The results of a breath test for blood alcohol content won’t be admissible as evidence in the trial of suspected drunk driver Robert Scott Sproston, following San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge John Trice’s April 15 ruling that the arresting officer consistently and deliberately skirted due process.
Motorists suspected of driving intoxicated commonly submit to quick and simple breath tests to determine their blood alcohol content, but officers are legally required to offer blood tests as well and advise suspects that only blood tests would allow the evidence to be retested after the fact. This practice is known as the Trombetta advisement, named after a 1984 United States Supreme Court case.
William Garrett, a Pismo Beach police officer who retired in late 2012, arrested Sproston on Sept. 15 but failed to read the Trombetta advisement. Garrett testified in court on Dec. 12, 2012, that he only read the advisement one time during his nine years working drunk driving cases for the Pismo Beach Police Department. He also said he never checked the corresponding box on his arrest forms and was never chastised by superiors for leaving it blank.
Sproston’s defense attorney, Scott Whitenack of the Santa Barbara-based Genis Law Firm, moved to have the breath evidence suppressed, but a decision was delayed until recently. Since then, Whitenack left the firm, and Darryl Genis took over the case.
“It would be highly ethical for the District Attorney to look back and throw out all cases where this could apply,” Genis said.
Genis said he worked the original Trombetta case in the early ’80s and has been struggling to get police to fall in line with the procedures ever since. Trice’s ruling to grant the motion to suppress evidence marks the first time Genis has seen a judge do anything beyond verbally chastising law enforcement.
“Finally we’ve got a judge with the courage to follow the law and say, ‘You guys aren’t playing by the rules and there’s going to be repercussions,’” Genis said.
Prosecutors now have until April 29 to decide whether to dismiss the case, continue to trial without the breath evidence, offer the defense a deal, or appeal Trice’s decision. A spokesperson from the District Attorney’s office said only that they would be seeking clarification on the court’s order in the meantime.