Archive for January, 2017

Oregon Legislative Study Criticizes “Per Se” DUI Marijuana Laws

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

As I’ve posted often in the recent past, with the increasing use — and legalization — of marijuana, legislators and law enforcement are falling over themselves trying to come up with answers to many uncomfortable questions, such as:


Does marijuana, in fact, impair driving ability?

How does an officer detect recent use of marijuana in the field? 

How do you measure the amount of active marijuana (THC) in the body at the time of driving?

At what level of active ingredients in the body is a person impaired? 

How long do measurable amounts of marijuana stay in the body?

If impairment levels cannot be determined, is there an illegal per se level that can be used, such as .08% with alcohol? 


And as I’ve posted in the past, there are no accepted satisfactory answers to these and related questions.  See, for example, California Law Attempts to Prevent Marijuana Use While Driving, Is it Possible to Prove "Driving Under the Influence of Drugs? and Legal Defenses to a California DUI of Marijuana.  

Unlike with alcohol, the various states have taken a variety of different approaches to criminalizing marijuana and driving.  See What Are Your State’s Drugged Driving Laws?   One recent and growing approach is to simply create so-called "per se" laws which criminalize driving with specific levels of THC in the blood, regardless of impairment.  This was recently considered by the Oregon Legislature, resulting in the following Oregon House Bill Legislative Report, excerpts of which follow:


Salem, OR.  Dec. 31 —  …While Colorado and Washington, the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, instituted a per se THC blood concentration limit of 5 ng/ml, Oregon did not. Instead, Oregon relies on evaluations by Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) to assess drivers for intoxication if they have already passed a breathalyzer test (i.e. have blood alcohol content below 0.08)….

Differences in how the body processes marijuana as compared to alcohol makes accurate detection of THC concentration and its intoxicating effect significantly more difficult. It is especially difficult to detect recent use of marijuana in the field… 

Due to restrictions on cannabis research and limited data, it is difficult to make definitive statements about the risk of THC-intoxicated driving. The body of evidence that does exist indicates that while attitudes towards driving after marijuana use are considerably more relaxed than in the case of alcohol, the risk of crashes while driving under the influence of THC is lower than drunk driving. Little evidence exists to compel a significant change in status quo policy or institute a per se intoxication standard for THC.


While the confusion, floundering and passage of inconsistent laws continue, so do the arrests and convictions of innocent drivers. 
 

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Company Behind Personal Breathalyzer Settles Dispute with FTC

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

I’ve never hidden my belief that if a personal breathalyzer can prevent a DUI, it should be used. That being said, it seems the company behind one of the most popular personal breathalyzers on the market has settled with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over false claims of its accuracy.

On the fifth season of ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank,” CEO and founder of Breathometer Inc., Charles Michael Yim, won over the “shark” investors with an invention called the “Breathometer” that allowed users to a detect their own blood alcohol content through their smart phone. The device attached to smartphone, would be blown into by the user, and the smartphone would calculate the BAC through an app. Yim’s pitch included the prospect that the Breathometer could prevent incidences of driving under the influence of alcohol.  The investors were so impressed with Yim’s invention that they offered up a $1 million dollar investment in exchange for a 30% stake in his startup.

The Breathometer became a consumer hit partly due to advertisements which claimed that the devices accuracy was backed up by government-lab grade testing. According to the FTC, sales for the Breathometer totaled $5.1 million.

However, more than three years after the episode aired, the FTC announced that Yim and Breathometer Inc. had settled a claim that the device “lacked scientific evidence to back up their advertising claims.” The complaint also alleged that the company knew that one variation of the Breathometer, the Breeze, “regularly understated” blood alcohol content levels.

While Yim and Breathometer Inc. did, in fact, settle with the FTC, they did not admit or deny the FTC’s allegations.

Under the settlement with the FTC, Yim and Breathometer Inc. are barred from making claims of the device’s accuracy unless the claims are supported through “rigorous testing.” The company also agreed to notify purchasers of the product to offer full refunds.

“People relied on the defendant’s products to decide whether it was safe to get behind the wheel,” Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “Overstating the accuracy of the devices was deceptive — and dangerous.”

Breathometer recognized the settlement on its website by stating, “We feel it is important to clarify that this settlement does not undermine our achievements in creating quality consumer health devices.”

Kevin O’Leary, one of the Shark Tank investors, responded to the settlement by stating that the company proactively stopped the manufacturing of the Breathometer in 2015 before the FTC’s initial inquiry.

I stand by my assertion that a personal breathalyzer is a good way to prevent a DUI. Just do some research beforehand on the reliability of what you purchase. According to digitaltrends.com, the best personal breathalyzer for 2016 was the BACtrack S80 Professional Breathalyzer which will run you $125. According to the website, the best smartphone breathalyzer was the BACtrack Mobile Smartphone Breathalyzer at $98, the best portable breathalyzer was the BACtrack Keychain Breathalyzer Portable starting at $26, and the best budget breathalyzer was the VastarAB120 Professional at $20.

Better to spend $125 (at most) to prevent a DUI than to spend the thousands of dollars it will cost you if you are arrested on suspicion of a DUI.

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What Are Your State’s Drugged Driving Laws?

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

"Drunk driving" is a fairly well-defined criminal offense in all 50 states.  There are generally two crimes set forth by statute:  (1) driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and (2) driving a vehicle with a blood-alcohol content of .08% or higher.  The only differences are in relatively minor variations as to what a "vehicle" is and what constitutes being "under the influence".

