Paul Pelosi’s DUI: Truth, Consequences, and Political Privilege

Paul Pelosi’s DUI: Truth, Consequences, and Political Privilege

It’s been all over the news lately: Paul Pelosi, husband of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, was arrested and charged with a DUI. This arrest has led to a lot of discussion about political privilege and how it can be abused. But what does the truth really look like in this situation? Here, we’ll take a closer look at the facts and consequences of Mr. Pelosi’s arrest.

What Happened the Night Paul Pelosi Crashed His Porsche?

The story of Paul Pelosi’s May 28, 2022, DUI arrest has been widely reported. We are told that Mr. Pelosi had been at an upscale dinner party in Napa County, where presumably, he had been drinking.

He got into his Porsche 911 to drive back to his Napa Valley country home sometime around 10 P.M., according to a police report. After traveling for under a mile, he collided with another car, which hit his car as he made a left turn.

Police arrived at the scene and arrested Mr. Pelosi on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and driving with a .08+ blood alcohol content (“BAC”) level. They allegedly smelled alcohol on his breath and observed him moving in an impaired manner. The other driver was not arrested.

Subsequently, authorities revealed that a blood test just after midnight showed Mr. Pelosi had a .082% blood alcohol content. This is a violation of California law, as the legal limit within the state is .08%.

What Charges Were Brought Against Paul Pelosi?

On June 23, 2022, the Napa County District Attorney issued a press release stating it would issue a criminal complaint and file charges against Paul Pelosi. They charged him with driving with a .08% blood alcohol level or higher, causing injury, and driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury. They explained the charges could be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony. However, at their discretion, only misdemeanor charges were filed due to the minor injuries to the other driver.

Mr. Pelosi’s court date was set for August 3, 2022, and he was released on $5,000 bail, promising to appear for an arraignment in the Napa County Superior Court on that date.

Were the DUI Charges Against Pelosi Dropped?

The District Attorney did not drop the DUI charges against Mr. Pelosi, and the court proceeded as planned to hold the August 3, 2022 court date. Mr. Pelosi initially pleaded not guilty to the charges against him through his attorney. Because he was charged with a misdemeanor, rather than a felony, California law allows him to appear by counsel instead of in person.

On August 23, 2022, he changed his plea to guilty, although he did not personally appear in court. Per another press release, the presiding judge sentenced Mr. Pelosi to five days in jail and three years of probation. However, he received credit for the two days he had spent in jail for the crime previously, as well as credit for 2 days based on good conduct. For the remaining day of jail time, Mr. Pelosi will be allowed to substitute 8 hours of service through the court’s work program. In addition, Mr. Pelosi must attend three months of DUI school, put an ignition interlock device on his car and pay about $7,000 in fines.

Many people feel Mr. Pelosi received excessively light consequences due to his political or other privileges. Although Mr. Pelosi may have arguably been treated more favorably than others, this is likely due to having an experienced legal professional help navigate the judicial process. Once again, this is why it is so important to have a good DUI lawyer if you are charged with a DUI in California.

What Are the Typical Penalties for the Type of Charges Pelosi Faced?

California law imposes penalties for first-time DUI misdemeanor charges, which can include a maximum of five years of probation, a minimum of five days and a maximum of six months in county jail, installation of an ignition interlock device, fines and penalties, DUI school, and other terms to be set by a judge. The decision of which penalties to be implied varies per case.

In addition, you will face consequences related to your license that can start immediately upon your arrest. There may be a court-mandated six-month license suspension upon conviction plus a DMV administrative license suspension which generally begins immediately unless you fight it. Therefore it is essential to hire a DUI attorney as soon as possible if you are arrested or charged with a DUI.

What Types of Defenses Might Have Been Available for Pelosi?

Although Pelosi pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charges against him and received a punishment on the lighter side, not all people in a similar situation may do so well. However, many DUI defenses may convince a prosecutor to reduce charges or even dismiss charges in your case. 

Inaccurate Breath Test

Believe it or not, law enforcement frequently mishandles DUI investigations. One of the most common issues is errors related to the use and application of DUI breath tests, leading to an erroneously high BAC reading. 

These tests are not perfect, frequently malfunction, are not always correctly administered, and can be affected by environmental and other factors. As such, these tests are arguably inaccurate. You may have a defense that a breath test does not show you were driving under the influence or above the legal limit.

Medical Conditions Affected Result of DUI Test

Another defense may be that a person’s medical issues caused a breath test to read inaccurately. For example, many people suffer from acid reflux, heartburn a hiatal hernia. These medical conditions can create mouth alcohol which a breath test can capture and misread as impairment. As a result, if you suffer from one of these conditions, you may have a defense to DUI charges.

