|VANGUARD COURT WATCH: Jury Hangs on Vehicular Homicide Charges|
|Written by David Greenwald|
|Thursday, 07 February 2013 06:00|
By Vanguard Court Watch Interns
On Wednesday, the jury finally ruled in the vehicular homicide case of Gubani Roderico Rosales Quinteros. He was convicted of counts 4 and 5, using the personal identification of another for unlawful purpose, and false impersonation of Carlos Adrian Quinteros Hernandez.
Judge Stephen Mock then ruled a mistrial on the main charges, after the jury could not reach a verdict. Retrial is scheduled for July 8, 2013 to resolve the remaining charges.
(Editor's note: the remainder of this piece was written before the jury verdict on Wednesday. Deliberations had to re-start on Tuesday when one of the jurors left ill and was replaced with an alternate).
The People v. Gubani Roderico Rosales Quinteros concluded with remaining witnesses and closing arguments on Monday February 4.
Tiffany Susz, the Deputy District Attorney, guided jurors through the various charges in the case. She also defined what the People had to prove.
Concerning the vehicular manslaughter charge with gross negligence, the People defined gross negligence as a reckless act that creates a high risk of death. The People added that the defendant acted in an irregular way and with complete disregard to human life.
The prosecution relied on the expert testimony from Investigator Jason Hamilton, in showing that Mr. Quinteros drove with gross negligence.
Investigator Jason Hamilton is part of the multi-disciplinary accident investigation team, MAIT, for 17 years. With his team, his job was to reconstruct what happened on August 8. They were able to unfold what happened, based on evaluations from witness reports and physical evidence.
According to Hamilton, from the first construction sign, motorists had 43 seconds to stop. From the second sign they had at least 24 seconds to stop. Furthermore, he said that motorists had 10-15 seconds to react to stopping traffic, but the defendant did nothing.
The People continued to illustrate Mr. Quinteros's grossly negligent act by pointing out the number of witnesses who were safely able to come to a stop. Approximately 13 witnesses differed in their braking from the defendant, who failed to apply his brakes.
In addition, Ms. Susz held Mr. Quinteros to a higher degree of traffic care, considering Mr. Quinteros is a commercial driver driving a box truck, which weighs 12,000 pounds without cargo.
There were no mechanical issues with Mr. Quinteros's vehicle. He has special license to drive the box truck. Also, Mr. Quinteros has driven the same route for two years.
The People claimed difficulty accepting Mr. Quinteros's version of the events. Mr. Quinteros said he does not know what happened, but did say he was trying to pass a semi-truck. Investigator Hamilton said this is not consistent with what happened.
However, the defense attorney, Allison Zuvella, did note counterpoints to take into consideration.
The first is the stopping behavior of other drivers involved in the accident. Investigator Hamilton labeled their stopping behavior as normal braking, not emergency braking - although Hamilton did concede that Sharon Viarra, one of the witnesses, did not display normal braking, nor emergency braking.
Furthermore, the defense stated that various witnesses that came to an abrupt or sudden stop, as if those witnesses had to slam on their brakes. For example, Tedd Laycock, one of the witnesses, did not make an emergency stop but left a 20-feet skid mark on the road.
Why would Investigator Hamilton label the witnesses' stopping behavior as "normal braking" when some witnesses testified to coming to an abrupt stop?
Ms. Zuvella also informed the jury that, if the first person arriving to the site prior to the accident had to come to an abrupt stop, this would give each subsequent driver less time to react in order to stop. Since Mr. Quinteros crashed the box truck into the Taylor's Chevy Tahoe, which consequently set off a chain reaction of vehicles crashing into other vehicles, it would suggest Mr. Quinteros had less time than any other driver to react to the sudden stop in traffic.
Ms. Zuvella reasoned that Mr. Quinteros had less reaction time, but did not ask Investigator Hamilton if he considered the abrupt braking when calculating the time it would take for a driver to stop safely.
Investigator Hamilton also described human factors when attempting to reconstruct a traffic collision. These factors include perception, field of view, focus, and a mental recorder.
Hamilton defined the above terms. Field of view is the range of vision one has. This can change with respect to where someone is facing. Focus is being able to fixate on some feature. Lastly, the mental recorder helps individuals remember events. The memory of an event is more likely to be recalled if it had some emotional aspect to it. Having focus within a field of view can also help one recall information.
Ms. Zuvella referenced Hamilton's human factor terms when she described what happened according to Mr. Quinteros. Mr. Quinteros attempted to turn into the right lane, but he was first trying to pass a semi-truck.
One of the issues was that other witnesses and CHP stated there was no semi-truck. Ms. Zuvella argued the CHP makes this assertion because the CHP interviewed witnesses behind the truck.
