Different DUI Standard for Police?

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

Anyone who has known someone that has been convicted of a DUI, or who has themselves had the unfortunate experience of suffering the consequences of a DUI, might know that there is the possibility of a obtaining a restricted license during the period of time where driving privileges are suspended. While driving privileges might be restricted during this time, a driver can still drive to and from work with a restricted license.

If a law enforcement officer happens to get caught for a DUI, wouldn’t we expect to hold the officer to the same standard as the rest of us drivers, possibly even a higher standard?

I bring this up because a police officer from Melbourne, Florida is now back behind the wheel of her police cruiser after having been charged with DUI while off duty back in September.

Audrey Poole of the Melbourne Police Department was pulled over for driving 20mph above the speed limit in Palm Bay. Her arrest affidavit as well as a statement from the arresting officer indicates that her eyes were bloodshot, and she smelled of alcohol even before she attempted field sobriety tests. She allegedly failed multiple field sobriety tests and refused to submit to a breathalyzer test, which led to her arrest. The interaction was even caught on dashboard camera footage.

Poole had been working in dispatch since 2012 and was hired as an officer in March 2018. After the arrest, she was suspended for a week without pay, then was placed on administrative leave with pay until Nov. 12th and was assigned desk duty. Under Florida law, she automatically lost her license for one year for refusing a chemical test. A month after the arrest, the state attorney’s office dismissed the DUI charge. According to Assistant State Attorney Leo Domenick, “Although there is sufficient evidence of probable cause for the arrest, based on the lack of a breath (Blood Alcohol Concentration) test, combined with the defendant’s performance on the field sobriety exercises, there is no reasonable likelihood of success at a jury trial.” After two months, Poole was reinstated and allowed to drive a Melbourne police cruiser under a “business purpose only” license which allows her to drive during her on duty hours.

Following the dismissal of charges, she was disciplined for multiple department violations, including conduct unbecoming of an officer, non-compliance with the law, and unlawful consumption of alcohol. In addition, she was also required to complete an alcohol education course and had her probationary status as a new officer extended.

According to some local DUI lawyers, a complete dismissal is unusual for Poole’s case. “It’s pretty rare that you see cases completely dropped, but every case is different. They might get knocked down to a reckless driving or a careless driving sometimes, but with more refusals they won’t negotiate… a dismissal,” says Melbourne-based DUI lawyer Mark Germain.

However, despite earlier reports that Poole failed multiple field sobriety tests, State Attorney spokesperson Todd Brown explained that the lack of a breath test and Poole’s actual performance on the field sobriety tests were sufficient enough to make the burden of proof for trial difficult to meet. Since prosecutors also have an obligation to drop charges that do not meet the burden of proof, it was decided that they would drop the charges. He believes that a member of the public charged in the same circumstances would have resulted in the same conclusion.

Let’s put aside the question that we have regarding the dropped charges for a moment. As an officer of the law, who is supposed to be enforcing the very laws that she disregarded, she was allowed to apply for and was approved for a “business only” license during her license suspension period.

There are multiple factors that can be considered to reach the conclusion that was reached. Poole was off duty, so the charge should have no bearing towards the responsibility she holds during her on duty hours. No chemical test seemed to have taken place, even after her arrest, so there is no factual evidence that she was over the legal limit. Because the charges were dropped, there is no conviction on her record. These are all arguments to allow her to continue to drive for work purposes. Would the same treatment have been given to a non-police officer?

When it comes to the actual charges, at least here in California, Poole would have been charged with a DUI. Prosecutors here in California have actually said that they would rather go to trial and lose a DUI case for lack of evidence than to dismiss it for lack of evidence.  As the local DUI attorneys have pointed out, it’s extremely rare for a prosecutor to dismiss a DUI case give the facts of Poole’s case. In fact, drivers have been charged with a DUI with much less evidence than in Poole’s case.

Again, questions remain: Had Poole been anyone other than an officer, would she have been treated differently? Probably. Would she have been approved for the “business only” driving license? Probably not. Are police held to a different standard when it comes to DUI prosecutions than the rest of us? Although I’d like to answer in the negative, Poole’s case has me thinking otherwise.

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Supreme Court Rules Cops Can Withdraw Blood from an Unconscious Driver

Monday, July 1st, 2019

Yes, you read that title correctly. The United States Supreme Court just ruled that police can withdraw blood from an unconscious person suspected of driving under the influence.

Six years ago, police found Gerald Mitchell on a beach in Wisconsin and suspected he was intoxicated after a neighbor reported that he was drunk and suicidal. After being arrested, Mitchell was transported to a hospital. However, by the time he arrived at the hospital, he was unresponsive and law enforcement ordered hospital staff to draw his blood, which revealed a blood alcohol content of 0.22 percent.

