By Britney Cao and Ivan Villegas
WOODLAND, CA – After a previous trial was declared a mistrial because of a hung jury, a DUI case began a new trial earlier this week in Yolo County Superior Court amid questions as to whether the person found inside the vehicle in question had indeed been driving it.
The accused, who will not be named because the charges are misdemeanors, was charged with driving under the influence and drunk driving, both misdemeanors, earlier this past March. The accused also had four enhancements for excessive blood alcohol content.
Earlier this month, the court declared a mistrial and after the trial readiness hearing for the new trial, the defense filed a motion to dismiss the case based on prosecutor bias against the accused. The motion was denied before the jury selection process.
During the jury selection process, Judge David Rosenberg had the 18 potential jurors answer the standard jury selection questionnaire, and some jurors admitted they could not remain impartial or unbiased.
“I’ve never been on a jury before, and if selected I may be biased,” a potential juror said. “I think I’m biased against the police since I’ve had a… ticket a few months ago that was dismissed.”
Judge Rosenberg moved to the next juror who, again, admitted, “I have not served on a jury before, and I may also be biased.”
The juror explained, “Many, many years ago before I was married I had an ex-girlfriend who was hit and killed by a hit and run driver, she was a pedestrian, the driver was under the influence…and I have no excuses for that kind of behavior.”
Judge Rosenberg clarified that “driving under the influence is a crime, it’s recognized as a crime, everyone in the room recognizes that. That’s not the issue. The issue is, was that crime committed and did [the accused] commit that crime?
“So there may be people in the room who say, gee, I don’t like a DUI, that shouldn’t happen, but that’s already the law. DUI is against the law. This jury will be asked to decide if the law has been broken,” the judge added.
After the clarification, the juror admitted they would try to remain impartial but were nonetheless still angered.
Deputy Public Defender Sarah MacDonald began the next session, asking the potential jurors questions about topics relating to alcohol.
The DPD started off by asking the potential jurors if they had experienced a drunk driving incident, or had a loved one affected by it. Two jurors responded with personal stories of witnessing or experiencing the loss of a significant other due to a third party driving under the influence.
The next question presented by the DPD was, “Just because they are an alcoholic, does this make them more likely to get into a DUI?”
The potential jury had many mixed responses, some answering that it might depend on the situation, while others claiming that it would be more likely to get into a DUI if an individual was already an alcoholic.
The questioning was passed to the Deputy District Attorney Jing Ko, who addressed a specific juror and asked if he believed all police officers are not trustworthy. In response, the juror answered “No.” He was then questioned if he believes law enforcement has prosecuted people wrongfully, to which the juror answered “yes.”
Judge Rosenberg stepped in and clarified that every witness will be treated the same, “no matter if they are law enforcement, homeless, or a homemaker. The jury can evaluate each witness but do so without bias.”
The judge then explained that “in a court of law, in a criminal case, you must presume that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.”
After seeing that all potential jurors understood, the DDA stated her final question, asking if the prosecution should not prosecute a DUI case when nobody was injured. None of the potential jurors raised their hands.
Finally, DDA Ko presented a hypothetical situation to explain the difference between circumstantial evidence and direct evidence, and stated the jury must weigh both types of evidence the same, so long as they believe the evidence.
Questioning from both sides concluded and the potential jurors were dismissed by the judge, DDA, and DPD, until 12 jurors and one alternative remained. They were sworn in and the clerk presented the charges of the accused.
The DPD revealed that the accused pleaded not guilty and denied operating a moving vehicle when he was under the influence.
DDA Ko gave her opening statement, indicating this was a simple case, and declaring the accused drove under the influence and had a blood alcohol concentration of not only over 0.08, but over 0.15, twice the legal limit.
“Around 12:32, a witness was working on campus that day, at the Cowell Building at UC Davis. She saw a car parked in the red zone, the fire lane zone, and she saw a male passed out in the driver’s seat. She was concerned so she called 911.”
The officers arrived at the scene, and after deeming the accused was under the influence, they gave him a breath test. The accused refused to do the breath test and was subjected to a blood test instead.
The DDA revealed “the blood test yielded a result of 0.39 of blood alcohol concentration… At the end of this trial, I will ask you to find the defendant guilty of the crimes charged as he drove under the influence, having a BAC of .08 or more and 0.15 or more.”
DPD MacDonald delivered her opening statement next, explaining, “Prosecution presents you this case as simple, but it is anything but that.”
The DPD maintained, “You are going to hear from a civilian witness that made a call for service, that she saw someone asleep in their vehicle, with no indication of how long this person has been there, no information about when this car was actually driven.”
The DPD suggested the officers jumped into a DUI investigation without assuming that all the information that was obtained was enough to prosecute the accused. However, they did not consider that the accused was not under the influence at the time of driving, as there was no indication from any witness of any driving.
The prosecution’s first witness stated that she was on her lunch break when she saw a white Honda Civic parked in a no parking zone, right in front of the Cowell Building, on California Street, at UC Davis. She said the car was not pulled all the way over next to the curb. She proceeded to call 911.
The phone call tape between a police officer from the UC Davis Police Department and the witness was presented to the court.
The DDA’s questioning ended and cross-examination began. Deputy Public Defender MacDonald asked the witness to describe, in depth, what she saw when she left on her lunch break.
The witness said she had left her office to eat lunch outside and saw “someone slumped in the car. He was faced down over the center console” She became concerned that there was a medical emergency and called 911. She also identified that the car was not moving and the accused was unresponsive.
The DPD asked if the witness left her office between the time she got to work and when she found the car, and she responded that she did not.
“Why did you call 911 specifically because he was sleeping in the car?” asked the DDA.
The witness responded that “there was a car in the no parking zone, and it was not near the curb. I was alone in the office and was not comfortable approaching the vehicle myself, so I called 911.”