COURT WATCH: Attorneys Argue over Use of the Word ‘Fentanyl’ in Mid-Trial Arguments

By Cheyenne Galloway 

WOODLAND, CA – Before the jury trial last Thursday at Yolo County Superior Court, Deputy Public Defender Jonathan Opet and Deputy District Attorney Caryn Warren argued over the use of the word fentanyl in the prosecution’s argument for an ongoing possession case.

Previous coverage: Attorneys Butt Heads over Admissibility of ‘Hearsay’ Evidence at Start of Jury Trial of Woman Facing Drug Charges

Judge Daniel M. Wolk ruled DDA Warren could not use the word fentanyl during the duration of the jury trial because of its irrelevance and the negative connotation it can project to the jury.

DPD Opet contended the use of the word fentanyl is prejudicial because of the public’s current perception of the drug. Opet said its use was irrelevant in the case, including the prosecution’s closing argument.

DDA Warren countered fentanyl is relevant in this case, because the co-accused in the video footage seems to be under the influence of fentanyl and not methamphetamine, and it is necessary to provide a distinction between the two substances.

DDA Warren argued without differentiating which drugs are what and who is consuming them in the video, the defense can easily point at anyone else in the car and place the ownership of the drugs on that person rather than objectively discerning if they were the accused’s.

DPD Opet objected to the use of the word fentanyl itself because of its negative connotation and how that can affect the jury’s decision, noting the jury will make assumptions without proper evidence solely based on the use of the word fentanyl.

“I should be allowed to make that argument in closing, saying why I believe the methamphetamine did not belong to the co-accused because (the co-accused) was using fentanyl and is a fentanyl user,” said DDA Warren.

DPD Opet charged DDA Warren was speculating before the arguments were even made.

“But it’s an argument, and I can choose my argument. He can counter my argument, and the fact that fentanyl is in the public’s mind doesn’t mean that it’s not relevant. The fact that it’s a dangerous drug doesn’t mean it’s not relevant, but I’m allowed to make this argument that I believe is highly relevant,” retorted DDA Warren.

Fentanyl’s relevance in the prosecution’s argument is very trivial (and) the risk of the word’s ability to skew the jury’s judgment is high, reiterated DPD Opet.

Judge Wolk ruled that the prosecution could not use the word fentanyl but instead refer to the substance as ‘drug,’ even though DDA Warren had the drugs tested, and they came back positive for fentanyl, as she stated in court.

Judge Wolk even advised DDA Warren against describing the drug due to its negative connotation and meaning.

However, the co-accused was passed out in the backseat because of fentanyl, “and there’s a good chance (the defense) is going to try and make the argument that the methamphetamine belongs to the co-accused. We are speculating on what this jury’s opinion is on fentanyl,” said DDA Warren.

DDA Warren explained that whether or not she could use the word fentanyl should have been discussed during jury selection instead of during the trial. She contended DPD Opet should have brought it up at jury selection.

“Now, in the middle of trial, you guys are saying I can’t make this argument over speculation about how this jury feels about a specific word we didn’t even ask them about. I feel like your personal biases of that word are coming in when we don’t know how the jury feels about it because nobody asked them. After all, nobody raised this issue prior,” persisted Warren.

Following the dispute, the court reconvened the jury trial, including witness testimony and video evidence from body cam footage. The case will be ongoing.

About The Author

Cheyenne Galloway recently graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with a double major in Political Science and Italian Studies. Graduating at the top of her class and achieving the distinction Laurea cum laude in her Italian Studies major, she showcases her enthusiasm for knowledge, finding ways to think critically and creatively. She is particularly interested in writing and reporting on social justice and human rights, but as a writing/reporting generalist, she enjoys researching and communicating various topics through written expression.

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