COURT WATCH: Defense Issues in DUI Jury Trial, Including Non-Fluent Spanish-Speaking Police Officer, Incomplete Field Sobriety Tests

By Mariceli Tapia, Elena Fasullo, and Madison Whittemore

WOODLAND, CA – A jury trial for an accused man facing driving under the influence/DUI charges began Tuesday in Yolo County Superior Court with Deputy Public Defender Jailene Gutierrez highlighting key issues.

Gutierrez noted discrepancies in her client’s understanding of the original DUI investigation as a native Spanish speaker and the officers at the scene not fluent in Spanish, and confusion from the translating officer regarding what the accused was saying before attempting to administer field sobriety tests (FSTs).

The accused is charged with a misdemeanor for drunk driving, a misdemeanor for driving under the influence, and two additional enhancements for excessive blood alcohol levels. Before the jury trial began, DPD Gutierrez introduced a motion to dismiss the accused’s charges, which the court denied.

During Tuesday’s trial, testimony was heard from the arresting Woodland police officer at the scene as well as the officer called to the scene to assist in translating English to Spanish for the accused.

While on duty during the early morning of Dec. 31, 2023, arresting Officer Sierra Brewer testified she noticed a Honda Civic swerving on the road and other “red flags,” which led to Brewer conducting a routine traffic stop.

When Brewer approached the vehicle and attempted to communicate with the accused, she said learned the accused only spoke Spanish and called for an interpreter.

Sgt. Evan Black reported to the scene to assist in a field sobriety examination, translating Spanish and English for the accused and Officer Brewer.

Black conceded on the stand he did complete and pass a bilingual exam during his early employment as a peace officer in a different California county, but stated he didn’t have any official accreditation to being an official translator, saying, “…as far as credentials and certificates, no,” when DPD Gutierrez questioned him about his accreditation.

Sgt. Black admitted he is not a native or fluent Spanish speaker, stating, “I would not call myself fluent, no.” Instead, the officer credited his speaking abilities to “a Spanish class in middle school…in high school…” and his trips “to Mexico.”

Black stated that he was there to assist with translation and was attempting to explain to the accused why he had been stopped. Sgt. Black also explained that he began asking the accused a series of preliminary FST questions before explaining how to complete the FSTs.

DPD Gutierrez asked Officer Black, “Can we agree that explaining field sobriety tests can be complicated?” In response, Sergeant Black stated, “That’s an understatement,” further elaborating that explaining how to complete FSTs in a foreign language is even more complicated.

Black also admitted he did not understand everything the accused said when asking about physical defects before the FSTs, noting in court, “I didn’t quite understand the response, so that was a presumption or assumption on my part.”

When these preliminary questions were asked, Black said he understood the accused stated he was enduring emotional pain or heartbreak.

Due to the difficulties of translating, Black stated he would translate only the accused’s statements if they were “particularly relevant” to the investigation. This raised concerns for the DPD because Black did not author the police report; Officer Brewer did.

Later, the court was informed, during the administration of the FSTs, there were delays due to the accused pointing to his right knee and stating that he was in pain, so the FSTs were stopped.

When DPD Gutierrez called Officer Brewer to the stand and asked about the results of the accused’s FSTs, she stated, “He didn’t fail but didn’t follow instructions.”

When Deputy District Attorney Vic Qureshi questioned the accused’s behavior during the DUI investigation, Sgt. Black explained the accused answered all questions and was friendly and cooperative.

Despite DDA Qureshi suggesting the accused’s responses to Sgt. Black’s questions were “incoherent,” Black disputed this claim, stating, “I believe he (the accused) was answering to the best of his ability…I don’t believe it was incoherent.”

Broaching the subject of the accused’s blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.206, 0.22, 0.18., and 0.20 after the officers conducted four Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) tests, when asked by DPD Gutierrez about why there were so many PAS tests administered and if other factors could change the results of the PAS test, Officer Brewer stated PAS tests are essentially “foolproof.”

However, during DPD Guiterrez’s cross-examination with another officer, Nahum Nava, whose job is to test the accuracy of the PAS machines solely, Nava stated that “there are other factors that could affect the results of the machine…things like how much air the person blows into the machine …if they have something in their mouth … for example [if] they were chewing gum or drinking something.”

During Officer Brewer’s cross-examination, DPD Guiterrez also told the court that a passenger was in the car—although this information was not shared by any of the officers who were called to testify. DPD Gutierrez suggested it was possible that the smell of alcohol that Officer Brewer noted earlier could have been from the passenger, not the accused.

During her cross-examination, Officer Brewer also shared she saw an open can in the cupholder but doesn’t “recall if (she) ever pulled it out of the cupholder.” DPD Gutierrez noted the smell of alcohol could have also come from the open can, not the accused

When questioned by DPD Gutierrez regarding whether or not he smelled alcohol emanating from the accused’s breath, Sgt. Black stated, “I couldn’t remember if I did,” despite being the officer who had the most upfront interaction with the accused.

The trial is currently ongoing this week.

About The Author

Madison Whittemore is a rising junior at the University of California, Davis where she studies political science and psychology. After completing her undergraduate studies, Madison wants to go to law school and study criminal law while working to improve efforts for prison reform and representation for lower income citizens.

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