The California Supreme Court today rejected an appeal by an Oakland man who claimed his trial on charges of molesting his daughter was unfair because a uniformed sheriff’s deputy sat next to him during his testimony.
The court, in a ruling issued in San Francisco, said by a 5-2 vote that the presence of the deputy in the Alameda County Superior Court trial of Lorenzo Stevens was not inherently prejudicial.
The court majority said the trial judge in the case was justified in allowing the deputy to sit nearby to reassure the jury about court security.
Justice Carol Corrigan wrote, “A court’s decision to permit a deputy’s presence near the defendant at the witness stand is consistent with the decorum of courtroom proceedings.”
Stevens was convicted of sexually assaulting his 14-year-old daughter in a truck in which he was living and giving her a drug on July 13, 2004. He was sentenced to 10 years and four months in prison.
The drug was a small piece of rock cocaine, which the daughter said Stevens instructed her to put in her mouth.
The daughter was then living with her grandmother and after she told her grandmother of the assault and gave her the rock, the grandmother contacted police.
Police arrested Stevens after a chase in which he climbed to the roof of a house and smoked crack cocaine from a pipe while police and firefighters tried to capture him.
In testimony at his trial, Stevens denied assaulting his daughter.
He claimed in his appeal that having the deputy nearby could have suggested to the jury that he was dangerous and that his testimony was therefore unreliable.
But the high court majority said the presence of a deputy is not automatically prejudicial so long as the deputy maintains a respectful distance and does not distract the jury.