Drunk Driving on an ATV

Posted by Jon Ibanez on August 12th, 2017

A little over a week ago, two drivers were arrested for driving their all-terrain vehicles while under the influence of alcohol.

George Mooshian, 47, and Randy Hoisington, 55, both of Newport, New Hampshire were driving their ATV’s while under the influence of alcohol when Mooshian drove his ATV off of the trail and into a tree. Hoisington, who was following behind Mooshian, attempted to avoid colliding into Hoisington and rolled his ATV.

Both ATV operators were flown to the hospital for serious injuries.

Fish and Game officials responded to the incident and determined that speed and alcohol were contributing factors in both collisions. Also, neither driver was wearing a helmet at the time of the collisions.

Mooshian and Hoisington were arrested on suspicion of operating a OHRV (off-highway recreational vehicle), which is another name for an all-terrain vehicle.

Although this particular incident happened in another state, someone in California can also be charged with a California DUI for operating an ATV while intoxicated.

For those who take to the dunes or off-road trails on their ATVs, it is not uncommon to pack a cooler of beers as refreshments. To the surprise of many riders, if the beer is consumed before hopping aboard the ATV, it could land them in jail on California DUI charges.

For purposes of California DUI law, an ATV is a motor vehicle. Although California DUI law requires that a person drive a “vehicle,” California Vehicle Code Section 670 defines a “vehicle” as “a device by which any person or property may be propelled, moved, or drawn upon a highway, excepting a device moved exclusively by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.”

Because ATV’s are considered vehicles, drunk drivers of ATV’s are subject to the same penalties as those who are arrested for a California DUI in their vehicle; probation, up to 6 months in jail, up to $1,000 in fines, and other possible penalties.

Does it matter if the drunk ATV driver is not on a public road way? Unfortunately, no.

Off-road trails and sand dunes are considered public roadways for the purposes of California DUI law. The California Court of Appeals in the case of People v. Malvitz concluded that the legislative intent of California DUI laws was that they extend beyond the public roadways to anywhere in California including private off-road trails or dunes.

Can DUI Marijuana Be Detected or Measured?

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on August 9th, 2017

I’ve posted in the past on the difficulties law enforcement faces in detecting impairment from marijuana while driving — both subjectively (symptoms, field sobriety tests and the officer’s opinion) and objectively (analysis of blood or other bodily substances).  See, for example, Identifying and Proving DUI Marijuana ("Stoned Driving"), Can Breathalyzers Measure Marijuana?New Efforts to Push Roadside DUI Marijuana Test and San Diego Begins Using Mouth Swabs to Detect Drugged Drivers. There is even disagreement among scientists as to how much marijuana must be ingested to become impaired, and how the metabolism (absorption and elimination) of marijuana functions in any individual — for example, how long the active metabolites remain in the blood. See How Much Does It Take to Impair Driving? and New Study: Minimal Impairment From Marijuana.

The following excerpts from a segment of a recent public radio presentation does an excellent job of laying out the difficulties in detecting marijuana impairment and measuring levels of active THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) in the blood.  


Scientists Still Seek a Reliable DUI Test for Marijuana

July 30, 2017.  NPR  – Despite the increasingly legal use of cannabis in many states, cops still don’t have the equivalent of a reliable alcohol breathalyzer or blood test — a chemically based way of estimating what the drug is doing in the brain. Though a blood test exists that can detect some of marijuana’s components, there is no widely accepted, standardized amount in the breath or blood that gives police or courts or anyone else a good sense of who is impaired…

A number of scientists nationally are working hard to create just such a chemical test and standard — something to replace the behavioral indicators that cops have to base their judgments on now…

Turns out it can be a lot harder to chemically determine from a blood or breath test that someone is high than to determine from such a test that they’re drunk.

