Jury Question Slows Down Trial of Pro Se Accused of Felony

By  Keana Fortier-Sauray

SANTA BARBARA, CA – During an ongoing trial here in Santa Barbara County Superior Court for Sterling Paul Ranft, the jury is at a standstill until the court clarifies whether the accused is in custody, or not.

Ranft, who is representing himself, is charged with being a prisoner in possession of a weapon, a felony and resisting arrest, a misdemeanor, and a second strike enhancement from an incident in July of 2021.

The session began with a discussion between Judge Pauline Maxwell, Deputy District Attorney Michelle Mossembekker, and Ranft for review of an officer’s previous testimony and his title position that seemingly has confused jurors.

After DDA Mossembekker explained the jury’s confusion on whether Ranft was in custody or was being brought in to court, Ranft abruptly added the statement “prison.”

Judge Maxwell corrected Ranft and said the word prison isn’t appropriate but she understands what he’s saying after the pro per accused complained “but they [the jury] did (believe he was in prison)” “they’re under the impression that I was already sentenced to prison.”

After a moment of silence, Judge Maxwell argued that most people do not know the difference between prison and jail.

Ranft disagreed, noting, “We had an officer testify that they were employees at the Santa Barbara County Jail here in Santa Barbara.”

Judge Maxwell agreed that the testimony should be read back to the jury.

However, DDA Mossembekker disagreed that the entire testimony needed to be read back, because she believed that the jury wasn’t going to get the entire answer they’re looking for because they were not told why the accused was booked, only who was booked that day.

The whole confusion with prison and county jail is pivotal, said Ranft, who stated that “there is a clear definition difference.”

DDA Mossembekker stated for the record that there is no indication that Ranft was in a prison facility. Judge Maxwell stated “right, but the jurors used that word, so…”

Judge Maxwell proposed that they start the readback of an officer’s testimony from where he gave the court his background and his statement on where he worked, and they end in the middle of the testimony as to where Ranft was and where he was going.

DDA Mossembekker agreed.

The testimony was read to the court by the court reporter, and the technicalities were sorted out.

The jury was then brought in so that the testimony could be read back to them for clarification to their questions.

About The Author

Keana is a fourth year undergraduate student at California State University, Long Beach. She is majoring in Criminal justice with a minor in Forensics, and plans to graduate Spring 2022. She is anticipating either continuing her education at graduate school or pursuing her career as a Homicide Detective.

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