Because of my views over the years on DUI laws and law enforcement, I’ve grown used to being the target of media, government and social attacks ("How can you defend those drunk drivers!"). So it was a pleasant surprise to read in my hometown newspaper a more flattering account of my views and activities…
Making a DUI Defendant’s Case
Long Beach, CA. Sept. 20 — What Lawrence Taylor does for a living doesn’t exactly put him on the side of political correctness.
In fact, he’s at the opposite end of the spectrum from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
He defends people accused of drunk driving, a lot of them, thousands of them since he began doing so on a full-time basis in 1979.
He acknowledges he’s about as popular with MADD as, say, a liquor salesman is who shows up at an AA meeting preaching the virtues of drinking.
"Those accused as drunk drivers these days are stigmatized almost in the same league as child molesters," says the Long Beach resident.
During his 42 years in the law profession in which he represented the notorious Onion Field killer (Gregory Powell) before the California Supreme Court and was the legal adviser to the judge of the Charles Manson trial (Charles Older), Taylor has been a deputy county counsel, a deputy public defender, a deputy district attorney, an independent special prosecutor and a criminal lawyer.
He has been a professor at the Gonzaga University School of Law, a visiting professor at Pepperdine University and a Fulbright Professor of Law at Osaka University in Japan.
He has been a Marine, a boxer, a triathlete, a football player at San Pedro High and a water polo player at the University of California.
He has written 14 books, several of them critically acclaimed, including the historical, "A Trial Of Generals (Homma, Yamashita, MacArthur)," the true crime tale "To Honor And Obey," and the legal textbook "Drunk Driving Defense."
It is the latter subject that has been Taylor’s legal focus for more than three decades and that has resulted in his becoming perhaps the most famous, if not most respected, DUI attorney in the country.
He not only has written two books on the subject – the other is called "California Drunk Driving Defense" – but also has lectured on DUI trial techniques and constitutional issues at more than 200 seminars in 38 states and is one of the 13 founders of the National College DUI Defense, which accorded him a Lifetime Achievement Award at a Harvard Law School ceremony in the summer of 2002.
He has been interviewed countless times on NPR, Court TV and other TV outlets, and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, People, Playboy, the American Bar Association Journal, the Christian Science Monitor and other publications.
He maintains offices in Long Beach, Irvine, Riverside, Pasadena and Brentwood, and his Internet narrative – duiblog.com – has become imperative reading for legal scholars interested in the subject. The blog is the one most visited in the DUI arena on the web.
He has strong opinions on a lot of areas in his field of expertise, but none are more passionate than his withering critique of DUI checkpoints, which have become a familiar weekend evening sight on Pacific Coast Highway in Seal Beach and also are occasionally seen in Long Beach.
"To me, the checkpoints are in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which forbids unlawful searches and seizures," says Taylor. "I know they are permissible under the Supreme Court’s 1990 ruling in the Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, a 5-4 ruling that eroded liberty to facilitate a compelling interest in reducing fatalities. Checkpoints would be easier to accept if they actually improved public safety, but most public safety experts acknowledge that traditional policing, in which officers look for drunken drivers while patrolling, is more productive.
"Drunk drivers kill. Those who drink, even a little, have no business getting behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle for the rest of the day. Society needs to eradicate drunk driving, but checkpoints aren’t the answer."
In one of Taylor’s recent blogs, he wrote, in part: "Colorado Springs police detained 1,420 drivers last Saturday in yet another ineffective effort to catch drunken drivers. As a result of detaining thousands and countless passengers, police cited eight – a whopping .56 percent – on suspicion they had driven under the influence.
"Meanwhile, cops working the checkpoints were not on the roads providing legitimate public safety."
The OT factor
He went on to cite a University of California investigation that revealed checkpoints generated more than $30million in annual overtime income for police officers in California.
"Checkpoints, which are funded with transportation grants, are public relations stunts," wrote Taylor. "Our police are supposed to protect and serve the public, not detain individuals to generate publicity and overtime pay. The fact is that most roadblocks are increasingly a means of illegally using DUI roadblocks to stop vehicles to find minor violations such as equipment violations, expired car registrations and drivers licenses not in possession. As long as local governments continue to rake in desperately needed revenues from these fraudulent police practices, roadblocks will continue."
Naturally, Taylor has a similarly strong aversion to the Breathalyzer and similar tests that police employ on suspects believed to be under the influence of alcohol.
"I’ve seen people blow more than a .08 (the legal limit), and have no alcohol in their system," he says. `The human body is infinitely variable, and the machine assumes that all human bodies have identical characteristics, which they don’t. And then there was another case I once had in which (a) guy accused of drunk driving took a blood test to prove that he hadn’t even had a drink. Well, the blood test came back, and showed a .15 reading. We sent the blood out to be DNA tested by an independent laboratory, and it turned out that it wasn’t even my client’s blood. The police lab had mixed up the tests. We got him off."
A 1959 graduate of San Pedro High, Taylor attended UC Berkeley for a year before deciding to do a hitch in the Marines.
"My time in the Marines was the best thing to happen to me," he says. "All I was doing that first year at Cal was play sports, drink and chase girls."
He later returned to Berkeley, decided to become a lawyer instead of a veterinarian, and wound up graduating from the UCLA Law School in 1969.
"One of my jobs when I was a deputy county counsel was giving legal advice to Judge Charles Older during the Manson trial," says Taylor. "It was on a variety of points, including the gag order he implemented.
"And, after I went into private practice, I was appointed by the State Court of Appeals to represent Gregory Powell, who was convicted of murder and given a death sentence in the `Onion Field’ killing of a Los Angeles cop in a case that was detailed in a best-selling book written by Joseph Wambaugh. Powell’s death sentence got overturned, but not his murder conviction.
"I also later was selected with two other attorneys to serve as an independent special prosecutor in a grand jury investigation of political corruption in Montana that was focused on the governor. I lived in the state’s capital, Helena, for a year."
In 1979, Taylor turned permanently to defending those accused of DUIs.
"To be honest, I just got tired of defending murderers, rapists, thieves and the like," he says. "And I also was concerned about the constitutional and evidentiary issues in regard to blood and breath alcohol tests."
Larry Taylor has lived an active and colorful existence, and has been married four times.
He has been with his current wife Judy, a nationally known consultant in child mentoring programs and, ironically, a teetotaler, for the past 18 years.
"I finally got it right this time," says Taylor, who has a son, Chris Taylor, 32, who is an Orange County public defender.
The Taylors have a bayfront home in the tony Treasure Island area of Naples, and take exotic vacations – Tanzania, Kenya, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nepal, Galapagos Islands and the Antarctic – throughout the world when they manage to get a few weeks away from their busy schedules.
Taylor, 69, is a fitness devotee who lifts weights, paddleboards, kayaks, cycles and swims regularly across Alamitos Bay to the Peninsula.
He is also similarly committed to what has become his calling in life.
"The same forces that created the Volstead Act and Prohibition in 1919 are doing the same today, but in a more disingenuous manner with checkpoints and Breathalyzers and the continual lowering of the legal blood-alcohol limit," he says. "Now they’re trying to get it down to .05. I was giving a lecture at Harvard a while back, and had my wife come up and blow into a Breathalyzer. She blew a .04. And she’s never had a drink in her life. I’m against drunk driving. I’m also against having our civil liberties curtailed, which is what has been happening with ominous frequency in recent years."
(Thanks to Doug Krikorian.)