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Canadian Immigration Crackdown on Foreign DUI Offenders

As of December 18, 2018, Canada’s Bill C-46 became law, classifying impaired driving offenses as “serious criminality” rather than “simple” within the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

So how does the passing of Bill C-46 affect us stateside?

First, we should understand what the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of Canada is. This is “[a]n Act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger.” As such, the act details under what circumstances immigration and refugee status is given to a non-Canadian citizen. Of those details existed Section 36 (1), which states that “a permanent resident or foreign national is deemed inadmissible to Canada if he or she is convicted of an offence that is considered serious criminality.”

Previously, serious criminality included offenses such as murder, aggravated sexual assault and drug trafficking. Now, with this new bill, impaired driving fits in this category. Even offenses such as wet reckless, which are reduced DUI offenses (see What are the Benefits (and Disadvantages) of a Wet Reckless?), are now considered in the serious criminality category.

Not only did the amendment change the categorization of DUIs, it also increased the penalty as well. What was a maximum term of imprisonment of five years is now 10 years. Canadian immigration officials are not pulling any punches.

Having a DUI offense on your record made it slightly inconvenient when travelling to Canada, but now, it can mean that it becomes extremely difficult for you to obtain a work visa in Canada or even to simply visit as a tourist (see Traveling to Canada after a California DUI Conviction).

Many of the same rules apply if you want to visit Canada after you have been convicted of a DUI with this new bill. However, one of the exceptions we mentioned in the previously noted post, is “deemed rehabilitation.” With the new bill, this method is no longer an option for those inadmissible to enter Canada due to a DUI conviction. Leaving only what is called “rehabilitation by application” as a method to entering Canada legally.

You are eligible to apply for rehabilitation if five years has passed from the completion of the sentence and are able to demonstrate that they are no longer a risk for criminal activity. Demonstrating that you are no longer a risk can come from showing a stable lifestyle, community ties, or proof that the offense was an isolated event. Simple, right? Well, the difficulty comes when we start counting the five years. Below are some of the most common sentences and the correct way to calculate the waiting period:

Suspended sentence: Five years from the date of sentencing.

Suspended sentence with a fine: Five years from the date the fine was paid. For any varying payment, the count will start from the date the final payment was paid.

Imprisonment without parole: Five years from the end of the term of imprisonment.

Imprisonment and parole: Five years from the completion of parole.

Probation: Probation is considered to be a part of the sentence. Thus, five years from the end of the probation period.

Driving prohibition: Five years from the end date of the prohibition.

You must also remember that because the new characterization of DUI is more serious than before, the immigration officials will be looking at your application with more scrutiny than they had before. The redefinition will undoubtedly make some of the applications more difficult to accept.

One saving grace is that currently this amendment is only being considered for offenses that happen after its passing. Therefore, if your offense happened before December 18, 2018 then you may be unaffected. For any permanent residents or foreign nationals already living in Canada, the amendment is not grounds for expulsion.

Could DUI Fines be on the Upswing?

In a previous post, we covered potential costs of a DUI. That was based on our current understanding of California DUI law. However, Mississippi may be a trendsetter to legislatures throughout the country in increasing the fines and fees associated with a DUI arrest and conviction.

The Mississippi House of Representatives just passed House Bill 1445 which would essentially double the fine for DUI violations. The bill, which calls for the increase of the general fund amount for implied consent law violation, also known as driving under the influence, would, according to state assessment, increase the current fine of $243.50 to $493.50. The funding that is raised with the increase in fines would be used to support trauma care in the state.

During the House floor debate on the proposed law, Rep. Greg Haney (R-Gulfport) asked, “Are we doing this to just raise money or is it for safety?” Rep. Donnie Scoggin (R-Ellisville) admitted that it was a little of both.

Scoggin supported this answer with information and a little bit of history about the state’s trauma care system. The state of Mississippi’s statewide trauma care system was instituted in 1998 after the then-Governor Kirk Fordice and Lieutenant Governor Ronnie Musgrove received severe injuries in separate car crashes. According to the state’s Department of Health, as of Nov. 9th, 2018, there were 86 designated and participating hospitals in the Mississippi Trauma System of Care, with the University of Mississippi Medical Center the only Level 1 trauma hospital in the state.

Scoggin says that the fine wouldn’t fully fund trauma care in the state. However, the increase would bring it up to about three-quarters. He further stated that the original trauma funding bill from the mid-1990s actually listed the DUI fee at $500, but was reduced to its current $243.50.

A bill in 2017, had set the amount from the state’s general fund that could be used for the trauma system at $7,023,197 and reduced the overall spending for trauma care from $40 million to $20 million. Scoggin stated that raising the DUI fine for the purpose of supporting trauma care “…seems to be the right place to do this.”

In an attempt to further support the use of DUI fines for trauma care, Rep. Steve Holland (D-Plantersville) mentioned that crashes that are caused by impaired motorists are responsible for several of the trauma cases in the state.

According to the 2017 statistics by Mother Against Drunk Driving, there were 129 drunk driving deaths in the state of Mississippi and that 19 percent of traffic fatalities were connected to driving under the influence.

