After more than a year and a half of convoluted hearings, motions, and appeals, the outcome of a Pismo Beach DUI case was decided by faulty arithmetic.
By setting a trial court date more than 30 days after Robert Scott Sproston’s DUI case was readmitted to San Luis Obispo County Superior Court, Judge Dodie Harman and Deputy District Attorney David Paxton unwittingly violated Sproston’s “speedy trial” rights and effectively killed the case.
“We try to handle all our cases as a priority, but this was just an unfortunate situation where our office was in error in analyzing the key timeframe,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerret Gran. “We should have known better.”
After Sproston’s defense attorney Darryl Genis pointed out the speedy trial rights violation, Judge John Trice officially dismissed the case against Sproston on April 30.
“This was a case where the DA’s office won the battle but lost the war, thanks to their complete ignorance about procedure,” Genis told New Times. “It’s a bit anticlimactic as a lawyer, but—from my client’s perspective—I’m very happy I was able to get him a favorable result.”
Pismo Beach Police Officer William Garrett—now retired—originally arrested Sproston on Sept. 15, 2012, on suspicion of DUI. Sproston’s breath test showed he had a blood alcohol content of .21 or .22.
Before the abrupt dismissal, Sproston’s case had hinged on the issue of the “Trombetta advisement”—a state-mandated policy that requires officers to inform DUI suspects they have the right to a roadside or laboratory blood test.
Garrett didn’t give Sproston the Trombetta advisement, and Genis and the DA’s office had been sparring for more than a year over the legal significance of that omission.
Genis argued that the omission of the advisement was a “deliberate and systematic” constitutional violation, and that the court should, accordingly, toss out Sproston’s breath test. The DA’s office disagreed.
Judge Trice unexpectedly sided with Genis in an April 15, 2013, ruling that suppressed the breath test evidence against Sproston.
However, that determination was reversed by Judge Barry LaBarbera in a Nov. 19 appellate court decision, which remanded Sproston’s case back to SLO Superior Court.
Ultimately, all that sound and fury was negated when Harman and Paxton neglected to schedule a trial date within a legally acceptable window.
“It’s really unfortunate,” Gran said. “It was a good case, and [Sproston] deserved to be found guilty.”