COURT WATCH: Defense Objects to Police Questioning Accused Already Found Incompetent to Stand Trial in Separate Case – Judge Ignores Concerns 

By Enola Gueta

WOODLAND, CA – At a pre-trial conference at Yolo County Superior Court last week about the alleged theft of display phones at a Davis Verizon store, Judge David Rosenberg noted concerns regarding a Davis police officer’s questioning of an accused previously deemed incompetent by the Sacramento courts.

The accused was allegedly identified by prints left on the phone.

The Davis Police Department and the Yolo County DA’s Office, as explained by their first witness, Vivian Zhang, provided by the DOJ, primarily relied on fingerprints found on the stolen phones as evidence.

Zhang, an expert on the technology, vouched for the accuracy of the process in which the prints are collected and identified in a process called “Latent Print Analysis.”

However, as Deputy Public Defender Joseph Gocke argued in his cross-examinations of the DOJ witness, Verizon displays phones so the public may hold and test out, allowing for anyone’s prints to become potentially incriminating.

According to testimony from Davis Police Officer Ryan Mez, after collecting prints at the Verizon store, the DPD was able to locate the accused in the Sacramento Country Database, which showed the accused as currently serving time in Sacramento County Jail.

But, Officer Mez stated he actually found the accused was located at the Napa State Hospital after being found incompetent to stand trial because of his mental condition in the fall of 2021.

After this information about the accused’s location in the state hospital was discovered in late 2023, Mez found the accused’s two years at Napa Hospital were nearly ending, meaning the accused would be transferred back to the Sacramento County Jail.

Despite the accused’s time at the State Hospital, he wasn’t again deemed competent, as DPD Gocke clarified in his cross-examination of Officer Mez. Still, Mez said they went to speak with the accused in an attempt to gather more information.

“My sole job is to simply collect as many facts as I possibly can and present them to the DA’s office to decide whether or not to charge a particular individual for a crime,” Mez testified.

Mez testified the accused was asked if they had been in the city of Davis on the day of the Verizon theft, whether they remembered the last time they were there, and whether they had ever been to the Verizon store in the city of Davis.

The accused said “No” to all three questions,” said Mez.

Deputy District Attorney Deanna Hays noted that this factually contradicts the fingerprints confirmed to belong to the accused. Officer Mez forwarded the information to the DA’s office, which charged the accused.

DPD Gocke then pressed Officer Mez’s reasoning and context for questioning someone incompetent to stand trial for another case.

The officer admitted to not contacting or looking at court records for Sac County about the Sacramento case where they were deemed incompetent, to not talking to a probation officer in Sac County to get status updates regarding Bennet’s incompetency, to not contacting his counsel in Sacramento County to try and speak with him or his counsel before going to the jail, and to not getting records from Sac about his prior cases.

DDA Hays insisted that since the accused’s incompetency was established in a prior case, it should not affect the consideration of the answers given in the current case.

Judge Rosenberg ruled there is confirmation that the accused touched the items, citing the accused’s past case in Sacramento to validate what the prosecution believes to be probable cause.

The judge also acknowledged his standing qualms and the circumstances in which the statements to the officers were given, stating, “I think there’s a lot of problems with the evidence,” acknowledging that he doesn’t know how a jury would react to this information.

Judge Rosenburg issued a holding order for grand theft and issued a date for the arraignment on the information for July 16.

About The Author

Enola Gueta is fourth year at the University of California Davis, majoring in Political Science and American Studies currently working on her thesis. She has interned at the American Bar Association Commission on Immigration in Washington D.C., taught a Law and Social Movements class to high schoolers in Wellesley Massachusetts, and is a board member of a Latine Pre-Law Association at UC Davis. She also works at a coffee shop and loves making and recommending drinks to her friends. At the Vanguard she's looking to expand her writing skills and be able to get a closer look at the law at work to eventually work in human rights law in the future.

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