Archive for May, 2010

“How Can You Defend Them?”

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

It always surprises me how many people are outraged that I would defend someone accused by the police of a crime – and particularly of drunk driving. Arrest increasingly means guilt, and there is a public perception of criminal defense attorneys as being obstructionist, nefarious and somehow unethical. Certainly, every defense attorney tires of the ubiquitous cocktail party question: “How can you defend criminals?”

The answer to that question is complex, involving issues of possible innocence, inaccurate evidence, overcharging by the prosecutor, guarding constitutional rights, untrustworthy testimony, ensuring a fair trial, protection from unfair laws and harsh/illegal punishment — and just keeping the government honest.

One of the better answers, however,  was provided some years ago by United States Supreme Court Justice Byron White in the landmark case of United States vs. Wade, 388 U.S. 218 (1967):


Law enforcement officers have the obligation to convict the guilty and to make sure they do not convict the innocent. They must be dedicated to making the criminal trial a procedure for the ascertainment of the true facts surrounding the commission of the crime. To this extent, our so-called adversary system is not adversary at all; nor should it be. But defense counsel has no comparable obligation to ascertain or present the truth. Our system assigns him a different mission. He must be and is interested in preventing the conviction of the innocent, but, absent a voluntary plea of guilty, we also insist that he defend his client whether he is innocent or guilty. The State has the obligation to present the evidence. Defense counsel need present nothing, even if he knows what the truth is. He need not furnish any witnesses to the police, or reveal any confidences of his client, or furnish any other information to help the prosecution’s case. If he can confuse a witness, even a truthful one, or make him appear at a disadvantage, unsure or indecisive, that will be his normal course. Our interest in not convicting the innocent permits counsel to put the State to its proof, to put the State’s case in the worst possible light, regardless of what he thinks or knows to be the truth. Undoubtedly there are some limits which defense counsel must observe but more often than not, defense counsel will cross-examine a prosecution witness, and impeach him if he can, even if he thinks the witness is telling the truth, just as he will attempt to destroy a witness who he thinks is lying. In this respect, as part of our modified adversary system and as part of the duty imposed on the most honorable defense counsel, we countenance or require conduct which in many instances has little, if any, relation to the search for truth.


Some fine day, you or someone close to you will be arrested and charged with a criminal offense. That person may or may not be innocent, but you will pray that he or she is defended against the overwhelming forces of the government by a competent attorney.

If that doesn’t do it, read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
 

 

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The Future of DUI Revisited

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Over five years ago, I gave a lecture to a national organization of attorneys during which I was asked, among other things, to anticipate the future course of DUI laws in the United States.  B earing in mind the words of Adlai Stevenson ("We can chart our future clearly and wisely only when we know the path which has led to the present"), I made a number of predictions.  A few weeks later (February 23, 2005), I posted a blog here entitled "The Future of DUI" in which I presented a more detailed view of  where I felt  drunk driving laws and law enforcement were headed. 

As of today, many of the predictions have materialized while others are clearly on the horizon.  Following is the original post….


DUI Laws

The Past: The original laws simply outlawed driving while impaired.

With the arrival of primitive breathalyzers, and the counsel of the American Medical Association, impairment was presumed with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15%. Over the years this was dropped to .10%, then .08%, and finally the laws were added making the BAC — not impairment — the offense. There are now bills before state legislatures to drop it to .05%. So-called "zero tolerance" made it a crime for drivers under 21 to have even .01% BAC.

The Trend: From focusing on actual impairment, to facilitating arrests and convictions by focusing on artifical BAC levels — and, finally, to the merepresence of alcohol. The emphasis has shifted from addressing the danger (impaired drivers) to facilitating arrests and convictions.

The Future: The "zero tolerance" laws will be applied to drivers of all ages. Criminal liability will be expanded to include attempted drunk driving (regardless of lack of specific intent), as well as vicarious liability: accomplices ("aiding and abetting"), conspiracy and so-called "Dram Shop Act" liability (providing a drink to someone who may drive).

Evidence

The Past: Originally, the arresting officer gave his opinion of impairment based upon his observations of driving and symptoms, as well as field sobriety tests. The emphasis shifted to increasingly sophisticated breathalyzers and to blood tests administered by nurses or technicians. However, portable and handheld breath testing devices have more recently been used at the scene to determine probable cause to arrest; the later test on a more sophisticated breathalyzer at the station continues to be used as evidence in court. Some courts are beginning to accept the portable units into evidence.

