COURT WATCH: Prosecution Drops Case after Yolo Court Judge Agrees with Defense Claims of Violation of Miranda Rights, and Other Concerns 

By Audrey Sawyer

WOODLAND, CA — After a Yolo County Superior Court judge tossed much of the prosecution’s case here this week, the prosecution dropped charges against a man facing felony possession of a controlled substance, fentanyl.

Deputy Public Defender Jonathan Opet’s motion to prevent the prosecution from using the accused’s prior case history regarding substances received a thumbs up by the judge early in the week.

And, the defense questioned the legality of a search of a motel room, where DPD Opet noted to the court concerns that the Miranda rights warning had not been read to the accused.

Deputy District Attorney Aimee McLeod argued the search was legal because of a prior court ruling that the accused is able to have any locations of residence searchable, because the accused is on PRCS (Post Release Community Supervision), a form of supervision provided to someone who has been released from a CDCR institution).

But Judge Daniel Wolk agreed with the defense to exclude the statements, saying that, while he understands why prosecution wants to bring the evidence in, it is “insufficiently similar” to the case at bar and also cited remoteness of time.

DDA McLeod argued that, while the accused’s three separate prior incidents did not have to do with fentanyl and that fentanyl was not trafficked on the streets in 2010, it ought to still remain relevant.

Judge Wolk asked DDA McLeod to confirm that the case going to trial only mentioned fentanyl and not any alleged heroin.

DDA McLeod told the court that the charge originally was for intention to sell both fentanyl and heroin, but that the preliminary hearing did not see the court hold him to answer on possession of heroin to sell, as the quantities of heroin were not as “great” as fentanyl.

McLeod said, “During the preliminary hearing, we did not have the DOJ testing done, but after completion, it shows that the larger amount of fentanyl contained in a bag also contains methamphetamine and fentanyl. It is a mixture of both. It is important information for the jury to consider and listen to, as we have someone in possession of multiple substances at the time of the stop.”

DDA McLeod cited previous substance cases of the accused, and mentioned the 2010 incident: “He had multiple substances, methamphetamine, Alazopram, and a host of other liquids and pills ultimately leading to his arrest and conviction. I think this shows a common scheme or plan, there was the methamphetamine in 2010 and now here for this 2024 case it is relevant and material.”

The prosecutor then brought up the accused’s 2012 case involving “fraudulent prescriptions at a pharmacy, explaining that when the pharmacy contacted police, it was noted there was a $10 bill rolled up with heroin inside it.

DPD Opet noted the accused was not charged with possession of controlled substances for sale.

“The elements in dispute are fentanyl for sale, not other substances for sale. Hendricks v. United States says that the only necessary similarity is that the mentioned controlled substances are the same, so you cannot bring it into evidence in other unrelated sales cases or investigations into sales if it has nothing to do with the drug in this case (which is fentanyl). This is where the prosecution’s argument fails. None of those other cases referenced involve fentanyl, heroin is not a charge in this case,” Opet said.

DPD Opet argued it would be a “violation of the accused’s right to a fair trial” to bring in a series of allegations regarding other drugs that may or may not have ended in conviction for sales to try to support the prosecution’s theory that the accused possessed fentanyl for sale.

Opet added,  “How does it go from intention to sell fentanyl if they argue that several years ago that he had possession of pills? How does that relate to fentanyl? With the Hendricks case, it says that narcotics evidence of prior drug convictions is relevant only if there is a similarity in the controlled substance being the same.”

DPD Opet added this was a tactic to “overwhelm the jury into thinking that the defendant is a bad guy, and that we ought to convict based on that.”

DDA McLeod countered, “I believe it is also intentional. I have to prove that he intended to possess them for sale. When we look at prior incidents, circumstances all show that he had multiple different substances in each case. I get the defense’s argument, but I disagree with it, specifically to him citing Hendricks which only talks of relevance to prove knowledge.

“I am not just asking for knowledge, asking for knowledge, intent, and a common scheme. I think when a jury is tasked with the question of if he had these narcotics for sale, it is relevant and material. This is not about whether or not he is a bad person, but is about if he had possession of substances for sale on that particular day.”

Judge Wolk agreed with DPD Opet regarding the concern, admitting that both sides had argued well, but that it is “insufficiently similar” to the case at bar.

Regarding Miranda, DDA McLeod told the court law enforcement had come to the accused as he had a warrant before he was detained in handcuffs as they were looking to confirm the accused’s identity.

“They were talking to dispatch to try to verify that the warrant was valid. There was a seven minute conversation where the accused had provided a false name because he knew he had a warrant. The officer was trying to get information out of him,” explained McLeod, adding that while the accused was detained in handcuffs, he was not arrested until the warrant had been confirmed.

DPD Opet argued the DDA’s theory of the accused providing a false name because he did not want to be arrested was not relevant to the charges in front of the court today.

Opet added, “You cannot bring in consciousness of guilt for not wanting to be arrested on a warrant and then argue that that consciousness of guilt that he knows he has (or that he is intended to sell) is in fact committing the crime charged. That is a totally improper, inadmissible use of the statement that the court cannot allow to come in.”

DPD Opet elaborated, “I argued officers searched the motel room as a result of statements obtained in violation of Miranda. If the prosecutor is going to try to introduce evidence obtained at the motel room, that is another layer of Miranda that ought to be included. That was not put in the prosecution’s motion if they are looking to include that evidence.”

However, the prosecution emphasized the accused was on PRCS, and that the defense was simply trying to “get another bite of the apple,” arguing, “Judge Reed already ruled that he was searchable, which includes his place, his belongings, his place of residence. They did search the motel room he is staying in, to claim it is a violation of Miranda trying to backdoor. This is not a Miranda issue. He does not have that right once PRCS is established.”

DDA McLeod added she was concerned about a court ruling to exclude any mentions that the accused has a warrant, or him being searched, but DPD Opet claimed that none of that was relevant to the charge.

DPD Opet said, “It is well understood testimony that regarding prior contact with police, or police knowing someone, or that he had a warrant (indicative of a previous bad act), will result in prejudice unless there is some value to this being included, which is not seen here.”

Judge Daniel Wolk also concurred with defense for the time, as they agreed it can be revisited if the issues arise. But the case was dropped just a day later by the prosecution, according to court filings.</a

About The Author

Audrey is a senior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science (Comparative Politics emphasis). After graduation, Audrey plans on attending graduate school and is considering becoming a public defender.

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