A woman who received a DUI in Pismo Beach for driving 30ft to escape a man she said was an abusive boyfriend may face a new trial after her first ended with a hung jury.
Palmdale resident Anne Marie Nunez, 55, was charged with a DUI misdemeanor on September 17, 2021 – around three months after the incident. Her case went to trial in February but ended in a mistrial in March after jurors could not agree that she was at fault for moving her car to another location in the parking lot when she was visibly intoxicated.
When a case ends with a hung jury, the district attorney has the option of retrying the case or leaving it as is. In this case, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office decided to try the case again.
He is expected to stand trial again this month.
Meanwhile, Nunez’s attorney, Trace Milan, filed a motion to dismiss the charges, arguing that her client moved her car out of necessity.
“Officers left the intoxicated woman to fend for herself in the back of her boyfriend’s van in circumstances similar to the murder of Gabby Petito,” he wrote in the motion.
Petito, who was traveling with her boyfriend in Utah, disappeared in the summer of 2022 shortly after police responded to the couple’s fight, but ultimately left the two together. His remains were found a month later.
Milan added that the prosecution don’t have new evidence so it’s likely the case will have the same outcome.
The district attorney said dismissing the charges was not in the interests of justice, adding that there was no minimum distance a vehicle must travel before drunk driving does not become a crime.
A woman said her boyfriend strangled her
On June 7, 2021, at approximately 11 p.m., officers responded to a call from a couple who were fighting in the Denny’s parking lot in Pismo Beach. They were there with two vehicles parked next to each other, the man’s van and the woman’s car.
When police arrived at the scene, Michael Deryden told Officer Kyle Laughlin, “We just had a little argument.”
Deryden went to the other officer to give him his driver’s license, and Nunez can be seen lying in the backseat of the van, apparently inebriated.
“Are you all right, madam? asked the officer.
“I don’t want him to hear,” Nunez replied.
Laughlin reassured Nunez that her boyfriend couldn’t hear her, then asked if Deryden had hit her.
“Yes,” Nunez replied, adding, “It’s my fault.”
Deryden then came, and Laughlin told Nunez he would come back to her.
Deryden told Laughlin the two argued “just about life in general” and said the disagreement never got physical. He also told the officer that he took Nunez’s keys so she couldn’t drive while drunk.
Laughlin then told Deryden that he was going to speak to Nunez to make sure their stories matched.
Nunez, in articulating her words, told the officer that she wanted to visit her sister and “I want to be safe.” When the officer asked Nunez why she didn’t feel safe, she told him she wanted to go home.
Laughlin noted that he knew Nunez had a restraining order against her boyfriend that only allowed peaceful contact.
“Where did he hit you, darling?” Laughlin asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Nunez replied.
“I can see your shirt is torn,” Laughlin said. “Your chest is a little red.”
Nunez told the officer that his red chest was from sunburn.
“He tried to strangle me,” she told the officer, adding that Deryden had used a towel.
Laughlin told the other officer at the scene that Nunez reported that she had been punched and strangled and that her clothes were torn.
“But now she doesn’t want to talk about it anymore,” he told the other officer.
Nunez then interrupted the officers and told them her boyfriend was a “good guy” and had “been really good” to her. She also answered “no” when asked again if she had been strangled.
Officers eventually agreed to leave Nunez with her boyfriend in the van so the two could sleep off their booze. They told them they couldn’t drive until they were sober.
About 25 minutes later, however, Laughlin said he saw Nunez get into his car and move it 30 feet into Denny’s parking lot.
According to body camera footage, Laughlin then approached Nunez and told her she was too drunk to drive.
“I wanted to get away from him,” Nunez told the officer.
Laughlin asked why Nunez didn’t get a room at the hotel, and she told him she had no money.
“(Deryden) said he’d buy you one,” Laughlin told Nunez.
Laughlin reiterated that Nunez was too drunk to drive, and Nunez replied that she just wanted to move her car to a safe place.
The officer insisted that the only reason Nunez didn’t drive down the road was because she saw him, but Nunez told her she just wanted to move her car, lock it and fall asleep.
Nunez admitted to driving the vehicle and said he drank 12 beers that day when he was arrested, according to the footage.
New trial for DUI is harassment, says defense attorney
The trial ended with eight jurors believing Nunez was guilty and four believing she was innocent. They are deadlocked after two days of deliberations, according to court documents.
According to the motion to dismiss filed on Nunez’s behalf, Laughlin did not advise Nunez of his right to refuse the preliminary alcohol test, and his probative breathalyzer was removed from the camera. Another officer said he administered the test, according to court documents, but the breathalyzer form says Laughlin administered it.
He also could not have seen Nunez get into his car and drive it from the vantage point where he testified he was, according to the motion.
According to evidence presented at trial, court documents indicate that Nunez had been abused by Deryden “for years,” including beatings that required hospitalization.
“As the officers had responded in person and had offered no protection to the accused,” the motion reads. “There was no reason for her to believe that law enforcement was the solution.”
Milan, Nunez’s lawyer, argued that she moved her car out of necessity to protect herself from further damage. She wanted to put a locked door between her and her attacker, he said, and hoped that moving the car 30 feet would cause Deryden to assume she was gone and avoid another confrontation.
Milan argues that a new trial would amount to harassment.
Nunez has already been tried once, and she has already had to travel and take time off work for the first trial.
Dismissing charges would obstruct justice, DA says
According to the district attorney’s response to the motion, Laughlin was initially responding to a “fighting game” report.
The response states that Nunez provided conflicting statements as to whether there was a physical altercation, and although the officer noted that Nunez’s shirt was torn, evidence presented at trial showed that it was intact, depending on the answer.
Both Deryden and Nunez were flushed from being out in the sun earlier in the day, the response said, and were advised not to drive their vehicles as they were very intoxicated.
About 25 minutes later, according to the response, Laughlin saw Nunez driving in his car and then drove into the Denny’s parking lot. That’s when Nunez pulled over, admitted to driving the vehicle and said she’d had 12 beers that day, the response said.
On a preliminary blood alcohol test, Nunez huffed at 0.18%, the response said. His blood alcohol level was 0.21% and 0.20% on the evidence test, the response said.
The district attorney’s response argues that a dismissal would not be in the interests of justice. Nunez was very drunk at the time, the response said, and “there is no minimum distance a vehicle must travel before driving under the influence becomes a crime.”
The response also argues that the jury was split in favor of the prosecution and that it was “fully possible” for a new jury to reach a unanimous verdict at a second trial.
The motion to dismiss will be heard on June 12. IIf dismissed, the case will be tried again on June 20.