The case was pretty simple, but wasn't completely cut-and-dry. Here is the basic sequence of events :
- There was a birthday party with about 12 people. The defendant was one of the guests.
- The party ended, and the guests went to the sidewalk to get their cars.
- The valet brought her 2007 Mercedes S-class to the curb, but did a crappy job of parking it.
- Another car (an brand new Austin Martin) stopped to wait for the defendant's car to pull out.
- Traffic backed up for about a block (a long block).
- Two motorcycle officers saw the traffic, and noticed that the blockage started at the valet area. This had happened before. They made a U-turn to see if they could get things moving again.
- The defendant, now in her car, pulled away from the curb. The Austin Martin took its spot, and traffic started moving again. The officers decide that nothing more needed to be done.
- The defendant's car stopped after traveling about the length of two parked cars. The defendant later explained that this was to put on her seatbelt.
- Seeing that traffic was once again blocked, the officer activated his lights and his squawker.
- The defendant moved her car up the street about the length of three parked cars, and turned onto Hollywood Blvd, where she yielded to the curb.
- The officer had only intended to prod her into moving along, but since she had pulled over, he figured he should investigate a little more.
- The officer smelled alcohol as soon as the window was rolled down.
- The officer ordered her out of the car and performed a field sobriety test, on which the defendant performed poorly (but not the worst he'd ever seen). The officer then offered her a voluntary breathalyser test, which measured her at more than twice the legal limit. She was arrested, booked, and tested again at the police station with a more sophisticated machine, where she once again came in at more than twice the legal limit.
The sticky part was what happened at between items 6 and 8. The arresting officer testified that the defendant was in the car the whole time. Basically, that nothing happened between item 6 and 8. The defense alleged that the defendant was waiting for her designated driver, and that the officer ordered her into the car, and ordered her to move it. Unfortunately, the evidence that might have supported this allegation (witness testimony) was apparently deemed inadmissible.
I suppose that the judge decided that whether or not she was ordered to drive was irrelevant, on the grounds that she could have refused the order. However, one of the key elements needed to sustain this kind of charge is that the act needs to be voluntary and deliberate (although one need not necessarily intend to break the law). If the officer's order somehow stripped her of her volition, that may undermine the charge.
However, we were never permitted to hear evidence to support the allegation that she was ordered into the car. Evidently, the judge didn't buy the argument that such an order might have stripped the defendant of her volition. So, based on the evidence we had on hand, we were forced to hand down a verdict of guilty on both charges.
Personally, I would have preferred to hear the argument and evidence pertaining to her volition. I probably would have urged a guilty verdict anyway, but I think it might have been relevant. After all, if a police officer orders you to do something, most people feel an extraordinary pressure to comply. If, in this case, the officer orders you to do something that happens to be illegal, I suppose it must be ones own responsibility to refuse. If that is what happened, the argument should have been vetted before the jury. It might not have helped the defendant, but if that is why she did what she did, she should have been permitted to explain herself.
Anyway, I'm very curious to find out what arguments were made during the sidebar discussions. Maybe I'll feel better about the verdict when I find out what was kept secret from us.
Otherwise, the experience was very interesting. We had a very entertaining bailiff. If you ever get pulled over by a Los Angeles County Sheriff named Rodriguez, and who has big tattoos on her biceps and talks very fast, she's only acting like a jerk. She's actually a very nice person. The jury had a lot of interesting people.
Oh, and George Takei was in my jury pool. He was dismissed, but I got a chance grumble a little about transportation to the courthouse with him and to say hello as he was leaving the next day. I wasn't quite sure if it was him, but his voice is absolutely unmistakable. He's also a really nice guy in person, though I don't think that's really news to anyone -- except maybe Tim Hardaway.