Passing on the Breathalyzer?

Posted by Jon Ibanez on November 15th, 2019

It is not uncommon for people arrested on suspicion of a California DUI to mistaken believe that it is in their best interest to flatly refuse the breathalyzer. Not knowing the correct thing to do in this scenario can be the difference between becoming convicted of a California DUI and not, and unfortunately, the right thing to do is a little more complicated than merely refusing the breathalyzer or not.

When people refer to a “breathalyzer” during a California DUI stop, they actually referring to two different tests. The first is the roadside breathalyzer, often called a preliminary screening alcohol test or “PAS” test, and the second is the “chemical breath test.”

According to California Vehicle Code section 23612(h), the PAS test “indicates the presence or concentration of alcohol based on a breath sample in order to establish reasonable cause to believe the person was driving [under the influence]…[it] is a field sobriety test and may be used by an officer as a further investigative tool.”

The PAS roadside breath test, like other field sobriety tests such as the walk-and-turn test, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, and the one leg stand test, are optional. Although an officer might threaten to arrest someone for refusing the optional breathalyzers, a driver should stand their ground and politely refuse to complete any field sobriety tests. Despite what the officer might say, they are optional and are only meant to give the officer the evidence they need to arrest the driver.

In fact, the officer must advise the driver that the roadside breath test is optional. California Vehicle Code section 23612(i) states that “If the officer decides to use a [PAS], the officer shall advise the person that he or she is requesting that person to take a [PAS] test to assist the officer in determining if that person is under the influence. The person’s obligation to submit to a [chemical test under California’s Implied Consent Law] is not satisfied by the person submitting to a [PAS] test. The officer shall advise the person of that fact and of the person’s right to refuse to take the [PAS] test.”

As stated above, providing a breath sample to an officer during the PAS test only give the officer the evidence they need to arrest a driver. Whether a driver provides the officer that information or not, the officer will have to make the decision to arrest a driver on suspicion of a DUI or not. In order to arrest a driver on suspicion of a California DUI, the officer must have probable cause. The probable cause can consist of driving patterns indicative of intoxication, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, smell of alcohol on a driver’s breath, admissions of drinking or intoxication, and, yes, a reading of the pass test indicating a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher.

If the officer meets the probable cause standard by obtaining and/or observing enough evidence that a driver is driving under the influence, the officer can lawfully arrest the driver on suspicion of driving under the influence. Once this happens, California’s Implied Consent law takes effect.

California’s Implied Consent law, codified in California Vehicle Code section 23612(a)(1)(A), “A person who drives a motor vehicle is deemed to have given his or her consent to chemical testing of his or her blood or breath for the purpose of determining the alcohol content of his or her blood, if lawfully arrested for an offense allegedly committed in violation of [California’s DUI laws].”

Simply put, if you have a license and you drive in California, you have impliedly consented to submit to the chemical test after you have lawfully been arrested for a DUI, which can either be a breath test or a blood test. If the driver opts not to give blood, then they must provide a breath test. Conversely, if a person opts against the breath test, they must submit to the blood test.

So should you pass on the breathalyzer?

Pass on the roadside “PAS” test. Submit to the chemical test required under California’s Implied Consent law (See Breath or Blood Test After a California DUI Stop).

Big Surprise: Breathalyzers are Inaccurate

Posted by Jon Ibanez on November 7th, 2019

I’ve been saying and writing about it for years; breathalyzers are inaccurate. Now, The New York Times, in a bombshell report confirmed exactly that.

According to the report, “The Times interviewed more than 100 lawyers, scientists, executives and police officers and reviewed tens of thousands of pages of court records, corporate filings, confidential emails and contracts. Together, they reveal the depth of a nationwide problem that has attracted only sporadic attention.”

With so much at stake, including jail, you’d think that there would be more than mere “sporadic attention.”

Yet, the report found numerous inconsistencies with maintenance procedures of breathalyzer machines, inconsistencies within the machines themselves, and an over reliance on inaccurate data produced by breathalyzers.

