Defense Requests Felony be Reduced to Misdemeanor Because Client was in Wheelchair; Judge Declines Motion

By Sydney Kaplan


SAN LEANDRO, CA – Public Defender Madelina Zepida argued here in an Alameda County Superior Court preliminary hearing last week that Kent Harris, who was in a wheelchair with physical and mental health issues at the time of an alleged crime, should have his felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor.  


Zepida said the request was “two-fold,” noting that at the time of the incident, the defendant was in a wheelchair still wearing a hospital bracelet and bandages. Additionally, while Harris had past charges, they were largely drug-related and non-violent.


According to the victim’s testimony, the victim was getting into her car outside a Walgreens parking lot when Harris wheeled his chair to the driver’s side and entered the car.


Allegedly, a struggle took place before the victim, in her own words, was “thrown out of the car.” Reportedly, Harris backed up, hitting two parked cars, and sped away.


The victim identified Harris in court, though appearing virtually, and described her injuries including scratches on her back from the struggle. The victim also testified she was hit by the open car door during Harris’s exit.


Thomas Rogers, a detective with the San Leandro Police Department, responded to the scene and testified that Harris was put on a gurney  almost immediately, as he needed medical attention. 


Rogers reported one of the bandages on Harris’s feet appeared to be bleeding through. Additionally, Harris told Rogers his “head felt fuzzy.”


Both the victim and the witness identified Harris as the perpetrator, from 20-30 feet away because Harris was in an ambulance at the time.


Zepida began her argument early into the preliminary hearing. During the victim’s cross examination, Zepida questioned the reason why the victim was hit by the car door.


“Was it that he was trying to hit you or simply that he didn’t care if he was going to hit you?” Zepida asked the victim. 


The victim responded that it did not seem to matter to the defendant if he hit her but was still adamant that the injuries caused by this incident were painful and inexcusable. 


Later, during the preliminary hearing’s closing arguments, Zepida brought this conversation back up in regards to Harris’s criminal background.


Allegedly, Harris’s only three-strike conviction was from 1998. His last felony was back in 2008, and his record consisted mainly of non-violent drug charges.


Zepida argued Harris’ nonviolent criminal past provided further evidence that his intention was not to hit the victim with the car door, rather to escape the scene quickly.


In order to provide further support in requesting a reduction in charge, Zepida emphasized how Det. Rogers provided the defendant medical attention both because of physical injuries and because Harris felt “fuzzy in the head.”


However, despite the argument that this attack was out of character for Harris, Judge Delucchi declined this motion, noting “At this time, the court will decline to exercise its discretion to reduce this to a misdemeanor.  Just given the nature of what happened and the total picture… at this time, the request will not be granted.”


Harris will be arraigned on the charges July 29.  

About The Author

Sydney Kaplan is a rising third-year at Santa Clara University. With a Political Science major and Journalism & Economics minors, her main passion lies in discovering the various intersections between her fields of study. Currently, she is most interested in comparative media policy and criminal justice reform.

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