By Citlalli Florez
MODESTO, CA – After his final sentencing hearing last week here in Stanislaus County Superior Court, Alex Lopez was ordered taken to a state prison with only a promise that his broken foot and injured shoulder would be treated by the Dept. of Corrections.
His public defender asked Judge Linda McFadden to postpone the sentencing so her client could finally receive his scheduled surgery—the judge refused, noting that “sometimes” people in prison get better treatment than those on the outside. And, sometimes not.
On March 9, the accused pleaded guilty to the charge of driving a vehicle without the owner’s permission. This charge is usually filed as a misdemeanor but was filed as a felony because the man has a prior criminal history.
In Lopez’s previous sentencing hearing, the case was sent to a different department, because the original department, where he was having his court proceedings, was in trial. He wanted his sentencing in the original department.
He was allegedly told to return to court at 1:20 p.m. to have his sentencing hearing, but he returned late at 1:50 pm when the court was already in the middle of a trial. Lopez was then taken into custody, and had his sentencing moved to this week.
It was understood by the accused, she said, that if he pleaded guilty in March, then he would not be required to surrender until he had all his much-needed surgeries finished. However, his surgeries were postponed by his doctors because of his high blood pressure.
The judge pointed out that he was not able to finish his sentencing at one point because of COVID. The defense corrected the judge, stating that he was in fact not present because he was in the emergency room. Proof of the incident was given to the prosecuting attorney.
Deputy District Attorney Kirk Rowley Brennan commented on the proof, stating that Lopez was in the ER for wrist arthritis. The accused later corrected the attorney by claiming he was in the ER for a blood infection.
The judge said that “the court does have the transcript [and] never told Mr. Lopez that he’d be able to indefinitely postpone his surrender. This could take forever, six months is a pretty long time to be able to take care of your medical needs.”
The defense then revealed Lopez had surgery scheduled for next Friday.
Judge McFadden stated that at the time of the plea Lopez did not mention any other promises made to him.
She then claimed that Lopez would get his medical care free through the Dept. of Corrections. If there were any issues about his receiving the medical care then the court would address it right away, added the judge, noting she thought that six months was enough to get ALL his medical needs taken care of.
The defense reminded the judge of his high blood pressure, which has postponed his surgeries. “That’s not any fault of his own,” said DPD Henry.
The judge suggested his blood pressure could prevent him from getting the surgery forever, but that she couldn’t say for sure because she is NOT a medical doctor.
The judge added, “[it] sounds like the last time he was in here that it wasn’t really his foot that was the problem Mr. Brennan, so I’m denying any request for a continuance.”
DDA Brennan stated the “the Cruz Waiver was called for four years if he did not show up for the surrender date, which he didn’t. So we’re asking for the four-year sentence to be imposed on the terms of the grid.”
The defense objected to the DDA’s motion, explaining it wasn’t clear if there was a willful failure to appear at the sentencing hearing. Judge McFadden then stated that the plea deal was a good deal, and that Lopez would likely only have to serve a year and a half.
She believes, she said, it would be a good time for the accused to get his medical needs met because the CDCR would have to make sure he gets his surgery if it is necessary.
The judge added Lopez would have a “good” place to rest and that it’s a lot better than being home if there was no one to take care of him during the recovery period.
The accused said, “I’ve had numerous attorneys on this case.” The judge interrupted by stating, “I do know that and, unfortunately, a lot of people have because the public defender’s office has lost a lot of people.”
Lopez continued, “I feel like I’ve never had a personal relationship with any of them and tackling this situation now (his current DPD) doesn’t know me well enough to understand. We haven’t really built that (relationship).”
Judge McFadden interrupted again: “I’m not discounting your medical needs. At some point in time parties have the right to have their agreement in force and the DA didn’t really agree to let you go forever.”
She went on to state, “I am very cognizant of the fact that sometimes people who are in custody get better quality medical care than the people who are out of custody. (It’s) the way the system works in this country.”
“We have a lot of people in custody that have a lot of medical needs, just like out of custody…the people in custody, sometimes the quality of their care is even better than the people who are out of custody. It just depends on your doctor,” McFadden argued.
After a long back and forth where the judge kept explaining she didn’t know a lot of what happens in the medical field or system because she is not a doctor, she decided to continue with the sentencing hearing. Lopez requested that he be expedited to prison which was granted.
The accused was ordered to submit a DNA sample and to pay restitution, security, and conviction fees. Because there were credits already reported, there was a portion of time already served, slightly reducing the sentence.
Judge McFadden finally told the accused, “I hope you get that foot and everything taken care of. And like I said, you really don’t have much time left anyway.” Lopez was then taken into custody by a deputy.