By Joseph Snook
(US~Observer) – In late 2015 John W. was tried before a jury for allegedly committing two crimes: Criminal threats (a serious violent felony in CA. – considered a strike), and brandishing a firearm. The result of his trial is something many in the United States may not know, but should – If you are found innocent by a jury, in some cases, a judge may still order you to be incarcerated.
John adamantly denied committing the alleged crimes. Believing in his innocence, John refused multiple plea deals he was offered, taking his chances in court. John was facing a “strike” crime in California that carried a 9 year maximum sentence in prison if convicted.
John was at an auto service shop, after hours, attempting to work on his broken down vehicle that was stored at that location, where it had been purchased from, when the business owner’s two sons arrived. Not knowing John, they told him to leave. Attempting to avoid conflict, John left, then returned later so that he could attempt to fix his vehicle. Shortly after returning, the two sons also returned. The brothers ensued in a verbal altercation with John, allegedly threatening bodily harm. One of the brother’s later admitted to being a trained “MMA Fighter.”
John left the scene, but the account of how, was the crux of John’s defense. First, John immediately attempted to leave the scene, which was not disputed. Second, the brother who was a trained MMA fighter followed John by, walking at a “brisk” pace in his direction. According to John, as the brother closed in on him, bodily threats were continuously made. In fear of his life, John pulled out a bb gun which stopped the brother in his tracks. As the brother backed away, John left the scene without physical conflict.
The police were called, resulting in John’s arrest, and criminal charges being filed.
While preparing for trial, John’s attorney discovered that the prosecutor had filed one of the charges incorrectly. According to California State law, a bb gun is not a firearm, it is an, “imitation firearm”, which would require a different charge in order to bear legal weight. John’s attorney planned on asking the Judge to acquit John of this charge after the state finished putting on their case, since John did not commit the alleged crime he was charged with. Shockingly, just minutes before the state rested their case, the Judge instructed the prosecutor of what John’s attorney had already known – a bb gun is not a firearm. In disbelief, John’s attorney objected to the judge giving legal advice to the prosecution during trial. Furthermore, John’s attorney stated that a judge had never offered legal advice to him during a trial in the many years he had been practicing law.
The judge overruled the objection by John’s attorney, and allowed the prosecution to amend John’s charges to, “brandishing an imitation firearm.” One brother testified that he had no knowledge the “gun” was a bb gun, yet during the call made to 911, he clearly told the dispatcher that John had threatened him with – you guessed it – a bb gun!
It didn’t take long before the jury reached a not guilty verdict for both crimes.
NOT GUILTY, but that wasn’t the end of John’s case.
John was already on probation from a previous plea deal. The jury did not have knowledge of this since John never testified, which prevented the prosecutor from cross-examining John, questioning his character and informing the jury of his probation status.
In California, even though a person has a right to trial by jury for new charges, the judge decides the issue of whether the defendant violated probation. The standard of proof at a jury trial is beyond a reasonable doubt while the standard of proof at a probation violation hearing is a preponderance of the evidence.
So, the trial was had. The jury returned not guilty verdicts on both counts. After the jury left, the judge found that John had violated his probation based upon the same evidence the jury heard. The judge then sentenced John to the maximum that she could under the law, which was 180 days in jail.
John’s case is a clear example of how one-sided the U.S. criminal justice system has become. John is now an added statistic that embodies the rarely talked about hypocrisy of the United States’ claim to be the land of the free, yet we house what amounts to 25% of the world’s prisoners while we only make up 5% of the world’s population.