HAPPY NEW YEAR! (Gun Shot in the Air)
On New Year’s Eve, my client shouted, “Happy New Year!” and shot a handgun in the air outside a small nightclub/bar. My client, happened to have had prior felony convictions and the police happened to be parked across the street from the establishment at the time of my client’s overly exuberant celebration.
My client’s sister lived in North Carolina and found my name on the internet. I was surprised that my client was very soft-spoken. It was unusual in my experience for a man who had served a prison sentence for a gang-related assault case to be quiet, almost timid. He was agreeable and willing to enter counseling and a residential treatment program.
I asked the judge to release my client to Amicus House Residential Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program. Judge Chatman was already familiar with Amicus House and with the owner/director of the program, Lori Johnson. The private therapist, Ken Deaver, had a relationship with Amicus House, whereby he could meet with my clients at the program until they became eligible for the sober-living portion of the program.
In the first month at Amicus House, the counselors, determined that my client was responding to “voices” he was hearing in his head. Amicus House recommended that he remain in the “primary phase” of the program for another month, as did Mr. Deaver. So, I called my client’s sister in North Carolina to tell her that his “treatment” would cost more and that he is reportedly “hearing voices.” She said that she and their family know that he “hears voices.” I thought it odd that she had not informed me of his mental health history when she hired me. She was willing to pay the extra expense to keep him in the primary phase of the program for another month.
Another thing happened while my client was in Amicus House. He was “kicked out” for giving a positive drug screening test. He immediately contacted me and swore that he had not relapsed. He had asked his Narcotics Anonymous Sponsor what he should do. His sponsor told him to continue to stay clean and sober and attend all of the same meetings that he was going to while at the program. That was great advice. I have had many clients relapse while in recovery. Many deny relapsing. But, the owner of the program sent the sample back for re-testing. It came back negative for the presence of drugs. The first test was a false positive. Amicus House re-admitted him into the program and immediately tested him upon re-admission.
The Judge was impressed that the initial test result did not cause my client to use. By this time, Mr. Deaver had disclosed that the client had suffered a traumatic injury that occurred years prior when he was working aboard his father’s fishing boat and fell in to the fish hold while in rough seas. He was flown to the mainland for emergency medical treatment and had suffered depression and schizophrenic ideation (he heard voices) ever since. His mental health status was never identified in the prior felony cases that had sent him to prison.
What happened then was nothing short of miraculous! My client embraced therapy and drug and alcohol recovery. He completed the program and chose to stay beyond the minimum 6 month program. He stayed in counseling.
The judge was looking for a way to grant probation despite my client having a strike prior, which was also a “proposition 8” serious felony prior conviction. Even in 2017, the common belief held by the judges and prosecutors (and even defense attorneys) was that the judge had the authority under California Penal Code Section 1385 to dismiss Strike priors under the case of the People v. Romero (1996) 13 Cal 4th 497. But, the court did not have the authority to dismiss a serious or violent prior alleged pursuant to California Penal Code Section 186.22(b)(1)(c).
Judge Chatman cited the case of People v. Aubry (1998) No. G021616, Fourth District, Division Three, June 25, 1998, which took up the issue of whether Section 667(a) deprives the trial court of discretion to grant probation to a defendant who is otherwise eligible for probation. “We conclude that it does not and reverse.”
I needed to bring a Romero Motion, which I had already planned, but the judge had found the authority that she needed. And, she was predisposed to grant the Romero Motion and to strike the “prop 8 prior” pursuant to; The People v. Aubrey (supra) and California Penal Code Section 1385.
The real miracle came in the form of my client’s letter to probation and to the judge. He wrote that he is grateful and appreciative of his counselors and of his sponsor and then his conscious contact with God. In the last paragraph of his letter he wrote:
“My sponsor told me that, “Willingness is the key that will open all of the doors. He could sense that I was very close to discovering higher power. And, as I got up to step 3 and through meditation I found and learned to connect with my higher power. I became more appreciative and grateful. Things started to make more sense to me. I became alive. The air smelled beautiful. My surroundings became more vivid. Nature looked and felt wonderful! I felt good as a human being for the first time in a long time. I began to understand the “miracle” that my sponsor was talking about.”
This is the most amazing description of recovery and lifting the “cloud of depression” that I have ever read. All this from a man who barely spoke at all when he first entered counseling and Amicus House!
Judge Chatman granted probation to this improbable client, who has successfully completed probation is newly married and living with a daughter from a previous marriage.