COURT WATCH: Santa Barbara County Judge Issues Bench Warrant, Defense Claims Accused Arrested Improperly

By Shaolien Chen-Graf 

SANTA BARBARA, CA–The accused didn’t appear at arraignment for misdemeanor charges of drinking in public here in Santa Barbara County Superior Court last week, and Judge John Fisher issued a bench warrant, despite Deputy Public Defender Mark Saagjian’s claims the accused wasn’t lawfully arrested.

According to court records a complaint was filed against the accused on May 15, and the accused was arrested on misdemeanor charges of drinking in public.

Judge Fisher, citing the accused’s failure to appear in court and zero contact with the public defender, issued a bench warrant with a $500 bond.

However, DPD Saatjian submitted a motion which argued the arrest and citation proceeded improperly, and therefore the accused may not have been properly informed on how to appear in court.

DPD Saatjian requested the court take these factors into consideration before issuing a bench warrant and suggested that if a bench warrant must be issued it be with a $0 bond.

A heated debate ensued between Deputy District Attorney Danny Wei, appearing over Zoom, and DPD Saatjian, over whether or not DPD Saatjian was appointed to the case.

DDA Wei argued that due to DPD Saatjian having never met or been in contact with the accused, he could not appear in court to represent the accused or submit a motion. Meanwhile, DPD Saatjian claimed to have been provisionally appointed to serve as the accused’s counsel by the public defender office.

Setting this matter aside, Judge Fisher brought the court’s attention back to the accused’s failure to appear in court, and argued the defense motion may serve as an appropriate legal defense but ultimately the accused needed to appear in court.

Judge Fisher added the motion was not to be debated at this time, and reiterated his position on issuing a bench warrant with a $500 bond.

Citing a potentially indigent defendant, DPD Saatjian asked that the bond be reduced to $20, and the judge reduced the bond from $500 to $50.

About The Author

Shaolien Chen-Graf is a fourth-year student at the University of California, Santa Barbara studying Sociology and minoring in Professional Writing. With hopes of pursuing a career as a writer for issues of social justice or simply within the NGO sector she is excited to hone her skills as a reporter and journalist. She currently advocates for reproductive justice as the Outreach Coordinator for Students for Reproductive Justice at UCSB, and promotes access to higher education through her role as a financial specialist for a nonprofit organization called CalSOAP. Shaolien is excited for the opportunity to witness the court system inaction and to draw attention to everyday injustices that are infringing on people's rights. In her free time she enjoys being out in nature, spending time with loved ones, and birdwatching.

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