Category Archives: Current Events

California Legislature Kills Zero-Tolerance Marijuana DUI Law

In early April, I wrote about the terrible idea that was AB 2500.

Introduced by Assemblyman Jim Frazier, the original bill would have changed California’s current DUI law making it unlawful for a person to drive with any detectable amount of marijuana in the system. The legislation was later amended to set a limit of two nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. The law also sought to make it illegal to drive with any trace of any other controlled substance in the system.

Whew! You can all let out a collective sigh of relief because the proposed law was killed in the California legislature.

AB 2500 was defeated by the Assembly Public Safety Committee by a vote of 4-2.

I hate to beat a dead horse, but I simply can’t say it enough. We cannot punish sober drivers merely because they may have smoked marijuana a day, a month, or a week ago.

Unlike alcohol, THC stays in a user’s system for up to weeks at a time even though the intoxicating effects of the marijuana may only last a couple of hours. And unlike the established relationship between blood-alcohol levels and impairment, THC in the blood does not necessarily correlate to impairment. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said, “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects.”

In late April, the Arizona Supreme Court struck down an Arizona law similar to California’s proposed AB 2500, and rightly so.

Arizona’s high court reaffirmed the trial court’s correct decision to toss the case of Hrach Shilgevorkyan who had been arrested for driving under the influence after a blood test detected the presence of marijuana.

“For example, at oral argument the State acknowledged that, under its reading of the statute, if a metabolite could be detected five years after ingesting a proscribed drug, a driver who tested positive for trace elements of a non-impairing substance could be prosecuted,” said the court in supporting its opinion.

The Court went on to conclude, "Because the legislature intended to prevent impaired driving, we hold that the 'metabolite' reference in [the law] is limited to any of a proscribed substance's metabolites that are capable of causing impairment . . . Drivers cannot be convicted of the . . . offense based merely on the presence of a non-impairing metabolite that may reflect the prior usage of marijuana.”

Let’s hope the California Supreme Court never has to make such an obvious decision.

But you just never know. Frazier’s response to his bill’s failure? “I have eleven more years” to continue working on the bill.

Good Posture + Bad Complexion = Probable Cause to Stop for DUI

We have this document called a "Constitution".  At least I think we still do.  And one of the things in that document is protection against police officers stopping us for no good reason.  To be stopped for investigation, the officer must have a "reasonable suspicion" that the driver is committing a crime.  In the past, this has commonly taken the form of observations like pronounced weaving, running stop lights, erratic driving, etc.

But that apparently was the past.  As for today, the following article shows the recent view of a federal circuit court of appeals:


Federal Court Finds Upright Driving, Acne Suspicious

Driving with good posture, with hands at the classic ten and two position on the wheel, is sufficient reason to pull over a driver with a bad complexion, according to a ruling handed down Thursday by the Tenth Circuit US Court of Appeals. A unanimous three-judge panel approved the Border Patrol's April 18, 2012 stop and search of a motorist who happened to be nervous when pulled over.

Border Patrol Agent Joshua Semmerling saw the white Ford F-150 pickup truck being driven in the opposite direction on Highway 80 in New Mexico, about 40 miles from the border with Mexico. It was 7:45pm, a time the Border Patrol agent found suspicious. The truck had an Arizona plate on the back and tinted windows, but its driver, Cindy Lee Westhoven, violated no traffic laws. Instead, Agent Semmerling noted she had "stiff posture" and hands "at a ten-and-two position on the steering wheel" so he decided to do a U-turn and pursue.

A registration check showed the truck was registered to a Lawrence Westhoven in Tucson, which suggested to the officer that Westhoven was either smuggling illegal aliens or drugs. He hit his emergency lights and forced her to pull over. Agent Semmerling testified that he believed Westhoven must have been a methamphetamine addict after he noticed she had acne. Agent Semmerling ran Westhoven's license, and it came back with no warrants, but he continued the stop.

"I thought you were going to let me go," Westhoven told the Border Patrol agent. "Do you think I'm hauling illegal aliens?"

The agent asked to search the vehicle, but she refused to give him permission. Westhoven was ordered out of the truck so a drug dog could sniff it. She was told she was not under arrest but that she was being detained. Twenty minutes into the stop the drug dog arrived and alerted, revealing marijuana. Westoven's lawyer pointed out that the federal agent's story sounded fishy.

