COURT WATCH: Judge Deals with Long, Loaded Preliminary Hearing; Defense Files Motions Against Prosecution’s Charges, Evidence

By Cynthia Hoang-Duong

WOODLAND, CA – “I’m not here to say it is the court’s fault. It is law enforcement’s fault (and) I think that’s a red herring that Mr. (Deputy District Attorney Aaron) Rojas will probably, likely, spend a lot of time discussing with this court,” said Deputy Public Defender Danielle Craig regarding charges against the accused and motions to suppress and reduce her client’s felony offense here in Yolo County Superior Court.

After a long debate, DPD Craig won and lost. Her client is still being held for a felony, although a different one than originally charged.

The accused, appearing for his preliminary hearing last Friday afternoon, was charged with a felony for receiving stolen property and two misdemeanors for possessing drug paraphernalia and a controlled substance.

Officer Jeffrey Beck recounted that on the morning of Feb. 13, while on patrol, he encountered two individuals in the back parking lot of the Davis Korean Church, despite its no-trespass order.

He said he recognized the accused from prior contacts and contacted dispatch, believing that the accused was on the warrant list.

When dispatch confirmed his warrants, Officer Beck arrested the accused and searched his backpack. He testified he found two Apple laptops and two tablets and a bottle of methamphetamine pills, with a total value of $3,700. He said one victim confirmed the total value of her devices to be $1,500.

Officer Beck said the accused told him “he had found them (devices) in the area of Little Bear Car Wash, which is not far from where the burglary took place. He said he found them lying on the ground in a blue Herschel backpack and he doesn’t know how they got there.”

During cross-examination, DPD Craig proceeded with a line of questioning directed at the basis of the officer’s contact with her client. Officer Beck clarified that he interacted with the accused because of the trespass order but confirmed that, once he recognized him, he arrested him for the warrants.

Further, she asked the officer for the date of the residential burglary four months earlier. He confirmed that the crime occurred in November 2022.

She then asked him about the location of the church and the burglary, emphasizing that Davis is a small community, with a close distance between where the accused alleged he found the devices, the church, and the actual burglary location.

DPD Craig then shifted her line of questioning to the elements of where the accused was knowingly in possession of the stolen property. The officer responded, “No,” to all the questions, including whether the accused tried to conceal the backpack, gave him a false name, or fled from him.

Regarding the value of the devices, Officer Beck admitted he was unable to confirm with the second witness the values of her laptop and tablet. The values on his report are associated with the initial report about the burglary.

He also confirmed that he did not turn either device on.

The prosecution then called their second witness, Police Records and Communications Manager, Jennifer Candelo, who explained the process of incoming warrants from the courts before DDA Rojas asked her about instances when warrants are recalled.

She explained that when a warrant is recalled, her department receives a call from the courthouse and they enter the information into their Computer Aided Dispatch System (CAD). The dispatcher will then review the person’s record and edit the status of the warrant from “active” to “recalled.”

Referring to the audit log for the accused’s record in the CAD system, which details the date, timestamp, user, and entry (whether it was viewed or edited), Candelo explained, “The information I received was … a warrant was supposed to be recalled Friday, the 10th, I believe. However, when I looked at the person’s record, based on how we process a warrant, it didn’t show that anybody viewed that record that day.

When asked about the significance of this, she said, “If nobody viewed it, it indicates we probably didn’t get a call from the courts or there was no reason to look at his record on that day.”

Regarding the prosecution’s charges, DPD Craig didn’t oppose the misdemeanor counts but argued her client should not be held to answer the first felony count for several reasons.

She directed the court to CALCRIM No. 376, which instructs how possession of the recently stolen property as evidence of a crime may be used. She argued a jury could not conclude, based on the facts alone, that the property possessed had been stolen as sufficient evidence of the offense.

Further, the defense reminded the court that there needs to be additional indicia that the accused knew that the property was stolen.

DPD Craig emphasized the indices provided by the CALCRIM, noting, “[The accused] was compliant. He provided his true name to the officers. He did not attempt to flee. This was four months after the property had been taken.”

