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.