COURT WATCH: Judge Tells Homeless Accused ‘No Excuse’ to Miss Court Date – Then Reconsiders Life on Streets and Denies Motion by DA to GPS Monitor Man

By Ximena Cesa and Citlalli Florez

WOODLAND, CA – After a back-and-forth discussion why maybe a judge’s life is a bit different than an unhoused man living in the streets, Yolo County Superior Court Judge Thomas A. Smith this week ruled against the prosecution’s motion to closely monitor the accused using a GPS device.

During a review hearing, Deputy District Attorney Danielle Craig argued the accused evaded a previous preliminary hearing resulting in the probation department filing a report.

The accused man is charged with a felony count of vandalism for kicking a car, leading to a dent. With a court date set to address this matter, the defense wanted to dismiss the complaint involving him not appearing at a past preliminary hearing which could lead to a harsher sentence.

Deputy Public Defender Martha Weis refuted the implication the accused did not show up to court due to negligence, by instead citing “systematic failures.”

The accused is a houseless individual living in the small city of Winters who could not arrive at court because, said the DPD, he cannot afford to take the city’s limited public transportation and didn’t have anyone to give him a ride.

DPD Weis was also quick to add there are programs funded by the courts that take individuals to their hearings, an option that was not presented to the accused.

The probation officer denied the DPD claim, noting probation could not find him due to his current homeless state.

Weis volunteered she will give the probation department his phone number and also lists spots that the individual is usually seen at in the town.

DDA Craig asked the court to order the accused to wear an ankle monitor and have a cell phone with him at all times to be able to be located.

After hearing this, DPD Weis vehemently disagreed with the proposed additional punishment since the accused does not have the means to charge the suggested ankle monitor, and noted the punishment is unjust for a non-violent property crime.

Weis adds that when clients are placed on GPS, they require more consistent charging than a phone on airplane mode.

As an example to counter this argument, the DDA said the accused has been charging his phone. To charge his cellphone, the accused would use outlets located outside of local businesses such as AMPM, added the DDA, suggesting the GPS could also allegedly be charged the same way.

The DPD said the DDA plan was not a good one because businesses are unreliable, and due to the accused’s current economic state, the businesses may kick the accused out for loitering.

Judge Smith asked for the opinion of the probation officer to try and understand the situation from their perspective.

The probation officer acknowledged the GPS monitor does require two hours of consecutive charge, and told the judge GPS monitoring is frequently an additional burden for displaced individuals, adding he has “had clients that have had technical failures to charge their GPS device, that are not willful failures.”

Despite hearing this, Judge Smith argued that maintaining both a charged phone and a charged GPS monitor is the bare minimum for the accused’s freedom, who, said the judge, can either “stay in jail or find a place to plug up [his] GPS.”

Judge Smith argued the accused should have some level of responsibility in addition to his current sentencing and daily state, noting, “I was responsible enough to start hitchhiking a 400-mile trip to get to work the next morning.”

Judge Smith then detailed his personal anecdote, explaining that one time in his career he was in Humboldt County and needed to be back in the courthouse by Monday.

With flights canceled because of bad weather, Judge Smith said he hitchhiked from Humboldt County to Yolo County, adding the accused has “no excuse” to not report to the courts in spite of his homelessness.

Judge Smith took a second to think and followed up this narrative with, “Well, maybe that’s why I’m a judge and you’re in jail.”

Eventually Judge Smith decided to dismiss the ankle monitor petition and chose to excuse the accused’s prior absence in court.

Instead, the accused will be on a program of supervised own recognizance. The conditions are that he shall report every weekday by telephone to the probation department and must appear in court whenever his presence is required.

This ruling, however, does not come without a warning to the accused—Judge Smith ruled that if he does not show up to court again he will remain in jail.

About The Author

Citlalli Florez is a 4th year undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley. She is currently majoring in Legal Studies, Chicana/o Studies, and Art Practice. She intends to attend law school in the future with the purpose of gaining skills to further serve her community.

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