Monthly Archives: August 2006
The following is from a presiding justice’s dissenting opinion in a Pennsylvania appellate decision affirming a DUI conviction:
I must vigorously dissent from the well-written opinion of the majority, as it seems we are coming perilously close to turning a blind eye to questionable conduct by our police officers. While I acknowledge that our police officers are charged with the awesome and sometimes onerous responsibility of protecting the public, I cannot sanction the whisperings of the majority that that protection comes at the deprivation of the constitutional rights of citizenship. We do not want a police state, and it seems we are on the precipice of becoming one, in the name of DUI. I suggest that the Court, and the police, can ill afford to sanction this type of conduct.
(Emphasis added.) Fortunately, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed this lower court ruling a few days ago and, in so doing, agreed with the dissenting justice’s comments. Comes the dawn?
(Thanks to Fred Slone and Troy McKinney.)
In most DUI investigations, the main evidence in determining whether there is probable cause to arrest is a battery of "field sobriety tests". Of course, if the officer administers the test incorrectly (as is commonly the case), the results are invalid — and an innocent person may be arrested.
So what is the correct way to give the tests and interpret them?
It's all laid out online (pdf) in the 165-page DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Student Manual (2004 edition), published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (USDOT) and widely used for training by law enforcement agencies nationwide. Read it and understand why few officers do it right.
(Thanks to Doug Hazelton.)
For those of you who have concluded that DUI laws cannot get any more Draconian:
It's Now Easier To Buy A Shotgun In NC Than A Keg Of Beer
RALEIGH, NC. August 23 — In the state's continuing war against the consumption of alcohol, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley signed a new law on Monday that will not only make it harder to buy kegs of beer, but will also diminish the legal rights of defendants to challenge illegally or incorrectly obtained evidence by the state in regards to driving under the influence charges.
The new law also makes it a crime to have any alcohol in the system of anyone under 21 years of age and allows police officers to demand a chemical test of citizens under 21, whether or not they are driving a vehicle… In addition, the new laws will allow police officers to charge drivers operating a vehicle with a DUI offense even if they are on private property and even if the business is closed. Previously, only those drivers that were on "public" roadways or areas open to the public fell under the domain of DUI laws.
Furthermore, the new laws also allows police officers to introduce tests from field breathalyzers as evidence, as opposed to the more accurate machine breathalyzer tests that are usually done at police headquarters or police stations. In the past, those more accurate automated tests were usually used as evidence in DUI cases instead of the field breathalyzer units…
Apparently, accuracy of blood alcohol evidence is no longer a priority — nor is the Constitution. And in the "Kegs don't kill people, people kill people" department:
Strangely enough, in North Carolina, an 18 year old citizen may purchase a shotgun or long rifle without a permit, but under the new law that takes effect in December, no one — not even those over 21 — in North Carolina will be able to buy a keg of beer without a permit…
Many of my posts have been about the incaccuracy of breath machines used in DUI cases (for example, “How Breathalyzers Work — and Why They Don’t”.) But just how accurate do they have to be? What’s so special about measuring alcohol?
Well, consider the amazingly tiny amount of alcohol these small machines are trying to measure, and the need for extreme precision becomes apparent — a precision which simply cannot be found in these police-operated devices.
Let’s assume that a breathalyzer reading is .10%. This means that the suspect’s blood contained .10 grams of alcohol in 100 milliliters (cubic centimeters) of blood, or .001 grams per cubic centimeter of blood. A typical breath machine such as an Intoxilyzer 5000 captures 50 cubic centimeters of the suspect’s blood. Applying Henry’s Law, this means that the equivalent of 1/40th of a cubic centimeter of blood is represented by this breath sample. Since a cubic centimeter contains 20 drops, we can say that 1/40th of a cubic centimeter contains half a drop.
Assuming a .10% reading, then, the machine is attempting to measure five one-hundredths of one percent of a drop of alcohol — an amount invisible to the naked eye!
To express this graphically, imagine a 55-gallon drum filled with water. This represents about the same capacity as 210 liters of breath — the volume used by law in determining breath-blood analysis. Then imagine taking an eyedropper with only one-tenth of a gram of alcohol in it, and adding this tiny amount into the drum. Now imagine trying to measure the amount of alcohol in the 55-gallon drum. Now try it with a machine maintained, calibrated and operated by cops…..a machine that may not even be warranted by its manufacturer to measure alcohol (see “Breathalyzers: Why Aren’t They Warranted to Measure Alcohol?”).
The government calls this “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”.
Yet another DUI officer conducting "field research" (see "Hypocrisy and the War on Drunk Driving"):
Florida Police DUI Instructor Arrested for Drunk Driving
Plantation. South Florida Sun-Sentinal — A veteran officer and police academy DUI instructor was driving drunk, naked from the waist down, and speeding on Florida's Turnpike at 90 mph when she was pulled over by an Orange County Sheriff's deputy on the night of Dec. 9, according to a Plantation Police Internal Affairs report released this week. She had a large open bottle of Southern Comfort in her car, which her attorney later argued was used to train police recruits…
(Thanks to Willam C. Head of Atlanta.)