By Citlalli Florez
WOODLAND, CA – Yolo County Superior Court Judge Timothy Fall tossed key evidence in a DUI pretrial here late last Friday, ruling a law enforcement officer’s decision not to get a warrant before a “blood draw” violated the Constitutional rights of the accused.
Even before the motion to suppress evidence by the defense was granted, the judge noted his previous experience with similar cases and why it affected his decision.
In this case, on April 2, 2021, the accused was involved in a car crash, rescued from the vehicle and sent to the hospital for treatment. During that time, the police had his blood tested and he was charged with a misdemeanor of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
NOTE: The Vanguard does not identify those charged with less than felonies.
During the arraignment hearing, the accused pleaded not guilty to the charge and was assigned a public defender to take his case, who filed notice of the motion to suppress Oct. 8, 2021.
There have since been four hearings for the motion. Each time, the hearing has been postponed. This time was no exception.
During the fourth and most recent hearing, the Yolo District Attorney Office was represented by a certified Law Student under the supervision of Deputy District Attorney Alex Kian. Deputy Public Defender Eric Arias represented the accused who was attending the hearing through Zoom.
CHP Officer Guillermo Hernandez testified to being on patrol duty the night of the incident, but later admitted he was not actually on patrol in Roseville near the accused’s residence.
Judge Fall warned him to listen to the attorney’s questions more carefully and to not just answer in ways that he thinks fits with the narrative.
After the correction, Officer Hernandez proceeded to testify that he was on patrol in the Yolo County area. He reported that after the accused was pulled out from a rolled-over vehicle, he observed symptoms of intoxication and “abnormal” behavior.
Officer Hernandez said the accused was “very erratic, like excited delirium, speaking incoherently, banging on his chest, and his admission of driving and not knowing where he was at the time.”
The witness further stated that the accused admitted to taking LSD or that he may have taken LSD. This prompted him to believe that he needed to draw blood for evidence.
After the crash, the accused was being treated for his injuries. He allegedly needed to be transported to the hospital immediately. The officer claimed that for this reason, he had to ride in the ambulance in case the accused escaped the restraints placed on him.
When asked, the witness suggested the process for obtaining a warrant was affected by the accused’s demeanor and medical condition. The process, according to Officer Hernandez’s opinion, should have taken about an hour.
Because it could have taken longer, the officer said he decided he “needed to get the blood before any medical procedures were performed.”
Officer Hernandez admitted to having the blood drawn before obtaining a warrant for it by the court. He believed that he would lose the evidence after the accused was treated.
It was later revealed the officer did not indicate his concerns for the speedy blood test in the report. He did not write about his concern for having to wait for a warrant because of the possible loss of evidence, although he confirmed to DPD Arias on the stand that he was “trained” to write accurate reports.
The accused was put under arrest at the hospital and had implied consent to a chemical substance test through breath or blood. The accused was not able to have a breath test done, so the officer asked him to take a blood test. The accused allegedly responded incoherently, said the officer.
The judge asked why the officer’s partner did not go through the warrant application process. The officer responded that only the arresting officer could apply for the warrant.
The judge asked Officer Hernandez why his partner could not ride in the ambulance instead of him, but Hernandez said he still needed to record information from the accused since he is the primary investigating officer. His observations would be needed to apply for the warrant, he said.
DPD Arias argued the Fourth Amendment condemns unreasonable searches and seizures and requires a government agency to receive a warrant to conduct a search.
Arias stated that if a blood search is conducted without a warrant, it is considered to be unreasonable and would only be considered reasonable if the government can prove it falls under one of the exceptions.
Without evidence, the government “has speculated and speculation does not count as evidence,” said DPD Arias.
The defense also noted that an exception to a warrant would be to show that it would be “too impractical but this was not shown.”
DPD Arias added, “We see that the officer didn’t apply for a warrant, the officer didn’t try to apply for a warrant, the officer during the entire ambulance ride is merely just in the ambulance when there’s another officer who’s available.”
He concluded, “ I don’t think the People have proven that the officer couldn’t have applied for a warrant… the government failed to meet their burden and they failed to prove that the blood draw actually fell before the exigent circumstance exception to the fourth amendment.”
Judge Fall started, “I have been reviewing search warrant requests for 27 years now as a judge. I’ve been doing DUI cases among others during that time.”
He continued, “I’ve had DUI cases where from the time the officer arrives on the scene to the time where either a blood draw or breath test is taken is two hours sometime two and a half. I’ve even had three hours from time of contact with the driver to the time of the chemical test.”
The judge proceeded, “This blood was drawn only an hour later…that alone is not going to be enough…it has to show that there was a reason why somebody couldn’t apply for a warrant. The fact that with CHP policy apparently the arresting officer is the one who does it, that may be fine for the CHP but it doesn’t count for the Fourth Amendment.”
Judge Fall said he believed that someone could have applied for a warrant. The second officer could have been the one to ride with the accused on the ambulance and later shared his observations with the arresting officer.
Judge Fall ruled the evidence should be thrown out because, “Just to say, ‘warrants generally take too long, I didn’t even bother trying’ doesn’t count under the Fourth Amendment.”