EL CENTRO — El Centro Mayor Pro Tem Jason Jackson took the witness stand to defend himself against an alleged violation of probation in an evidentiary hearing at the Superior Court Brawley West on Feb. 11.
Jackson is accused of violating his probation on a 2017 animal cruelty conviction by failing to inform the court of receiving two traffic tickets. It is alleged that he violated the requirement he obey all laws.
Judge Christopher Plourd presided and several witnesses were called by Jackson attorney Robert Espinosa of El Centro. Jackson was first called before Plourd on the matter Jan. 8 and the judge continued the hearing until this week.
At the conclusion of the Feb. 11 hearing, Plourd said he would review all arguments and ordered Jackson to return to the Brawley court on Feb. 27 at 8:30 a.m.
At one point Plourd asked Espinosa if it was his position that a minor traffic violation does not count regarding the probation violation, to which Espinosa nodded in agreement.
First to testify was Jessica Leon, an Imperial County Probation Department officer who supervised Jackson from Sept. 13 until recently. Jackson was on probation stemming from animal cruelty involving his emaciated horse.
Espinosa asked Leon about Jackson’s compliance with the terms of probation and she replied he had fulfilled his obligation.
But Heather Trapnell, Imperial County senior deputy district attorney, asked Leon if Jackson ever mentioned the speeding tickets he received in the spring of 2019 and Leon answered, “No.”
Trapnell then asked if Leon knew Jackson committed perjury by making false statements when he requested early termination of his probation by stating he complied with requirements by obeying all federal, state and municipal laws. Leon again answered, “No.”
But Espinosa questioned Leon if she knew if “for it to be perjury it must be willfully and deliberately trying to mislead.”
Leon replied, “No, not me.”
Espinosa called Kevin Arellano, also a probation officer who supervised Jackson’s probation from early 2018 until Leon assumed it.
“Did you tell the defendant a minor traffic ticket would be a violation of probation?” he asked.
“I had discussions with Ms. Leon and I told her Jackson was doing well,” said Arellano.
“Would you file for a probation violation for a speeding ticket?” asked Espinosa.
“No,” said Arellano.
Requirements of Probation
Trapnell then asked if the terms of probation that required Jackson to obey all lawful statutes was overburdening, to which Arellano answered, “No.”
Trapnell then stated that issuance of traffic tickets was breaking the law. She then asked him if he understand that perjury is a felony, to which Arellano answered, “Yes.” The prosecutor then asked if Arellano knew about Jackson’s traffic infractions, to which he answered, “No.”
But Espinosa countered that argument by inquiring of Arellano, “What does it mean to you, to obey all laws?”
But Arellano replied he did not go into detail with Jackson and he did not ask Jackson if the defendant understood what to obey all laws meant.
Also called to testify was Raj Singh, the attorney who represented Jackson just prior to Espinosa.
Singh confirmed it was he who appealed to the court for early termination of probation through a declaration he submitted to the court and which Jackson approved.
Trapnell then asked Singh if before submitting the declaration for early termination of probation if it was he who authored the phrase, “model citizen” to describe Jackson and justify early termination. Singh answered it was.
“I’ve had at least 50 or more similar cases regarding probation,” he recalled. “I think if an underlying offense (during probation) is a felony then, yes, it is violating probation terms. Yet in my experience it is rare when there is a probation violation for a misdemeanor.”
Jackson also testified. Trapnell asked him if he had a college education, to which Jackson said he has a degree in criminal justice administration.
“In this case you signed a declaration and did it without the knowledge of possibly committing perjury?” asked Trapnell.
“My attorney summarized what’s in it and I trusted my attorney, so I signed the document,” answered Jackson.
Espinosa then addressed Judge Plourd stating, “There is no California law that a traffic matter be part of a probation violation.”
Espinosa then cited a Supreme Court case. In that case probation was revoked because the probationer had failed to promptly report an arrest. But the issuance of a traffic citation is not an arrest, Espinosa argued.
“This is not even close to perjury,” said Espinosa. “It cannot be perjury when a defendant believes they’re telling the truth even if it turns out he was mistaken.”
Espinosa further explained that a traffic infraction during probation is not related to the original conviction for animal cruelty.
“The point here: is the defendant a liar?” he asked the court. “Is the defendant a perjurer? Never. You have no evidence here that a traffic infraction would constitute a probation violation. We’re stretching credibility for a traffic infraction way beyond what the law intended.”
But Trapnell countered that Jackson committed perjury when he signed the application to terminate his probation early. She added Jackson did not read the declaration his attorney prepared that stated he had not broken any laws and that he knew he had broken the law. Jackson had earlier unsuccessfully appealed to withdraw his guilty plea. After exhausting all appeals, he had been led from the Brawley court Nov. 19 to serve a 10-day county jail sentence for the guilty plea on one count of animal cruelty.
This story is featured in the Feb 13, 2020 e-Edition.