By Vaiva Utaraite
VENTURA, CA – Defense Counsel Christopher Welch filed a motion to withdraw a no-contest plea in an extortion case here in Ventura County Superior Court this week after the accused claimed he didn’t understand the plea agreement when it was made because an interpreter was not present.
The judge ultimately denied this request and reduced one felony to a misdemeanor, while dismissing the other felony count. The judge imposed 36 months of formal probation and scheduled a review for April 5.
At the start of the hearing, Judge Bruce Young recounted what happened Jan. 6, noting, “I can’t quote what [the accused] had to say then, but it’s my recollection that [the accused] said that [they were] the victim here and did not agree, and that [they] did not understand what [they were] signing up for and wanted an interpreter.”
At the preliminary hearing on Aug. 21, the accused did not have an interpreter present while at the time of the plea, as the judge was “advised” that the accused did not need an interpreter present.
At the current hearing, the accused did have an interpreter present.
The judge had obtained a copy of the plea transcript and noted that it was “all in English.”
As the judge was reading back the transcript, it indicated that the accused responded to all questions in English and that he understood all the terms and conditions.
When the judge gave the accused the opportunity to ask any further questions regarding his plea, the accused responded by clearly stating he had no further questions.
“You fully understood, to your credit you are as bilingual as a person can get with Spanish and English. I’m satisfied you understood. I understand you’ve had a change of heart, but simply saying I want to change my mind is not good legal grounds,” said Judge Young.
The accused asked the judge to reconsider, apologizing for not being present at his last court appearance on Feb. 6 due to an illness.
The judge responded by stating, “I understand you were sick, your lawyer told me that. I’m not unhappy with you missing those appearances ’cause you were sick, that’s not in front of me today. That is not a problem for me.”
The accused then continued by saying, “You do whatever you think is right because what I said is I’m not a criminal. I did not commit any felony against no one. This is a case regarding my brothers. They did a fraud.”
At this point, Defense Attorney Welch interjected, and said his client should not be speaking right now because the accused might self-incriminate.
The judge gave the accused three options: keep the current defense attorney, choose to appoint the conflict defense attorney, or represent himself.
“If Mr. Welch is not wanting to represent me anymore, then I’m going tño need someone else to represent me,” responded the accused.
The judge stated that there was no indication that Welch did not want to be their attorney, only that he wanted the accused to stop talking and explaining. The accused agreed to keep Welch.