Monthly Archives: October 2005

DUI: Government’s Cash Cow

I’ve written about the increasing trend of cash-strapped local governments to treat drunk driving cases as a revenue-producing machine. The danger, of course, is that more pressure is put on law enforcement to make more DUI arrests — valid or not. This recent news story from Illinois is another clear example:

Drinking, Driving Could Cost More

With major capital projects on the horizon, Hoffman Estates may turn to drunken drivers for additional revenue, following the lead of communities such as Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Hanover Park and Rolling Meadows.

Beginning next year, drunken drivers may have to cough up an additional $500 if they get pinched on village streets. With DUI arrests in Hoffman Estates fluctuating between 300 and 500 annually over the last four years, the village could garner an extra $150,000 to $250,000. That’s on top of a $100 per DUI arrest fee that the state remits annually to local arresting agencies across Illinois.In Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove and other communities, the DUI surcharge is tacked on as an impound fee. Following a DUI arrest, the driver must first hand over $500 before getting the vehicle back.

But because of the numerous fees faced by those charged with DUI, the law has its critics. Donald Ramsell, a Wheaton attorney who specializes in defending DUI cases, said the new law is not only unfair, but also illegal. "The whole thing is a joke. First off, they hold the car hostage for $500," he said. "Secondly, if the person who is arrested, in many cases, challenges the fee, the police chief is the one who conducts an independent review of whether or not the arrest was lawful. How independent is that?"

"After legal fees of anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000, court-mandated counseling fees of $1,000 to $2,000, other miscellaneous fees of $2,500, a state DUI technology surcharge and court costs and fees of $3,500, a first-time offender can easily pay $15,000 to $20,000 after getting being arrested for DUI", Ramsell said.

"It’s an unfair hardship," Ramsell said. "But people arrested for DUIs aren’t too popular in the eyes of the public. I think more and more communities are going to be paying the bills with DUI arrests."Citing it as a possible source of general fund revenues, Hoffman Estates Village Manager Jim Norris introduced the DUI surcharge last week. The Village Board will likely discuss it next month. The village, which is currently reviewing its 2006 budget, is seeking new revenue streams as officials consider a growing list of capital expenses including neglected road improvements, a new police station and the relocation of at least one fire station. The tab for all three is about $32 million. (Emphasis added.)

Need more money? Make more arrests….Drunk driving: The "new revenue stream".

The Road to Prohibition – Part 2

Following up on yesterday’s post about Washington D.C.’s "zero tolerance" law:

Critics Say District’s DUI Policy Goes Too Far

Jailing Drivers for 1 Drink Called Wasting Resources

Washington Post, October 13. Officials with organizations that lobby for safe roads and tough drunken driving laws yesterday criticized the District’s zero-tolerance policy toward drinking and driving, saying that they’d never heard of it and that limited police resources should be devoted to those more obviously drunk.

Even D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), who has sponsored legislation to lower the legal limit for drunken driving, said she was not aware that police officers are arresting drivers who have as little as .01 percent blood alcohol content — less than from drinking a glass of wine or beer — in their systems. Nor did she think that such a policy was a good idea….

But never underestimate the religious zeal of police and prosecutors:

Elizabeth Wingo, chief of the criminal section in the D.C. Attorney General’s Office, said her office prosecutes cases regardless of blood alcohol level, as long as there is sufficient evidence of impairment "We have zero tolerance for drunk driving. It doesn’t matter what your blood alcohol level is," Wingo said. "If you blow .02 and officers can tell you’re impaired, you’ll be arrested for DUI."

(I can still remember when, as a prosecutor so many years ago, my legal duty was to seek justice — not to defend the police regardless of the truth.)

The Road to Prohibition

In past posts I’ve commented on MADD’s apparent shift from drunk driving prevention to resurrecting the failed experiment of Prohibition.  This has been seen in their successful political pressure resulting in lowering of blood-alcohol levels from .10% to .08%, then in some situations to .05%, and finally to .01% for drivers under 21.  This was more recently followed by MADD’s formal rewording of their ”mission statement” – from a focus on drunk driving to underage drinking. 

The next logical step in the march toward Prohibition, of course, is to outlaw driving by adults with any alcohol at all in their system — regardless of any impairment or danger to the public…..

Single Glass of Wine Immerses Driver in Legal Battle

Washington Post, October 12    Debra Bolton had a glass of red wine with dinner. That’s what she told the police officer who pulled her over. That’s what the Intoxilyzer 5000 breath test indicated — .03, comfortably below the legal limit.

She had been pulled over in Georgetown about 12:30 a.m. for driving without headlights. She apologized and explained that the parking attendant must have turned off her vehicle’s automatic-light feature.

