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Criminal Defense Attorneys

Improper Venue in Orange County Based on Evidence

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office filed a felony complaint in the Orange County Superior Court, Harbor Justice Center (Newport Beach), alleging that Michael Dwayne Watkins, Jr., and a co-defendant committed auto burglary and identity theft based on purchases they made in a Best Buy store in West Covina, within Los Angeles County.

Our office represented the other defendant, whose name will not be stated out of respect for his privacy and we were able to have the case dismissed after the felony was reduced to a misdemeanor and the judge granted our client judicial diversion.  After our client took an online theft prevention course and performed 40 hours of community service, the case was dismissed.

Counsel for Mr. Watkins did not seek a similar resolution.  He wanted a dismissal for his client without his client having to perform any community service or take a theft prevention course.  He also was not interested in having the charges amended so that his client could plead to a misdemeanor.  Instead, he chose to have the case dismissed as it was alleged, as a felony.

The evidence was that in May 2019, a man parked his car one morning at the Salt Creek parking area in Dana Point to go surfing in the nearby ocean.  Our client and Mr. Watkins were allegedly sitting in a parked car nearby, watching this man, who put his car key in his gas cap area.  There was no evidence of a witness stating he saw our client and Mr. Watkins in the small parking lot at that time, but the police report described this as a likely circumstance.

After the man entered into the ocean and no one was looking, our client and Mr. Watkins allegedly opened the gas cap door, got the car key, opened the car door and took the surfer’s wallet.  They then left the area and drove to West Covina, where one hour later, they used the surfer’s ATM card to purchase two laptop computers at a Best Buy.

From the outset, there was a question of whether one could drive from the Salt Creek parking lot to the Best Buy in West Covina in less than an hour and make the purchase.  After all, it was 62.3 miles, partially on city streets with stop lights and stop signs.

The Best Buy store security film clearly showed Mr. Watkins, our client and two other men together in the Best Buy.

Our client resolved to get the case reduced to a misdemeanor and dismissed.  We explained that asking to have the case dismissed for improper venue was a good argument, but the case was in Orange County and the judges were tough and if the judge denied the motion to dismiss, it would cost money to appeal the ruling (which our client did not have).

Mr. Watkins took another route, more risky, but ultimately ending up with the same result of dismissal, yet more than

At the preliminary hearing (our client had already had his case dismissed at this time), counsel for Mr. Watkins argued that venue was improper in Orange County because there was no evidence his client committed auto burglary in Orange County or engaged in theft to obtain the victim’s credit card.  Indeed, there was no evidence that our client did so either.  Someone certainly else could have taken the ATM card and given it to Mr. Watkins and our client, or more likely, the surfer lost his wallet earlier or had it stolen earlier because the 62 mile distance suggested the ATM card was lost or taken earlier, perhaps the day before.  Nothing placed Mr. Watkins or our client at the Salt Creek parking lot an hour before the surfer’s ATM was used in West Covina.

The judge at the preliminary hearing agreed, dismissing the case as to Mr. Watkins (the case against our client was already dismissed at this time), finding no fact or even circumstantial evidence that tied Mr. Watkins to the auto burglary or stealing the ATM card, which otherwise would have supported jurisdiction in Orange County.  No fingerprints, for example, were “lifted” from the victim’s car.  Indeed, the victim found his car keys back in the gas cap area, entered his car and drove away, only to realize his wallet was stolen after he left the parking lot. 

When police arrested Mr. Watkins and our client, neither stated anything that would have linked either to Orange County.

The People then appealed to the Fourth Appellate District, in Santa Ana, which affirmed the trial court.
We present this case summary as an example to two ways to resolve a case: one more difficult, more risky, more expensive and more time consuming, and one less risky, less expensive and certain, and far faster.  We chose to take the less risky and more certain route for our client, given his financial resources, although it required that he perform 40 hours of community service and take a theft-prevention course.

For more information about venue issues, please click on the following articles:
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