California DUI with a High BAC

Friday, September 29th, 2017

Many people know that the legal blood alcohol content limit is 0.08 percent and that if caught driving with a 0.08 percent or more, they will face the penalties associated with a DUI. Few people however know that if they are caught driving with a blood alcohol content that is much higher than the legal limit, they face additional penalties.

The mandatory minimum punishment for a first time DUI conviction in California is $390 plus penalties and assessments, which are like court taxes and will increase the overall amount to about $2,000, three years of summary (informal) probation, and a three-month DUI program called AB-541.

The first consequence of a driver having a high blood alcohol content, beyond the mandatory minimum penalties mentioned above, is that they must admit to having a high blood alcohol content. The prosecutor may include in the criminal complaint a “special allegation” that the driver’s blood alcohol content was high. In addition to pleading guilty to the DUI itself, as part of a plea deal, prosecutors often want the driver to admit on the record that the special allegation that their blood alcohol content was particularly high.

A driver may also be facing a longer DUI program. AB 762 is a six-month program and AB 1353 is a nine-month program and both can be offered as part of plea deal for an elevated blood alcohol content. There is an 18-month program called SB 38, but it is reserved for people who have been convicted of one or more California DUI’s within the past 10 years. 

Another additional penalty that a person faces after a California DUI conviction with a high blood alcohol content is the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Victim Impact Panel. According to Mother Against Drunk Driving (MADD), one of their main goals is to prevent recidivism of DUI offenses. In an attempt to accomplish this, MADD provides one-day presentations where convicted DUI offenders listen to the stories of people whose lives have been negatively affected by drunk driving. The speakers are usually victims of DUI-related collisions or relatives of those who were killed as the result of DUI-related collisions.

The prosecutor might also offer a Hospital and Morgue (HAM) program. The name is exactly what the program entails. The person convicted of the California DUI must visit with doctors at a hospital who address the dangers of driving drunk and experience the health consequences of driving drunk. Following the hospital visit, the person must visit a morgue where they view the bodies that are stored there and are confronted with the ultimate consequence of driving drunk and other risky behavior. After both the hospital and morgue components are completed, the person must write an essay reflecting on their experience, the lessons learned, and behavior moving forward.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings might also be offered as an additional penalty when a BAC is particularly high. According to its own website, www.aa.org, “AA is an international fellowship of men and women who have a drinking problem…Membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem.” AA meetings are relatively easy to locate and are offered throughout the week at varying times. Since the meetings only typically last one hour to 90 minutes, the court usually requires at least 10 meetings. For extremely high BAC readings, a person may have to a significant amount of AA meetings.

Lastly, a person may actually have to serve jail time. Whether a prosecutor will want jail for an elevated BAC depends other aggravating factors surrounding the DUI, the county in which the DUI took place, and the courthouse itself. Although it is the most severe of the increased penalties and unlikely to be offered, it is possible.

A driver with a particularly high blood alcohol content may face one, all, or a combination of any of the abovementioned increased penalties. Other, less frequent penalties, such as a SCRAM device or an ignition interlock device, may also be included. Since these penalties are not mandatory, it is important to hire a California DUI attorney to possibly eliminate them as part of a DUI sentence.

 

 

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Can Personal Breathalyzers Prevent Drunk Driving?

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

How many people would think twice about getting behind the wheel after having a few drinks knowing that they were above the legal limit? My guess is a lot. No longer must a person guess whether they are over or under the legal limit if they have their own personal breathalyzer.

So can a personal breathalyzer prevent a DUI? I don’t see why not.

Breathalyzers are so readily available nowadays that, in addition to the standard multiple-use breathalyzer, they have developed single-use disposable breathalyzers and breathalyzer apps for the smartphone.

As you can imagine, the range in the quality and price of personal breathalyzers is quite large. Costs will vary between $15 and several hundred dollars. Breathalyzers under $50, and those coming on key chains have questionable accuracy from the start and accuracy continues to decrease after multiple uses.

Unlike novelty breathalyzers, quality breathalyzers will be backed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that the FDA conducts research to confirm that the breathalyzer does what its literature says it does.

Just because I believe that personal breathalyzers can prevent a DUI, it doesn’t mean that they are 100% accurate. Almost all quality breathalyzers, like those the police use, require calibration after repeated use to ensure accuracy. Some products allow for owners to calibrate themselves and some require that the breathalyzer be sent to the manufacturer for calibration. Heavily used and non-calibrated breathalyzers will likely not be accurate.