Ethanol, the chemical in alcoholic drinks that dulls thinking and reflexes is small and dissolves in water. Because humans are mostly water, it gets distributed fairly quickly and easily throughout the body and is usually cleared within a matter of hours. But THC, the main chemical in cannabis that produces some of the same symptoms, dissolves in fat. That means the length of time it lingers in the body can differ from person to person even more than alcohol — influenced by things like gender, amount of body fat, frequency of use, and the method and type of cannabis product consumed.

In one study, researchers had 30 frequent marijuana users stay at a research facility for a month without any access to drugs of any sort and repeatedly tested their blood for evidence of cannabis.

"And it shocked everyone, including ourselves, that we could measure, in some of these individuals, THC in the blood for 30 days," says Marilyn Huestis, a toxicologist with the University of Maryland School of Medicine who recently retired from leading a lab at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The participants’ bodies had built up stores of THC that were continuing to slowly leech out, even though they had abstained from using marijuana for a full month. In some of those who regularly smoked large amounts of pot, researchers could measure blood THC above the 5-nanogram level for several days after they had stopped smoking.

Conversely, another study showed that people who weren’t regular consumers could smoke a joint right in front of researchers and yet show no evidence of cannabis in their blood.

So, in addition to being invasive and cumbersome, the blood test can be misleading and a poor indicator of whatever is happening in the brain…


The NPR segment went on to discuss the difficulties police officers have in judging whether a person who has consumed marijuana was impaired.  After law enforcement training seminars involving volunteers who had smoked different amounts of marijuana, the program concluded:


Right now, these officer’s opinions loom large. If they decide you’re driving high, you’re going to jail. But at the end of the day, they’re just making educated guesses. Two different officers could watch the same person doing the same sobriety test and make different decisions on whether to arrest. In previous courses, officers had decided that a volunteer was impaired when in fact the volunteer hadn’t smoked at all.   

So, just like the THC blood test, the judgments officers make can also yield false positives and negatives….


An increasing number of states are simply throwing up their hands and, in effect, deciding that actual impairment is not necessary: the crime is in driving with an arbitrary amount of THC in the blood — even if there is no actual impairment at all.  

This follows what the federal government imposed on the states a few years ago: a new crime of driving with 0.08% blood-alcohol, to overcome the difficulties of having to prove the driver was actually impaired — despite the proven fact that many people are not impaired at that level or higher.  In alcohol cases, however, it is at least possible to measure alcohol levels, and roughly determine absorption and elimination times.

But changing the crime of driving while impaired by marijuana to one of having an arbitrary amount in the system makes arrest and conviction much easier for police and prosecutors, right?  And isn’t that the important thing?
 

DUI with Keys in the Ignition but No Driving?

Posted by Jon Ibanez on August 4th, 2017

Not only do I practice DUI defense and write these posts on DUI-related topics, but I also teach law which sometimes includes teaching students what is required for a DUI. Students are often surprised when I tell them that, in California, driving must occur for a person to be arrested, charged, and convicted of a California DUI.

States are split on whether a person can get a DUI for merely having their keys in the ignition. States that don’t require that the defendant actually drive are called “dominion and control” states. Fortunately, California is not one of those states.

In states that have “dominion and control” DUI laws, if a person is intoxicated and has dominion and control of their vehicle with the mere ability to drive, they can be arrested, charged, and convicted of that state’s DUI laws. California, on the other hand, requires that the defendant actually drive the vehicle.

In 1991, the California Supreme Court in the case of Mercer v. Department of Motor Vehicles held that the word “drive” in California’s DUI law means that the defendant volitionally and voluntarily moved the vehicle. While no movement is insufficient for a DUI, the courts have held that even a “slight movement” is enough to meet the requirement that the defendant drove the vehicle.

Therefore, in California, a person cannot get a DUI for merely having the keys in the ignition. The officers and prosecutor would need evidence, in addition to the keys being in the ignition, that the person voluntarily moved the vehicle.

When there is no direct evidence that the defendant drove, such as the officer witnessing the defendant driving, proof that the defendant drove can be established through circumstantial evidence and inferences.

