior Court Dept. 111 and Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 45. In Dept. 111, cases underwent continuances for future appearances. In Dept. 45, defendant Oran Coleman appeared for a probable cause and preliminary hearing and faced felony vandalism charges for breaking a McDonald’s glass door, valued at approximately $1,500. His public defender, Joanne Virata, argued that the court strikes any admissions Coleman made during an on-scene interview due to the responding officers’ failure to notify him of his Miranda rights. However, Judge Kara Ueda concluded the preliminary hearing by denying the motion because Coleman’s statements were voluntary with no indication of detention by the officers. If found competent, the defendant faces the possibility of additional preliminary hearings. The matters will continue on June 21.
Dept. 61 – Judge Geoffrey Goodman zoomed through almost 100 cases this Wednesday morning in Dept. 61. Most of the cases were calendaring for further proceedings. One case was of Stephen Komara, who was filing applications for mental health court and was deemed competent by Goodman. Komara was booked for a drive-by shooting back in 2009, according to a Roseville newspaper, although it was not clear if his charges this Wednesday were related.
Another case concerned California’s Prop 36. This proposition encourages drug treatment instead of jail time for non-violent drug charges. The defendant, Michael Turner, had several non-violent drug charges including possession of methamphetamines. Karri Iyama, the defense attorney requested probation and treatment instead of jail time and cited Prop 36 as her main reason why. However, because Turner had missed a few court dates and had a few charges, the District Attorney, Lauren Weiss, denied the request for probation only. In the end, Turner was charged with 45 days in jail, time for both his charges to be run concurrently and an additional 45 days of probation.
Dept. 61 saw many cases today, the vast majority of which were quickly dismissed. Judge Goodman worked with the many defense attorneys and prosecutors in order to provide reasonable court dates for those charged.
Dept. 61 – Julietta and Angela saw multiple arrangements in Sacramento Dept. 61. The judge presiding the court this afternoon was Hon. Geoffrey A. Goodman. In one case, the defendant, Ivan Corchado, was charged with one felony and one misdemeanor count of vandalism, and a violation of a restraining order. On May 15, 2021, the defendant damaged the real personnel property of the alleged victim, his niece. The amount of damage was over $400. The victim had a DVRO against the defendant for him to stay 100 yards away from her with no contact. The defendant had been trespassing on a number of occasions prior to this incident. Witnesses saw the defendant kick and try to enter the victim’s fence and property. The victim did not wish to be heard on the case and was very adamant about having the no contact order served.
In another case, defendant Christopher Miles pleaded no contest after being placed in custody for felony assault with force and resisting arrest. On March 30, 2021, the defendant approached the victim, a visitor in jail, and asked the victim for money. When the victim, who spoke little English, put her hands in the air, the defendant tackled her to the ground, yelling “I just wanted to buy dope.” Officers were called in to restrain the defendant, who resisted arrest. The defendant was given 180 days for the felony assault, and 30 days for resisting arrest, followed by two years on formal probation. A no-contact order was also signed with the victim of the case.
Dept. 63 – On the morning of June 16, Natalia, Ned, John, and Sam watched multiple hearings in the Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 63. On this date, Judge Patrick Marlette processed and resolved two cases involving animal torture. Nicholas Baker was charged for maliciously maiming an animal. The DA reported that Baker was in his apartment and was yelling and chasing at a cat and later intentionally trying to torture his cat. Neighbors allegedly heard the cat shrieking and then a forceful thud against the wall, followed by silence. When law enforcement found the cat, they thought that the cat was deceased. Later, the cat was diagnosed with blood force trauma to its chest, rib fractures, contusion of the lungs, and several head fractures. Fortunately, the cat survived the incident and is now cared for by the Veterinary Country Control. The defendant’s counsel and the public prosecutor were ready to enter into a plea and resolve the case today. Baker pleaded no contest for “maliciously making an animal.” As a result, he will spend the next 180 days in confinement and the next 180 days out of custody, depending on his successful acceptance into a sheriff’s work project.
