Archive for February, 2017

Could Extending Last Call in California Increase DUI Incidences?

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

Many people know Nevada, particularly Las Vegas, as the obvious exception to widely accepted last call time of 2 a.m. and some know that a few states such as New York, Hawaii, and Alaska have later last calls than 2 a.m. California’s last call is 2 a.m. One senator hopes to extend the last call in certain California cities such as Los Angeles to 4 a.m.

Just to be clear before I move on, “last call” refers to the last time for which a bar or restaurant can sell alcohol to patrons.

The bill, which was introduced by Sen. Scott Wiener and entitled Let Our Communities Adjust Late Night Act, would allow municipalities to extend last call to 4 a.m. with the approval of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The bill provides the flexibility to allow an extension of last call to certain cities or “specific areas” of a town. It also would allow an extension only on certain days of the week or only on specific holidays.

A similar bill by Sen Mark Leno was rejected in 2013 by the Senate Committee on Governmental Organization.

Not so surprisingly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) are opposed to extending the last call time just as they were back in 2013.

"MADD supports uniform closing times for establishments that serve alcohol to avoid creating the dangerous possibility that patrons will bar-hop for that one last drink — a dangerous scenario that all too often increases the risk of drunk driving," national spokeswoman for the group, Becky Iannotta, said in an email to LA Weekly.

According to Weiner, the extra two hours would provide an enormous amount of extra revenue to the hospitality industry in California. In a statement Weiner said that the law would allow cities to “benefit economically and culturally from a strong nightlife presence.”

Amongst the supporters of the bill is the California Restaurant Association and the California Music & Culture Association.

“Nightlife is a major economic and cultural driver in California,” said the California Music & Culture Association’s co-chair, Ben Bleiman, in a statement. “This bill represents a crucial opportunity for California’s cities and towns to choose to join the ranks of those across the country and the world offering truly world-class nightlife for their residents and visitors.”

The group Taxpayers for Improving Public Safety argued in 2013, when Sen. Leno attempted to introduce his bill, that staggering the last call times in California would lessen the burden on law enforcement and public transportation because not all bargoers and drunks would be hitting the streets at the same time.

 

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How Much Marijuana Does It Take to Impair Driving?

Monday, February 20th, 2017

A number of posts on this blog have addressed the problems encountered in trying to measure levels of marijuana — or, more accurately the active ingredient Tetrahydrocannabinol ("THC") — in the blood of a person when he was driving.  See, for example, Oregon Legislative Study Criticizes "Per Se" DUI Marijuana Laws and Marijuana Legalization and the California DUI.   

More importantly, these and other posts have also raised the related but unanswered question:  How much marijuana in the human body does it take to render a driver unable to safely operate a motor vehicle in the manner of a sober person (the rough definition of "driving under the influence" or "driving while intoxicated")?  See New Efforts to Push Roadside Marijuana DUI Test

The following excerpts from a recent article in The Atlantic, entitled "When Are You Too Stoned To Drive?", provide an excellent analysis of these important issues: 


…We take for granted that not being able to walk a straight line or stand on one leg means that you’re drunk, and that being drunk means it’s unacceptably dangerous to drive. But there is no clear scientific consensus when it comes to smoking pot and driving. And few of the tools police officers have long relied on to determine whether a driver is too drunk to drive, like a breathalyzer, exist for marijuana…

Most (but not all) studies find that using pot impairs one’s ability to drive. However, overall, the impairment appears to be modest—akin to driving with a blood alcohol level of between .01 and .05, which is legal in all states. (The much greater risk is in combining pot with alcohol.) The increased crash risk with pot alone “is so small you can compare it to driving in darkness compared to driving in daylight,” says University of Oslo political scientist Rune Elvik, who conducted several major meta-analyses evaluating the risk of drugged driving…

When it comes to alcohol, science and the courts have long established a direct line between number of drinks, blood alcohol level, and crash risk. As one goes up, so do the others. Not so for pot. Scientists can’t say with confidence how much pot, in what concentration, used in what period of time, will reliably make someone “high.”…

Blood levels of THC—tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical component of pot that makes you high—spike quickly after smoking and then decline rapidly in the hours afterwards, during the window when a smoker would feel most high. What’s more, regular smokers could have THC in their blood for days or weeks after smoking, when they are clearly no longer high.

