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Court Rejects Appeal by Santa Ynez Valley Man Convicted in Fatal DUI Crash

A Santa Ynez Valley man convicted of driving drunk and killing a passenger in his van lost his bid for a new trial after alleging prosecutorial misconduct and judicial error.

In a separate ruling, the Second District Court of Appeal also denied Benjamin Lee Bettencort’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel from defense attorney Darryl Genis, who was harshly criticized by the appellate judges.

The case stems from a Nov. 24, 2012, crash on Highway 246 between Solvang and Buellton.

A passenger in Bettencourt’s van, Jennifer Clark, 39, of Los Olivos, died days later from the injuries she received when the van slammed into a tree. She was a popular Santa Ynez Valley teacher and coach.

After being found guilty in the 2015 trial, Bettencourt, who was left a paraplegic from another fatal crash years earlier, was sentenced to five years in state prison. The 41-year-old man is currently incarcerated in Mule Creek State Prison.

On Wednesday, the appellate court issued the 15-page opinion to the appeal filed on Bettencourt’s behalf by Santa Barbara attorney Steve Balash.

Balash said he would review the opinion in the coming days and decide on his next step. 

During the trial, Genis learned the prosecution had failed to produce a copy of a video recording from a Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputy’s vehicle. The defense attorney moved for a mistrial, claiming prosecutorial misconduct.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Kevin Duffy said the failure to timely disclose the video was inadvertent and that he was unaware it existed.

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rogelio Flores instructed the jury about the late disclosure, the appellate opinion noted.

“The court did not abuse its discretion in denying a mistrial. …  Nothing in the record supports his assertion that the evidence was deliberately or willfully withheld,” appellate judges said.

The defendant also claimed he was improperly charged with and convicted of a driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury instead of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. The difference meant a longer prison sentence

But the appellate judges said the District Attorney’s Office has discretion to choose what charges to file against a defendant.

Bettencourt also contended his due process rights were violated when the judge took a week-long recess due to a pre-planned vacation as the trial exceeded the original predicted length.

But the appellate judges said the defense never objected to the break.

“On the contrary, defense counsel not only discouraged the judge from cancelling his vacation, but also insisted that the trial continue to its completion after the judge returned,” the opinion said. 

Genis told Flores that if the number of jurors dropped below 12,  he would object to a mistrial and ask that the lower number of jurors decide the case.

“Accordingly, appellant’s claim that the recess was improper is barred by the doctrines of forfeiture and invited error,” the opinion said.

Appellate judges had harsh words about Genis, who claimed he asked for a different judge to finish the jury trial over the objections of the prosecution. 

“Neither the trial judge nor prosecutor recalled any such colloquy,” the appellate opinion said. “Moreover, counsel’s assertion is disingenuous in light of his subsequent insistence that the trial continue after the judge returned, and his express objection to mistrial on that ground. 

“Unfortunately, defense counsel’s blatant misrepresentation of the record (if not outright perjury) was but one of many questionable tactics he employed throughout the trial,” the appellate opinion said. “Defense counsel was also relentlessly antagonistic toward the prosecutor, who all too often took the bait.”

At one point, Flores threatened both attorneys with sanctions:

“I’m sick of this trial. I’m sick of both of you. . . . Now knock it off. You have really, both of you, . . . tried my patience.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

A Santa Ynez Valley man lost a bid for a new trial in an appeal where Benjamin Lee Bettencort had alleged prosecutorial misconduct and judicial error. 

In a separate ruling, the Second Appellate District also denied Bettencourt’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel from defense attorney Darryl Genis, who was harshly criticized by the appellate judges.

The case stems from the Nov. 24, 2012, crash on Highway 246 between Solvang and Buellton.

A passenger in Bettencourt’s van, Jennifer Clark, 39, of Los Olivos, died days later from the critical injuries she received when the van slammed into a tree. She was a popular Santa Ynez Valley teacher and coach.

After being found guilty, Bettencourt, who was left a paraplegic from another fatal crash years earlier, was sentenced to five years in state prison. The 41-year-old man is currently incarcerated in Mule Creek State Prison.

Santa Barbara attorney Steve Balash filed the appeal on Bettencourt’s behalf and said Wednesday he would review the opinion in the coming days and decide on his next step. 