Baker is scheduled to turn himself into the county’s main jail. In addition, Baker is required to pay restitution to Sacramento County Animal country and banned from owning or possessing an animal for the next ten years. In a different but somewhat similar case, Lester Roberts was also charged with “wounding his pit bull” with a broomstick until it broke on the dog’s head on Oct. 8, 2020. The court factual basis also reported that Robert’s actions were “seen by a neighbor nearby and also caught on the security cameras.” Roberts pleaded no contest to his charges. Similar to the Baker case, Roberts was required to pay restitution to the animal shelter, cannot possess or own an animal in 10 years, report to the country’s main jail, and apply for the sheriff’s work project.
Additionally, there were other cases presented in this Dept. that stood out to our group. One of these cases involved a convicted felon who was out on parole in possession of a firearm, but the Judge seemed lenient when stating that, because the firearm was in the defendant’s closet, it was seemingly “for home protection”. Another interesting case involved two counts of aggravated assault that resulted in bodily harm of a police officer at Walmart as well as a civilian. Most of the cases in this Dept. will have further trials scheduled for July and August of this year, 2021.
Dept. 63 – Benjamin Porter and Alexander Ramirez observed hearings in Dept. 63 of the Sacramento County Superior Court, including a case in which defendant Robert Henson pled no contest to six counts of unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition as a felon and one count of theft of a motor vehicle, having been convicted of similar offenses on two separate occasions in the past. The firearms, some of which had had the serial numbers removed, were discovered at Henson’s residence after police were led there while investigating Henson’s 2018 theft of a trailer parked at a Sacramento hotel.
Later, Herbert Highsmith was sentenced to as many as eight years for lewd or lascivious against children under 14 years old and was informed by Judge Bowman that he will be required to register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life. In another matter, Judge Bowman eventually accepted a no-contest plea from defendant Valet Terry after initially worrying that Terry was hesitant and did not fully comprehend the rights he would be waving by doing so. Terry had been charged with robbery and assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury.
Yolo County Superior Court
Dept. 1 – Ankita and Peter heard multiple arraignments and preliminary hearings in the Yolo County Superior Court. In Yolo County Dept. 1, defendant Ronald Stevens was present on two felony charges for arson of an uninhabited forest structure with enhancements for a prior felony conviction and habitual crimes. After being assigned Public Defender Daniel A. Hutchinson, bail was discussed. Scheduled bail was held for $150,000, however, DDA Alvina Tzang contended for no bail as the severity of Stevens’ crime held concern for public safety. DDA Tzang stated that Stevens had been evicted from his apartment near where he set the fires.
DDA Tzang further stated that she received eight separate emails from residents in that apartment complex who were concerned about Stevens’ potential release, contending that his retaliatory motivations could lead him to light more fires. The concerned residents claimed that the fires put their lives, their animals, and their properties at risk. Judge Tom Dyer agreed with DDA Tzang and the residents and moved to remove bail. Judge Dyer cited the high probability of Stevens harming more people by lighting fires if he were to be released, especially because of the “tinder box” summer conditions.
Alameda County Superior Court
Dept. 705 – Alexander Jimenez, Monica, and Linchi heard a few notable preliminary hearings from the Alameda and Sacramento Superior Courts. In Alameda, defendant Hector Molina requested a new defense attorney after complaining that his current defense attorney, Sam Tse Yun, was being rude to him. The judge and Molina went back and forth as Molina hashed out his concerns regarding clarifications of his case and confusion in which the defendant could be looking at time in state prison. It also appears that the defendant was asked for psychiatric releases. Molina was granted an opportunity for a hearing the next day to express his desire for a new attorney.
