By Ivan Villegas
WOODLAND, CA – During a trial setting conference here in Yolo County Superior Court, Judge Thomas A. Smith granted a continuance motion despite the defense claims it would violate the accused’s right to a speedy trial—her client would be stuck in jail while an officer witness was on vacation.
At the beginning of the hearing, Deputy Public Defender Danielle Craig confirmed the defense was ready to start the trial while Deputy District Attorney Aaron Rojas explained why the prosecution was asking for a continuance.
“I have an officer that’s a necessary witness and as far as I know he’s going to be out of state and not available until May 1,” said DDA Rojas.
DPD Craig began explaining her position, “The 60th day for trial is April 24, and we’re asking to go past that date. [The accused has] been in custody now for a significant amount of time.”
The accused, facing charges of driving under the influence/DUI and evading an officer with reckless driving, has had his case trailing for a year and been in custody since February of this year with bail set at $20,000.
Judge Smith considered that there was no time waiver in this case and worried that, if he granted the motion to continue, the defense would file a motion to dismiss, “for lack of a speedy prosecution.”
Smith noted, “I guess the only issue is does the court find that there’s good cause to continue, and if so does that trump the defendant’s right to a speedy trial,” and then asked DDA Rojas, “Did your office subpoena this witness?”
DDA Rojas replied that they had in fact subpoenaed the witness and, after the judge asked if they could get the witness in court before April 24, said, “I’m doubtful that he [the witness] would be available on the 24th.”
The DDA then explained the officer was on a “prescheduled and prepaid vacation,” adding, “It’s a CHP officer and my understanding is that when they put in for their vacation times they have to do it six to nine months in advance. And they only get one opportunity to do that every year.”
DDA Rojas then said that the earliest the witness would be available would be May 1, past the 60-day time limit for a trial.
Judge Smith then decided to set the trial date on that day, and scheduled a trial readiness conference on April 26, adding, “I would anticipate at that time the defense making a motion…we’ll worry about that on April 26.”
DPD Craig replied, “Just for the record, I don’t believe that Mr. Rojas has sufficiently met his burden for good cause. I don’t believe there’s good cause for the continuance at this time.
“I’ll also be making a request for the court to reconsider [the accused’s] custody status at this time, given the extension beyond his 60th day right to trial,” added DPD Craig.
Without any consideration, Judge Smith responded, “I’m going to keep bail as currently set, and remand him [the accused] back to the custody of the sheriff at this time.
“The court could only continue the case if there’s good cause, and so, of course, the court finds that there’s good cause,” said the judge, adding “whether that’s somehow an abuse of discretion in making that finding, I guess we can always litigate that in the future.”