By David M. Greenwald
Woodland, CA – With a low burden of proof on the prosecution for the purposes of a preliminary, Yolo County Judge Sam McAdam nevertheless found insufficient evidence to hold two women to answer for an alleged residential burglary that may have occurred on February 27 in West Sacramento.
The judge was also not able to sustain the charge of resisting arrest, but did hold the women to answer for a misdemeanor trespassing.
According to testimony from Officer Williams, the police received a call from the security company of a possible break-in. The police conducted a search which eventually included a canine, and two women were located on the premises. The officer testified that he observed a third individual, a male, running away—he was never identified.
Complicating the case was the fact that the home was unoccupied. The owner of the home testified that it was his mother-in-law’s home. He and his wife live up in Lake County. And there was a large amount of property at the time of the February 27 break-in.
He also testified that there was a break-in on February 17 and may have been another on February 24. While the prosecution attempted to link the events as a continuing crime, the police were never able to establish that and the judge sustained objections by the defense.
The owner acknowledged that the home looked like that of a hoarder. He described numerous paintings and a large eagle that he believed weighed about 60 pounds and was worth over $1000 in value. But under cross-examination it was unclear when the eagle would have been taken.
The $1000 value became a point of contention.
He testified on direct exam, “I was saying, my mind was thinking everything that had been stolen from the house, I was just placing it on multiple items.”
He told the police, after putting the value of a thousand on it, “I know the game.”
He explained, “I do know that if because of some of our state law, that people are not getting punished for crime that they’re committing. It’s become a racket. We know we can steal $949 worth of stuff and walk away with a ticket.”
Under cross, he was pressed with “after you said, I know the game, you said it’s worth a thousand to my wife.”
He responded, “Easily. Yes. That’s actually a truthful statement.”
With Officer Williams on the stand, he testified that there was a price tag of $2 on the candlestick.
But the owner told him the candlestick was worth “a thousand dollars.”
He was asked, “Did that seem like an extremely high valuation by” the owner?
Officer Williams responded, “Absolutely.”
Williams testified that he confronted the owner on that, and “there was a comment about like, I know how this works or something, and then something about being sentimental.”
Public Defender Richard Van Zandt made an offer of proof, “that when the canine apprehended my client… in the closet, that the canine left a large gash in my client’s forearm that required several stitches.” He added, “It was a pretty good size dog bit” and “more than what might typically be seen in a typical dog bite.”
Rob Gorman, representing the other woman, argued, “The evidence is insufficient to show that (the accused) entered the premises with the intent to steal or to commit a felony inside.”
He noted that around an hour after the other woman was bitten by the dog, and removed from the premises, his client exited the premises.
“Her story to Officer Williams was I was inside to get out of the elements to sleep, and the way she exited the premises and the manner she exited the premises seems likely that that is in fact, true,” Gorman continued.
He said that the court knows it has to have a strong suspicion that a second degree burglary was committed here and that his client committed that crime.
“I don’t believe the People’s evidence supports a strong suspicion that a second degree burglary was committed here and that (his client) committed that crime.”
Van Zandt argued that the two women are “in similar positions, but there are some differences.”
He noted that, for his client, she “is not seen to be engaging in any act of theft before police arrived” and that the owner could not “associate anything on the surveillance video attributable to (his client) engaging in act of theft.”
Instead he argues, “She is simply apprehended inside an abandoned house, and she is seized by a canine who I would argue that there’s excessive force here.”
The judge asked about the brass eagle and the candelabra.
Van Zandt responded that the witness was “conflating a prior incident with this incident, and I think with the last officer, we cleared that up once and for all that the stealing of the eagle was three days before.”
There was also a question about the value of the property.
Van Zandt responded, “I think it’s circumstantial evidence that if something of higher value, I think the DA’s case is stronger, the higher the value, but I don’t think it’s an element. In any event, (his client) has not seen stealing or possessing any the house’s property.”
He added, “If she would’ve gone in with the intent to steal, she would’ve stolen something well before officers got there.”
Judge McAdam pointed to the DA, Jesse Richardson.
“It’s a real challenge, Mr. Richardson,” the judge said. The owner “was not a good witness” and “it’s very difficult to sort out.”
Richardson acknowledged, “Fair question.”
He said, “I think just looking at it on the basic level, what we have is (the owner) saying he reviewed surveillance footage from that morning. There were three individuals, two women and a male. One of the women inside was directing folks to move paintings, was what he heard on that. And that there, when he got to the scene, there was property stacked up by the door in a manner that he believed was staged to be taken out of the front door, which again, was the only functioning door given the fact that the others were bolted shut.”
The owner, Richardson acknowledged, “wasn’t able to specifically identify either defendant as the folks he saw on the footage.” But he argued that, based on timing, the folks found in the home were the ones on the footage.
He acknowledged as well that the defense “might have some fair enough arguments for the higher burden of proof of a jury trial, but I think for purposes of preliminary hearing, there’s at least a strong suspicion that (the women) would’ve gone into the property to commit theft.”
He noted that one was found with a candlestick, “and when asked by the officers why she has a candlestick, that’s from the property, she says she didn’t have a candlestick, which makes no sense considering an officer pulled it directly out of her pocket.”
He argues, “She’s clearly trying to cover for something. She knows that what she’s doing isn’t right.”
At minimum, he argued that it should be a misdemeanor trespassing charge.
Judge McAdam noted that in a preliminary hearing “all reasonable inferences should be drawn in favor of the evidence produced by the prosecution.”
But, he said in this case, while he found the owner to be genuine, his “testimony was not credible for a variety of reasons.”
He said “he just couldn’t effectively distinguish between the two or three incidences that had occurred at his house.”
Judge McAdam noted, “He’s got this unfortunate view of the law that somehow a property is valued less than a thousand dollars, people get a ticket. It’s just not the law, nobody’s getting a ticket. Even if a crime is a misdemeanor, it’s hardly a ticket. It’s a serious matter.”
In this case, he said, “it’s not an element of the charged offense.”
He said, “When you look at the totality of it, I’m not going to issue a holding order. I don’t think there’s a strong suspicion that there was a second degree burglary.”
In short, “I really can’t tell from the evidence here that these two people had entered the house with the intent to steal or not. There’s just too many conflicting facts.”
He added that “there’s absolutely no chance you could ever get a conviction there.”
He also didn’t find enough evidence for resisting arrest.
“It was very strange out there,” he said. “I think there was testimony that the dog was sent in only because there was a hoarding situation that was confusing to the officers and it was late at night.”
He left the misdemeanor trespass in place as the burden was met there. The DA will issue an amended complaint on the new information and they will come back in a few weeks.