The Vanguard Week in Review: Court Watch (June 28 to July 2, 2021)

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(The Vanguard is an online news forum that provides coverage of criminal justice reform and courts throughout California and the nation. In 2006, the Davis Vanguard began to cover Davis and Yolo County groundbreaking, local news concerning government and policy issues affecting the city, schools, and county. The team has grown to about 40 to 50 interns who monitor and report on live court proceedings in more than six different counties throughout California, from the State Capitol of Sacramento to the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley and Southern California.)

Compiled by Alexa Kendell

Sacramento County Superior Court

Reporters Sam Zou & Serene Chang: Defendant Anthony Harriman was found on March 9 to be in possession of methamphetamine. Under a search warrant, he was also found to be in possession of ammunition in the backpack of his car seat. Harriman was prohibited from owning or possessing firearms for a previous vehicle theft crime he committed. At the end, Harriman received two years of formal probation and will serve his time through working on the county sheriff’s work project.

Reporter Annette Wong-Toi: In Sacramento Court’s Department 16, one man appeared for a bail review, and the factual basis revealed that he had threatened to cause great bodily harm to an elderly man and allegedly caused him to fall backwards. The victim allegedly sustained a laceration on the back of his head as a result. As his probation sentencing was being explained in court, the defendant declared, “I didn’t hit anyone.” The judge then refused to accept a plea today and arranged for him to return on July 8 in the same department.

Reporter Zoey Hou: On February 1, Officer Matthew McCune received a dispatch call to an apartment in Sacramento County at 5:58 p.m. McCune and his partner were told that a suspect was standing on the second story landing about 15 yards away from the apartment. Making contact with him, the officer identified who he was through an ID in the pocket to confirm that the man was defendant Khampher Phakeovilay. After detaining the suspect, the officer made contact with the victim in the apartment, who was a thin elderly Asian man sitting in a wheelchair appearing to be shaky and distraught. McCune states that he immediately observed a laceration on the victim’s right pinky finger, with blood on the right hand and pants of the man. The victim described getting strangled and pulled out of his wheelchair by Phakeovilay as well as getting hit multiple times on his body and head. The defense and prosecution dispute over the factual accuracy of the victim’s report due to his old age, lack of evidence of bodily injury, and refusal to get medical attention. Judge Sueyoshi finds that there’s sufficient evidence to bring this case to the Jury Trial that will continue to take place on August 16th.

Reporter Ganga Nair: Ganga saw a number of continuances in Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 9 and Yolo County Superior Court Dept. 7. One of the continuances in particular had to do with the transfer of defendant William Rahar to a state hospital. Both the defense attorney Robert Juan Saria and Denise Halstead for the prosecution had agreed that the transfer should take place since all witnesses were ready to testify. Then, Judge Helena R. Gweon stated that the case was pending for a year because the defense, Robert Juan Saria, did not check in. The matter is yet to be concluded.

Reporter Anna Zheng: Judge Geoffrey A. Goodman was faced with a very similar problem he saw last week in court. Once again, several cases could not be heard in court today as attorneys were unable to make an appearance on time or if at all. In one instance, an attorney who did not notify the court of his absence was met with a verbal lashing from Judge Goodman. “Why on earth do you think it’s okay to have me have to have colleagues track you down and everything. It’s 2:35 p.m. and this is the first time we’ve heard from you or seen you. Why can’t you do the Court the courtesy to check in with the deputy and tell him I got other matters and here’s where they are, so we can track you down”. In the end, the attorney requested to have a trial reschedule for July.

Judge Goodman also oversaw a case that involved a violation with 11379A of the Health and Safety Code by unlawfully manufacturing concentrated cannabis. The defendants, Gary Gill and Obaid Zarie, created a butane honey oil lab in Sacramento County that contained approximately 70 new cans of butane, a propane stove, Pyrex dishes, butane honey oil, conversion tubes, and suspected butane honey oil residue. The materials that were recovered were indicative that the laboratory was meant for the use and manufacture of butane honey oil and concentrated cannabis. Given that this is a felony charge, the defendants could face up to a maximum of 7 years in custody. This case brings to light the growing illegal businesses of the pot market and the potential consequences these sellers could face if caught.

