Sheriff's sergeant cleared in DUI trial

Not guilty on 1 count; second is dismissed

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comApril 16, 2013 

— Sheriff's Sgt. James Pacheco breathed a sigh of relief Monday after a jury acquitted him on one count of driving under the influence and deadlocked on a second count.

After two years of maintaining his innocence, the Merced County jury found Pacheco, 45, not guilty of one count of misdemeanor driving with a blood- alcohol level of 0.08 or above.

On the second count, misdemeanor DUI, jurors couldn't reach a verdict. Not long after the hung jury was declared, the second count was dismissed after prosecutors for the state attorney general's office said they wouldn't retry him.

Pacheco was happy with the case's outcome, saying he didn't commit the crimes and had been waiting for his day in court.

"I've spent my entire adult life as a deputy sheriff, defending and believing in the criminal justice system. And today on a very personal level my long-standing faith in the criminal justice system has been confirmed," he said.

"I am just sorry my friends and family were dragged through this ordeal," Pacheco said.

Pacheco, who ran unsuccessfully for the District 1 supervisor seat last year, said he has no plans to seek political office in the near future. He added that he's looking forward to getting back to work.

Darren Indermill, deputy state attorney general, said the prosecution decided not to retry the case because the result likely would have been the same. "There's not a whole lot that would have changed," Indermill said.

Jurors began their deliberations about 11:30 a.m. Monday after hearing closing arguments from attorneys on both sides. Their decision was announced about 3:30 p.m. The trial lasted one week.

Pacheco was arrested at his Le Grand home in April 2011 by California Highway Patrol.

Witnesses claimed to have seen Pacheco bump his patrol car, which was parked outside his house, with his GMC Yukon. The GMC's front bumper was resting against the patrol car's rear bumper, although CHP investigators found no damage.

The prosecution claimed Pacheco provided conflicting descriptions of how much he drank that night. Indermill noted that after Pacheco was told the result of his breath tests, which recorded his blood-alcohol level at 0.13 percent, Pacheco claimed he drank some tequila after returning home.

The prosecution pointed to physical evidence in the case, including an open beer in the center console of Pacheco's truck and another on the floorboard. Indermill said CHP officers at the scene noted Pacheco gave off a strong odor of alcohol and had red, watery eyes.

Defense attorney Kirk McAllister challenged the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses.

McAllister zeroed in on one witness who testified that he and two others saw Pacheco drive up to his home the night of the DUI arrest.

The witness told law enforcement he could smell an alcoholic beverage on Pacheco's breath, but on the stand he testified that he didn't smell any alcohol.

McAllister said the testimony of that witness wasn't believable.

The defense attorney said jurors were able to see beyond the "smoke and mirrors" of the prosecution's case. "When (a case) starts out with the main prosecution witness admitting that he lied, that's not an auspicious beginning," McAllister said.

He said the hung jury on the second count was an indication of the case's weakness. "If they can't get 12 people to agree on it, I take that as a sign the prosecution doesn't have enough evidence," McAllister said.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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