Court Erred in Handling Motion in Child Porn Case

     (CN) — A California court should have let the same judge rehear a motion to suppress evidence in the case of a man later convicted of possessing child pornography, the state Supreme Court ruled.
     Adam Sergio Rodriguez was charged with possession of child pornography and misdemeanor marijuana possession in Santa Clara County Superior Court in early 2010.
     Rodriguez moved to suppress all evidence seized from his desktop computer — including photos and videos of child porn — later that year, arguing that police took it from his home without a warrant or proper consent.
     Superior Court Judge Vincent Chiarello granted Rodriguez’s motion, finding that his consent to the search was involuntary and the search warrant, invalid.
     Prosecutors then voluntarily dismissed the case, refiling the charges against the Santa Clara man the next month.
     Rodriguez again moved to suppress the evidence, requesting that Chiarello hear his case.
     But finding that Chiarello was not available, as he had transferred to Palo Alto, Judge Jerome Nadler assigned the case to another judge, who denied the motion.
     Dissatisfied with these rulings Rodriguez renewed his motion to suppress, and sought review in superior court, but again the court ruled against him.
     After Rodriguez waived his right to a jury trial, Chiarello in Palo Alto found Rodriguez guilty of the felony porn charge and placed him on three years’ probation.
     The California Court of Appeal affirmed, and Rodriguez appealed, arguing that a subsequent suppression motion must be heard by the same judge who granted the previous one if that judge is “available.”
     The state Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling Monday, finding that .
     “We generally agree with Rodriguez’s interpretation,” Judge Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar wrote for the six-judge panel. “Although trial courts have discretion to determine whether a judge is available within the meaning of section 1538.5(p), that discretion must be meaningfully cabined to protect the statutory right of every defendant, if possible, to have the same judge decide any relitigated suppression motion.”
     Mere “inconvenience” does not render judge unavailable, the ruling states.
     “But to adequately protect a defendant’s statutory right under section 1538.5(p), we hold that a trial court must take reasonable steps in good faith to ensure that the same judge who granted the previous suppression motion is assigned to hear the relitigated motion,” Cuéllar wrote. “Only if the trial court has done so may it make a finding of unavailability.”
     The judge later added: “Although it was the trial court in this case, not the people, that concluded Judge Chiarello was unavailable by virtue of his assignment to the Palo Alto courthouse, the people repeatedly opposed Rodriguez’s requests for Judge Chiarello to hear his subsequent motion to suppress. Such opposition suggests the people may have preferred that someone other than Judge Chiarello decide the relitigated suppression motion; the presiding judge’s ruling enabled that preference. Allowing modest administrative inconvenience to trump concerns about forum shopping would frustrate the statutory purpose plainly evident in the text and legislative history of section 1538.5(p).”
     Indeed, “the record does not show Judge Nadler ever attempted to contact Judge Chiarello, or that he inquired as to when Judge Chiarello might be available to hear Rodriguez’s motion,” Cuéllar wrote. “This failure to take reasonable measures to honor Rodriguez’s statutory right was an abuse of discretion.”
     The court agreed that it is “reasonably probable” that Rodriguez would have achieved a more favorable ruling had Chiarello heard the relitigated suppression motion.
     Judge Carol Corrigan concurred, albeit with some reservations.

%d bloggers like this: