By Charlotte Krovoza and Tressa Bryant
Did a California Highway Patrol Officer have reasonable suspicion to pull over a motorist driving on a rural county road near Clarksburg? That was the question faced in a a Yolo County courtroom. Among the cases on Tuesday’s morning docket in Judge Dan Maguire’s courtroom was a motion to suppress evidence in a DUI case.
On, March 30, 2014, at approximately 9:42 pm, Taryn Zimmer was driving in her black sedan along a single-lane road in the southernmost portion of Yolo County, near Clarksburg. Officer Mencias was on patrol that night and saw the car pull out onto the road. When called as a witness by the DA to testify, Mencias stated that he witnessed the black sedan “crossing over onto the double yellow lines and weaving through traffic lanes.” This, based on his professional training, was a sign that the driver might have been intoxicated or distracted. He testified that he observed the vehicle either cross or hug the center yellow lines multiple times. He called this a violation of the vehicle code, which gave him the authority to pull the vehicle over for an investigative stop.
Therefore, in the interest of safety, Officer Mencias proceeded to use his lights to signal the driver to pull over.
The deputy district attorney had the dash cam video from that evening. The DDA showed this to Officer Mencias on the witness stand, as well as to the judge and private defense counsel Gary Gorski. Officer Mencias mentioned that he had first seen the footage that morning.
After reviewing the tape, Mr. Gorski questioned Officer Mencias. The defense pointed out that, upon the second swerve onto the double yellow line, Ms. Zimmer had passed a truck stalled on the side of the road. He pointed out that perhaps the defendant had “hugged” the double yellow line because she was trying to avoid the stalled car on the side of the road. He also pointed out that there were levees on either side of the road.
The officer, after reviewing the video, later acknowledged that he, too, had verged left slightly to go around the parked vehicle. Once Ms. Zimmer passed the stalled car, Officer Mencias turned on his lights to signal to Ms. Zimmer to pull over.
Officer Mencias stated that he pulled Ms. Zimmer over to explain the possibilities of her distracted driving. Upon engaging in conversation with Ms. Zimmer, Officer Mencias noted more signs of possible intoxication.
The DDA would point out that some of the swerves occurred well before the defendant would have seen the stalled vehicle.
However, Mr. Gorski would counter that the officer, who was very familiar with the road, was imposing his own standards on the driver. For instance, Officer Mencias testified that he turned on his lights in an area that would have a wide shoulder for Ms. Zimmer to stop her car. However, while she quickly stopped her car, she went past that shoulder to a more risky location.
Mr. Gorski noted that the officer was quite familiar with that road, but that did not mean his client was, or that she was being evasive or that this was indicative of intoxication.
He also noted that this was a dark road and that, while the officer steadfastly refused to acknowledge it under cross-examination, the road was very narrow. A reasonable driver would probably attempt to hug the line and err on the side of caution by driving toward the center of the road rather than toward the outer edge of the road, where the levee and river were.
At the conclusion of the arguments by both sides, Judge Dan Maguire announced that he plans to review the video further, prior to delivering his decision on whether the stop was reasonable under the circumstances given.