Giambastiani v. Gordon

Decision Date31 October 2022
Docket NumberA163616
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals


Sonoma County Super. Ct. No. SCV267137

Richman, Acting P. J.

A neighbor of appellant Debra Giambastiani observed her crash her car into her garage and stumble around as though under the influence of alcohol, and called the police. An officer responded to the call, observed fresh collision damage to Giambastiani's car and garage, and knocked on the door which Giambastiani answered while appearing visibly intoxicated. When Giambastiani went to retrieve her identification, the officer stepped into her home and subsequently arrested her for driving under the influence, an arrest that led the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to suspend her driver's license for one year. Giambastiani unsuccessfully sought a writ of administrative mandamus challenging the DMV's decision, arguing that the officer violated the Fourth Amendment in knocking repeatedly on her door and in entering her home without a warrant. We affirm.


On March 24, 2018, at approximately 7:29 p.m., Officer Timothy Gooler of the Santa Rosa Police Department was dispatched to Giambastiani's address based on the report of an anonymous caller who "witnessed his neighbor pull into her driveway and 'smash the car into the house.' "[1] The caller identified Giambastiani by name and description, and described the vehicle as a silver Ford Escape. The caller also indicated that he believed Giambastiani had been drinking as she was "stumbling around the vehicle." According to Officer Gooler's incident report, the following took place when he arrived on the scene:

"I arrived several minutes after the dispatch and observed a silver Ford Escape in the driveway, which matched the description of the involved vehicle. Several feet away, I observed fresh collision damage to the southwest corner of the garage. The siding and framing appeared to be 'smashed' in, consistent with having been struck by a vehicle. I additionally observed moderate collision damage and matching paint transfer on the front right bumper of the Escape. It was apparent that the Ford Escape had recently been involved in a collision with the house.

"I touched the hood of the Escape and felt that it was very warm to the touch. The Escape was still making 'crackling' noises as the metal cooled, which indicated to me that it had recently been driven.

"Considering the collision with the residence, I felt obligated to check the welfare of the driver and investigate the possible DUI collision. While it was possible the driver was intoxicated or impaired, I felt it was also possible the driver had suffered a medical emergency such as diabetic shock (which has similar effects as extreme intoxication and can be life threatening).

"I walked up the walkway from the driveway to the publicly accessible front door of the residence, and knocked upon the door. The front door contained several small windows across the top, which allowed a clear view inside the residence. I watched as a white female with blonde hair wearing black clothing walked across the hallway, glancing in my direction as I knocked and ignoring me. I noted that the female matched the description of the driver, provided by the reporting party.

"I knocked two more times and was greeted by the same female later identified as (OF) Debra Giambastiani. Giambastiani opened the door and I noticed she had apparently changed clothing, and was now wearing a bath robe.

"I advised Giambastiani I had been called to check on her after she crashed into her house. Giambastiani denied having crashed, and told me she had gotten home 'twenty minutes ago.'

"Almost immediately I noticed objective signs of extremely heavy alcohol intoxication emitting from Giambastiani's person. Giambastiani could barely stand and was leaning on a wall and the door for support. Giambastiani spoke with such slurred speech she was difficult at times to understand, a heavy odor of alcoholic beverage was emitting from within the residence and her person, and her eyes appeared red and watery. I asked Giambastiani how much alcohol she had consumed, and she replied 'I don't know.' Giambastiani told me that she drank at home, and then told me she no longer wanted to answer my questions. Giambastiani asked me what I wanted to know, and I told her that I was concerned about her driving drunk. Giambastiani responded by telling me that I was 'crazy' and that I was 'wrong.'

