Monthly Archives: October 2015

Are “Anti-DUI” Campaigns Really Preventing Drunk Driving?

From guest blogger Matt Hartmann:

In many California counties, law enforcement agencies are rolling out “Anti-DUI,” campaigns funded by state grants. One of these grants, according to the recent newspaper article, “Vacaville Police Will Lead DUI Campaign,” amounts to $220,000, giving law enforcement agencies the increased funds to rev-up DUI patrolling and increase checkpoints. According to the Vacaville Police Department, these campaigns will primarily roll-out around holidays, like Halloween, New Year’s Eve and Cinco de Mayo.

Attempting to prevent DUIs, these “campaigns,” underhandedly reward officers for arresting drivers with DUI charges. By enacting programs that encourage officers to arrest more people, agencies reinforce the idea that more arrests lead to safer roads, which often proves untrue.

Rewarding officers for arrests, these county agencies are encouraging aggressive policing against drivers that often doesn’t result in convictions. Through doing so, officer’s actions are more likely to go against your legal rights, including stopping without probable cause, not following guidelines for checkpoints, and/ or improperly administering breath tests.

In a press statement released by Vacaville Lt. Mark Donaldson, he claims, “If you don’t drink or use drugs, you will avoid getting arrested by any of the 10 participating law enforcement agencies in this county.”

In reality, we know this statement doesn’t usually hold true. Many DUI arrests never result in convictions, as previously discussed on this blog.

If the aim really is to make roads safer, doesn’t it make sense to invest that money in increased education and prevention campaigns, rather than in unnecessarily aggressive policing?  Instead of aiming to prevent driving under the influence before it happens, these policies only serve to punish those already intoxicated, and they will likely result in numerous unsubstantiated arrests that wind up costing drivers.

Another recent newspaper article entitled “DWI Arrests are through the roof, but road aren’t getting much safer” showed that an increase in arrests often doesn’t result in increased road safety. Even with arrests doubling, rates of crashes involving drivers under the influence remained stable. In turn, since the launch of the Ad Council’s “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” campaign, 68% of Americans reported trying to prevent someone from driving drunk – actions that actually increase safety.

With the statistics showing that educational campaigns do more to prevent DUI/DWI than aggressive policing, why do states continue to fund the latter and not the former?

These campaigns serve as a warning to be even more cautious around upcoming holidays than normal.


Penalties for a High BAC

When it comes to a California DUI, sentence there is a difference between driving drunk and driving really drunk.

It is not uncommon for a person to be caught driving drunk with a blood alcohol content of more than 0.15 percent. Unfortunately, it is also not uncommon for a person to be caught driving drunk with a blood alcohol content of more than 0.20 percent.

When this happens, in addition to being charged with the normal California DUI charges under California Vehicle Code section 23152 (a) and 23152(b), the prosecutor will also include what is known as a “special allegation” in the complaint. As a result of the “special allegation,” the person arrested for a California DUI is now actually facing increased penalties.

California Vehicle Code section 23578 sets forth the special allegation when a person’s blood alcohol content is 0.15 to 0.19 percent.

“In addition to any other provision of this code, if a person is convicted of a violation of Section 23152 or 23153, the court shall consider a concentration of alcohol in the person’s blood of 0.15 percent or more, by weight, or the refusal of the person to take a chemical test, as a special factor that may justify enhancing the penalties in sentencing, in determining whether to grant probation, and, if probation is granted, in determining additional or enhanced terms and conditions of probation.”

In my experience, there are a number of common enhanced penalties that a prosecutor seeks when there is a special allegation that a person’s BAC was 0.15 or more. Those enhancements include, but are not limited to, a longer DUI program, AA meetings as a condition of probation, AA meetings as a condition of being released on their own recognizance pending the outcome of their case, MADD’s Victim Impact Panel, and/or a Hospital and Morgue Program.

When a person’s blood alcohol content is 0.20 percent or more, California Vehicle Code section 23538(b)(2) provides:

“The court shall refer a first offender whose blood-alcohol concentration was 0.20 percent (.20%) or more, by weight, or who refused to take a chemical test, to participate for at least nine (9) months or longer, as ordered by the court, in a licensed program that consists of at least 60 hours of program activities, including those education, group counseling, and individual interview sessions described in Chapter 9 (commencing with Section 11836) of Part 2 of Division 10.5 of the Health and Safety Code.”

Although section 23538(b)(2) specifically mentions a 9-month DUI program (called AB1353), there’s a good chance that the prosecutor will be pushing for an 18-month program (called SB38). The longer DUI program would be in addition to any of the other increased penalties I mentioned above.

When a California DUI case includes special allegations such as these, it is important and especially advantageous to the DUI-arrestee that an experienced California DUI attorney not only fight the underlying DUI charges, but the special allegations as well.  



Athletes and DUI: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

From guest blogger Matt Hartman:

In a news article entitled "Virginia Tech’s Newsome Charged with DUI, Suspended from Play", the Roanoke Times reported yesterday that police arrested Virginia Tech wide receiver Deon Newsome for DUI and public intoxication charges.

