By Cynthia Hoang-Duong
WOODLAND, CA – While addressing prosecution and defense pretrial motions in Yolo County Superior Court Dept. 8 this week, Judge Peter M. Williams denied the defense motion to dismiss for a violation of the accused’s constitutional right to a speedy trial.
“It is fundamentally unfair to trail a case two weeks out beyond the last date for trial when there is no good cause for it,” argued Defense Attorney Wendy Casas.
The DPD and her co-counsel, Jake Pillard, said although the defense and the accused were present and ready for trial on several occasions, the court continued the jury trial to a later date without finding good cause.
The accused is charged with a misdemeanor for distributing the image of the complainant’s intimate body part without her consent.
During her motion, Casas recounted that on Nov. 28, 2022, on the time waived case, the court failed to accommodate the defense and their client, forcing them to extend the last date for trial to Jan. 12.
A week later, Casas said, when the defense returned to the court on Dec. 7, the court rescheduled the trial date for Jan. 9 under the statutory framework that permits the accused to have a jury trial within 30 days.
However, the DPD noted at the trial readiness conference on Jan. 5 the court vacated the Jan. 9 date despite the defense objection to the continuance of the jury trial.
In response to the court’s claim that there were no available courtrooms, Casas rejected this justification on the grounds courtroom congestion is not good cause for continuance in absence of extraordinary circumstances.
On the tenth day of the trailing period, Jan. 17, the defense discussed with Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Allen and Judge Sonia Cortes the defense’s request for a social worker witness for their jurisdictional/dispositional report.
After a recess to discuss the matter with their client, the defense informed the court that they would withdraw the witness and no longer intended to use the records. Any opinion or character evidence that the defense wanted to use through the witness was limited to the prosecution’s discovery.
However, when they announced that they were ready for the jury trial, the DDA intervened, contending the defense did not provide the jurisdictional/dispositional records to the prosecution and thus, it would be unfair to proceed without discovery.
Judge Cortes found good cause to continue the jury trial date till Jan. 23 based on the lack of discovery, noted Casas.
Referring to the continuance from Jan. 17 to Jan. 23, Casas maintained that it was “an abuse of [the court’s] discretion. At the moment that the defense announced ready and told the court that we were no longer going to use any of those reports and no longer intending to call the social worker, any good cause that the court would’ve found would’ve been completely irrelevant and unfounded.”
The DPD emphasized that the continuances of the jury trial have been a huge inconvenience to the accused, who was forced to take time off from work, subjecting him to potential loss of employment.
Late last week, the defense said it received an email postponing the jury trial to the following day, Jan. 24, without allowing them to object to the further continuance. The DPD stressed that it had been two weeks past the last date for trial, Jan. 9.
Judge Williams countered Casas’ claim of the court’s reason for continuance on Jan. 5, stating that he was required to review last-minute discovery, not because of courtroom congestion. He also noted that the defense claimed they withdrew their witness on Jan. 17 yet requested the same witness on Tuesday’s court date, Jan. 24.
When the judge requested to hear from the DDA, she admitted that the trial had been “going around in circles” for a while but the defense waived time on Nov. 28. She reiterated that before Jan. 9 and on Jan. 17, the court found good cause to continue the jury trial because there was a lack of discovery by the defense.
The DDA added both the court and prosecution required time to review the documents the defense intended to use. She also rejected the defense claim of a violation under the 10-day trail because the period between Jan. 17 and Jan. 24 is well within the time statutorily permitted.
Defense Attorney Pillard clarified that in withdrawing the witness on Jan. 17, the defense no longer intended to use the discovery that Judge Cortes provided as the basis for the good cause continuance.
When asked why they submitted the documents anyway, Casas relayed that the court ordered the defense to provide them to prosecution and to file them with the court.
Judge Williams denied the defense’s motion to dismiss based on the absence of prejudice to the accused, good cause for continuance, and his judgment that the jury trial date was within the trailing period.
The defense reminded him that in misdemeanor cases, prejudice does not need to be found. However, the judge concluded the motion with his order.