Craig added, “There was no modification to the property in any way. [The accused] did not give any false or contradictory or inconsistent statements. Officer Beck testified that where [the accused] was, where the location of the burglary was, and where [the accused] allegedly found the backpack were all in close proximity. But we also heard testimony that that is all within the city of Davis, in a small community and it was within miles of each other.”

Yet, the prosecution failed to provide evidence that suggests the accused was knowingly in possession of stolen property, the public defender insisted.

And because the officer did not attempt to turn on the devices, Craig claimed there is no evidence they were usable or operable but there is evidence to suggest they were discarded for four months. And therefore, the prosecution cannot confirm  they were valued over $950 as a felony charge necessitates.

On these grounds, she concluded that the crime does not constitute a 496(a) felony offense and the prosecution failed to meet its burden. However, if the court decided to hold the accused to the charges, she suggested that the offense be reduced to a misdemeanor.

The prosecution rejected her argument, asking the court instead to issue a holding order and amend the complaint to add another count for the theft of lost property, claiming that there is sufficient evidence to support the charge.

Regarding the defense’s objection against the felony count, DDA Rojas cited the CALCRIM, stating that, “supporting evidence need only be slight and need not be by itself to prove guilt.”

Rojas maintained the proximity of the location where the accused was arrested and the location of the burglary, even though it is four months later, is enough evidence to meet the low standard of probable cause at a preliminary hearing.

In response, DPD Craig stressed the absent factor in the prosecution’s case is the accused’s knowledge of the stolen property. She refuted the DDA’s close proximity argument because an individual present within a several-mile radius in a small community like Davis is insufficient to prove their claims.

Further, she reminded the court there is no evidence the accused was involved in the November 2022 burglary, only that the accused was found, four months later, with another individual, possessing a backpack containing the devices.

She reiterated that there is also no evidence of the conditions of the items to confirm they were worth $950 while the accused possessed them because they were presumably outside for four months, at the whim of the weather.

She concluded, “Mr. Rojas’ burden is both that [the accused] possessed the property, knew that it was stolen property and that it was valued at over $950,” and claimed, “ I think that two out of three have not been met.”

In response, DDA Rojas reasoned there is also no evidence that the devices did not work and thus, it is not proper for the court to assume that the electronic devices were inoperable.

Regarding the amended complaint, the DPD objected, stating there was insufficient evidence and that she was not given proper notice. However, the DDA protested that the prosecution could amend the complaint at any time.

“I think that Ms. Craig has had plenty of notice. She’s had the evidence, which is the same as it would have been for the count one as charged. I think it is proper for the court to amend the complaint and hold [the accused] to answer for a section of Penal Code § 485 (the additional count),” contended DDA Rojas.

When Judge Sonia Cortés asked if he wanted to add the count as a misdemeanor, the DDA clarified that it should be a felony because the property is valued at over $950.

Before the judge ruled on the holding order, she also instructed the attorneys to address the defense’s suppression motion.

DPD Craig expressed her concern that Officer Beck approached the accused based on his belief that he had warrants out. She provided the court a certified copy of the minute orders from Feb. 10 that document that the court recalled the warrants. Yet, the accused was arrested on Feb. 13.

Further, she directed the court to People v. Ramirez, in which the California Supreme Court ruled that an arrest based solely on a recalled warrant is made without probable cause and, thus, evidence acquired from the arrest must be suppressed.

The defense added the decision stressed the responsibility of law enforcement to ensure the accuracy of the warrant information. Because of access to advanced computerized data processing systems, this responsibility is enhanced.

She maintained, “I do believe Ramirez is directly on point. I do believe this case falls directly within its mandate, which is that days prior to [the accused]’s contact with Officer Beck, any and all warrants had been recalled. He appeared in this court and had those warrants recalled.”

Addressing the DDA’s written opposition that the purpose of suppression is to curtail police misconduct, the DPD argued that Ramirez highlights the collective responsibility of law enforcement to guarantee that its information is accurate and updated.