Reporter Natasha Power: In Sacramento Dept. 9, Judge Helena R Gweon worked with defendants appearing on Zoom as well as in person, as well as a couple who were in custody serving time. Two separate defendants who appeared in court were reminded to wear masks and in the courtroom, and had to be told that they would not be granted entry without them.

Yolo County Superior Court

Reporter Natasha Power: In Yolo Dept. 7, Judge David Reed worked through mostly pretrial conferences, as well as a couple of trial readiness conferences. Most were granted continuance based on various reasons presented. In one case, a defendant failed to show up on the ground that he was arrested by Woodland PD only minutes prior. This was disputed by the DA, however, Judge Reed chose to not discuss this further until the defendant had been arraigned and continued the case until the end of the week. One notable case from the day was that of a juvenile defendant who was sentenced to a 16-month sentence for previous felonies as well as possession of a 16-inch loaded firearm.

Reporter Luke Kyaw: Luke heard the second phase of a jury trial, where the jury needs to decide whether defendant Michael Hernandez was legally insane when he committed the crime (which the jury had already previously found him guilty of). Two questions that must be considered were (1) if the defendant had a mental disease/defect, and (2) whether the mental defect caused him to not understand that his act was morally or legally wrong. Both sides each presented an expert witness, who both agreed that the defendant had schizophrenia. The defense argued that schizophrenia had distorted Mr. Hernandez’s thought process, while the People refuted that the defendant was guided by goal-oriented behavior all throughout the crime.

Reporter Christopher Datu: Christopher witnesses a pretrial conference in the Yolo County Superior Court that featured defendant Robert Husted being charged with misdemeanor stalking and contempt of court. Husted was in court today after allegedly violating the protective order set against him on Jan. 29, , banging on the windows of the victim’s trailer and yelling at her. The court heard the witness testimony from the victim, delving into the history of harassment from Husted, and officer Guillermo Zuniga who responded to the Jan. 29 incident. Those were the only two witnesses heard, with Judge David Reed setting the conference to continue on July 13 where the primary investigative officer will be called to the stand.

Reporter Peter Eibert: In Yolo Dept. 1, Eric Chmielewski was in court for an arraignment hearing for allegedly violently abusing his mother. Deputy District Attorney Robin Johnson alleged that Chmielewski “threw his mother into a wall, put his hands around her neck as if to choke her, and locked her out of her own home.” Chmielewski interrupted DDA Johnson, shouting in a hostile and unintelligible manner. Judge Tom M. Dyer subsequently removed him from court. Judge Dyer set bail at $23,000 and filed a restraining order against Chmielewski.

Reporters Peter Eibert & Allison Hodge: In Yolo Dept. 14, Judge David Rosenberg granted the prosecution’s motion to deny admittance of evidence of the defendant’s prior domestic violence, citing its irrelevance to the charges in this case. Judge Rosenberg also granted the prosecution’s motion to exclude evidence showing text messages between the alleged victim and a witness that didn’t relate to the crime. The prosecution argued that this was hearsay evidence. Judge Rosenberg agreed, and refused to admit the text messages. The court then went on to select a jury.

Reporter Genesis Guzman: Genesis heard multiple motions and reviews in the Yolo County Superior Court. One case that stood out was the decision of Judge Timothy Fall to approve a no bail bench warrant for a defendant who had been in a serious motorcycle accident, and suffered a broken pelvis, who is currently by doctor’s orders at home recuperating. The judge demanded the defendant be picked up and be taken to the jail to start doing his time because he is two months post-accident and the jail has medical services that they can provide. What is interesting about this case is that the defendant Alexi Lashinski was supposed to surrender into the jail for custody in January, but he had suffered the motorcycle accident at the end of April. The judge questioned why he was on a motorcycle in April if he was supposed to surrender in January. The defense believed that the January date had been reset, but the prosecutor argued that there was no proof that the date was reset and that they had been trying to get Lashinski remanded since October 2020. The defense’s request to reset the turn in to Oct. 26 was denied, and the Judge’s verdict was for the defendant to start his sentence.

