By Fiona Davis
WOODLAND, CA – A woman, charged with engaging in a sexual relationship with a minor, pleaded no contest in a plea bargain here in Yolo County Superior Court Monday—but the judge refused to release her from jail pending sentencing, because of fear she may break the law again.
Ashley Richards agreed to spend two years of probation, which would require residence at a mental health treatment facility but the court was not ready to release her to that facility until sentencing.
Richards has been charged with several felony and misdemeanor counts related to her having an inappropriate, sexual relationship with a minor who was reported to be 14 years old. These charges include unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, and giving “cannabis to a minor.”
On Monday, however, a plea agreement was entered in Richards’ case. The agreement stipulated that Richards would enter a plea of no contest to charges that alleged her having sexual intercourse and giving marijuana to the victim.
In exchange, all other charges would be dropped, and the maximum six-year jail sentence Richards could potentially face would be reduced to two years of probation, which would require residence at a mental health treatment facility.
The marijuana-related charge would also be dropped upon completion of probation and treatment. If the accused fails to fulfill the agreements of her probation, she would then serve her two-year term in prison.
Despite the nature of these charges, it was unclear whether Richards would be required to register as a sex offender.
As part of the plea agreement, she would be allowed to be released prior to her sentencing hearing, if she entered into a treatment facility at the same time, under GPS monitoring.
However, defense attorney Steven C Sabbadini requested for his client to be released on Supervised Own Recognizance (SOR) before her sentencing hearing and without guaranteed enrollment in an in-house mental health program.
Sabbadini explained that in the two and a half months Richards had been serving time while awaiting her hearing, she had been struggling with her mental health in a way that concerned both her mother and defense attorney.
“Her mental health has been declining. She’s tearful, she’s upset, and just depressed… it’s not good for her to be in custody right now,” Sabbadini stated..
The defense also reasoned that rules of Richards’ probation would guarantee the safety of the victim in this case, as she would be required to stay at her mother’s home under GPS surveillance, with no access to communicative technology or ability to have non-family visitors.
The prosecution objected to this request.
In her argument, Deputy District Attorney Michelle Alyssa Abrante cited that Richards had a history of defying contacting the victim in spite of legal repercussions, as Richards “completely ignored” restraining orders filed by the victim’s mother on multiple occasions.
DDA Abrante also felt that SOR release would likely set up Richards for failure. She asserted that if Richards were released before she could enroll in a mental health facility, that she would soon find herself in a similar criminal situation.
“My hope is she can get to a treatment program quickly so that she can be successful,” Abrante stated.
Judge Daniel P. Maguire, who oversaw Richards’ plea hearing, ultimately ruled in favor of the prosecution’s argument, echoing DDA Abrante’s concerns for the defendant’s ability to successfully complete probation.
“Certainly time in custody is difficult,” Judge Maguire remarked. “However, I don’t want to set (Richards) up for failure … and I find if we release her before she has mental health support, it may be doing so.”