by Samantha Brill and Gloria Ho
Expert Witness Testifies in Cannabis DUI Case
By Samantha Brill
On the night of February 23, 2016, Sarah Marie Lopez was pulled over in a residential area after suspected mechanical issues with her car. After being pulled over, the officer smelled a strong odor consistent with cannabis.
The officer then proceeded to administer a field sobriety test, leading to the arrest of Ms. Lopez. She is being prosecuted for misdemeanor driving under the influence.
The People were represented by Deputy District Attorney David Robbins, and Ms. Lopez by Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson.
The People called their expert witness, Officer Travis Herbert, to testify on his knowledge of field sobriety testing, training history, and his knowledge on cannabis.
After explaining his 16 years of service with the California Highway Patrol, he also explained how he has countless hours of DUI training along with 72 hours of drug recognition expert training. Not only did he have these many hours of training, he also explained that he has been teaching about each subject since 2005.
Along with teaching and training, Officer Herbert explained that he had executed about 2,000 DUI investigations, 300 of which were involving cannabis. Out of those, he had made 800 arrests, and 100 out of those were involving cannabis.
The officer then continued to define cannabis and the active chemical, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). He did this by listing out the different forms of cannabis: leaves/buds, hashish (high concentration of THC), hash oil (even higher concentration of THC), and finally a pill form usually given by a doctor.
Officer Herbert then explained that the symptoms of being high from cannabis are red eyes, droopy face, giddy or laughing a lot, increased appetite, unable to divide attention, perceptions off, dilated pupils, and higher blood pressure. Cannabis would cause symptoms both mentally and physically.
The People then went on to have the officer explain to the court the steps in the field sobriety test. The officer explained the steps, and that the officer administering the test has to make sure that the surface where the test is given is dry and hard-packed. If the officer sees the area to be unfit, they are trained to move the test to a better location.
Also, if persons taking the test feel like they are unable to perform the test in that location, they should inform the officer that the ground is not in good condition. The officer was then shown pictures of the area which he and Ms. Lopez determined to be a fit location to administer a field sobriety test.
He also stated that if the person taking the test thought that the line on the road was not straight, the officer is able to create an imaginary line elsewhere.
The People then moved to present a hypothetical introducing a person who has been pulled over for a suspected DUI, stating that this person had pupils that were dilated in room light at 5.5mm and in direct light they were dilated 4.0mm. Then Mr. Robbins asked the officer if he could conclude anything from these findings, and he explained that it could be an indicator that the person was under the the influence of cannabis and unable to operate a car.
The defense then proceeded with the cross-examination of this witness.
Mr. Hutchinson had the witness confirm that, yes, he has never been to the scene nor watched any videos, never worked with the arresting officer besides teaching her in class, and he has never talked to the defendant.
The witness then explained to the court that how long the effects of cannabis last depends on the tolerance of the person who smoked or ingested it.
West Sacramento Woman Arrested For First DUI
By Gloria Ho
On February 23, 2016, Sarah Lopez, 28, was stopped at 10:52pm on 999 Reuter Drive at Sacramento Avenue in West Sacramento for driving under the influence.
The defendant is being charged with two counts: count 1: Vehicle Code section 23152(e), driving under the influence of drugs; and count 2: Vehicle Code section 23152(f), driving under the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and drug. The CALCRIM jury instruction referred to was No. 2110.
The trial of the People v. Sarah Lopez resumed on the afternoon of December 14, 2016, in Department 9 with Judge Janene Beronio presiding. Several witnesses testified on behalf of the defense.
The defense’s witness, “DL,” took the stand. She is the defendant’s first cousin and lives in the same apartment with the defendant. The witness admitted to smoking marijuana and testified that the defendant smokes marijuana as well. Furthermore, she stated that the smoking sessions were regular, every night in the defendant’s car, because they had a child in the household and Ms. Dolores Lopez’s half sister, “VR,” was pregnant, so they had an agreement not to smoke inside the apartment.
Deputy District Attorney David Robbins questioned, “How much did you smoke?” The defense’s witness admitted that both she and the defendant regularly smoked a “blunt” (marijuana rolled in a tobacco leaf) each at night. No further questions were asked and the witness was excused.
The defense’s next witness, “DF,” took the stand. DF is the grandmother of the defendant and has raised her from the age of four.
“Do you know the smell of her car?” Deputy Public Defender Daniel Hutchinson asked.
“It smelled like weed or cannabis,” DF testified. She went on to say that she doesn’t like that her granddaughter smokes marijuana.
