Category Archives: Field Evidence

Avoiding Jail Time in a California DUI Case

 

Whether a driver faces DUI charges in California or any other state, there is one potential consequence that is likely to be of concern to the person: incarceration. There is good reason for such concern: even a few days spent in jail can lead to a reduction in income or job loss. Not only this, but any time that a parent spends away from their child or that a spouse spends away from their partner can cause emotional hardship. All of this is on top of the harm to one’s reputation that might result from serving time for a DUI conviction.

First-Time DUIs Do Not Usually Lead to  Jail Time

A person is unlikely to face jail time for their first DUI conviction. While the maximum sentence   for a first-time DUI includes six months in jail, this outcome is not likely in many cases. Most first-time DUI offers include a period of  three years of informal probation, approximately $2,000 in fines and fees, a 3-month DUI program, the MADD VIP program, and restitution if there was a collision.

Drivers convicted of their first DUI and whose cases involving aggravating factors are more likely to face jail time. Such factors can include:

· Causing injuries

· Excessive speeding

· Reckless driving

· Driving on a suspended license

· Having a blood- or breath-alcohol concentration that is significantly higher than the legal limit.

Thus, drivers convicted of their first DUI may need not worry about having to serve jail time. Instead, they will likely placed on a period of informal probation. If there are aggravating factors involved, however, then the driver faces a greater risk of incarceration

Subsequent DUIs

Once a person is convicted of a subsequent DUI in California within a 10 year period, courts are required to sentence the person to some period of incarceration. Under these circumstances, it becomes even more important to challenge the prosecution’s case. There are several areas where the prosecutor’s case may be vulnerable:

· Lack of evidence of essential elements: The prosecution must be able to prove that the defendant was driving a vehicle. If there are no witnesses who saw the person driving and there is little circumstantial evidence suggesting the person drove a vehicle, the prosecutor may not be able to win their case. 

· Suppressed breath or blood test results: If law enforcement officers did not follow the proper steps in collecting, preserving, and testing a person’s breath or blood sample, then a court may rule that any results obtained from testing of those samples are to be suppressed (kept out of court). Test results may also be suppressed if they were obtained in violation of the person’s constitutional rights. Without being able to present test results showing the driver’s blood or breath alcohol concentration, the prosecutor may lack the evidence they need to show the person was impaired at the time they were driving a vehicle.

· Inaccurate or inconclusive breath or blood test results: There are a number of reasons why a breath testing machine may not give an accurate result, especially if the driver has an underlying medical condition or follows a ketogenic diet. Similarly, a blood sample may not be suitable for testing if the individual who collected the sample did not follow the proper protocol in collecting, storing, or analyzing the sample. 

· No evidence of prior convictions: If the prosecutor is alleging that a person charged with DUI has one or more prior convictions, then the prosecution must be prepared to present evidence of those prior convictions. An erroneous entry on a person’s driving history or criminal record that cannot be substantiated may mean the difference between a second DUI conviction and mandatory jail time and a first DUI conviction and informal probation.

Drivers Charged With A DUI Should Seek Legal Assistance

While a first-time DUI will most likely not lead to incarceration, there are no guarantees. Even a person’s first DUI conviction, when accompanied by a high BAC, a collision involving injury, and/or other aggravating factors, may result in a jail sentence. Motorists with subsequent convictions within a 10 year period will face incarceration. Therefore, any individual who is facing a California DUI charge and who is concerned about incarceration should speak with an experienced California DUI defense lawyer about their case as soon as possible.

HOW A LOW-CARB DIET CAN LEAD TO A DUI

Low-carb diets -such as the Atkins diet or the Ketogenic diet- have been around for decades. Nonetheless, this type of diet can cause problems for California drivers. It may cause a breath test provided by a California driver who was pulled over or arrested on suspicion of a DUI to falsely show the presence of alcohol – even if the driver had not consumed any alcohol that day.

Here’s how: A low-carb diet deprives the body of glucose, an important source of fuel for the body. In the absence of this source of fuel, the body turns to its fat for fuel. The process of turning fat into fuel produces ketones. When the body produces ketones and uses them for fuel, the body is in a state of ketosis. When the body is in a state of ketosis, ketones can be detected in that person’s breath. (This explains the bad breath that some report while on a low-carb diet). These ketones have a chemical composition similar to isopropyl alcohol. Many breathalyzer testing devices cannot distinguish between isopropyl alcohol molecules and ethyl alcohol molecules.  As such, a breath testing machine used in a DUI investigation may falsely detect the presence of alcohol simply because the suspect is on a low-carb diet.

It is doubtful that the amount of ketones in anyone’s breath could be sufficient to result in a breath test result showing a blood alcohol concentration at or greater than the .08% legal limit without the person having had consumed some alcohol. However, a person who would have otherwise been below the .08% legal limit may end up with a breath test result at or greater than the legal limit if that person is in ketosis. For example, someone who is in ketosis and has a true blood alcohol concentration of .06% could potentially register at 0.08% or more.

