By Tiffany Yeh
Deputy Public Defender Andrea Pelochino argued that the detention of defendant Courtney Smith occurred a few seconds after Officer Alisha Slater began talking to Smith and that it was not a consensual encounter. Officer Slater had no probable cause to arrest Smith, according to the defense. DPD Pelochino also stated that the officer decided right away, assumed she knew it all, and believed that Smith was selling drugs. The two people were laughing while talking, but direct accusations and questioning were conducted by Officer Slater. She cited Wilson v. Superior Court (1983) 34 Cal.3d 777.
District Attorney Certified Intern Greg Agron represented the prosecution, with DDA Deanna Hays also present. Agron argued that the detention only occurred after Smith was arrested. Judge Paul Richardson denied the motion to suppress the evidence.
Part of the in-car camera footage was played in court on a laptop with the attorneys and judge viewing it. A motion to be able to watch the footage on the laptop, not on the overhead, was made because DPD Pelochino did not seem well-versed in how to project the video onto the projection screen.
Placer County Sheriff’s Deputy Alisha Slater had been working with the West Sacramento Police Department on November 16, 2015. Officer Slater had worked in conjunction with the Yolo Narcotic Enforcement Team in 2013-2014.
On November 16, 2015 at 2:25pm, Officer Slater was driving back from Woodland in her fully-marked patrol vehicle. Over the dispatch/radio, Officer Slater was told that Smith was seen leaving a house that was known for drug selling and drug use.
Officer Slater noticed Smith driving a car and followed her on West Capitol Boulevard in West Sacramento. She noticed that Smith may have run a red light at an intersection, and described a “California Roll” (edging in front of the white line) but was not sure of it.
She didn’t have the patrol vehicle’s siren on and did not speak over the loudspeaker to Smith during the process.
As Smith pulled into a parking lot, in front of a liquor store, Officer Slater parked in the parking spot right next to Smith’s vehicle, parallel to it. She was not able to estimate the distance between the cars.
Officer Slater described getting out of her vehicle, in full uniform, at the same time that the defendant did.
Later on (Slater did not know exactly when), Officer Geoffrey Albert joined Officer Slater at the parking lot.
They greeted each other and Officer Slater told Smith that she ran run a stop sign at the intersection, which Smith denied.
During Slater’s testimony, she testified not being sure if Smith had run the red light or not, and stated that she was going to do a consent contact with Smith—she repeated this at least twice during her testimony. Her reasoning was that she was not sure if Smith had run the red light or not, therefore she could not use a traffic stop to get Smith to stop for a search.
The conversation and, arguably, detention, included the officer telling the defendant to close her eyes. The officer saw Smith’s eyelid tremors when she closed her eyes, then told Smith, “You’re high as a motherf—r, I can tell.”
The officer described being able to discern that the defendant was under the influence the moment she saw her, detailing the defendant’s pale face, looking like she had not had any sleep, and having fast body movements and speech.
Smith described just completing a rehabilitation program, and then relapsing a month before, but she denied being high.
Officer Slater requested to search Smith. Smith said no, that she was not on probation. The officer requested to search her again.
Whether the officer had probable cause to search Smith and when the interaction became a detention are the two main points of contention during this hearing. Did the officer have probable cause to search Smith and, if so, what was that probable cause?
The officer then asked Smith to take a seat and put her purse down. She sat down. When the defendant asked why she needed to be searched, the officer stated that she had seen the defendant run the stop sign.
The officer continued asking Smith when she had relapsed currently, which Smith denied doing. A couple minutes later, Smith admitted using methamphetamine at midnight. Slater asked if she had a pipe on her person. Smith denied that. At some point, Smith allowed the officer to search her. Then the officer told Smith to sit on the hood of her vehicle, which is when Officer Albert stood and watched Smith.
Officer Slater took Smith’s pulse twice while Smith was sitting there, with a six-minute pause between the readings. The first one was 128 beats per minute, while the second was 108 beats per minute.
DPD Pelochino pointed out that the officer had asked Smith about what they were going to do with Smith’s car if she went to jail, then the second heartbeat reading was done. This was part of the under-the-influence exam Officer Slater did.
Smith passed an internal clock test, where she was asked to estimate how long 30 seconds lasted. Another test, this time of Smith’s reaction to light, was done. Her pupils were not dilated but she had a slow reaction to light.
DPD Pelochino questioned Officer Slater about the officer’s testimony during a preliminary examination, about how the officer said it was standard to do this light test indoors, in dim light, to shine light in the subject’s eyes. Doing the test outdoors was not the best conditions.
The officer then proceeded to search Smith’s purse, found a Taser, and then asked her whether she had weapons or any drugs on her. Smith said she had meth in a pipe on her person.
Smith was arrested. At the police station, Officer Slater then did three other tests for drug abuse recognition (DAR) on Smith. These included the non-convergence test (for lack of ocular convergence) and a vertical gaze nystagmus (VGN) test (for a condition of involuntary eye movement). Officer Slater was expired on her DRE certification (drug recognition expert) around 2012. She described conducting the DAR exams around 100 times (a low estimate, she said) and the DRE training around 20 times during her career so far.
Judge Richardson denied the motion to suppress on the grounds that: the initial contact between Officer Slater and the defendant was not a detention; the first encounter was consensual and not a controlled situation; the officer had not drawn her gun leading the defendant to feel obligated to stay at the parking lot; the defendant had passed some tests; she had dark circles under her eyes and sunken, twitching cheeks; the defendant admitted to using meth the night before; and Officer Slater had been active with YONET, having drug investigation experience.
The judge emphasized that, even not taking into account Officer Slater’s previous interactions with Smith and knowing Smith’s drug history, he made the decision to deny the motion to suppress. The previous interactions between the officer and defendant (which were not for the truth of the matter, but for state of mind and background) included the police officer’s previous arrests and investigation of the defendant and the defendant’s boyfriend (drug selling, using, etc.), and the house that Smith left that day.