By Daniella Espinoza and Ramneet Singh
WOODLAND, CA – A jury here in Yolo County Superior Court this week found a man guilty of three drunk driving related misdemeanors, including driving under the influence, refusal to test, drunk driving, and driving on a suspended license stemming from an arrest more than eight years ago.
Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputy Reiko Matsumura testified how he stopped the accused in the early hours of Aug. 25, 2014, because the accused—whom The Vanguard isn’t naming because it’s a misdemeanor case—was driving under the posted speed limit. Matsumura later determined the man was under the influence.
During another part of questioning, Deputy Public Defender Sarah MacDonald turned to the matter of identification of the accused and possible language barriers at the time.
Through a series of questions, it was revealed that, at first, “when [Matsumara] initially contacted (the accused), you asked for identification according to the video?” to which Matsumara confirmed.
During these conversations it was confirmed that Matsumara did in fact “ask questions in English” despite the fact that the accused was “Spanish speaking.” In her words, this did not seem to be an obstacle as she did “not believe” that this caused him to “have trouble with most of the questions.”
Further on, MacDonald posed the hypothetical that despite his possibly not understanding the conversations, “it is fair to say that if he had trouble understanding some questions, he would have had trouble understanding other questions” as well.
Matsumura did note that, according to her memory, during the incident of arrest, the accused not only complied with the stop, but also did not resist when she opened the door and asked him to exit the vehicle.
CHP Officer (first name not available) Garcia said when translating questions into Spanish during such situations, “if the message is too long” a direct translation is not needed but if it is shorter, he tries to give it.
In final arguments, Deputy District Attorney Laura Columbel stated the aspects of Count 1 and 2 are the same, that the accused was driving. She noted the accused’s admission and cam footage.
Columbel moved to the second aspect of Count 1, noting the accused was under the influence. She emphasized the “totality of the circumstances.”
Columbel stated “he did poorly on every single one,” referencing the field sobriety tests. She dispelled the possibility of a language barrier as they were “translated in English and in Spanish. They were also demonstrated.”
Columbel noted with the first aspect of Count 3, officer testimony affirmed that the license was suspended. After pointing out the accused’s admission, she stated that knowledge of driving on a suspended license could also be related to a DMV notice.
In the defense argument, DPD MacDonald insisted “there’s a huge issue of proof,” and argued “there was no bad driving, no accident, nothing.” She referenced officer testimony that the car was going “slow.”
MacDonald highlighted “how scary it must have been for (the accused) to be pulled over…with an officer who’s armed, who doesn’t speak his language.”
DPD MacDonald noted the language barrier and how, from Matsumara’s testimony, the accused’s responses were not “adding up.” She referenced that he responded no to having an ID card, which he did have.
MacDonald stated one officer said “he knows exactly how (the tests) were translated, but he doesn’t speak Spanish,” referencing another officer who had to translate.
MacDonald stated that there was a lack of specific audio/visual evidence. She understood that they couldn’t properly verify certain device results “because ultimately this is a tool used to convict people.”
Looking at the last count, MacDonald stated, “there is no evidence (the accused) knew that his driving privileges were suspended.”
MacDonald asked the jury to “see this case for the sinking ship it is.”
Columbel responded that “everything she is saying is not reasonable” and noted that various factors had to have been working against the accused.
Columbel noted the usefulness of reports and confirmed that one officer knew how to conduct the tests in Spanish and another officer, “who is fluent,” believed that it was accurate.
She mentioned that the accused understood some English based on his conversation with Matsumara.
Columbel highlighted that the accused specifically referenced drinking a Budweiser. She noted the printout that specified the BAC and that it was above the 0.08 and 0.15 thresholds.