Riverside County Superior Court

Reporter Jacqueline Rodriguez: On June 29, 9:15 a.m., Jacqueline Rodriguez logged onto Riverside Superior Court Dept. 3P where a case was being called by Judge Dale Wells, regarding a defendant who was facing 6 counts of armed robbery, with a potential gang enhancement added to his sentence. The gang enhancement charge was the main focus of the trial. The defense and the DDA made their closing statements to the jury, and the jury was to be called back at 1:30 p.m. for further instructions on how to deliberate their verdict.

Reporter Angie Madrid: Angie M. heard a jury trial in Riverside Superior Court. In Riverside Dept. 2G, defendant Albert Marchain was on trial for killing a senior citizen in Desert Hot Springs, in November 2018. Marchain was also charged with using a knife as a murder weapon. Although experiencing audio difficulties, various witnesses were called to testify on the case. Deputy Coroner, Stephanie Anderson, was called to testify on the body of the deceased. Anderson described the markings and sharp force injuries on the body. Machain’s trial was to continue further throughout the evening.

Reporter Angela Patel: On Tuesday, June 29, Angela P witnessed the jury deliberation and verdict for a case in Riverside Department 3P. The case involved defendant Sergio Lopez Guzman, who had been charged with committing six armed robberies in association with a criminal street gang and active participation in a criminal street gang during a felony. Earlier in the day, the defense argued that the robberies had not been committed in association with a criminal gang. The jury began deliberating at 1:30 p.m., and shortly after 4:30 p.m. they reached a verdict. The jury found the defendant guilty of all seven counts. Judge Dale Wells set the case for sentencing and prohibited bail.

Ventura County Superior County

Reporter Alex Klimenko: Alex K heard numerous pretrial conferences as well as continuances in Ventura County Superior Court. However, throughout the morning, Judge Bruce Young alluded to an important hearing which would end the morning session. This salient hearing was a sentencing hearing of Anthony Macias, who pleaded guilty in May to the charges of Fleeing the Scene of an Accident Involving Death and Driving while Under the Influence of Any Alcoholic Beverage. Important aspects of this hearing included emotional impact statements. These impact statements focused on how their family had permanently changed. Based on that, a victim advocated for a harsh sentence. Judge Young sentenced Macias to two years with credit for time served as well as parole for three years.

Reporter Benjamin Momtanah: Friday, July 2 Benjamin heard multiple cases from Ventura County. In one such case, a man named Gerald Silva was put on trial for active battery. Silva already had a previous criminal record when he once drove without a license. He is expected to be held 20 days at a county jail. In another case, defendant Lindsey Ann Williams was trialed for violation of probation as well as trespassing on a railroad. She is expected to stay 100 yards away from railroad property. Finally, Raymond Michael Rodriguez was sentenced to 12 day in a county jail and required attendance of domestic abuse classes for his violent behavior toward his former partner, who rose from her seat and told the court how this sentence is not enough for Rodriguez, describing it as a mere “slap on the wrist”. She then stated how he will not learn his lesson this way and that she still feels unsafe knowing that he could still be there before tearfully leaving the court.

Alameda County Superior Court

Reporter Dario McCarty: Dario McCarty observed Courtroom 705 in Dublin’s East County Hall of Justice. In this courtroom there was a sentencing hearing for Jeno James Leui who had pled guilty to a charge of felony looting from May 31 of 2020. When Lieu had arrived for sentencing, Judge Thomas Nixon announced that he had an outstanding no bail warrant for him. Lieu’s defense attorney, however, noted that this arrest warrant was for the exact crime that Lieu was supposed to be sentenced for, and as such was a duplicate. Lieu’s defense attorney theorized that this was due to two separate reports having been filed against Lieu for the same crime by two different police agencies.

