Electric Scooter DUI

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

I’m sure you’ve seen them around town. First it was the rentable bicycles on sidewalks throughout Southern California. Now it’s electric scooters as an alternative to walking around town for pedestrians in urban areas like downtown Los Angeles or my neck of the woods, Long Beach.

How do they work? Well, like many things today, there’s an app for it. Download the app onto your smartphone for one the scooter companies that offer their services in your area; Bird, Lime, Skip, Scoot, or Spin. Once downloaded, you can access a map that tells you where the nearest scooter is. Find the nearest scooter, enter your credit card number into the app, and scan the bar code on the scooter with your smartphone to unlock the scooter. Ride.

This week, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said that his office secured the conviction of Nicholas Kauffroath, 28, for driving a rentable scooter under the influence.

Kauffroath was riding a rentable Bird scooter in West Los Angeles when he collided with a pedestrian and scooted away without rendering help or providing information.

Law enforcement found Kauffroath at a nearby apartment building where they were able to test his blood alcohol content, which registered at 0.279 percent; more than three times the legal limit.

Kauffroath subsequently pleaded no contest to one count of misdemeanor operating a motorized under the influence and one count of misdemeanor hit and run. He was sentenced to three years of informal probation, a $550 fine, a three-month DUI program, and was ordered to stay off scooters while drinking.

“Drinking while operating a vehicle, a bike – or a scooter – is not only illegal, but can lead to serious injury or worse,” Feuer said in a statement. “This conviction demonstrates our office’s continued effort to enforce our drunk driving laws and make our streets and sidewalks safer.”

While the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office treated Kauffroath’s case as though it was a standard DUI with a vehicle based on the sentence he received, the law regarding DUI’s on scooters is not necessarily the same as a DUI with a vehicle.

California Vehicle Code section 21221 states in pertinent part, “Every person operating a motorized scooter upon a highway…is subject to all…provisions concerning driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs.” Under this section, it seems as though Kauffroath’s sentence was not wholly inconsistent with vehicle DUI laws regarding punishment.

However, section 21221.5 states in pertinent part, “[I]t is unlawful for any person to operate a motorized scooter upon a highway while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or any drug, or under the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug…A conviction of a violation of this section shall be punishable by a fine of not more than two hundred and fifty dollars ($250).”

The conundrum here is that in the latter section, the penalty for a DUI on a scooter cannot, under the law, be more than $250. This necessarily means that a DUI on an electric scooter cannot be charged as anything more than an infraction with a penalty of nothing more than the $250 fine.

Of course, I don’t know exactly what discussions and/or negotiations occurred between Kauffroath’s defense attorney and the City Attorney’s office regarding his plea deal. I can say that I recently had one of these cases, which was originally charged as a misdemeanor. If convicted as a misdemeanor, my client was looking at three to five years of probation, an 18-month DUI course, fines and fees, and a probation violation for a previous DUI conviction, which could have very well led to jail time. However, after arguing that the language of the law only allowed for a fine of no more than a $250 fine, the case was dropped to an infraction with that $250 fine.

It should be noted that, before scooter renters are allowed to rent and ride the scooters, they are required to confirm that they will not ride while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

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Tens of Thousands of DUI Cases Affected by Tainted Breathalyzers in Massachusetts

Thursday, September 20th, 2018

Prosecutors in the state of Massachusetts have agreed to stop using breathalyzer results dating back to 2011 as a result of improper calibration of the breathalyzers when the machines were first purchased by the state. What’s more, state officials later attempted to hide the machines’ flaw from both defense attorneys as well as prosecutors.

The agreement will be presented this week to Judge Robert Brennan, who has been overseeing the proceedings challenging the reliability of the Draeger 9510 since 2015.

Although prosecutors in Massachusetts had already agreed to stop using results from June 1, 2011 to June 14, 2014, defense attorneys learned that state officials in the Office of Alcohol Testing, which is part of the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab, had withheld hundreds of documents that a judge had ordered them to overturn. Those documents showed a higher calibration failure rate than state officials had previously reported.

According to defense attorney, about 36,500 test results have been affected by the calibration flaw. This includes nearly every breathalyzer result obtained since 2011.

