By Ruby Chavez and Cailin Garcia
FRESNO- In two separate cases yesterday, Assistant Public Defender Tonya Lopez argued that California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers must monitor suspected DUI drivers for at least three-quarters of a mile before engaging with the driver.
Unfortunately for Lopez, Judge Monica Diaz did not agree.
The first case involved defendant Ricardo Garcia, who was in court for an alleged DUI incident. Lopez felt that Garcia’s charges should be dropped because the officer did not observe Garcia’s vehicle for a long enough period of time to determine a DUI charge.
Deputy District Attorney Carlie Bruce called Officer Johnny Fisher as a witness to Garcia’s case. Fisher has been a CHP officer for more than 18 years and was the officer who pulled over Garcia’s vehicle.
“I am a drug recognition expert instructor. I’ve seen thousands and thousands and thousands of human beings impaired by drug categories, including alcohol. It’s my job, it’s what I do,” said Fisher as he introduced himself.
Around 1:30 a.m. on December 23, 2019, Officer Fisher was driving down Willow Avenue to investigate a possible DUI driver. On his way to the scene, Fisher noticed a car driving “noticeably slow” about 20 yards ahead of him.
“I actually teach at the Fresno Police Academy and the vehicle in front of me looked familiar. It looked like one of the cadet’s old vehicles, I guess that kind of caught my eye. I noticed that while I was behind it, it was going at a really slow speed as we went through the intersection. The right side tires touched across the broken white lines that separate the fast lane from the slow lane,” responded Fisher.
“The thought process that I had was to stop the vehicle and see if the person was impaired, then move on so we could go take care of the call we had,” Fisher said, noting the area was well lighted with street lights, strip mall lights and the lights of the gas station.
At the time of the incident, Fisher’s patrol vehicle was equipped with technology that records video footage when the vehicle’s emergency lights are on. Bruce attempted to show the footage to the court by using Zoom’s screen-sharing function, but was halted by technical difficulties. Judge Diaz asked that the defendant, witness, and counsel return in the afternoon once the technical difficulties were fixed.
The footage, titled People’s Exhibit 1, was shown later that afternoon.
After Fisher’s testimony, Lopez argued that the traffic stop was unlawful, explaining that officers need to follow suspected DUIs for “a substantial time period” but noted that the officer followed Garcia for less than three quarters of a mile. She motioned for Garcia’s case to be dismissed.
After reviewing the video evidence again, Judge Diaz decided to deny Lopez’s motion. He has a trial before a jury in December.
Later that same afternoon, Bruce and Lopez were involved in a very similar DUI case.
This time, DDA Bruce called CHP Officer Samuel Esqueda to testify against Defendant Monico Hernandez Galvin for the DUI case.
Officer Esqueda explained “dispatch notified for possible DUI driver in a red Chevy pick-up truck traveling northbound.” Then he and Officer Ramos waited for the driver to pass their direction.
Officer Esqueda explained that Galvin, without using his signal light, moved into the right shoulder and back into the left lane crossing the white solid line.
He elaborated to Judge Diaz that Hernandez was “moving like a snake” and not able to drive in a straight direction.
Once again, PD Lopez argued, “The officer needs to follow the vehicle for more than three quarters of a mile.”
The judge disagreed.
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