Archive for November, 2008

Here Come the Feds…

Friday, November 28th, 2008

As everyone knows, in our federal system of government most laws are enacted and enforced by the individual states.  Burglary, murder, rape, larceny — all are defined, enforced and prosecuted by the state or local governments.  Until recently…

The laws, evidence and procedures concerning drunk driving are increasingly coming under the control of the federal government.  Over recent years, for example, the Feds have used the threat of withholding highway funds from states to force them to pass legislation championed by MADD.  Thus, for example,  South Carolina recently became the last state to cave in and adopt per se laws – driving with .08% blood-alcohol, even if sober.  All states have also now adopted Automatic License Suspension (ALS) laws, the immediate confiscation by police of driver's licenses of those suspected – not convicted – of having over .08%.  Again under federal/MADD pressure, almost all have passed zero tolerance laws lowering the blood-alcohol level to .01 or .02% for drivers under 21.  And so on…

Even the evidence in DUI cases is increasingly being dictated by the federal government.  Federal standardized field sobriety tests are being adopted across the country, and breath testing machines are now selected by state agencies from a list of federally-approved devices.

Eventually, as I've predicted in past posts (The Future of DUI), the federal government will simply federalize all state drunk driving laws, penalties and procedures — but, without the necessary law enforcement, court and jail facilities, they will still require the state to enforce those laws. 

Consider a couple of news stories just within the past five days:

State DUI Policies Criticized

Seattle, WA.  Nov. 24  –  As Thanksgiving approaches, state law enforcement is preparing for a less-than-loved holiday tradition — drunken driving. But, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, the state's laws aren't up to the challenge.

An NTSB review puts Washington among the 25 states that have not made changes to combat drunken driving that the federal safety board has recommended.

Acting board Chairman Mark Rosenker was expected to chastise the states during a meeting Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C.

Chief among the NTSB complaints against Washington is the state's reluctance to allow police to conduct sobriety checkpoints.

Washington's checkpoint law was struck down as unconstitutional in the late 1980s, and the state does not use them…

The NTSB also faulted the state for allowing plea bargains for first-time DUI defendants, not impounding cars driven by all drunken-driving suspects and failing to create a statewide system of DUI courts aimed at repeat offenders.


NTSB: R.I. Not Doing Enough to Fight Drunken Driving

Providence, RI.  Nov. 28  – Federal transportation officials say Rhode Island’s efforts to curb drunken driving are falling short.

The National Transportation Safety Board this week said that Rhode Island is one of the bottom three states in the nation when it comes to following agency recommendations to address drunken driving accidents and deaths.

The safety board developed 11 recommendations in 2000 for how states could reduce alcohol-related crashes and fatalities. Rhode Island has enacted just two of them. Only Michigan and Montana have enacted so few.

Gabrielle Abbate, executive director of the state chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said Rhode Island lacks legislative leadership when it comes to cracking down on drunken driving.

In the past, the federal government left the states to enact criminal laws, limiting its own jursidiction to those involving  federal interests such as counterfeiting, espionage and civil rights.  So, why the gradual takeover of DUI offenses?  

MADD, with annual revenues of about $52 million, continues to apply media and lobbying pressure — but has moved beyond their state legislatures to Congress and federal agencies.  And beaurocrats and elected representatives in Washington are just as frightened of MADD's witch-hunt as those in Sacramento or Albany.


Latest Weapon: Scare Kids with Fake DUI Arrests

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

A few months ago I posted about a staged scene designed by MADD in which police officers came to a high school and falsely told students in 20 classrooms that one of their classmates had been killed in a drunk driving accident.  Before they were told the truth hours later, many of the kids "were driven to tears – a few to near hysterics".  See MADD’s Latest Weapon.  The newest version of this tactic:

Staged DUI Arrest

A staged drunk driving arrest is getting mixed reaction at a local high school. Administrators at San Joaquin Memorial working with Fresno police set up the fake arrest to show kids the dangers of drinking and driving.

This morning juniors and seniors were told the truth about the alleged drunk driving incident…That it was all a hoax. The principal says he’s not apologizing for the education the kids got about drinking and driving.

One student caught the fake drunk driving arrest on tape. Standout Water Polo player Kevin Van Gundy getting arrested in front of the school at lunch time Wednesday for being under the influence. Van Gundy says his friends were both relieved and mad Thursday morning when they found out the truth.

The real story was revealed during an assembly this morning, when Van Gundy faced a Fresno Superior Court Judge, just like he would have if it were real. Not even the teachers knew the truth until the principal sent out this email late Wednesday explaining the DUI lesson.

Administrators kept the secret overnight on purpose, so students would go home and tell their parents…

One parent who contacted action news and didn’t want to be identified said quote "I think the desired effect was not achieved. Parents and students were left devastated for 24 hours. It was traumatic and shocking."

Police Chief Jerry Dyer says sometimes a shock is what students need…

Van Gundy isn’t sure he’d participate again. The exceptional student who carries a 4.3 GPA says many students were really shaken up and he feels bad. "I think it stung a little bit more than it had to. I think keeping the students in the dark over night for so long just kinda leaves a bitter taste in their mouth towards the whole situation as opposed to being able to listen to the message they were a little bit angry at the administration or at me or at the program that it was just a little bit too harsh for some of them."

The principal says this issue is very personal to him, since his brother was killed in a drunk driving accident years ago… 

I’m sure the students learned a lesson.  What do you think it was?



The DUI Double Standard

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

So what happens when a cop stops a driver for DUI — and the driver’s a cop? 