If Newsome is convicted, Virginia law classifies a DUI charge, while under 21, as a criminal offense, resulting in a year-long driver’s license suspension, a minimum fine of $500 or 50 hours of community service, and up to 12 months in jail. On top of this, public intoxication charges also carry a mandatory minimum fine of $500 or 50 hours of community service.

In addition to legal consequences, Newsome is facing heavy scrutiny and consequences with his team. For public figures, especially athletes, DUI charges can be particularly troublesome. The team released a statement that Newsome is currently suspended indefinitely, but allowed to continue attending practice. According to the Daily Press, after being questioned on Monday, Virginia Tech’s coach stated, “That’s all we’re going to say about that.”

Newsome’s suspension is somewhat troubling, although not uncommon in college sports. Teams often suspend players before they’re found guilty, likely due to the negative press. The actions, however, reflect larger societal standards of often forgetting that people are innocent until proven guilty.

After receiving a DUI convictions, suspensions, and even terminations, are even less uncommon. Most players sign a sobriety provision with their contract. The NFL, for example, suspends players for two games after a first-time DUI violation, after upping the consequences in 2014.

While Newsome currently only faces suspension, he might face heavier consequences if convicted, including termination from the team. Newsome, who already didn’t play much this season, faces a possible early-end to his football career, if convicted. If on a scholarship, the consequences might be even more severe, forcing him to lose the scholarship.

Newsome’s case shows just how severe DUI charges can be to a public figure’s career, even if not convicted of the charges.

DUI in a Wheelchair?

I’ve posted in recent years on the continual over-reaching of law enforcement in trying to chalk up more DUI arrests.  One simple way is to simply stretch the definition of what a "vehicle" is.  See, for example, Drunk Driving…on a Horse, DUI…in a Lounge Chair, Drunk Driving on a Lawn Mower, DUI on a Scooter and DUI – While Walking a Bicycle.  

Not to be outdone, law enforcement (and the courts) in Palm Bay, Florida, have pushed the envelope….

Man in Electric Wheelchair Arrested for DUI

Palm Bay, FL.  Oct. 13 – In his arrest report, police say Ronny Hicks appeared highly intoxicated, because his speech was slurred speech and he was acting confused. Since he was also operating a motorized wheelchair, the 54-year-old man was arrested for driving under the influence.

Police say Hicks, from Palm Bay, was allegedly blocking the path on a pedestrian bridge inside a park near Margaret and Helen streets in Palm Bay. Police were called because of complaints.

During his first appearance before a judge, the judge approved the maximum $5000 bond, because it was allegedly Hicks’ third DUI in ten years…. 

This is getting ridiculous…..

When Does a DUI Become a Felony in California ?

Typically a DUI in California is a misdemeanor which means, by definition, that it is punishable by no more than a year in jail. So when can a California DUI become a felony?

The first way that a DUI can become a felony is when the defendant has suffered three prior DUI convictions within the past ten years. Priorable DUI charges include driving under the influence (California Vehicle Code section 23152), driving under the influence with injury (California Vehicle Code section 23153), wet-reckless (California Vehicle Code section 23103.5), and out-of-state convictions that qualify as a priorable conviction.

To prove priorable convictions the prosecutor may use court records from the prior cases as well as Department of Motor Vehicle records. The prosecutor may also use “expunged” (California Penal Code section 1203.4 dismissal) priors in enhancing a DUI charge if the conviction occurred within the 10-year period.

The second way that a DUI can become a felony is when the drunk driving causes an injury or death. California Vehicle Code section 23153 makes it unlawful for any person, while under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drug, or under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug, or with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher to drive a vehicle and concurrently do any act forbidden by law, or neglect any duty imposed by law in driving the vehicle, which act or neglect proximately causes bodily injury to any person other than the driver.

Unlike a fourth or more DUI, a DUI causing injury or death may be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Whether a prosecutor charges a violation of California Vehicle Code section 23153 as a misdemeanor or a felony depends on several considerations such as the level of intoxication, the seriousness of the injury, the defendant’s prior criminal history, and any other aggravating factors.

It should be noted that if a DUI results in a death and the defendant has not suffered any prior DUI offenses, the defendant will more likely be charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under the California Penal Code.

If a DUI results in a death and the defendant has suffered a prior DUI conviction within ten years, they can and most likely will be charged with second degree murder. This is known as the “Watson Murder Rule.”

The last way that a DUI can become a felony is when the defendant suffered from a prior felony DUI conviction within ten years. The priorable felony offense can be a conviction of California Vehicle Code section 23152 (fourth or more DUI), California Vehicle Code section 23153 (DUI causing death or injury), California Penal Code section 192 (vehicular manslaughter), or California Penal Code section 191.5 (vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated).

Even if the facts surrounding the current DUI charge are negligible and would otherwise warrant a misdemeanor DUI charge, if one of the aforementioned felony DUI-related convictions are present, the current DUI will still be a felony.