COURT WATCH: Homeless Man Held in Jail; Judge Agrees with Defense that Evidence ‘Weak’ 

By Citlalli Florez

WOODLAND, CA – A homeless man is being held in jail here after an appearance in Yolo County Superior Court last week for alleged sales of methamphetamine and possession of paraphernalia despite what his defense claims is a lack of evidence.

The judge in the case admitted during the preliminary hearing that the evidence was “weak,” lowered bail from $50,000 to $10,000 but set the case for trial, and held the accused because of an outstanding warrant.

The arresting officer said he saw the accused in Solano Park when it was officially closed. The officer testified the accused “appeared to be rummaging through a dumpster in the area.”

When the officer searched the accused, he said he found a glasses case and inside found 11 bindles of what he thought to be methamphetamine based on his training. He weighed the bindles and noted it on a report. He also found a meth pipe inside the glasses container as well.

Cross-examination by Deputy Public Defender Dave Muller revealed the accused had told the officer that he had found the glasses case somewhere on campus. The officer never asked when or where the glasses case was found. After the Miranda statement was given, the accused decided to “exercise his rights” and not answer any more questions by the officer.

The only statement given was captured on bodycam footage. At the time that he took this case, the officer’s system was down so he attached the footage a couple days later. He didn’t spend much time talking to the accused—three to four minutes. Before advising him of his Miranda rights, he spent 15-20 minutes talking, asking the accused what he was doing.

The next witness was West Sacramento Detective Nathan Ogden, a police drug arrest expert, but he admitted he never had to testify in a jury trial as an expert for methamphetamine sales and hasn’t been classified as an expert on meth sales for the last five years.

DPD Muller did not believe the witness had the knowledge or training to be a witness on the case, but Deputy District Attorney Daniela Dunham argued otherwise because of the detective’s extensive training.

The detective said he believes the accused did have possession for sale because of the quantity found, described as a “large amount.”

The officer said .1 of a gram was the average amount of meth used in a pipe, but DPD Muller made a point to state that the average dosage for a pipe is actually .2 grams.

The detective stated, “If that’s what you’re telling me, that’s new information that I’m hearing. I’ve always been told that it’s a tenth of a gram.”

The cumulative weight of the meth found was 24.5 grams. The detective thinks the current street price per gram is $20-40 dollars. So, he believes that the accused was in possession of approximately $490-980 worth of methamphetamine.

Public Defender Muller asked, “Are there substances that can look like methamphetamine but not be methamphetamine?” And after the Detective answered, “Yes,” the attorney asked, “In regard to the methamphetamine that was recovered from the glasses case, do you know if any of this material is tested by the department of justice as to its contents.”

The detective answered, “No,” and the defense attorney asked if the detective had reviewed reports by the arresting officer. He said he did.

The accused told the officer that the case was picked up in Davis and the substance was not tested, according to the prosecution.

Judge Samuel McAdam stated, “Well it’s definitely not the strongest case in the world.”

But the DDA said that for the purposes of a preliminary hearing “we have enough, we have an expert that has testified for the court that bases his opinion on the amount that was on [the accused] at the time that he was contacted… the court highlighted rightfully the specific individual packaging of ten individual bindles.

“I think based on his testimony we have enough for a holding order on these counts,” the prosecution summarized.

The defense argued, “I don’t believe I heard (the arresting officer) testify that he even NIK [Narcotics Identification Test] tested these narcotics and as far as I’m aware of they were not tested by the department of justice. Whether or not it was an actual controlled substance, we do not know.

“The expert said that [the accused] had $490-980 worth of methamphetamine on his person but do you expect a person who has that kind of product in his pocket to be dumpster diving, he’s not gonna find his clients there,” said DPD Muller.

In regard to the accused allegedly finding the glasses case, the attorney stated, “It is not uncommon for another dealer to dispose of their stuff either to avoid law enforcement or because they are going to be confronted by another dealer. I don’t believe that the People have enough to have a holding order for possession of sales or let alone the paraphernalia.”

DDA Dunham  rebutted, “The officer did testify that he recognized the methamphetamine based on his training and experience,” adding the arresting officer “has only had two months of experience.”

Judge McAdam stated, “Like I said, it’s a really weak case, so he did testify that it was meth and there were circumstances that would lead a reasonable officer, a reasonable person to conclude that it was methamphetamine and to draw that from the evidence that was presented.

“We had an expert come in who was qualified… I mean he’s not the most qualified expert that we had on a court like this, but he did qualify and he did identify that it was for sales. It seemed to me that it was the quantity, the packaging,” the judge added.

Continued the judge, “Of course a lot of things were missing and I think attorney Muller did a good job in highlighting:  no cellphone, no scale, no clients, no pay sheets or countings, no money. Yes, 24 grams is not the largest amount. It is a weak case but it does survive the low threshold here for a holding order. These facts would lead a person of ordinary caution and credence to believe and entertain strong suspicion that this is a sales case.”

McAdam ordered the accused is to be held on Count 1 and Count 2 is a misdemeanor case with sufficient evidence, noting “all that being said, there’s just not heavy evidence that (the accused), based on what we had before, is a drug dealer that is causing a lot of problem in our community. I think it’s a very difficult case to prove in front of the jury, notwithstanding my holding order.”

An arraignment on the charges was set for Aug. 17. The defense attorney asked for the accused to be let out on his own recognizance.

Judge McAdam replied that he did not know the accused’s criminal history or his ties to the community, noting, “Quite honestly, I was very surprised to see that he was still in custody and that he was held on $50,000 bail,” suggesting he didn’t believe that there was sufficient evidence for the accused to be held for such a high bail amount.

The court was informed the accused is on parole for battery for which he served two years in prison, which was a strike and that’s why there was $50,000 bail.

The judge couldn’t make a decision because of a “mixed bag” of evidence, but reduced bail to $10,000 and a probation report was ordered.

But the accused couldn’t be released because of an outstanding warrant over the charge he was called to answer to during this hearing while he was out on parole.

Judge McAdam said that he is open to the release on OR, but needs to communicate with parole about guiding the accused.

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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