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

By Nico Ludwig-Stock

WOODLAND, CA – In a jury trial on Wednesday at Yolo County Superior Court, attorneys disagreed on whether police officers’ body cam videos containing officers’ questioning of the accused and officers’ conversations with one another could be entered into evidence.

Ultimately neither side got entirely what it wanted.

The accused is charged with two misdemeanor counts of possession of a controlled substance and two felony counts of possession for sale, as well as an enhancement for a crime committed while on bail/own recognizance release.

Before the trial could begin, Judge Daniel Wolk had to address a dispute between the prosecution and the defense regarding the admissibility of body cam footage as evidence in the case.

Deputy District Attorney Caryn Warren wanted to use police body cam footage that showed officers’ non-mirandized questioning of the accused at the time of the incident. The footage also included officers speaking to one another about their suspicions of a crime occurring.

Deputy Public Defender Jonathan Opet argued these videos should not be admissible because they included “out of court statements offered for the truth… You can’t play a witness’ pre-recorded statement, unless there’s an exception to the hearsay rule, which there isn’t…If the officer says, ‘these are your drugs,’ it is a statement being offered for the truth.”

DDA Warren countered by saying the officers in the video making the statements would be present in court to clarify the statements they made on video, noting, “The issue of hearsay is the reliability of the statement. We have the person who made the statement here in court.”

Judge Wolk stated that he always viewed hearsay issues like DDA Warren did, but realized he needed to reconsider. However, with the jury waiting to start the trial just outside the courtroom, Judge Wolk decided to address the matter later and begin opening statements first.

DDA Warren began her opening statement by describing the incident that occurred on Dec. 23, 2022. Around 10:30 p.m. that night, Warren said, police officers were conducting surveillance of a 7-Eleven parking lot when they observed several people approaching a gold Honda SUV. After observing one man leaning into the driver’s side window, they stopped and searched him, finding 3.8 grams of methamphetamine.

According to DDA Warren, they later approached the gold SUV, in which they found a woman—the accused. Inside her vehicle they said they found three more separate bags of methamphetamine, two containing about five grams each, and another approximately 20 grams.

They also found a digital scale with a white residue on it, a cell phone, several unused baggies consistent with the one they found containing meth on the man, and “a notebook with some indication of tracking sales,” said DDA Warren.

A few months later, continued DDA Warren, the accused was stopped again in the same gold SUV at the same location. This time, officers found an ounce of methamphetamine divided across two baggies, and more unused baggies.

DDA Warren wrapped her opening statement by noting the gold SUV had a history, noting nine months before either of these incidents, she explained, officers stopped the same vehicle. This time it was being driven by a man. He was found with “two firearms, 96 grams of meth, and a digital scale.” He was later convicted of charges and sentenced to four years in prison.

DPD Opet began his opening statement with “there’s a big difference between simply possessing an item, and possessing that with a specific intent” (to sell), adding “the evidence will show that in both instances police immediately made up their minds. What I believe the evidence will show is that these officers are inherently biased.”

According to Opet, the accused was in the 7-Eleven parking lot to purchase cigarettes, and police officers jumped to the conclusion that she was selling methamphetamine because they had seen the car involved in similar activities before.

“The government is relying on assumptions and they are wrong. (The accused) was not selling meth on these two days at these specific times. At the end of trial, (the jury) will find (the accused) not guilty,” said DPD Opet.

After opening statements, Judge Wolk had the jurors leave the courtroom for a break while he returned to the issue of hearsay.

After reviewing the law and the video transcriptions, Judge Wolk noted, “Hearsay evidence usually is presented by someone else other than the declarant. But a hearsay declarant may also be a witness making an out-of-court statement.”

Judge Wolk determined the videos are considered hearsay. However, the videos are mainly used to show the accused’s responses to questioning as opposed to the officer’s statements, so these are admissible under the exception to the hearsay rule.

However, the judge would not allow the showing of the 24-minute video containing officers conversing with each other. DDA Warren would have to edit out these moments of the video if she wanted to use it.

The judge would also issue an instruction to the jury that “the officers’ questions are not being offered for the truth. They will only be allowed to consider (the accused’s) responses.”

With this issue resolved, the jury was called back in to hear testimony from the officers who were there at the incident.

During direct examination, DDA Warren walked the police officer witness through the events that occurred in the December incident.

Warren then played the body cam footage. In the video, the accused could be heard complaining about being “harassed” and how she is “always being investigated.”

In his cross-examination of the officer, DPD Opet highlighted these moments of the video. “(The accused) was accusing you of harassing her,” said the public defender. But, the officer countered, “She was accusing the other officers of harassing her.”

In her direct examination of the second witness, DDA Warren asked the second police officer about the September incident.

The officer described searching the man seen at the accused’s driver’s side window and finding “an 8 ball” (an eighth of an ounce or roughly 3.5 grams) of meth. He then listed what he recovered from the gold SUV, including the cell phone, methamphetamine, several unused baggies, and the notebook.

During cross-examination, DPD Opet asked whether the officer had seen this gold SUV before. The officer responded that he had, nine months earlier. At that time, the officer had found a man inside the car with two firearms and 96 ounces of methamphetamine. DPD Opet noted the vehicle is registered to that man, not the accused. The officer admitted that this was correct.

The jury trial is ongoing and will proceed Thursday.

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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