Judge Refuses to Grant Enhancement Motion for Man with Multiple Arson Charges

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By Gwynneth Redemann

WOODLAND, CA – Ronald Stevens, charged with multiple counts of arson, was spared the enhancement charge by Judge Tom Dyer of  Yolo County Superior Court last week after the judge cited the prosecution’s lack of concrete evidence produced at the preliminary hearing.

Deputy District Attorney Alex Kian filed a motion that would have enhanced the arson charges for the defendant because the arson took place during a “state of emergency” during California droughts.

In a preliminary hearing, Kian interviewed an inspector from Cal Fire who testified to the fact that there was a “state of emergency” related to the droughts in California.

However, Kian was unable to provide any orders or documentation suggesting that Yolo County was in a “state of emergency” when the alleged arson occurred.

Deputy Public Defender Richard Van Zandt argued against the filing of the motion to enhance the crime, citing a part of the penal code that specifies that the evidence presented must fall “within the jurisdiction” of where and when the crime took place.

Because the prosecution could not provide documentation with the specific dates and times of the “state of emergency,” there was not enough evidence to prove that the arson was worthy of an enhancement.

Van Zandt stated, “This should have been very easy to prove at a preliminary hearing. All you have to do is present evidence of an order or testimony about receiving the order.”

Van Zandt urged the court to deny the motion request on the basis that the Cal Fire inspector only had a general awareness of the “state of emergency” order and because the prosecution could not provide concrete evidence of such order.

He concluded, “There is no strong suspicion that Mr. Stevens committed this act in an area covered by the emergency order.”

DDA Kian countered, defending the testimony of the Cal Fire inspector as sufficient evidence for an enhancement, given that it was only a preliminary hearing. He argued that the actual orders and documentation could be provided later at the trial.

Judge Tom Dyer summarized his issue with the enhancement stating, “The testimony leaves too much assumption and speculation to the court on when the state of emergency was issued and whether it was for Yolo County.”

Judge Dyer refused to grant the motion but instead sent it back to the original judge, Judge Daniel Maguire, for “receipt of the executive order” on Oct 14.

It should also be noted that the suspect Stevens tried to go on record at the end of the hearing to report being “jumped by seven CO’s [correctional officers]” while in jail. Van Zandt assured Stevens that it would be dealt with, after which the hearing ended abruptly.

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About The Author

Gwynneth is a senior at UC Davis, studying Political Science and Anthropology. She is from Ventura, California.

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