In Colorado, for example, police had continued using a chemical solution that had long been expired when prepping the machines. The expired solutions caused inaccurate results. In another example, a former manager created his own chemical solution inconsistent with the standard chemicals used in the solution.  In some instances, there were no standards on how to prepare and operate the machines.

The report also found that the manufacturing process of the breathalyzer machines also create inaccuracies. For example, testing revealed that some machines produced a result even though the software programed into the machine occurred. Some tests revealed that accuracy of reading was affected by external factors such as the temperature of a person’s breath, whether they’ve consumed breath mints, or whether they’ve recently brushed their teeth, to name a few.

Despite the known inaccuracies, breathalyzer machines continue to often be the deciding factor in a DUI conviction.

In 2013, the California Supreme Court held that, although breathalyzers are generally inaccurate, scientific evidence challenging the accuracy of breathalyzers in California is not admissible as evidence in DUI trials.

The holding comes from the 2007 DUI stop of Terry Vangelder. Vangelder was stopped for speeding in San Diego. Although having admitted to consuming some alcohol, Vangelder passed field sobriety tests. Vangelder then agreed to a preliminary screening alcohol test (an optional roadside breathalyzer) which indicated that Vangelder’s blood alcohol content was 0.086 percent. Based on that, Vangelder was arrested and transported to the police station where he submitted to a chemical breath test (a required post-arrest breathalyzer). This breath test showed a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent. Vangelder then submitted to a blood test which indicated that his blood alcohol content of 0.087 percent.

At trial, Vangelder called Dr. Michael Hlastala, a leading authority on the inaccuracies of breathalyzers.

“They are (inaccurate),” Dr. Hlastala testified before the trial judge. “And primarily because the basic assumption that all of the manufacturers have used is that the breath that [is] measured is directly related to water in the lungs, which is directly related to what’s in the blood. And in recent years, we’ve learned that, in fact, that’s not the case.”

The judge however, did not allow the testimony and Vangelder was found guilty. Vangelder appealed and the appellate court reversed the decision in 2011. San Diego City Attorney, Jan Goldsmith, then appealed the appellate court decision arguing that such testimony would undermine California’s a per se law making it illegal to drive 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or higher.

Unfortunately, the California Supreme Court sided with Goldsmith.

“[T]he 1990 amendment of the per se offense was specifically designed to obviate the need for conversion of breath results into blood results — and it rendered irrelevant and inadmissible defense expert testimony regarding partition ratio variability among different individuals or at different times for the same individual,” Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye wrote for the court. “Whether or not that part of expired breath accurately reflects the alcohol that is present only in the alveolar region of the lungs, the statutorily proscribed amount of alcohol in expired breath corresponds to the statutorily proscribed amount of alcohol in blood, as established by the per se statute.”

The Court went on to say that, “Although Dr. Hlastala may hold scientifically based reservations concerning these legislative conclusions, we must defer to and honor the legislature’s reasonable determinations made in the course of its efforts to protect the safety and welfare of the public.”

Simply put, the California Supreme Court is willfully ignoring scientific evidence simply because the legislature was well-intentioned.

Although drivers can no longer challenge the accuracy of breathalyzers in general, a driver who has been arrested for a California DUI can still challenge the accuracy of the specific breathalyzer machine used on them.

 

Prescription Drug DUI

Posted by Jon Ibanez on October 30th, 2019

In late August, a Montebello police lieutenant was taken into custody in San Bernardino County on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs. He had previously been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of prescription drugs, although charges were never filed. The arrest serves as a reminder that someone can be arrested for a California DUI with drugs, both illegal and legal.

On August 21st, Montebello Police Lt. Christopher Cervantes, 47, was arrested after police believe he rear-ended another car in the city of Montclair.

Neither Cervantes nor the other driver were injured in the collision, Cervantes was booked on suspicion of DUI at the San Bernardino County Jail, and he was subsequently placed on paid administrative leave.

In 2015, Cervantes was arrested following a collision with a tree in Diamond Bar. Although he tested positive for a combination of pain-relieving prescription drugs acetaminophen, butalbital, codeine, and morphine, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges citing a lack of evidence.