People who were convicted of a DUI where the breathalyzers results were obtained from within that timeframe can seek a new trial if their conviction was based solely on the breathalyzer results. People convicted of a DUI cannot, however, seek a new trial if their conviction was at least partly based on other evidence of intoxication such as observed poor driving by witnesses or police, video, or field sobriety tests.

According to Jake Wark, a spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, the actual number of affected cases will be “significantly lower” than 36,500 because it will not include cases where a breathalyzer was given to a person before being put into protective custody or where someone was given a breathalyzer to show them how the machine works.

Contrary to the usual adversarial rapport between defense attorneys and prosecutors, defense attorneys are maintaining that prosecutors and law enforcement are not to blame for the monumental blunder.

“It was not the assistant district attorneys who were withholding the material, said Joseph Bernard, an attorney leading the litigation over the machines. “They had nothing to do with this and when they found out, they rose up.”

Prosecutors are, however, still arguing to use the results in DUI cases involving death or severe injury, or in fifth or subsequent DUI cases. Additionally, prosecutors are proposing a cutoff date of August 31, 2017, after which they can begin using the breathalyzer results again.

Defense attorneys are arguing that the use of the breathalyzer results should continue to be halted until the state lab obtains accreditation by a national standards group, ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board, which likely wouldn’t happen until 2020.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone where I fall on this. If the results are faulty, they should not be used in any DUI case, including those that involved death or serious injury and fifth or subsequent DUI’s. The seriousness of the offense does not justify the use of tainted evidence.

Furthermore, those convicted of a DUI should not be barred from re-trial simply because other evidence existed. Just because other evidence exists that tends to show intoxication doesn’t mean that that evidence alone and without the breathalyzer result would have produced the same result.

We’ll have to wait and see how this, as I referred to it earlier, monumental blunder plays out in Massachusetts.

 

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Should Every Step of the DUI Arrest be Recorded?

Thursday, August 30th, 2018

A report about a South Carolina law has raised the question, “Should every step of the DUI arrest be recorded?” If you’ve my previous posts, you know my answer is a vehement, “yes.”

A South Carolina law requires that the entirety of a DUI stop and arrest must be recorded otherwise the driver’s charges could get dismissed. And a new report suggests that DUI conviction rates have decreased significantly as a result of the law.

Many drunken drivers walk free in SC because of strict law, report says

August 29, 2018. The Post and Courier – In South Carolina, a police dash camera pointed the wrong way could be considered cause for a judge to throw out a drunken driving case, even when deputies say a motorist was clearly impaired.

State law, which critics describe as one of the strictest in the country, requires videotaping virtually every step of a DUI arrest. If the suspect is out of the shot of a dashcam or body camera or the video does not work, courts could dismiss the charges.

Greenville-area prosecutors who handle nearly 1,000 DUI cases a year say that loophole in state law, along with others, hurts conviction rates that have been criticized by Mothers Against Drunk Driving in a report released this week.

The report examined the outcome of hundreds of DUI cases in the Greenville and Columbia areas and found less than half resulted in drunken driving convictions.

An assistant solicitor handling a pending DUI case said she’s preparing arguments for why the judge should accept video into evidence because part of an arrest wasn’t captured on screen. Another Greenville prosecutor said a judge dismissed a case this year because a suspect couldn’t be seen being given Miranda rights, even though a dashcam captured the audio.

“It’s just a really odd and unreasonable requirement,” said Jennifer Tessitore, assistant solicitor for the 13th Circuit.

Technical glitches often spur prosecutors to offer suspects plea deals for lesser crimes, such as reckless driving, she said.

The issue is highlighted in a new report from the South Carolina chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving that calls on S.C. leaders to bring down the state’s more than 330 drunk driving deaths a year, which ranks sixth in the nation.

A majority of misdemeanor DUI cases in the Greenville area, or roughly 49 percent, are pleaded down to a lesser charge, while roughly 45 percent result in convictions, according to the 13th Circuit’s analysis of more than 1,200 cases between 2016-17 that was released Tuesday.

That conviction rate is much lower than other major crimes, 13th Circuit Solicitor Walt Wilkins told reporters Tuesday. He pointed to the state requirements on video evidence as a key hurdle.

“Our ability to (prosecute) is hindered by this current statute,” Wilkins said. “It makes it more difficult than it could, or that is allowed by other states.”

For the Columbia area, the conviction rate was 48 percent and another 48 percent of cases were pleaded down, according to MADD’s own analysis of 160 cases between 2016-17.

