By Angie Madrid
VENTURA, CA— Judge Bruce Young of Ventura County Superior Court here Thursday sentenced 19-year-old defendant Sergio Herrera to one year in county jail, for selling drugs and illegal possession of narcotics—half of what the prosecution requested because he said Herrera was not a “sophisticated” drug dealer.
Herrera was arrested on April 1 after police conducted a thorough investigation over the fatal overdose of a student from California Lutheran University. Herrera was found in possession of illegally pressed fentanyl pills—similar to the drugs consumed by the victim.
During Herrera’s sentencing hearing, Deputy District Attorney Anne Spillner asked for a sentence of five years, with two years in custody and three years on probation, with mandatory supervision.
As Judge Young read the defendant’s report, DDA Spillner announced a victim impact statement would be presented orally from the victim’s family member.
Seemingly distraught, the victim’s family member stated, “These drugs are killing a lot of innocent people and it needs to stop, you know. Especially these people that are selling this knowing that these pills have fentanyl in it. This has not just happened to us, but to a lot of other families.
“I would like you to take this into consideration,” continued the victim’s family member. “It has broken our family. My mom, she is not the same. My dad is not the same. Every day is like reliving this again and again and again, wishing this didn’t happen. These people [drug dealers] don’t take into consideration if these kids are going through mental health or anxiety.”
The victim ended, reminiscing, “[The victim] had so many plans and everything was taken away.”
Judge Young agreed with the victim’s impact statement, remarking that most drug dealers do not provide warnings on the substances they sell and transport.
After the impact statement, DDA Spillner continued with her argument, stating, “Although the defendant doesn’t have a criminal history, based on the investigation of the Sheriff’s Department, it looked like he had been selling these dangerous pills for some time.”
Spillner emphasized the extent to which defendant’s sales went, asserting, “He advertised on Snapchat. He acknowledged that he sold the types of drugs that would get people ‘higher.’ He said that some people called them killers and that he didn’t sell the pharmaceutical drugs anymore because the pressed fentanyl ones were more powerful and got people higher.”
DDA Spillner continued her argument, stating, “So ultimately, the other side of that is, they’re more dangerous and people overdose more easily. Here we have an 18-year-old woman who died and overdosed. It looked like she had been at least acquaintances, if not friends, with the defendant. They had grown up in the same area, attended some of the same schools. Really, she was a vulnerable person, and he should have known that.”
She ended her statement, asserting, “It’s such callous activities that can lead to tragic consequences, and I hope the defendant understands that.”
Defense Attorney,Jeffrey Vallens presented his argument against Spillner’s claims, emphasizing the defendant’s young age, explaining, “Before the court we have a 19-year-old man, at the time of the incident 18 years old, hardly an aged, sophisticated complex criminal. He has zero criminal history. He was cooperative with law enforcement.
“In addition to his youth, he occupies a fairly responsible role in his household. He grew up in a family business of tree trimming and he’s been working regularly in that business for years now,” Vallens said.
He continued, “Since his parents split up, he took a little bit of a southern turn. He suffered some depression and started using drugs. It is a tragedy anytime a young person dies. He took responsibility for his action [referencing the defendant’s previous guilty plea].”
Vallens asked the court to consider minimizing a possible sentence to 270 days in jail.
He also requested a change to the proposed probation terms. According to Herrera’s terms of probation, Herrera was not to use Facebook, Craigslist, and eBay. Vallens argued that in this day and age, it was “absurd” to prevent the defendant from using these social media websites.
After Vallens’ request, DDA Spillner interjected, explaining that the victim’s family was also asking for restitution for the funeral expenses—a cost of approximately $15,129.
Spillner asserted, “The terms the defense mentioned for not being on social media, they are to some extent punishments. He’s still living at the end of the day, [the victim], unfortunately, passed away. If he has to go without Facebook or Snapchat, then that holds him responsible and accountable for what he’s done.”
Defense Attorney Vallens asked to defer the issue of restitution as he needed time to review the request and discuss it with his client.
“I don’t perceive Mr. Herrera as any kind of sophisticated seller of drugs. In part, I agree with Mr. Vallens’ comment about that, and in the world of young people, they are certainly going to use the computer, whether it be Facebook or other things,” noted the judge.
Judge Young continued to explain that both the victim and defendant were young during the incident. He acknowledged there was both a willing buyer and seller. He expressed his condolences for the victim’s family, but decided to provide Herrera with a second chance.
Judge Young granted Herrera the ability to use the internet, but he is not to use it for methods of advertisement, nor associate with any person selling a controlled substance.
Herrera was sentenced to 365 days in county jail with 24 months of formal probation. His restitution hearing was set for Sept. 27.