In 2011, Cervantes was detained after resisting arrest at a San Diego hotel party where he falsely claimed to police that he was a federal agent. Charges were never filed for this arrest either.

“I’m aware of everything in his personnel file and as I was the one who promoted him, I was confident that he was a great candidate for promotion to lieutenant,” said Montebello Police Chief Brad Keller. Cervantes was promoted by Keller after

 Cervantes’s 2015 arrest.

As a high-ranking police officer, Cervantes should have been acutely aware that a person can still be arrested for driving under the influence of drugs, including prescription drugs. Many people, on the other hand, often believe that a DUI can only occur if a driver has alcohol in their system. Some people believe that a DUI can occur with only alcohol or illegal drugs, and because a drug might be legal, whether prescription or over-the-counter, a driver cannot get a DUI if they have legal drugs in their system.

California Vehicle Code section 23152 (f) states, “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.”

“Any drug” includes those that are illegal as well as legal, both prescription and over the counter.

The important consideration here is the phrase “under the influence.” Although, prescription drugs and other legal drugs fall within the definition of “any drug,” a person must also have his or her mental or physical abilities impaired to such a degree that he or she is unable to drive a vehicle with the caution of a sober person to be “under the influence.”

What kinds of medications can cause you to be under the influence? Tranquilizers, narcotic pain pills, sleep aids, antidepressants, cough medicines, antihistamines, and decongestants to name a few. And how might they cause you to be under the influence? Drowsiness, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, and confusion, to name a few. Kind of sounds like being drunk, doesn’t it?

A few years back, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that almost half of people 70 years old and above take up to five medications per day. Additionally, a survey from the foundation found that 72% of people 55 and over, the demographic most likely to take medications for chronic conditions, had no idea that their driving performance could be affected by their prescription medications.

Remember, a DUI does not just mean driving under the influence of alcohol, or even illegal drugs, but all drugs including prescription and over-the-counter drugs. If it is capable of affecting a person’s driving ability, then it’s best to wait until after a driving excursion is over.

 

Can Technology End Drunk Driving?

Posted by Jon Ibanez on October 17th, 2019

If you’re anything like me, the speed with which technology is advancing is almost too much to keep up with. No doubt, while some technology is proving to be a detriment to society, like the diminishment of person-to-person interaction, other technology serves to benefit technology, like the various ways lives can be saved as a result of technology. Two law makers are hoping that new technology can stop drunk driving and save lives in the process.

Recall the post Can Alcohol Sensors in All Cars Eliminate Drunk Driving? where I discussed the prospect of introducing alcohol sensing technology into all new vehicles available for purchase.

Since then, as expected, alcohol sensing technology has advanced and Tom Udall, a democratic senator from New Mexico, and Rick Scott, a republican senator from Florida, have said in a recent interview with Reuters that they plan on introducing bi-partisan legislation making the technology a requirement for all new vehicles off the lot.

“This issue has a real urgency to it,” Udall said in an interview with Reuters. “The industry is often resistant to new mandates. We want their support but we need to do this whether or not we have it – lives are at stake.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), almost 30 people die in the United States as a result of drunk driving. In 2017, that amounted to 10,847 fatalities involving drunk driving.

The technology that Udall and Scott are referring to are devices implanted within a steering wheel or a push-button ignition that can detect the blood alcohol content of a driver through infrared lights shined through the driver’s finger tips. They are also looking at sensors that monitor a driver’s eye movement and breath. Whatever the method, should the technology detect a blood alcohol content higher than the legal limit, the driver will not be able to start their vehicle.

A similar bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Debbie Dingell, a Democrat, that would require setting rules for advanced vehicle alcohol detection devices by 2024.

The NHTSA has invested over $50 million spanning 10 years in similar technology to what Udall and Scott are seeking to implement. The technology is already undergoing limited field testing in Maryland and Virginia, according to Udall.