During the trial, Genis learned the prosecution had failed to produce a copy of a video recording from a Santa Barara County sheriff’s deputy’s vehicle. The defense attorney moved for a mistrial, claiming prosecutorial misconduct.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Kevin Duffy said the failure to timely disclose the video was inadvertent and that he was unaware it existed.

Judge Rogelio Flores instructed the jury about the late disclosure, the appellate opinion noted.

“The court did not abuse its discretion in denying a mistrial. …  Nothing in the record supports his assertion that the evidence was deliberately or willfully withheld,” appellate judges said.

The defendant also claimed he was improperly charged with and convicted of a driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury instead of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. The difference meant a longer prison sentence

But the appellate judges said the District Attorney’s Office has discretion to choose what charges to file against a defendant.

Bettencourt also contended his due process rights were violated when the judge took a weeklong recess due to preplanned vacation as the trial exceeded the original predicted length.

But the appellate judges said the defense never objected to the break.

“On the contrary, defense counsel not only discouraged the judge from cancelling his vacation, but also insisted that the trial continue to its completion after the judge returned,” the opinion said. 

Genis told Flores that if number of jurors dropped below 12 he the defense attorney would object to mistrial and ask that the lower number of jurors decide the case.

“Accordingly, appellant’s claim that the recess was improper is barred by the doctrines of forfeiture and invited error,” the opinion said.

Appellate judges had harsh words about Genis, who claimed he asked for a different judge to finish the jury trial over the objections of the prosecution. 

“Neither the trial judge nor prosecutor recalled any such colloquy,” the appellate opinion said. “Moreover, counsel’s assertion is disingenuous in light of his subsequent insistence that the trial continue after the judge returned and his express objection to mistrial on that ground. 

“Unfortunately, defense counsel’s blatant misrepresentation of the record (if not outright perjury) was but one of many questionable tactics he employed throughout the trial,” the appellate opinion said. “Defense counsel was also relentlessly antagonistic toward the prosecutor, who all too often took the bait.”

At one point, Flores threatened the attorneys with sanctions.

“I’m sick of this trial. I’m sick of both of you. . . . Now knock it off. You have really, both of you, . . . tried my patience.”

 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

A Santa Ynez Valley man lost a bid for a new trial in an appeal where Benjamin Lee Bettencort had alleged prosecutorial misconduct and judicial error. 

In a separate ruling, the Second Appellate District also denied Bettencourt’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel from defense attorney Darryl Genis, who was harshly criticized by the appellate judges.

The case stems from the Nov. 24, 2012, crash on Highway 246 between Solvang and Buellton.

A passenger in Bettencourt’s van, Jennifer Clark, 39, of Los Olivos, died days later from the critical injuries she received when the van slammed into a tree. She was a popular Santa Ynez Valley teacher and coach.

After being found guilty, Bettencourt, who was left a paraplegic from another fatal crash years earlier, was sentenced to five years in state prison. The 41-year-old man is currently incarcerated in Mule Creek State Prison.

Santa Barbara attorney Steve Balash filed the appeal on Bettencourt’s behalf and said Wednesday he would review the opinion in the coming days and decide on his next step. 

During the trial, Genis learned the prosecution had failed to produce a copy of a video recording from a Santa Barara County sheriff’s deputy’s vehicle. The defense attorney moved for a mistrial, claiming prosecutorial misconduct.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Kevin Duffy said the failure to timely disclose the video was inadvertent and that he was unaware it existed.

Judge Rogelio Flores instructed the jury about the late disclosure, the appellate opinion noted.

“The court did not abuse its discretion in denying a mistrial. …  Nothing in the record supports his assertion that the evidence was deliberately or willfully withheld,” appellate judges said.

The defendant also claimed he was improperly charged with and convicted of a driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury instead of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. The difference meant a longer prison sentence

But the appellate judges said the District Attorney’s Office has discretion to choose what charges to file against a defendant.

Bettencourt also contended his due process rights were violated when the judge took a weeklong recess due to preplanned vacation as the trial exceeded the original predicted length.

But the appellate judges said the defense never objected to the break.

“On the contrary, defense counsel not only discouraged the judge from cancelling his vacation, but also insisted that the trial continue to its completion after the judge returned,” the opinion said. 

