The trial of Javonn Allen has unexpectedly collapsed after the public defender’s office was forced out of the case just days before a jury was set to hear opening statements.
Allen, 30, is accused of ‘unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor’ with respect to Victorria Moran-Hidalgo – the 16 year old girl whose unresponsive body was found on a SOMA street in February 2022.
Yesterday’s move by deputy public defender Elizabeth Camacho to withdraw from representing Allen came on the heels of a motion filed by prosecutors asking San Francisco Superior Court Judge Christine Van Aken to “conduct a hearing to inquire whether the Public Defender has a conflict of interest.”
It is the latest turn in a case marked by significant disputes between defense and prosecution – seemingly driven by fury on the part of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office that assistant district attorney Armando Miranda, who had previously represented Allen while a public defender, had been “working in the shadows” against him as a prosecutor.
In May the Public Defender’s Office failed in an attempt to have the District Attorney’s Office booted from the case and replaced with the California Attorney General’s Office because of the involvement of Miranda.
“His former counsel is prosecuting him on the very case he defended him,” Camacho complained with respect to Miranda. “He is being treated materially differently from any other defendant.”
Judge Victor Hwang denied the motion, saying that he did not see any evidence of prejudice that would require recusal of the District Attorney’s office. He did direct that Miranda was to be “barred from any future participation” in the case.
Private attorney Neil Hallinan has been appointed as Allen’s new counsel. The parties will return to court on Friday for a scheduling hearing before presiding criminal judge Rochelle East. Almost inevitably there will be a significant delay before the trial can be rescheduled.
Allen remains in custody. It is unclear whether his new attorney will make further attempts to secure his release before trial. Last month, a new bid was made to have him released to a HealthRight 360 residential home as part of a “structured release program”.
Update: It transpires that prosecutors told the court that the Public Defender’s office was going to be compelled, in effect, to be a witness against their own client at trial.
This came after Judge Van Aken indicated she would allow transcripts from an earlier case to be admitted as evidence – specifically a case in which the public defender had represented Allen, less than three months before Victorria died, where his association with the teenager had arisen.
These took place in December 2021 after Allen and Ms Moran Hidalgo were both hospitalized with gunshot wounds. In those hearings – parole revocation proceedings – indisputable reference was made by several parties, including by a public defender, to Victorria being a “juvenile”.
Prosecutors made it clear that they intended to present this as evidence that Allen conclusively knew Victorria was underage when he resumed contact with her after being released and immediately before her death. They also pointed out that the public defender had an obligation to fully communicate the facts and allegations in the parole petition to their client.
With the judge having ruled that ‘unsanitized’ transcripts of those hearings were admissible, the District Attorney’s office filed a motion drawing her attention to the consequences, questioning how the public defender could continue in the circumstances, and highlighting the court’s “inherent authority to disqualify a lawyer to make sure proceedings are fair and appear fair.”
The Public Defender’s office was placed in an untenable position of potentially having their own words used against their client. As such they submitted a motion for their own withdrawal.
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