For example, if a person is on the shoulder of the freeway as the sole occupant of a vehicle with the keys in the ignition and they are under the influence or have a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher, the prosecutor and jury can infer that there was no other way to get to shoulder of the freeway and there was no one other person who could have driven there.

Contrast that with a scenario in which the defendant is found under the influence or with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher in their vehicle which is in their driveway and the keys are in the ignition. Here, there is no other circumstantial evidence to create the inference that the defendant actually drove the vehicle.

So, just because you can’t be arrested, charged, and convicted of a DUI with just the keys in the ignition, doesn’t mean that a you should be drunk in a vehicle with keys in the ignition. Don’t put it past law enforcement and prosecutors to try to establish that a person drove even if ever so slightly.

Teen Who Livestreamed Drunk Driving Collision Pleads Not Guilty

Posted by Jon Ibanez on July 27th, 2017

You may have already seen the video. A California teen livestreamed herself driving drunk and crashing the vehicle that she was driving. The collision killed her younger sister. The teen driver, Obdulia Sanchez, pleaded not guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter and number of other felony offenses this past Wednesday.

18-year-old Sanchez of Stockton, California was filming herself behind the wheel of a 2003 Buick with her 14-year-old sister, Jacqueline and another 14-year-old girl in the back seats. The video showed Sanchez dancing to music as she was driving moments before the collision. The accident itself was caught on the camera as the footage shows the inside of the vehicle as it rolled. Moments later, Sanchez shows her sister’s body with fatal head injuries.

“Hey, everybody, if I go to f***ing jail for life, you already know why,” Sanchez told viewers of the livestream. “My sister is f***ing dying. Look, I f***ing love my sister to death. I don’t give a f***. Man, we about to die. This is the last thing I wanted to happen to us, but it just did. Jacqueline, please wake up.”

Neither girl in the back seat were wearing seatbelts and both were ejected. Manuela Seja, the surviving passenger suffered severe injuries to her right leg.

It was later determined that Sanchez’s blood alcohol content was 0.10 percent.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, Sanchez was charged with felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, felony manslaughter while intoxicated, two counts of felony driving under the influence resulting in injury and two counts of felony driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more causing injury.

“The behavior demonstrated both prior to and after the incident, as documented by the defendant’s own recording, is disturbing and shocking,” Deputy District Attorney Harold Nutt said in a statement. “The Merced County district attorney’s office will do everything in its power to see that justice is done in this matter.”

On Wednesday, Sanchez appeared on video for her arraignment where her public defender, Ramnik Samrao pleaded not guilty to all counts on her behalf.

After the hearing, Samrao told reporters that Sanchez “feels absolutely terrible.” Although Sanchez admitted to killing her sister in the video, Samrao maintains that it is unclear whether a crime was committed. “We don’t know that she was drunk, that’s the allegation,” he said.

Sanchez is being held on $560,000 bail and, if convicted, faces up to 13 years and eight months in a California state prison.

I understand how the video can make it easy to rush to judgment about Sanchez or what her fate should be. However, we must to remind ourselves that one of the cornerstones of our criminal justice system is the notion that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. If Sanchez is guilty, the system needs to take its course before she is, in fact, deemed guilty. Then, and only then, can she be punished for what she did.

 

Driving Drunk….in Your Own Driveway?

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on July 27th, 2017

In the latest news from the front lines of the "War on Drunk Driving"….


Suspected Drunken Driver Can Be Busted in Own Driveway 

Detroit, MI.  July 25 – The Michigan Supreme Court says a driveway is no refuge for a drunken driver.

The court says Northville authorities could charge Gino Rea with drunken driving, even if his car never left the driveway. The court says a driveway is “generally accessible to motor vehicles” under state law, even if on private property.

Police went to Rea’s home three times one day in 2014 to respond to noise complaints. At one point, an officer saw him drive out of the garage and pull back in. His blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit.


The next thing you know they’ll be arresting people for DUI on bicycles and wheelchairs.  Oh, right, they’re already doing that.  See, for example, Felony Bicycle DUI and DUI in a Wheelchair