By Julietta Bisharyan
WOODLAND – A car crash on Chiles Road led to the discovery of a man’s possession of methamphetamine, among other drugs, according to court testimony here in Yolo County Superior Court.
The question in his court hearing became whether the search was unlawful.
The defendant, Oscar Delatorre, was arrested for driving under the influence—and without a license, along with the possession of a controlled substance for sale and of drug paraphernalia.
On Sept. 20, 2019, dispatchers received report around 7:30 pm of an erratic driver in a white Nissan Maxima, who ended up crashing into a parked vehicle on Chiles Road. Police identified the driver as Delatorre and arrested him on suspicion of driving under the influence. Further search of the car led to the discovery of the meth, Xanax pills, cash and a pipe.
Deputy District Attorney Alex Kian called Officer Nicholas Peel to testify during the livestream court hearing. Peel has been working for the Davis Police Department for four years.
After receiving the report from dispatch, Peel quickly arrived at the scene. and conducted a breathalyzer test on the defendant. It was zero. But, as he was interviewing Delatorre, Officer Cortland Jordan said that he discovered methamphetamine and pills in the car while he was looking for the registration.
According to Jordan, there were loose Xanax pills on the floorboard of the car and inside a baggie. There was also an iPhone 6s box with a bag of white crystal substance—about 56.4 grams of methamphetamine—inside. Officers also found a scale, pipe and cash.
Delatorre told the officers that the pills were prescription but that his prescription was left at home. He claimed to have been moving his prescription to the vehicle.
From his experience, Peel said that it looked like a drug sale situation. Besides the breathalyzer test, Delatorre also looked to be under the influence.
Next witness Cortland Jordan—an officer with the Davis Police Department for five years, said the vehicle was totaled with severe damage to the front and engine. It was also in the middle of the road, blocking traffic. The owner of the vehicle was not Delatorre, but a woman who resides in Dixon.
According to the defendant, the woman is a friend of his, and she let him borrow her car. He said that he had her contact information in his phone, which was left in the vehicle.
Jordan had to wait for Peel to finish his investigation before beginning the car search because Peel was borrowing his body cam, as his had malfunctioned earlier.
While Jordan was searching for registration and the defendant’s phone, he located the iPhone 6s box stuffed with drugs and the loose pills on the floor. When asked why he checked the glove box and control console, Jordan said that’s where he keeps his own car registration.
After Jordan was dismissed, Kian recalled Peel to testify. Peel said an inventory search was conducted because the owner of the vehicle was not present and unable to be contacted.
When the defendant asked if he could grab his phone from the car to contact the owner, Peel told him no, because he was with medical personnel.
Deputy Public Defender Aram Davtyan then played a video clip of the body camera footage from that evening. In the video, Delatorre is seen being attended to by medical staff. When an officer asks him about the iPhone 6s box, the defendant repeatedly says, “Not in the box.”
Defense counsel Davtyan, in closing, argued the inventory search conducted by the officers is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unlawful searches and seizures.
He said that the officers did not have the right to look inside the iPhone 6s box or to even search for the defendant’s phone in the first place. Even if they had found the phone, they would not be permitted to get into it and look for the owner’s contact information. Davtyan insisted that the methamphetamine was found due to an unlawful search.
Prosecutor Kian responded by saying that the search for the phone was reasonable because officers would have likely handed the phone to the defendant for the contact information. Since he does not own the vehicle, he would be unable to access the vehicle for his items after it was towed, making the drugs an inevitable discovery.
Davtyan had the final word and argued that Delatorre still should have grabbed his own phone, not the officers. He also said that officers shouldn’t search the entire car for items they cannot find.
Judge David Reed continued the hearing to a later date to better address the limited issues of inevitable discovery.
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