Archive for May, 2012

Erratic Driving?….or “Black and White Fever”?

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Undoubtedly the most common observation of impaired driving that officers make — and the one most commonly used to justify stopping the driver — is that the suspect was "weaving within the traffic lane", sometimes combined with "erratic driving".  At the same time, experienced traffic patrol officers are familiar with a phenomenon which is sometimes referred to as "black-and-white fever".

That phenomenon is simply the normal reaction of most drivers to being followed by a marked police car (painted black and white in many jurisdictions). As soon as the motorist becomes aware that a police car is following him, he becomes understandably apprehensive and focuses his attention increasingly on the rear view mirror. As the officer continues to follow, the driver becomes tense, worried, and his concentration on driving is broken: He keeps his eyes more on the mirror and less on the road ahead. Each time the driver brings his eyes back to the road, he finds that he has drifted and must correct the course of the car back to the center of the lane.

The result: weaving and, possibly, erratic movements such as sudden increases or decreases in speed (tension can cause the foot to depress the accelerator).  And, of course, these are the most commonly encountered symptoms of a drunk driver on the highway.

In other words, it is the very presence of the officer which tends to create the probable cause for suspecting a DUI. And after the officer pulls the driver over, he gets out and approaches the car with the very human preconception that the driver is probably intoxicated. And, as we know from psychological studies, we all tend to see what we expect to see: normally veined eyes appear "bloodshot", normal but nervous speech sounds "slurred", normal pink complexion appears "flushed", etc.

These observations are quickly followed by the notoriously subjective and inaccurate field sobriety tests, difficult to perform under the best of conditions (see my earlier post, “Field Sobriety Tests: Designed for Failure?”)….followed predictably by an arrest for drunk driving.
 

 

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Breathalyzers Report Higher Blood-Alcohol Results for Females

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

If you are arrested for DUI and a breath test shows a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher, you are guilty. It does not matter, of course, whether you are a man or a women: the laws do not discriminate.

Maybe they should…

Researchers at the University School of Medicine in Trieste, Italy, found that the stomach lining contains an enzyme called gastric alcohol dehydrogenase that breaks down alcohol — and that women have less than men. To determine the relative effects of the enzyme, they gave alcohol both orally and intravenously to groups of alcoholic and non-alcoholic men and women. They found that women reached the same levels of blood alcohol as men after drinking only half as much; with weight differences taken into account, they found that women reached BAC levels illegal in a DUI case after drinking 20 to 30 percent less alcohol than men.

The scientists’ conclusion: legislatures may need to consider sex differences in drunk driving laws when defining safe levels of drinking for driving motor vehicles. Frezza and Lieber, "High Blood Alcohol Levels in Women: The Role of Decreased Gastric Alcohol Dehydrogenase Activity and First-Pass Metabolism", 322(2) New England Journal of Medicine 95 (1990).

Yet another study has found that women have lower "partition ratios" of blood to breath. What kind of ratios? Well, all breath machines in DUI cases measure the amount of alcohol in a person’s breath. But the what we really want to know is the amount of alcohol in the person’s blood. So how do we get that? Simple: a small computer in the breathalyzer multiplies the amount of alcohol it detects in the breath sample by 2100 times.

This is based upon the theory that, on average, there are 2100 units of alcohol in the blood for every unit of alcohol in the breath. (Note: that’s an average — but it varies from person to person.) According to the study, women have a significantly lower partition ratio. Jones, "Determination of Liquid/Air Partition Coefficients for Dilute Solutions of Ethanol in Water, Whole Blood and Plasma", Analytical Toxicology 193 (July/August 1983). And the lower the ratio, the higher the reading — even though the true BAC does not vary. Example: a woman with a true BAC of .06% and a ratio of 1500:1 (rather than the presumed 2100:1) will get a reading on the machine of .09% — above the legal limit. Put another way, the breath machine will show an average man accused of drunk driving to be innocent — but a woman with the same blood alcohol level to be guilty.

And then there’s the problem of birth control….

Scientists in Canada have found that "women taking oral contraceptive steroids (O.C.S.) appeared to eliminate ethanol significantly faster than women not taking O.C.S." Papple, "The Effects of Oral Contraceptive Steroids on the Rate of Post-Absorptive Phase Decline of Blood Alcohol Concentration in the Adult Woman, 15(1) Canadian Society of Forensic Science Journal 17 (1982). That means that women will reach peak BAC faster, and return to lower levels more quickly. This, of course, can create serious problems in a DUI case when attempting to estimate BAC at the time of driving based upon a breath test administered one hour later. Making the problem worse, researchers have also discovered that women who were taking birth control pills or who were pregnant had higher levels of acetaldehyde on their breath, due to the decreased ability to metabolize the enzyme as the level of sex steroids increases.

