Archive for May, 2012

Erratic Driving?….or “Black and White Fever”?

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Undoubtedly the most common observation of impaired driving that officers make — and the one most commonly used to justify stopping the driver — is that the suspect was "weaving within the traffic lane", sometimes combined with "erratic driving".  At the same time, experienced traffic patrol officers are familiar with a phenomenon which is sometimes referred to as "black-and-white fever".

That phenomenon is simply the normal reaction of most drivers to being followed by a marked police car (painted black and white in many jurisdictions). As soon as the motorist becomes aware that a police car is following him, he becomes understandably apprehensive and focuses his attention increasingly on the rear view mirror. As the officer continues to follow, the driver becomes tense, worried, and his concentration on driving is broken: He keeps his eyes more on the mirror and less on the road ahead. Each time the driver brings his eyes back to the road, he finds that he has drifted and must correct the course of the car back to the center of the lane.

The result: weaving and, possibly, erratic movements such as sudden increases or decreases in speed (tension can cause the foot to depress the accelerator).  And, of course, these are the most commonly encountered symptoms of a drunk driver on the highway.

In other words, it is the very presence of the officer which tends to create the probable cause for suspecting a DUI. And after the officer pulls the driver over, he gets out and approaches the car with the very human preconception that the driver is probably intoxicated. And, as we know from psychological studies, we all tend to see what we expect to see: normally veined eyes appear "bloodshot", normal but nervous speech sounds "slurred", normal pink complexion appears "flushed", etc.

These observations are quickly followed by the notoriously subjective and inaccurate field sobriety tests, difficult to perform under the best of conditions (see my earlier post, “Field Sobriety Tests: Designed for Failure?”)….followed predictably by an arrest for drunk driving.



Kansas Moves To Punish Refusing to Incriminate Yourself in DUI Cases

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

I’ve posted long and hard over the years about the inaccuracy and unreliability of breathalyzers.  See How Breathalyzers Work – and Why They Don’t.  But at least you could always refuse to take the test.  You aren’t required to incriminate yourself, right?  I mean, this is America and we have the Constitution to protect us.

Maybe not.  This looks like yet another in a long list of constitutional rights that are slowly disappearing in DUI cases.  See, for example, The DUI Exception to the Constitution, The Disappearing Right to Jury Trial…in DUI Cases, DUI and the Disappearing Right to CounselAre DUI Roadblocks Constitutional? and Forced Blood Draws by Cops: Constitutional?.

House Votes to Criminalize DUI Test Refusals

Topeka, KS.  May 17 —  After a lengthy discussion of constitutional rights, the House has approved a bill that makes it a crime for suspected repeat offenders to refuse a drunk-driving test…

Under Senate Bill 60, drivers with a DUI conviction or prior refusal of a DUI test would automatically be guilty of a misdemeanor if they refuse a test. The penalty would be the same as for a DUI conviction.

The House passed the bill 103-13, but not without some concerns expressed by members that it “tramples” the right to remain silent when accused of a crime.

Rep. Sean Gatewood, D-Topeka, said he’s seen many drunk driving crashes and the harm they cause working as a firefighter and paramedic.

But he said he was not comfortable with making it a crime to refuse to take a breath or blood test.

“These are American citizens and they have the right to remain silent, which this bill sort of tramples on, because if you just stand there silent … then you’re a criminal,” Gatewood said. “You have your 4th and 5th Amendment rights … and I just think there is no greater ridge to stand on than the Constitution of the United States.”

Gatewood proposed to send the measure back to a House-Senate conference committee for further work, but that motion died on a 23-88 vote.

Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, who carried the bill on the floor, acknowledged that its impact on constitutional rights was an important issue, but on balance she supported it.

She said courts are being clogged with repeat offenders who refuse the DUI test and take their chances with a jury.

Some lawmakers said stopping drunk drivers outweighed the constitutional questions.

“I would gladly walk the line, breathe into the tube and draw my blood if it would get repeat drunk drivers off the road,” said Rep. Bill Otto, R-LeRoy. “This is about people who are killing people.”

“This is not about constitutional rights,” he continued. “What about the constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? (a phrase from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution) When you’re killed by a drunk driver, they’ve deprived you of your life. Death penalty, when you did nothing wrong.”

So….if you refused to incriminate yourself, you would be convicted of a crime and given the same sentence as if you had been convicted of drunk driving.  In other words, you are basically convicted of drunk driving because you wouldn’t incriminate yourself!

Another constitutional right slowly fades away….


Driving Under the Influence of…Food

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

I’ve written in the past about the focus on the relative dangers of impaired driving due to alcohol versus impairment from drowsiness, texting or talking on a cell phone.  Thanks to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, DUI has been demonized and the penalties have become Draconian.  But studies show the dangers from distracted driving can be at least as dangerous — yet this type of conduct is common and punished with a slap on the wrist — if at all.  See, for example, Drunk Driving vs Distracted, Drowsy or Drugged Driving, Inebriated or Texting: Which is More Dangerous When Driving?, Driving Under the Influence of…a Cell Phone and Losing Sight of the Goal

Now another form of impaired driving has been shown to be possibly more dangerous than drunk driving.

