Monthly Archives: August 2016
Put yourself in the following situation: You and your friend, Vary Waysted agreed to go out to the local watering hole for the evening. This time, however, is Vary’s turn to be the designated driver. Half way into the evening, you notice Vary at the bar ordering a drink, but you do nothing. You know he shouldn’t have any alcohol because he was to be driving the both of you home, but still you do nothing. Sure enough, on the drive home Vary is stopped on the way home and arrested on suspicion of a California DUI.
You may be thinking to yourself that you would never allow that, that you would’ve spoken up and admonished Vary for not staying absolutely sober. But believe it or not, this is an extremely common phenomenon and it, unfortunately, is the cause of many drunk driving incidences and arrests.
Still don’t believe me? The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) recently offered a brewery tour as part of a social experiment which demonstrated that turning a blind eye to drunk driving actually does happen.
Denver, Colorado is quickly becoming one of America’s epicenters for craft breweries. And a group of beer enthusiasts signed up to partake in tour of three of its breweries. Unbeknownst to the beer enthusiasts was that the transportation for the tour was a bus driven by an actor hired by the CDOT and the tour guide was also an actor.
With hidden cameras documenting the tour, the participants enjoyed their beers. None of the participants, however, seemed to care too much that their bus driver was enjoying beers right alongside them.
Fortunately, the driver was only drinking non-alcoholic beer. To drive the point home, the tour guide, who was similar to the driver in height and weight was actually drinking the alcoholic beer. After three 16-ounce beers, the tour guide had a blood alcohol content of 0.10 percent.
In a news release, the CDOT said "even small amounts of alcohol can land you a DUI."
"The experiment confirmed for us that many adults underestimate the dangers associated with driving after having a few drinks," CDOT spokesman Sam Cole said in a statement. "The participants never expressed concern that their driver was drinking and driving."
So why do so many people willfully choose to ignore information and situations which may be harmful to themselves or others?
As I’ve mentioned before, I have a background in psychology. While my focus on the law has long since overshadowed my focus on psychology, my interest does get piqued when psychology intersects with DUI law.
Humans turn a blind eye to information and situations which may be harmful to themselves or others when doing so is easier than facing the scary, hostile, and/or objectionable consequences of acknowledging and confronting the situation.
Let’s go back to our scenario. Instead of turning a blind eye, you confront Vary Waysted about ordering the drink when he was supposed to be the designated driver. The confrontation leads to an argument, but eventually Vary acquiesces to remaining sober. Although Vary doesn’t talk to you for the rest of the evening, both of you make it home safe and DUI-free.
Before turning a blind eye to DUI, ask yourself, “Would I rather have someone upset with me for a little while or run the risk of being involved in a DUI-related accident?”
Of all the questions I get about what to do and what not to do during a California DUI stop, the question about whether a person has to give a breath sample after a DUI stop is among the most common of the questions.
Strangely enough, the answer is both “yes” and “no” depending on which breath sample we’re talking about.
When law enforcement pulls someone over, chances are they already think the person is driving under the influence. However, in order to arrest them for a California DUI, law enforcement needs probable cause. This means that the officers must have facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the person is driving drunk. In other words, the officers cannot just arrest someone on the hunch that the person is driving while under the influence. They need facts to suggest that the person is actually driving drunk.
The officers get the probable cause, or facts, through their own observations and when the driver performs and fails the field sobriety tests. In addition to the field sobriety tests that people typically think of, there is the preliminary screening alcohol (PAS) test. This is a roadside breathalyzer that is also considered a field sobriety test. And like the other field sobriety tests, the PAS test is optional. If the PAS test shows that a person has alcohol in their system, then the officers have the facts that would suggest that the person is driving under the influence.
According to California Vehicle Code section 23612(h), the PAS test “indicates the presence or concentration of alcohol based on a breath sample in order to establish reasonable cause to believe the person was driving [under the influence]…[it] is a field sobriety test and may be used by an officer as a further investigative tool.”
The officer who makes the stop, by law, must advise the person that the PAS test is optional. California Vehicle Code section 23612(i) states that “If the officer decides to use a [PAS], the officer shall advise the person that he or she is requesting that person to take a [PAS] test to assist the officer in determining if that person is under the influence. The person’s obligation to submit to a [chemical test under California’s Implied Consent Law] is not satisfied by the person submitting to a [PAS] test. The officer shall advise the person of that fact and of the person’s right to refuse to take the [PAS] test.”
If the PAS test detects alcohol in the person’s system, they’ll likely be arrested for a DUI. Once the person is arrested, they must take a chemical test which can either be a breath or a blood test according to California’s Implied Consent Law.
California Vehicle Code section 23612(a)(1)(A) sets forth the Implied Consent requirement. “A person who drives a motor vehicle is deemed to have given his or her consent to chemical testing of his or her blood or breath for the purpose of determining the alcohol content of his or her blood, if lawfully arrested for an offense allegedly committed in violation of [California’s DUI laws].”