Genis told Flores that if number of jurors dropped below 12 he the defense attorney would object to mistrial and ask that the lower number of jurors decide the case.

“Accordingly, appellant’s claim that the recess was improper is barred by the doctrines of forfeiture and invited error,” the opinion said.

Appellate judges had harsh words about Genis, who claimed he asked for a different judge to finish the jury trial over the objections of the prosecution. 

“Neither the trial judge nor prosecutor recalled any such colloquy,” the appellate opinion said. “Moreover, counsel’s assertion is disingenuous in light of his subsequent insistence that the trial continue after the judge returned and his express objection to mistrial on that ground. 

“Unfortunately, defense counsel’s blatant misrepresentation of the record (if not outright perjury) was but one of many questionable tactics he employed throughout the trial,” the appellate opinion said. “Defense counsel was also relentlessly antagonistic toward the prosecutor, who all too often took the bait.”

At one point, Flores threatened the attorneys with sanctions.

“I’m sick of this trial. I’m sick of both of you. . . . Now knock it off. You have really, both of you, . . . tried my patience.”

 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

A Santa Ynez Valley man lost a bid for a new trial in an appeal where Benjamin Lee Bettencort had alleged prosecutorial misconduct and judicial error. 

In a separate ruling, the Second Appellate District also denied Bettencourt’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel from defense attorney Darryl Genis, who was harshly criticized by the appellate judges.

The case stems from the Nov. 24, 2012, crash on Highway 246 between Solvang and Buellton.

A passenger in Bettencourt’s van, Jennifer Clark, 39, of Los Olivos, died days later from the critical injuries she received when the van slammed into a tree. She was a popular Santa Ynez Valley teacher and coach.

After being found guilty, Bettencourt, who was left a paraplegic from another fatal crash years earlier, was sentenced to five years in state prison. The 41-year-old man is currently incarcerated in Mule Creek State Prison.

Santa Barbara attorney Steve Balash filed the appeal on Bettencourt’s behalf and said Wednesday he would review the opinion in the coming days and decide on his next step. 

During the trial, Genis learned the prosecution had failed to produce a copy of a video recording from a Santa Barara County sheriff’s deputy’s vehicle. The defense attorney moved for a mistrial, claiming prosecutorial misconduct.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Kevin Duffy said the failure to timely disclose the video was inadvertent and that he was unaware it existed.

Judge Rogelio Flores instructed the jury about the late disclosure, the appellate opinion noted.

“The court did not abuse its discretion in denying a mistrial. …  Nothing in the record supports his assertion that the evidence was deliberately or willfully withheld,” appellate judges said.

The defendant also claimed he was improperly charged with and convicted of a driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury instead of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. The difference meant a longer prison sentence

But the appellate judges said the District Attorney’s Office has discretion to choose what charges to file against a defendant.

Bettencourt also contended his due process rights were violated when the judge took a weeklong recess due to preplanned vacation as the trial exceeded the original predicted length.

But the appellate judges said the defense never objected to the break.

“On the contrary, defense counsel not only discouraged the judge from cancelling his vacation, but also insisted that the trial continue to its completion after the judge returned,” the opinion said. 

Genis told Flores that if number of jurors dropped below 12 he the defense attorney would object to mistrial and ask that the lower number of jurors decide the case.

“Accordingly, appellant’s claim that the recess was improper is barred by the doctrines of forfeiture and invited error,” the opinion said.

Appellate judges had harsh words about Genis, who claimed he asked for a different judge to finish the jury trial over the objections of the prosecution. 

“Neither the trial judge nor prosecutor recalled any such colloquy,” the appellate opinion said. “Moreover, counsel’s assertion is disingenuous in light of his subsequent insistence that the trial continue after the judge returned and his express objection to mistrial on that ground. 

“Unfortunately, defense counsel’s blatant misrepresentation of the record (if not outright perjury) was but one of many questionable tactics he employed throughout the trial,” the appellate opinion said. “Defense counsel was also relentlessly antagonistic toward the prosecutor, who all too often took the bait.”

At one point, Flores threatened the attorneys with sanctions.

“I’m sick of this trial. I’m sick of both of you. . . . Now knock it off. You have really, both of you, . . . tried my patience.”

 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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