By Karisa Cortez
OAKLAND, CA – In a drunken driving case here in Alameda County Superior Court last week, the defense filed a motion to suppress evidence based on what the defense attorney described as “a sloppy investigation” on Feb. 3, 2020.
California Highway Patrol Officer Remy Trifforiot, the arresting officer, said he was dispatched to a single vehicle rollover accident in the city of Berkeley on the night of the accident. When the officer arrived on the scene he stated that the vehicle was facing the wrong way and the defendant was speaking to the paramedics.
Trifforiot said that there were no other cars on the scene, and that was significant because the accident was on a straight freeway and if there’s a vehicle collision it is typically the result of a driver’s error.
Officer Trifforiot stated that he immediately could smell the odor of alcohol on the defendant, Alex Quintanilla, and noted the driver also had a difficult time maintaining focus. He pointed out that difficulty maintaining focus is important because it is usually a telltale sign that someone has been drinking alcohol.
Quintanilla stated that he was traveling eastbound in the number three lane and a car cut him off. He then swerved to avoid the vehicle and came into contact with the center concrete wall where he flipped over. In the initial report, Officer Trifforiot stated that Quintanilla sustained no injuries.
Quintanilla told the officer there was nothing mechanically wrong with the car and he was not diabetic or epileptic. The officer said he was told Quintanilla had slept for three hours from, last ate soup and tacos before sleeping, and said he had nothing to drink.
When administering a field sobriety test, Officer Trifforiot noted that Quintanilla was reluctant to perform the different tests, which is typical for people who are under the influence. The officer stated that the defendant had a hard time balancing, was constantly moving his head and hands, and had a hard time tracking officer Trifforiot’s finger.
The prosecution showed the court a video from the officer’s body camera footage of the night. In the audio the court can clearly hear the defendant slurring his words and mumbling, which makes it difficult to understand what he is saying at different points.
However, during the video you can hear a conversation between the officer and the defendant. Quintanilla says, “If you’re gonna take me, take me,” and Trifforiot responds by saying, “I’m trying to determine that.” Quintanilla repeats, “If you’re going to take me, take me” and the officer states, “I’m not trying to take you to jail, no one wants to take you to jail.”
Officer Trifforiot stated that he showed the defendant how to perform different field sobriety tests, but the defendant failed them. This indicated to the officer that Quintanilla was likely under the influence.
Trifforiot then reads from a card and states, “I am requesting that you take a preliminary alcohol screening test to further assist me in determining whether you are under the influence of alcohol. You may refuse to take this test. However, this is not an implied consent test and if arrested you will be required to give a sample of your blood or breath for the purpose of determining the actual alcohol and drug content of your blood.”
Quintanilla agrees to the breath test and it is administered three times with the results being .25, .272 and .236 (the legal limit to drive is .08). In the video Trifforiot asks the defendant to blow on the breathalyzer and then states that they are going to wait two minutes between each test.
While they are waiting, Quintanilla tells the officer that he drank three beers and nothing else. He also states that the beers were drunk between the hours of 3 and 7 p.m. and he was coming home from a Super Bowl party at his cousin’s house.
Officer Trifforiot said that the defendant was very anxious but he stated, “I acknowledge that interactions with law enforcement aren’t always the most calm for the public, typically someone with that level of anxiety indicates that he is guilty of something.” He then added that people with that level of anxiety are not always guilty of a crime.
The defense objected to the video for relevance but the prosecution argued that it shows demeanor in relation to effect on the listener and probable cause for the arrest. However, it is difficult for anyone not in the courtroom to hear, as someone else on the video call was talking over the video.
The defendant initially consented to a breath test but then asked to change it to a breath test at the station.
The defense questioned Officer Trifforiot about his training writing police reports and the importance of them. Officer Trifforiot did not recall when the report was written but assured that it was done shortly after the incident occurred. He also stated that he recorded all important actions from the incident and reviewed the report before the hearing.
In the video, the defendant had an open wound and the officer had to clean his hands after making contact. The defense stated that this counts as an injury or wound. The defense insisted that Quintanilla said he was shook up, scared and almost died. He emphasized that, despite what was written in the report, Quintanilla was in fact injured after the accident.
However, Officer Trifforiot stated that the defendant was medically examined, was cleared by paramedics, said he had no injuries, and when he was arrested was examined and cleared by medical professionals again. He also stated he offered the defendant a band-aid for his cut, but the defendant did not want it.
The prosecution objected to this line of questioning based on relevance. The defense stated that it goes to the credibility of the officer.
The defense noted the report does not have information about the defendant being cleared. The officer said that the fact that he was not in the back of an ambulance is evidence and went on to say that he is not a medical professional and therefore relies on the determinations of those at the scene and in the station.
The defense then went on to question Officer Trifforiot’s earlier statement about the defendant having “red watery eyes.” They stated that it could be fair to say that he cannot overrule red watery eyes as a result of the accident instead of from drinking. They also stated that it could also be the sign of a recent head injury, and pointed to what Officer Trifforiot referred to as “slow speech” as another possibility of a head injury. They also assert that the confusion that Officer Trifforiot had noticed could be another result of a head injury.
The defense then questioned the validity of the tests performed by the officer, suggesting it is possible the defendant was coerced into doing the tests because the body camera was turned off. They also show a point of the body camera footage where the officer was reading the defendant his rights and he said, “Whatever, yeah, I have to” multiple times with regard to the field sobriety tests. However, there is confusion from the prosecution, judge, and officer as they did not hear the defendant say “Whatever, yeah, I have to.”
The defense said Officer Trifforiot did not properly inform Quintanilla of his rights because he did not finish reading the part of the card where it states you do not have to perform tests if you do not want to.
The defense also questioned whether or not Officer Trifforiot observed Quintanilla for 15 minutes before administering field sobriety tests, as he is supposed to based on CHP training. The officer stateed that he did in fact watch the defendant for 15 minutes to make sure he did not regurgitate or vomit.
At this point the prosecution objected and stated that the defense is out of scope, to which the judge agreed. She then told the defense to move onto another line of questioning and informed them that they need to end court in 25 minutes.
The defense then went on to emphasize that the officer had the ability to record on the body camera the officer asking for consent, but the camera was turned off. The defense again argued that some of the symptoms described by the officer could have been caused by brain trauma.
During their closing arguments the defense requested that the tests be suppressed. The defense stated that the different tests were not voluntarily consented to as required, and said the officer conducted a sloppy investigation and his testimony was not credible.
They also stated that all of the symptoms described by the officer could have been caused by the accident. The defense also stated that Triffotiot failed to obtain a warrant for the test, cannot state if consent was given, and was dishonest. They then charged that Officer Trifforiot did not care about consent and only cared about making an arrest.
However, the prosecution argued that Trifforiot did his job in conducting an investigation into criminal activity. They stated that “when circumstances are consistent with criminal activity they permit, even demand an investigation.”
This is based on the fact that Quintanilla admitted to being the driver and owner of the crashed car and, along with the evidence of the defendant potentially driving under the influence, Officer Trifforiot was compelled to conduct an investigation. The prosecution argued that it would have been incompetent if he did not conduct an investigation.
In the end the judge denied the defense motion to suppress, and stated the officer “demonstrated that there was probability caused based on the totality of the circumstances.”
The next court date is a pretrial hearing the week of Aug. 25.