Although Mitchell tried to exclude his blood alcohol content from evidence, he was denied and ultimately convicted of driving under the influence. After losing in the Wisconsin state courts, he appealed to the United States Supreme Court arguing that the withdrawal of his blood while he was unconscious without a warrant violated his 4th Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority which included Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and himself, concluded that the 4th Amendment, generally, does require a warrant to conduct a search. However, he went on to say that there are exceptions to the warrant requirement including “exigent circumstances” where, as here, a warrantless blood withdraw was necessary to “prevent the imminent destruction of evidence.” Alito continued that the alcohol in a person’s system is “literally disappearing,” which justifies the need to obtain the evidence before taking the time for law enforcement to obtain a warrant.

“Indeed, not only is the link to pressing interests here tighter; the interests themselves are greater: Drivers who are drunk enough to pass out at the wheel or soon afterward pose a much greater risk,” Alito wrote. “It would be perverse if the more wanton behavior were rewarded — if the more harrowing threat were harder to punish.”

Alito also noted that the condition of a driver who is unconscious creates additional burdens on law enforcement since the driver will likely be taken to a hospital rather than the police station where a breath test can be administered.

“It would force them to choose between prioritizing a warrant application, to the detriment of critical health and safety needs, and delaying the warrant application, and thus the BAC test, to the detriment of its evidentiary value and all the compelling interest served by BAC limits,” he wrote. “This is just the kind of scenario for which the exigency rule was born – just the kind of grim dilemma it lives to dissolve.”

Justice Clarence Thomas concurred with the result, but not Alito’s rationale. Thomas maintained that since alcohol automatically leaves a person’s blood within a certain amount of time, police should be able to forcibly withdraw blood whether the driver is conscious or not.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion that was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Elena Kagan. Sotomayor argued that Alito’s rationale had missed the point. Sotomayor emphasized that, in this case, law enforcement admitted that there was time to obtain a warrant for Mitchell’s blood, but that they didn’t because of “implied consent.” Implied consent, which exists here in California, is a law that a driver has impliedly agreed to a chemical test by mere virtue of having a driver’s license.

“Wisconsin has not once, in any of its briefing before this Court or the state courts, argued that exigent circumstances were present here,” Sotomayor wrote. “In fact, in the state proceedings, Wisconsin ‘conceded’ that the exigency exception does not justify the warrantless blood draw in this case.”

She went on to say, correctly so in my opinion, that, while “drunk driving poses significant dangers that Wisconsin and other States must be able to curb…the answer is clear: If there is time, get a warrant.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch dissented separately also taking issue with the fact that the case had been decided on grounds that were not the basis for the appeal; whether implied consent laws violate the 4th Amendment.

“We took this case to decide whether Wisconsin drivers impliedly consent to blood alcohol tests thanks to a state statute,” Gorsuch wrote. “That law says that anyone driving in Wisconsin agrees — by the very act of driving — to testing under certain circumstances. But the Court today declines to answer the question presented. Instead, it upholds Wisconsin’s law on an entirely different ground—citing the exigent circumstances doctrine.”

Take a second to ask yourself what place you expect to be more private than any other place, including your home. I expect that the most prevalent answer is “our bodies.” Yet, for the place that we consider to be the most private, law enforcement does not need a warrant to intrude into it as long as we have a driver’s license.

Sound like a loophole for law enforcement? It is!

I am not saying that we shouldn’t be testing the blood of suspected drunk drivers. But the Constitution protects all of us, suspected drunk drivers included. And if the Constitution requires a warrant to search, especially the thing most of hold to be the most private, then law enforcement should have to get one.

It’s not like law enforcement is sending the warrant application by raven! How long (or difficult) would it really take to obtain a warrant? A few minutes if done digitally? Alito and the majority don’t seem to care as they continue to make it easier for law enforcement to violate constitutional rights.

Justice Sotomayor said it best. If there is time, get a warrant.

 

 

 

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The Basics of a California DUI

Thursday, June 27th, 2019

We often spend so much time talking about unique DUI-related topics, many of which discuss the complicated intricacies of DUI’s and DUI law, that we forget to go back and just remind our readers about the basics of a California DUI. Therefore, every so once in a while, I like to go back and just discuss the basics of a California DUI. Before I go any further, I’ll preface this post by saying that the below information is not for DUI’s where aggravating circumstances were present such as prior DUI convictions, collisions, injuries to third parties, an unusually high BAC, a refusal of a chemical test, and so on.