It is possible for a person’s blood alcohol content to continue to rise after a breathalyzer reading, especially if they’ve only recently stopped drinking. Therefore, it is also possible for a person to have a blood alcohol content of 0.07 when they leave the bar (and when they test themselves) and a 0.09 after they’ve been driving for a while. If that is the case, you can still be arrested and charged for a California DUI.

Lastly, a person does not necessarily need to be above a 0.08 blood alcohol content to be arrested and charged with a California DUI. A person can be arrested and charged with a California DUI if they are above a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or if they are “under the influence.” In other words, you can be a 0.07 percent, but if an officer determines that you cannot safely operate a vehicle as a sober person could, you can still be arrested and charged with a California DUI.  A breathalyzer may determine if you are under the legal limit, but it cannot determine whether you are “under the influence.”

Although I can’t imagine some DUI’s not being prevented with personal breathalyzers, the Colorado Department of Transportation wants to be sure. They are providing personal breathalyzers to people with prior DUI’s in certain counties.

Those who participate in the program have agreed to actually use the breathalyzer and complete a survey. At the end of the program and when the survey is completed, participants can keep the breathalyzer.

You can be sure that when the Colorado Department of Transportation releases the results of this experiment, you can be sure that I’ll update you with that information.  

 

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Teen Who Livestreamed Drunk Driving Collision Pleads Not Guilty

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

You may have already seen the video. A California teen livestreamed herself driving drunk and crashing the vehicle that she was driving. The collision killed her younger sister. The teen driver, Obdulia Sanchez, pleaded not guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter and number of other felony offenses this past Wednesday.

18-year-old Sanchez of Stockton, California was filming herself behind the wheel of a 2003 Buick with her 14-year-old sister, Jacqueline and another 14-year-old girl in the back seats. The video showed Sanchez dancing to music as she was driving moments before the collision. The accident itself was caught on the camera as the footage shows the inside of the vehicle as it rolled. Moments later, Sanchez shows her sister’s body with fatal head injuries.

“Hey, everybody, if I go to f***ing jail for life, you already know why,” Sanchez told viewers of the livestream. “My sister is f***ing dying. Look, I f***ing love my sister to death. I don’t give a f***. Man, we about to die. This is the last thing I wanted to happen to us, but it just did. Jacqueline, please wake up.”

Neither girl in the back seat were wearing seatbelts and both were ejected. Manuela Seja, the surviving passenger suffered severe injuries to her right leg.

It was later determined that Sanchez’s blood alcohol content was 0.10 percent.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, Sanchez was charged with felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, felony manslaughter while intoxicated, two counts of felony driving under the influence resulting in injury and two counts of felony driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more causing injury.

“The behavior demonstrated both prior to and after the incident, as documented by the defendant’s own recording, is disturbing and shocking,” Deputy District Attorney Harold Nutt said in a statement. “The Merced County district attorney’s office will do everything in its power to see that justice is done in this matter.”

On Wednesday, Sanchez appeared on video for her arraignment where her public defender, Ramnik Samrao pleaded not guilty to all counts on her behalf.

After the hearing, Samrao told reporters that Sanchez “feels absolutely terrible.” Although Sanchez admitted to killing her sister in the video, Samrao maintains that it is unclear whether a crime was committed. “We don’t know that she was drunk, that’s the allegation,” he said.

Sanchez is being held on $560,000 bail and, if convicted, faces up to 13 years and eight months in a California state prison.

I understand how the video can make it easy to rush to judgment about Sanchez or what her fate should be. However, we must to remind ourselves that one of the cornerstones of our criminal justice system is the notion that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. If Sanchez is guilty, the system needs to take its course before she is, in fact, deemed guilty. Then, and only then, can she be punished for what she did.

 

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Two DUI’s in Less than Three Hours

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

A Wisconsin man was arrested twice in about two and a half hours for driving under the influence according to Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin Public Safety. What’s more, he’s only 18 years old.

18-year-old Preston Bierhals was on his way home from a graduation party last week when he lost control of his vehicle and struck a light pole. Bierhals told responding officers that he was trying to make a phone call when he lost control of his car.

His blood alcohol content was later determined to be 0.157 percent.

At the time, Bierhals’s license was suspended.

“The legal limit for him is zero, but he was still above the 0.08, he was over 0.10 actually both times,” said Capt. Jody Crocker.

