Miguel Gonzales, of La Quinta, was talking on his cell phone while driving and got pulled over by Deputy Craig Walker. Mr. Gonzales was high on heroin and he was driving someone else’s car — he didn’t know, or wouldn’t say, whose car. And the charges piled up. He was driving on a suspended license; there were a couple of pounds of pot on the front seat; meth in the back seat; there was a large $1700 in (mostly) $20 bills; there were some incriminating text messages on the flip phone.
The Drug Task Force was soon invited to have a look at Gonzales’s room at America’s Best Value Inn on Talmage Road where they found two ounces of methamphetamine, a large amount of heroin, an eight-ball of cocaine, a digital scale, packaging materials, and $5,020 more in cash, mostly $20s. All this occurred back on May 12th, 2016 and no excuse was given for such a long delay in what amounts to a routine dope case these days.
Mr. Gonzales had his friends, Patricia Moore and Eric Vasquez, staying with him at the motel, and these two were interviewed by the police and released. Gonzales was taken to the jail and interrogated. Now, we know from reading John Le Carré novels that the two main rules to follow when being interrogated are to never volunteer information, and if you tell a lie make sure you’re telling the same lie at the end of your interrogation. A recording of this unedifying session was played for the jury and Mr. Gonzales, sad to say, broke both rules about lying.
Sergeant Bruce Smith, one of Mendo’s long-serving drug deputies, who was on duty at the time, conducted the interview. Gonzales started off by trying to elicit info from his captors, asking why he was arrested for merely a pound or two of pot in the car — not knowing that the meth, heroin and cocaine had been found stuffed behind the fridge in the motel room. And Sgt. Smith, having been told by Patricia Moore that Gonzales brought the hard drugs into the room, sprung an age old trap on Gonzales, telling him that his fingerprints were all over the dope bag.
In fact, this was not true. The fingerprint people at Department of Justice Crime Lab in Eureka couldn’t get any latent prints off the plastic bag — apparently, they never can — but Gonzales wouldn’t know this. So when Smith said Gonzales’s prints were all over the bag, he started volunteering information, trying to wiggle out of it. And telling lies, which he ended up abandoning later. At last he came up with the story that he’d ripped off some big-time dealer to get the heroin only because he was an addict.
Mr. Gonzales’s lawyer was Kevin Davenport, formerly of the DA’s Office in Fort Bragg.
Here’s Davenport on cross-examination:
“You said you had run the fingerprints on the bag, but you actually hadn’t?”
Sgt. Smith: “Yes, but I had information on that. Patricia Moore told me she’d seen him carry the bag into the motel room.”
Davenport: “And you said ‘your fingerprints are all over the bag’?”
Davenport: “That was a ruse?”
Davenport: “Then you said, ‘I guarantee those drugs have your fingerprints all over the bag’?”
Smith: “Yes. He knew his prints would be on that bag.”
Davenport: “Then you asked, ‘How come your fingerprints are on the scale’?”
Smith: “Yes. He’d already mentioned that he stuffed it under the table, bolstering my belief that his prints would be on it.”
Davenport: “But didn’t he tell you he didn’t know what drugs were in the motel room?”
Smith: “Yes, but he’d just specified he had some crank, and going forward he said he had a heroin problem.”
Davenport: “And then you say, ‘Come on, you’re doing better than that — this is no small amount for a user — and he suddenly makes a voluntary confession, saying, ‘I burned somebody’?”
Davenport: “Zeroing in on the rip-off, you say, ‘Which dope is that’ and he says, ‘the heroin, just the heroin?”
Davenport: “And he says, ‘I didn’t wanna pay for it — what’s ‘it’?”
Smith: “I don’t know.”
Davenport: “And you don’t know, so let’s talk about something else. During this interrogation —”
Smith: “It was an interview.”
Davenport: “During the interrogation, you mentioned, stated, implied, or whatever, that Mr. Vasquez and Ms. Moore were facing criminal liability for the drugs in the motel room, did you not?”
Smith: “I did, and they were.”
Davenport: “You said Eric Vasquez is a two-striker but it isn’t actually true, is it?”
Smith: “I don’t know that, exactly, but he was on parole for a burglary, I was just telling him what I knew.”
Davenport: “That’s not true. He did not have two strikes.”
Smith: “I don’t know that.”
Davenport: “Then you say, ‘Your buddy and your woman are sitting out in the car about to be sent off to prison’ — was that another ruse?”
Smith: “I don’t know that it was.”
Davenport: “But the idea was to make him think they were facing criminal liability, wasn’t it?”
Smith: “And they were. I filed charges on everybody, awaiting fingerprints.”
Davenport: “You said everybody’s gonna be charged?”
Davenport: “And you said nobody’s gonna look good?”
Davenport: “And Mr. Gonzales responded by saying, ‘Shit’?”
Deputy DA Luke Oakley said the prosecution rested, and Mr. Davenport said the defense would rely on the state of the evidence.
Mr. Oakley went through the charges:
Count One: possession of meth for sale.
Count Two: possession of heroin for sale
Count Three: possession of cocaine for sale
Count Four: possession of meth for personal use (the meth found in the car).
Count Five: “Driving on a suspended license for DUI.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury it’s crystal clear what’s going on here. When the police have the burner phone, a text message comes in saying, ‘I need another quarter, so hit me up’; then another text comes in and says, ‘My roommate needs an eight-ball’; then another, ‘I want three for myself’; then this one, ‘Did your boy get an extra $100? My girl gave him too much’.”
Mr. Davenport’s closing was a reiteration of the evidence with an emphasis on vagaries such as exactly whose car was it? Who sat in the back where the small amount of meth was found? Whose meth was it? We know the heroin was my client’s because he confessed to ripping someone off for it. He admitted he had a problem. With heroin. And as for the cocaine, I would suggest that my client and his friends could have snorted that up in a single night. Then we have the phone, but whose is it? The reason people call ’em burn phones is because there’s no record of who bought it or activated it. It could have been anyone’s phone. It could have been anyone’s meth. It could have been anyone’s cocaine. It could have been anyone’s cash. It could have been anyone’s scale. All you can conclude is he knew about the heroin, because that’s all he admitted to.”
Davenport then told the jury that the jury instruction concerning “lesser included” charges were their friend, their guide, to help them in deliberations, and his suave manner must have convinced the jury to some degree, because they came back with guilty verdicts on only Count One, the two ounces of meth for sale, Count Four, the small amount of meth in the car, and Count Five, driving on a suspended; as for Count Two, possession of heroin for sale, the jury chose the lesser included possession for personal use, and the same for Count Three, the cocaine, possession only, a misdemeanor, due to Prop. 47.