This matter involved complex, intensive litigation over 3.5 years, 2 preliminary hearings, a dismissal for failure to disclose Brady evidence, a lengthy trial, and a double jeopardy motion granted. Charges were dismissed multiple times.
On February 8, 2015, a trial judge ended a tortuous 3 year 7 months battle in a case involving vehicular manslaughter and great bodily injury to several persons. My client was alleged to be driving under the influence (DUI) when he struck another vehicle whose driver was driving under the influence (DUI) and spun-out in my client’s traffic lane. The district attorney filed gross vehicular manslaughter, but that charge was dismissed at a lengthy preliminary hearing by the judge. The gross vehicular manslaughter was refiled by the DA but the count was again dismissed, this time by another judge.
While preparing for trial, Jasmine Berndt, who second-chaired the case, cultivated the California Highway Patrol’s preeminent expert in the field of accident reconstruction to be our own witness. We were able to find the expert, Jeffry Muttart, because he was essentially touted in the CHP Multidisciplinary Accident Investigative Team (MAIT) report as one of their own. Securing this expert proved to be a tipping point in the litigation. The expert eventually rendered a favorable opinion that ran over 100 pages; he then disclosed that about 2 years earlier he traded emails with the prosecution’s expert, CHP Officer Scott Parent, the author of the MAIT report. Muttart suggested that the emails may have value to the defense but he would not voluntarily disclose their content. CHP Officer Parent testified as the prosecution’s expert at the first preliminary hearing.
In the meantime, we hired a forensic vision expert, Dr. Marc Green, whose lengthy report independently corroborated the findings made by Dr. Muttart. We eventually obtained the emails, which proved very helpful to the defense. After disclosure of the emails, a subsequent Stanton motion was filed (failure to disclose exculpatory evidence), again with Jasmine’s help, asserting the Brady value of the email exchange, resulting in a dismissal of the case on due process grounds. The charges were refiled and resulted in another lengthy preliminary hearing with a second preliminary hearing judge. At this hearing we called the expert, Jeffry Muttart, to rebut CHP Officer Parent’s findings. Judge Link made his own findings on the DA’s case that came close providing another opportunity to dismiss. The case was then set for trial and preassigned to the trial court. Motions in limine were granted precluding high dynamic range (HDR) photographic reconstruction, among other things. The court granted, in limited part, our motion to allow victim intoxication. A three week trial ensued that included the DA opening the door to the rest of the intoxication evidence.
The trial resulted in the jurors’ failure to reach a decision on the vehicular manslaughter while convicting on felony DUI but without any finding as to the attached allegations. The ensuing comprehensive review of the record ensued revealed a double jeopardy issue. Excellent research and briefing by Jasmine lead the court to conclude that “manifest necessity” was lacking to discharge the first jury because the court failed to ascertain the ability of the jurors to reach verdicts. The judge agreed with our position that he erred so double jeopardy prevented a retrial. The remaining charges and allegations were dismissed. The defendant as sentenced to 2 years at ½ time rather than up to about 16 years at 85%.
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