In the same Dept., defendant Janeese McDonald expressed to the judge that she had both mental and physical health issues. Her defense attorney establishes that MacDonald had already passed her three years of probation and asks that the court-ordered classes be converted over to mental health treatment in light of her critical mental and physical health. The attorney additionally stressed the difficulties that MacDonald will face over the following six months from surgery and recovery and conveys her concern for MacDonald in that she’s “just stabilized.” The judge appeared to show compassion and ordered her a therapist.
Contra Costa County Superior Court
Dept. 8 – This was my first experience of courts and it was half what I expected and the other half of it surprised me. I went in with the mindset that the court wasn’t going to be like Law and Order, where every defendant is an eccentric character and drama, fills the court. Realistically, the cases were done in a professional and diligent manner. What surprised me was the number of cases where the person scheduled to appear wasn’t present. In the CC court, 8 people didn’t show up which left little to write about. I don’t know if this is a common occurrence or if it was just a slow day in terms of cases being settled. I plan on trying to observe court in person in SF as I wish to get a feel for how the court can play out in person. Overall, I found this to be an interesting experience and I look forward to watching more cases in the future.
Fresno County Superior Court
Dept. 10 – Angie and Stephanie sat in on multiple continuances in Fresno Dept. 10. Judge Francine Zepeda tried to move through the cases quickly until she received a sentencing hearing for 23-year-old, Bryan Cervantes Adame. The defense attorney, Sydney Pack, presented Cervantes’s request for probation with substance abuse treatment as he admits to allowing his “drinking take control.” Judge Zepeda appeared to quickly decide to deny probation due to “the violence of his conduct”, despite the fact that Cervantes is eligible for probation and the officer recommended it. Judge Zepeda also expressed her disapproval over Cervantes treatment toward law enforcement stating, “I am concerned that he did that and that he acted that way against officers who are already having a hard time in this environment right now.”
The prosecution, led by Carl Monopolli, also sided with the Court asserting there were “two cases and even a dog was involved with one of them where he battered the dog.” As both the prosecution and Judge expressed their disapproval, Cervantes addressed the court stating his apology and how he wishes to better himself. Although the Judge agreed Cervantes is youthful and eligible for probation, she firmly denied probation while sentencing Cervantes to serve a 2-year commitment which was to run concurrently.
Sacramento County Superior Court
Dept. 23, 61 – Ganga and Christopher heard multiple requests for continuance, bail hearings, arraignments, and sentencings in Dept. 61 of the Sacramento Superior Court, as well as a preliminary hearing in Dept. 23. In Dept. 61, Telesa Pearson was charged with battery but her criminal proceedings were temporarily suspended by Judge Geoffrey Goodman. Pearson’s counsel requested to express doubt to the court, asking for a doctor to examine Pearson along with a jail psych visit by a mental health professional. Goodman informed that proceedings would be continued on Aug. 5 after the ordered evaluations were completed. Pearson however did not agree with the order, expressing her own confusion over what was just ordered while her counsel attempted to comfort Pearson by stating she understood what she had requested of the court. Pearson was still displeased and asked for a different representative on the spot but Goodman, already having suspended criminal proceedings, relayed the fact that the issue would have to wait until the set date of Aug. 5.
Dept. 35 – Tatiana Gasca, Joe Cormac, and Jose Medina observed John Miles’s preliminary hearing. Miles is charged with assaulting his cousin with a deadly weapon. It’s alleged that miles used the victim’s own cane as the assault weapon after running into each other at a park in Sacramento. The two cousins then had an argument over money that then escalated into violence. Miles’s defense attorney asked the court to reduce the defendant’s charges to misdemeanors since the victim had expressed a desire to no longer press charges. Despite the victim’s desires, the court moved forward with the charges against Miles.
Dept. 61 – Lois Yoo, Anna Zheng, Michelle Luu, Dario McCarty, and Savannah Dewberry observed Sac Dept. 61 and Sac Dept. 62. Most of the cases were to set up trial dates. We decided to write articles on Mello and Isaac Vargas’ case from Dept. 61 with Judge Geoffrey Goodman. The focus of the article involving Vargas was mainly about how Judge Goodman got annoyed with the attorneys because there was a pattern of them not being prepared to show up for their cases on time. This led to several cases being continuously postponed and unable to be heard in court.
