By Jonathan Lewis
WOODLAND, CA – Judge Sonia Cortés affirmed defense claims last Friday the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office and Yolo County District Attorney’s Office knowingly failed to investigate whether the alleged fentanyl two men are charged with possessing is actually fentanyl.
Both accuseds are charged with felony possession of a controlled substance and felony intent to sell a narcotic controlled substance. The pair appeared in custody to resume their preliminary hearing regarding their arrest where officers believed that they found fentanyl in their vehicle.
“We don’t have any evidence that the substances that were seized were actually fentanyl,” Public Defender Danielle Craig stated, adding “he [the arresting officer] didn’t take any additional steps to find out whether or not it actually was [a controlled substance].”
Craig argued, “It still wasn’t NIK tested, it wasn’t tested in a lab, we have no confirmation that it was a controlled substance at all. We have a single alleged statement from [the defendant] that it was, but that statement is contradicted by later more detailed statements.”
PD Craig went a step further and claimed that the on-scene officers knowingly obscured their investigation at the expense of her client’s rights because they were worried about officer safety.
“Officers don’t get to get on the bandwagon of this communal fear of fentanyl and how it can be airborne and cause death just by being within 10 feet of it, which I don’t believe to be scientifically valid at all, and then use that as an excuse to not do their job and conduct their investigation,” Craig added.
The defense attorneys claimed that the District Attorney’s Office could have tested the substances but did not.
The defense attorneys also claimed that the officers had no probable cause to believe that the defendants intended to sell the fentanyl because they did not weigh it properly.
“He [the arresting officer] didn’t weigh the fentanyl, he weighed the fentanyl in the container,” said James Granucci, the co-defendant’s private attorney. “He had no idea what the weight was of the suspected fentanyl that was found in the box. There’s clearly not enough evidence regarding, even for preliminary hearing purposes, that my client possessed that fentanyl that was found in that black box with the specific intent to sell it.
“They filed the charges, they had twelve days to have somebody in a lab do at least a valtox test on the substance, and that wasn’t done. They haven’t even established for preliminary hearing purposes that the substance that was found was in fact fentanyl,” defense attorney Granucci argued.
Judge Cortés ruled that she could issue a holding order regarding those counts for defense attorney Granucci’ s client. She did, however, issue a holding order for PD Craig’s client because he told officers that the substance they found on him was fentanyl.
Judge Cortés appeared to be speaking directly to Deputy District Attorney Aaron Rojas when she hinted the DA’s Office may have a hard time proving that the substances are fentanyl if this case goes to trial without first testing them.
“We still have the issue that it hasn’t been tested,” Judge Cortés said. “Whether in fact those counts can be proven to the tryer of fact given the prior burden of proof, that will be something to be determined at a later stage.”
DDA Rojas said he decided to negotiate with defense attorney Granucci’ s client. The accused had the drug charges dropped in exchange for a plea in a separate misdemeanor charge for possession of methamphetamine.
PD Craig tested her luck with Judge Cortés by requesting her client’s $60,000 bail be reduced because he cannot afford it, noting that under the California Supreme Court case In re Humphrey, “$60,000 is more than he can afford, and under Humphrey, it’s anything more than he can afford is effectively a no bail.”
Judge Cortés denied the motion and said that “while there may be some issues regarding the weight, I am concerned for the public safety, so I’m denying the request to reduce bail.”
PD Craig’s client remained in custody after the hearing while defense attorney Granucci’ s client was released in line with his plea deal that granted credit for time served and six months probation.