"Agent Semmerling contends that he noticed in passing the vehicle that it had an Arizona license plate," attorney Bernadette Sedillo told the district court. "The F-150 does not have a front license plate so Agent Semmerling would have had to observe the rear license plate in the rear view mirror traveling the speed limit of 60 miles per hour."

Sedillo added that there was no reason to continue the stop after Westhoven provided her license, which proved she was a US citizen. The appellate panel was not convinced, finding the totality of circumstances suggested that Westhoven was transporting illegal aliens over the border.

"Driving stiffly, having tinted windows, slowing down when seeing law enforcement, and driving in an out-of-the-way area may be innocent conduct by themselves," Judge Scott M. Matheson, Jr wrote for the appellate panel. "But when taken together along with driving a vehicle with out-of-state plates in a mountainous smuggling corridor 40-45 miles away from the border, we conclude Agent Semmerling had reasonable suspicion Ms. Westhoven was involved in smuggling activity."


Why do the courts continue this charade of grasping at ridiculous reasoning in their pretense of honoring our Constitution?  Why don't they just come out and say it: the Bill of Rights is dead.  It's open season for law enforcement.
 

Deputy Crashes into Car, Breaking Driver’s Neck…then Arrests Her for DUI

As I've repeatedly written on this blog, DUI can be an extremely subjective offense.  Although there may be a breathalyzer or blood alcohol test involved — and these are inherently unreliable — much if not most of the "evidence" depends upon the arresting officer's testimony: driving symptoms, physical appearance, slurred speech, red eyes, impaired coordination and judgment, poor performance on "field sobriety tests", incriminating statements, etc.  All of these depend upon the cop's perceptions, expertise…and honesty.   

So what happens when a cop smashes into another car, causing an accident so violent that the other driver's neck is broken?  Simple:  arrest her for drunk driving.


Sober Driver Arrested for OWI When Deputy Crashes Into Her Car

Milwaukee, WI.  May 3 – A Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Deputy rolls through a stop sign and causes a violent crash. So why was the victim placed under arrest?

A FOX6 Investigation finds that a deputy’s changing story may have changed one woman’s life forever.

Tanya Weyker was hurt so badly, she couldn’t blow into a breath-testing device or perform field sobriety tests.  But a Sheriff’s deputy arrested her for drunk driving anyway.  And the County hung those charges over her head for nearly a year, even long after blood tests proved she was perfectly sober.

Tanya Weyker remembers it clearly. Not just the crash that broke her neck in four places, but the false accusations that followed.

“My reputation is everything to me,” she said.

At the age of 25, Weyker’s criminal history is as flawless as her posture. She was diagnosed with cancer at age three, and the prolonged radiation treatments literally curved her spine. So doctors inserted metal rods to keep her back straight.  The lifelong medical complications have not stopped her from pursuing a college degree. Or from driving a car. In fact, Weyker had never gotten so much as a speeding ticket until the night she crossed paths with Milwaukee County Deputy Sheriff Joseph Quiles.

It was February 20th, 2013, and Deputy Quiles was working the night shift on patrol at General Mitchell International Airport.

As he pulled out onto Howell Avenue to make his rounds, he T-boned a passing car and sent it spinning into a tree.

“Very scary,” Weyker recalls.

Her spine was already fused with steel. Now, she had a fractured neck to go with it.

“It was a miracle I wasn’t paralyzed,” she said.

As rescue workers tended to Weyker, police and Sheriff’s deputies started asking questions.

“One asked if I had anything to drink that night,” she said. “And I told them a few sips from a friend’s drink.”

A deputy noted a light odor of alcohol on her breath. He said her speech was slurred. And her eyes looked red and glassy.

“I explained to him my eyes were red and glassy because I was crying,” she said….

In his official report, Deputy Quiles wrote that he stopped at the stop sign and looked both ways before pulling out.  He told a Milwaukee police officer that he never saw any headlights, even though Weyker’s Camry had lights that come on automatically.

“I knew I was innocent this whole time,” Weyker declared.

The truth might never have surfaced were it not for video from a nearby airport surveillance camera. It shows what investigators say is Deputy Quiles’ squad car traveling west on Hutsteiner Avenue, then continuing onto Howell without making a complete stop, as Quiles claimed in his report. The Sheriff’s Office knew about the video just two days after the crash.  But no one told Weyker.

Instead, the County sent letters blaming her for the crash and threatening legal action if she didn’t pay for the damage.