Rising Blood Alcohol Content

A person may also have a defense to DUI criminal charges related to rising blood alcohol. The idea is that because alcohol takes time to be absorbed by your system, a blood or chemical test after an arrest may not accurately portray the BAC you actually had when driving. You may be able to argue that you were not above the limit and/or that the test is inaccurate.

Given the timing of the chemical test given to Mr. Pelosi several hours after the incident, this may have arguably been one of his better defenses.

Errors in Chemical Tests

There are also arguments related to errors in blood tests or standard protocol that can serve as a potential DUI defense. If the blood sample was improperly stored, there was any contamination or blood fermentation, the test could potentially be inaccurate. If this is the case, the test may be excluded from the evidence that may exist against you.

No Probable Cause

Another prevalent defense is that a police officer did not have probable cause to pull you over. Probable cause means that before law enforcement can stop your car, detain you for purposes of a DUI investigation or arrest you for DUI, they must have a reasonable suspicion that you were violating the law.

Suppose law enforcement doesn’t have probable cause before conducting a DUI investigation. In that case, any evidence obtained from the investigation can be suppressed. This means that a prosecutor cannot use this against a person to prove the DUI case. As a result, this can lead to a dismissal or reduction of charges.

Miranda Rights Failure

Although Miranda rights are not required in every situation, they are mandatory when (1) a person is being arrested, and (2) an officer is asking questions designed to solicit incriminating responses after their arrest. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

“Miranda rights” refer to the following statement that must be read to a person being arrested: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?” Although this phrasing is the most common and well known due to pop culture, it does not need to be an exact match of what is listed above. So long as the essential elements of the above statement are included and conveyed to those taken into police custody, courts will find that sufficient Miranda rights have been provided.

If an officer does not advise a person of their Miranda rights, any statements they give may be excluded from evidence. Depending on what is being excluded, a prosecutor may have to dismiss or consider reducing charges.

Errors in A Field Sobriety Test 

Field sobriety tests are not always the most accurate indicators of impairment. They must be very precisely administered and scored; unfortunately, this is not the case in many situations. In addition, factors that have nothing to do with the test subject can affect their results.

For example, very common issues such as officer behavior during a test, poor weather or lighting, uneven surfaces where a test is conducted or even what the test subject is wearing, can all cause a person to “fail” a field sobriety test.

Because of this, many of these tests can be discredited in court, and a prosecutor who doesn’t have much else against you may have to dismiss or reduce charges.

There are many more potential DUI defenses you may be able to exercise. Many defenses can lead to charges being dismissed against you or being reduced to a less severe and less costly offense, such as a “wet” or “dry” reckless charge.

Is It Better To Plead Guilty to DUI Charges In California?

Not necessarily. Though it may have been better in this specific case, the reasons why Mr. Pelosi changed his plea from not guilty to guilty are private and subject to his attorney-client privilege. However, one can imagine there was probably significant public relations pressure on him which may have influenced his decision. It may not have looked good for the wealthy spouse of a prominent politician to display his vast resources and fight his case, which could have kept the story in the public eye for an extended period.

However, for most people who are first-time offenders or similar, pleading guilty is not the best option as it can have very negative consequences. While a dismissal of charges may not always be possible, downgraded charges are common. Possibilities include reduced charges known as a “wet” reckless or “dry” reckless.

“wet” reckless charge is where a person is charged with driving recklessly while alcohol is involved. It will count as a prior drunk driving offense should you ever be arrested for DUI again. However, the consequences are generally less severe regarding jail time, DUI school, probation, and financial costs. 

“dry” reckless charge is where a person facing DUI criminal charges agrees to accept a reckless driving charge, where no alcohol is involved. This will result in the most minor negative consequences of all. These include less jail time, no DUI school, less probation, less costly fines, and it will not count as a prior drunk driving offense.

You should never go it alone when dealing with DUI charges. An experienced attorney can help you achieve far more positive consequences than are likely if you do not have the advice of legal counsel. If you’d like to learn more, you can speak a DUI Defense attorney today by reaching out to us at this link.

 

Sources:

https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/handbook/california-driver-handbook/alcohol-and-drugs/#:~:text=It%20is%20illegal%20for%20any,is%20on%20a%20DUI%20probation.

https://www.countyofnapa.org/DocumentCenter/View/25620/Press-Release—Injury-Charges-Filed-against-Paul-Pelosi-06232022-PDF-?bidId=

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=977.&nodeTreePath=5.8.1&lawCode=PEN

https://www.countyofnapa.org/DocumentCenter/View/26263/Paul-Pelosi-Convicted-Press-Release-08232022–PDF

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=VEH&division=11.5.&title=&part=&chapter=2.&article=2.

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=PEN&sectionNum=1538.5.

https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/384/436/

http://www.mirandawarning.org/whatareyourmirandarights.html

https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/vehicle-code/veh-sect-23103-5.html

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=VEH&sectionNum=23103.

 

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