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Sentence In Robertson case: 8 months & $500 fine
Justice for Chris Robertson? There can be no justice. Sentenced to 8 months with credit for time served, Espinoza shows no sign of any remorse during the trial. Instead cyclists are put on trial for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Arguments were made today by both sides before sentencing in the Chris Robertson case. DA's assistant Andrew Clark made the point that defendant's past criminal record included several violent crimes, including conspiracy to commit murder. According to Clark, some time ago, the defendant was involved in luring another man to a location where he was then shot in the head by someone else. For this he served 5 years. He also mentioned an assault charge where the defendant apparently broke into a house and held a knife to his ex-wife's throat.
Defense attorney Charles Smith freely admitted the defendant's past criminal record. But he stated that since 1995, Espinoza had turned his life around, was sober and involved with his church, including driving children on field trips, and community service. He also brought in a letter from Espinoza's neighbor (signed by 6 others) requesting leniency in sentencing.
Attorney Smith also made a point of mentioning something that had happened after the final verdict on Friday. As we left the courtroom, someone on our side (who was quite upset at the not-guilty manslaughter charge) apparently looked at Espinoza and said "murderer" as we exited. Espinoza immediately said to his lawyer "that person threatened me". When the lawyer asked what had happened, Espinoza gave the sign for a slash across the throat. I was right next to the person who spoke to Espinoza and I saw no such gesture. But apparently they were so concerned, that Espinoza was brought out the back way. This man was immediately believed in a this fabrication after having just been convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. And in fact, Espinoza's attorney made a point of elaborating on the fabrication in his argument for leniency today. He said something about Espinoza's relationships with his fellow church members and then referred to the "bike messengers" who *all* made this gesture. So be very careful of your actions if you ever find yourself in court. You're on trial too I guess. I understand that they needed to ensure that there was no danger to the defendant. But this was simply untrue. I was pretty impressed with Smith's performance up to this point for simply doing his job, but that was a bit much. I would like to say that I found all the members of the audience at the trial very quiet and respectful, and especially the bike messengers who attended.
I was hoping that Assistant DA Clark would mention the hundreds of postcards supporting the revocation of Espinoza's drivers license that the DA's office had received, but he made no mention of it to the judge. Maybe the judge would have given him a hard time over it, I don't know. Clark requested that the judge consider the suspension of the license, if the judge was debating not delivering the full penalty of one year (the maximum for the charge). Apparently the judge has leeway to make certain recommendations of that nature, such as community service, etc. if he does not give the maximum sentence. But he would not consider this. He asked if Clark had spoken to the DMV, and seemed to indicate that it was a matter for them to decide. Clark tried to plea on with it, but the judge simply said,"Take it to the legislature." So he may have felt that the law as written didn't necessitate the suspension of the license. He seemed a fair judge and has a reputation for going strictly according to the rules. Unjust as they seem to be in this outcome.
Before sentencing, the judge said that in spite of the fact that Espinoza appeared to have changed, because of his past history, he needed to be "like Caesar's wife", that is: above suspicion of any kind. He expressed the view that although Espinoza had probably been in a hurry to get home, and lost his patience, there were other options he could have exercised while he was behind the funeral procession of cyclists, like taking an alternate route or simply waiting for the procession to get out of his way.
The judge’s sentence was 8 months with credit for time served (72 days). Note that the penalty for misdemeanor on this charge (see below) allows a sentence in county jail for 1 year. There was some question in court today as to whether the fine at the misdemeanor level was the $10,000 in the penal code listed below, or the usual $1,000 maximum for a misdemeanor. Espinoza was fined $500. This is the code he was found gulty on:
CALIFORNIA PENAL CODE SECTION 245. (a) (1) Any person who commits an assault upon the person of another with a deadly weapon or instrument other than a firearm or by any means of force likely to produce great bodily injury shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not exceeding one year, or by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment.
I guess that’s all except to paraphrase Charles Dickens and say that "the law is an ass". Between all the finger pointing going on between the SFPD and Mayor Brown vs. the DA's office we were even lucky to get the case tried as a misdemeanor. They don't even usually charge these cases, because the legal system expects citizens to pursue justice in the civil courts rather than the criminal courts. So people who hold their driving responsibilities lightly (like Reuben Espinoza, who never demonstrated any remorse in the entire proceedings) are allowed to continue on as if nothing has happened at all.