Monthly Archives: August 2018
A report about a South Carolina law has raised the question, “Should every step of the DUI arrest be recorded?” If you’ve my previous posts, you know my answer is a vehement, “yes.”
A South Carolina law requires that the entirety of a DUI stop and arrest must be recorded otherwise the driver’s charges could get dismissed. And a new report suggests that DUI conviction rates have decreased significantly as a result of the law.
Many drunken drivers walk free in SC because of strict law, report says
August 29, 2018. The Post and Courier – In South Carolina, a police dash camera pointed the wrong way could be considered cause for a judge to throw out a drunken driving case, even when deputies say a motorist was clearly impaired.
State law, which critics describe as one of the strictest in the country, requires videotaping virtually every step of a DUI arrest. If the suspect is out of the shot of a dashcam or body camera or the video does not work, courts could dismiss the charges.
Greenville-area prosecutors who handle nearly 1,000 DUI cases a year say that loophole in state law, along with others, hurts conviction rates that have been criticized by Mothers Against Drunk Driving in a report released this week.
The report examined the outcome of hundreds of DUI cases in the Greenville and Columbia areas and found less than half resulted in drunken driving convictions.
An assistant solicitor handling a pending DUI case said she’s preparing arguments for why the judge should accept video into evidence because part of an arrest wasn’t captured on screen. Another Greenville prosecutor said a judge dismissed a case this year because a suspect couldn’t be seen being given Miranda rights, even though a dashcam captured the audio.
“It’s just a really odd and unreasonable requirement,” said Jennifer Tessitore, assistant solicitor for the 13th Circuit.
Technical glitches often spur prosecutors to offer suspects plea deals for lesser crimes, such as reckless driving, she said.
The issue is highlighted in a new report from the South Carolina chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving that calls on S.C. leaders to bring down the state’s more than 330 drunk driving deaths a year, which ranks sixth in the nation.
A majority of misdemeanor DUI cases in the Greenville area, or roughly 49 percent, are pleaded down to a lesser charge, while roughly 45 percent result in convictions, according to the 13th Circuit’s analysis of more than 1,200 cases between 2016-17 that was released Tuesday.
That conviction rate is much lower than other major crimes, 13th Circuit Solicitor Walt Wilkins told reporters Tuesday. He pointed to the state requirements on video evidence as a key hurdle.
“Our ability to (prosecute) is hindered by this current statute,” Wilkins said. “It makes it more difficult than it could, or that is allowed by other states.”
For the Columbia area, the conviction rate was 48 percent and another 48 percent of cases were pleaded down, according to MADD’s own analysis of 160 cases between 2016-17.
Defense lawyers who have handled drunken driving cases said the video requirement is no excuse for a poor conviction rate.
“They say it’s a burdensome technicality, but there’s nothing technical about a fair process,” said Joe McCulloch, a Columbia lawyer who handles dozens of DUI cases a year.
Then-state Rep. Ted Vick had a DUI charge thrown out in 2014 because officers failed to videotape the lawmaker being read his Miranda rights. The state has required some form of video evidence in DUI cases since 1998, said Sen. Brad Hutto, a Democratic Orangeburg attorney who worked on the legislation.
Requiring officers to record their interactions has actually strengthened evidence in DUI cases for juries to consider, Hutto said.
“If you have two people there, it’s your word against mine,” he said. “Who are you supposed to believe? If you have a video tape, you can see who’s actually right.”
More than $220,000 in grants from the S.C. Department of Public Safety funded the MADD study. Another $72,000 grant is funding a similar study of the Charleston area, which is expected to be published next year.
Fresh concerns about impaired driving in Charleston were raised in July when a motorist careened onto a sidewalk, fatally striking an 11-year-old girl. Though the driver had no alcohol in his system, police suspected that he had used drugs before the crash.
In June, police said a woman with a blood-alcohol content nearly twice the legal limit swerved into the wrong lane, causing a head-on collision with congressional candidate Katie Arrington, who was traveling on the Savannah Highway in Charleston County.
Guess what, critics of the law? You have it because we can no longer trust the arresting officer’s word that the stop was lawful, that procedures were done properly, and that the driver was actually drunk! If prosecutors want a higher conviction rate, how about training officers better or making sure that the equipment is functioning properly?
I’ve been doing DUI defense long enough to know that police lie in DUI police reports more often than I’d like to admit.
