By Anika Khubchandani
WOODLAND, CA – Judge Timothy Fall declared a mistrial here in Yolo County Superior Court Tuesday, after an expert witness testified to the results of a toxicology report in a DUI case.
Earlier this year, on April 22, the defendant (a minor, so the Vanguard won’t use the name) was arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol after he crashed into a parked car.
Officer Nahum Nava said he performed a variety of field sobriety tests on the defendant to determine whether the defendant was impaired.
After assessing the defendant’s balance, coordination, and attention, officer Nava concluded the defendant was extremely impaired and “unable to drive a motor vehicle safely.” He then asked the driver what substances he had taken.
The defendant responded that “he had taken some pills from Mexico” to ease his cough and compared the pills to Dayquil; however, he also admitted that “the pills will pass you out.”
Officer Nava breathalyzed the defendant and learned that his blood alcohol content was 0.000 percent. However, the officer still arrested the defendant based on “his slurred speech” and the fact that “the defendant had been involved in a field collision into a parked car.”
Prosecutor Jordan Greenberg then called Eric Lee, who prepared the toxicology report in this case, to testify. Lee has worked as a criminalist for a toxicology laboratory under the California Department of Justice for the past 11 years.
His main duty is to use “scientific methods to analyze evidence” such as studying “blood or urine samples for the presence of drugs which can be illicit substances, over the counter drugs, or prescription medication.”
According to Lee, he has undergone extensive in-house training to become an experienced analyst capable of performing screening and confirmatory analysis. He has done “tens of thousands of screening tests” and “thousands of confirmatory tests.”
In this case, he took the defendant’s sample and did a preliminary screening test “to narrow down” which confirmatory tests would be required to perform a more extensive analysis.
When asked by Deputy District Attorney Greenberg about central nervous system (CNS) depressants, Lee explains that these are drugs that slow down a “body’s way of processing information” and have a negative impact on motor control. “Some common side effects are drowsiness, poor balance, loss of coordination, and confusion,” shared the witness.
It was explained that Etizolam is a CNS depressant and is structurally related to benzodiazepines. Common benzodiazepines are Xanax and Valium which are typically prescribed “as anti-anxiety medication or as a sleep-aid,” Lee said. “I would expect an impaired person, specifically on depressants, to perform poorly on an FST.”
Prosecutor Greenberg then asked what the results of the defendant’s blood test were.
Public Defender Bridget McDonald objected, invoking Evidence Code 352, suggesting the results of the toxicology report could create a substantial danger of undue prejudice for her client.
Judge Fall overruled the objection and Lee discloses that the blood “sample was positive for the presence of etizolam and also the presence of a Delta-9 THC.”
At this point, PD McDonald asks Judge Fall if she could approach the bench.
After several minutes of intense discussion, Judge Fall declared a mistrial in this case based on Lee’s testimony and explains to the court “that the evidence in the last answer was not proper to be put before the jury.”
Without any further explanation, Judge Fall thanks the jury for their service and sets a new trial date for Aug. 17.