Still, laws in 18 states tie drugged driving charges to whether drivers have THC (or related compounds) in their blood. Some states prohibit driving with any amount, and some specify a threshold modeled after the .08 limit states use for blood alcohol. But the lag time between being pulled over and being transported to a hospital for a blood draw—on average, more than two hours—can lead to false negatives, while the tolerance developed by regular users (and the tendency for THC to stick around in their bloodstreams) can lead to false positives. This is why, researchers say, blood THC laws make little sense… 


Scientific facts, however, have never prevented politicians from passing expedient and politically-popular laws, or police and prosecutors from enforcing them. 
 

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Rare Disorder Causes DUI without Drinking

Friday, February 10th, 2017

A woman, who requested to be called Sara to maintain confidentiality and protect her legal career, was arrested in 2015 for driving under the influence when she collided with a parked vehicle. It was later determined that she had a blood alcohol content of 0.10 percent. Sara had been arrested for DUI before back when she was an admitted alcoholic. This time, however, was different. Sara, now a recovering alcoholic for nearly ten years, only drank orange juice.

Sara drank orange juice and lots of it, sometimes up to a gallon per day. That orange juice, however, might as well have been alcohol for Sara.

Sara suffers from auto-brewery syndrome. Yes, that is an actual medical condition albeit an extremely rare one. Auto-brewery syndrome causes a person’s body to produce extremely high levels of yeast in the digestive track. If you know anything about how beer is made, you’ll know that yeast eats the sugar that is extracted from boiling grains and then releases carbon dioxide and alcohol. See where I’m going? The yeast in Sara’s system ate the sugars from the orange juice and produced alcohol in Sara causing her to be intoxicated without having a sip of alcohol.

Shortly after she was diagnosed last July, Sara accepted a plea deal for a reduced charge of reckless driving with probation.

Sara estimates that she spent $25,000 fighting the drunk driving charge, with expenses including attorney fees and a privately commissioned polygraph test. She says she chose to take a deal rather than go to trial because a conviction could have been career-ending.

“As soon as I stopped the orange juice, I was fine,” said Sara. “I don’t even tell anyone [about the disorder] because you can almost see them rolling their eyes.”

In 2014, a New York judge dismissed the DUI charge of a woman who was pulled over after a motorist noticed her driving poorly. After police arrived, it was determined that the woman had a whopping 0.33 percent blood alcohol content.

Another characteristic of the disorder is an unusually high tolerance to the alcohol in their system.

The woman’s lawyer hired two physician assistants and a breathalyzer specialist to evaluate the woman over a 12-hour period. They found that the woman’s BAC was double the legal limit at 9:15 AM. At 6 PM, it was triple, and at 8:30 PM, it was four times higher. This was around the same time when the police pulled the woman over for DUI. In other words, her body was producing alcohol consistently throughout the day. Oddly, however, the woman did not exhibit any signs of intoxication until her blood alcohol content reach between 0.30 and 0.40 percent where she would feel dizzy.

Normal people with a blood alcohol content that high are usually unconscious at a minimum, some would be suffering from alcohol poisoning.

“My client does suffer from an extremely unusual condition, and we conducted very extensive medical research and presented our findings to the judge,” said the woman’s defense attorney, Joseph A. Marusak. “To my knowledge, this is the first time a DWI case has ever been dismissed on this basis in New York State, and as far as I can tell, it may be the first time in the country.”

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When Does a California DUI Become a Felony?

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Generally, when a person is arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in California, it is a misdemeanor charge. Misdemeanors are punishable by no more than a year in jail. Sometimes, however, a California DUI can be charged as a felony, meaning that it can be punishable by more than a year in jail.

So when does a California DUI become a felony?

The first way that a California DUI can become a felony is if a drunk driver causes death or injury. 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.

A California DUI causing injury is known as a “wobbler.” This means that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. 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.

If a drunk driver causes the death of someone and the drunk driver has not suffered any prior DUI convictions, the defendant will more likely be charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under the California Penal Code.

However, 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.” In short, the court’s view is that, because the person suffered prior convictions, they knew it was dangerous, yet they did it anyways knowing the risk to life.

The second way that a California DUI can be a felony is when a person 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. Out-of-state DUI convictions qualify as a prior DUI if they would be considered a DUI had the arrest occurred in California.

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.

Lastly, a California DUI can become a felony if a person suffered a prior felony DUI 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).

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