In order to be stopped and arrested on suspicion of a California DUI, officers need probable cause to believe that a person is driving under the influence. For an officer to have probable cause, they need to have reasonable and trustworthy facts that a person is driving under the influence. Officers obtain the probable cause needed to make a DUI arrest by observing poor driving patterns, observing signs of intoxication (slurred speech, smell of alcohol, bloodshot eyes), poor performance on field sobriety tests, and/or failure of a pre-arrest breathalyzer known as a “preliminary screening alcohol test” (PAS test).

A driver can limit the probable cause that the officers are looking for by taking steps to enforce their rights. If pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence, the driver should not say anything to police except to invoke their 5th Amendment right to remain silent and request an attorney. The field sobriety tests are optional and should not be performed. See any of our numerous articles on the inaccuracies of field sobriety tests. Lastly, the PAS test is also optional and also should not be taken. By limiting the probable cause, the driver will give their defense attorney the ability to argue that the arrest was illegal because the officer did not have the required probable cause to make the DUI arrest.

I should note that a driver will likely still be arrested whether they take measures to protect their rights or not. Again, the purpose of protecting your rights is to help with the DUI defense in court, not to prevent an arrest. I repeat, the officers will almost always still make the arrest.

Once arrested, the driver will be required to submit to a chemical test which can either be a breath or a blood test. Do not confuse this test with the roadside breathalyzer (PAS) test. The PAS test is optional. The chemical test is required, but is only required after a driver is lawfully arrested.

After the driver is arrested, they will be held until they sober up and released with a court date. In the time between the arrest and the court date, the law enforcement agency will send its police report to the appropriate prosecuting agency to make the decision about whether to file charges.

If a DUI is charged, it will typically be under California Vehicle Code section 23152(a) and/or 23512(b). Simply put, Vehicle Code 23152(a) makes it illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol and Vehicle Code 23152(b) makes it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher. If a person is arrested having been suspected of driving while under the influence of an intoxicant other than alcohol, they will likely be charged with California Vehicle Code section 23152(e).

The filing of charges triggers a criminal case in the appropriate courthouse. The court will schedule a hearing called an arraignment. At arraignment, the DUI suspect, who is now a DUI defendant, will enter a plea, be advised of their rights, and the charges pending against them.

Following the arraignment, there may be several or no pretrial hearings to allow the prosecutor and any defense attorney, either private or a public defender, to assess the merits of the case and negotiate a plea deal. A plea deal may include a reduction in charges to a “wet reckless,” “dry reckless,” or some other lesser charge. It may also include a reduction in sentence.

If no deal can be reached, the case proceeds to a trial where the prosecutor will have to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the DUI defendant drove a vehicle either under the influence of alcohol, under the influence of a drug, or with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher.

If the jury finds the person not guilty, the DUI defendant will suffer no legal penalties. However, if the finds the person guilty, they face a minimum of three years of summary probation, a fine between $390 and $1,000 plus penalties and assessments, and a three-month drunk driving program known as AB-541, and up to six-month in county jail. Other penalties that a defendant might face are a longer DUI program, a longer probationary period, a hospital and morgue program, a Mothers Against Drunk Driving Victim Impact Panel, AA meetings, and a SCRAM device (alcohol detecting anklet).

I’ve only scratched the surface of the basics of a California DUI, and I haven’t even mentioned the DMV consequences of a DUI arrest and/or conviction, which, by itself, could take up several stand-alone articles. See any number of previous posts about the DMV consequences of a DUI.

Needless to say, just the basics of a DUI are extremely complicated. Factor in other intricacies not mentioned here and it goes without saying that a person who has been stopped, arrested, and charged with a DUI should absolutely not try to take on the system by themselves. Hire a qualified and experienced DUI attorney who knows the process inside and out, and who will give you the best chance at a favorable outcome.

 

 

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Are High-Tech Breathalyzers in the Offing?

Thursday, June 13th, 2019

The Maui Police Department hope to be able to start enforcing their DUI laws in a more time efficient manner with the purchase and arrival of six new high-tech breathalyzers.

The current Intoxilyzer 8000 models have been used by the department since May 2015 and the introduction of the newer Intoxilyzer 9000s will hopefully allow the officers to spend less time documenting their tests results.

The new device is equipped with a touchscreen rather than a keyboard for easier data entry and its updated software will allow for some of the departmental forms to be incorporated into the device. This will allow the device to create reports rather than the officers manually typing out the reports as they did previously.

A grant totaling $63,000 through the state Department of Transportation allowed for the purchase of the new devices, and the Maui Police Department will be the first department in the state to transition to the Intoxilyzer 9000. The Honolulu Police Department also hopes to soon make the same transition.

