Man Arrested for DUI after Horse he was Riding Tramples Boy

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

A man riding his horse during the Colusa County Fair Parade in Colusa, California, last Friday was arrested on suspicion of felony California DUI after his horse trampled a boy.

Armando Martinez Ruiz, a participant in the parade, was thrown from his horse after the horse bucked. As the horse ran away and through a group of spectators lining the parade route, it trampled an eight-year-old boy breaking his leg.

Officers found the horse and Ruiz was arrested on suspicion of felony DUI.

“In California, the same laws apply when riding horses as driving cars,” the Colusa Police Department said on its Facebook page.

This incident comes only a few months after a man was caught riding his horse on the 91 freeway in my hometown of Long Beach.

In that case, California Highway Patrol responded to a report that a man, later identified as Luis Alfredo Perez, had ridden his horse eastbound onto the 91 freeway. Officers found Perez after he exited the freeway in Bellflower.

It was later determined that the Perez’s blood alcohol content was 0.21/0.19 percent, more than double the legal limit, and he was arrested on suspicion of DUI.

Following Perez’s arrest, CHP took to Twitter saying, “No, you may not ride your horse on the freeway, and certainly not while intoxicated.” It included a picture of horse whose name was Guera and who was later released to Perez’s mother.

The Colusa Police Department was not wrong when it said that the same laws apply to horse riders as they do with drivers of motor vehicles.

According to California Vehicle Code section 21050, “Every person riding or driving an animal upon a highway has all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division…”

Since California DUI laws apply to the rider of a horse on a road, Perez was charged with a run-of-the-mill DUI. He faced fines between $390 and $1,000, three to five years of summary probation, a DUI program of up to nine months, and up to six months in county jail.

Ruiz, on the other hand, is facing felony DUI charges because someone was injured. Depending on the severity of the injury, someone can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony when their impaired driving injures someone other than the driver. And because Ruiz is being accused of felony DUI, he faces up to four years in prison, an additional (and consecutive) three to six years because broken bones can be considered “great bodily injury,” a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes Law, a fine between $1,015 and $5,000, and an 18 or 30 month DUI program.

I’ll leave you with a poem written by a dissenting Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge in a Pennsylvania case which held that a horse is not a vehicle for purposes of driving under the influence.

“A horse is a horse, of course, of course, but the Vehicle Code does not divorce its application from, perforce, a steed as my colleagues said. ‘It’s not vague,’ I’ll say until I’m hoarse, and whether a car, a truck or horse, this law applies with equal force, and I’d reverse instead.”

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What Happens When a Person Under the Age of 21 Gets a DUI?

Friday, May 25th, 2018

I am currently in the midst of a California DUI case where my client was under the age of 21 at the time of their arrest. At the beginning of their case, my client asked me what could happen to him. Unfortunately, it’s a common question as many people who are not legally allowed to drink are caught driving with alcohol in their systems.

As most of us know, the age at which someone is legally allowed to have alcohol is 21-years-old. Although the age of majority is 18, for purposes of this article, I’ll refer to a person under the age of 21 as a “minor.”

Under California Vehicle Code section 23136, otherwise known as California’s “Zero Tolerance” law, it is illegal for a minor to drive with a blood alcohol content of 0.01 percent or more in their system. It does not matter whether the alcohol in the minor’s system came from an alcoholic beverage or some other source like medicine. Nor does it matter whether the minor was “under the influence.” The minor cannot have any alcohol in their system while driving. Fortunately, however, a violation of Vehicle Code 23136 is non-criminal and only results in a one-year suspension of driving privileges through the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Although not a criminal matter, a minor facing a suspension under California Vehicle Code section 23136 may still want to hire an attorney to fight the DMV suspension. In the event that a suspension cannot be avoided, the attorney can assist the minor obtain a “restricted license” to allow them to go to and from essential locations such as work, school, and the doctor’s office.

If, however, a minor is caught driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent or higher, they can be charged with an infraction under Vehicle Code section 23140. The penalty if someone is convicted of a violation of section 23140 is a one-year suspension of driving privileges, a fine of $100, and, if the person is over the age of 18, a mandatory alcohol education program of three months of more.