In other words, if you’re licensed to drive in California, you have impliedly consented to give either a breath or a blood sample when you are lawfully arrested on suspicion of a California DUI.
The key word here is “lawfully” arrested. If the officer did not observe any poor driving and the person does not perform any field sobriety tests including the PAS test, the officer may not have the probable cause to arrest the person. And if the officer does not have probable cause that the person is driving under the influence, yet they arrest the person anyways, the arrest is no longer lawful.
When an arrest is unlawful, all evidence obtained after that arrest, including the results of the chemical test are inadmissible.
As you can see, it can be rather complicated. So simply put, you do not have to take the pre-arrest breathalyzer called the PAS test, but you do have to take a post-arrest chemical test which could include a breathalyzer.
Considering purchasing a personal breathalyzer? I’ve suggested it before as one of several ways to help prevent a DUI. What if knowing your blood alcohol content was a simple as slapping on a temporary tattoo? Well, researchers at the Center for Wearable Sensors at the University of California San Diego have created a removable electronic tattoo that detects the wearer’s BAC.
A team of researchers at the center were interested in a device that offered continued BAC monitoring which typical breathalyzer do not offer. The researchers also wanted to develop a BAC detector that could not be skewed by factors other than blood alcohol such as mouthwash, acid reflux, or alcohol residue in the mouth all of which affect typical breathalyzers.
The tattoo is similar to other devices sometimes mandated by the court as a condition of a California DUI sentence or a condition of being release without having to post bail pending the outcome of a California DUI case. At least in Southern California, the device is called a SCRAM device which passively tests “insensible” sweat, or trace amounts of sweat, excreted from a person’s skin. The SCRAM device is rather bulky and can be relatively expensive.
The tattoo, however, emits a drug called pilocarpine, which generates sweat. The tattoo then tests the sweat excreted from the skin as a result of administration of the pilocarpine for ethanol alcohol through sensors which are attached to the skin. However, unlike the SCRAM device, the temporary tattoo and sensors are attached to a flat, flexible circuit board that is about an inch in length. The circuit board then transmits the information to the wearer’s phone via Bluetooth.
One of the project scientists and professor of nanoengineering, Joseph Wang, has said that the tattoo device could be made even smaller than its current form with continued engineering. He added that, unlike the SCRAM device, the tattoo could cost a mere pennies to produce.
“We developed a new tattoo-based wearable alcohol sensor that enables real-time monitoring of blood alcohol level, overcoming limitations of conventional non-invasive alcohol sensors,” said Jayoung Kim, a co-author and PhD student at UCSD.
The tattoo comes at a time when law makers and law enforcement agencies are actively seeking more reliable and efficient ways to detect blood alcohol content.
Earlier this year, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which is part of the National Institute of Health, awarded $200,000 to San Francisco-based BACtrack for developing a bracelet-type device as the winner of its Wearable Alcohol Biosensor Challenge. BACtrack has produced a number of personal breathalyzers for consumer use.
Keith Nothacker, BACtrack’s founder and chief executive officer, said that the firm is working on bringing the winning sensor, called “Skyn,” to the consumer market for around $99 and offer a version that is integrated into a band for the Apple watch.
In a press release, Joseph Wang said that the primary purpose for developing the BAC-detecting temporary tattoo was to prevent drunk driving.
“Lots of accidents on the road are caused by drunk driving. This technology provides an accurate, convenient and quick way to monitor alcohol consumption to help prevent people from driving while intoxicated,” Wang said.
Hopefully soon the temporary tattoo will be available for consumer use. And maybe the BAC detecting tattoo will prevent, not just drunk driving, but also someone from getting so drunk that they get a real tattoo that they might regret the next morning.
A conviction in a drunk driving case depends, of course, on the accuracy and reliability of the blood or breath test administered to the suspect. And this depends upon the accuracy and reliability of the government’s crime laboratory — more specifically, on the honesty and skills of the crime lab technicians. It is the crime lab techs who analyze the blood tests, maintain and check the accuracy of the breath machines — and testify in trial.
It is, of course, assumed that these lab techs — who are usually working for the same government that is prosecuting the accused defendant — are objective and honest scientists, with no stake in the outcome. This is certainly what prosecutors reassure their juries.
But what if the crime labs have a financial interest in the outcome of the trial?
New Study Finds That State Crime Labs Are Paid Per Conviction
Huffington Post, Aug. 29, 2013 – I’ve previously written about the cognitive bias problem in state crime labs. This is the bias that can creep into the work of crime lab analysts when they report to, say, a state police agency, or the state attorney general. If they’re considered part of the state’s “team” — if performance reviews and job assessments are done by police or prosecutors — even the most honest and conscientious of analysts are at risk of cognitive bias. Hence, the countless and continuing crime lab scandals we’ve seen over the last couple decades. And this of course doesn’t even touch on the more blatant examples of outright corruption.
