COURT WATCH: Accused’s Appeals to Invoke Racial Justice Act Denied on Jurisdictional Grounds

By Sarah Chayet

MODESTO, CA – Judge Kellee C. Westbrook explained in a resentencing/modification hearing in Stanislaus County Superior Court last week that two appeals made by an accused person had been denied on, in effect, a technicality.

One of the appeals was related to the Racial Justice Act, but according to Judge Westbrook, despite the accused’s claim that he filed for review of the denials, the court could not take any action at this time because of delays from the Court of Appeals.

The accused’s charges are from 2006, and consist of a felony converted to a misdemeanor. The accused has been serving a life sentence.

“You have two appeals in state court that were denied,” said Judge Westbrook. “We can’t act on the matter until we receive a remittitur,” which would terminate the Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction over a case, and allow Stanislaus Superior Court to continue to make decisions on the matters.

While Judge Westbrook told the accused that firing his counsel was within his rights, she said, “I don’t advise that.”

“You implicated the Racial Justice Act,” said Judge Westbrook to the accused, referring to the nature of one of the appeals from the accused. The Racial Justice Act (RJA) “lets people charged with (or convicted of) a crime raise issues of bias or discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or national origin in their cases,” according to the Office of the State Public Defender.

Responding to the RJA implication, Judge Westbrook again cited a “lack of jurisdiction,” or lack of power to determine the proceedings of that day’s hearing.

“(The accused’s) petitions are denied because I don’t have jurisdiction to react,” said Judge Westbrook. ”As soon as I get the clearance, I can strike your prison prior as invalid…I can’t proceed on those until I hear from the appellate court.”

Because of the lack of jurisdiction, Judge Westbrook acknowledged that there was a level of uncertainty pertaining to the projected timeline of this case’s proceedings.

“I can’t do anything substantial on your case until I hear back from the appellate court,” said Judge Westbrook. “I don’t know how long it normally takes.

“I don’t have that information,” added Judge Westbrook. “The best thing to do so we don’t make you refile is come back in 60 days.”

About The Author

I'm a recent California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo grad. I majored in English and received a minor in Studio Art. In the fall, I plans to go back to school for a master's degree in English Literature. Currently, I am a transcript editor for CalMatters, and I hope to enter the field of technical writing someday. In my freetime, I love to draw, go on roadtrips, and camp

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