By Mary Magana-Ayala
SACRAMENTO, CA – Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Stephen Acquisto dismissed the case against Jeffrey Porter here Friday after 911 phone records were destroyed by the Sacramento Police Department, key eye witness has since been deceased, and as the judge stated “the lack of diligence on behalf of the prosecution” to make contact with the defendant.
According to the judge, the vandalism incident allegedly occurred in 2016 in which the victim was driving a vehicle to a stop and while people were crossing someone punched and damaged his car.
But Porter came forward set up an agreement to fix the victim’s car and the victim agreed not to press charges.
On December 7, 2016, however, a warrant was mailed to Porter’s address after the victim decided to press vandalism charges because he was not satisfied with the agreement made with the defendant, according to the Judge.
Porter did not respond to the warrant and later finds out about the warrant after he commits a traffic violation for having an expired registration.
The judge stated police destroyed the 911 calls, noting it should not happened “because I think the policy is probably once the case is resolved destroy it but if a case is open and pending you don’t destroy it, but in any event they were destroyed.”
The judge also expressed dissatisfaction with the District Attorney’s office lack of diligence to make contact with Porter during the four years since the incident happened, arguing “Mr. Porter was not on the lam, he did not flee jurisdiction, he was living his life right where he lived, he is employed, and there is no indication he was evading authorities… his conduct is consistent with not being aware of this case.”
“What I am also considering is that it is no longer January of 2017, it is October 2021…from what I can tell from the Folsom Police Department or the prosecution is that they took no other steps since that time…there is an obligation to make reasonable efforts and that is not satisfied with something that went out in the mail,” Judge Acquisto said.
Certified Legal Research Assistant Paige Arseneaux, representing the prosecution, argued that the mailbox rule and evidence code when sending warrants was created because of the lack of resources the police department had when contacting people.
She suggested that the police have numerous other duties and that there are other demands that come in and interrupt investigations.
CLR Arseneaux added, “the court had reason (and) yes it can be argued that more effort and different means can be employed but the court is not compelled to conclude that just because that didn’t happen doesn’t necessarily mean that the actions were unreasonable.”
Assistant Public Defender Christopher Johnson counter argued that “they had ample opportunity…Mr. Porter is employed, files IRS taxes every year, was a homeowner and updated address with the DMV, all they had to do was a DMV search or a tax record search. The evidence code does not alleviate responsibility of the DA or police and government to bring someone to court.”
PD Johnson also argued that there was destroyed evidence in the case in which he couldn’t use to do his own investigation or refresh other witnesses memories, or use in his closing argument.
Johnson stated that the potential witness the DA office had for the case could potentially not recall the events well, which was a form of prejudice, adding “the lack of material witness is sufficient to demonstrate actual prejudice.”
Judge Acquisto referred to Supreme Court case Barker v. Wingo, noting “if witnesses die or disappear the prejudice is obvious. There is also prejudice if they are unable to recall accurately events of the distant past. Loss of memory is not always reflected in the record because what has been forgotten can rarely be shown.”
He added, “ If I have to discern a reason for the delay it is the lack of diligence on behalf of the prosecution, once the defendant was arrested I think it fair to say he did reasonably assert his right to a speedy trial …there is presumption and language from Barker v. Wingo…that weighs in favor of granting the motion so I am going to grant the motion.”
Porter’s case was dismissed after being an active case for nearly five years without his knowledge.