Reporter Alexander Jiménez: On Wednesday, June 30, Alex Jimenez heard multiple pretrial hearings and petitions for reduced felonies in Alameda departments 115 and department 711. Notably in department 711, defendant Michael L Green failed to attend AA meetings, a condition for his probation. It had appeared that the location was closed on a day he tried to attend in person, however in the two months following Green made no effort to fulfill this requirement. Judge Jason Clay made his dissatisfaction clear, asserting that AA was the only insurance other than jail, to assure that Green would not pose a threat to the community. Judge Clay gave the defendant one more chance to comply with his orders to attend AA meetings. The matter will be put over for setting on July 30 with required proof of AA.

Reporter Sydney Kaplan: On June 30, Sydney Kaplan attended Alameda Department 6. It was a continuation of former Police Officer Jason Fletcher’s preliminary hearing. Fletcher was charged with one count of voluntary manslaughter after fatally shooting a relatively non-violent black man armed with only a baseball bat in a Walmart back in April 2020. Fletcher pled not guilty to the charge. The Alameda County Superior Court Judge, Barbara Dickenson, posted Fletcher’s bail at $200,000. Fletcher will appear for his trial in September, if he doesn’t take a plea deal beforehand.

Reporter Karisa Cortez: Karisa heard a case in which the defendant was charged with a violent felony, where he was sentenced to six years in prison and will have to register as a sex offender. In another case, the defendant pled no contest to a misdemeanor and will be facing two years felony probation and submit a DNA sample. In another case the prosecution dismissed the case in order to give the defendant a second chance, the judge responded with “In other words, someone really believes in you.”

Reporter Michael Wheeler: In Alameda 13, Judge Morris Jacobson denied a defendant bail who had reached out to a 13-year-old girl over social media and driven her around in his car, and who had lied about his age, although Jacobson did not go into the details of the case and quickly moved on. Jacobson worked through the rest of the schedule, which largely consisted of continuances for a variety of reasons. In Alameda 6, the audio stream echoed to such a degree as to make the proceedings impossible to follow.

San Francisco County Superior Court

Reporter Ella Wade: On Friday, July 2, Ella observed multiple hearings in Department 9 at the San Francisco Hall of Justice. Judge Richard C. Darwin oversaw multiple hearings for setting preliminary dates. Another recurring theme was in custody referrals. For multiple defendants, there was a return on the ACM. Due to a lack of houses or beds in San Francisco and Oakland, many individuals who are awaiting trial are unable to be released from custody. Because of this, these defendants are having to spend at least one more week until the ACM can be reconsidered or viewed as a realistic possibility.

Another interesting hearing was on a motion to suppress. The defense compared this case to Florida vs. JL, which was a case in which a man was frisked due to matching a profile that was based on nothing but his race and clothes, during this frisk a gun was found on his person. The defense motioned to suppress due to excessive force, and the court stated that if the motion to suppress was lost, the prosecution would still prosecute Alvarez for a misdemeanor. The prosecution cited a criminal record, but both the court and the defense quickly brought up that it was a very old record. The defense also explained Alvarez has had a very difficult time with his health and that of his wife, explaining the multiply high-stress situations that Alvarez has been put in over the past few months. The dates for further hearings were not mentioned, but were referred to vaguely by all parties.

Reporter Savannah Dewberry: Savannah Dewberry sat in on a murder retrial of a 2016 shooting that was convicted in 2018. The defendant, Anthony Paige, was convicted of murdering Reginald Blackburn during a fistfight in Oakland. Before going into surgery, Blackburn had told an Oakland police officer, “Anthony shot me.” The defense attorney, Tammy Yeun, argued that Blackburn couldn’t have known who shot him, as Blackburn had been fatally shot in the back and wouldn’t have been facing the shooter. DA Hyun-Joon Glenn Kim disagreed, saying Blackburn could have turned around in a split second, and would have seen the shooter.

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About The Author

Alexa Kendell is a 3rd year political science major at the University of California, Davis. She has a passion for political science and hopes to attend law school following her undergrad.

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