In a new paper for the journal Criminal Justice Ethics, Roger Koppl and Meghan Sacks look at how the criminal justice system actually incentivizes wrongful convictions. In their section on state crime labs, they discover some astonishing new information about how many of these labs are funded…
The author of this article, Radley Balko, then excerpts the following findings from that study (entitled "The Criminal Justice System Creates Incentives for False Convictions"):
Funding crime labs through court-assessed fees creates another channel for bias to enter crime lab analyses. In jurisdictions with this practice the crime lab receives a sum of money for each conviction of a given type. Ray Wickenheiser says, ‘‘Collection of court costs is the only stable source of funding for the Acadiana Crime Lab. $10 is received for each guilty plea or verdict from each speeding ticket, and $50 from each DWI (Driving While Impaired) and drug offense.’’
In Broward County, Florida, ‘‘Monies deposited in the Trust Fund are principally court costs assessed upon conviction of driving or boating under the influence ($50) or selling, manufacturing, delivery, or possession of a controlled substance ($100).’’
Several state statutory schemes require defendants to pay crime laboratory fees upon conviction. North Carolina General Statutes require, ‘‘[f]or the services of’’ the state or local crime lab, that judges in criminal cases assess a $600 fee to be charged ‘‘upon conviction’’ and remitted to the law enforcement agency containing the lab whenever that lab ‘‘performed DNA analysis of the crime, tests of bodily fluids of the defendant for the presence of alcohol or controlled substances, or analysis of any controlled substance possessed by the defendant or the defendant’s agent.’’
Illinois crime labs receive fees upon convictions for sex offenses, controlled substance offenses, and those involving driving under the influence. Mississippi crime labs require crime laboratory fees for various conviction types, including arson, aiding suicide, and driving while intoxicated.
Similar provisions exist in Alabama, New Mexico, Kentucky, New Jersey, Virginia, and, until recently, Michigan. Other states have broadened the scope even further. Washington statutes require a $100 crime lab fee for any conviction that involves lab analysis. Kansas statutes require offenders ‘‘to pay a separate court cost of $400 for every individual offense if forensic science or laboratory services or forensic computer examination services are provided in connection with the investigation.’’
In addition to those already listed, the following states also require crime lab fees in connection with various conviction types: Arizona, California, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
The Huffington Post author then concludes:
Think about how these fee structures play out in the day-to-day work in these labs. Every analyst knows that a test result implicating a suspect will result in a fee paid to the lab. Every result that clears a suspect means no fee. They’re literally being paid to provide the analysis to win convictions. Their findings are then presented to juries as the careful, meticulous work of an objective scientist.
Do you still think that a citizen accused of drunk driving can receive a fair trial? Or is this yet another example of "Bad Drunk Driving Laws, False Evidence and a Fading Constitution"?
Logic tells us that with the increased use of ride-sharing apps like Lyft and Uber that there would a lower number of drunk driving arrests. I’ve been saying it since they’ve become available: If you’re too drunk, don’t drive. Take alternative means of transportation like Lyft and Uber. And it seems like people have been.
In 2015 Uber collaborated with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) to commission a study on the impact of Uber on drunk driving. The study found that DUI arrests and accidents fell significantly in areas where Uber was available.
“In California, Uber’s home state and largest market, drunk-driving crashes fell by 60 per month among drivers under 30 in the markets where Uber operates following the launch of uberX,” the study authors stated. “That’s an estimated total of 1,800 crashes prevented since July 2012.”
Last month, however, the American Journal of Epidemiology published a study that contradicted Uber and MADD’s initial claims.
The study compared DUI related deaths on weekends and holidays in U.S. counties before the introduction of ride-sharing apps and after. Researchers from the University of Southern California and Oxford University focused on statistics from the 100 most populated metropolitan cities in the U.S.
The study concluded that there was no significant reduction in drunk driving deaths before and after the introduction of Uber and other ride-sharing apps.
“We found that the deployment of Uber services in a given metropolitan county had no association with the number of subsequent traffic fatalities, whether measured in aggregate or specific to drunk-driving fatalities or fatalities during weekends and holidays,” wrote the researchers. Study co-author David Kirk told the Washington Post the report indicates “there’s still tons of room for improvement when it comes to reducing drunk driving fatalities.”
The authors speculated on the reasons behind their findings:
“The average inebriated individual contemplating drunk driving may not be sufficiently rational to substitute drinking and driving for a presumably safer Uber ride,” said the study’s authors. “[I]t is also possible that many drunk drivers rationally conclude that it is too costly to pay for an Uber ride (or taxi) given that the likelihood of getting arrested for drinking and driving is actually quite low.”
Uber spokesperson, Brooke Anderson, responded to the recent study in an email to the Washington Post:
“We’re glad Uber can provide an alternative to drunk driving and help people make more responsible choices. Our ridership numbers show that trips peak at times when people are more likely to be out drinking and 80% of riders says that Uber has helped them personally avoid drinking and driving.”
Whether the research points to a reduction in DUI-related fatalities or not, one thing remains sure. Taking an Uber or other ride-sharing app is always a better option than driving drunk.