DUI Task Force Sergeant Nick Krau has been tasked with the training as well as the writing of policy and operating procedures for the Intoxilyzer 9000 that will eventually be reviewed by the state Department of Health before being distributed. Official training and use of the new devices will take place soon thereafter.

A total of twelve officers, coming from multiple islands, spent time at a two-day training course at the Kihei Police Station in order to familiarize themselves with the new devices. The attending officers will be the ones primarily training other officers.

According to Lieutenant William Hankins, the commander of the police Traffic Section, “The technology is still the same as far as how it analyzes breath readings. It just makes it easier for the officers. Everything’s going to be faster.”

Six devices may not seem like a lot for an entire police department. however, these are not the same devices that patrol officers will have out on the street. The new Intoxilyzer 9000 devices will be analyzing results after the preliminary tests are administered and are to become the tests that are admissible in court.

Each police station in Maui County will have a new Intoxilyzer.

“We always strive to have the most updated technology possible for our officers and our community. It will allow us to get our officers back on the road faster,” said Krau.

I hope that the state departments and various police department heads do their very best to make sure that statement rings true.

A quick Google search revealed that the Intoxilyzer 9000 series has been in circulation as early as 2013. Some of the first states to implement the new model were Georgia and Colorado. Texas made a slower transition as there where a few deficiencies with the device that became apparent after other states had already begun using it but aimed for full implementation in 2015.

Although not quite as new and novel as Krau made it out to be, Hawaii’s implementation of the Intoxilyzer 9000 might signify an emerging trend of modernizing breathalyzers. Perhaps they were merely waiting for all of the deficiencies of the earlier 9000 series to work themselves out.

 

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DUI on a Lawnmower

Thursday, May 30th, 2019

According to the Florida DMV website, “Driving under the influence (DUI) is defined as operating a motor vehicle while impaired with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher, a chemical substance, or a controlled substance. Those under 21 years old will be charged with a DUI if their BAC is 0.02% or over and commercial drivers will be charged if their BAC is 0.04% or over.”

The term “motor vehicle” is used by most states and has a wide range of interpretations. In previous posts, we have covered DUI for unusual vehicles such as drones and electric scooters. Well, another “vehicle” has popped up in the news that made me question the thought processes of man; a lawnmower. Yes, that’s right, a lawnmower. Granted, it wasn’t one that you pull the string to get the motor going and push across your lawn. It was a larger type that you sit on and “drive” across your lawn and one that actually had a trailer attached to it, but still, what need would one have to drive it in a parking lot?

I get it. If my neighbor Farmer John needed to borrow my John Deere tractor, someone may drive it across the street to his farm, but I’ll say it again, a lawnmower?

What’s more, the man was caught because he ran into and damaged a police car!

On May 4, a police officer had parked his police cruiser in a parking lot in Haines City, Florida, and stepped inside a nearby business to deal with a dispatch call when he heard a loud noise outside of the business. The officer stepped outside to check the situation to find Gary Anderson, 68, sitting atop of a lawnmower with a trailer containing a cooler. Although he admitted to hitting the patrol car, he denied causing any damage to it. However, upon inspection, the officer saw that there was some damage to the bumper of the cruiser.

Anderson admitted to having “consumed a pint of wine prior to the crash.” The officer conducted field sobriety tests, which Anderson failed. According to the affidavit, Anderson “almost fell to the ground multiple times while walking and standing.” While in custody, Anderson’s demeanor changed from jovial to belligerent with foul language and racial slurs. After a while, he started to accuse the police of poisoning him and asked to be taken to a hospital. Tests were done at the Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center, where results showed Anderson of having a 0.241 percent blood alcohol content, approximately three times the legal limit. The blood tests also revealed cocaine in his system. Anderson, however, accused the officers of poisoning him with the cocaine.

According to one source, Anderson had been convicted of DUI twice within the last 10 years and was charged with a third DUI in 10 years and refusing to submit to a chemical test. However, other sources say his most recent charge was back in 1987. This discrepancy can make a huge difference. According to the Florida Vehicle Code, if Anderson’s third conviction is within 10 years of a prior conviction, then there is a mandatory jail sentence of at least 30 days. If his conviction is more than 10 years of a prior conviction, then imprisonment is for not more than 12 months. Not only is there a difference in possible jail time, if the third DUI is within 10 years of a prior conviction, then Anderson is possibly guilty of committing a third-degree felony.

Anderson was held in jail in lieu of $3,000 bail.

“I’m proud of the professional demeanor our officers showed when dealing with this heavily-intoxicated, belligerent offender,” Haines City police Chief Jim Elensky said in a statement. “It’s never a good idea to get behind the wheel drunk, even if that wheel is to a Craftsman, Massey Ferguson or John Deere.”

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