The DUI Puzzle: If the Pieces Don’t Fit, You Must Acquit!

By Allison Ramsey

After three days of experts and witnesses, “the defense rests” were the first words of the day. The judge then read instructions for the jury to follow during their deliberations.

Assistant DA Tan was the first to give her closing argument. She gave the pre-packaged prosecution DUI closing, beginning with, “These facts are not in dispute. The defendant drank and the defendant drove…” Ms. Tan recounted the elements of the two charges; the defendant drank and drove with more than a 0.08% blood alcohol level, and drove while under the influence.

She discussed the permissive inference instruction, which gives the jury the option to ignore the fact that a driver might not have been over the legal limit when driving, if chemical test results within 3 hours of driving are over .08.

Ms. Tan recounted the officer’s testimony about the field sobriety tests, comparing missing a step on the walk-and-turn test to mistaking the brake pedal for the gas pedal. She recounted that “the defendant failed to follow instructions” because she pulled over to the right instead of the left, despite the fact that when cars are pulled over they are generally asked to pull to the right.

She recounted the toxicologists’ expert testimony. And she said the expert knew the defendant was eliminating alcohol, so the calculations were definitely correct. However, the expert, Shaw, failed to provide any valid reason the expert would have known that the defendant was eliminating, as opposed to absorbing alcohol. Before taking her seat, Ms. Tan reminded the jury that all of the evidence in this case came from the witnesses that she, the ADA, had put on the stand and that only that evidence was to be taken into account.

Then Deputy Public Defender Nitin Sapra began his closing by thanking the jury for giving their service and taking the time to give his client a fair trial. He jumped right into his arguments, comparing the People’s case to a puzzle. In order for the case to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, all pieces of the puzzle must fit, and Ms, Tan failed to make the final piece of the puzzle fit.

He told the jury that he wasn’t going to waste their time arguing every issue and explained that the jury should focus their attention on specific failures of the prosecution’s case when deciding a verdict. After breaking down the permissive inference instruction he reminded the jury that this instruction very clearly left the discretion to the jury – through the use of the word may – to determine whether someone driving within three hours of blowing a .08 automatically is guilty of driving under the influence.

The closing was broken into three parts, referred to by Sapra as an incomplete bridge of facts.

First is the presumption of innocence. Sapra reminded the jury that his client is still innocent in the eyes of the law and will remain so unless People are able to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sapra then presented facts of the case which the ADA left out. He began with his client’s driving ability and the alcohol found in the defendant’s car, explaining that these were all facts tending to show that, at the time of driving, the alcohol had not yet been absorbed into his client’s system. Next, Sapra discussed the breathalyzer (PAS) machine used to test the BAC of the defendant – and which at the time of the test was not compliant with government regulations due to departmental failure to check the device within the Title XVII required time.

Finally, Sapra’s final argument went after the science presented by the prosecution’s expert Natashia Shaw. Sapra showed that the calculations performed by Shaw were not only incorrect, but failed to show numbers that were possible based on the retrograde extrapolation performed the previous day in court.

ADA Tan rebutted, first by discussing standards higher than beyond a reasonable doubt since “everything in life is open to some reasonable doubt.” She then said the holes in her story pointed out by the defense were not actually holes, but excuses for the defendant’s behavior.

Tan went through the defense’s arguments, saying each one was impossible. First, there was no way mouth alcohol was present due to the 15-minute observation period observed by the police. Second, if the alcohol was still being absorbed, the defendant would have gotten more intoxicated as the officer watched her, and he didn’t have any notes or make any mention of the defendant seeming to get more intoxicated. She had no rebuttal relating to Shaw’s numbers being off, and seemed to ignore this point completely.

Ms. Tan then declared that the defense’s conclusion was not reasonable because it required multiple flaws in the system and, as such, her conclusion was the only reasonable one.

After a day of deliberation, the jury found the defendant guilty of both charges. Sentencing will happen later next month.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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