By Julietta Bisharyan
WOODLAND – The defendant allegedly dodged a peace officer while driving unlicensed on a rough, narrow road at night.
During the suppression hearing, the defendant, Jorge Lopez, was charged with a felony on two counts of evading a police officer and on one misdemeanor count for driving without a license.
Deputy District Attorney Alex Kian called Deputy Gary Richter to the stand. The officer promptly identified the defendant in the room, but admitted that Lopez does not look the same.
Deputy Richter has been working at the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office for 14 years. On Dec. 15, 2019, he was on duty in Woodland with Deputy Leonard, when he observed a dark colored sedan driving along County Road 22 around 1 am.
He found it odd that a car was driving there at that hour because it is a rural area, with no areas to park, just residences. According to Richter, the area is known for recent burglaries and commercial marijuana grow facilities. The roads are also unmaintained and bumpy.
Deputy Richter allegedly began following the car. After conducting a check on the license plate, he noticed that the vehicle was registered from Fairfield, which further created suspicion. He was unable to see how many people were inside the car.
The defendant’s car at one point crossed over the center line and stayed on the yellow divided lines, which is a vehicle code violation. After following Lopez for about two minutes, Deputy Richter engaged in a traffic stop and attempted to make contact with the defendant. He had a suspicion that Lopez may be under the influence.
Defense Attorney Aram Davtyan proceeded to show a video of the country road to the witness and Judge David W. Reed. The video was shot during the day time and revealed the worn down roads and missing lines.
At the time of the event, Deputy Richter had a body and car camera, on but insisted that they do not capture the extent of what he saw with his naked eye. Davtyan played that video for the court as well.
Shortly after, Deputy Richter was dismissed from the witness stand.
Defense Attorney Davtyan argued that the defendant should not have been pulled over because he was driving slowly and as reasonably as he could, considering it was a winding road. The degradation of the lines makes it nearly impossible for anyone to see the yellow marks. He also asserted that only a small part of the car crossed over, which is technically not a violation.
Additionally, Davtyan found it unreasonable for Deputy Richter to try to pull the defendant over since he had no proper foundation. Even though the car is registered in Fairfield and there are robberies in that Woodland area, the defense believes that is not an adequate reason. He argued that Deputy Richter violated the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from unlawful searches and seizures, including investigatory traffic stops.
The defense cited the case of U.S. v. Colin which dealt with the issue of “lane straddling.” Judge Reed found this case to be the most constructive for this incident.
In response, Prosecutor Kian maintained that Deputy Richter was simply enforcing the law for community safety and acted in accordance. He also added that the defendant has an extensive criminal history.
Judge Reed granted the defense motion to suppress.
A trial date has been set for Monday, Mar. 2, 2020.
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