Bolton thought she might get a ticket. Instead, she was handcuffed, searched, arrested, put in a jail cell until 4:30 a.m. and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.

Bolton, 45, an energy lawyer and single mother of two who lives in Alexandria, had just run into a little-known piece of D.C. law: In the District, a driver can be arrested with as little as .01 blood-alcohol content.

As D.C. police officer Dennis Fair, who arrested Bolton on May 15, put it in an interview recently: “If you get behind the wheel of a car with any measurable amount of alcohol, you will be dealt with in D.C. We have zero tolerance. . . . Anything above .01, we can arrest.”

Neither the police department nor the attorney general’s office keeps detailed records of how many people with low blood alcohol levels are arrested. But last year, according to police records, 321 people were arrested for driving under the influence with blood alcohol levels below the legal limit of .08. In 2003, 409 people were arrested….

On the department’s Web site, D.C. police explain it this way: “Technically, according to the D.C. Code, the District of Columbia has a zero tolerance for driving under the influence. If a person 21 years of age or older has a blood alcohol concentration of .02 percent [to] .04 percent and extremely bad driving, this person can be placed under arrest for Driving Under the Influence of an alcoholic beverage.”

At low levels of alcohol, an arrest comes down to an officer’s discretion, said D.C. police Inspector Patrick Burke, former head of the traffic division….

How can a person be “under the influence” with only .03% blood-alcohol?  When did forgetting to turn on your headlights constitute “extremely bad driving”?  And since when does the existence of a crime depend upon an “officer’s discretion”?

And what is MADD’s next step?

Judicial Quotas in DUI Trials?

How do you get more convictions in DUI cases?  Easy: just tell judges to find more people guilty…..

Conviction rates for DWI increase statewide

CHARLOTTE, The Associated Press – Statewide convictions for driving while intoxicated have jumped in the year since a newspaper series spotlighted the acquittal of thousands of defendants who tested over the state's blood alcohol limit.

The August 2004 series by The Charlotte Observer showed North Carolina judges acquitted more than a third of defendants who went to trial after testing over the state-mandated limit of 0.08 percent

Since then, the statewide conviction rate has risen from 63 percent to 71 percent, The Observer reported Tuesday.

The paper's reporting last year prompted Beverly Lake Jr., chief justice of the state Supreme Court, to send a memo to the state's chief District Court judges instructing them not to make prosecutors' burden of proof in DWI cases more difficult than the law requires….

"When the chief justice says .08 means you're guilty … that'll make the judges think twice about acquitting somebody," (attorney George) Laughrun said….

In Wake County, the DWI trial conviction rate nearly tripled from 17 percent to 50 percent, The Observer said.  In Mecklenburg County, the lineup of judges hearing DWI cases changed. The judge with the county's lowest conviction rate, Jerome Leonard, stopped hearing cases….

Cheryl Jones, head of the Charlotte region's Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter, said the changes are "amazing."  "It is going to make our roads safer because a number of people who are convicted will get the message," she said.

As any attorney will tell you, ordering judges "not to make prosecutors' burden of proof in DWI cases more difficult than the law requires" is not-so-subtle legalese for "Convict more defendants".  (How do you make the burden more difficult than proof beyond a reasonable doubt?)

It looks like the judiciary has decided to ignore irritating "technicalities" like the presumption of innocence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt, not to mention the accuracy and reliability of evidence in individual cases, and simply adopt the police strategy of using quotas.  And if a judge's DUI conviction rate isn't up to production standards, he doesn't preside over any more cases.  Kind of like an assembly line.

Your independent judiciary at work.

Inaccurate Breathalyzers Blamed on Defense Attorneys

In dozens of posts over the past year, I've railed about the inaccuracy and unreliability of breath machines.  Finally, news that law enforcement officials in Florida have indentified the problem:  defense lawyers.

….The blunders that have allowed a slew of accused drunk drivers to walk recently are not a rarity. In fact, a recent wave of such mistakes is indicative of the uncertain technology used to prosecute DUIs. Florida's police departments have chosen to use balky, outdated equipment that's often as much as two decades old.

There are new, more accurate machines available, but law enforcement agencies say that a statewide changeover would just make DUI cases in the pipeline vulnerable to the predatory attacks of clever lawyers.

According to Laura Barfield, who's in charge of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's breath-testing monitoring program, buying the new machines would put into question any arrest made on the old machines. "It would open the door for defense attorneys to question why we haven't used the new one," she says, repeating the bunker-like philosophy of cops and prosecutors who have been stung by smart defense lawyers.

So let's see if I have this right:  ok, the machines are junk, but we can't get more accurate ones because then those smart defense lawyers will say that this proves the old ones are junk…..So we've got to keep using the junk.  After all, the important thing is to get convictions, right?