So what?

Well, most breath machines use infrared analysis in measuring the breath sample of a DUI suspect. But these machines don’t really measure alcohol, rather they measure any compound which contains the "methyl group" in its molecular structure. And acetaldehyde is one of these compounds. Result: a higher "blood alcohol" reading on the breathalyzer. Jeavons and Zeiner, "Effects of Elevated Female Sex Steroids on Ethanol and Acetaldehyde Metabolism in Humans", 8(4) Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 352 (1984).

It’s always a problem when the law, in its infinite wisdom, assumes that all of us are exactly the same.
 

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Whatever Happened to “Due Process” in DUI License Suspension Hearings?

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

So you got stopped last night and arrested for drunk driving. And right after the breathalyzer showed a blood-alcohol reading of .09%, the officer confiscated your driver’s license and gave you a a piece of paper that said it was immediately suspended.

What happened?, you ask. Can they do that? I thought I was presumed to be innocent, and the state has to prove my guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before they can punish me. And I remember something about the Constitution and due process: Can they suspend my license for DUI before giving me a chance to defend myself?

Good questions.

The Department of Motor Vehicles (or whatever they call it in your state) is required by law to immediately suspend the driver’s license of anyone arrested for (not convicted of) DUI who (1) has a .08% breath reading, or (2) takes a blood or urine test (which will be analyzed later), or (3) refuses to take any test. This means immediately — on the spot: the license is grabbed and the DUI suspension is legally effective the moment the officer signs the notice and hands it to you.

Viewed another way, the officer in a DUI case is cop, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. You have absolutely no rights. In fact, if you took a blood or urine test, they don’t even wait for the results (which will come back from the lab days later): they not only presume you are guilty, they also presume that the evidence will eventually show it!

So, again: How can they do that in America?

Well, at first MADD and various state legislatures decided to find a way to get drunk drivers off the highways RIGHT NOW — and not be diverted by any technicalities like, well, the Constitution. So they enacted so-called "APS" laws (the phrase stands for "administrative per se", referring to the "per se" crime of .08%, as opposed to the separate crime of driving under the influence of alcohol). They justified this by saying that a license was a "privilege", not a "right" — and since the license holder had no rights, the state could do what it wanted.

Well, the U.S. Supreme Court blew that justification out of the water. In Bell v Burson (402 U.S. 535) the Court acknowledged that the right to drive is a privilege. However, once the state gives someone a license, that person then has a property right in it — and that right cannot be taken away without giving him due process. And due process means a fair procedure by which he can contest the confiscation of his property.

The reaction to this has generally been to continue suspending licenses on the spot, but to then give the driver a short-term (30 days in California) temporary operating permit during which he can request an administrative hearing from the DMV. (In a few states, the process is handed over to the courts and the suspension merged with the criminal proceedings.)

MADD has been successful in getting the Feds involved; a highway appropriations bill was passed which pretty much coerced states into adopting APS suspensions — or else no funds.  Do these APS hearings in DUI cases provide due process?

In other words, how fair are they?

Let’s take California’s APS hearings. They are conducted by a "hearing officer". Is this an impartial judge? Well, he’s hardly impartial: He’s an employee of the DMV — the very agency that is trying to suspend the license (kind of like a judge being paid by the prosecutor). And he isn’t a judge. Actually, he isn’t even a lawyer; he’s only required to be a high school graduate.

So who is the prosecutor? He’s, well, the same guy.

That’s right: this DMV employee with no legal education is both judge and prosecutor. Put another way, this government beaurocrat, without any legal education, can object to the driver’s evidence — and then sustain his own objection!  He can deny the driver’s attorney’s request a week before the hearing for a delay to subpoena a witness, then grant himself a delay in the middle of the hearing.  Well, you get the picture…

Not too surprisingly, the DMV wins about 95% of these DUI hearings.

That’s called "due process" in a drunk driving case.
 

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Kansas Moves To Punish Refusing to Incriminate Yourself in DUI Cases

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

I’ve posted long and hard over the years about the inaccuracy and unreliability of breathalyzers.  See How Breathalyzers Work – and Why They Don’t.  But at least you could always refuse to take the test.  You aren’t required to incriminate yourself, right?  I mean, this is America and we have the Constitution to protect us.

