Assemblyman Roger Hernandez says that he spent upward of $15,000 to successfully defend himself against drunken-driving allegations when he was arrested by Concord police officers earlier this year.
"It was very expensive and very embarrassing to go through this process," Hernandez, 37, said Wednesday. "It was very humiliating at times. I've become real careful now because it's something you don't want to take a chance with."
Hernandez, D-West Covina, was arrested by Concord police on suspicion of drunken driving just after 2 a.m. March 27.
Officers pulled over the rookie state politician after they said he was weaving within his lane and turned into his hotel parking lot without signaling.
Authorities said Hernandez showed signs of intoxication -- including smelling of alcohol and having bloodshot and watery eyes, failing three field-sobriety tests and having a blood-alcohol content of 0.08, the point at which someone is deemed too drunk to drive in California.
After a seven-day trial in Martinez in which defense attorneys and expert witnesses cast doubt over the way officials conducted the testing, a 12-person jury last month found Hernandez not guilty of one misdemeanor count of driving under the influence.
Earlier this week, a Contra Costa judge dismissed a second misdemeanor count of driving with a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher that the jury was hung on.
"The trial process was an opportunity for the jury to
Hernandez said he started drinking "a couple glasses of wine" on the night of his arrest at about 9 p.m. and finished his last drink at 2 a.m.
"When I said I felt confident (driving), it was because I know that on average, a person burns off a drink an hour," Hernandez said. "I knew there was no way I'd be at the minimum level. If I felt impaired, there's no way I would have gotten behind the wheel."
Hernandez said he ordered three glasses of wine but only took a sip of the third glass before heading off to his hotel with his date, Kaiser Permanente community and government relations manager Darcie Green, in a state-issued car.
Hernandez said Wednesday that his allergies caused his eyes to look bloodshot, and he said he did nothing to violate the state vehicle code.
Neither Hernandez nor Green took the witness stand during the trial. The jury was barred from hearing that Hernandez is a politician and was driving a state-issued car.
The defense argued that wind, cold weather, sloped pavement and the way the field sobriety tests were conducted all contributed to Hernandez's poor performance.
The prosecution's experts testified that Hernandez was impaired and that his blood tested at .08.
The defense argued that the blood was mishandled and the state's own witness testified that there could have been a .01 percent margin of error in Hernandez's blood test results.
Hernandez spent at least $2,500 on two expert witnesses, a nurse who disputed the way the blood was drawn, and David Lewis, a forensic toxicologist who argued that the blood sample was mishandled, compromising its validity.
The defense also purchased criminal lab software and hired a private Sacramento lab to retest the blood.
Hernandez said he paid for his defense out of personal funds.
With so many witnesses, the trial lasted unusually long for a drunken-driving charge.
"We definitely gave it everything we had on trying to prosecute that case and to present all of the evidence to the jury," Contra Costa deputy district attorney Dana Filkowski said.
Hernandez and his attorney, Peter Johnson, have maintained his innocence from the beginning, fighting the allegations with every defense available.
"I think this was a product of who was being charged as opposed to what the conduct was, and it was treated that way," Johnson said. "I didn't think it was fair the way they went about it. They prosecuted the case for who he was."
Hernandez said that while clearing his name came with a price tag, it was a worthwhile experience.
"I learned a lot in this process, but I feel that I'm incredibly grateful to have a judicial process that allows all of us ... the opportunity to have the facts weighed and evaluated by a jury of your peers where the law is applied fairly and the jury can make a decision based on facts, not on the rumor mill."
Staff writer Malaika Fraley contributed to this report.