In a recent case of mine, a driver told the officer who stopped him that he had one glass of wine with dinner. This prompted the officer to have the driver perform field sobriety tests. Although there was sufficient space in front of the officer’s vehicle and within view the dashcam to perform the tests, the officer took the driver out of the camera’s view. Lo and behold, the officer’s report indicated that the driver failed all of the tests. However, after the driver was arrested and submitted to a chemical test, it was revealed that he had a blood alcohol content of only 0.02 percent, a mere ¼ the legal limit of 0.08. Either the driver failed the field sobriety tests while being sober, which is a problem in and of itself, or the officer lied in his report. I tend to believe the latter.
This shouldn’t be about giving the prosecutors more convictions. It must be about truth, fairness, and transparency with officers who make DUI stops. I applaud South Carolina, and every state should have similar laws.
A Minnesota woman, who has been dubbed by police as “one of the worst DUI offenders in the United States” was sentenced on her seventh DUI conviction to 24 months of probation.
Tasha Lynn Schleicher, 41, or New Hope, Minnesota was arrested in April of this year after police responded to a report of a woman passed out behind the wheel of her vehicle at a gas station in Riverside, Illinois.
Upon finding Schleicher, law enforcement said they found her alert and conscious with keys in the vehicle’s ignition and the engine running. Law enforcement also said that it appeared that Schleicher had mistakenly attempted to fill her vehicle’s gas tank with kerosene instead of gasoline while at the kerosene pump.
Law enforcement also noticed that Schleicher appeared to be highly intoxicated and had an open bottle of Crown Royal Canadian whiskey in her front passenger seat.
When law enforcement requested that Schleicher step out of her vehicle so that she could perform field sobriety tests, she was “in total disarray, not wearing shoes, and her clothes were literally falling off her.”
Schleicher proceeded to tell the arresting officers that she had 11 children who she could not find. Witnesses said that Schleicher appeared to be the only one in the vehicle and, after a search of the area, officers found no children nearby.
After refusing the field sobriety tests, Schleicher was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.
After the arrest, officers learned that Schleicher’s 11 children had been taken away from her for reasons all related to her alcohol and drunk driving incidences.
The Minnesota mother told law enforcement that she was in Illinois to drop off her 15-year-old son – the only child still in her legal custody – to “party” for spring break. She also told law enforcement that she was pregnant, bleeding, and having a miscarriage. Schleicher was then transported to the hospital where it was confirmed that she was, in fact, not pregnant.
“She’s lied about her name, date of birth, Social Security number and even that she was pregnant, leaving officers no choice but to take her to the emergency room for treatment for something completely fictitious. I believe her trip to the hospital was really an attempt by her to escape custody,” Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said.
After he arrest, law enforcement determined that Schleicher had outstanding warrants in three states and six prior DUI arrests in Kentucky, Wisconsin, Indiana, California, Oregon, and Minnesota.
“Schleicher’s history of six prior DUI’s in six states, with three outstanding warrants from various states speaks to her transient nature. When she was arrested in a state, she would just not show up in court unless she was held in custody. That’s one of the reasons for so many outstanding warrants. In Minnesota she was arrested with children in the car, and alleged to have been breastfeeding one child while driving intoxicated,” Weitzel said.
Although Schleicher was indicted by a grand jury on seven felony counts of aggravated drunk driving, driving with a revoke license, driving without insurance, and transporting open alcohol, all charges were dropped except for a single DUI charge as part of a plea deal.
On Monday, Schleicher pleaded guilty to that single DUI charge and was sentenced to 24 months of probation.
“A sentence of 24 months of probation for Ms. Schleicher is, simply put, disappointing,” Weitzel said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “This continues to demonstrate that as a nation that drunk driving and drugged driving are not treated as a serious criminal offenses. Society’s views need to change and habitual DUI offenders need to be held accountable for their actions.”
You can form your own opinions about whether two years of probation is appropriate or not. What is not up for opinion is the fact that that alcoholism is a legitimate disease and one that cannot be cured with punishment as evidenced by Schleicher.
I’ve seen them and I’m sure you have too; road signs or billboards that encourage drivers to call the police if they spot a suspected drunk driver on the road. I can tell you that drivers often do, in fact, anonymously call police to report other drivers whom they suspect are driving drunk. If the callers are anonymous, how do the police know whether they are telling the truth about what they saw or whether they are even accurate? Police don’t know and, unfortunately, they don’t need to know. According to the law, an anonymous tip is enough for law enforcement to stop someone on suspicion of driving under the influence.
In 2014, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Navarette v. California, which concluded that law enforcement can go off of an anonymous tip to stop a suspected drunk driver.
