An appeal filed by San Luis Obispo rancher Dan De Vaul of his misdemeanor convictions on two counts for violating fire safety and vehicle storage laws was rejected by a Superior Court appellate panel Friday.
Signed by local Judges Martin Tangeman, Barry LaBarbera and Ginger Garrett, their decision concluded that De Vaul had no legal basis for arguments that he should have been able to present evidence that breaking the law outweighed potential greater harms on his property and that juror and judicial misconduct occurred.
The rancher has long argued that he was unfairly prosecuted, saying he provides a valuable service in housing the homeless and offering a substance abuse intervention program to help people on his 70-acre Sunny Acres ranch on Los Osos Valley Road outside San Luis Obispo.
De Vaul argued in his appeal that he was unfairly denied the right to assert a necessity defense — which would have allowed him to present evidence at trial that he shouldn’t have been held liable for crimes because his conduct in providing housing and sober living services to his tenants was necessary to prevent greater harm.
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He also alleged juror misconduct, saying that Judge John Trice improperly queried a juror about her unwillingness to deliberate and that two jurors “committed misconduct by making statements to other jurors that drew on matters outside evidence at trial.”
But the judges rejected both arguments, noting that Trice properly determined whether the “harm caused by (De Vaul) breaking the law was ‘disproportionate to the harm avoided’ ” and that no misconduct occurred regarding the jury or judge.
Jeffrey Stulberg, the lawyer who represented De Vaul in the case, said outside his office Friday that he hadn’t yet read the decision and that no determination had been made about how to proceed.
But Stulberg said that De Vaul has the option to appeal to a higher court and avoid being sent to County Jail.
The prosecutor who handled the case — Craig Van Rooyen — wasn’t available for comment Friday, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
De Vaul was acquitted of two counts and the DA’s Office dismissed five additional counts that resulted in a deadlocked jury relating to the use of his ranch.
De Vaul opted to serve a 90-day jail sentence instead of complying with a probation sentence and served one night in County Jail before a sympathetic juror bailed him out.
“I’m just really infuriated that all this money has been spent and authority used against what we’re doing here, helping people who come to isolate themselves and gain some self-worth,” De Vaul said at the time. “We’re being bullied.”