Although the lawmakers are attempting to tie drunk driving to the funding of trauma care, personally it seems to be contradictory. The raising of funds is important in making sure that severely injured have the best possible care in order to save lives and it makes sense that if raising a fine could help to support that, they should raise it where they can. However, something like a DUI fine is also imposed in order to dissuade people from breaking that law of driving under the influence. If, by raising the fine, it does what it was intended to do, namely to dissuade drivers from getting behind the wheel under the influence, then essentially, the state has less cases to collect the fine. Which in turn, would mean that the actual amount collect by fines is less than what was initially proposed or considered.

Perhaps it is designed to be a temporary remedy to the bigger issue of how to raise more money for the trauma center. Or perhaps the Mississippi legislature just sees an opportunity to collect from an easy target; DUI defendants.

In any event, if the bill is passed in the Senate and signed by the governor, then it would become effective July 1.

How Does a DUI Affect Car Insurance?

When one gets pulled over and subsequently arrested for an alleged DUI, what are some of the first things that run through their head? “Oh no, I’m in trouble,” “I am going to jail,” “I need a lawyer” are probably a few. However, after the initial shock wears off, that person eventually gets to realizing the potential fines and legal fees that go along a DUI conviction. Those fines and fees are typically a one-time expense. But there is one cost that often gets over looked and is one that affects your life for 10 years after the DUI; car insurance.

In January of 2007, new legislation required that DUI offenses be a part of your public driving record and remain on that record for 10 years from the violation date. The legislation was changed in order to allow car insurance companies access to driving records so that they could apply the new provisions that were added in 2005 in the Insurance Code under Senate Bill 597, primarily dealing with “good driver” discounts. Under the law, good driver discounts would not apply to drivers with DUI offenses within the past 10 years. In other words, because the discount you previously received for being a good driver will not apply, your car insurance premium will go up, at minimum, the amount of that previous discount.

Losing the discount is not the only reason your car insurance premiums may go up. Having a history of DUI suggests to the car insurance company that you are at a higher risk of being in an accident. It’s no surprise that having a higher blood alcohol content will hinder basic motor skills and therefore negatively affect your ability to operate a vehicle, thus leading to a higher chance of being involved in a collision. And having a higher risk of being in an accident means that the insurance company has more to lose with you behind the wheel. The insurance companies are not allowed to cancel your insurance mid-policy due to a DUI conviction, but they will definitely reconsider your premiums when the renewal comes around. As such, your premiums will more than likely go up. Although it will depend on your insurance company, on average, an increase of a few hundred dollars is likely. Some, however, can increase as much as a couple thousand dollars.

Assuming for argument’s sake that your insurance only increases a few hundred dollars, that few hundred dollars might seem doable, but remember, your status as a “high risk” driver stays with you regardless of whether you change insurance companies for 10 years. With that label lasting 10-years, you are looking at a quite a few thousand dollars of a difference in total. Now, imagine what it would be if the increase is more than a few hundred dollars.

If you are convicted of a DUI, you may want to shop around for car insurance. With this new dent in your record, there may be other policies that won’t make as much of a dent in your wallet.

It may seem like a lot of work, and more money than someone might want to dish out for a DUI, but taking the time to research a good DUI lawyer will also probably be worth it. If the right circumstances are aligned in your case, your lawyer may be able to get your DUI charge down to a “wet reckless” (See the post What are the Benefits (and Disadvantages) of a Wet Reckless? for details on wet reckless). One of the advantages of being able to reduce your DUI to a charge of wet reckless is that the conviction will stay on your record for only seven years, rather than the 10 years that a DUI conviction requires. Obviously, it would depend on your car insurance, but the additional cost of paying for a good DUI lawyer, may outweigh the cost of paying an additional three years of increased premiums.

Suffice it to say, that extra six-dollar beer is not worth the few thousand dollar increase in insurance premiums that a DUI conviction will bring with it, or all of the time and research you will have to put into finding yourself a good lawyer, or the time and research in possibly finding new insurance to make sure you are able to keep your premium increase to a minimum.

States with the Most Drunk Drivers

Insurify, an auto insurance quotes comparison website, used questionnaire information gathered from their over 1.6 million car insurance shoppers, excessive drinking and traffic fatality information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and population information from the United States Census Bureau to determine a national rate of DUI history as well as a breakdown by state. Alaska was omitted from the analysis due to insufficient data.

Insurify’s team of data analysts analyzed approximately seven years of driver history and came to some interesting conclusions. The nationwide average of their applicants who reported a prior DUI was 2.15 percent. Northern states seemed to cement their spots as DUI territory and some of the least populated states seemed to have some of the highest number of DUIs. The team also found a moderate correlation between the rates of DUI, excessive drinking, and alcohol-related traffic deaths. Resulting in a reasonably predictable assumption that in the states with higher DUI count, the rates of drinking and alcohol-related driving deaths will also be higher.

According to the CDC, 18 percent of Americans drink excessively on a regular basis across the country. Of the top 10 states that Insurify came up with, six of the states contained cities that fell within 10 percent of the country for excessive drinking and up to 26.5 percent of adult residents reporting over-drinking.