Bierhals was booked for “operating while intoxicated” (OWI), which is the Wisconsin equivalent of California’s “driving under the influence” (DUI).

Instead of keeping Bierhals to sober up, officers released him to someone who signed a Responsibility Agreement not to allow him to drive a vehicle.

“They signed an affidavit that says to us that they will take that responsibility in lieu of this person sitting in jail for the next 12 hours. Here of course, that didn’t work,” said Capt. Crocker.

Why didn’t it work? Well, because less than three hours later, an officer working traffic detail for a triathlon that morning spotted Bierhals driving and recognized him from the arrest just hours prior.

The officer stopped Bierhals once again and administered field sobriety tests to which Bierhals failed again. And again he was arrested on suspicion of OWI.

This time, Bierhals’s blood alcohol content was a 0.121. This is consistent with the average rate of alcohol metabolism (burn-off) of 0.015 percent per hour, assuming no more alcohol was consumed since the first arrest.

In Wisconsin, prosecutors cannot file charges for a second drunk driving offense until the citation Bierhals received for the first OWI is resolved.

According to Capt. Crocker, law enforcement is looking into whether charges should be filed against the person whom Bierhals was released to.

Some of you may be thinking, “What could happen to someone like that?”

Well, here in California a minor who is caught driving with alcohol in their system can face several charges and penalties.

California Vehicle Code section 23136 makes it illegal for a minor to have a blood alcohol content of 0.01 percent or greater while driving. This is knowns as California’s “Zero Tolerance” law for underage drivers. Under this law, a minor faces a one-year suspension of their driver’s license.

California Vehicle Code section 23140 makes it illegal for a minor to have a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent or greater while driving. Unlike section 23136, this section is an infraction which can result in fines of up to $100 and a one-year suspension of their driver’s license.

However, in Bierhals’s case, had it occurred here in California, prosecutors would have likely charged him with the standard adult DUI under California Vehicle Code section 23152 (driving under the influence and driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or greater). A violation of section 23152 is a misdemeanor which carries a three to nine month DUI program, three years of summary probation, up to $1000 in fines, up to six months in jail, and a six-month suspension of driving privileges.

Of course, Bierhals is facing the penalties for a second-time DUI as well. A second time DUI, here in California will also be charged as a misdemeanor, but this time, he’s facing between 96 hours and one year in jail, an 18-month DUI program, and two-year suspension of driving privileges.

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Do I have to Take a Breath Test?

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

You heard me say a couple of weeks ago that breathalyzers are inaccurate and, as a result, lawyers can challenge the results of a particular breathalyzer. Lawyers, however, cannot challenge breathalyzers generally even though they are inaccurate.

This begs the question: Do you have to take a breathalyzer test?

Like many things in law, the answer is that it depends. In California, there are two different “breathalyzer” tests. One test is required by law, while the other is not.

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 California Vehicle Code is referring to the roadside breathalyzer, called a preliminary alcohol screening test (PAS test), that officers use to obtain the evidence they need to make a DUI arrest. As an officer makes a stop, whether the officer suspects a DUI or not, they don’t have the evidence needed to arrest the driver on suspicion of a DUI. To obtain that evidence, the officer may ask the driver questions, the officer may have the driver perform field sobriety tests, and the officer may ask the driver to submit to a PAS test. In fact, the PAS test is considered a field sobriety test.

Like the field sobriety tests, the PAS test is optional. Also like the field sobriety tests, a driver should not submit to the PAS test.

In fact, the investigating officer must advise the driver that the PAS test is, in fact, 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.”

If a driver tells the officer they consumed alcohol or the driver performs and fail the field sobriety tests or the driver provides a PAS sample that shows the presence of alcohol, the driver will likely be arrested on suspicion of a California DUI.

Once the driver is arrested, the California Vehicle Code requires that the driver submit to a “chemical test,” which can either be a breathalyzer test or a blood test. This is called California’s “implied consent law.”

California Vehicle Code section 23612(a)(1)(A) states, “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].”

In other words, if you can legally drive in California, you have impliedly consented to a chemical test if you are lawfully arrested on suspicion of a DUI.

Unlike the PAS test, if you are arrested for a DUI and you do not want to provide a blood sample, the chemical breath test is not optional.  

In fact, refusing the chemical test can lead to increased penalties such as a longer DUI school, a longer license suspension, and even jail time.

To sum up, the pre-arrest PAS test is optional and you should always politely decline this test. A post-arrest chemical breath test is required provided the suspect opts not to provide a blood sample.

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