In a case whose origins were contentious in some law enforcement circles, the trial against a former CHP captain accused of drunken driving was postponed Thursday over a technical question about evidence.
Jury selection had been under way in the trial of Martin J. “Marty” Whited, 50, who is accused of misdemeanor drunk driving stemming from an incident near Templeton more than a year and a half ago.
But his attorney, Ilan Funke-Bilu, raised the issue of whether some of his personnel information could be used as evidence at trial.
The CHP recommended criminal charges against Whited — who was also demoted to lieutenant — after sheriff’s deputies discovered him on March 12, 2009, inside a state car stopped on a roadside east of Templeton.
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Because of his high rank in the CHP, the county Sheriff’s Department called supervisors from the state police agency to the scene and turned Whited over to a local CHP captain.
At the scene, Whited was not arrested, and he was not administered a blood or breath test for intoxication.
The case was contentious in some law enforcement circles because of the belief that Whited had been drinking before the episode.
Some individuals employed in or retired from area law enforcement agencies had told The Tribune that Whited received special treatment that would not have been accorded lower-ranking officers or citizens.
Whited has pleaded not guilty to a charge of driving under the influence. This charge differs from driving with a blood-alcohol content above 0.08 percent, which requires blood evidence be taken from a suspect.
Funke-Bilu requested in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Thursday that the case be dismissed because prosecutors requested and got some of his personnel records from the CHP.
He argues that is privileged information for peace officers.
Judge Jacquelyn Duffy ruled to stop jury selection, which began Wednesday, and set a hearing for Dec. 17 to decide whether the records should be kept out of the case or if the relevance of them outweighs Whited’s right to privacy.
Lawyers would have to select from an entirely new jury pool for the trial to resume.
Funke-Bilu acknowledged that he had been in possession of the records since before jury selection.
But he said that he mistakenly thought they came from his client.
When he realized the prosecution had the records, Funke-Bilu brought it to the judge’s attention, he said.
CHP Capt. Jeff Sgobba, who is based in the agency’s Goleta office, wrote in his investigative report that, although no blood alcohol testing was done and nobody saw Whited driving, “It is my opinion there is sufficient evidence that Whited was driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.”