Archive for July, 2017

Teen Who Livestreamed Drunk Driving Collision Pleads Not Guilty

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

You may have already seen the video. A California teen livestreamed herself driving drunk and crashing the vehicle that she was driving. The collision killed her younger sister. The teen driver, Obdulia Sanchez, pleaded not guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter and number of other felony offenses this past Wednesday.

18-year-old Sanchez of Stockton, California was filming herself behind the wheel of a 2003 Buick with her 14-year-old sister, Jacqueline and another 14-year-old girl in the back seats. The video showed Sanchez dancing to music as she was driving moments before the collision. The accident itself was caught on the camera as the footage shows the inside of the vehicle as it rolled. Moments later, Sanchez shows her sister’s body with fatal head injuries.

“Hey, everybody, if I go to f***ing jail for life, you already know why,” Sanchez told viewers of the livestream. “My sister is f***ing dying. Look, I f***ing love my sister to death. I don’t give a f***. Man, we about to die. This is the last thing I wanted to happen to us, but it just did. Jacqueline, please wake up.”

Neither girl in the back seat were wearing seatbelts and both were ejected. Manuela Seja, the surviving passenger suffered severe injuries to her right leg.

It was later determined that Sanchez’s blood alcohol content was 0.10 percent.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, Sanchez was charged with felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, felony manslaughter while intoxicated, two counts of felony driving under the influence resulting in injury and two counts of felony driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more causing injury.

“The behavior demonstrated both prior to and after the incident, as documented by the defendant’s own recording, is disturbing and shocking,” Deputy District Attorney Harold Nutt said in a statement. “The Merced County district attorney’s office will do everything in its power to see that justice is done in this matter.”

On Wednesday, Sanchez appeared on video for her arraignment where her public defender, Ramnik Samrao pleaded not guilty to all counts on her behalf.

After the hearing, Samrao told reporters that Sanchez “feels absolutely terrible.” Although Sanchez admitted to killing her sister in the video, Samrao maintains that it is unclear whether a crime was committed. “We don’t know that she was drunk, that’s the allegation,” he said.

Sanchez is being held on $560,000 bail and, if convicted, faces up to 13 years and eight months in a California state prison.

I understand how the video can make it easy to rush to judgment about Sanchez or what her fate should be. However, we must to remind ourselves that one of the cornerstones of our criminal justice system is the notion that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. If Sanchez is guilty, the system needs to take its course before she is, in fact, deemed guilty. Then, and only then, can she be punished for what she did.

 

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Driving Drunk….in Your Own Driveway?

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

In the latest news from the front lines of the "War on Drunk Driving"….


Suspected Drunken Driver Can Be Busted in Own Driveway 

Detroit, MI.  July 25 – The Michigan Supreme Court says a driveway is no refuge for a drunken driver.

The court says Northville authorities could charge Gino Rea with drunken driving, even if his car never left the driveway. The court says a driveway is “generally accessible to motor vehicles” under state law, even if on private property.

Police went to Rea’s home three times one day in 2014 to respond to noise complaints. At one point, an officer saw him drive out of the garage and pull back in. His blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit.


The next thing you know they’ll be arresting people for DUI on bicycles and wheelchairs.  Oh, right, they’re already doing that.  See, for example, Felony Bicycle DUI and DUI in a Wheelchair
 

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DUI-E is here

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

Jon Ibanez and I have posted in the past about the dangers of "distracted driving" — that is, driving while using a cell phone, reading a map, putting on makeup, etc.  See, for example, Jon’s recent post Is Distracted Driving as Dangerous as Drunk Driving?.  And over 12 years ago I commented in Drunk Drivers vs Distracted Drivers on a wide range of research concerning the relative dangers of using cell phones while driving, such as:


A detailed study on the effects of cell phone use on driving was conducted by researchers at the University of Utah, and reported in a paper entitled Fatal Distraction? A Comparison of the Cell-Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver given at the Second International Driving Symposium on Human Factors in Driving Assessment, Training and Design (July 2003). Using a simulator, the researchers measured how subjects reacted to vehicles braking in front of them…The conclusion of the researchers: Drivers on cell phones showed greater impairment, less responsive behavior and more accidents than drunk drivers. 


Yet, our legislators’ continuing fixation with alcohol — largely fueled by MADD’s political influence — has resulted in ignoring the ultimate goal of saving human life. 

This appears to finally be changing….


Washington’s New DUI-E Law Takes Effect Sunday

Spokane, WA.  July 18 – ….The DUI-E law, for driving under the influence of electronics, outlaws holding a cell phone at any time while driving, unless you’re calling 9-1-1 in an emergency. The law even prohibits picking up the phone at stoplights.  The first ticket for an DUI-E will cost you $136. Get a second ticket within five years, and it’ll cost $234. The new law also tickets drivers $99 for grooming, smoking, eating or reading while behind the wheel. (Governor) Inslee says that in many cases a distracted driver is more dangerous than a drunk driver.