Maybe not.  This looks like yet another in a long list of constitutional rights that are slowly disappearing in DUI cases.  See, for example, The DUI Exception to the Constitution, The Disappearing Right to Jury Trial…in DUI Cases, DUI and the Disappearing Right to CounselAre DUI Roadblocks Constitutional? and Forced Blood Draws by Cops: Constitutional?.


House Votes to Criminalize DUI Test Refusals

Topeka, KS.  May 17 —  After a lengthy discussion of constitutional rights, the House has approved a bill that makes it a crime for suspected repeat offenders to refuse a drunk-driving test…

Under Senate Bill 60, drivers with a DUI conviction or prior refusal of a DUI test would automatically be guilty of a misdemeanor if they refuse a test. The penalty would be the same as for a DUI conviction.

The House passed the bill 103-13, but not without some concerns expressed by members that it “tramples” the right to remain silent when accused of a crime.

Rep. Sean Gatewood, D-Topeka, said he’s seen many drunk driving crashes and the harm they cause working as a firefighter and paramedic.

But he said he was not comfortable with making it a crime to refuse to take a breath or blood test.

“These are American citizens and they have the right to remain silent, which this bill sort of tramples on, because if you just stand there silent … then you’re a criminal,” Gatewood said. “You have your 4th and 5th Amendment rights … and I just think there is no greater ridge to stand on than the Constitution of the United States.”

Gatewood proposed to send the measure back to a House-Senate conference committee for further work, but that motion died on a 23-88 vote.

Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, who carried the bill on the floor, acknowledged that its impact on constitutional rights was an important issue, but on balance she supported it.

She said courts are being clogged with repeat offenders who refuse the DUI test and take their chances with a jury.

Some lawmakers said stopping drunk drivers outweighed the constitutional questions.

“I would gladly walk the line, breathe into the tube and draw my blood if it would get repeat drunk drivers off the road,” said Rep. Bill Otto, R-LeRoy. “This is about people who are killing people.”

“This is not about constitutional rights,” he continued. “What about the constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? (a phrase from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution) When you’re killed by a drunk driver, they’ve deprived you of your life. Death penalty, when you did nothing wrong.”


So….if you refused to incriminate yourself, you would be convicted of a crime and given the same sentence as if you had been convicted of drunk driving.  In other words, you are basically convicted of drunk driving because you wouldn’t incriminate yourself!

Another constitutional right slowly fades away….
 

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Driving Under the Influence of…Food

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

I’ve written in the past about the focus on the relative dangers of impaired driving due to alcohol versus impairment from drowsiness, texting or talking on a cell phone.  Thanks to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, DUI has been demonized and the penalties have become Draconian.  But studies show the dangers from distracted driving can be at least as dangerous — yet this type of conduct is common and punished with a slap on the wrist — if at all.  See, for example, Drunk Driving vs Distracted, Drowsy or Drugged Driving, Inebriated or Texting: Which is More Dangerous When Driving?, Driving Under the Influence of…a Cell Phone and Losing Sight of the Goal

Now another form of impaired driving has been shown to be possibly more dangerous than drunk driving.


Eating While Driving Riskier Than Being Legally Impaired by Alcohol or Texting

Great Britain. May 7 — Would you believe that eating food while at the wheel of a vehicle could be more dangerous than drinking or texting while driving?

According to a study by the University of Leeds called “Two Hands Better than One,” this is exactly what researchers found based on observation of test subjects operating driving simulators.

The UK researchers measured reaction time while drivers negotiated virtual vehicles, and as it turns out, eating increased response times by 44 percent.

In contrast, texting increased reaction time by 37 percent, and drinking a non-alcoholic beverage from a can or bottle increased reaction time by 22 percent.

And what about the one driving no-no that that nearly everyone agrees is undesirable – drinking alcohol and operating a vehicle?

Drivers asked to operate the simulator who were at the U.S. “legal limit” of .08 percent blood alcohol content increased reaction time by 12.5 percent…

Common sense dictates that drivers can compound their chances for an accident if they do not self-govern and recognize their limits. And as the study indicates, a distraction can come in several forms – even ones that have been considered benign…

Much more could be said about this subject which the U.S. Department of Transportation has been up in arms about in recent years, labeling distracted driving an “epidemic.”


Maybe someone should remind MADD that the goal is saving lives — not returning to Prohibition.
 

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