Defense lawyers who have handled drunken driving cases said the video requirement is no excuse for a poor conviction rate.

“They say it’s a burdensome technicality, but there’s nothing technical about a fair process,” said Joe McCulloch, a Columbia lawyer who handles dozens of DUI cases a year.

Then-state Rep. Ted Vick had a DUI charge thrown out in 2014 because officers failed to videotape the lawmaker being read his Miranda rights. The state has required some form of video evidence in DUI cases since 1998, said Sen. Brad Hutto, a Democratic Orangeburg attorney who worked on the legislation.

Requiring officers to record their interactions has actually strengthened evidence in DUI cases for juries to consider, Hutto said.

“If you have two people there, it’s your word against mine,” he said. “Who are you supposed to believe? If you have a video tape, you can see who’s actually right.”

More than $220,000 in grants from the S.C. Department of Public Safety funded the MADD study. Another $72,000 grant is funding a similar study of the Charleston area, which is expected to be published next year.

Fresh concerns about impaired driving in Charleston were raised in July when a motorist careened onto a sidewalk, fatally striking an 11-year-old girl. Though the driver had no alcohol in his system, police suspected that he had used drugs before the crash.

In June, police said a woman with a blood-alcohol content nearly twice the legal limit swerved into the wrong lane, causing a head-on collision with congressional candidate Katie Arrington, who was traveling on the Savannah Highway in Charleston County.

 

Guess what, critics of the law? You have it because we can no longer trust the arresting officer’s word that the stop was lawful, that procedures were done properly, and that the driver was actually drunk! If prosecutors want a higher conviction rate, how about training officers better or making sure that the equipment is functioning properly?

I’ve been doing DUI defense long enough to know that police lie in DUI police reports more often than I’d like to admit.

In a recent case of mine, a driver told the officer who stopped him that he had one glass of wine with dinner. This prompted the officer to have the driver perform field sobriety tests. Although there was sufficient space in front of the officer’s vehicle and within view the dashcam to perform the tests, the officer took the driver out of the camera’s view. Lo and behold, the officer’s report indicated that the driver failed all of the tests. However, after the driver was arrested and submitted to a chemical test, it was revealed that he had a blood alcohol content of only 0.02 percent, a mere ¼ the legal limit of 0.08. Either the driver failed the field sobriety tests while being sober, which is a problem in and of itself, or the officer lied in his report. I tend to believe the latter.

This shouldn’t be about giving the prosecutors more convictions. It must be about truth, fairness, and transparency with officers who make DUI stops. I applaud South Carolina, and every state should have similar laws.   

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Drunk Driver Arrested with Three Times the Legal Limit and Five Children in the Car

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

A woman was arrested this week after she was caught driving with a blood alcohol content over three times the legal limit and with five children in the car.

Rhode Island State Police were notified by a staff member of the Lincoln Woods State Park about a woman who appeared to be drunk and preparing to drive away in a minivan with five children, ages ranging from seven months to ten years old.

When officers confronted Leah Beatriz Duran, 41, of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, she backed into one of the officer’s vehicles in an attempt to flee, according to police.

Once officers were able to stop Duran, they determined that her blood alcohol content was 0.279 and 0.277.

Duran was charged with drunk driving with a child under the age of 13, driving with a suspended or revoked license, driving without insurance, failure to carry a license, and failure to maintain reasonable and prudent speeds.

The children were turned over to relatives and Duran is due in court later this month where she will be facing up to a year in jail based on a new law passed by the Rhode Island legislature.

“Drunken or drugged driving becomes something much worse when a child is in the car,” said Rhode Island Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, who sponsored the bill which increased penalties for DUI when children are in the vehicle. “Besides threatening his or her own safety and that of everyone else on the road, that driver is risking the life of a child for whom he or she is supposed to be responsible — a child who has no choice or control over their presence in that car. That’s a more serious crime that warrants stiffer penalties. Tougher sentences will send a strong message that makes people think twice about endangering kids in this way.”

While not the same as Rhode Island, California also treats DUI with children in the car very seriously. Not only is a person looking at the punishment under California’s DUI law, they are also looking at additional penalties under California Vehicle Code section 23572, also known as California’s DUI child endangerment enhancements.