"I asked Giambastiani for her ID, at which point she told me she had it and began walking inside. Giambastiani left the front door wide open as she walked inside, made no attempt to close it, and at no time indicated that I wasn't welcome inside. In fact, it appeared by the way she left her door open that she was inviting me inside. For my safety with concern that Giambastiani may return with a weapon, I followed Giambastiani inside briefly. I only took several steps inside to a hallway to watch her for officer safety concerns. Giambastiani turned around and told me that she did not want me in her residence, and I told her that was fine, I asked Giambastiani to step outside with me to discuss this further. She told me no. Once again, I asked Giambastiani to please throw on some clothing and step outside to speak with me. Giambastiani said 'I don't know what's going on. What is crazy.'

"I looked to the doorway intending to step outside and honor Giambastiani's request to leave, at which point I noticed the doorway was blocked by an unknown male I had never seen. I asked the male who he was, and Giambastiani spoke over him and told me that he was her husband (later identified as (IO) Patrick Reis). At this point, Reis was blocking my exit to the residence.

"I told Giambastiani that she was involved in a collision and she was obviously drunk, and that I wanted her to step outside for field sobriety tests. Giambastiani responded 'I'm not involved in a collision. No, I'm not going to go out of my house. I'm not going to do what you say. I'm not going to do what you said. Because I didn't do anything what you said wrong.' The entire time, Reis was blocking the front door and arguing that my case was 'circumstantial' and that I couldn't prove when Giambastiani had consumed alcohol or driven.

"I asked Giambastiani if she would let me look at her eyes or if she would do 'anything' (referring to FST's), and she responded no. I asked if she'd like to blow into a machine to prove her sobriety, and she told me she would not.

"Based upon Giambastiani's objective alcohol signs, the fact that she had been involved in a collision with her residence and the fact that she was witnessed driving by a neighbor, I placed her under arrest for [Vehicle Code section] 23152 [subd.] (a)[2] [] pursuant to [Vehicle Code section] 40300.5 []. As I placed handcuffs on her, she tensed up and pulled away. I told her not to fight with the police, and used a control hold to prevent her from assaulting her."

After a further struggle, Officer Gooler placed Giambastiani in his patrol vehicle:

"Once I got into my patrol vehicle, I began speaking with Giambastiani and advised her of Implied Consent and [California v.] Trombetta [(1984) 467 U.S 479]. I advised Giambastiani that she had the right to refuse a chemical test, but that it will result in a one-year license suspension. When I told her this, Giambastiani replied 'I don't care!' I asked her 'you don't care if your license is suspended?' and she affirmed her previous statement. It was clear that Giambastiani was not going to consent to a chemical test, and I began transporting her to SRPD to author a blood draw warrant."

Officer Gooler obtained a search warrant for a blood draw and a blood sample was obtained from Giambastiani.

Based on her refusal to submit to a chemical test, Giambastiani's driver's license was suspended for one year pursuant to Vehicle Code[3] section 13353.[4]

An administrative hearing was held on the suspension on August 24, 2020. At the hearing, the DMV introduced several exhibits, including Officer Gooler's 10-page incident report quoted above.

The DMV hearing officer found that Officer Gooler had reasonable cause to believe Giambastiani was driving under the influence in violation of the Vehicle Code based on the "objective signs of intoxication" as well as his other observations of the damaged garage and vehicle, that Giambastiani was "lawfully arrested for a violation of Vehicle Code Section 23152, 23153 or 23140," that the required admonition was proper despite the statement on the admonition form that it was given after the blood draw, and that Giambastiani had refused the admonition. As a result of these findings, the DMV imposed a one-year suspension of Giambastiani's driving privileges. A written "Notification of Findings and Decision" followed on September 10.

On September 25, Giambastiani filed a petition for writ of administrative mandamus in Sonoma County Superior Court seeking reversal of the DMV order suspending her license. She argued that Officer Gooler's warrantless entry of her home was not justified by implied consent or exigent circumstances; that Officer Gooler unlawfully intruded on the "curtilage" of her property when he examined her vehicle and the garage in her driveway; that he violated the Fourth Amendment when he repeatedly knocked on her door; that he did so again when he continued interrogating her after she stated that she did not want to answer his questions; that the evidence seized was "tainted" by his violations of the Fourth Amendment; and that his unsworn police report...

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