By Tanya Decendario
RIVERSIDE – Judge Dean Benjamini was left baffled after hearing a peace officer’s reason for detaining a defendant—that the man appeared untruthful.
While monitoring Desert Hot Springs, Sgt. Fraser said he noticed defendant Justin Donis and immediately found him suspicious. As Sgt. Fraser approached, Donis appeared to jog away and explained that he wished to visit 7-Eleven and his cousin’s house.
The two differing locations provided by Donis caused Sgt. Fraser to become more suspicious. Eventually, this led him to detain Donis and perform a safety frisk.
At Riverside County Superior Court, Deputy District Attorney B. Havlick began the hearing by introducing Sgt. Fraser’s recognition of alleged suspicious activity by Donis.
DDA Havlick described that Sgt. Fraser “sees the defendant pacing, looking around nervously, sweating profusely. He said that based on his training and experience he believes that the defendant was under the influence of a controlled substance.”
She claimed Sgt. Fraser possessed reasonable suspicion due to Donis’ unusual actions.
DDA Havlick added, “When Sgt. Fraser called for back up the defendant had been walking past 7-Eleven.” As soon as the backup arrived, the defendant began jogging in the opposite direction away from officers.
According to Sgt. Fraser, jogging away from the officers signified his guilt.
The DDA clarified that the defendant provided two differing destinations: “So when they first stopped him, they asked him where is he going. He gives two different stories. At first, he is going to 7-Eleven. Another story, he is going to his cousin’s house.”
Judge Dean Benjamini abruptly interrupted DDA Havlick, “What is so improbable about that?” He narrates, “If I want to go get a drink in the 7-Eleven as in one direction but I need to go to my cousin’s house wherever I’m going to another direction, why do I have to necessarily be going in the same direction?”
He continued to question DDA Havlick, asking, “Why aren’t I free to go in one direction for a drink and another direction wherever I’m traveling?” and noting, “I think the officer said he thought that he was being untruthful or lying…but challenging the credibility of that statement?”
Again, Judge Benjamini urged, “What’s so improbable about that?”
DDA Havlick explained, “Maybe for you and I, it doesn’t sound super improbable. We weren’t there, but Sgt. Fraser says [that] based on the responses…it appeared that (defendant) was lying… He said that it sounded like two stories that he was giving.”
Once more, Judge Benjamini interrupted saying that “they weren’t two separate statements, one is I’m going one, then one I’m going the other.” He raises the question: “Why should that be something that is used to justify a seizure?”
DDA Havlick continued to repeat the reasoning for the suspicion: “Sgt. Fraser just said [that] was enough for him to investigate further, to figure out why he was there.”
She repeated the alleged suspicious actions of Donis. “He was sweating, appears nervous, running from officers and other factors going to Sgt. Fraser’s suspicion…with the two conflicting stories it just added to the totality of the circumstances that there might be something more happening.”
She concluded that Donis jogging and sweating during 70-degree weather is clear reasonable suspicion, which led Sgt. Fraser to investigate further.
Donis continued to face charges of violating Health and Safety Code section 11550 (individuals under the influence of a controlled substance or narcotic drug). If convicted, the crime is a misdemeanor, or often drug diversion.
Tanya Decendario is a third-year student studying Legal Studies at UC Berkeley. She is originally from Sonoma, CA, but currently resides in Albany, CA.
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