In addition to fighting the license suspension, as was the case with a violation of California’s Zero Tolerance law, a lawyer can help the minor fight the infraction under section 23140 using the same arguments commonly used in an adult DUI case.

If the minor is either under the influence of alcohol or caught driving with a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or more in their system, a prosecutor can charge the minor with the standard DUI charges under California Vehicle Code sections 23152(a) and 23152(b) – misdemeanor driving under the influence and misdemeanor driving with a BAC of 0.08 percent, respectively.

A person, including a minor, is under the influence of alcohol if their physical or mental abilities are impaired to such a degree that they no longer have the ability to drive with the caution characteristics of a sober person of ordinary prudence under the same or similar circumstances.

In addition to being charged with driving while under the influence, a minor can also be charged with driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more.

The penalties for either standard DUI offenses under sections 23152(a) or 23152(b) include a criminal misdemeanor conviction (which remains on a person’s criminal record), suspension of driving privileges, three to five years of summary (informal) probation, a fine between $390 and $1,000, an alcohol education program of three, six, or nine months, up to six months in jail. The penalties can also include non-mandatory conditions such as a Mothers Against Drunk Driving Victim Impact Panel, a hospital and morgue program, or AA meetings.

It shouldn’t take me to tell you that if anyone, including a minor, is charged with the standard DUI offenses under Vehicle Codes 23152(a) and 23152(b), they should seek the assistance of a skilled California DUI attorney. There is too much as stake not to.

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Choosing the Right California DUI Attorney

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

The day that a person is arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence is very often the worst day of their life. The legal process to come, for many, is not much better than the arrest itself. This is precisely why it would be difficult to understate the importance of choosing the right DUI attorney to fight your California DUI charges.

Many of my prior posts talk about the complexities and intricacies of the criminal law process. Other posts I’ve written about talk about the potential consequences of driving under the influence which can include probation, thousands of dollars in fines and fees, a license suspension, drug and alcohol programs, an ignition interlock device, a permanent criminal record, and even jail. With so much at stake in the middle of one of the most complex processes in society, why wouldn’t a person seek the help and advice of a trained DUI attorney? You certainly wouldn’t want an unqualified doctor performing a surgery on you, or worse, attempt the surgery yourself.

So how does someone who has been arrested on suspicion of a California DUI choose the right attorney for them?

Like many things, the first step is research. Reach out to several attorneys. Many offer free consultations. Check user-based rating websites like Avvo.com or Yelp.com to see what others have said about a lawyer’s services. Check the California Bar Association’s website at Calbar.org to check if a lawyer has had any disciplinary action taken against them for misconduct. Ask family and friends for referrals.  If someone you know has used an attorney in the past and were happy with the services the attorney provided, that attorney might be a good option.

However, just because an attorney came recommended from a family member or a friend on one matter might not necessarily mean that they’re a good fit for someone else’s DUI case. After a lawyer becomes licensed to practice law, they are legally allowed to practice any and all areas of law. This, however, does not necessarily mean that they are qualified to practice any area of law. Many lawyers are known as “general practitioners.” General practitioners practice everything from personal injury law to real estate law to estate planning and possibly even criminal defense, which may include DUI law. While the law, in general, is complicated, DUI law is complicated in its own right. Understanding the nuances of DUI law and the science involved is crucial in defending a DUI case. If I’m hiring an attorney to represent me for a DUI, I want a lawyer who defends DUI cases day in and day out, not a lawyer who may defend one DUI case every couple of months.

Attorneys, like other service providers, rely on people hiring them to survive as a business. As such, many attorneys are salespeople. Unfortunately, the reputation of salespeople runs true with many attorneys as well. Some lawyers will tell you what you want to hear to make the sale. They might claim that they can help because the case is a “slam dunk.” I have been practicing DUI defense for some time now and I can tell you firsthand that no case is a slam dunk. In fact, very few things in law are black and white. DUI defense lawyers don’t know the facts of the case, other than what the potential client tells them, until the first court date. In fact, many times what the potential client tells the lawyer is very different than what is in the police report. Therefore, when a person contacts a lawyer for the purpose of hiring them for representation in a California DUI case, the lawyer lacks the information necessary to predict the outcome of a case. Furthermore, it is actually illegal for a lawyer to guarantee an outcome.

