Prosecution Risks Judge’s Ire by Bringing Gang Evidence into Homicide Trial

By Ruby Mota-Garcia

FRESNO, CA- Late last week in Fresno County Superior Court, a judge in a felony trial grew frustrated because the prosecution was not following court orders.

The accused are charged with murder, attempted robbery and dissuading a witness.

The technology surveillance expert witness on the stand was asked by Deputy District Attorney Richard Loren Veneman-Hughes for their job description, but the witness failed to keep out “gang-related investigations” and other activities during their testimony.

Defense Attorney Curtis Sok called for a due process violation, and Judge Kimberly Gaab overruled. This time.

The expert witness continued to testify, and DDA Veneman-Hughes continued to have the witness testify further about receiving a 40-hour gang investigation course, being a gang expert, and describing the validation of gang members.

Defense attorney Sok objected on the grounds of going beyond the court validation, arguing, “We are going far into gangs, and I object.”

“I never heard the term validation,” Judge Gaab agreed. “This is the first time I’m hearing this witness talking about validation of gang members. There should be no reference to validation.”

Defense Attorney Sok grew increasingly concerned because the prosecutor wanted to go in-depth about subsets and validation of gangs when the court only allowed a generic use of the word “gang.”

Judge Gaab let DDA Veneman-Hughes know that there should not be any discussion about the location of the gang, the name of the gang, etc., exclaiming, “It’s not relevant. In this trial, there will not be any specification of a gang name.”

DDA Veneman-Hughes argued the expert witness had an opinion. But defense attorney Sok replied, “But it’s an opinion we don’t need. He’s a gang detective. The jury is not going to doubt that.”

Judge Gaab clarified DDA Veneman-Hughes could only ask about the witness’ training and education. “My orders are clear at this point,” stated Judge Gaab.

As DDA Veneman-Hughes continued questioning the witness, two answers were stricken off the record because of objections made by the defense.

 “We went into rules and regulations of the gang,” said Defense Attorney Sok. “This is not a gang case, and the prosecution is making it a gang case. The jury is so tainted now. I call for a mistrial.”

Judge Gaab did not make any decision at that moment and decided to think about everything during the lunch break.

Judge denied a mistrial because there were not enough grounds for it.

The technology surveillance expert witness was recalled to the stand one last time. This time, they gave more information about GPS tracking and how they used devices to pinpoint a location for one of the defendants.

However, during cross-examination, Defense Attorney Sok questioned the witness’s previous answer regarding the distance the GPS data provided, calling it “extremely accurate.”

Defense Attorney Sok stated the witness had previously answered regarding the distance of the accused in comparison to the garage as “average 10 feet. ”

“Today, you say an average of 10 to 50 feet,” noted Sok.

The witness remained certain that their testimony had been consistent from when he first started testifying. Defense attorney Sok then questioned whether a location result between 10 and 50 feet could be odd. “50 would not shock me, neither would 10 feet,” answered the witness.

“You are stretching it out because you realize that the vehicle to the garage the night of Jan. 25 was more than 10 feet, right?” asked Defense Attorney Sok.

About The Author

Ruby is a UC Berkeley graduate with a Double Bachelor's in Political Science and Legal Studies. She is a first-generation Mexican-American Latina who's goal is to attend law school and become and immigration attorney. She has worked for non-profit organizations that provide immigration services for low-income communities. She returned to the Central Valley with a goal to give back and hopes to help her community throughout her practice. Ruby speaks both English and Spanish fluently.

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