By Gina Kim
STANISLAUS, CA – At a sentencing hearing here at Stanislaus County Superior Court Tuesday, a man faced a misdemeanor charge for annoying and molesting a minor after making advances on his stepdaughter’s 14-year-old best friend nearly three years ago.
Although Deputy District Attorney Viridiana Raya acknowledged the mitigating factor of the man’s nonexistent criminal record prior to the crime, she stressed the court consider this factor in light of his grievous behavior.
Given his status as a stepfather, neighbor, and fellow parent the victim’s mother trusted, the suspect took advantage of this position of trust upon seeking out the victim’s phone number despite his stepdaughter’s ability to contact her personally, said the DDA.
The 57-year-old then proceeded to send explicit messages—suggestive comments on the victim’s body, as well his apparent interest, including the words “I’m attracted to you,” according to the prosecutor.
In previous testimony, the defendant stated “it was a bad choice of words” and that “the words came out wrong.”
“There is no dual meaning to that, sir, that’s the problem,” answered Judge Valli Israels. “The words that you used in those text messages…they’re not a poor choice of words. They have no use towards a 14-year-old girl unless you have a sexual interest in her.”
The prosecution requested the court issue a maximum sentence of 365 days with no formal probation.
But Assistant Public Defender Erin Lanier pointed to the California Rules of Court, which considers both aggravating and mitigating factors, claiming the aggravating factors don’t necessarily outweigh the “great mitigating factors” in the case.
Lanier pointed to her client’s lack of criminal record and prior arrests, adding he had been compliant with the court, not missing a single court date and always arriving on time.
“The purpose of the sentencing as laid out by the California Rules is to encourage law-abiding behavior…my client is the type of person who would do well on probation, would attend classes, and abide by all mandatory terms,” Lanier argued.
The defense asked for the court to suspend time, noting how the prosecution’s previous offer during the last trial was a sentence of 60 days.
Moreover, a combined request for maximum sentence and probation was illegal, the defense argued. “I think it’s frankly inappropriate to go from someone with no criminal record to the max,” Lanier added.
Lanier expanded further into the consequences her client would encounter once he becomes a registered sex offender, such as his ability to maintain employment as a local hospital IT, future housing and ability to travel.
The Stat 99 Report, which is used to determine the risk of male sex offenders, indicated the accused was a person of average risk. The defense cited the report as being tailored more toward people convicted of felony sex offenses, not necessarily misdemeanor offenders.
As to the prosecution’s cited allegations of inappropriate touchings, Lanier maintained that the unanimity for instruction was the theory of text messages, not all conduct alleged in the trial.
Upon listening to the victim’s testimonies, the victim’s mother, and defendant, Judge Israels voiced several concerns regarding the defendant’s actions. More importantly was the vulnerable state the victim was in with no parents around all the time.
The judge said the suspect was aware of the victim’s need for familial support, and her confidence issues and handicap.
The court noted the man’s unwillingness to admit his “abnormal interest” in a 14-year-old girl.
“If you keep up this behavior, you’re gonna get into trouble,” Israels said, addressing the accused present in court. “Come into terms with your interest, whether it is this young lady or all young ladies.”
Most concerningly was the issue of the accused’s touching behavior.
“There’s no defense for whether they were consensual or not. Let me just say that it is improper and obviously affected her and will affect her for the rest of her life. I hope we never see you back here again,” Israels concluded.