Orange County’s Jimmy Nguyen learned the consequences of making a horrible choice with an intoxicated, passed-out teenager after his lawyer exhausted leniency pleas, his younger sister wept in the courtroom and bailiffs ordered him to stand for handcuffing on his way to losing his freedom.
Engaging in sex with a person who didn’t give consent is a serious crime. The California Penal Code also discourages such relations with an incapacitated individual. Violating these laws can carry stiff prison penalties, as well as the humiliation of lifetime sex-offender registration.
Nguyen, 24, faced that bleak outcome on Oct. 5 inside Superior Court Judge Maria D. Hernandez’s eighth-floor Santa Ana courtroom. Three years ago, on a Saturday morning, he felt attracted to a 19-year-old woman whom we’ll call Jane Doe as she slept in his bed. The Cal State Fullerton student unfortunately couldn’t resist an urge.
The night before, Doe accepted Nguyen’s invitation to attend a party. They consumed alcohol from early in the evening to past midnight. Doe—who attended Irvine Valley College—became sick, threw up and asked to be taken home, according to a law-enforcement report.
Nguyen instead drove her to his home and put her in his bed, then both fell asleep inebriated. A groggy Doe awoke at about 6 a.m. because he was kissing her throat, touching her and seeking sex. She says she refused before passing out again.
About 10:30 a.m., Doe opened her eyes and found her bra strap undone, her pants unzipped and her underwear bunched down. Later, during a rape-kit exam, Nguyen’s DNA was found on her breast. Doe confronted her date, and he replied he “couldn’t help himself, according to prosecutor Rebecca Reed.” He admitted he’d done “hand stuff” to her body while masturbating.
Doe went to the Placentia Police Department, where detectives got her to call Nguyen without him knowing they were recording the conversation. He blamed alcohol for his conduct and conceded he found her irresistible. In June, a jury issued two guilty sexual-assault felony verdicts.
Reed read aloud the victim’s-impact statement at the recent sentencing hearing. In it, Doe described herself prior to the assault as a person with “so many goals and dreams,” but “what he selfishly did to me” resulted in her turning into a “shell of a person.” She became paranoid, couldn’t sleep well for months and felt self-doubt. She also withdrew from family and friends, suffered cycles of enrolling and dropping out of college, and even moved away from Orange County for a while to feel a sense of safety.
“Sexual violence is a heinous crime,” wrote Doe, who asked for the imposition of the maximum available punishment and dismissed Nguyen’s use of alcohol as an excuse. “He saw an opportunity and took advantage of me.”
Nguyen looked genuinely shaken by the remarks, but Ricardo Nicol, his attorney, refused to let him speak, saying the defendant had expressed remorse from the outset. “Jimmy really did make a big mistake, but alcohol played a huge part,” Nicol told the judge.
According to the lawyer, Nguyen wanted to plead guilty, but he advised otherwise, believing he “had a shot” at convincing a jury there was reasonable doubt. “I don’t believe everything she was saying,” Nicol explained. “I didn’t believe [she was unconscious]. . . . [Nguyen] was accepting responsibility for more than what he did that night. . . . This should have been charged as a misdemeanor.”
Nicol also attacked Doe’s cries of trauma, calling them “more of a novel than a work of non-fiction.” He noted she is highly educated, grew up in a “privileged” family and became “a lot more resilient than her statement reflects.” To bolster his contention, he pointed out that Doe failed to mention a single trip to a therapist and that her social-media accounts show a person living a “very full, normal, active life.”
After a prehearing powwow in the judge’s chambers, Nicol understood he wouldn’t win probation for Nguyen, so he asked for a 50 percent reduction in the anticipated punishment. He argued, “Fairness just doesn’t justify more than six months [in custody].”
Hernandez stated she hopes young adults will learn from this “tragic” incident. Though the judge saw Nguyen as “very remorseful” and “not a predator,” she observed he’d taken advantage of a “vulnerable” person. “This case could be a prison case in the blink of an eye,” she said. “I do believe [Doe] is going through a traumatic experience.”
But instead of sending Nguyen to a penitentiary hellhole for “many years,” Hernandez punished him with a term of 365 days in the Orange County Jail, required lifetime sexual-offender registration and issued a 10-year restraining order to stay away from Doe. Nguyen will also undergo five years of supervised probation, a period when cops can stop and search him on whim. If he violates the conditions of his release, he will go to prison, the judge said.
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; earned six dozen other reporting awards; and been hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.