By Julie Maruskin and Evan Chu
During a preliminary hearing for a DUI case, the defense attorney used the body camera footage of the expert witness, Officer Guillermo Zuniga, to show that he observed the walk and turn test on an uneven surface.
Defendant Sulman Hafeez is charged with three counts related to driving under the influence in West Sacramento. The charges are as follows: driving under the influence within a 10-year period of doing it prior, driving with a suspended license, and enhancements because of his refusal to take a blood test/chemical test. He also had a misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license.
The preliminary hearing began with a single witness taking the stand. The first and only witness was the expert witness, Officer Zuniga. Officer Zuniga has been with the West Sacramento Police Department for two years and has passed his training for testifying in court.
The officer testified to being on active duty on February 18, 2019, when he encountered a white vehicle going at a high rate of speed on West Capitol Avenue. The prosecuting attorney, Jesse Richardson, asked the officer how he knew that the vehicle was going at a high-rated speed and the witness responded that the car was traveling faster relative to other traffic. The officer testified to proceeding to follow the vehicle and witnessing the vehicle swerving in and out of its lane. The officer proceeded to make a traffic stop – however, it happened to be when the driver of the white vehicle reached his residence.
The officer testified to the vehicle being driven by one single occupant and identified the driver to be Mr. Hafeez.
The prosecuting attorney asked Officer Zuniga what happened when he approached the vehicle. Mr. Zuniga responded that the defendant got out of the car before he instructed him to do so. He noticed that the defendant had slurred speech, watery eyes, and a lack of balance, which could indicate intoxication. The officer asked the defendant if he had been drinking and he responded that he had before driving to the store. It was also noted that Officer Zuniga saw wine bottles in the defendant’s vehicle.
The officer asked the defendant to do a sobriety test, to which he responded, “No.” The prosecuting attorney asked the officer if he was told that the defendant had any injuries and he responded that Mr. Hafeez had said he had an ankle injury that led him to spend the night in the hospital the night prior.
When the sobriety tests were occurring, the defendant was unable to follow directions and Officer Zuniga claimed that he stepped off the line twice, lacked balance, was struggling to touch his nose, and was not able to follow instructions in general. The officer testified to thoroughly explaining how to do each test to the defendant.
Officer Zuniga obtained a warrant to conduct a blood test for Mr. Hafeez, to which he spoke to the criminologist about how the test was conducted. However, Deputy Public Defender James Bradford did have some concerns regarding the blood test. The blood test, according to the officer, was done at the Department of Justice, by a criminologist there. He testified that he spoke with the criminologist who handled the blood sample and the criminologist gave him the result of the test. Throughout the statements regarding that blood test, Mr. Bradford constantly objected to the prosecution’s questions and the witness’s answers as he believed the results of the test were hearsay, and also the way the test was conducted wasn’t explained during the process, causing him to also bring up the problem with the foundation of the results.
Mr. Bradford had begun his line of questioning by asking about how the witness identified the defendant’s speed. He asked whether he used radar, to which the expert witness said that he did not. Bradford then asked the witness if he knew the speed of the street off the top of his head, to which he responded that he knew approximately the speed. The defense attorney pointed out, however, that the speed changes on that specific street and asked about the surrounding streets. He confirmed with the officer that the defendant didn’t run any red lights or stop signs before getting pulled over, and the defendant showed no signs of attempting to escape after getting out of the car.
Most importantly, he challenged the blood test results that the witness described during his testimony. Mr. Bradford demonstrated that since the witness only received information from the criminologists he spoke to, therefore this witness shouldn’t be allowed to talk about the blood test itself, and also he questioned the reason the criminologist was able to identify that specific sample to be from his client.
After that, footage from the body camera was shown to the witness and both attorneys. Upon seeing the video, the officer confirmed that during the tests in the field, there was one point when the defendant stepped out of the driveway onto the gravel.
Mr. Bradford argued that, based on the lack of foundation, the court shouldn’t ask the defendant to answer to Counts 1 and 2, which both are regarding driving under the influence, while Count 3 is regarding a suspended license. As for the two enhancements, Mr. Bradford stated that, according to a previous ruling by the Supreme Court, individuals cannot be charged with criminal penalties for refusing a blood test. However, the court concluded that the defendant will be held to answer to all counts as the defendant has had five convictions for DUI in the past five years, and he also had his supervised OR revoked after being found drinking.
Currently, the arraignment is set on November 22 at 8:30 a.m. in Department 10.