Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Timothy Canning denied a motion by the prosecution to jail a man arrested in connection with a drug distribution investigation and also refused a motion to raise bail on the suspect.
Deputy District Attorney Trent Timm filed the two motions after Juan Mendoza Valdovinos, a Mexican National from Michoacan, Mexico, bailed out of jail after being arrested by the Humboldt County Drug Task Force in January. The first motion was to investigate the source of the money used for bail and the second motion was to raise Valdovinos’ bail in an effort to keep him in custody.
Over near constant objections from defense attorney Russell Clanton, who, at one point, asked the judge to consider his objections to the line of questioning to be an ongoing objection, Timm argued on Tuesday morning that the money used to bail Valdovinos from jail was obtained feloniously through drug sales and that not only should his bail be raised but he should also be kept in jail.
“What I’m trying to to do is show that the defendant was engaged in drug sales and the court should take into account the amount of meth that was for sale,” Timm argued, referencing the 22 ounces of suspected methamphetamine that was confiscated by DTF agents who searched Valdovinos’ car and Eureka home in late January.
Timm called just one witness to the stand, agent Darron Drefke, a California Highway Patrol Officer assigned to the Humboldt County Drug Task Force.
It was Drefke who pulled Valdovinos over as he was driving on state Route 299 and who, according to his testimony, saw Valdovinos throw something from the car before coming to a stop.
“The vehicle was slow to stop,” Drefke testified as he described Valdovinos’ action once he had activated the blue emergency lights on his CHP patrol car. “As the vehicle came to a stop, I observed the driver throw a brown paper bag out of the window.”
Drefke positively identified Valdovinos who was seated at the defense table with Clanton and court interpreter Carlos Benemann.
Drefke testified a K-9 unit was called to the scene and located the bag which contained suspected methamphetamine. A subsequent search of Valdovinos’ Eureka home turned up $5,800 in cash and more meth found buried in a nearby field.
Under questioning from Timm, Drefke said he spoke with Valdovinos’ girlfriend of 14 years, Anita Enriquez, and asked her if she knew about the money and the drugs.
“She said she had no knowledge of the money,” he testified and later added Valdovinos, when asked where he got the money, responded, “he said he worked and sold marijuana.”
Clanton also called just one witness to the stand, Enriquez, who said she and Valdovinos had four children together ranging in age from four months to 10 years old.
Enriquez said she posted the $3,500 bail that was enough to free Valdovinos and said that he worked odd jobs at an Italian restaurant, did landscaping work for her brother and also worked “in Leggett at a licensed marijuana farm.”
She said the money for bail came from personal savings and that her mother co-signed for the bail posting as well.
Under questioning from Timm who walked Enriquez through the monthly expenses in her household, Enriquez said “he gives me money, yes,” amounting to about $800 per month that goes into a shared bank account she manages.
Timm seized on the fact the money she earned and the money Valdovinos earned were mixed and therefore there was no way to discern which money was earned legally and which was earned through illegal means.
“There is no proof he works lawfully and under 1275.1, no portion of the money paid can be feloniously obtained and I think based on that, it’s a simple call for the court to make,” Timm concluded.
In his closing argument, Clanton argued the prosecution had failed to provide any evidence the money was unlawfully obtained and that his client was a flight risk.
“He has lived here for 14 years with the same woman in the same house,” Clanton said. “They have four children. He’s rooted to the community and they have a stable relationship. The idea of him being a flight risk is unlikely in the extreme.”
In the end, Canning agreed with the defense.
“As far as the source for the bail, the court will deny the request from the people,” Canning said. “There is no indication (Valdovinos) presents a flight risk so the court will deny the request to increase bail.”
Valdovinos will be back in the coming weeks once a date for the preliminary hearing has been set.
Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.