The Trend: An increasing emphasis on money and expediency rather than accuracy and reliability.

The Future: Evidentiary breathalyzers will be replaced with simpler, cheaper (and less accurate) handheld units at the scene of arrest. Blood samples will be obtained by the officer with his syringe at the scene. Saliva tests may gain acceptance.

Constitutional Rights

The Past: There has been a parade of adverse Supreme Court decisions and a steady erosion of constitutional rights in drunk driving cases — what I have called "The DUI Exception to the Constitution". These have included approval of sobriety roadblocks (Sitz v. Michigan); double jeopardy (immediate license suspensions followed by criminal prosecutions); right to counsel; self-incrimination (Neville v. South Dakota); presumptions of innocence (if .08%, then presumed under the influence; if test taken within 3 hours of driving, BAC presumed to be same as when driving); confrontation; jury trial (Blanton v. North Las Vegas); etc.

The Trend: From the protection of the citizen from police violations, to the protection of the police from legal interference.

The Future: Increasing loss of constitutional protection — notably, the complete loss of the right to a jury trial. With the clear focus on cost and expediency, DUI cases will be handled in an administrative setting as license suspensions currently are: the two procedures will simply be consolidated, although criminal penalties will remain. There may be no judge, but only an administrative hearing officer.

Federal Presence

The Past: DUI laws have always been a state-prescribed crime. With the prompting of special interest groups like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and the desire of politicians to curry favor with voters, this has gradually changed. Using a "carrot and stick" approach with highway funds, the federal government has forced states to change their laws and penalties in such ways as: "per se" laws; .08% BAC; "zero tolerance" for drivers under 21; automatic license suspensions; standardized field sobriety tests; federally approved lists of breath testing machines.

The Trend: The federalizing of a traditionally state offense.

The Future: With the use of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, DUI laws and penalties will become "federalized". However, without the ability (or inclination) to arrest and prosecute these crimes in the federal courts, the states will be left to continue processing them in their own courts or administrative hearings.

The New Prohibition

The Past: The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was primarily a woman’s movement that ended as a failed experiment. Since then….The BAC levels for DUI have steadily dropped from .15% to .08%, and there are efforts to reduce it further. Drivers under 21 already face .01% — alcohol prohibition as to driving.

The Trend: In 1999, MADD (primarily a woman’s movement) formally changed its mission statement from drunk driving to include "the problem of underage drinking" (not underage drinking and driving). The "problem" of drinking at all is on the horizon.

The Future: The movement will again fail, this time without obtaining a constitutional amendment. This country needs alcohol and drugs too much.

 

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Law and Politics vs Science

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

It is an unfortunate fact that law and politics repeatedly trump science when it comes to prosecuting citizens accused of drunk driving…

In People v. Bransford, to cite one notable example, the California Supreme Court was confronted with a defendant who was challenging his conviction for driving with over .08% blood in his blood on the grounds that he was not permitted to offer scientific evidence to the jury. Specifically, he was not permitted to offer the testimony of recognized experts that the breath machine’s computer was programmed to assume that there were 2100 parts of alcohol in his blood for every 1 part it measured in his breath.

He was also prevented by the trial judge from offering further evidence from expert witnesses that this 2100:1 ratio was only an average – and that the actual ratio varied widely from person to person, and within one person from moment to moment. If, for example, a suspect’s ratio had been 1300:1 at the time he blew a .10% on the machine, his true blood-alcohol would have actually been .06% — that is, he would have been innocent.

The Supreme Court of California affirmed the conviction, however, ruling that such scientific facts are irrelevant: the law was written in a way that concerned the amount of alcohol in the blood ”as measured on the breath”. In a display of either twisted logic or ignorance of the scientific facts involved, the Court simply said that the crime consisted of the amount of alcohol in the blood– but only as measured on the breath. In other words, although the crime is having .08% alcohol in the blood, you can’t offer evidence that this doesn’t accurately reflect the amount of alcohol actually in the blood!

An amazing decision.

More interesting, perhaps, is the language in the Court’s opinion — an opinion which gives us a window into the justices’ minds. In what must have been a complete failure to appreciate the significance of what they were writing, the Court justified its ruling in a rather frank — and incredible — admission of its hidden agenda:


It will increase the likelihood of convicting such a driver, because the prosecution need not prove actual impairment…Adjudication of such criminal charges will also require fewer legal resources, because fewer legal issues will arise. And individuals prosecuted under such a statute will be less likely to contest the charges.  People v. Bransford, 8 Cal.4th 894 (1994).