One of the attorneys explained how it was due to their inability to be in multiple places at once, however, Judge Goodman refuted their statement by saying, “You know it was one thing when you had to physically be in different places. Now it’s just a matter of clicking on a screen and you still can’t be here!”. Judge Goodman further pointed out how the attorneys could have advised the bailiff ahead of time or informed someone else to check-in for them if they were unable to make an appearance on time. He then ended his point with, “It’s your responsibility. It’s not our job to track you folks down.”
Mello’s court appearance today focused on the rescheduling of his trial date, a date that was pushed back for up to six months from the last date, Jan. 19. At this hearing, Mello was informed that his trial would be postponed yet again. This additional delay was due to two main reasons cited by the court. The first of which was those police officers who were key witnesses in the case were on pre-approved vacation, and thus could not be summoned for the trial. The second of which was that Mello’s attorney, Larry Pilgrim, was scheduled for another trial and thus would not be able to attend the initial trial date. The defendant expressed his frustrations to the court several times, claiming his right to due process was being violated, and attempted to interrupt when the Judge spoke. Judge Goodman eventually stated, “There’s nothing I can do,” and after the new date was set by Judge Goodman, Mello stormed out of the room.
In Sac 61 and Sac 62, a majority of the other appearances that we saw were quick rescheduling.
Dept. 63 – Anika and Beth heard a multitude of sentencing hearings in Sacramento Superior Court’s Dept. 63. One interesting occurrence that took place involved defendant Cameron Thomas who is charged with joyriding, theft, driving without a valid driver’s license, fleeing from a peace officer, drawing an imitation firearm, and driving under the influence of methamphetamine. Deputy District Attorney Heather Phillips explained that the defendant drove a motor vehicle without license plates. As a result, law enforcement attempted to perform a traffic stop but Thomas sped up and drove off. The defendant led law enforcement on a chase for six miles and during the pursuit drove at a speed of 90 mph while passing through several intersections with solid red lights. In addition to driving a motor vehicle without plates, he was driving a stolen car. The defendant also has a prior conviction of driving another stolen vehicle, a 2017 Mercedes Benz, from August 2020.
Dept. 63 – Alexa K., Alexander P., and Jeramie G. most notably watched a resolution of the case for Defendant Sasha Lamonica in Sacramento 63 and an argument and ruling for preliminary hearing evidence for Defendant Jose Trinidad Perez Meza in Yolo 7. The factual basis for Lamonica’s case was she engaged cohabitant Derek Benson with a closed-fist punch and then a strike to the elbow with the blunt side of a machete. The charges of a non-strike felony (Assault with force likely to create great bodily injury) were not contested by the defendant who received two years of formal probation (with the previously confiscated firearms returned). However, the defendant must agree to a peace contact with Derek Benson (whom she still lives with) and must have her machete confiscated.
Yolo County Superior Court
Dept. 7 – The preliminary for Defendant Perez Meza was about charges on counts of dissuading a witness, kidnapping, 2nd-degree robbery, assault with force able to cause great bodily harm, and assault with intent to rape (of which only the kidnapping and dissuading a witness counts were dismissed due to insufficient evidence). The motion to reduce bail was denied due to the fact that this was not the defendant’s only sex offense (debatably his 4th offense with a currently pending case) and the defendant’s willingness to break probation upon visiting Mexico without clearance.