California Vehicle Code 23612(a)(2)(A) allows drivers arrested for suspicion of a DUI to choose between submitting to a breath test or a blood test. Unless the chosen test is not available, the officer must perform the test selected by the driver. Drivers on a low-carb diet may want to avoid submitting to the breath test to avoid being stuck with a false positive result.

Any driver arrested for a DUI should immediately hire an attorney. If you are on a low-carb diet, it is crucial that you tell your attorney.

Passing on the Breathalyzer?

It is not uncommon for people arrested on suspicion of a California DUI to mistaken believe that it is in their best interest to flatly refuse the breathalyzer. Not knowing the correct thing to do in this scenario can be the difference between becoming convicted of a California DUI and not, and unfortunately, the right thing to do is a little more complicated than merely refusing the breathalyzer or not.

When people refer to a “breathalyzer” during a California DUI stop, they actually referring to two different tests. The first is the roadside breathalyzer, often called a preliminary screening alcohol test or “PAS” test, and the second is the “chemical breath test.”

According to California Vehicle Code section 23612(h), the PAS test “indicates the presence or concentration of alcohol based on a breath sample in order to establish reasonable cause to believe the person was driving [under the influence]…[it] is a field sobriety test and may be used by an officer as a further investigative tool.”

The PAS roadside breath test, like other field sobriety tests such as the walk-and-turn test, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, and the one leg stand test, are optional. Although an officer might threaten to arrest someone for refusing the optional breathalyzers, a driver should stand their ground and politely refuse to complete any field sobriety tests. Despite what the officer might say, they are optional and are only meant to give the officer the evidence they need to arrest the driver.

In fact, the officer must advise the driver that the roadside breath test is optional. California Vehicle Code section 23612(i) states that “If the officer decides to use a [PAS], the officer shall advise the person that he or she is requesting that person to take a [PAS] test to assist the officer in determining if that person is under the influence. The person’s obligation to submit to a [chemical test under California’s Implied Consent Law] is not satisfied by the person submitting to a [PAS] test. The officer shall advise the person of that fact and of the person’s right to refuse to take the [PAS] test.”

As stated above, providing a breath sample to an officer during the PAS test only give the officer the evidence they need to arrest a driver. Whether a driver provides the officer that information or not, the officer will have to make the decision to arrest a driver on suspicion of a DUI or not. In order to arrest a driver on suspicion of a California DUI, the officer must have probable cause. The probable cause can consist of driving patterns indicative of intoxication, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, smell of alcohol on a driver’s breath, admissions of drinking or intoxication, and, yes, a reading of the pass test indicating a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher.

If the officer meets the probable cause standard by obtaining and/or observing enough evidence that a driver is driving under the influence, the officer can lawfully arrest the driver on suspicion of driving under the influence. Once this happens, California’s Implied Consent law takes effect.

California’s Implied Consent law, codified in California Vehicle Code section 23612(a)(1)(A), “A person who drives a motor vehicle is deemed to have given his or her consent to chemical testing of his or her blood or breath for the purpose of determining the alcohol content of his or her blood, if lawfully arrested for an offense allegedly committed in violation of [California’s DUI laws].”

Simply put, if you have a license and you drive in California, you have impliedly consented to submit to the chemical test after you have lawfully been arrested for a DUI, which can either be a breath test or a blood test. If the driver opts not to give blood, then they must provide a breath test. Conversely, if a person opts against the breath test, they must submit to the blood test.

So should you pass on the breathalyzer?

Pass on the roadside “PAS” test. Submit to the chemical test required under California’s Implied Consent law (See Breath or Blood Test After a California DUI Stop).

Big Surprise: Breathalyzers are Inaccurate

I’ve been saying and writing about it for years; breathalyzers are inaccurate. Now, The New York Times, in a bombshell report confirmed exactly that.

According to the report, “The Times interviewed more than 100 lawyers, scientists, executives and police officers and reviewed tens of thousands of pages of court records, corporate filings, confidential emails and contracts. Together, they reveal the depth of a nationwide problem that has attracted only sporadic attention.”

With so much at stake, including jail, you’d think that there would be more than mere “sporadic attention.”

Yet, the report found numerous inconsistencies with maintenance procedures of breathalyzer machines, inconsistencies within the machines themselves, and an over reliance on inaccurate data produced by breathalyzers.

In Colorado, for example, police had continued using a chemical solution that had long been expired when prepping the machines. The expired solutions caused inaccurate results. In another example, a former manager created his own chemical solution inconsistent with the standard chemicals used in the solution.  In some instances, there were no standards on how to prepare and operate the machines.

The report also found that the manufacturing process of the breathalyzer machines also create inaccuracies. For example, testing revealed that some machines produced a result even though the software programed into the machine occurred. Some tests revealed that accuracy of reading was affected by external factors such as the temperature of a person’s breath, whether they’ve consumed breath mints, or whether they’ve recently brushed their teeth, to name a few.

Despite the known inaccuracies, breathalyzer machines continue to often be the deciding factor in a DUI conviction.

In 2013, the California Supreme Court held that, although breathalyzers are generally inaccurate, scientific evidence challenging the accuracy of breathalyzers in California is not admissible as evidence in DUI trials.

