COURT WATCH: Judge Denies Defense Motion to Reduce Severity of Probation Terms Despite Risks to Man’s Employment, Sober Status

By Adam Soloranzo and Cynthia Hoang-Duong

WOODLAND, CA – Judge Sonia Cortés adhered to the probation department’s recommendation here in Yolo County Superior Court last week, declining the defense request to alter and reduce the accused’s probation terms despite the risks to his employment and the change in his relationship with alcohol and drugs.

The accused entered a no-contest plea to a felony vandalism charge and the dismissal of another duplicate vandalism charge and two other counts for criminal threats at his sentencing hearing Thursday morning.

Pursuant to the plea agreement, Judge Cortés declared at the introduction of the hearing that the accused will not be sentenced to state prison but will receive a grant of probation in lieu of jail if he follows all of the conditions imposed by the court.

Although private defense attorney Steven Sabbadini agreed with the structure of the sentence, he contested the terms and conditions recommended by the probation department.

First, regarding the 90 days of jail time recommended by probation, the defense attorney asked the court to impose 45 days instead.

Working for a PG&E subcontractor, the accused is employed in a seasonal position that requires him to transfer equipment from several cities across the state. He does not reside in Yolo County during the busy period between March and December, temporarily staying in hotels most of the time.

Because of this movement, Sabbadini expressed his concern that the accused will not qualify for an alternative work program or home arrest with the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office—as offered by the plea agreement.

In such a case, he must surrender to jail. And because he is financially responsible for his elderly mother, he worried that the terms of the probation would jeopardize his employment, said the defense.

Along with this request, attorney Sabbadini requested that the judge postpone his surrender date to December as he will be laid off by then. He suggested the accused will find a local job to supplement his income and comply with the probation terms accordingly.

Further, he recounted the sequence of events in the case, starting with the accused’s “totally wrongfu[l]” arrest that caused him to binge drink and use cocaine and eventually led to the vandalism incident, in which he smashed two windshields.

The defense attorney explained that previously, the accused did not consume alcohol often and, since December of last year, the accused has completely stopped drinking and attended multiple Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. And the accused is clean and sober and appears to not require treatment for substance abuse from the Health & Human Services Agency (HHSA).

Sabbadini asked the court to reduce the recommended 52 weeks of the batterer intervention program. He elaborated the accused had already completed the program for his 2018 cases, involving the same alleged victim. He confirmed that the two are no longer dating or in contact.

Moreover, he emphasized his client’s employment again, stating, “Based on his work schedule, it’s tough for him …I don’t want to set him up for failure to do a year’s worth of batterer treatment program when they only allow very few absences.”

He suggested that the court reduce the amount of time by suspending a portion of the 52 weeks to review how well the accused is performing on probation.

Finally, Sabbadini addressed the condition that allows probation and police officers to search his client’s digital devices. He stressed that the vandalism case occurred in Oct. of 2022 and the accused has had no issues since.

Again, he reiterated that the accused has diverted from using alcohol and drugs and is no longer in contact with the victim. He also reminded the court that there is a criminal protective order in place that prevents his client from communicating with the victim.

“I think it’s extremely intrusive to have probation have the ability to look at someone’s phone and computers in this day and age,” the attorney contended, “I just think it’s a little excessive and unnecessary based on the facts and circumstances and history of this case.”

In response to the requests, Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin stated the 90 days recommended by probation is appropriate. She referred to the accused’s criminal history, citing his two felony cases that involved the victim.

Based on this record, she argued, “There’s clearly a temper issue and volatility to him. Since 2016, he’s been arrested eight times. All of them have involv[ed] domestic violence—either the same victim and one case involved his mother.”

Regarding the searchability of his digital devices, she informed Judge Cortés that the condition was to ensure that he did not violate the terms of his probation by contacting the victim.

The defense attorney replied that most of the cases cited by the DDA have been dismissed.

As he clarified, “All of those other cases that Ms. Serafin was referring to, except two misdemeanors … all of those other cases were dismissed, Your Honor. And I would note that I have a transcript from one of those dismissals. Judge Rosenberg did not hold the defendant to answer on a felony and he said that the alleged victim’s conduct in this case was, quote, “inexcusable.”

Despite the arguments offered by the defense, Judge Sonia Cortés ultimately followed the probation department’s original recommendation, ordering that the accused serve 90 days of jail—suspended if he completes the 52-week program, and agree to be subject to the search condition, along with the standard terms and conditions of probation.

However, given his work schedule, she allowed him to surrender in December.

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