Rogers | Beltran LLP secures Not Guilty Verdict for Client facing DUI charges
On July 24, 2021, our client Jose, his wife Sandra, and their children were on their way home from a soccer tournament in Ventura County when they began to have car trouble. Sandra, who was driving at the time, pulled over to the side of the road to have Jose check the car out.
Around that time, a driver on the 101-freeway heading Southbound called 911 to report a dark blue van with a heavyset, dark skinned male with curly hair driving recklessly in the same general area. The 911 call was relayed to a nearby CHP officer who searched the area and eventually came across Jose’s vehicle parked on the side of the road, with Jose sitting in the driver’s seat. Jose’s vehicle was a dark blue van.
Suspecting that Jose was the reckless driver reported by the 911 caller, the CHP officer began a DUI investigation. Jose and Sandra repeatedly told the officer that Sandra was driving, not Jose. After a full DUI investigation, Jose was arrested for both driving under the influence and driving with a blood alcohol level of .08% or more.
There were many bad facts in this case that we were forced to embrace to secure a not guilty verdict. During the trial, we did not dispute that the officer observed our client in the driver’s seat turning the ignition on. We also did not dispute that the 911 caller reported a reckless driver matching the description of our client and matching the description of our client’s van. Despite these facts, we needed to convey to the jury that our client was not driving.
Because the District Attorney’s office failed to realize that they did not have sufficient evidence of driving to get a conviction at trial, we believed our client had a good chance of winning at trial. In May of 2022, the case was tried in Ventura County Superior Court in front of a smart and thoughtful jury.
We knew that it would be critical that the jury understand that merely sitting in the driver’s seat does not meet the definition of driving under the DUI laws. (See Mercer v. Dept. of Motor Vehicles (1991) 53 Cal.3d 753, 768; see also CALCRIM 2241.) The law requires actual movement of the vehicle or evidence that the vehicle was obstructing a roadway. (Ibid.) This meant that the CHP officer’s testimony that our client was sitting in the driver’s seat of a car that was legally parked would not support a DUI conviction. Thus, the DA’s Office was limited to attempting to prove that our client “drove” with the testimony of the 911 caller that reported the reckless driver. This became the central issue at trial.
Jury selection played a big role in securing justice for our client because some of the potential jurors wanted to convict our client without even hearing any evidence. Some jurors believed that just being charged means you are guilty. Some of them also stated that if a test was administered then they could not find our client not guilty based on “some B.S. technicality.” After jury selection, we were confident that the jurors that remained were thoughtful, fair and impartial.
To show that our client was not driving that night, we argued that the patrol car’s onboard video (“MVAR”) showed our client and his wife repeatedly denying that our client was driving. During cross-examination of the officer, he admitted that he attempted to get a confession by telling our client that multiple people had called 911 to report our client driving a vehicle with a matching license plate. Despite the officer’s lie, our client continued to deny driving.
When the 911 caller testified, she was unable to identify the specific driver or the specific vehicle of the reckless driver she reported. Instead, she could only provide general descriptions. She also failed to identify our client as the driver even though he sat in the courtroom during the entirety of her testimony.
When it was our turn to call a witness, we had our client’s wife testify. She testified that she was driving, not our client.
During closing arguments, we argued that although the 911 caller was unable to identify our client or his vehicle in court, the prosecutor wanted the jury somehow be sure that our client was driving and convict him. After the trial, the jurors agreed with us that there was a reasonable doubt on the issue of driving.
After four days of trial, the jury found Mr. Velarde Not Guilty.
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