Sheer Power of Prosecutors on Full Display in Alameda Courtroom

By Tatiana Gasca and Elena Rawlinson

ALAMEDA, CA – Proceedings were slow in Alameda County Superior Court Dept. 702 last week, but still, Judge Gail Bereola saw a number of defendants, many of whom had appeared in court to sort out scheduling matters or enter a plea.

While no specific case was especially unusual, the proceedings highlighted the mechanics of day to day criminal court. And three cases exemplified the sheer amount of power that prosecutors possess over defendants’ trajectory and experience in the legal system.

One man appeared before the court, represented by public defender Benjamin Chiang for his arraignment. Chiang requested that bail be lowered so that his client could post bail.

However, the DA countered this, saying that any deviation from bail – currently set at $70,000 – was unwarranted given the defendant’s criminal history and past failures to appear before the court.

Chiang denied the opportunity to further comment, and the court set bail at $70,000, just exactly what the prosecutor wanted.

Another defendant represented by PD Chiang appeared before the court in custody. He was ordered to see his probation officer and return to court. However, he had failed to do both these tasks which resulted in his incarceration.

The DA explained that it would give him one more opportunity to adhere to his probation officers requirements. The DA furthered that they would withdraw criminal filings against him if he cooperated, providing added incentive.

The judge took the DA’s advice under consideration and recalled the bench warrant.

The final defendant that Chiang represented was charged for willful cruelty to a child and possible injury.

On July 28, the defendant allegedly left her three children unattended for a long period of time. Levine was arrested and remains in custody, while her children are in protective care of CPS.

Prosecutor David Cavanaugh Cook, requested to set bail for $300,000.

PD Chiang argued, “This is a serious allegation…from a possible accusation of the (defendant) leaving her children unattended for a period of time. There’s no allegation of actual physical abuse other than abandonment of children.”

Chiang requested to release (the defendant) on her own recognizance and set nominal bail. “I don’t know what purpose keeping (her) in custody serves,” states Chiang.

In addition to releasing her, Chiang also suggested that the defendant takes parenting classes in place of custody.

“I wouldn’t ask the court to simply release her on her own recognizance, or set a bail that is lower than what the schedule calls for. The defendant also has a pending felony allegation: assault with a deadly weapon, resulting in great bodily injury,” states prosecutor Cook.

The DDA argued that criminal protective orders should be warranted for the three children as the defendant is a potential danger to her children and the community, adding, “I don’t think she’s a real sympathetic candidate for setting bail lower than the scheduled amount.”

Judge Bereola agreed to deny Chiang’s request and maintain bail at $300,000. The mother is set to appear for a pre-trial hearing on Aug. 27.

About The Author

Tatiana Gasca is a fourth year student at UC Berkeley, double majoring in Legal and Ethnic Studies. She is originally from Orange County, CA.

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