The holding comes from the 2007 DUI stop of Terry Vangelder. Vangelder was stopped for speeding in San Diego. Although having admitted to consuming some alcohol, Vangelder passed field sobriety tests. Vangelder then agreed to a preliminary screening alcohol test (an optional roadside breathalyzer) which indicated that Vangelder’s blood alcohol content was 0.086 percent. Based on that, Vangelder was arrested and transported to the police station where he submitted to a chemical breath test (a required post-arrest breathalyzer). This breath test showed a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent. Vangelder then submitted to a blood test which indicated that his blood alcohol content of 0.087 percent.

At trial, Vangelder called Dr. Michael Hlastala, a leading authority on the inaccuracies of breathalyzers.

“They are (inaccurate),” Dr. Hlastala testified before the trial judge. “And primarily because the basic assumption that all of the manufacturers have used is that the breath that [is] measured is directly related to water in the lungs, which is directly related to what’s in the blood. And in recent years, we’ve learned that, in fact, that’s not the case.”

The judge however, did not allow the testimony and Vangelder was found guilty. Vangelder appealed and the appellate court reversed the decision in 2011. San Diego City Attorney, Jan Goldsmith, then appealed the appellate court decision arguing that such testimony would undermine California’s a per se law making it illegal to drive 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or higher.

Unfortunately, the California Supreme Court sided with Goldsmith.

“[T]he 1990 amendment of the per se offense was specifically designed to obviate the need for conversion of breath results into blood results — and it rendered irrelevant and inadmissible defense expert testimony regarding partition ratio variability among different individuals or at different times for the same individual,” Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye wrote for the court. “Whether or not that part of expired breath accurately reflects the alcohol that is present only in the alveolar region of the lungs, the statutorily proscribed amount of alcohol in expired breath corresponds to the statutorily proscribed amount of alcohol in blood, as established by the per se statute.”

The Court went on to say that, “Although Dr. Hlastala may hold scientifically based reservations concerning these legislative conclusions, we must defer to and honor the legislature’s reasonable determinations made in the course of its efforts to protect the safety and welfare of the public.”

Simply put, the California Supreme Court is willfully ignoring scientific evidence simply because the legislature was well-intentioned.

Although drivers can no longer challenge the accuracy of breathalyzers in general, a driver who has been arrested for a California DUI can still challenge the accuracy of the specific breathalyzer machine used on them.

 

Prescription Drug DUI

In late August, a Montebello police lieutenant was taken into custody in San Bernardino County on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs. He had previously been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of prescription drugs, although charges were never filed. The arrest serves as a reminder that someone can be arrested for a California DUI with drugs, both illegal and legal.

On August 21st, Montebello Police Lt. Christopher Cervantes, 47, was arrested after police believe he rear-ended another car in the city of Montclair.

Neither Cervantes nor the other driver were injured in the collision, Cervantes was booked on suspicion of DUI at the San Bernardino County Jail, and he was subsequently placed on paid administrative leave.

In 2015, Cervantes was arrested following a collision with a tree in Diamond Bar. Although he tested positive for a combination of pain-relieving prescription drugs acetaminophen, butalbital, codeine, and morphine, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges citing a lack of evidence.

In 2011, Cervantes was detained after resisting arrest at a San Diego hotel party where he falsely claimed to police that he was a federal agent. Charges were never filed for this arrest either.

“I’m aware of everything in his personnel file and as I was the one who promoted him, I was confident that he was a great candidate for promotion to lieutenant,” said Montebello Police Chief Brad Keller. Cervantes was promoted by Keller after

 Cervantes’s 2015 arrest.

As a high-ranking police officer, Cervantes should have been acutely aware that a person can still be arrested for driving under the influence of drugs, including prescription drugs. Many people, on the other hand, often believe that a DUI can only occur if a driver has alcohol in their system. Some people believe that a DUI can occur with only alcohol or illegal drugs, and because a drug might be legal, whether prescription or over-the-counter, a driver cannot get a DUI if they have legal drugs in their system.

California Vehicle Code section 23152 (f) states, “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.”

“Any drug” includes those that are illegal as well as legal, both prescription and over the counter.

The important consideration here is the phrase “under the influence.” Although, prescription drugs and other legal drugs fall within the definition of “any drug,” a person must also have his or her mental or physical abilities impaired to such a degree that he or she is unable to drive a vehicle with the caution of a sober person to be “under the influence.”

What kinds of medications can cause you to be under the influence? Tranquilizers, narcotic pain pills, sleep aids, antidepressants, cough medicines, antihistamines, and decongestants to name a few. And how might they cause you to be under the influence? Drowsiness, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, and confusion, to name a few. Kind of sounds like being drunk, doesn’t it?

A few years back, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that almost half of people 70 years old and above take up to five medications per day. Additionally, a survey from the foundation found that 72% of people 55 and over, the demographic most likely to take medications for chronic conditions, had no idea that their driving performance could be affected by their prescription medications.

Remember, a DUI does not just mean driving under the influence of alcohol, or even illegal drugs, but all drugs including prescription and over-the-counter drugs. If it is capable of affecting a person’s driving ability, then it’s best to wait until after a driving excursion is over.