Deputy, Officer Argue Over DUI Stop

Ponce cop heard trying to help county sergeant

Ponce Inlet, FL.  Nov. 8  –   A Ponce Inlet police officer who pulled over an off-duty Volusia County sheriff’s deputy on suspicion of drunken driving last weekend was apparently trying to help his fellow law enforcement officer, an audiotape of the traffic stop reveals.

"(Sheriff’s) Sgt. Greg Miles is going to come and get you," Officer Chris Selander is heard saying on the tape he made early Sunday morning. "I’m not going to arrest you. You can relax. You know you’ve been drinking probably a little too much. I saw the alcohol in the car. I can smell it."

A short while later on the 45-minute tape, Selander goes on to say, "You’re a sergeant now. You get to keep your job, and that’s your career."

But the deputy, Sgt. Kenneth Vickery, still seemed intent on arguing he hadn’t done anything wrong and repeatedly raised Selander’s ire as the pair stood in the 4300 block of South Atlantic Avenue. Vickery, who works in the sheriff’s training division, insisted he hadn’t crossed any lines on the road, hadn’t swerved and wasn’t speeding.

"You ran off the road, and, now, you’re basically calling me a liar," said Selander, a patrol officer. "I didn’t have to do any of this. You could be sitting in that jail right now. You still can."…

The conversation continued to switch from calm to arguing.

At one heated moment, Selander said, "You’ll be lucky if you have a job after this. Now, sign the ticket, keep your mouth shut and go home."

At another angry moment Selander said, "I think you want to go to jail. I’m tired of your attitude. . . . You don’t even act like a police officer. You don’t even act like a sergeant."…

When all was said and done, Vickery was cited only for an improper lane change.

If it were you driving that car, you’d be facing drunk driving charges — and resisting arrest…after you were released from the hospital.



Breathalyzer Manufacturer Thumbs Nose at Courts

Monday, November 10th, 2008

Last week I mentioned how manufacturers across the country were refusing to turn over the critical software code in their breath-testing machines.  See What Are Breathalyzer Manufacturers Hiding?  Just how far are they willing to go to keep us from looking inside these secret black boxes that determine guilt or innocence?  A follow-up story in today’s news:

Thousands of Tucson-Area DUI Cases May Get the Boot

Intoxilyzer 8000 May Be Ruled Unreliable

Tucson, AZ.  Nov. 9  – A dozen years ago, 3,000 drunken-driving prosecutions in Tucson were dismissed in one day – about 5,000 cases within a few months – because the breath-test device that said the drivers were drunk was deemed unreliable.

Those numbers could easily be surpassed if one of the current alcohol detectors in Arizona, the Intoxilyzer 8000, is found to be unreliable, a leading driving under the influence defense attorney said.

"This is going to be huge," said Tucson lawyer James Nesci, because the current machine is widely used statewide as opposed to the older device, which was used in Tucson and at a smaller agency…

Despite court orders across the country, CMI has declined to divulge the code, which defense attorneys say will show that the device is error-prone. The company has racked up more than $1 million in fines by refusing to comply with a similar Florida court order, records show.

CMI President Toby Hall didn’t return phone calls for comment. When Bernini first ordered CMI to release the code, Nesci said a process server couldn’t get Hall to accept the court order.

Last month, Bernini told prosecutors to get the source code from CMI.

Deputy County Attorney Robin Schwartz told Bernini that she didn’t think the state could force CMI to reveal the code.

Bernini also set a Nov. 24 hearing for Hall to appear and explain why she shouldn’t hold him and CMI in contempt for refusing to comply with her orders…

Recent events echo those in the mid-1990s when defense attorneys challenged the integrity of the RBT IV breath test machine, manufactured by Intoximeters Inc., based in St. Louis. Prosecutors eventually agreed that the device was faulty, which led to 3,000 cases being dismissed at once in 1997 and the total number thrown out about 5,000, Nesci said.

What are they so afraid of?  Could it be that inside the black box is…junk?


Why Do Police Refuse to Use Videotapes?

Friday, November 7th, 2008

Some police agencies around the country use videotapes as part of their drunk driving investigations.  The vast majority, however, do not — despite their low cost, ease of use and invaluable evidence as to driving patterns, physical symptoms, slurred speech, poor balance, incriminating statements and performance on "field sobriety tests".

Why don't they use them?  And why, when they do, do they so often get lost or erased?  See my post Why Do Police Erase Videotapes?

Local Attorney Says All D.U.I. Arrests Should Be Videotaped

KUTV News, Utah.  Oct. 23 (article originally published by - Many Utah police departments videotape suspected drunk drivers.  The Highway Patrol has most of the dashboard cameras in Utah.  Attorney Jason Schatz wants to see more videotaping for the sake of his clients.

 “It’s only fair to those people if the technology is available”, he says.  Schatz defends suspected drunk drivers and says often, police video is valuable evidence in court, challenging officers’ written reports.  

 “You look at the police report and you’d think this person was falling down drunk, then you see the tape and you say ‘Wait a minute, that doesn’t look the way it was described on paper”. 

Schatz says he wants Utah to adopt mandatory videotaping like the State of South Carolina.  He hopes to find a local lawmaker who will take the issue to Capitol Hill.

Schatz has compiled videotapes shot during sobriety test of several clients.  Some of the tapes conflict with what the officer wrote down in the report.  Often Schatz says, cases are dropped when the jury or the prosecutor see the tape.
Sim Gill, chief prosecutor for Salt Lake City disagrees, saying videotape “does not make or break d.u.i. cases”.  Gil says he’s not opposed to mandatory taping of d.u.i. stops, but says he’d rather see state monies spent on what he considers “more pressing needs” like funding the domestic violence shelters, and providing medical help for mentally ill people who are in prison.

Forgive my cynicism, but I'm naturally suspicious of prosecutors who say they would rather spend money on charitable causes than on more trustworthy evidence.