I would consider it equally possible the other witnesses lacked focus on the semi-truck, and would therefore be unable to recall a semi-truck. In fact, when Ms. Zuvella asked witnesses if they could recall the vehicle in front of them and behind them, most witnesses could not recall this fact.
Ms. Zuvella added it would take Mr. Quinteros time to look in his mirror and check to see if he could pass the semi-truck. This would mean his eyes would be off the road and this general inattentiveness would have led to an accident. However, this is not considered a gross negligent act, and is, in fact, an action required by the vehicle code.
The other issue was Sharon Viarra stated she saw the box truck speedily approaching behind her through her rear view mirror. The People state if Viarra did not move out of the way she would have hit the Taylor's Chevy Tahoe. This issue did not seem to be addressed by the defense.
Furthermore, there is lack of direct evidence about what Mr. Quinteros was doing in the box truck. It is known Mr. Quinteros did not have any intoxicants in his system and his cell phone records reveal nothing significant. Mr. Quinteros even reported attempting to pass the semi-truck.
Ms. Zuvella also addressed Mr. Quinteros's lack of memory from the accident. Hamilton informed the court it is not uncommon for people to forget things before or after an event. This is especially true if an individual lacks focus or an emotional trigger.
Lastly, Ms. Zuvella noted road conditions that could have contributed to the accident. One witness complained about there not being enough construction signs to warn drivers to slow down. This particular witness has knowledge about construction protocols.
On rebuttal, Ms. Susz told the jury none of the expert witnesses said there had been a lack of construction signs. Even then, she asserted it is the driver's responsibility to pay attention to the surroundings.
Also, given that Hamilton said it would take at least 24 seconds from the second construction sign to come to a stop, Ms. Susz found it hard to believe Mr. Quinteros would be looking in his mirror for this long in order to move into the right lane. Though it should be noted that this disbelief arises if we assume Mr. Quinteros was looking in his mirror after passing the second construction sign.
The last area to address is Mr. Quinteros' forgery and perjury charges. A Mr. Meredyth examined Mr. Quinteros' signatures on documents such as a driver's log. Meredyth compared Mr. Quinteros' signatures on these documents to a known signature from Mr. Quinteros. Meredyth concluded other individuals signed most of Mr. Quinteros' documents.
Officer Mentijo and Investigator Cody interviewed Mr. Quinteros. They asked Mr. Quinteros about various documents and identification cards. Each time Mr. Quinteros was asked about these items, he stated it was his signature on the items and his name was Carlos.
Later, Investigator Cody showed Mr. Quinteros a picture of the "real" Carlos. Cody asked Mr. Quinteros how he acquired documents and identification cards belonging to Carlos. Mr. Quinteros did not answer this question and eventually asked for an attorney.
The defense provided little argument against the forgery and perjury charges. All that Ms. Zuvella said was Mr. Quinteros cooperated with investigators. When investigators came to speak with Mr. Quinteros, Mr. Quinteros went with the investigators. Mr. Quinteros did not attempt to flee the country or change his residence.
The main question is whether Mr. Quinteros caused the collision with gross negligence or whether it was an accident. Sharon Viarra felt the box truck was approaching quickly, but many of the other drivers were traveling at a speed of 55mph to 70mph. Also, many of these these drivers felt they had to apply their brakes suddenly.
It is worth noting the People did not provide an alternate explanation as to why Mr. Quinteros crashed into the Taylor's Chevy Tahoe. Again, there is lack of direct evidence as to what Mr. Quinteros was doing in the box truck, but perhaps the People do not need to provide an explanation. The People understand other vehicles were able to come to a stop, so they ask why the box truck was not able to do likewise.
There are many things for the jury to consider. Depending on what the witnesses were focusing on, they were able to recall certain details. Was there a semi-truck present, as the defendant states? Did the defendant look away from the road in order to pass a semi-truck?
The jury will have to consider whether these possibilities are all equally true. If so, as per court instructions to the jury, should the jury find two or more possibilities to be equally true, they will have to pick the possibility that points to a not guilty verdict.
I need some help with a legal concept from someone more knowledgeable than I.
Interesting question, medwoman. Hope one of the lawyers/law students replies.
medwoman, that is indeed a frustrating reality. The Yolo County DA chose to prosecute Ernesto and Fermin Galvan three times (hung juries, of course, with one count achieving an acquittal in the 3rd trial), and was going for a fourth trial, then dropped it (we think public and media pressure was a factor; the Vanguard of course covered the case thoroughly).
Imagine if you chose to pay a private attorney to go to court 3 times to defend you. I'm interested in any stats re: public defender vs. private lawyer success rate of acquittals, and how oftern the D.A. pursues a case that has private attorneys vs. public defender. Also wondering if race plays a factor, or is it more financial status of the accused, re: cases the D.A. chooses to retry.