DF testified that she’s never seen her granddaughter smoke marijuana, but knows that the defendant smokes it because of the smell. She also stated that she’s never seen Ms. Lopez smoke in the car when she was in the car with her. No further questions were asked by the defense or the People, and the witness was excused.
“AB” took the stand. The defense’s third witness of the afternoon was a good friend of the defendant. They previously worked together at G H Foods, a food manufacturing plant in South Sacramento.
“Prior to February 23, did you see her?” Mr. Hutchinson asked.
“Yes, we went to eat,” AB answered. On the night of the arrest, the defendant and AB met up around 6:30pm that evening to have dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory, which is located on J Street in midtown Sacramento. AB testified that they both got off work at 6:00pm and went directly to the restaurant in separate cars, arriving around the same time.
AB stated that he does not smoke marijuana but was aware that Ms. Lopez does. He said that he could not recall there being a chance where she smoked that night. While they were waiting to be seated, they were at the bar drinking. The witness said he ordered a beer and the defendant had one mixed drink.
Deputy DA Robbins questioned the witness on where he parked his car and if it was near Ms. Lopez’s car. He said that their cars were parked relatively close to each other, because he walked her to her car after they walked around following dinner. Mr. Bell testified that the car was gone when he looked back, but he didn’t exactly see the defendant drive away, around 10:30pm. The witness was excused after no further questions were put forward.
Next, Sandra Gordon took the stand. The defense’s witness has been an investigator with the Yolo County Public Defender for 28 years. Ms. Gordon helps attorneys with anything they need for court, which includes taking photographs, drawing diagrams, and preparing subpoenas. She was assigned to the case of Sarah Lopez.
Ms. Gordon had gone to Reuter Drive in Sacramento with Mr. Hutchison to take some photographs. The defense showed the jury Exhibits A through G, which consisted of photographs from standing in the driveway, facing west, at 999 Reuter Dr, where Sacramento Avenue was to the left. The exhibits included the sidewalk and driveway, and Ms. Gordon pointed out that new cement was poured onto the driveway at two different times, whereas the sidewalk had old cement that had cracks.
“Did you inspect the sidewalk and what was in the crack?” Mr. Hutchison questioned.
“Pebbles. Gravel.” Ms. Gordon responded. She stated that she tried to walk the line, doing a heel-to-toe sobriety test while wearing black leather flats at the time. She found that she lost balance on two occasions because of the uneven surface. She testified that she doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs.
Mr. Robbins asked the defense’s witness if she went there to take measurements, and she gave a negative response, saying she was only there to take pictures – and spontaneously decided to do the sobriety test. Once she saw that the ground was uneven, she tried to walk on it. Mr. Robbins asked Ms. Gordon to demonstrate to the jury how she did the heel-to-toe test, and she did it to show the jury. The witness was then excused when no further questions were asked.
The defendant, Sarah Lopez, took the stand in her own defense. She recounted how she was stopped on Sacramento Ave. that evening by two police officers, after having dinner with her friend, AB. They initially pulled her over for her car’s broken taillight. She said that after she handed the male officer her car’s registration and license she thought he was going to hand them back to her and let her go. The defendant didn’t expect to be arrested for DUI.
However, the female police officer showed up on her right and told her to pull over to 999 Reuter Drive. She complied and then the female officer asked her to step out of the car. She obeyed and the officer started asking her a lot of questions about her sobriety.
“I was disrespectful towards her,” Ms. Lopez admitted in court when she recounted how she laughed at things the female officer asked her. The female officer started to ask her to do a few sobriety tests, and that’s when the defendant said she started to feel afraid that she was going to be arrested for driving under the influence, even though she had not smoked marijuana since taking only a few hits that morning at around 5:30am to calm her nerves about work. She didn’t tell the female officer that the ground was uneven because she was afraid.
“How did you feel when you were arrested?” Mr. Hutchison asked.
“A very bad feeling… Being wrongfully taken away. Like an animal almost,” the defendant responded. She said the female officer gave her unclear instructions during the sobriety tests and she felt intimated by her.
Mr. Robbins questioned why the defendant lied to the female officer about marijuana use and she said that she didn’t want to affect any other people and bring them into the situation. It was her first time being arrested. The defendant also lied to the officer about drinking at the Old Spaghetti Factory. Ms. Lopez said that she didn’t question the officers and obeyed all directions and instructions given by the female officer.
“I have nothing further,” said both Deputy DA Robbins and Deputy PD Hutchison before the defendant stepped down from the stand.
The trial will reconvene at 9:00am on December 15, 2016, in Department 9 with Judge Janene Beronio presiding.