Lastly, it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that lawyers can cost a lot of money. However, having said that, you’re paying for someone with the experience to help you make it through one of the most difficult times of your life. Make your decision to hire a lawyer based on experience, not cost. Fees for California DUI lawyers can range from $1,000 to $10,000. DUI defense lawyers almost always charge flat fees, not hourly fees. Often, the price of a DUI lawyer corresponds with their experience and what is included in the service. Sometimes, however, it isn’t. Make sure that you’re getting what you’re paying for.

Suffice it to say, it’s not an easy process to find the right California DUI attorney, but one that incredibly important nonetheless. Do your homework, make sure that the attorney is qualified, and make sure that you are comfortable with them.

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OC Judge Vacates DUI Sentence After Victim Seeks Harsher Sentence

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

In January of this year, a man by the name of Jorge Perez was driving under the influence of alcohol when he struck 20-year-old Cal State Fullerton student Jessica Weber as she was walking with her friends back to the dorms.

Perez drove through a red light and hit Weber with his left-side mirror. Perez then drove away before law enforcement arrived at the scene. Witnesses helped police track down Perez where he was later arrested. Meanwhile, Weber was left with broken bones in her back, hip, pelvis, and left arm.

Bonnie Masters-Weber, Jessica’s mother, had told the Orange County Deputy District Attorney who was assigned to the case that she wanted to be present for every hearing. Masters-Weber, who lives in Sacramento, was told by the prosecutor that there was no need for her to make the long trip for every hearing, but that they would inform her of when sentencing would take place.

Under the California Victim’s Bill or Rights Act of 2008, commonly known as Marcy’s Law, victims of crimes and their families have the right to be present during the criminal proceedings of the defendant and give a statement at the defendant’s sentencing.

According to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, the prosecutor on the case “inadvertently failed to notify” Masters-Weber that Perez had accepted a two-year deal with the judge.

Unbeknownst to Masters-Weber, Perez was sentenced in October. Although the DA had been pushing for four years and four months in prison, Perez accepted an offer from the judge of two years in prison.

When the failure to notify the Weber family was discovered, prosecutors filed a motion for reconsideration of Perez’s sentence and Judge Scott Steiner ordered a hearing.

“The DA failed us,” said Masters-Weber at the hearing which took place last month. “It refused to acknowledge their violation of our constitutional rights.”

Judge Steiner agreed that the Weber and her family’s rights were violated and vacated Perez’s guilty plea.

“I am making the determination that it is proper in the interest of justice to vacate the guilty plea that was entered in this case,” ruled Judge Steiner.

Perez’s attorney disagreed with the ruling arguing that the court had considered letters of impact before it offered the two-year sentence to Perez.

With the guilty plea vacated, Perez’s initial not guilty plea effectively gets reinstated and Perez’s defense can continue to fight for a better offer or take the case to trial. Given the statements provided by Weber and her family, Judge Steiner told Perez’s defense that the new court offer would be four years and four months, the same as what the DA’s office had pushed for originally.

Susan Schroeder, the Orange County District Attorney’s chief of staff issued the following statement:

"The Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) is a leading enforcer of Marsy’s Law rights and takes its advocacy for crime victims seriously. In the case of People V. Jorge Perez, the OCDA was vigorously pursuing a sentence of 4 years and 4 months on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury, driving with blood alcohol .08% or more causing bodily injury, hit and run with injury, driving on a suspended/revoked license, and a sentencing enhancement for inflicting great bodily injury."

"Early on in the case, the victim’s mother, Ms. Masters, had been working with a deputy district attorney, who is no longer with the office, who suggested she not make the long drive from northern California for each and every proceeding and that our office would notify her prior to the sentencing. A note was made in the file to contact her when the time came. The judge offered the defendant a two-year sentence, an offer that was not supported by the OCDA. The OCDA gave Ms. Masters’ prepared victim impact statement to the judge who considered it at the sentencing hearing on October 17, but inadvertently failed to notify Ms. Masters to be present."

