Editors note: This story describes domestic violence.
A judge on Monday dismissed the case against a woman who was given a DUI in Pismo Beach for driving 30 feet to escape a man she said was an abusive boyfriend, saying police made the wrong decision is arresting her..
Palmdale resident Anne Marie Nunez, 55, was charged with a misdemeanor DUI on Sept. 17, 2021 — around three months after the incident.
Nunez had told officers who responded to a report of her and her boyfriend fighting that she had been hit and threatened, but officers ultimately left her with the man inside his van. She later got into her own car, which was parked nearby, and drove it to a new parking spot, prompting a DUI arrest.
Her case went to trial in February but ended in a mistrial in March after jurors could not agree whether she was at fault for moving her car to a different spot in the parking lot while visibly intoxicated.
The District Attorney’s Office moved to retry the case, noting that the jury was deadlocked in their favor.
Nunez’s lawyer, Trace Milan, filed a motion inviting the judge to dismiss the case, arguing Nunez moved her car while intoxicated out of necessity to protect herself from further harm.
San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Jesse Marino agreed with Milan.
“The trial served its purpose,” the judge said, adding that the trial allowed both him and a jury to fully understand the case. “I’m left convinced that this is among the most compelling necessity defense cases.”
A necessity defense functions similarly to self-defense in a murder trial, meaning someone broke the law because there was more danger if they didn’t, and there were no other viable options.
Officers made ‘wrong decision,’ judge says
On June 17, 2021, Pismo Beach police officers responded to a report of Nunez and her boyfriend, Michael Deryden, fighting in the Denny’s parking lot on Five Cities Drive.
Nunez, who was visibly intoxicated, told Pismo Beach Officer Kyle Laughlin that her boyfriend had hit her and threatened to strangle her. Laughlin noted she had a restraining order against Deryden that only allowed peaceful contact, body camera footage showed, but left Nunez in the van with Deryden.
About 25 minutes later, Laughlin arrested Nunez for a DUI when she moved her car 30 feet to another parking spot. She told him she “wanted to get away” from her boyfriend.
Deputy District Attorney James Statton argued dismissing the case would infringe on the district attorney’s right to prosecute crimes, adding that driving intoxicated is a serious offense.
Marino agreed that driving drunk is a serious offense that can lead to deadly outcomes, but added that there are instances where the manner in which someone drives and how far matters.
Nunez drove late at night, at a slow speed for 30 feet before parking her car in a new space in a relatively empty parking lot.
Marino said he understands law enforcement officers have to make decisions in a stressful manner, sometimes quickly with life and death at stake, but he said law enforcement should have separated Nunez from her boyfriend when she reported abuse.
He said he believed Nunez interrupting officers and telling them everything was fine toward the end of the encounter was what he believed to be battered woman syndrome.
“Nunez was left alone in this van with a man I absolutely believe threatened her,” Marino said. “Law enforcement made the wrong decision in this case.”
The judge noted he found Nunez’s testimony credible, adding that she had been beaten and hospitalized on multiple occasions.
Nunez was in more danger inside a van with her abuser than she was driving intoxicated in an empty parking lot, Marino said. She drove to protect herself, Marino said.
The judge said he thought Nunez acted out of necessity from the beginning — and even urged the DA’s Office to modify her charges — but he was hesitant to dismiss the case at that time.
Marino wanted to allow the jury to do its job, and also hear all the evidence in the case from both sides.
After hearing the evidence himself, the judge said, he is even more convinced that Nunez acted out of necessity.
“If I was a juror, I would have had no problem taking this as a necessity defense,” he said.
With that, he dismissed the case.
How to get help
If you or someone you know are a survivor of domestic violence, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. The hotline offers a range of free services including confidential support from a trained staff member, help finding a local health facility, legal and medical advice and referrals for long-term support.
Survivor support and resources are also available through Lumina Alliance at luminaalliance.org or their Crisis and Information Line at 805-545-8888.