The case stemmed from a 2008 stop where a motorist was pulled over by California Highway Patrol after an anonymous tip. The anonymous tipster told the dispatcher that they had been run off of Highway 1 near Fort Bragg by someone driving a pickup truck and provided the pickup’s license plate number. As the CHP officer approached the pickup, they smelled marijuana and discovered four bags of it inside the bed of the truck.
Following the stop, the occupants of the truck were identified as brothers Lorenzo Prado Navarette and Jose Prado Navarette.
At the trial level, the brothers filed a motion to suppress evidence claiming that the officers lacked the reasonable suspicion needed to stop them, thus violating the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The judge, however, denied the motion. The brothers then pleaded guilty to transporting marijuana and were sentenced to 90 days in jail.
The brother appealed. However, the appellate court in a 3-0 ruling said, “The report that the [Navarettes’] vehicle had run someone off the road sufficiently demonstrated an ongoing danger to other motorists to justify the stop without direct corroboration of the vehicle’s illegal activity.”
The appellate court relied on the 2006 California Supreme Court case of People v. Wells, which stated, “the grave risks posed by an intoxicated highway driver” justifies a brief investigatory stop. It found that there are certain dangers alleged in anonymous tips that are so great, such as a person carrying a bomb, which would justify a search even without a showing of reliability. The court went on to say that a “drunk driver is not at all unlike a bomb, and a mobile one at that.”
The case was appealed once again to the United States Supreme Court. And, once again, the Court ruled that an anonymous tip can give law enforcement the reasonable suspicion to pull someone over on suspicion of driving under the influence.
The Supreme Court stated that ““under appropriate circumstances, an anonymous tip can demonstrate ‘sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion to make [an] investigatory stop,’” quoting the 1990 case of Alabama v. White.
In finding “sufficient indicia of reliability,” the court relied on 1.) the fact that the caller claimed eyewitness knowledge of dangerous driving, 2.) the fact that the tip was made contemporaneously with the incident, and 3.) the fact that the caller used 911 to make the tip likely knowing that the call could be traced.
According to the Court, if the tip bears “sufficient indicia of reliability,” officers need not observe driving which would give rise to suspicion that a person was driving under the influence or even that the driver committed a traffic violation. They only need the unverified and unsupported anonymous tip.
The problem with this ruling is that people are not anonymously reporting drunk drivers. Rather, they are reporting driving errors, any of which can be interpreted as drunk driving. Everybody makes mistakes while driving. In fact, it might be fair to say that no driving excursion is flawless. This necessarily means that everyone on the road is a target of anonymous tipsters and anyone can be arrested on suspicion of DUI simply because someone else reported their mere driving mistake.
In his dissent, Justice Scalia voiced the same concerns:
“Drunken driving is a serious matter, but so is the loss of our freedom to come and go as we please without police interference. To prevent and detect murder we do not allow searches without probable cause or targeted Terry stops without reasonable suspicion. We should not do so for drunken driving either. After today’s opinion all of us on the road…are at risk of having our freedom of movement curtailed on suspicion of drunkenness, based upon a phone tip, true or false, of a single instance of careless driving.”
As predicted, recreational marijuana is here in California. California joined Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia in legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. The trend of states in the expanding legalization of marijuana has had tech companies scrambling to become the first to develop a marijuana breathalyzer.
However, a California company has recently claimed to have cracked the code.
California Vehicle Code section 23152(e) makes it illegal to drive a vehicle while under the influence of drugs including marijuana. Unlike California’s DUI of alcohol law, there is no legal limit for marijuana, or more specifically, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the psychoactive component of marijuana. Therefore, a person can only be arrested and convicted of a marijuana DUI if the ingestion of marijuana impairs a person’s ability to drive a vehicle as a sober person would under similar circumstances.
To prove that a person is driving under the influence of marijuana, a prosecutor can use officer observations of driving patterns, observations during the traffic stop, performance on field sobriety tests, and the presence of THC in any blood test done.
Although THC can be detected in quantities of nanograms per milliliter of blood, the quantification is unlike alcohol in that the degree of impairment is unrelated to the amount of THC in a person’s blood. With alcohol, there is a fairly accurate correlation between a person’s blood alcohol content and how impaired they are. Therefore, unlike alcohol where prosecutors only need to prove that a person’s BAC was above a 0.08 percent, with marijuana, prosecutors can only prove that a person was “under the influence.”
