100s of Breath and Blood Tests Thrown Out….Again

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on July 1st, 2015

I’ve posted repeatedly in the past about the inaccuracy and unreliability of breath and blood alcohol testing in crime labs.  See, for example, How Breathalyzers Work (and Why They Don’t) and Report: Breathalyzers Outdated, Unstable, Unreliable

The following are just a few recent examples of a never-ending series of revelations about dishonest and incompetence in DUI chemical testing.  The following is from San Antonio, Texas, but it could as easily have been from your home state….


Hundreds of DWI Tests Mishandled

San Antonio, TX.  Mar 18 – News 4 San Antonio has uncovered hundreds of DWI blood test have been mishandled.

That’s the word confirmed Tuesday by Bexar County District attorney Nico Lahood. The controversy now raises questions about cases in the prosecutors office.

Darian Trotter has the exclusive details from the District Attorney and how the problem will be addressed going forward. It’s supposed to be one of the most reliable tests officers can use to determine if a person is driving under the influence Of alcohol. But News 4 San Antonio discovered blood tests for hundreds of cases were mishandled due to a personnel issue at the lab Bexar County uses to process blood tests for all alcohol related cases…

 

And more recently in Fort Worth….

 

Tarrant County DA’s Office Questions Credibility of Lab Tech

Ft. Worth, TX.  June 17 — Tarrant County prosecutors have notified dozens of defense attorneys regarding the credibility of a lab technician who testified for the state in numerous DWI cases.

The Tarrant County district attorney’s office also said that the technician, Elizabeth Feller, has been barred from further testimony because she failed to disclose that she had been reprimanded for mishandling blood samples at a previous job.

Prosecutors sent out more than 180 Brady notices in mid-May that dealt with the misdemeanor DWI cases, and several others involving felonies.

This batch of disclosures is not related to the more than 4,000 Brady notices the DA’s office has sent to criminal defense attorneys after learning that the credibility of 16 officers and three breathalyzer operators had previously been brought into question, officials said. The Star-Telegram reported Sunday that District Attorney Sharen Wilson launched an exhaustive review after 22 3-inch binders, which contained more than 6,000 handwritten notes entered by past prosecutors, were found in misdemeanor offices and brought to her attention after she took office in January.

In 19 of the notes, the prosecutors accused the officer or breathalyzer operator of lying, though not always on the witness stand, Wilson has said…

 

Do you still think blood and breath testing in DUI cases is accurate and reliable?  Beyond a reasonable doubt?

Do you think that this is limited to Texas…that it isn’t also happening where you live?

(Thanks to Joe.)

Report Ranks which States are Toughest on Drunk Drivers

Posted by Jon Ibanez on June 22nd, 2015

Wallethub.com, a financial services website, has attempted to rank states based on how tough and lenient their laws are on DUI offenders.

Wallethub cited a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistic that 31 percent of motor vehicle fatalities in 2012 involved alcohol impairment. This number, however, has dropped significantly since 1980 when states began taking a serious stance on drunk driving. The reason for the decline, according to Wallethub, is the tough laws and penalties that states have enacted to combat and punish drunk driving.

Using a point system, states were ranked depending on if and how that state imposed a certain DUI laws.

For example, states were given 10 points if the law required at least 10 days in jail for a first offense, eight points for eight to nine days in jail, six points for six to seven days in jail, four points for four to five days in jail, two points for two to three days in jail, and zero points for zero to one day in jail. 

Other assessments included whether the state imposed additional penalties if a drunk driver had a high blood alcohol content, the range in fines and fees, the range in "administrative" license suspension, and whether an ignition interlock device was required following a DUI conviction.

So how did the states fare?

Arizona, according to Wallethub, is the toughest state on drunk driving.

Amongst some of its penalties include the following:  Arizona requires a minimum of 10 days in jail for a first time DUI and a minimum of 90 days in jail for a second DUI. A DUI automatically becomes a felony on the third offense. A DUI conviction will lead to a three month administrative license suspension. An ignition interlock device is mandatory for 12 months upon a first conviction.