The data analyzed by Insurify resulted in following the rankings and numbers:

10. Colorado

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 3.13%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 34.7%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 19.1%

9. Iowa

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 3.23%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 25.4%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 21.0%

8. Nebraska

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 3.34%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 35.6%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 20.4%

7. Minnesota

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 3.47%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 30.9%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 21.1%

6. Idaho

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 3.49%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 32.4%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 15.4%

5. Montana

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 3.61%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 46.3%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 21.8%

4. Wisconsin

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 4.07%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 36.9%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 24.5%

3. South Dakota

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 4.12%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 35.2%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 17.7%

2. Wyoming

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 5.56%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 35.3%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 17.5%

1. North Dakota

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 5.73%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 46.7%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 24.7%

In looking at the numbers from the top 10 percentage of drivers reporting a history of DUI, to say there is a correlation between the number of drivers with a history of DUI and number of traffic fatalities, and reports of excessive drinking seems to be an understatement. But it does bring up some interesting questions. How was excessive drinking defined in the questionnaire? Did multiple offenses by the same driver also constitute as excessive drinking? Given the data patterns found, it would be interesting to further analyze how each state has differed in handling their DUI numbers and if differences in legislation has contributed to any of these numbers or if it strictly correlates to things such as population and access to public transportation.

New Jersey Forensic Lab Scandal Likely to Affect Thousands of DUI Cases

People’s opinions and memories are subjective, which is why in the court of law, science and factual evidence is often the nail in the coffin, so to speak. If DNA evidence from a suspect matches the one said to have been found at the scene of the crime, even when the suspect “does not remember” being there, doubt gives way in favor of the DNA evidence. However, what if there was reason to believe that the lab mislabeled the samples, or that the machine that ran the tests were never cleaned or not properly calibrated? Now, what was once factual evidence is now less than reliable, perhaps even completely inaccurate.

Lab technicians are human. Therefore, no matter how careful one may be, it is undisputed that there is always the chance of human error. Unfortunately, however, there is difference between innocent human error and a concerted effort to undermine forensic testing in criminal cases, including DUI cases.  

If you have read our articles in the past, it should come as no surprise that another forensic lab, this time in New Jersey, has made a conscious effort to allow inaccurate evidence to pass through the lab doors and entered in court to convict drivers in drunk driving cases within that state.

Many of the breathalyzers used across the country are manufactured by Alcotest. This machine, although fairly accurate when used correctly, needs to be calibrated to ensure its accuracy. Sergeant Marc Dennis of the New Jersey State Police’s Drug and Alcohol Testing Unit was responsible for conducting tests twice a year on machines for five different counties to determine if recalibration was needed and to administer the recalibration where necessary. It was found that Dennis did not perform the required calibrations and, to make matters worse, he also falsely certified the accuracy of the machines in the paperwork filed with the state. Thousands of people in the state of New Jersey were convicted based on the results of these uncalibrated machines. Dennis was criminally charged with misconduct and tampering with public records in September of 2018 and the New Jersey State Administrative Office of the Courts was notified by the attorney general’s office that over 20,000 breath samples were in question.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ordered an extensive hearing regarding the failure to follow proper calibration procedures by Sergeant Dennis. The state Division of Criminal Justice brought the charge, but the division’s director stated that the omission of the calibration step does not undermine the credibility of any of the State Police test results. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court determined in their opinion issued in December 2018 that the some 20,000 breath tests done by the uncalibrated machines could not be trusted.

All of those cases will need to be reviewed, and there is a high probability that many of those cases will be dismissed.

Whether Dennis’s actions (or lack thereof) came from laziness or as a means to advance his career, such misconduct is sadly not uncommon. There have been other reported cases of forensic misconduct in the New Jersey State Police, as well as other states such as Massachusetts, Oregon and Texas. Although in Dennis’s case, his actions were noticed by a supervisor who is said to have “immediately reported to internal affairs,” the truth is his actions went unnoticed for years.

Back in 2009, the U.S. National Research Council gave a report regarding forensic practices across the country. What they found was a lack of accreditation for crime labs and lack of certification for forensic scientists. Instead of having the ability to rely on evidence being produced by forensic labs, whose precise job it is to produce accurate scientific evidence, we’re left wondering if further investigation needs to be done to determine if the lab is doing what it should be doing to ensure the reliability of the evidence it is processing.

Movement towards forensic reform slowly gained momentum after this report and in 2016, the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology relayed similar concerns in a report and requested an independent oversight commission for labs across the country. Unfortunately for the reform movement, then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, shut down the National Commission on Forensic Science in 2017, effectively also shutting down the idea for a national independent oversight committee.

Although we may have stalled, or possibly even have taken a few steps back, with regard to ensuring the reliability of forensic labs throughout the country, hopefully states will take these scandals as a wake-up call to adopt better measures of ensuring reliability of their forensic testing. In the meantime, the legal system runs the risk of wrongfully convicting drunk drivers, or any criminal suspect for that matter, and defense counsel should do everything in their power to make sure that faulty evidence be identified and thrown out.