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DUI Defendant Who Claims Signature Was Forged Appears in Court

Judge orders handwriting samples before deciding how trial of freelance writer Peter Lance will continue

[Noozhawk’s note: In the original version of this article published by Noozhawk on July 26, 2011, it was reported that defendant Peter Lance and two witnesses at his court hearing were accused of “drunken driving.” Lance and the two witnesses were charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, rather than with “drunken driving.” Noozhawk regrets any misunderstandings arising from the July 26, 2011, publication, and the story has been corrected below.]

A Santa Barbara man charged with driving under the influence who claims his signature was forged on Santa Barbara police report documents appeared in Santa Barbara County Superior Court on Tuesday afternoon.

The defendant, Peter Lance, 63, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence after he was pulled over by officers in the early morning hours of Jan. 1 and blew a .09 percent blood-alcohol content for a breathalyzer test, according to police. Lance told police he had three glasses of champagne that evening.

Lance, who is a freelance journalist, and defense attorney Darryl Genis question the credibility of the arresting officer, Santa Barbara police Officer Kasi Beutel. In a five-part exposé that he wrote for the Santa Barbara News-Press, Lance outlined his concerns, which are duplicated in his court documents.

Beutel and the Santa Barbara Police Department have denied the allegations.

Tuesday’s hearing focused on Lance’s claim that the signature on the Trombetta blood and urine test waiver — which a suspect signs to waive having a re-testable blood or urine sample taken — was not his. Genis has said he has six additional witnesses who allege they were not offered a Trombetta waiver and therefore the signatures on those documents in their files are forgeries.

Superior Court Judge Brian Hill asked that handwriting samples be taken from the witnesses and will have two experts, one for the defense and one for the District Attorney’s Office, examine them to determine if a signature was indeed forged.

Having witnesses in open court was the fairest way, given the seriousness of the claims, Hill said.

He said there must be “some scintilla of evidence” that there are forged documents for him to consider allowing appearances at Lance’s trial of witnesses who otherwise have no connection to his case.

“If there is any indication (Officer Beutel) was forging other peoples’ names, it will be admissible,” Hill said.

As of now, the case only deals with the prosecution’s attempt to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Lance was driving under the influence.

Two witnesses testified Tuesday that Beutel had administered their breath tests after being pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence. Both allegedly blew more than the legal limit of .08 percent blood-alcohol content. They have since settled their cases and contacted Lance after seeing his series of articles or earlier newspaper advertisements asking for defendants to come forward if they believed Beutel made “misstatements” in their DUI police reports.

Taking handwriting samples from the other witnesses was continued until Monday. The experts will likely take a few days at their respective offices to examine the samples and come to a conclusion about whether the Trombetta waiver signatures were forged.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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