In other words, preventing an accused from defending himself with scientific truth serves justice by making it easier to get convictions!

Are all judges oblivious to the truth? Not entirely. One judge, Justice Joyce Kennard, dissented from the majority opinion. Recognizing the truth, she wrote in a separate opinion:


The majority has on its own created the new crime of driving with alcohol in one’s breath.
 

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State Supreme Court: DUI Doesn’t Require Driving

Monday, May 10th, 2010

 From today’s Alice-in-Wonderland department, this mind-boggling ruling from the Supreme Court of West Virginia:


West Virginia Supreme Court: DUI Does Not Require Proof Of Driving

Drunk driving fines may be imposed without proof that the accused ever drove, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled.

Wheeling, WV.  May 10 – State officials can punish an individual for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), even if they are unable to prove the accused was ever behind the wheel, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled Thursday. The decision came in the case of Eric R. Cain who was found lying passed out on in front of his car on Route 19 by Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy Todd Cole at around 2:30am on June 2, 2007. The car had been safely parked and there was no key in the ignition.

Cole arrested Cain for DUI after a breath test estimated Cain’s blood alcohol level at .15. Six days later, the state filed an order revoking Cain’s driver’s license for a full year. In addition, Cain was ordered to pay a number of fees, including the costs an alcohol education program. Cain appealed the administrative order, and a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) employee found him guilty. Cain appealed that judgment to circuit court Judge David Janes who overturned the DMV decision because the state could not prove Cain did not get drunk after he parked his car. The high court disagreed with Janes, asserting that state law allows police officers to impose certain forms of punishment based solely on reasonable suspicion that a crime may have taken place…

 Judge Janes had ruled that the arresting officer was obligated to identify specific facts and evidence that give rise to a reasonable suspicion that a crime was committed. Cain did not testify in his own defense at the administrative hearing, leaving no direct evidence that Cain had been driving while drunk. The supreme court ruled that the burden was properly on Cain to prove his innocence.

"The record is devoid of any factual basis for the arresting officer to believe that Mr. Cain consumed the alcohol he acknowledged drinking only after he parked the vehicle," Justice McHugh wrote. "The applicable burden of proof at a license revocation proceeding is ‘proof by a preponderance of the evidence.’ By citing the fact that Mr. Cain did not testify or present evidence on his behalf, the hearing examiner was not wrongly shifting the burden of proof to the appellee. Instead, the examiner was merely recognizing that the only evidence before him was the testimonial evidence of the arresting officer and the documentary evidence provided through the DUI Information sheet."

The supreme court reversed the circuit court ruling. 


So….Proof of driving under the influence doesn’t require evidence of driving — just a cop’s suspicion.  And as far as presumption of innocence and burden of proof, well…you lose if you don’t prove you weren’t driving.

Let me repeat from the news story:  " state law allows police officers to impose certain forms of punishment based solely on reasonable suspicion that a crime may have taken place."

Think about that….
 

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What Does a DUI Cost?

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Did you ever wonder how much it could cost you today if you’re arrested for drunk driving?  Not necessarily guilty of drunk driving, just accused of it?  Maybe $500?  Or $1000?…

 

Drunk Driving Could Cost $20,000

CNBC News.  Dec. 14  –  Twenty thousand dollars sounds like a lot to pay for a drink at a holiday party, but if that last cocktail puts you over the legal limit, that “one for the road” could easily cost you that or more.

One drink too many puts you at risk for not only an arrest, but also for fees, fines and costs that can run you thousands of dollars. While a DUI or DWI may be a misdemeanor charge in a number of jurisdictions, it’s a matter that most judges and district attorneys take very seriously. The financial toll of a conviction will play out for years to come, and in many states that can add up to $20,000 before everything is over. This includes bail, fines, legal fees, increased auto insurance premiums, loss of work income, court-ordered alcohol education programs and more.

Of course, if you get fired from your job as a result of the arrest, that dollar figure would skyrocket…

The Texas Department of Transportation says a June 2006 survey in that state showed the total costs of a DWI arrest and conviction — for a first time offender with no accident involved — would range from $9,000 to $24,000. 


In many states today, you’re better off committing a felony burglary, for example, than a misdemeanor DUI.  The difference between .07% and .08% alcohol in your blood could be the difference between a brief detention and a nightmare in the legal system with a $20,000 price tag. 

‘Ever wonder why?

 

 

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