Defendant Accused of Sexual Assault Has Similar Prior – Hearing Sidetracked with Whether Counsel Needed to Wear Mask

By Ella Wade

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Judge Christopher Hite presided over pre-trial motions here in San Francisco Superior Court Wednesday prior to the start of a jury trial for Santana Duane West0—discussion included motions in limine, specifically a prior case of West’s about 20 years ago.

Apparently, defendant West was convicted of raping a woman in 2002, and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Now, nearly 20 years later, West is in custody for a new, alleged sexual assault case. Motions discussed included how much, if any, of his former case should be told to the jury.    

Prior to the trial the defense suggested the prosecution was “offering a life sentence” to West. The defense also mentioned that because West had been imprisoned for four years from the previous rape conviction, it would bring up the issue of recidivism.

West’s personal history consists of being almost constantly institutionalized. Before even becoming a teen West killed his stepfather to protect his mother. From ages 17 to 21 he served in Vietnam, experiencing terrible trauma and existing in outrageous amounts of violence.   

The hearing got sidetracked early on. It began with a long discussion not about the case, but between the court and the defense about whether the defense had to wear a mask. 

The defense argued that masks impaired her ability to represent her client to the best of her ability, stating that masks “hinder [her] ability to focus.” And she cited mask wearing as unconstitutional and unjust. 

The court responded saying, “[masks] are uncomfortable, but at this time, on average only 5 percent of inmates … are fully vaccinated…a huge amount of [incarcerated] individuals [are] still at risk of being exposed from the defense to [West] to the jail population.”

The court added it considers “itself to be a host business [and has] chosen at this time to require all patrons to wear a mask.” The defense then placed this in context of her client’s constitutional right to representation, but the conversation ended there and the defense put on a mask.

Inspector Spencer Gregory took the stand and offered his testimony. On Dec. 18, 2002, Inspector Gregory arrived at 441 McAllister Street in San Francisco and met with other officers. He photographed the scene, and returned to the Tenderloin Task Force (TTF). 

All of the inspector’s testimony, he said, was based on personal notes and official reports. Due to the time that the incident occurred, he had no personal memory of the day. He stated that he didn’t recognize the defendant and, if not for his notes, would not have known whether or not they had ever met. 

The inspector’s notes and the report exist for his recollection, but because they cannot be submitted into evidence, his testimony consisted of him reading his notes and explaining what he would normally do. He summarized this, saying “can’t say I never saw [West], but it was 20 years ago.”

Once at the Tenderloin police station he met with West, who was in custody. At this point Gregory informed West that he would need to take a penile swab. West asked what he was being charged with, and Gregory replied, “Rape.” 

West said, “I didn’t rape anybody. I had consensual sex. Does she look beat up?” That was the last time Gregory and West interacted and Gregory never followed up on the case.

Gregory said that the swab was not difficult and he felt no need to bring in another officer for his safety. He wrote in his notes from that day that West “seemed relaxed.” His notes from the day included a couple of paraphrased statements about things that West had mentioned to Gregory. Among these Gregory writes that West mentioned that he had been “smoking crack with the victim.”

Because Gregory had answered West’s question about what his charge was. the judge mentioned that this could create a potential “Miranda issue…because it can be taken as eliciting an incriminating statement.” But the court decided to wait before ruling on that. 

This issue could evolve if, at some future hearing, the defendant takes the stand and challenges the prior testimony which could cause an impeachment issue. The defense seemed interested in trying to challenge the inspector’s testimony without the defendant taking the stand.

Whether the prior case, and how much of it, will be allowed to be presented in the current case will be decided by the judge when the trial in chief resumes.

About The Author

Ella Wade is a junior at SF Waldorf High School, planning to major in Sociology. She recalls watching an aunt work pro bono protecting low-income houses from construction companies in a SF courtroom. She participates in debates, mock trials, political and journalistic clubs at school and spends her free time reading and hiking.

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