COURT WATCH: Prosecution Opposes Return of Electronics Seized from Accused’s Home, Claims Connection to Ammunition Possession Charge  

By Sunny Zhou

WOODLAND, CA – Yolo County Deputy District Attorney Aimee McLeod objected this week to a defense motion to return seized electronic property to an accused – including an Apple Watch, a laptop, and some cell phones and tablets – and argued they were necessary evidence to prove unlawful ammunition possession charges.

The accused is charged with felony possession of ammunition by a person prohibited from owning firearms, with an enhancement for prior felony conviction.

Ammunition had been found in a search of the accused’s home by Placer County investigators when they seized a number of electronic devices for a separate stalking charge.

The court heard Deputy Public Defender David Muller’s motion for the return of the seized electronic property.

DDA McLeod maintained “all of the property that was seized…is necessary and material evidence that we will be presenting during the trial. We have a trial that’s set essentially two weeks from yesterday. I did read the motion, and there was no statutory or case law cited by defense for the return of the property.”

DPD Muller interjected that it was up to the court’s discretion to order a return of property, noting, “So far the People have not elucidated any reasonable inference as to why computer equipment is relevant to [the defendant’s] unlawful possession of ammunition.”

“There is no causal connection at all between those two items, and…some of those items don’t even belong to (the accused); they belong to his wife,” Muller continued. “Basically then, the government is now just improperly seizing property that’s irrelevant.”

Referring to the preliminary hearing transcript, DDA McLeod stated “ammunition was found inside a backpack, that was inside a common area of the house…but also inside the backpack were documents belonging to (the accused) as well as the laptop.”

“That laptop was searched, ultimately not able to be completely searched and downloaded because it was encrypted, but there was information within the partitions indicating that [the defendant] had access to that laptop,” McLeod argued, adding, “All of those items found in the home that show…control of all of the possessions in that home, along with the ammunition, are important for the People to prove that charge.”

“The electronics are not just simple electronics, we’re talking about personal electronics that were owned in whole or in part by [the defendant], that go also to show the jury that he was also the owner and possessor by himself or with another of that ammunition,” McLeod continued.

“It’s only two weeks from now before this issue is going to be resolved,” she concluded. “I’m not sure what the rush is to get them back now.”

DPD Muller said, “[A]ny forensic evidence is just pure guesswork and speculation that any of these items belonged to [the defendant]. The People have related that…Placer County did a forensics of the computer, but I have yet to see those forensics,” he said.

Muller continued, “Simply having an officer come up and testify saying that, yeah I did some forensics, and I believe that based upon my training and experience that this was generated by [the defendant] is just inappropriate, it’s just guesswork, and it’s hearsay.”

“If the People are going to be introducing any of these items into evidence, they need to do forensics on each and every single item,” Muller argued. “Absent that, it’s just an unlawful seizure of electronic property, because what is relevant is what is inside them, not the object itself.”

McLeod disagreed, noting, “To say that I can’t prove who they belong to but therefore they must be returned to the defendant because they belong to him is a rather circular argument.”

“[T]he investigator did testify as to the testing he did on the laptop,” McLeod continued. “There were no questions asked of him at any point in time by the defense as to the other items and whether or not they were downloaded. There’s been no discovery request of the same. And the case in Placer County did resolve.”

DPD Muller said, “The whole thing about Brady is that it’s self-executing. I don’t have to ask for forensics, the People should have already provided it from the get-go, they haven’t done that.” The Brady rule requires prosecutors to disclose all potentially exculpatory evidence in their possession to the defense.

“As to not asking questions of the [investigator] at the prelim,” Muller explained, “that’s fine and dandy because hearsay is inadmissible in a 115 prelim, but not inadmissible at trial.”

Muller concluded, “Some of those items actually do belong to (the accused’ wife), they are not necessarily all belonging to (the accused).”

DDA McLeod responded, “If I had any information from (the accused’s wife) or any legitimate claim of ownership over them or receipts to show they were hers…I would evaluate that. I don’t have that right now.”

Someone in the courtroom spoke up that the accused’s wife was present on the court’s zoom call. Addressing the wife, DPD Muller asked,“[C]ould you identify which electronics of yours that were seized?”

McLeod, shaking her head, said, “This is not sufficient, your Honor.”

“Her live testimony is not sufficient?” Muller asked.

“Were her testimony to be credible, (the prosecution) still needs to review everything, so I’m not sure how helpful (the wife’s) testimony will be,” Judge Wolk pointed out.

Upon reviewing the defense’s list of requested items, DDA McLeod said,”[O]ne of the things being requested back is the laptop, and I absolutely believe that’s evidence for my case, given the name of the defendant is present on it.”

“These other items, I don’t know, and I have no info that they were purchased or in the possession of (the accused’s wife), and I don’t think her testimony today will be sufficient for that.”

Judge Dan Wolk agreed testimony alone would not be sufficient and set the matter to continue at a later date in Dept. 8 on June 5, 9 a.m.

About The Author

Sunny is a third year Political Science student at UC Davis. She is passionate about the intersection between law, justice, and creative media. In her spare time, she enjoys watching films, playing TTRPGs, and creating animated shorts.

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