Sacramento County Superior Court
Dept. 4 – Benjamin, Alex, and Angela heard multiple pleas and scheduling hearings in Sacramento and Yolo county. In Sacramento Dept. 4, Judge Steve White presided over the court. Defendant Bryant Clark pleaded no contest to a second strike on his record for a 1st-degree burglary and trespassing that occurred on the night of April 30. The defendant broke into the victim’s residence and stole keys, laptops, and backpacks belonging to the victim. The defendant also stole the victim’s car and fled, resulting in a high-speed chase with the police. Clark had a strike on his record from April 2007, when he was convicted of a felony for a violent assault with a firearm. The defendant is currently set to be sentenced to over 14 years in prison for both crimes. The sentencing will take place on Sept. 10.
Dept. 9 – Julietta, Neha, and Alan heard several arraignments and preliminary hearings in Dept. 9 of the Sacramento Superior Court. There was a preliminary trial of domestic violence against defendant James Burns. His defense attorney wanted to push back the trial date of the preliminary hearing on the grounds that Burns wanted to have more time to consider the offer given by the prosecutor. However, Judge Helena R. Gweon refused their request of pushing the preliminary trial to a later date on the ground that this preliminary hearing has already been delayed for one year and that the defendant had enough time to think about the offer given by the prosecutor.
Jason Burn was convicted of an alleged physical attack on his girlfriend of the past 19 years. According to the witness statement of Deputy Paul Hoffman, requested by DDA Mitch Miller, he arrived at the victim’s house on Jun. 14, 2020, after the 911 call was made. Hoffman stated that when he arrived at the location, he saw that Burns’ girlfriend had dried blood on the corner of her mouth and right nostril. The victim gave a statement saying that she and her boyfriend had an argument, and he started drinking. After that, he punched her in the face more than one time.
She lost consciousness and does not know how many times exactly he punched her in the face. She showed her inner side of the upper lip where there was a quarter-inch laceration cut. However, she refused to press any charges against Burns at that time, refused to seek medical help or any help from domestic abuse helper workers. Burns pleaded not guilty against the charges, and he will appear on Aug. 9, 2021, in court for his trial date.
Dept. 13 – Monica, Hetva, and Michael heard several arraignments and preliminary hearings in Dept. 13 of the Sacramento Superior Court. There was a preliminary trial of domestic violence against defendant Eric Bouie. Given the history of weapons, records of being in and out of prison, and incessant domestic convictions, the victim, Bouie’s wife, was adamant there would be no signs of rehabilitation or change. The victim had suffered from physical and mental harm, as well as financial damage from Bouie. She asked for the court to permit a lifetime restraining order as well as payment for half of $3,500 for bills, $6.000 in back taxes Bouie had the responsibility of paying. Considering the impact statement of the victim, Bouie’s wife, Judge Matthew Gary determined that he did “not feel compelled enough to reject the plea” negotiated.
This court jurisdiction does not allow lifetime restraining orders, but the negotiated ten-year restraining order was permitted and served on the defendant. The court also remained consistent with the negotiated resolution of four years and eight months of prison time and ordered the restitution of the recommended amount of $7700 to the victim. Probation was provoked on account of Bouie’s lengthy record, but other misdemeanors and charges were petitioned to be dismissed. DDA Maroun asked for the restraining orders and unpaid fees and charges to remain despite the termination of the probation, and it was granted. Restraining orders will remain effective over Bouie’s incarceration and payment will be settled over civil judgment. The matter was submitted by both sides of the council.
Dept. 25 – Ramneet Singh observed Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 25. Over the course of the session, he witnessed a lengthy preliminary hearing that included five witnesses, three who were affiliated with law enforcement and two who were present with the defendant at the time of the incident. The preliminary hearing covered charges regarding a case of “road rage” in which a gunshot was fired on Highway 99. Some points of concern were the position of the cars and the direction of the shot. Judge Donald J. Currier noted probable cause and there will be an arraignment next Friday concerning logistical matters.
