By Gwynneth Redemann
MERCED, CA- In a pre-preliminary hearing here Friday, Merced County Superior Court Judge Brian McCabe ordered Lorenzo Gonzalez to attend one year of substance abuse treatment at the Jericho Project and two years of probation instead of four years and eight months in prison for multiple nonviolent felony charges.
Deputy District Attorney Gerard Denis Egan asked the judge to deny any requests of probation or alternative treatment plans because of the defendant’s prior criminal history, including 11 felony convictions.
Egan explained defendant Gonzalez had previously attended treatment programs and had failed each time. He also allegedly violated his probation terms on more than one occasion.
Public Defender Beth Lee urged the judge to consider a substance abuse treatment program instead of prison time since the felony charges were nonviolent: one receiving a stolen vehicle and the other false identification.
Lee stated, “The California Legislature has increasingly made it clear that sentencing should become less incarceration-based and more treatment-based, and that local counties should handle their local cases instead of shipping people out of the area and out of their backyard.”
Lee said Gonzalez is a resident in Merced and will likely come back to the county after serving prison time. She also noted that the prison time would likely be minimal, given the nature of the alleged crimes.
PD Lee stated, “I doubt that sending Gonzalez to prison would result in anything less than him going away for a period of time and returning to Merced only with more problems to deal with than he [has] now, having been further traumatized by the criminal justice system.”
DDA Egan responded to Lee’s phrase regarding Gonzalez being “further traumatized by the criminal justice system” stating, “This is a man with 11 felony convictions, who was on felony probation when he committed these two separate crimes.”
Egan reminded the court of Gonzalez’s recent violent felonies, including battery and assault. He also explained the nature of the current charges, indicating that Gonzalez had been driving a stolen vehicle and drove through “five stop signs” while trying to avoid the police.
DDA Egan stated, “It seems like the members of the public are being traumatized by this defendant,” and that saying that Gonzalez was “traumatized by the criminal justice system” is “so far away from reality that it just astonishes me that that claim would be made.”
DDA Egan continued, “If he is so traumatized by the criminal justice system it’s because he keeps committing felony crimes.”
With regard to treatment plans for the defendant, Egan reminded the court that Gonzalez had tried them and failed in the past. Egan suggested that the defendant participates in a treatment plan in prison instead.
A probation officer also added that since March, two warrants have been issued for Gonzalez’s arrest for “failing to work with [them] at the local level…we have worked with him on many of his 11 convictions and he has refused services.”
Public Defender Lee responded by saying that “relapse is a common part of recovery” but that allowing him to go to a treatment program would be most beneficial to him.
She noted again that Gonzalez was “traumatized by the criminal justice system,” stating “when we further traumatize people who have been traumatized, we create angry people that we release back into the community.”
PD Lee suggests that getting Gonzalez treatment would actually be more beneficial to the community at large.
“To sit in chains, humiliated, and in a box, on YouTube, is traumatizing. My client is still a human. He is a human being that needs help,” stated Lee.
Judge Brian McCabe responded to the attorney’s statements with a series of remarks, noting that “what strikes me is this: what has been done in the past has not worked.”
Judge McCabe agreed with the defense, deciding to put Gonzalez on probation and a one-year intensive treatment program.
The prosecution stepped in, asking that Judge McCabe impose a material term, thus making Gonzalez responsible for serving the full jail time if he does not comply with the program.
Judge McCabe agreed with this additional material term and went into an anecdote about how he had previously sentenced a defendant to 11 years after failing to comply with a treatment program.
He stated, “It’s like leading a horse to water; I can’t force the horse to drink, it’s up to the horse to drink.”
He then addressed Gonzalez, stating, “I want folks to succeed. It would make me happy if this courtroom shrunk and I had to look for another job at a flower shop or something else.”
McCabe continued, “Unfortunately human nature doesn’t allow us to do that. I have job security, but I would love for folks not to be here,” adding he “wants [Gonzalez] to succeed” and finish the program.
At the end of the pleas, Gonzalez thanked the judge for allowing him to go to the Jericho Project instead of serving prison time.
Judge McCabe stated, “Don’t thank me now, thank me when you are done.”
Gonzalez pleaded no contest to all of the charges and is expected to enter the Jericho Project Nov 5.