San Francisco Superior Court judge Newton Lam has ruled that there was enough probable cause from other evidence against the “Rideshare Rapist” that his four charges of rape (and a myriad of other crimes) are still admissible in court despite an evidence-gathering snafu.
There’s been a four-day detour in the “Rideshare Rapist” case of Orlando Vilchez Lazo, an undocumented Peruvian immigrant accused of posing as a Lyft driver and sexually assaulting at least four women. The snag, according to his attorney and deputy public defender Sandy Feinland, is that the DNA sample used to tie Vilchez Lazo to the crimes was allegedly obtained illegally. But the judge was unmoved, and the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Vilchez Lazo’s rape trial can proceed because he was already on the police’s radar and unrelated evidence against him was previously being collected.
At issue here is Vilchez Lazo’s DNA sample, which was collected on July 7, 2018 in a routine DUI stop. He was not intoxicated, and was let go. But police kept the DNA that his saliva left on the breathalyzer machine, and arrested him five days later because the sample matched evidence in one of the alleged rideshare rapes. His attorneys argued that this constituted collecting DNA without a warrant, effectively rendering the search illegal.
Judge Newton Lam was unconvinced, and notes police were already monitoring Vilchez Lazo over his suspicious circling of nightclubs. “That was being accumulated prior to the taking of that DNA,” Lam said, according to the Chronicle. “It does not flow from the DNA.”
Vilchez Lazo is accused of raping four different women in incidents going back to November 2013. While he was an actual Lyft driver at the time, police say that while off-duty he would pose as a Lyft driver, pick up women, and rape them at knifepoint. Vilchez Lazo is charged with four counts of rape, three kidnapping charges, two counts of sexual penetration with a foreign object, and three counts of kidnapping to commit another crime. He’s pleaded not guilty, and is currently being held at S.F. County Jail without bail.
Judge Lam’s decision Wednesday doesn’t really settle anything — in fact, the case has still not even gone to trial. There will be more preliminary hearings on whether there is enough evidence to justify a trial. And even if the case does go to trial, Vilchez Lazo’s lawyers still plan to argue the charges should be dropped on the illegal DNA collection technicality.
Image: San Francisco Police Department