Eating While Driving Riskier Than Being Legally Impaired by Alcohol or Texting

Great Britain. May 7 — Would you believe that eating food while at the wheel of a vehicle could be more dangerous than drinking or texting while driving?

According to a study by the University of Leeds called “Two Hands Better than One,” this is exactly what researchers found based on observation of test subjects operating driving simulators.

The UK researchers measured reaction time while drivers negotiated virtual vehicles, and as it turns out, eating increased response times by 44 percent.

In contrast, texting increased reaction time by 37 percent, and drinking a non-alcoholic beverage from a can or bottle increased reaction time by 22 percent.

And what about the one driving no-no that that nearly everyone agrees is undesirable – drinking alcohol and operating a vehicle?

Drivers asked to operate the simulator who were at the U.S. “legal limit” of .08 percent blood alcohol content increased reaction time by 12.5 percent…

Common sense dictates that drivers can compound their chances for an accident if they do not self-govern and recognize their limits. And as the study indicates, a distraction can come in several forms – even ones that have been considered benign…

Much more could be said about this subject which the U.S. Department of Transportation has been up in arms about in recent years, labeling distracted driving an “epidemic.”

Maybe someone should remind MADD that the goal is saving lives — not returning to Prohibition.


Colorado Senate Votes to Criminalize Marijuana Levels in Drivers

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Over past years, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been successful in getting legislation passed across the country criminalizing the presence of a largely arbitrary level of alcohol in a driver’s blood.  

Whereas previously the drunk driving laws made it illegal to drive a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, the new ones didn’t care about impairment but simply made it a crime to have a blood-alcohol level of .08% or higher.  It didn’t matter if a given driver had higher than average tolerance to alcohol; whether a citizen was impaired and a danger or not was no longer relevant.  The crime was the presence of alcohol in the body.

This, of course, made it much easier to prosecute and convict citizens of drunk driving — even if they weren’t "drunk".

Now that strategy is increasingly being adopted by states for the offense of "driving while stoned" — that is, driving while under the influence of marijuana.  As with alcohol, it is more difficult to prove that a citizen’s driving ability is impaired by marijuana than it is to prove that there is an arbitrary amount of it in his body.  

Solution: criminalize the presence of a given amount of cannabis in the blood.  Of course, there is little scientific consensus as to what levels of marijuana cause driving impairment.  But the result will be more arrests, prosecutions — and more unimpaired drivers convicted.   

"The ends justify the means", right?  

Colorado Senate Gives Initial OK to Stoned-Driving Limits 

Denver, CO.  May 2 – The Colorado Senate Tuesday gave initial approval to a bill making it easier to convict people of driving while stoned, in the toughest test yet for the proposal…

The measure, Senate Bill 117, would set a limit of THC — the psychoactive chemical in marijuana — in the blood above which it would be illegal to drive. King said numerous studies suggest that the large majority of people with more than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood are impaired.

[Bill sponsor Steve] King said the bill is needed to stem what appears to be an increase in stoned driving in Colorado. Drivers whose blood tested positive for THC at the state toxicology lab have increased from a couple hundred in 2009 to more than 1,000 last year, King said…

Opponents say that research isn’t conclusive that everybody is stoned at 5 ng and that the bill would result in sober drivers being convicted. Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, called the bill, "a shortcut on burden of proof." Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said state law already makes it illegal to drive while stoned — including for those drivers who are impaired at less than 5 ng.

"I would prefer to stick with current law, where the question of impairment is put to a jury and where evidence of someone’s conduct is presented in court," Steadman said.

Steadman said the bill would hurt medical-marijuana patients who regularly use marijuana and may have higher baseline levels of THC in their blood.
But King said the bill sends an important message that driving high is not OK.

"What I’m saying is, you can’t get high and drive," King said. "It has an impact on the rest of us. You can smoke and wait. You can smoke and walk. You can smoke and find a ride. But you cannot smoke and drive."

Fourteen other states have laws creating a THC limit for driving — laws that are known as "per se" laws. Several other states have zero-tolerance driving laws for THC.

Notice the focus of the law in the opening line of the story:  "a bill making it easier to convict people".  Not a bill to reduce casualties on the highways.  Not a bill to punish criminals. No, a bill making it easier to convict citizens.

The great legal scholar Blackstone famously stated back in the 1760s: "Better that ten guilty guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer".  That revered old legal principle has been reversed in DUI cases..  

The concept goes back even further — much further.  From Genesis 18:23-32 of the Bible:  

Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you consume the righteous with the wicked?  What if there are fifty righteous within the city?  Will you consume and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are in it?  What if ten are found there?".  He [The Lord] said, "I will not destroy it for the ten’s sake".  

The dragnet approach to justice.  Yet another example of what I have termed "The DUI Exception to the Constitution".