(Editor’s note: We asked our interns a few months ago to talk about the greatest injustice they saw in the courthouse. Here are a few that we pulled together)
The greatest injustice I ever wrote about during my time with the Davis Vanguard is the case surrounding the Tahoe Five. Five Black men were arrested as suspects in South Lake Tahoe alongside two Caucasian men after a marijuana transaction had ended in a murder. Despite one of the Caucasian suspects actually confessing to the crime and clear evidence pointing to the innocence of the Tahoe Five, they were still brought to trial. Afterward, the court kept finding good cause to vacate their right to a speedy trial, which resulted in their preliminary hearings happening a whole year and a half after their arrests. The Tahoe Five were also given evidence that were compiled in electronic tablets (not the traditional paper format), restricting their ability to view it readily as electronic devices were not allowed in cells. There were many other similar questionable instances by the court and media, which one of the Tahoe Five attributed to the racial bias in the county. Allegedly, one of the eyewitnesses—who was Caucasian—had said “all n***** look alike” when identifying suspects in a lineup. With this just being a short summary, it cannot capture the whole situation but there were so many layers of injustice to this case that it is one of the most memorable cases I have worked on in the internship.
In late February of 2022, I overheard a preliminary hearing where the defendant, Jasmine Moore, had apparently thrown rocks at cars. The specific charges are listed in the article. In the first discussed instance, the testifying officer noted that Moore had caused minimal damage and no one was hurt. In fact, the officer noted that Moore aimed to commit self-harm. Subsequent officers had testified to other instances of property damage, but a few of them listed mental health issues related to Moore. At one point, an officer “responded ‘Dec. 11, I actually decided to house her…she wanted to go to jail, she had not slept, and she was extremely exhausted.'”
The court deliberated on intent, consequences, and potential SOR release. Within this, it was revealed that Moore had not had her medication while in jail. With the aforementioned mental health issues, I found it to be a great injustice that Moore had not had access to something deemed necessary. The court seemed to acknowledge the need for treatment and had set a “‘rereview of SOR” and further arraignment hearing, but she was kept in custody. I felt that Moore should have been treated with more respect and care in relation to her receiving help.
The greatest injustice I witnessed in my time here was in Yolo County where a defendant was appearing over Zoom and was forcibly muted by the judge when he was explaining a situation. The man was charged with misdemeanor drug charges and defense counsel requested he be released on SOR and that he be sent to a drug treatment program. The DA and probation officer both relayed that the defendant had failed the treatment program before and they didn’t believe he would attend again.
The defense counsel argued that he’s an addict that still needs help with a treatment program—also, when he was last admitted to the program, there were complications that impeded his progress on the side of probation. The Woodland Parole Unit, which provides services for those on probation/parole, has relocated out of Woodland into Solano County, becoming less accessible for the members of the county they’re accountable for. Furthermore, the defendant noted when he was initially assigned to that residential program that the DA and probation officer mentioned earlier, parole failed to contact the defendant for over a month and didn’t completely provide the services they claimed they would. Before the defendant could say more, the judge had him muted over Zoom and continued with his arraignment. The judge’s final statement before setting bail was, “I know he sat in jail for a while after there was a DEJ for over a month and he hadn’t been placed. I don’t know what happened during that time and I don’t need to know that.”
The greatest injustice that I have written about in the course of my internship was actually the first article I wrote. In this case a woman had been trying to turn herself into the jail to serve her time for a DUI case. However, due to covid restrictions and procedures, by the time she would be done with her quarantine time, her sentence would be done. She had tried turning herself in 7 times, though each one was unsuccessful.
I think this was the greatest injustice I have seen because the woman was being shown as not wanting to meet the terms of her plea deal even though she had been trying to surrender herself 7 times. The judge did end up changing the jail in which she would have to turn herself into so that she could serve her time and be cleared of that part of her plea deal.