Dept. 34 – Sydney, Eric, and Linhchi listened to one preliminary hearing in Sacramento Dept. 34. The defendant, Billy Adams, was charged with six different counts, including possession of a controlled substance while armed, carrying a concealed weapon, possession of methamphetamine for sale, and possession of marijuana and methamphetamine. However, Defense Attorney Steven Hirsch was more focused on the suspicious detainment of the defendant. While Deputy District Attorney Toni Linarez was focused on the crimes committed by Adams, Hirsch intended to prove that the arrest was unlawful. Three witnesses, all members of the Sacramento Police Dept., were called and questioned.
It was found that two cars were seen acting suspicious in the parking lot of Arden Fair Mall and caught the eye of police officers, including the first witness, Michael Phelan. Due to a certain “hand-to-hand” interaction, the presence of a satchel, and a speedy exit from the parking lot, more officers were alerted. It was then that the second witness, Officer Conner Mills, was called to follow the car until they reached an apartment complex approximately three miles away. Despite the odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle, Mills did not notice anything else unusual about the car, yet continued to question Adams and his passenger. A third officer and witness, Chase Cunningham, arrived at the scene several minutes later. Cunningham eventually performed a pat-down on both the defendant and his passenger, performed basic sobriety tests, and a search of the entire vehicle. Several substances including cocaine, marijuana, open alcohol, and ecstasy were found. As the case continued, Linarez continued to push the crimes of the defendant, and Hirsch played body camera footage and questioned the validity of the search and seizure by the officers. The judge, Alyson L. Lewis, decided that the detainment of Billy Adams was not unlawful and that the officers acted accordingly and had sufficient cause to pursue, detain and search the property of the defendant.
Dept. 61 – Annette, Stephanie, and Eric listened to multiple arraignments in the Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 61. The first defendant, Vargas, faced multiple charges, including, but not limited to, two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon, 1 count of driving under the influence of drugs/alcohol, and one count of unlawful discharge of a weapon. The District Defense Attorney, Watkins, revealed that Vargas has four D.U.I. convictions on his record and has been guilty of child molestation and the possession of child pornography. Soon after the revelation of Vargas’ criminal history, District Attorney Watkins asked for the cancellation of Vargas’ bail, which was originally set at $250,000. Judge Geoffrey A. Goodman granted that Vargas’ bail is canceled on the grounds that Vargas is a threat to public safety.
The next defendant, George T. Tabi, was charged with a felony for being an accessory after the fact over the sale of a counterfeit Rolex. He was originally facing charges of making false statements before a grand jury or the court but entered into a plea deal. The agreement consisted of two years of formal probation and an agreement to reduce the matter to a misdemeanor no sooner than one year, contingent on that the defendant first pays a restitution fine of $8,000 to Rolex for damages and $5,000 to the California Dept. of Justice Task Force for investigative costs.
Yolo County Superior Court
Dept. 1 – In Yolo Dept. 1, Benjamin, Alex, and Angela saw Judge Samuel T. McAdam preside over the court. In one case, defendant Linea Medeiros faced two misdemeanor counts and pleaded no contest for both. The defendant had previously failed to appear in court and is currently on parole. The DA’s offer was one year of probation and 15 days in jail. Prosecutor Johnson also asked for the defendant to be subject to search and seizure of stolen items and drug paraphernalia, which the defendant agreed to.
Alameda County Superior Court
Dept. 712 – Alex Jimenez observed arraignments and preliminary hearing cases where the courts assessed public safety risks, in most cases siding the defendants. The attorney for Caitlyn Mills, a recent high school graduate, argued for reduced bail or release on her own recognizance given that she poses no flight risk and is trying to be a “productive member of society. Prosecuting attorney Brook Perkins intervened and told the judge that she does have prior convictions and a DUI, and was arrested for domestic violence. It was clear to Perkins that Miss Mills won’t follow court orders, Judge Colin Bowen reduced bail from $20,000 to $5,000. In the same Dept., Perkins also disagreed that defendant Jabari Taylor should be released without bail, given the violent nature of the crime and safety risk he poses to the public. Taylor appeared to have beaten and choked his son, a protective order was issued however Taylor was released with a penny bail.
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.
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