Judge grants mistrial for San Jose man convicted of kidnapping, carjacking Lyft driver

Defense argues prosecution mischaracterized earlier burglary conviction, DA admits to error

REDWOOD CITY, CA — San Mateo County prosecutors proved a San Jose man guilty on kidnapping and carjacking charges stemming from an incident in a rideshare vehicle last year, with a verdict confirmed at the end of last week.

However, the jury’s less than two hours of deliberation in the case of 44-year-old Randy Green Jay, accused of using a knife to kidnap a Lyft driver and eventually steal her car, proved moot on Monday. On the day the trial was supposed to move forward to a new phase for consideration of aggravating factors and Jay’s criminal history, the defense requested a mistrial, and the conviction was overturned.

Judge Amarra A. Lee agreed with the defense that a critical blunder by the prosecution — attributing an incorrect crime to Jay based on an earlier conviction — was sufficient to taint the trial.

The decision came after a brief trial for an incident that occurred on July 16, 2022. According to prosecutors, after the victim picked him up in San Jose for a Lyft rideshare, Jay pressed a knife to her stomach and ordered her to drive northbound on Highway 101. The victim eventually jumped out of the car, allowing Jay to drive away with her vehicle.

According to prosecutors, he later turned himself in to San Mateo police after stealing a friend’s BMW.

The charges were accompanied by a slew of enhancements that were to be discussed in a separate court hearing on Monday morning. One of those enhancements was due to a prior conviction in Stanislaus County in 1997, deputy district attorney Ivan Nightengale argued during the defendant’s cross-examination last week.

However, during cross-examination, Nightengale claimed that Jay’s 1997 guilty plea was for robbery when it was actually for residential burglary.

Wagstaffe stated that when Nightengale questioned Jay about the 1997 case, Jay claimed the conviction was so long ago that he couldn’t recall the exact charge.

Nightengale discovered the error while reviewing case materials over the weekend, San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe told the Bay Area News Group on Tuesday. On Monday, he admitted it and informed the defense attorney, Paul Wilkins, and the judge, Amarra A. Lee.

While the prosecutors did not intend to commit misconduct, Lee determined that the distinction between robbery and burglary was significant enough to grant a mistrial motion.

“Her ruling was one we didn’t agree with, obviously, but it was reasonable,” Wagstaffe said. “Judge Lee is an excellent judge, she is a good judge.”

Wagstaffe said on Tuesday that prosecutors will not appeal Lee’s decision and will instead prepare for a new trial. A trial readiness conference has been scheduled for November 3.

Steven Clark, a Bay Area attorney and legal analyst, agreed with the ruling, saying that the implication of violence in a robbery conviction versus a residential burglary conviction could easily sway a jury.

“A robbery requires force or violence,” he explained. “This suggests that the defendant has a proclivity for committing these types of crimes and has a violent history.” That was a huge mistake.”

Clark added that if the error had been corrected immediately, there would have been no need for any additional punishment.

“It was more than just harmless,” Clark explained. “I can understand why the judge did what they did because it was a glaring error.”

Jay’s defense attorney, Paul Wilkins, was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

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