COURT WATCH: 2020 Homicide Jury Trial Granted another Continuance after Defense Cites Attorney Turnover, Need for Additional Testing

By Audrey Sawyer

MODESTO, CA – A 2020 jury trial for a homicide was granted another continuance in Stanislaus County Superior Court last week by Judge Dawna Reeves after hearing both defense and prosecution speak on the circumstances and history behind the case.

Deputy Public Defender Morgan Broshears said she was not only the third defense attorney taking over the case and had previously been handling this case in addition to three other homicide cases at the same time (given reassignments), but noted the main argument for delay was a firearm expert’s testimony.

Broshears argued that while a first test was sent to the expert, the test came back without gunshot residue found either on the victim or the accused. As a result of the test coming back without the residue, the office’s expert requires additional testing to deliver an opinion.

Deputy District Attorney Melissa Chichportich did not believe this to be enough good cause to continue the 2020 case, and read a letter from the victim’s family asking why the court was taking so long to bring justice to the case.

DPD Broshears informed the court this 2020 case was originally dealt with in Department 7 with Judge Robert Westbrook and then she (Broshears) took over the case in September 2022 as the third attorney for the accused.

On the history of the previous attorneys, DPD Broshears said, “The first attorney had this case for two years before leaving our office. They had not done any actual work on this case before leaving. It was then given to another attorney for a period of time before I received the case.”

DPD Broshears told the court she had three other homicide cases, explaining, “I was put in a position where I had a significant number of cases being reassigned that were very serious in nature. These are life cases.” She added she took some time off work last summer for personal reasons, and was not allowed to work on any of these cases during the leave.

DPD Broshears described how she realized the current homicide case would require a firearm’s expert, who is busy and testifies all over California.

The public defender said they discussed the materiality of the test in a private “in camera” hearing to Judge Robert Westbrook (the hearing was private and not on the record, as it is critical to her defense argument), who agreed to the defense basis for a continuance.

On Sept. 26. 2023, DPD Broshears asked for a continuance because the expert needed to conduct the testing on the gunshot residue kit, and, “Unfortunately, as a result of that test, there was no gunshot residue on the hand (victim’s hand or the accused’s hand), so we had to regroup.”

She again cited that the expert tends to be busy testifying in other cases, but the expert’s opinion would be helpful.

DDA Chichportich argued that even if the court denied the motion, she still believed the expert can complete the test by the time the defense case would start.

Chichportich said the alleged crime occurred in August 2020, explaining the first trial setting was set for March 2022 and that there were five dates where the trial was confirmed. The next date she cited was March 28, 2023, for a trial setting.

She cited the defense’s leave of absence and said that the prosecution was in support of that motion to continue, and the trial was reset to October 2023. Now the current date is July.

DDA Chichportich had read a letter from the victim’s family where the family had essentially asked why the trial was taking so long, asking why it keeps continuing, and saying they would like “justice” already.

In addition, the letter discussed the victims are aware it can take months, even years for the accused to be sentenced, but that they “always hear the same story that they need more time on the evidence regarding the gun” and that their patience is ending.

The public defender said there was “no way” to be prepared to argue in a homicide case where no work had previously been done.

The DPD apologized for the PD office, but added the reasons for continuances were not always the same reasons, noting, “This is not asking for a continuance just to continue. I would not be giving him the best representation that I can otherwise.”

Judge Reeves said Stanislaus court in general has received significant criticism for the amount of time it takes to get homicide cases to trial, and it has been trying to take recent steps to address the current culture on granting continuances.

“By new standards, I get that it is time for this to go to trial. But I also get that if the court makes the wrong choice, and we require defense counsel to go forward either unprepared or not fully prepared, and he is convicted, his conviction will not stand, as DPD Broshears will have not been able to give her client proper representation.”

“At the same time, defense counsel is saying that due to her personal leave, attorneys in her office leaving and having the case reassigned, we have to ensure that he has an attorney prepared. I see good cause to continue,” the judge said.

DDA Chichportich told the court the motion can be denied (citing Coleman v. Wilson) as it would indicate the test can still be completed within the time period before the jury trial.

However, Judge Reeves said that defense’s argument is not fully known and that they are already midway through the testing, and it would be “premature” to have defense start this trial not knowing what the defense will be, especially with having to possibly change course depending on the results of the test.

Judge Reeves sympathized with the victim’s family and the prosecution regarding the time taken to get the case to trial, but said she did not believe the reasons provided for the continuances to be contrived.

Said the judge, “I asked about the speed of the firearm delivered to know if we possibly have to litigate that. If not, I am wanting the testing done as soon as possible. I will tell the defense that I am not interested in waiting for the expert to be available. When the trial date is set, the expert will have to arrange his schedule to be available to you. I want you to get his availability for the next 12 months so you know when we can reschedule the case.”

The case is now set for July 15 to get new dates and to check in on the status for firearm testing.

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.

Related posts

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for