Under California Vehicle Code section 23572, a first time DUI conviction where a minor under the age of 14 is in the car will bring an additional 48 hours in a county jail on top of any jail time the underlying DUI sentence might carry. A second time DUI conviction will bring an additional 10 days in jail. A third time will bring an additional 30 days in jail. A fourth will bring an additional 90 days. Furthermore, these penalties are to be served consecutively, not concurrently with the underlying DUI penalties.

The prosecutor need only prove that you were driving under the influence and that there was a minor child under the age of 14 in the car while you drove.

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Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules Warrantless Blood Draw in DUI Cases Allowed

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

In 2016, the United States Supreme Court held that law enforcement must obtain a warrant before forcibly withdrawing blood from a suspected drunk driver.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said, “It is true that a blood test, unlike a breath test, may be administered to a person who is unconscious (perhaps as a result of a crash) or who is unable to do what is needed to take a breath test due to profound intoxication or injuries. But we have no reason to believe that such situations are common in drunk-driving arrests, and when they arise, the police may apply for a warrant if need be.”

Notwithstanding the precedent, the Wisconsin Supreme Court seems to think that it can continue to issue decisions that allow that law enforcement to withdraw an unconscious DUI suspect’s blood without a warrant in violation of both the Constitution and the United States Supreme Court. It did so again this week in the case of Gerald Mitchell.

“Nothing in the opinion indicates the Supreme Court considered how its analytical structure would apply in the context of an unconscious suspect arrested for OWI, and it would be too much like reading tea leaves to give any substantive weight to a statement that simply gives the Court’s reasons for not addressing the question we are deciding,” Wisconsin Justice Daniel Kelly wrote.

Mitchell was arrested back in 2013 on suspicion of driving under the influence, or “operating while intoxicated” as Wisconsin calls it. Mitchell passed out after he was arrested, but before he could give consent for officers to withdraw blood. While unconscious, an officer told Mitchell that he could refuse. Not surprisingly, Mitchell didn’t respond. The officer then directed hospital staff to withdraw Mitchell’s blood.

The blood sample indicated that Mitchell’s blood alcohol content was 0.22 percent, well above the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Based on that information, Mitchell was convicted of driving under the influence.

Mitchell appealed arguing that the blood withdrawal was a violation of his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. An appellate court sent the case to Wisconsin Supreme Court for clarification because the Wisconsin Supreme Court had previously decided that warrantless blood withdrawals were allowed in urgent situations where delay in obtaining consent could lead to the loss of evidence, namely the dissipation of alcohol in the driver’s blood.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court in Mitchell’s case justified the holding by citing Wisconsin’s Implied Consent law stating that drivers automatically consent to blood withdrawals when they have a driver’s license.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Patience Roggensack said, “Through drinking to the point of unconsciousness, Mitchell forfeited all opportunity…to withdraw his consent previously given.”

Justice Roggensack went on to cite the legislature’s efforts at stamping out drunk driving to justify the court’s position.

“Just as Wisconsin drivers consent to the above-listed obligations by their conduct of driving on Wisconsin’s roads, in the context of significant, well-publicized laws designed to curb drunken driving, they also consent to an evidentiary drawing of blood upon a showing of probable cause to believe that they operated vehicles while intoxicated,” she wrote.

However, this rationale goes against exactly what the United States Supreme Court said in 2016.

“It is one thing to approve implied-consent laws that impose civil penalties and evidentiary consequences on motorists who refuse to comply, but quire another for a State to insist upon an intrusive blood test and then to impose criminal penalties on refusal to submit,” Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote. “There must be a limit to the consequences to which motorists may be deemed to have consented by virtue of a decision to drive on public roads.”

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley dissented from Justice Roggensack arguing exactly what Supreme Court Justice Alito had enunciated two years ago.

“This language compels a single conclusion: law enforcement needed a warrant here,” she said.

Bradley said the majority was merely using Wisconsin’s implied consent law to overrule the guarantees of the Constitution.

“Under the lead opinion’s analysis, however, the opportunity to refuse an unconstitutional search is merely a matter of legislative grace. If the ability to withdraw consent is merely statutory, could the legislature remove the ability to withdraw consent entirely? For the Fourth Amendment to have any meaning, such a result cannot stand,” she wrote.

What’s the point of precedent if states continue to refuse following case law set by the highest court in this country, and refusing to follow it at the expense of constitutionally guaranteed rights?

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