South Dakota, on the other hand, came in dead last when it came to laws punishing drunk drivers.

Some of South Dakota’s DUI penalties (…or lack thereof) include some of the following:  The state does not have a minimum jail term for either a first time DUI or a second time DUI. A DUI automatically becomes a felony on the third offense. There is no administrative license suspension nor is a person required to install an ignition interlock device is required upon a DUI conviction.

And how did sunny California do?

California came in 31st with some of its laws including the following: California requires a minimum of two days in jail for a first time DUI conviction and a minimum of 10 days for a second time DUI conviction. A DUI becomes a felony on the fourth offense. A person convicted of a DUI in California faces a four month administrative license suspension.

Although Wallethub indicated that California does not require an ignition interlock device upon a first time DUI conviction, some counties in California, Los Angeles included, do in fact require an ignition interlock device.

Wallethub’s report can be found here: http://wallethub.com/edu/strictest-states-on-dui/13549/

“The War on Drunk Driving Continues”…

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on June 19th, 2015

I’ve railed repeatedly in past posts about the unfairness and constitutional costs of MADD’s so-called "War on Drunk Driving".  See, for example, The Futility and Costs of the "War on Drunk Driving"; Another Weapon in the "War on Drunk Driving": Forced Catheterization; and A Closer Look at DUI Fatality Statistics.      

I’ve also written over and over about the deficiencies in police officers’s abilities to accurately and fairly detect intoxication.   See The Police Officers as a Drunk Driving Witness.

The following news account represents an excellent example of the costs of this ubiquitous "rush to judgment" — due partly to the pressures on cops to make DUI arrests, and partly on their inherent lack of training or common sense…..


California Cop Busted for Beating Up Elderly Motorist

Sacramento, CA.  June 19 – A jury on Wednesday ordered the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to pay $125,000 in damages over the drunk-driving arrest of a sober man. Harrison Orr sued after the August 6, 2013 incident left him battered and bruised.

Orr was on his way to Sacramento on Interstate 80 that day when Officer Jay Brame saw his gray 2005 Toyota and decided it was traveling too slowly. He signaled the Toyota to pull over, and Orr complied.

Orr had suffered a stroke in 2006 that left him with slurred speech and facial droop. Officer Brame assumed from these symptoms that Orr must be drunk. He ordered the 76-year-old man out of the Toyota to perform the horizontal gaze nystagmus and balance test, both of which Orr failed because of his neurological condition. Orr’s car had a handicapped license plate, but the officer refused to believe any explanation for the symptoms other than that Orr was drunk…

So Officer Terry Plumb was called and asked to bring a portable breathalyzer to the scene. Orr passed with a blood alcohol reading of zero, but Officers Plumb and Brame decided to arrest him anyway. When they said that he would have to be handcuffed, Orr informed the officers that he would not be able to balance if they put those on, as Orr could only walk with a cane. So Officer Plumb punched the 76-year-old man in the ribs, knocking him to the ground. He was then handcuffed and thrown in the back of a squad car.

At the police station, a technician ruled out the possibility that Orr was on drugs. He concluded that Orr’s symptoms were the result of his medical condition while confirming that Orr was "polite and cooperative." So the officers booked Orr in the Sacramento County Jail for resisting arrest. He was not released until 1am the next day after being in custody for over fourteen hours….

 

So….A 76-year-old man was driving too slowly….Suffering physical symptoms from a stroke….Had handicapped license plate….Tested at 0.0% blood-alcohol….Needing a cane to walk, he was punched in the ribs, knocked to the ground and arrested…Drug expert at the station says no drugs, and noted that the man was "polite and cooperative"….With no evidence of alcohol or drugs, he was booked for "resisting arrest" and held for 15 hours.

Welcome to The War on Drunk Driving.


(Thanks to Joe.)

 

Can Alcohol Sensors in All Cars Eliminate Drunk Driving?

Posted by Jon Ibanez on June 8th, 2015

Last week federal officials said that new technology which could be installed in all new cars in the next five years could eliminate drunk driving.

