Private Versus Public Place Issue Debated Pretrial after Accused Rejects DA Plea Deal

By Belen Avelar 

WOODLAND, CA – A pretrial motion over what is public or private space and what could be presented to a jury was debated here in Yolo County Superior Court Monday during preparations for a jury trial for a man charged with carrying a loaded firearm in public.

Prior to the accused’s appearance in court Monday, the accused’s felony charges had already been reduced to a misdemeanor at the preliminary hearing Dec. 13, 2022.

The issue in this case is whether the accused was in a public or private place and whether it’s unlawful to discharge a firearm. The defense wanted to argue that, and the prosecution did not. The judge sided with the defense at the end of the hearing.

According to the California Penal Code, a public place “is a place that is open and accessible to anyone who wishes to go there. Second, a private drive or parking area may be a public place if it is reasonably accessible to the public without a barrier.”

Deputy Public Defender Peter Borruso stated, “There’s, I’d say, a considerable amount of case law in terms of findings about what could or couldn’t be considered a public place, but the issue is the specific language that is being requested.” 

Judge Sonia Cortes asked Deputy District Attorney Aaron Rojas whether he tried to resolve the case, and DDA Rojas stated that “my office does not offer diversion on any firearms-related cases. I got permission from higher-ups in my office to offer diversion…and he is not interested.”

DDA Rojas added, if the accused “wants to enter a plea before we start a trial, I’m going to tell him that I’m not going to ask for any jail time, minimum fines and fees, and just a year of probation, and that’s it.”

In addition, DDA Rojas warned that if the accused goes to trial and the jury returns a guilty verdict, he will be asking for the accused to serve jail time.

Public Defender Borruso found DDA’s last statement as new news because that was not discussed with him, he maintained.

DPD Borruso noted the accused is not guilty of the offense due to mitigating factors involved in the case and believes there are a lot of reasons why this case should go to trial or result in dismissal.

Public Defender Borruso rejected the DDA’s offer of diversion and thus will be proceeding with the trial.

DDA Rojas stated that “the reason that I included the motion to exclude any evidence related to a claim of self-defense is because it’s not applicable to this particular crime because self-defense is essentially only a defense when a person uses force in the same manner.”

Adding “and so I asked that, in evidence related to essentially him carrying around this gun because he felt he needed to use it for self-defense. I think it would be inappropriate, and it would confuse the jury as to the issues that are important in this case.”

DPD Borruso said it appears the prosecution does not want to allow the defense to present a defense in either the elements of the crime or potential defense of themselves, noting that if there is substantial evidence presented at trial that the defense is relying on, then those instructions are to be read.

“I’ve done enough trials to know that things happen at trial, people testify to things that you weren’t aware of, people testify outside of what you thought in terms of the four corners of their reports and their statements,” stated DPD Borruso.

In terms of the accused’s statements in the initial report of what happened, DPD Borruso said “there was some mischaracterization of what the accused said to a person about shooting individuals.”

DPD Borruso indicated that the “accused is a maintenance worker at the El Rancho Mobile Home Park, and we have testimony that will come out to that fact,” adding, “there’s also been some indication, at least from the statement accused made, that there were people on the premises that were making threats.”

As a result, DPD Borruso said there is some level of evidence that it could be decided that this was self-defense or necessity defense.

Furthermore, the public defender said that “the government charges the accused with possession of a firearm unregistered in a public place. Public place is an element of the crime. And I’ve presented photographs to DDA Rojas regarding private property signage beyond where he was arrested.”

DPD Borruso disagreed with DDA Rojas’s comment when DDA Rojas mentioned that the defense is trying to argue that a private place is not a public place, stating that “it’s almost laughable in some ways in the sense that not allowing a defense to present a rebuttal to an element of the crime.”

DPD Borruso also said that “if you have a residence at a mobile home park, is anyone just allowed to walk in the mobile home park … and maybe guest visitors are, but not just anyone who feels like going there, trespassers are not allowed there.”

DPD Borruso argued this is all relevant rebuttal to the element of a public versus private place, adding, “The People do not like the fact that this could be considered a private place, and if the defense cannot present evidence, then there is essentially an automatic guilty verdict which will be redirecting a verdict.”

Judge Cortes agreed that the defense has to be able to make an argument whether, in fact, all the elements of the instruction have been met when the jury trial begins.

About The Author

Belen Avelar is a senior at CSU Long Beach majoring in Criminal Justice/Criminology. She is obtaining her Bachelor's degree May of 2023. Following her graduation she plans to join the Gardena Police Department as a peace officer who wishes to expand her career further as a Homicide Detective. Her goal is to help those families whose family members have been killed and provide some type of comfort by figuring out the circumstances surrounding their death and who is responsible. Belen speaks both english and spanish fluently.

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