COURT WATCH: Defense Asks in Misdemeanor DUI Jury Trial if Accused Was Actually Driving  

By Audrey Sawyer

MODESTO, CA – A jury trial here in Stanislaus County Superior Court began Thursday for a woman accused of misdemeanor driving under the influence/DUI, and Deputy Public Defender Armelle Gueye wondered out loud if his client was actually driving.

Gueye noted the engine of the vehicle was off when the officer arrived on the scene, there were no keys in the ignition, and the officer never at any point saw the accused driving the vehicle.

DPD Gueye told the court the officer had decided to test the accused based on the officer’s claim of a scent of alcohol from her breath and administered sobriety tests.

Deputy District Attorney Gonzalo Duran’s opening statements describe the day of the incident in April 2021, referencing a barbecue for employees behind a particular store. A road is connected to the back of the store, where the first testifying witness saw a white car speeding down the street.

A witness called 911 out of “concern the driver might hit somebody,” said the DDA, with a full description of the individual driving the vehicle.

DDA Duran explained testimony from Stanislaus County Police Officer Rafael Mendoza will show that the information provided by the witness was accurate (by physical description and license plate number) and that Officer Mendoza saw the accused sitting in the driver’s seat upon his arrival.

Officer Mendoza, said Duran, after smelling alcohol on the accused’s breath and describing bloodshot eyes, conducted three various sobriety tests, and the accused was having difficulty with each test.

In DPD Gueye’s opening statement, the attorney said the accused and her husband had left their RV at the corner of this road (behind the store). DPD Gueye admitted the accused had gone out to drink with her friends, and that the evidence will indicate that her husband had come to pick her up and take her back to their house.

DPD Gueye told the court the couple got into an argument after getting home, which escalated to the point where her husband had locked the accused out of the RV. His car, the white car mentioned throughout the hearing, was parked directly outside the RV.

While telling the court that the accused was now sitting in the white vehicle, as she was locked out of their home, the public defender said. “At this point, Officer Mendoza contacted the defendant. The engine was off, there were no keys in the ignition, at no point did he actually see her driving the vehicle. He did detect a small amount of alcohol on her breath, he administered the tests and determined she was drunk. As a result, he cited her for drunk driving and left.”

The first witness was an employee at the store as a security officer, and admitted she “did not exactly recall the sequences/each detail, but I remember calling.” She explained that she overheard someone beating on a motorhome door and screaming, racing down the street, and then coming back.

The witness added, “I was concerned about the driving, if she had lost control then she would have crashed into all these employees as it is the same general area where we all park for our shifts.”

After looking at the sheet transcript to refresh her recollection, she was able to provide an answer regarding the color of the vehicle/motorhome. The witness struggled with recalling the color of the vehicle during the hearing, often mixing it up with the color of the RV.

DPD Gueye asked if the vehicle had tinted windows, to which the witness did not recall, and the witness, noted DPD Gueye, did not remember “exactly what the car looked like, but you are certain that this is the person you saw?”

DPD Gueye said the witness had described the vehicle as blue and white, and another time as simply blue.

The witness replied she was sure the accused was the right person, as it was not the first time she had seen the vehicle, and that they had been parked there for about a week or two.

Officer Mendoza told the court that he noticed the accused’s breath had alcohol on it, and that she had bloodshot eyes, so he decided to take her out of the vehicle to conduct sobriety tests (horizontal, walk and turn, one-legged stand).

He explained the accused failed and had difficulty in each test, such as making improper turns and struggling with balance, noting, “After the sobriety tests, I asked if she wanted to give a preliminary sample. They are allowed to refuse. She said no, I put her in handcuffs after reading her Miranda Rights before asking any additional questions.”

In one test, Officer Mendoza reported the accused tested for .17 blood alcohol, and, “She told me that she had come from the liquor store, had been drinking some beer.”

DPD Gueye asked the officer where the accused was at the time of his arrival, to which he said he found her in the driver’s side of the vehicle. When asking the officer if the engine was on, he replied that he “could not recall.”

When asking the officer if the key was in the ignition, he said that he “could not recall.”

When DPD Gueye inquired if the hood of the car was hot, the officer mentioned that he “did not believe he had checked/touched the hood of the vehicle.”

Officer Mendoza explained he did not observe her driving at the time, and that he did not recall if any keys were in the ignition or if the car was running. He said he conducted the investigation based off of the call from the previous witness who provided information matching the accused.

On redirect, DDA Duran inquired if Mendoza attempted to make contact with anyone in the RV. While Officer Mendoza said that his partner attempted to by knocking, no one had answered, adding, “No one had stepped out of the RV, no one came to me claiming ownership of the RV, and I had no contact with the individual listed on the car. Only the defendant was there, who was ID’d by the previous witness as the owner of the vehicle.”

 The trial is ongoing.

About The Author

Audrey is a senior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science (Comparative Politics emphasis). After graduation, Audrey plans on attending graduate school and is considering becoming a public defender.

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