By Ivan Villegas
WOODLAND, CA – Coming to a quick decision, Judge Stephen Mock denied Deputy Public Defender Ron Johnson’s request for reduced bail at a trial setting conference for Justin Gonzalez in Yolo County Superior Court Tuesday.
Gonzalez, who has always maintained his innocence, had his 2017 second degree murder conviction overturned in 2022 after the passage of Senate Bills 1437 and 775.
But, although his conviction for 2nd degree murder was reversed, the Yolo County District Attorney’s office decided to retry the case.
As PD Johnson explained, while he was arguing for the reduction of bail, “Because of SB 775, it just resulted in a reverse on appeal, because it was addressed in direct appeal and the People are allowed to retry.”
Judge Mock began the hearing by asking both PD Johnson and Deputy District Attorney Robin Johnson if they were ready to set a trial date, with Gonzalez present in custody.
Both attorneys agreed, and PD Johnson asked the judge for two weeks, noting, “I’m not 100 percent sure the Supreme Court had given authority to issue that remittitur yet.”
A remittitur gives the trial court the ability, with the plaintiff’s consent, to correct an inequitable damage award or verdict without having to order a new trial.
Judge Mock confirmed the remittitur for this case was filed from the Third District Court of Appeal and that the case would be “sitting in this department for trial.”
PD Johnson then explained he had not filed a written bail motion, but after DDA Johnson agreed it would be fine to proceed, Judge Mock allowed PD Johnson to proceed.
“I understand this is a somewhat unusual request given that he’s facing murder charges but I want to look back at why we’re here and what the court of appeals said about this case,” said PD Johnson.
“The reversal occurred because of the passage of SB 1437 and the elimination of the natural and probable consequences instruction… and that was one of the ways in which the jury was instructed they could get to second degree murder,” said Johnson.
PD Johnson continued, saying “without pointing to evidence that I believe will be more favorable in a retrial for Mr. Gonzalez. I think that that should weigh heavily on the court’s decision on whether to grant bail or OR.”
The defense counsel then explained the reasons for an OR (own recognizance – no bail required) release, arguing, “Since he has been in state prison, he has done a lot to turn his life around.”
“He entered at a Level 4 yard because of his point and classification, his priors, his sentence—all put him up at a pretty high level. Every single year he’s had a review, he’s worked his point classification down,” added PD Johnson.
In addition, PD Johnson noted “that’s without knowing that he was coming back for a retrial on this case,” and explained Gonzalez’s family had been supportive of him and, if released, he would have a secure job, housing, and promise to return to all court proceedings.
“He’s obviously open to other non-monetary conditions such as an ankle-monitor with GPS, anything that would keep him fairly easily located and would comply with any other conditions the court would impose,” said the public defender.
Judge Mock then turned to DDA Johnson, who disagreed with bail reduction and release on OR, and argued, “He is a danger to be let out… regardless of what he did while he was inside, hoping that one day he’d get a parole date, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still charged with homicide. There’s ample evidence.”
In a quick decision, Judge Mock decided “given the nature of the charge and the fact that the matter has already been tried once, I find that there are abundant public safety issues that would cause me to deny the request for outrightly releasing the defendant.”
Regarding the bail reduction, Judge Mock replied, “I would conclude that bail should remain at no bail given the nature of the charge in this particular case.”
Before moving on, PD Johnson asked Judge Mock if he would be willing to change his decision on the motion for a reduction in bail if he were presented with Gonzalez’ record of the work he’s done in prison.
Judge Mock replied with “my ruling today is based on the information that I have available. If different information is provided to the court, it’s incumbent upon me to reevaluate my decision based on that new information…defendant is remanded into custody, he’ll be back in this court in two weeks.”