SAN JOSE — A Santa Clara County judge has issued a gag order in a high-profile San Jose serial-robbery case — involving the alleged targeting of Asian women — after defense attorneys cried foul over a December news conference by police and prosecutors that they argued risked tainting a potential jury pool.
So now, the district attorney’s office and San Jose Police Department are barred from publicly commenting on the prosecution of 24-year-old Stockton resident Anthony Michael Robinson, one of six men charged in a string of dozens of South Bay robberies over the past year.
All six men were also charged with hate-crime allegations because a plurality of the listed robbery victims are Asian women, which the county Alternate Defender’s Office is also challenging in Robinson’s case on the contention that prosecutors haven’t proven the crimes meet the legal standard for a hate crime.
The defense request for a gag order is rooted largely in a Dec. 15 press conference held jointly by District Attorney Jeff Rosen, SJPD Chief Anthony Mata and San Jose Councilmember Maya Esparza at the Grand Century Mall in the Little Saigon neighborhood, to discuss a year-long investigation that concluded last fall that led to the arrest of Robinson and his co-defendants.
Six days later, Deputy Alternate Public Defender Krista Henneman filed a court motion requesting a gag order on the premise that remarks made at the news conference “violated the defendant’s California and Federal Constitutional rights to a fair trial by making ethically irresponsible public statements that include opinions about the guilt of Anthony Robinson and attributing anti-Asian motives to him.”
In her motion, Henneman called the timing of the December news conference “inexplicable” since the arrests were initially announced — and heavily publicized — between August and September, and there were no new investigative developments. She added that Rosen, Mata and police Capt. Brian Shab restated their belief that the robberies were motivated by anti-Asian bias, citing statements that defendants reportedly gave to police indicating they “thought Asian women don’t use banks and they made other ethnic slurs against Asians,” as Rosen said at the press event.
Henneman argued that the statements, and case details that were revealed, unduly influenced potential trial jurors.
“Any reasonable person would be concerned whether these disclosures have created a ‘substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing’ this proceeding,” Henneman wrote.
She also disputed the law-enforcement claim that Robinson and the defendants yelled slurs at the victims, calling it “a blatantly false accusation” unsupported by any of the police reports. In a separate motion challenging the hate-crime allegations, she noted that several victims in the robberies were not Asian and that the women were targeted for financial gain, not racial animus that rises to the level of a hate crime.
In an opposition motion, the district attorney’s office called the gag-order request an attempt to “sully the integrity” of the office, and rejected the argument that their public statements compromised Robinson’s fair-trial rights. Prosecutors further objected to such a restraint by stating they had no plans to make any further public comment about the case, and that any potential prejudice issues could be rooted out during normal jury selection procedures.
“Restraining the speech of this office will not change the fact that racism, hate crimes, and anti-Asian hate are being discussed in the public domain,” the office wrote.
Thursday, Judge Jessica Delgado sided with Henneman, and barred prosecutors, defense attorneys, and police investigators from making public statements or releasing any information about Robinson’s case outside the court and trial process.
Neither the district attorney’s office nor Henneman offered comment on the judge’s order, citing the new restriction.
Legal analyst Steven Clark, a criminal-defense attorney and former county prosecutor, said the matter highlights how district attorneys and law-enforcement officials have to balance informing the public and reassuring their safety, while not trying a criminal case on the courthouse steps instead of inside the building.
“You want to communicate with public, but recognize there is an individual who is presumed innocent,” Clark said.
He added that law-enforcement leaders, by virtue of their positions, have a bully pulpit and capacity to amplify a message that most defense attorneys can’t match even if they attempted the same tactics.
Clark also noted that given the volume and routine nature of public statements that district attorneys and police departments give in the wake of high-profile arrests and charges, determining what constitutes overstepping is a constant gray area. But citing a defendant’s potentially incriminating statements to police, he said, could create an unfair hindrance for a criminal defense even if it’s later deemed inadmissible as evidence.
“They’re not just worried about media attention,” he said, “they’re worried about false information in the public domain they can’t correct at trial.”
(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)