She noted the second witness’ uncertainty about whether the accused’s records were viewed, noting that she responded that the court “probably” had not received a call from the court.

Therefore, because Officer Beck relied on outdated information to arrest the accused, any evidence as a result of his search cannot be used against him, Craig argued.

DDA Rojas proceeded with his arguments against the defense’s claims, clarifying that Officer Beck approached her client because there was a no-trespassing order at the Korean church.

When he recognized the accused, “He did the next thing that you would expect a responsible officer to do. He checked the records to see if the warrants were still outstanding. And according to their records, they were,” he maintained.

He refuted the defense’s reliance on Ramirez, highlighting the time distinction between the California Supreme Court case and the present case. In Ramirez, the warrant was recalled six months earlier. Meanwhile, in this case, the warrant was recalled three days earlier, between Friday and Monday.

Instead, the DDA cited Arizona v. Evans — which deals with a computer system that listed a warrant as outstanding because a court clerk failed to notify the police — to reinforce his argument in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that exclusion was not appropriate because it would not meaningfully deter police misconduct.

According to the attorney, the purpose of the exclusionary rule is to deter willful, negligent, or reckless conduct by law enforcement which is not present in the current case.

Rojas emphasized the warrant was recalled on a Friday and the dispatch department was not notified, especially over the weekend, and the accused was arrested Monday morning, allegedly before the court would have been able to notify the department.

On such grounds, the DDA asked the court to deny the defense motion to suppress.

The DPD briefly articulated her points against the prosecution’s argument. She reiterated that Officer Beck testified that the reason he detained the accused was because of the warrant, which prompted her to raise the issue.

Further, the factual distinction between the length of time in Ramirez and the instant case is not a relevant nor dispositive factor because the judges did not address temporality, said the DPD, adding, Arizona v. Evan is not on point because the second witness’ testimony lacks certainty that the court did notify dispatch.

Finally, she maintained that whether the officer committed misconduct is not the only relevant factor for the Fourth Amendment, adding Ramirez decided elaborate computerized data processing systems enhanced the responsibility of law enforcement and could not be any more true 40 years later.

Judge Cortés, regarding the motion to suppress, concluded Ramirez is distinguishable from the current case because of the length of time and the fact that there was no communication from the court about the recalled warrant — in contrast to law enforcement’s failure to update information received in Ramirez.

Further, she said she believed “[t]he officer acted on good faith reliance and so it would be inappropriate in this case for suppression. It is not warranted so the court is going to deny the suppression motion.”

Turning to the holding order, the judge agreed that the prosecution failed to provide evidence that the accused had knowledge the items were stolen and dismissed the first felony count.

However, the judge allowed the complaint to be amended to add the count that the DDA requested and held the accused on the second and third counts.

She gave the defense the opportunity to argue whether the additional count should be reduced.

DPD Craig started her 17(b) argument — to reduce the felony to a misdemeanor — by reviewing the accused’s previous criminal records and noting the 20-year gap between his previous felony conviction and the present case.

Based on the significant time gap between the prior and current case, the DPD claimed that it is “no small feat” given that the accused struggles with housing insecurity, adding, “Typically people who are unhoused are heavily overpoliced and typically suffer several additional convictions more so than others … I think the fact that those two priors are from 2004 and 2005, speak very highly of [him].”

The DPD conceded that if the court will accept that $950 value, the items were narrowly over the amount and no evidence indicates the accused possessed the property for a long time. Thus, it is appropriate for the court to exercise its discretion and reduce the count pursuant to 17(b) from a felony to misdemeanor.

The DDA opposed her arguments, complaining that the fact that the accused is unhoused is irrelevant to whether the charge should be reduced. He also cited the accused’s prior felony conviction.

Also, he reminded Judge Cortés to take into account that if the case did proceed to trial, the two complaining witnesses would be subpoenaed to testify that the value was significantly greater than $1,500.

The judge concluded the preliminary hearing by refusing to reduce the felony charge because of the accused’s old felony convictions and the value of the multiple electronic devices.

The case moves to the trial stage.

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