WEST JORDAN Evidence about the presence of Tramadol in a man hit and killed by a police officer will be allowed in trial. But the Department of Public Safety's emergency driving policy will not.
Those were a couple of the rulings made Wednesday in the negligent homicide case against Taylorsville police officer Joseph Corbett.
Corbett was responding on Feb. 7, 2007, with lights and sirens to help other officers involved in a high-speed chase, when he crashed into another vehicle making a turn at the intersection of 4700 South and Redwood Road about 12:40 a.m. The defense says the light for Corbett was green, in addition to him having his lights and sirens activated. Prosecutors contend Corbett ran a red light and did not properly "clear" the intersection. The accident claimed the life of 27-year-old John Terry Douglas of Tooele.
In October, 3rd District Judge Robert Adkins ruled the defense would be allowed to present evidence in court that Douglas had the pain medication Tramadol in his system at the time of the crash and was text messaging while driving.
Prior to that, Adkins ruled in September the Taylorsville Police Department's own policy regarding pursuits could not be admitted as evidence by the prosecution because department policy did not hold the same weight as state law. If that were the case, there could potentially be as many chase statutes in the county as police jurisdictions, he said.
In February, prosecutors filed three motions hoping to have the testimony on Tramadol excluded, have the DPS policy on emergency driving included as evidence and to allow the man in charge of training all police cadets at POST on emergency driving to testify.
Wednesday, Adkins denied the state's first motion and said he would allow evidence regarding Tramadol usage to be brought up in court, but it could not be mentioned during opening arguments.
Tiffany Berardil testified Wednesday that .04 milligrams per liter of Tramadol was found in Douglas' blood. Berardil is a forensics toxicologist with the Utah Public Health Lab that tested blood samples of Douglas submitted by the state medical examiner. Christopher Bown, with the Salt Lake District Attorney's Office, argued in court that any measurement below .05 should be considered a false positive.
"It is an unreliable result," he argued. "There is no reliable evidence of him having Tramadol in his system. And if it's not reliable, it can't be used."
Defense attorney Ed Brass countered that the issue wasn't whether intoxication was involved, but whether Tramadol was present in Douglas' body at all. Two independents tests both came up with the .04 reading, he said.
"It clearly indicates he consumed Tramadol before the accident."
Adkins agreed with the defense that even if a small amount was detected, that couldn't mean he didn't have the drug in his system at all.
The second motion to allow the DPS policy for emergency driving to be presented as evidence was also rejected. Prosecutors argued the policy was necessary to explain to jurors what the minimum standard would be on how a reasonable emergency vehicle operator should act under circumstances like Corbett faced.
Adkins, however, said it was no different than if he would have allowed Taylorsville's policy. He even noted that DPS' own policy stated, "This policy is for departmental use only," and did not apply to criminal or civil proceedings.
"It is a policy, it is not a rule," he said.
The third motion by the state, allowing expert testimony from a POST instructor on emergency driving, was granted. But Adkins said he would restrict the expert from talking about the chase policies of DPS, Taylorsville police or any other agency. The judge feared talk of individual department policies would confuse jurors on what was actually law.
Prosecutors suggested in court they would be filing a motion trying to restrict the defense from talking about Douglas' texting in opening arguments. Brass said he would fight that motion.A four-day jury trial was scheduled to begin next week.
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