Public Defender Humanizes Mother of 3 Charged Burning House with Boyfriend Inside – Judges Reduces Bail to Expedite Release

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By Natalia Claburn

SACRAMENTO, CA – Assistant Public Defender Alex Bugescu argued that defendant Justina Daggett’s attempt to burn down her father’s old house after a heated argument with her boyfriend was “simply a result of the father’s death.”

Bugescu’s argument was convincing here in Sacramento County Superior Court last week – Daggett’s bail was reduced by order of the court.

This bail motion began with Bugescu humanizing Daggett and explaining she was not only a defendant, but a mother of three who pays as much child support as she can afford every month despite struggling with money so much so that she has no internet.

She also was a registered dental assistant for a period of time and her father’s caretaker for the past 13 years. Tragically, Daggett’s father “passed away approximately a year ago” stated Bugescu, leaving Daggett to become the owner of his home.

Bugescu continued to argue that Daggett was more than the crime she committed when he said, “what’s important for the court to consider here is Ms. Daggett’s rap sheet; she has one prior misdemeanor petty theft in all of her 40 years.” This offense took place back in 2015.

Once Bugescu explained the defendant’s difficult circumstances and sole prior offense, he asked the court to “allow Ms. Daggett on supervised OR or perhaps OR release given her lack of record.”

OR, also known as own recognizance, release is when a defendant is released from custody without having to post bail and the court trusts that the defendant will return for their next hearing without legal supervision.

If not OR release, Bugescu requested that Daggett’s bail be changed from $25,000 to $10,000 due to her financial instability and necessity to pay for child support.

However, Deputy District Attorney Heather Phillips had a differing opinion from Bugescu. She asked that “bail either remain as set or, your honor, find that there are no less restrictive means than detaining her for public safety.”

Phillips argued that “the facts of this case are pretty troubling.” After her father’s passing, on an unspecified date, Daggett and her now ex-boyfriend got into an argument in the house that had belonged to Daggett’s father.

While it was unclear what the fight was about, it quickly escalated and got very out of hand, said the DDA.

Daggett allegedly “grabbed camping fuel and started dumping it around the living room and then lit it on fire” described Phillips.

There was a 911 call made by Daggett’s ex-boyfriend to the fire department, with Bugescu informing the courtroom that “Daggett is heard on the 911 call yelling about trying to put the fire out, that it kind of grew out of control.”

Phillips detailed that “the damage was so extensive in the living room that the arson investigators were unable to determine the origin of [the fire],” only deducing that it was some sort of liquid that had started the fire.

When she finished recounting the alleged crime, Phillips simply stated that she believes Daggett “shows a great danger to the public” which is why Phillips was standing her ground in asking Judge Patrick Marlette to deny the request for OR release.

With both sides of the story put together, Marlette inquired as to whether Daggett “had any mental health history.” Bugescu responded with “I would not want to speculate today; I don’t believe there is documented history.”

Marlette, seemingly confused, asked for a definitive statement for the record as he felt that Bugescu was “using some wiggle words” to avoid answering the question. Bugescu then stated “the answer is no Judge. She has not been diagnosed and she has not been to prior mental health treatment.”

However, after saying that he did not want to speculate, Bugescu then said, “it appears to me this case is simply a result of the father’s death and many of her life situations culminating to this incident.”

Marlette then checked in with Phillips to ask if she would like to request any stay-away orders for this case. Phillips asked that Daggett “not go around the property involved” and “that she have no contact with the victim in this case: her ex-boyfriend.”

The judge didn’t grant OR release, but ended the hearing by stating “Ms. Daggett, I’m gonna make your bail $10,000…and order you to come back here on Aug. 25 for the next hearing.”

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