Earlier this year, Volvo announced plans to install cameras and sensors in its vehicles by the early 2020’s to monitor the driver for distractions, errors, and even drunk driving. And should the technology detect anything that could result in a collision, the vehicles internal system would limit the vehicle’s speed, alert the “Volvo on Call” assistance service, or slow down and parking the car.

Udall and Scott’s Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone Act, or RIDE Act, can be read here.

NJ Man Busted for DUI on E-Scooter

Posted by Jon Ibanez on October 10th, 2019

A New Jersey man was stopped for a DUI in Hoboken, New Jersey after police found him intoxicated riding an “e-scooter;” the public scooters scattered across many cities that can be rented through a smartphone app.

Nicholas Cutrone, 26, was arrested this past weekend for DWI (the New Jersey equivalent of California’s “DUI”) for riding a e-scooter. According to police Cutrone was found “unsteady and staggering” when he unlocked the scooter and rode away.

“[Cutrone] was driving unsteady as he swayed back and forth appearing as if he was going to lose control at any moment,” said Detective Sgt. Jonathan Mecka.

Police say that Cutrone’s arrest marks the second drunk driving scooter arrest since the service was launched in spring.

As is the case with many cities here in Southern California, Lime e-scooters now sit on the corner of many busy intersections available to be rented to anyone with a credit card and a smartphone.

In August, a 45-year-old man because the first to be arrested for drunkenly operating an e-scooter in Hoboken after crashing, according to police.

Jeffrey English suffered multiple fractures to his face and mouth when he crashed his e-scooter between two cars. English “admitted to drinking a substantial amount of alcohol” before jumping off the scooter.

As I mentioned, e-scooters are already here in California, and I’m sure you’ve seen them around town. How do they work? Well, like many things today, there’s an app for it. Download the app onto your smartphone for one the scooter companies that offer their services in your area; Bird, Lime, Skip, Scoot, or Spin. Once downloaded, you can access a map that tells you where the nearest scooter is. Find the nearest scooter, enter your credit card number into the app, and scan the bar code on the scooter with your smartphone to unlock the scooter. Ride.

But can you ride after having a few drinks here in California?

California Vehicle Code section 21221 states in pertinent part, “Every person operating a motorized scooter upon a highway…is subject to all…provisions concerning driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs.”

Based on this language, it seems as though the California Legislature intended to treat e-scooter riders the same as traditional vehicle drivers the same, even when it comes to driving/riding under the influence.

However, section 21221.5 states in pertinent part, “[I]t is unlawful for any person to operate a motorized scooter upon a highway while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or any drug, or under the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug…A conviction of a violation of this section shall be punishable by a fine of not more than two hundred and fifty dollars ($250).”

The conundrum here is that in the latter section, the penalty for a DUI on a scooter cannot, under the law, be more than $250. Additionally, California Penal Code section 19.8 states that “any violation which is an infraction is punishable by a fine not exceeding two hundred fifty dollars ($250). This necessarily means that a DUI on an electric scooter in California cannot be charged as anything more than an infraction with a penalty of nothing more than the $250 fine. In other words, a DUI on a scooter in California cannot be treated like a misdemeanor DUI. It cannot carry the same penalties as a DUI and, as an infraction, it will not appear on the rider’s criminal record.

Unfortunately, police and prosecutors in California have been only considering the first law mentioned above and treating DUIs on e-scooters the same as a DUI in a regular vehicle. For this reason, it is imperative to hire an experienced and knowledgeable California DUI attorney to argue the difference in laws between scooters and vehicles.

I recently had one of these cases. My client, the scooter rider, was originally charged with a misdemeanor DUI as though he had been driving a traditional vehicle. If convicted as a misdemeanor, my client was looking at three to five years of probation, an 18-month DUI course (because he had a prior conviction), fines and fees, and a probation violation for a previous DUI conviction, which could have very well led to jail time. However, after arguing that the language of the law only allowed for a fine of no more than a $250 fine, the case was dropped to an infraction with that $250 fine.

It should be noted that, before scooter renters are allowed to rent and ride the scooters, they are required to confirm that they will not ride while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.