Fox News Digital has uncovered that a California judge, the son of a powerful Democratic family, gave a mistrial to an ex-con accused of a violent McDonald’s robbery because the judge was too drowsy to take notes.
On Wednesday, Judge Daniel Lowenthal of the Los Angeles Superior Court issued his verdict. Lowenthal’s father, a Democrat in Congress, had backed Los Angeles’s troubled top prosecutor, George Gascón.
Vamazae Elgin Banks, 24, went on trial for reportedly threatening to kill a cashier at a McDonald’s by holding a gun at her head if she didn’t give him money immediately.
“Get out of my way, or I’ll blow your head off!” According to the evidence, Banks did in fact tell the victim.
He robbed the McDonald’s on E. 4th St. in Long Beach, CA, and got away with less than $100.
If found guilty on all three counts of robbery and the one count of assault with a semiautomatic handgun, Banks faces a maximum sentence of life in prison under California’s “Three Strikes” legislation.
He has a history of violent criminal behavior, including two felony convictions for robbery and criminal threats.
His designated defense attorney, Alan Nakasone, said in court that Banks’ inability to sleep well in a cell without a blanket or bed the night before rendered him unable of taking thorough notes throughout the proceeding.
Lowenthal found sufficient evidence of carelessness on the part of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to grant the motion for a mistrial.
In response to Nakasone’s claim that Banks had fallen asleep at the defense table, Deputy District Attorney Tricia Halstead questioned the judge’s credibility by querying whether or not he had truly witnessed Banks’ snoozing.
Is that why you’re here?” she questioned him. Was His Honor able to catch him dozing off?
Lowenthal said Nakasone should answer the question.
The defense attorney repeated, “My client was nodding.”
This ends Lowenthal’s ruling.
This court, he stated, “basically has lost all trust in the Sheriff Department’s capacity to provide suitable housing arrangements.” A judge has announced a no-contest verdict.
Banks had trouble sleeping on the morning of August 29 because he was roused from his slumber at 3 a.m. at the North County Correctional Facility and taken by van to the Long Beach courthouse, a 2.5-hour drive in normal traffic.
According to Nakasone, Banks paid close attention during the first day of his three-day trial, which included jury selection, opening arguments, and evidence from Banks’s three victims, despite his lack of sleep.
The judge mandated that Banks be housed in the downtown Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail to reduce his travel time.
The defense said that Banks was momentarily housed in a holding cell that did not have bedding.
At 2:30 p.m. on August 30, Banks’s attorney Nakasone urged the court to adjourn for the day because his client was too tired to continue.
The Long Beach Police Department volunteered to house Banks that night at their jail across the street, but the sheriff’s department returned him to the same facility, and his lawyers stated he wasn’t given a cell with a blanket and bed until 3:30 a.m.
According to Deputy District Attorney Tricia Halstead, the afternoon session lasted less than an hour and consisted of a police investigator talking about her training and showing silent surveillance tape.
“I don’t believe that a lack of note-taking throughout a number of surveillance tapes, that just showed the defendant strolling to McDonald’s which is an uncontested action, is enough to result in there being prejudice to him and his potential defense,” she added.
As a further line of defense, Halstead asserted that the law is quite clear on the matter, and that a mistrial should be granted only in the most dire of circumstances.
She stated, “I don’t feel there has been prejudice that can’t be remedied in this case,” because the witness could be questioned again and the surveillance film could be shown again.
To give Banks a chance to recuperate, the court could potentially adjourn for the long weekend.
Because the judge hadn’t looked into whether Banks’ jailhouse behavior had played a role in the bedding denials, she said, a mistrial would be excessive and unnecessary.