North Bay Legal News of the Day for April 8, 2015

BY: Attorney Justin O. Milligan 

I seem to steer to articles involving criminal defense and personal injury, but I have to touch on something that is very interesting to me and hopefully to you.  That is that a passenger train pulled into the Cotati Depot the other day.  I cannot ever remember that happening in my life.  Perhaps it did back when I was just a baby.  I’m not sure.  I’d have to check.   But to see the video on The Press Democrat website is pretty amazing to me.  It’s simply starting an alternative to driving my car.  I love that!  It’s just a start. Will it immediately solve the commuter traffic jam Highway 101? Will it really only serve Sonoma residents working in Marin?  Will people actually ride the train?

Me, personally . . . I am a veteran Metro rider from my 2 ½ years on the East Coast.  If I have to commute from one place to another, I would want to ride on a train occasionally looking from my work or reading pleasure to look out the window as the scenery passed by rather than wasting my time behind a line of a thousand cars stretching across the county line as I commute at a snail’s pace from my office to the courthouse in San Rafael without the ability to do much, but listen to music, sports and news talk, and commercials. (First SMART cars roll into county, 4-7-15, The Press Democrat.)

Unfortunately, some of the other news is sobering rather than uplifting.  There was a stabbing at that Mendocino Avenue strip mall just across from the S.R.J.C. just yesterday at around 4 p.m.   (Stabbing reported in parking lot of Santa Rosa store, 4-7-15, The Press Democrat.)  I have a particular fondness for this strip mall as I have known it all my life, which is funny for me to say because I think strip malls are bit, shall I say, ugly.  Now that I got that off my chest, I hope they catch the person who did this.

I am a staunch defender of a persons criminal defense rights and would champion this person’s cause if he came to my office and hopefully, if he gets his case dismissed for some reason despite having committed a crime, that at the very least there is a lesson learned as a result of having to pay thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees.  I am sad that a person would feel he has to fight and stab to live their life.  This person, if caught, will face charges such as assault with a deadly weapon, attempted murder, inflicting mayhem, and more, and can expect prison exposure exceeding seven years.

In another case, William Steele faces multiple life terms in prison for his actions resulting in 22 felony convictions.  (Clearlake man found guilty in passenger’s death in 2013, 4-7-15, The Press Democrat.) It is reported that he was contacted by law enforcement who they suspected he was driving under the influence.

He pulled over initially, but then took off.  During the wild pursuit of his vehicle his two passengers jumped out while he was still moving.  One of them died after hitting his head when he landed.   That resulted in a conviction for involuntary manslaughter, which means simply put that his passenger was killed without malice during the commission of a crime.   Mr. Steel was also convicted of four counts of attempted murder.  This would, at the very least, be as a result of turning his Chevrolet Tahoe towards pursuing police and revving his engine and then also for his shooting at them during the pursuit.

And finally, an unnamed woman, whose identity has been protected by law from being disclosed, took the stand against her parents to testify to a horrific child hood as a result of their deviant acts.  She told the story of being repeatedly raped by her stepfather whose acts were condoned by her mother.  (Victim takes stand in Santa Rosa sex abuse case, 4-7-15, The Press Democrat.)

It is among the worst case of child molestation ever in Sonoma County.  Why would this go to trial I wonder?  You have a victim who alleges she was made pregnant twice by the stepfather, which is something that can certainly be almost 100% confirmed by paternity testing.  So why, facing such overwhelming evidence would the case go to trial?  There are many reasons why this could be so.  One likely scenario is that the district attorney’s office had extended an offer that was unacceptable to the co-defendant mother and father.  For instance, perhaps the district attorney offered that they “plead to the sheet.”

This would mean that, rather than to dismiss some of the charges if the couple pled to others, they were offered only that they plead to every single count contained in the charging document.  My experience in sex assault cases spanning years is that can be a lot of charges.  In a recent case I had, that amounted to over 60 counts of rape spanning two years.  Perhaps, the offer was for some of the charges, but not all, but was an “open plea,” meaning that it was for some or all of the counts, did not limit the number of years in prison, but left that decision up to the judge, which would leave a lot of uncertainty in the equation.

This is something a lot of people have a very hard time with.  By going to trial, the defendants really, for whatever reason, are telling the district attorney that they don’t like the offer and are going to take their chance with a jury.

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