By Danae Snell
SACRAMENTO — Defense attorney Brian Wanerman summoned his client to the stand here in Sacramento County Superior Court to testify on his own behalf regarding charges against him at a preliminary hearing late last week.
But the plan did not go as expected when the defendant failed to answer all of Deputy District Attorney Sylvia LaRosa’s questions.
Generally, defense attorneys avoid placing their client on stand and usually “stand on the constitutional rights of the accused and demand that the prosecution prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Defendant Rolando Buenafe is currently being charged with driving “under the influence of an alcoholic beverage” after he crashed into his neighbor’s parked car while trying to drive to the store to buy “hair product supplies and beer.”
Buenafe has been convicted of three prior DUI charges dating back to 2011 and was unable to answer any of the DDA’s questions pertaining to these prior charges.
Defense Wanerman placed Buenafe on the stand to dispute the claim that he was driving under the influence. Buenafe informed the court that, while attempting to make a “three point turn to go to a beauty supply shop,” he hit the front end of his neighbor’s car.
In that moment he got out of the car to check for damages and since there was not much destroyed, he left and proceeded to the store. Buenafe claimed that he was gone for a short length of time and when he returned he “contacted his neighbor about striking his vehicle.”
The victim, whose car was hit, called 911 regarding a hit-and-run, and officers arrived at the scene at 7:46 p.m. Although it was unclear when Buenafe struck the vehicle, Buenafe testified he was under the influence of alcohol when officers arrived, but not when he was driving.
The officer that arrived at the scene, Steve Rutledge, appeared via Zoom to tell the court, “I observed objective signs of alcohol intoxication and I could smell the odor of alcohol. He was unsteady when I spoke to him, which led to me conducting a DUI investigation.”
Officer Rutledge conducted five field sobriety tests that confirmed that Buenafe was definitely intoxicated; however, he did not physically witness Buenafe “driving or consuming any beverages”—which led the basis for the defense’s argument.
When Buenafe took the stand, he explained “it wasn’t just a beauty store, but it was also a liquor store where I bought some beer and some hair supply stuff for my mom.”
The defense only asked his client three questions, but the DDA used this uncommon opportunity to ask the defendant multiple questions.
When DDA LaRosa asked the defendant if he admitted to driving under the influence in his prior three DUI cases, the defendant attempted to answer but his attorney objected based on relevance. Wanerman argued, “We already agreed to the entrance into the record of exhibits which show Mr. Buenafe’s driving record and show his convictions of driving under the influence. So, this evidence is irrelevant and also cumulative.”
Judge Stacy Boulware Eurie from the Sacramento Superior Court overruled the defense’s argument. Buenafe admitted the first two, but does not remember the third.
DDA LaRosa continued to ask questions regarding the BAC level at the time of these three incidents; however, Buenafe was unable to remember.
“I suppose. I don’t know what the record says,” he responded. The defense attempted to object and strike his client’s responses, but was unsuccessful.
After facing another question that Buenafe was unable to remember, he stated, “Look there is no denying that I have been convicted of DUIs in the past. What I am trying to tell the court now is that I was not driving (this time).”
During this statement even the DDA tried to stop Buenafe from finishing his statement; however, he was adamant in finishing. Before Buenafe’s attorney could speak, DDA LaRosa requested to strike Buenafe’s last statement, but the judge denied her motion.
In one last attempt to argue on behalf of his client, Wanerman stated, “One of the required elements the prosecution must prove for a violation of vehicle charged section 23152 is that Mr. Buenafe was under the influence of alcohol at the time he was driving his vehicle.”
Wanerman argued for his client’s charges to be dropped with prejudice on the basis that “no evidence of any kind of this element was introduced into this preliminary hearing because there was no evidence of any kind has been introduced as to when Mr. Buenafe was driving his vehicle or consumed alcoholic beverages. Except for Mr. Buenafe’s testimony that he consumed all the alcohol after he had completed driving his vehicle.”
DDA LaRosa rebutted, “As far as being under the influence, Mr. Buenafe could not even back up his car without hitting a parked car in a driveway…that shows even further that he was under the influence and could not maneuver a car for a simple three-point turn as he described it.”
At this moment Buenafe raised his hand to speak, but his defense recommended him “not continue with any further testimony.”
Judge Eurie denied the defense’s motion to dismiss and stated, “There is sufficient cause to believe that Mr. Buenafe is guilty thereof and ordered to be held to answer.”
Buenafe’s trial was set for October 16. His attorney, Wanerman, immediately informed the court that he will be filing a 995 motion—which is “filed after the preliminary hearing to ask a judge to dismiss an allegation.”
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