Man Sentenced to Probation, but Jailed Because No Space in Residential Program


By Ivan Villegas

WOODLAND, CA – A man convicted of vandalism and causing a forest fire was sentenced Tuesday here in Yolo County Superior Court to attend a mental health diversion court and a residential program instead of a jail sentence, but because the program did not have any available beds he was ordered to jail instead.

The man’s defense attorney, Deputy Public Defender Jonathan Opet, asked Judge Sonia Cortes if, as a part of his sentence, the accused could stay in jail only up until there was open availability at the residential program and have the rest of his remaining jail sentence stayed.

However, DPD Opet added, “I don’t want to quite use the word ‘stayed’ because I don’t think that that time should be hanging over his head, in the traditional sense of staying time.”

DPD Opet repeatedly mentioned he did not want more time in custody for his client “hanging over his head.”

Semantics aside, Deputy District Attorney Carolyn Palumbo had no problem agreeing to the defense’s request so long as the accused did not violate any conditions of probation.

Judge Cortes then asked DDA Palumbo for an estimate as to how long the accused would wait to be transferred to the residential program.

“He has been accepted into a program, it’s just a matter of whether there is space available for him… we don’t have that response [from the program] yet,” said the DDA.

Before the court came to a decision, DPD Opet also requested to have the court waive the minimum fines and fees, including a penalty assessment fine of more than $1,000.

“I could go on and on about how unfair I think criminal assessments and penalties are, and the amounts that have been imposed historically, but I’d ask the court to strike that,” Opet said.

However, DDA Palumbo objected to waiving the restitution fine, saying “that fine cannot be reduced because of an inability to pay,” explaining how the fine was the minimum one required to be placed.

“If the court imposed a higher…fine then the court could take into consideration an inability to pay. But that is the minimum amount and that is required,” the DDA insisted.

In response, DPD Opet stated “as to whether the court always has to consider ability to pay fines and fees, even if there is statutory language” is before the California Supreme Court, “because it’s rooted in either the Eighth Amendment, cruel and unusual, or due process.”

Lastly, the defense asked for an electric lighter for smoking for the accused, to which DDA Palumbo vehemently denied, noting the charges were arson and fire related and having any incendiary devices would result in a violation of probation for the accused.

The attorneys then had to clarify whether it was two years or three years of probation in the diversion program, and after a short break DDA Palumbo clarified that after a year of success in the program the accused could petition to end it.

Ultimately, Judge Cortes sentenced the accused to two years of formal probation, and three years of the diversion program with the possibility of petition to terminate early, pending successful completion of the program.

Judge Cortes sentenced the accused to a maximum jail time of a year, depending on how soon there is availability in the residential program as a part of the probation.

Judge Cortes also granted the restitution fine but stayed the probation revocation fine pending successful completion of probation, waiving all other fines, and reminded the accused he should not be in possession of any incendiary devices.

Judge Cortes’ last words before ending the hearing were directed toward the accused: “I encourage you and commend you for being willing to participate in mental health court. I know that this has been a process that the people, probation, and your attorney are all hoping that you’ll be successful in.”


About The Author

Ivan Villegas (he/him) is a criminal justice graduate from CSU Sacramento. He wishes to continue his studies in law school starting in fall 2023. He is interested in immigration and international law, and hopes to use his degree for a career as an immigration attorney.

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