Reflections on Court Watching in Santa Barbara County

Interior of the County Courthouse building (Santa Barbara, California).

By Elizabeth Garabedian


Court watching this week in Santa Barbara County Superior Court was interesting as the concerns of mental health and competency were themes that reappeared throughout my shifts.


During my shift on Monday, I saw one case that stood out to me concerning an individual – Joel Campos, who has been in custody for about three years awaiting trial for an attempted murder from 2018.


After doing some additional research to better understand the case, I saw that Campos had been charged with murder and attempted murder in Santa Barbara the same year.


Campos’ attorney, Doug Hayes claimed he had doubts about Campos’ mental competency and was able to get the murder charge dropped.  But Hayes has not been able to get him released from jail as Campos awaits further proceedings now for one count of attempted murder.


This time around, Hayes is using the same argument for the attempted murder: he has doubts about Campos’ mental competency, and wants him released before trial.


What was supposed to be a scheduling for Campos’ proceedings this week turned into a bail readjustment when Hayes argued that Campos’s mental health deteriorated from “continued incarceration,” and Campos’ lack of compliance and refusal to speak with pretrial services was new evidence for the case.


Despite Judge Michael Carrozzo’s claim that having no new evidence was in fact not evidence of anything at all, Hayes continued to hammer away at his defense for Campos’ pretrial release.


Judge Carrozzo affirmed Hayes’ right to declare doubt concerning the mental state of Campos, but stated that he had not seen enough evidence for the court to declare doubt or continue with penal code 1368 proceedings.


Hayes asked that bail be reduced from $2 million to $50,000 because Campos is “absolutely impecunious” after the amount of time he has been in custody. Hayes boldly stated that he felt his client would not be convicted with the evidence against him, and keeping him in custody was unnecessary.


DDA Hans Almgren objected to this after citing the Humphrey analysis from his brief and noted that Campos “is looking at a significant amount of time in prison,” so bail should be kept the same.


Judge Carrozzo decided that bail would be reduced to $1 million since the murder charge had been dismissed.  While I can understand the frustration felt by the defense, they did not have a defined plan for Campos to get the mental health treatment he needed upon his release.


During my Thursday shift, another individual, Victor Herrera sought pretrial release but was denied as the judge was concerned about his violent behaviors that in past instances have been drug induced.


Here the question of Herrera’s mental health being tied to his meth addiction was brought to the court.


Herrera was charged with stalking the alleged victim for years, calling and messaging her via social media and showing up to her work.


While presumably “in some meth-induced psychosis,” the defendant drove around and called the alleged victim, telling her that she and her child were going to die.  He then proceeded to call the child’s daycare facility and the center had to be locked down because of the “perceived threats” he was making.


“This is an ongoing severe situation of harassment,” DDA Chanda stated and noted that protective orders were in place against Herrera, but he did not follow them and has violated his probation multiple times.  Chanda was concerned that if Herrera were to be released, he would pose a threat to the victim and the general public.


Herrera’s attorney, Michael Carty, stated that the victim did indeed recognize Herrera’s drug problem and indicated that he should be enrolled in a substance abuse or mental health facility for treatment.


But despite the fact that the victim had protective orders against Herrera and had been the victim of domestic violence perpetrated by Herrera, Carty claimed that the victim would not fear for her safety if he were released.


Although the victim was not present in court Thursday, it’s hard to believe Carty’s claim that someone who did not want to be contacted by Herrera would feel safe if he was released from custody without a defined treatment plan.


Judge Von Deroian ruled that the court was not inclined to release Herrera at this time, noting “I have serious concerns not only for the alleged victim and the child they share but also for… the entire day care that had to be locked down because of Mr. Herrera’s threats.”


Judge Deroian wanted to see a stricter residential treatment plan because “it seems that the mental health issues he displayed were drug induced… and it seems that everyone who knows Mr. Herrera agrees that he has a significant drug problem, specifically his addiction to crystal meth, that at least in part motivates his behavior.”

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