The new technology, however, isn’t doing anything we’re not already doing: preventing a vehicle from being started by someone who has a blood alcohol content above the legal limit. What is different is the method by which this is being accomplished.

Passive breath sensors or touch-sensitive contact points on a starter button or gear shift would immediately register the blood alcohol content of a driver. Unlike the ignition interlock devices, which require a driver to blow into a tube to provide a breath sample and start a car, drivers of vehicles with the new technology need not do anything for a BAC level to be detected.

“The message today is not ‘Can we do this?’ but ‘How soon can we do this?’ ” said Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). “It is a huge step forward.”

Although cost estimates of the new technology have not yet been made, officials anticipate the costs, once the sensors go into general production, to be comparable to the cost of seat belts or air bags; about $150-$200 per vehicle.

Unlike other safety features like backup cameras, which the NHTSA made mandatory beginning in 2014, the new alcohol detection technology would not be required by automakers. Instead, the technology would be offered as an upgrade to new vehicles.

“These devices have to be quick, accurate and easy to use for the automakers to put them on their platforms,” said Bud Zaouk who runs the laboratory where the technology is being developed.

Developers are still working on refining the technology to ensure accuracy. Their goal is also to allow the technology to produce blood alcohol readings in less than a second and to work for at least 10 years or 157,000 miles without calibration or maintenance.

Not surprisingly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has expressed its support for the new technology. Colleen Sheehey-Church, president of MADD, addressed an audience at NHTSA.

“This is the future,” she said, gesturing toward a vehicle equipped with prototype detection gear, “when drunk drivers will be unable to drive their cars. If this technology was available in 2004, my son, Dustin, might be alive today.”

Sheehey-Church’s son died in the back seat of a car when the driver  who was drunk drove into a river in 2004.

In all that I’ve heard and read about the new technology, the NHTSA has yet to address some glaring problems.

Unlike an ignition interlock device, which is intended to only detect the blood alcohol content of the driver, the passive alcohol detection devices will be detecting alcohol located in the air of the vehicle whether it’s coming from the driver’s seat, passenger’s seat, or even the back seats.

If such is the case, what’s the point of having a designated driver? In fact, this is just the tip of the iceberg of questions yet to be addressed.

Will the technology detect alcohol coming from something other than a drunk driver such as mouthwash, perfumes, or hand sanitizer? Will bartenders have to shower and change clothes before heading home after a shift? Will the technology work with open windows? What about convertibles or motorcycles?

If you ask me, let’s just focus on self-driving cars to reduce drunk driving.

Sobriety Checkpoints…Inside Bars?

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on May 29th, 2015

I’ve posted repeatedly about "The DUI Exception to the Constitution".  A particularly egregious example of this is the clear violation of the 4th Amendment represented by "DUI sobriety checkpoints" — the law enforcement practice of setting up locations on highways where they can stop motorists without "probable cause" to suspect a crime is being committed — in fact, for no reason at all.

So just how far is all of this going?


DUI Checkpoints Just the Tip of the Iceberg: Cops Now Going Directly Into Bars with Breathalyzers

Sacramento, CA.  May 24 - Sacramento cops are rolling out a new program this Memorial Day to allegedly combat drunk drivers. While the reasoning for this new program may sound just, its implementation is anything but.

If you are out in a bar this weekend, be prepared to have multiple officers come in and ask the patrons in the bar to blow into a breathalyzer.

DUI roadblocks are apparently not invasive enough, so the Sacramento PD instituted a program to attack the source, the places where alcohol is consumed…


Police defend the new incursions into constitutional rights by saying that it is "voluntary" — that is, the bar patron can simply refuse.  Of course, most of us realize that this will simply focus the attention of the officer on that individual; cops don’t like to have their authority flouted, and this individual will be asked to produce identification, etc., and possibly be followed once he leaves the bar.  We’ve seen what happens when someone lawfully turns away from a checkpoint: a police car immediately follows and pulls him over (still without probable cause).  Same thing with refusing a breathalyzer while sitting at a bar.

As the author of the article observed, "While the reasoning for this new program may sound just, its implementation is anything but".


(Thanks to Joe.)