Conviction upheld after defense argued Pledge of Allegiance violated right to a fair trial

Crime Watch

FRESNO, Calif. (KGET) — An appellate court has upheld the assault conviction of a Delano man who argued his right to a fair trial was violated when the judge invited potential jurors to join him in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

The attorney representing Francisco Mendoza had filed a motion asking the judge not invite potential jurors join him in the pledge because the practice was “offensive, unpatriotic, and in poor taste,” court documents say.

Judge Charles R. Brehmer denied the motion and recited the pledge with others who chose to join him. The trial proceeded and Mendoza was found guilty of a felony assault charge and misdemeanor charges of violating a domestic violence order and resisting arrest.

He was sentenced to three years in prison.

On appeal, Mendoza said his convictions must be thrown out because reciting the pledge violated his right to a fair trial, documents said. He argued he was forced into reciting the pledge or face possible disapproval from the “more patriotic or less tolerant jurors.”

In a unanimous ruling upholding the conviction, the appellate justices found the voluntary recitation of the pledge did not prejudice Mendoza.

“Even assuming the court’s optional invitation for the prospective jury pool to recite the pledge was rendered ‘coercive’ by the context in which it was given, defendant has failed to establish that his verdict was prejudiced thereby,” the appellate ruling says.

District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer praised the ruling in a news release sent Friday.

“The recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by judges and jurors entrusted to defend these principles does not deprive a defendant of a fair trial,” Zimmer said. “On the contrary, the values embodied in the Pledge are what make our system of justice the gold standard throughout the world. It is an honor to fight for victims’ rights in a community that stands up for the values embodied in the Pledge.”

The charges against Mendoza stemmed from a 2019 arrest in which he shoved his elderly father to the ground and tried to kick him in the head, prosecutors said. Mendoz was on probation at the time after being convicted of battery against his mother.

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