Since “under the influence” is an extremely subjective standard, it is often very difficult to prosecute DUI of marijuana cases. This is especially true if the driver refused to perform the field sobriety tests and/or the officer did not observe driving that would be indicative of someone who is under the influence of marijuana.
Hound Labs, located in Oakland, California, is hoping to bridge the gap for officers and prosecutors.
“We are trying to make the establishment of impairment around marijuana rational and to balance fairness and safety,” said Hound Labs CEO Mike Lynn.
The company is claiming that it has developed a breathalyzer that can detect whether a subject has ingested marijuana in the last two hours, which many to consider the peak time for marijuana impairment after ingestion.
“When you find THC in breath, you can be pretty darn sure that somebody smoked pot in the last couple of hours,” Lynn says. “And we don’t want to have people driving during that time period or, frankly, at a work site in a construction zone.”
If accurate, Hound Labs would be the closest to developing this type of technology. However, thus far, no company has yet developed a machine to detect actual impairment.
According to Lynn, law enforcement are trying to determine who is impaired as opposed to “”somebody who smoked maybe yesterday or a few days ago and is not impaired. They’re not in the business of arresting people that are not impaired when it comes to marijuana. That makes no sense at all.”
Several law enforcement agencies will begin testing Hound Lab’s breathalyzer this fall. “They’re interested in it providing objective data for them at the roadside,” says Lynn. “That’s really the key, objective data at the roadside — just like we have for alcohol.”
For those of you who think that it is safe to smoke some marijuana and get behind the wheel, be aware that law enforcement could be out with a new roadside tool at their disposal to confirm that you have smoked within two hours, that is if Hound Labs’s new device does that it claims it can do.
Canada considers driving under the influence a very serious crime, so much so in fact, that they consider it an “indictable offense.” This is the functional equivalent to a felony under California law. Unlike California where a DUI is, for the most part, considered a misdemeanor for a first, second, and third offense and punishable up to a year in jail, as an indictable offense in Canada, a DUI is punishable up to five years in jail.
Because all DUI’s are, for all intents and purposes, considered felonies, anybody convicted of a DUI or even a wet reckless is excludable from entry into Canada.
Notwithstanding a DUI conviction, however, a person can currently enter Canada if they are “deemed rehabilitated.” To be deemed rehabilitated, the maximum term of imprisonment for the DUI conviction was less than 10 years (which it almost always is unless you’ve been convicted of certain felony DUI’s), the sentence for the California DUI conviction was completed at least 10 years ago, and no other indictable offenses were committed during those 10 years. If someone meets these criteria, they do not need to do anything further to gain entry into Canada, although it would be a good idea to have proof of this when trying to cross the border.
In other words, to gain entry into Canada, you must have completed your sentence more than 10 years ago and you cannot have picked up any more “indictable offenses” since.
This, however, may soon change under a new Canadian law which would make it even harder to enter Canada with a DUI on the books.
The new law which will take effect this October is part of Canada’s Cannabis Act, which legalizes recreation marijuana.
“Those people that have been entering into Canada after that 10 years had passed can now have that undone and now become inadmissible again,” said immigration attorney Jamie Fiegel who is a partner at the law firm Fiegel & Carr, which specializes in immigration cases in Canada and the United States.
Under the new law, people will no longer be able to automatically enter Canada following the 10 year-wait period.
“There will be no time period that will be able to be passed that would allow you to automatically regain the right. You will have to file at the Canadian consulate in order to regain the right to enter back into Canada,” said Fiegel.
Fiegel is referring to what is called “individual rehabilitation,” otherwise known as “rehabilitation by application.” The first requirement is that at least five years must have passed since the completion of the sentence for a California DUI conviction. It gets tricky however in trying to calculate the five-year wait period. The five-year wait period can be calculated in the following ways: 1.) five years from the date of sentencing if given a suspended sentence; 2.) five years from the date a fine was paid if given a suspended sentence and a fine; 3.) five years from the end of a prison term with no parole; 4.) five years from the end of parole or probation if sentenced to either; or 5.) five years from the end of a driver’s license suspension.
If someone meets the criteria needed for individual rehabilitation, they will need to fill out an application and submit it to a Canadian visa office located in the U.S. The application requires the applicant to explain why they are rehabilitated. The submission of the application for individual rehabilitation also requires a non-refundable application fee that will also be increasing in October.
While our neighbors to the north might have a reputation for being friendly, they most certainly are not when it comes to past DUI convictions, eh.
If you plan on traveling to Canada and you have a DUI on your record, regardless of how long ago it was, I suggest you contact an immigration attorney to make sure you’re not turned away at the border.