"Once the error was discovered and prior to being contacted by the media, the OCDA initiated the process of getting the case put back on the calendar to remedy the situation so Ms. Masters may address the court personally. OCDA prosecutors strive for perfection and in this case, we fell short. We certainly understand why Ms. Masters is upset and we are working to correct our error."

In no way do I condone what Perez did and I want to be perfectly clear when say that Weber and her family should have had the opportunity to address the court. While it may be difficult for some to sympathize with, I’d be remiss if I did not point out another less-obvious inequity:

The prosecution fouls up and, as a result, gets exactly what they originally wanted; a more severe sentence.

Perez is due back in court later this month for a pretrial hearing.

 

 

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Wet Reckless vs. California DUI: What are the Differences?

Friday, November 17th, 2017

People who have been charged with a California DUI always ask whether it’s possible to get the case reduced to a wet reckless. They often ask this question without even knowing what the difference is between a DUI and a wet reckless, except that it’s a reduced charge. While it’s true that it is a reduction to a DUI charge, there are a number of other differences.

The wet reckless if the first of several reductions that are sometimes offered in lieu of a DUI. The wet reckless is usually offered when the flaws in the prosecution’s case are relatively small. For example, the wet reckless is often offered when the chemical breath or blood test shows that the driver’s blood alcohol content is at a 0.08 percent or close. Further reductions may be offered when there is no chemical test and/or there is little evidence that the driver was “under the influence. Rather than risk losing at a trial, the prosecutor may offer a wet reckless or another reduction merely to secure a conviction.

If, however, the problems in the prosecution’s case are more than minor, the prosecutor may offer to reduce the DUI charge to a “dry reckless” or an “exhibition of speed.” Discussions on these, I’ll save for another day.

Unlike these other charges, the wet reckless can only be offered as a reduction. In other words, a prosecutor cannot file a criminal complaint with a wet reckless listed as a charge.

If the wet reckless is offered as a reduction and a DUI defendant accepts the reduction, they’ll  be pleading guilty or no contest to California Vehicle Code section 23103 pursuant to 23105.5 which reads, “A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving…If the prosecution agrees to a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to a charge of [reckless driving] in satisfaction of, or as a substitute for, an original charge of a violation of [DUI], the prosecution shall state for the record a factual basis for the satisfaction or substitution, including whether or not there had been consumption of an alcoholic beverage or ingestion or administration of a drug, or both, by the defendant in connection with the offense. The statement shall set forth the facts that show whether or not there was a consumption of an alcohol beverage or the ingestion or administration of a drug by the defendant in connection with the offense.”

Simply put, a defendant who is convicted of a wet reckless is deemed to be guilty of reckless driving involving alcohol.

Now that we’ve clarified exactly what a wet reckless is, let’s talk about the benefits of it.

Well, first off, it’s not a DUI. There is an obvious stigma attached to a DUI conviction and a wet reckless simply isn’t a DUI.

Another benefit to a wet reckless reduction is that there are no mandatory sentencing enhancements. In other words, if a person is convicted for a second-time DUI within 10 years, they face a minimum of 96 hours in jail. If a person is convicted for a third DUI within 10 years, they face a minimum of 120 days in jail. However, when a person is convicted of a wet reckless when they’ve suffered prior DUI convictions within a 10 year period, there is no mandatory minimum jail sentence. If however a person suffers a DUI conviction within 10 years of a wet reckless conviction, the wet reckless will be used to increase the sentencing enhancements of the current DUI and subsequent DUI convictions.

Other possible advantages of the wet reckless include a shorter probationary period, lower fines and fees, and a shorter DUI program. I say possible because it depends on what the prosecutor offers as a sentence to the wet reckless reduction.

The last advantage to a wet reckless conviction is that it does not trigger a 6 month driver’s license suspension with the DMV. It should be noted, however, that a license may still be suspended through the DMV’s admin per se suspension which occurs if a person does not request a DMV hearing within 10 days of their DUI arrest or they lose their DMV hearing. Therefore, the only way to completely avoid any license suspension following a DUI arrest is to request the DMV hearing within 10 days of the arrest, win the DMV hearing, then get the DUI charge reduced to a wet reckless.

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