Judge Denies Motion to Suppress Despite Arguments of Stop without Probable Cause

By Daniella Espinoza

FRESNO, CA – A woman here faced misdemeanor charges of driving under the influence, but her attorney argued the stop was without probable cause—but the judge in Fresno County Superior Court disagreed.

After a cross-examination of Jaime Casillas, the Fresno Police Officer at the scene of the traffic stop, it was revealed the reasoning that led to the arrest was only lightly based in the current traffic code and instead heavily reliant on the discretion of the police.

In his testimony, Casillas said one reason for the stop was because the woman had her daytime running lights on rather than the necessary headlights. To him, this was evident due to the fact that “you couldn’t see clearly that the road was lit in front of the vehicle.”

Further in the cross-examination, the accused’s lawyer, Andrew Phillipson, said there was no actual way for Casillas to clearly differentiate between daytime running lights and headlights.

Defense counsel asked the office about the color of said lights or positioning of them on a car, but Casillas “couldn’t recall” such locations, claiming he was not a “mechanic expert [who could] tell you where they come from on specific vehicles.”

Notably, Phillipson also noted “while [Casillas] didn’t know the code section,” he does understand that “it’s illegal to drive with daytime running lights in moments of darkness.” Phillipson added Officer Casillas does not know the specific “difference between daytime running lights and headlights.”

In regard to this stop, the vehicle code which was cited to justify such stop, was section 24400(a). In this section, according to Phillipson, “a car just has to have two headlamps, one on either side.” And, added the attorney, “clearly Officer Casillas testified that the car did have this.”

Phillipson also notes Vehicle Code section 24407 (b) was also cited, which revealed that “the requirement for headlights is that low beams must reveal a person or a vehicle that is at least 100 feet away.”

To Phillipson, “there has been significant testimony about whether the road is illuminated; however, there is no such requirement in the vehicle code that the lighting illuminate the road directly in front of the car,” adding “we know from Officer Casillas’s testimony that he did not look to see if cars were illuminated or if people were illuminated which is what the violation would be.”

Additionally, added Phillipson, the legislature itself, when creating the codes “contemplated that headlights are meant to illuminate people in vehicles” rather than the street itself.

In another part of the cross-examination, it was also stated that Officer Casilla’s own vision of the incident was more accurate than that of the video, as his video clearly strapped to his uniform granted less movement comparable to the officer himself.

To this, Phillipson argued that there are “serious credibility concerns when there is a clear indication that his memory was not accurate” of the event at hand.

Judge Charles Lee admitted that while “Officer Casillas did have some issues in terms of his memory of that night,” his attention was put on the “intensity of the light and visibility of the light.”

After reviewing the defense exhibit (a video of the stop itself), Lee stated that because Roger’s vehicle did not illuminate the ground with the same intensity as surrounding cars, “the purported facts justify the detention and a reasonable suspicion” (and) the prosecution “met their burden,” and the motion to suppress evidence from the arrest was denied.

About The Author

Daniella is a fourth year transfer student at UC Berkeley pursuing degrees in both Political Science and Chicano studies. Before Berkeley, Daniella found her passion exploring the complexities of the criminal justice system and how this intersects with the Chicano community. After graduation, she plans to find work in the public sector where she hopes to make meaningful change in her community.

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