COURT WATCH: Sobriety Test Results Possibly Influenced by Accused’s Knee Injury, Claims Defense in DUI Jury Trial

By Audrey Sawyer and Quinn Hogan

WOODLAND, CA – A misdemeanor jury trial for a man accused of driving under the influence resumed for its second day Tuesday in Yolo County Superior Court with the defense attempting to score several points in front of the jury.

The accused was originally pulled over for speeding, and then submitted to sobriety tests and was ultimately arrested, the court was told.

But, Deputy Public Defender Matthew Lanthier suggested that although speeding is grounds to pull someone over, speeding on its own is not inherently grounds for administering sobriety tests, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Deputy District Attorney Rachel Meyers examined Yolo County Deputy Axel Alarcon, who testified under oath in detail of the various sobriety tests that the accused had to perform.

Regarding the accuracy of those tests, DPD Lanthier pointed out the accused is 68 years old and with a knee injury prominent enough to exclude the “one-legged test.”

According to DPD Lanthier, being physically disabled (the accused has now been out of work for three years as a result of the knee injury) would also impact accuracy on the “walk and turn” test, because it requires a “functioning lower body.”

Before the case had been called, a motion was denied by the judge that referenced the defense claim that not only does there need to be noncompliance with Title 17 (which presents guidelines for proper handling of DUI test results), but that a prior witness had displayed a lack of knowledge of how a test device was used, saying under oath that there was “no way to guarantee the working condition of the device.”

DPD Lanthier added that even if this were found to still be sufficient testimony, the information could overwhelm or confuse the jury if it were kept.

Deputy Alarcon confirmed he had pulled over the accused for speeding approximately seven months ago. He recalled that he had smelled alcohol and that the accused had admitted to having had two beers that evening, and cited these as his reasons for administering a sobriety test.

Deputy Alarcon testified he had performed preliminary alcohol screening at 1:30 a.m. on the night of the arrest, and that another officer had performed an evidentiary breath test at 2:48 a.m.

During cross-examination by DPD Lanthier, Deputy Alarcon confirmed the accused was compliant and friendly throughout the process of being pulled over and arrested, pulling over safely and using a turn signal to do so.

According to Deputy Alarcon’s testimony, the accused pulled over after the deputy had turned on his overhead lights, instead of attempting to run away. DPD Lanthier told the court: “In order to be classified as a DUI, you have to not use your turn signal, which does not apply here.”

Deputy Alarcon confirmed the lack of balance the accused displayed during sobriety tests like the walk and turn could have been caused by advanced age, an injury or medical condition, or simply by poor balance. The walk and turn entails taking nine heel-to-toe steps in a straight line, then turning around and taking nine steps in the other direction.

The deputy also confirmed DDA Lanthier’s assertion that someone would need a “functioning lower body” to complete the walk and turn.

The accused, 68, suffers from a knee injury that has kept him out of work for three years and the deputy noted, “He (the accused) said he hurt his knee as a result of a fall, he specifically fell while performing manual labor. He has now been out of work for three years and is physically disabled.”

DPD Lanthier also verified through cross-examination that Deputy Alarcon had never met the accused previously, and their conversation had been conducted in Spanish, a language with many dialects and distinct accents. Alarcon confirmed it was possible that what he had perceived as slurred speech, a sign of intoxication, could have been instead attributable to a specific accent or dialect.

DPD Lanthier also suggested the darkness at the time of the sobriety tests could have contributed to a possible mistake made on the accused’s sobriety test results.

Proceedings ended for the day shortly after Deputy Alarcon’s testimony concluded. The trial is ongoing, and will reconvene later this week.

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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