"When you are driving with a cell phone, you are a more dangerous driver than if you’re driving drunk with a .08 alcohol level," said Governor Inslee. He continued by saying this is a situation we deal with on a daily basis.


While this is encouraging, the news article continues with an observation by law enforcement that highlights the drunk vs distracted double standard:
 

Spokane County Sheriff’s deputy Craig Chamberlain says the new law isn’t meant to punish people.  "The bottom line with the new changes in this law is that we want folks to be safe on the roadway."


So…the new distracted driving laws aren’t meant to punish people — only to make the roads safe?  Then why do our drunk driving laws continue to be focused on punishment — of admittedly "less dangerous" drivers?  
   

(Thanks to Joe.)
 

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Miranda Warnings and the California DUI

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

An officer pulls over a person and begins asking questions. “Where are you going?” “Where are you coming from?” “Have you had anything to drink?”

The driver says, “I’m going home from the bar and I had two beers.” Boom. The next thing that the driver knows is that they’re getting arrested and only then did the officer read the Miranda Warnings to the driver.

Why did the officer not read the driver the Miranda Warnings before they arrested him or her? And more importantly, can this be used to help the driver’s DUI case?

All statements given to law enforcement must be voluntarily given, even those given during a DUI stop. The United States Supreme Court in the landmark case of Arizona v. Miranda said that a statement cannot be voluntarily given if a person doesn’t know they have a right not to say anything under the 5th Amendment. Therefore, in order for a statement to be voluntarily given, a person must be made aware that they have a right to remain silent.

Thus, was we have the Miranda Warnings.  

So, when must law enforcement actually read a person their Miranda Warnings?

Courts have held that an officer must read a person their Miranda Warnings before a “custodial interrogation.” This means after an arrest and before an interrogation.

When a person is stopped on suspicion of a DUI or even a traffic violation that leads to a DUI investigation, the person is not arrested even though they may be temporarily detained. And inevitably the officer is going to ask questions after stopping the person.

Now, the person has the right not to speak to the officers or answer their questions. But the officer’s duty to advise the driver of the Miranda Warnings has not yet been triggered because the person is not yet under arrest.

Questions asked during this time are considered merely preliminary in nature. And yes, any answers given by the driver during this time are fair game for officers and prosecutors to use in a DUI case against the driver.

It would be a different story if, after the DUI stop, the driver is arrested, but not given Miranda Warnings. If the officer then proceeds to ask the driver questions and the driver answers, those answers would be in violation of Miranda and thus in violation of the 5th Amendment.

So whether it’s before a driver is arrested or after with Miranda Warnings given, a person never has to talk to officers or answer questions. The 5th Amendment right to remain silent exists whether the Miranda Warnings are given or not. Use it! When stopped on suspicion of a California DUI, simply respond to any questions with, “I respectfully decline to answer any questions under the 5th Amendment. Am I under arrest or am I free to leave?”

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Bill to Help Veterans Avoid a California DUI

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

A new California Senate bill would allow veterans to avoid a California DUI conviction with a treatment diversion program.

Senate Bill 725 would expand a current military diversion program. The bill, if passed, would provide veterans with the opportunity to receive treatment for issues stemming from their service and which often leads them to drink and drive. If the treatment program is completed successfully, veterans could have their case dismissed and avoid a California DUI conviction

To qualify, veterans must have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma or other conditions related to their service.

The Legislative Counsel’s Digest on the bill states, “This bill would…specify that a misdemeanor offense for which a defendant [veteran] may be placed in a pretrial diversion program…includes a misdemeanor violation of driving under the influence or driving under the influence and causing bodily injury. The bill would not limit the authority of the Department of Motor Vehicles to take administrative action concerning the driving privileges of a person arrested for a violation of those provisions.”

Advocates, myself included, argue that the bill’s intent is rehabilitative and deals with the underlying causes of driving drunk.

“We want to get those people into treatment as early as possible. We don’t want them going out jeopardizing future victims,” said the executive director of the California Veterans Legal Task Force in San Diego. “Everybody on both sides of this thing is pro public safety.”

However, not all are fans including district attorneys and other prosecuting agencies.

“We’re very much pro-veteran and pro-treatment, but we want it to be balanced with the needs of public safety,” prosecutor Harrison Kennedy told NBC 7.

Among their primary complaints are that the bill does not address restitution to victims of DUI related collisions which cause injury and that the bill does not limit the number of times that a veteran offender can utilize the program.

“This creates potential for a dangerous cycle of diversion that jeopardizes the safety of our streets and highways,” said the California District Attorneys Association.

The bill does not affect the DMV’s ability to suspend a veteran offender’s license through the administrative action.

If the bill does not pass, veterans face the same consequences of a California DUI as the rest of the public; informal probation, a DUI program lasting three, six, or nine months, between $390 and $1,000 in fines and fees, possibly AA meetings, possibly a Mothers Against Drunk Driving lecture, possibly a hospital and morgue program, and possibly even jail.

The bill easily passed through the Assembly public safety committee last week and will soon be voted on by the full Assembly.

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