In marked contrast, however, the definitions of driving under the influence of drugs (so-called "drugged driving" or "DUI drugs") vary significantly from state to state.  In one state, for example, the crime consists of driving while "impaired by" or "under the influence of" a drug.  In another, it may be defined as driving with a specifically designated amount of the drug in the blood.  In yet another, the offense is committed if there is any measurable amount of the drug in the body — and in some states this will include marijuana, while in others it does not.

Do you know what the drugged driving laws are in your state?

Fortunately, the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws (NAMSDL) in Charlottesville, Virginia, supported by  grant from the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, has provided a chart entitled State Drugged Driving Standards which readily identifies the laws of each state.    
 

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Former NFL Star Sues Bar for Son’s DUI Death

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

Former New England Patriot and Los Angeles Raider star, Brian Holloway, is suing a Florida bar after Holloway’s son was killed in a DUI related collision after leaving the bar.

Max Holloway, son of Brian Holloway, frequented Panini’s Bar and Grill in Lutz, Florida. On October 26, 2016, Max Holloway, was at Panini’s drinking until 2:30 in the morning at which time he left in his vehicle.

Not far from his condo, Max lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a nearby home. He was killed in the collision.

Under Florida law, a person or a business can be held liable for injuries or damages caused by a habitual alcohol drinker whom was served by that person or business.

Laws like Florida’s are called “dram shop laws.”

Not to say that the bar was right to continue to serve Max Holloway, but to hold them liable for the decision he made to drive while under the influence seems to be rather unfair.

Fortunately, California sees it the same.

While other states such as Florida may hold a bar liable for injuries caused by a drunk driving customer, in California it is the customer’s willful decision to drink and then drive which is the cause of any subsequent DUI collision. Thus, in California, bars and restaurants are shielded from liability when a customer over drinks, drives away, and causes injury or damage.

California’s “Dram Shop Laws” (California Civil Code section 1714) read as follows:

(b) It is the intent of the Legislature to . . . reinstate the prior judicial interpretation of this section as it relates to proximate cause for injuries incurred as a result of furnishing alcoholic beverages to an intoxicated person, namely that the furnishing of alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries resulting from intoxication, but rather the consumption of alcoholic beverages is the proximate cause of injuries inflicted upon another by an intoxicated person.

(c) Except as provided in subdivision (d), no social host who furnishes alcoholic beverages to any person may be held legally accountable for damages suffered by that person, or for injury to the person or property of, or death of, any third person, resulting from the consumption of those beverages.

(d) Nothing in subdivision (c) shall preclude a claim against a parent, guardian, or another adult who knowingly furnishes alcoholic beverages at his or her residence to a person under 21 years of age, in which case, notwithstanding subdivision (b), the furnishing of the alcoholic beverage may be found to be the proximate cause of resulting injuries or death.

As you can see, the laws are different if the customer is under the age of 21. It is the responsibility of bar to ensure that their customers are of legal drinking age before serving them alcohol. People under the age of 21 are legally deemed incapable of making good decisions regarding alcohol use…like the decision not to drive after drinking at a bar.

While California’s law differ from other states with respect to civil liability, like Florida, a bar may be held criminally liable if they serve alcohol to an “obviously intoxicated person.”

According to California Business and Professions Code section 25602(a), “Every person who sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished, or given away, any alcoholic beverage to any habitual or common drunkard or to any obviously intoxicated person is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

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So Much for the Presumption of Innocence

Friday, January 13th, 2017

We pride ourselves in this country on our Constitution and the protections it gives us from the abuses of Big Government.  Perhaps most prominent of these rights is the "presumption of innocence", and the associated right not to have our freedoms or property taken without due process of law.

Except in drunk driving cases…

As I’ve written ad nauseum in the past, there is clearly a DUI Exception to the Constitution in our criminal justice system — and has been for many years.  See, for example, The Disappearing Right to Jury Trials…in DUI Cases, Another DUI Exception to the Constitution and The DUI Exception Continues

If you need any examples of this, just consider the following news article published online this morning….


Federal Appeals Court Upholds Ferrari Confiscation

Suffolk County, NY.  Jan. 13 – The Second Circuit US Court of Appeals upheld the government’s confiscation of James B. Ferrari’s Ferrari in a ruling last week. Officials in Suffolk County, New York had grabbed the 2003 Ferrari Modena coupe, valued at $95,000, after Ferrari was stopped and accused of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) on May 26, 2009.

A police officer saw the Ferrari allegedly reaching speeds over 100 MPH on South Country Road in Bellport. Ferrari was arrested and his Ferrari confiscated under the state’s drunk driving statute. Ferrari’s attorney argued the Due Process clause of the Constitution required the exotic automobile be returned after his client posted a bond — at least while the charges were being litigated in court. At that point, Ferrari had not be found guilty of any crime.  Ferrari’s attorney insisted that it was the county’s burden to prove the seizure was the only possible remedy to the situation, and a judge and jury both agreed. They ordered the county to pay $95,000 to Ferrari to compensate for the loss of his automobile.

A three-judge appellate panel overturned that judgment in last week’s decision, pointing to Ferrari’s long and sordid history of serious driving offenses, including past DUIs…

"Indeed, if the ultimate forfeiture of a car may validly serve the purpose of preventing this forfeited item of property from being further used as an instrumentality of crime, it is not evident why retention pendente lite [i.e. while litigation is pending] cannot serve, in at least some circumstances, a similar purpose," Judge Debra Ann Livingston wrote for the Second Circuit…


So before the defendant was ever convicted of any crime, his car (not incidentally worth a lot of money to local government authorities) was confiscated by the government.  Maybe I’m missing something, but isn’t there a presumption of guilt being applied here?  And isn’t the appellate judge basically saying, "Yes, you are presumed not to have been driving drunk — and we’re going to confiscate your car so that you don’t do it again"?

 

(Thanks to Joe.)

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