Pregnancy Delays Trial While Judge Decides If Jury Hears About Defendant’s Drug Use

Zerina Baray [Photo courtesy Cochise County Sheriff's Office]

A Casa Grande woman who became pregnant after being indicted last summer on multiple felony drug charges will not stand trial until after she gives birth, a Cochise County judge has ruled.

Zerina A. Baray was slated for a four-day trial starting June 27, but with her due date approaching in September the trial was recently vacated by Judge Laura Cardinal. The judge has ordered the parties back to court Aug. 1 to set a new trial date for later this year.

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In the meantime, Cardinal is reviewing several pretrial motions filed by Public Defender Enrique Marquez concerning what evidence jurors will hear when deciding whether Baray is guilty of transportation of methamphetamine for sale or transfer, possession of meth for sale, and using an electronic communication to facilitate a felony drug offense.

Baray, 35, faces several years in prison if convicted of all charges which stem from a July 2020 traffic stop after a vehicle passed by a DPS trooper on Interstate 10 at more than 85 mph. She is also charged with misdemeanor speeding.

At one point Baray told the trooper she was transporting sex toys, but the trooper soon came to suspect there were illegal drugs in the vehicle. A search later revealed a large quantity of meth.

Marquez has asked Cardinal to limit what jurors will hear about the fact Baray was pregnant at the time of her 2020 arrest and that she became pregnant after being indicted. He also wants there to be no mention that Baray admitted she used meth on the day of her arrest.

According to Marquez, allowing jurors to hear about Baray’s admitted illicit drug

-especially during a pregnancy- “will be prejudicial and it’s irrelevant to the charges.”

Another defense motion involves plans by Deputy County Attorney Kristina Guerrero to show jurors text messages between Baray and several other persons before, during, and after her arrest. The messages are important, Guerrero has argued, because Baray told investigators she was unemployed at the time even though several text messages mentioned her doing “jobs,” which the State contends referred to drug deals.

The defense is also objecting to potential testimony from law enforcement officers about the “general characteristics” of drug couriers. Telling jurors how illegal drug operations are normally conducted shifts the burden of proof to Baray to refute a generalized profile, Marquez says.

However, Guerrero argued that drug dealers and drug traffickers do not refer to their illegal activities in plain language when communicating with each other. Which is why Guerrero wants jurors to hear testimony about the lingo used in messages to and from Baray.

In addition, Guerrero is seeking to introduce old text messages as well as other testimony to support the State’s contention that the large quantity of meth found in Baray’s vehicle shows she was a trusted and experienced courier at the time of her arrest.

One challenge for the prosecutor is the fact investigators never identified who Baray was communicating with on the other end of three cellphones. One of the parties showed up on Baray’s phone and text records as simply “Circle K.”

Court records show Baray and her attorney met with Guerrero and another judge last fall in an attempt to negotiate a non-trial resolution, aka a plea deal. Baray rejected the plea offer at which time a June 7 trial was scheduled. Then earlier this year Cardinal was informed the defendant is now pregnant.

Cardinal has until July 18 to issue her decisions on the pretrial motions. Baray remains out of custody awaiting trial.