By Catherine Potente and Fiona Davis
WOODLAND, CA – A judge Monday here in Yolo County Superior Court dismissed defense objections raised during the jury selection for a case involving the evasion of a peace officer.
Later, after the jury was selected and the trial began, tension remained present in the courtroom when the defense noted the peace officer was on a list of officers found not to be credible in court.
In September 2021, Dustin Lee Paiz was charged with felony evading a peace officer and three misdemeanors and various infractions, including reckless driving, resisting/obstructing a public officer, driving on a suspended license.
His trial was scheduled to begin Monday. But prior to the trial and jury selection process, Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira brought attention to an observation she made regarding the jury selection process and jury hardships.
According to the California Rules of Court, jurors may be excused from jury service on the grounds of undue hardship due to means of transportation, extreme financial burden, impairments, etc.
The court went through a randomized list of potential jurors and passed over those who had hardships, with the idea that the court would return to those jurors to review if those hardships were valid.
Sequeira stated, “In the hardship section of this trial, once they received the magic number, which in this case was 55 jurors, the court doesn’t go back and look at whether or not those random hardships, or those people claiming hardships, did in fact really have hardships. Whereas if they didn’t, they would have been in a panel for my client to choose from.”
According to Sequeira, a few jurors claimed to have hardships for reasons that would not have been considered hardships. Jurors requested hardships due to transportation issues or language barriers, but Sequeira argued that jury services could have accommodated them.
“I know that the courts have bus passes and jury services can accommodate certain things that would give my client a better, wide range of potential peers in the community, as opposed to the way the courts did it,” stated Sequeira.
Sequeira added, “the defense has an objection to [the procedure] because I think it takes away certain people of certain classes that would not have qualified for a hardship had there been an inquiry.”
Attorneys are not required to be present for hardships and most do not attend that portion, but Sequeira has made it her practice to pay attention to this section and has noticed this issue occurring since COVID-19 began.
For this case, Judge Timothy L. Fall was unable to attend the jury hardships due to faculty training, so another judge handled the hardships in his place earlier.
In response to Sequeira’s objection, Judge Fall stated, “I don’t know what happened. It’s interesting that people actually talked about what their hardship was…I just ask people to tell me if they are claiming a hardship or not. I don’t spend time letting them start to tell me why because I explain at the very beginning that if they tell me they have a hardship, I am passing them until later and if I don’t have enough people for the trial, then I go back and start listening to hardships.”
Judge Fall explained that although some jurors did fall under a class that could have been accommodated by jury services, others did not, seeing no real issue with the process that occurred.
Judge Fall further explained that there is a time constraint to the jury selection process, which could be a reason for how the process occurred. Judges do not always have time to listen to every hardship and also provide a quick response to potential jurors if they are on the panel or not, he said.
Following this objection, the jury selection and instruction was concluded, and Paiz’ trial began.
In the prosecution’s opening statements, Deputy District Attorney Caryn Christine Warren argued that the evidence that would be presented at trial would be enough to prove Paiz’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Directly speaking to the jury, Warren stated, “once you hear the officer testify, and once you have the opportunity to [view] the video from the car cam, I believe that you will come back with guilty [on all counts].”
In a brief opening statement, Sequeira argued that her cross examination of the prosecution’s witnesses would show the jury that her client was guilty of only some of the criminal charges he faces.
“Some crimes were committed, and some crimes weren’t,” Sequeira told the jury.
The prosecution then called one officer to the stand.
Under the direct examination of DDA Warren, the officer stated that – while stopped at a red light – he observed a vehicle that did not have a rear license plate.
The officer then turned on his patrol car camera, and began to follow the unlicensed vehicle. In his testimony, he stated that the vehicle made several illegal turns, ran at least one red light and stop sign, and drove “well over the posted speed limit.”
He said that after observing the vehicle for several minutes, the officer eventually turned on both his lights and sirens in an attempt to get the vehicle to stop. However, the vehicle continued to drive away from the pursuing officer, he added, eventually causing the officer to lose sight of the suspect’s vehicle in a residential area.
While questioned by the prosecution, the officer positively identified Paiz as the driver of the vehicle, noting he saw the driver’s face from the driver’s side of the suspect’s vehicle. The officer specifically noted that the driver had a tattoo on the right side of his neck, which appeared to match one on Paiz.
However, Sequeira challenged the accuracy of the officer’s testimony during cross examination. She suggested that it would be difficult for the officer to see the Paiz’ tattoo from where the officer was positioned, because Paiz’ tattoo is on the lower portion of his neck.
The defense attorney went so far as to have Paiz remove his tie and partially unbutton his shirt, to show where his tattoo was.
“And you are indicating that you overserved that [tattoo] over a t-shirt that the individual was wearing?” Sequeira asked the officer.
Paiz’ defense attorney appeared to challenge the reliability of the officer’s testimony further, stating that the officer had been placed on California’s Brady list due the inaccuracy of his testimony in a separate case
A Brady list is a public database which contains information regarding members of law enforcement who are not fully credible. A member of law enforcement may be placed on a Brady list for several reasons, including lying while testifying under oath.
In this separate, drug-related case, Sequeira stated that the officer had stated that he had been the one to find drugs that were used as evidence against Paiz.
However, while he stated this in his police report, and during both the preliminary and jury trial for the case, footage shown during the jury trial showed a different officer finding the drugs, at which point the officer changed his statement.
“”When you testified at the [trials] you took an oath to tell the truth. And your body camera was available for you to review before you testified at the preliminary hearing right?” Sequeira asked the officer.
The defense attorney continued, asking. “And instead of reviewing it to make sure you were correct in your facts, you testified based on your memory, and then you testified at the jury trial to that same fact, right?”
To these questions, the officer agreed with Sequeira.
“It’s fair to say that sometimes even police officers make mistakes,” Sequeira noted.