Of course, if Weyker was drunk, it would have been easy to pin the blame on her. But less than a month after the crash, test results showed she had no alcohol in her system. And by July, her drug test came back negative too. Five months after the crash, it was clear Weyker had been stone cold sober.

But still the case didn’t go away.

“I don’t think it is fair at all,” Weyker said.

Five more months passed before a prosecutor finally looked at the case and declined to file charges. But even then, Weyker says, she was left in the dark.

“No one called me.”…


So…an isolated incident, right?  Think again.  The only thing that distinguishes this case from thousands like it across the country is the fact that Deputy Qiles caught two bad breaks:


1.  His "drunk driving investigation" was recorded by a nearby surveillance camera.  What are the odds of this happening in any other DUI case?

2.  In most cases where a cop doesn't want a breath test contradicting his "evidence", he simply writes in his arrest report the magic words:  "Suspect was asked to submit to a breath test but refused."  It's that simple.  In this case that wasn't necessary: the suspect was physically unable to give a breath sample.  What Deputy Qiles didn't realize, however, was that the hospital treating Ms. Weyker would in the normal course of treatment take a blood test — and that the hospital lab would find that there was no trace of alcohol.


Absent these very fortuitous events, Ms. Weyker would have been prosecuted for DUI.  And who do you think a jury would believe?  The sworn testimony of an experienced and impartial police officer?  Or that of an accused drunk driver?  

If it were not for these two lucky breaks, Ms. Weyker would have been convicted, punished and branded with "drunk driver" for the rest of her life.  

And it happens all the time…
 

Welcome to Our Guest Blogger, Jon Ibanez!

I have the pleasure to announce that our recent guest blogger, Jon C. Ibanez, will become a regular contributor to DUIblog.  

A graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz, and an honors graduate of Western State University College of Law, Jon's law practice has focused on criminal defense, with a particular emphasis on DUI cases.  He also serves as "Of Counsel" to a number of criminal defense firms in Southern California, and is an Adjunct Professor at Westwood College where he teaches criminal justice and paralegal courses.

I am pleased and proud to welcome Jon as he joins me in presenting commentary upon the most interesting, controversial and important topics — legal, evidentiary and constitutional — in the fascinating field of DUI law enforcement and litigation.

Supreme Court: Cop’s Version Trumps Filmed Proof

When it comes to drunk driving cases, judges and prosecutors are very sensitive to political realities:  if you want to get re-elected, don't go against cops and don't look "soft on drunk drivers" — even if it means having to occasionally ignore the facts….


Officer Testimony Overrules Video Evidence

The Newspaper, April 2 — Videotape evidence can be overruled by the testimony and after-the-fact interpretation of a police officer, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled last week. In a 6 to 1 decision, justices overruled the state Court of Appeals which reviewed dashcam footage of Joanna S. Robinson driving her Chrysler PT Cruiser at around 1am on October 15, 2011 in Elkhart County and found no evidence of a crime. 

Sheriff's Deputy Casey Claeys followed Robinson on County Road 4, and he testified that he saw her "drive off the right side, which was the south side of the road, twice." He conducted a traffic stop which led to her being busted for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) after her breathalyzer reading was 0.01 over the legal limit. She also was carrying a small amount of marijuana. The justices, however, only concerned themselves with whether the initial traffic stop was justified. Elkhart Superior Court Judge Charles Carter Wicks concluded that the stop was justified when the case came to trial.

"I reviewed the video on approximately ten occasions and cannot conclude from the video that the defendant's vehicle actually left the roadway," Judge Wicks found. "But it does show the vehicle veering on two occasions onto the white fog line."

The trial judge found the deputy's experience was more accurate than the videotape, but the appeals court reversed, saying the video showed what appeared to be no more than a driver momentarily distracted. The state Supreme Court concluded the trial judge had it right the first time.

"Deputy Claeys, as he drove down County Road 4 on that October night, was observing Robinson's vehicle through the lens of his experience and expertise," Justice Mark S. Massa wrote for the majority. "And when Deputy Claeys testified at the suppression hearing, the trial judge heard his testimony — along with the other witness testimony and evidence, including the video — through the lens of his experience and expertise. Ultimately, that experience and expertise led the trial judge to weigh Deputy Claeys's testimony more heavily than the video evidence, and we decline Robinson's invitation to substitute our own judgment for that of the trial court and rebalance the scales in her favor."…
 

(Thanks to Joe.)