Labor Day Checkpoints and Knowing What to Do

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

Law enforcement agencies throughout Southern California will increase their efforts to thwart would-be drunk drivers this month and on into the Labor Day weekend. One tool I know they plan on using during this time is the DUI checkpoint.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Labor Day weekend is one of the deadliest holidays of the year when it comes alcohol-related collisions. In 2017, there was 376 deadly crashes nationwide for the Labor Day holiday period which ran from September 1st to September 5th. Of those 376 deadly collisions, more than one-third (36%) involved drunk drivers.

Last year, California saw two deaths and 31 injuries on Labor Day.

Since there is an increased chance of getting stopped at checkpoint in the next couple of weeks, it makes sense to remind our readers what their rights are when it comes to a California DUI checkpoint.

The 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution requires that officers have probable cause and a warrant before they can seize and/or search a person. Well, what is a checkpoint? It is certainly a seizure since the police are stopping people on the roads when they would otherwise be free to drive without interruption. It may be also a search if the law enforcement has drivers take a breathalyzer since by doing so they are looking for evidence of drunk driving.

So, checkpoints can involve both searches and seizures, yet police don’t have warrants to stop and breathalyze drivers. How?

In the 1987 case of Ingersoll v. Palmer, the California Supreme Court set forth guidelines to ensure the constitutionality of checkpoints in California such that law enforcement doesn’t need a warrant. Those guidelines are:

  1. The decision to conduct checkpoint must be at the supervisory level.
  2. There must be limits on the discretion of field officers.
  3. Checkpoints must be maintained safely for both the officers and the motorists.
  4. Checkpoints must be set up at reasonable locations such that the effectiveness of the checkpoint is optimized.
  5. The time at which a checkpoint is set up should also optimize the effectiveness of the checkpoint.
  6. The checkpoint must show indicia of official nature of the roadblock.
  7. Motorists must only be stopped for a reasonable amount of time which is only long enough to briefly question the motorist and look for signs of intoxication.
  8. Lastly, the Court in the Ingersoll decision was strongly in favor of the belief that there should be advance publicity of the checkpoint. To meet this requirement law enforcement usually make the checkpoints highly visible with signs and lights.

Three years later in the case of Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, the United States Supreme Court held that the state’s interest in preventing drunk driving was a “substantial government interest.” It further held that this government interest outweighed motorists’ interests against unreasonable searches and seizures when considering the brevity and nature of the stop. In doing so, the court held that sobriety checkpoints were constitutional even though officers were technically violating the 4th Amendment (because they don’t have a warrant when they seize and search motorists at DUI checkpoints).

Now that we’ve determined that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional, I would be remiss if I did not tell you what your rights and obligations are, as the driver, should you happen to find yourself stopped at a sobriety checkpoint.

Based on the last of the Ingersoll v. Palmer requirements, checkpoints must be highly visible. As a result, drivers are often aware of the checkpoint before they drive up to it. Believe it or not, drivers are allowed to turn around so as to avoid the checkpoint. They, however, must do so without breaking any traffic laws such as making an illegal U-turn.

If you do not turn away, but rather pull up to the checkpoint, the officer might first ask you some questions such as: Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Have you had anything to drink?

The 5th Amendment to the Constitution gives you the right not to say anything to law enforcement ever. And don’t! Invoke your right to remain silent by telling the officer, “I would like invoke my 5th Amendment right and respectfully decline to answer any of your questions.” Now keep your mouth shut until given the opportunity to call your attorney.

Surely this is not going to sit well with the officer. They may, at that point, have the driver exit the car and request that they perform field sobriety tests. Drivers should absolutely decline to perform the field sobriety tests. They are an inaccurate indicator of intoxication, but fortunately they are optional. I and many other people would have trouble doing them sober.

At this point, the officer is likely fuming, but who cares? You are exercising your constitutional rights.

As a last-ditch effort, they may request that you take a roadside breathalyzer commonly referred to as a “PAS” (preliminary alcohol screening) test. Under California’s implied consent rule, as a driver, you must submit to a chemical test after you have been arrested on suspicion of a DUI. The key word is “after.” Therefore, when you happen upon a checkpoint and the officer requests that you to take the PAS test, you can legally refuse. If, however, the officer has arrested you on suspicion of DUI you must submit to either a blood test or a breath test.

This Labor Day be on the lookout for sobriety checkpoints. But should you find yourself about to drive through one with no way to legally turn around, know your rights and use them. That’s what they’re there for.

 

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The End of Texas’s Driver Responsibility Program Means More DUI Fines

Friday, July 26th, 2019

As of September 1st, 2019, one of the most hated programs ordered by the state of Texas for traffic violations will be no more, but that means more fines for DUI offenses.

The Driver Responsibility Program imposed surcharges on Texas drivers who were convicted of charges such as driving under the influence or driving without a license. These surcharges were in addition to the standard fines for the convictions themselves, and could range from $250 per year (for three years for driving with an invalid license) to $2,000 per year for three years (for a DUI with a blood alcohol of 0.16 or higher). Surcharges could be imposed on those who had one too many simple moving violations as well.

For most, it was a nuisance fee that was added onto whatever they may have done, but for others who were in tighter financial constraints, these fines would add up if they were unable to pay, resulting in suspended licenses, and even more tickets and fines.

According to Terri Burke of the ACLU of Texas, “The Driver Responsibility Program has forced thousands of Texans to pay for their liberty, which is no justice at all. Suspending someone’s license only further removes them from the workforce, leaving them without money to pay additional fees.”

A bill was signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to end the program about three weeks ago and it is expected that over 630,000 people will have their licenses reinstated with the conclusion of the program, as long as they do not have any fees of suspensions unrelated to the Driver Responsibility Program. An additional 350,000 people will be able to get their licenses reinstated with the payment of a restatement fee. Seeing these numbers, it is amazing to see how many people were affected by this program.

Now, with the revenue that the state will no longer be able to make from the program, the money must be offset somehow. The bill called for a $2 increase on state-mandated car insurance fees, which would be specifically allocated to trauma hospitals, and the remaining revenue is to be offset by an increase in the fines for DUI offenses. A first time DUI offense currently imposes a fine of $2,000, but with the conclusion of the Driver Responsibility Program, it will be increased to a whopping $6,000 penalty.

The fight to repeal the Driver Responsibility Program had been going on for years with part of the argument against it being that it violated the Equal Protection Clause with its unfair license suspension system. It seems though that advocates finally got their say. Unfortunately, it also seems that there are still many issues to work through. What the drivers who are currently part of the Program need to do with the fees that they have incurred thus far is still unclear. What is also unclear are the repercussions in terms of license points and/or fees between now and September 1st (when the program officially is repealed). It does not seem that the Texas Department of Public Safety has yet made any official announcements in how those details will be handled and how drivers should handle their remaining fees. Hopefully, an announcement with clear directions to the public will be made soon regarding the transition in the next few months.

BTW, this is best aliexpress cachback.

While drivers in Texas might be spared from paying more money for traffic violations in general as a result of the program’s end, drivers in Texas would also be wise to avoid driving drunk because it could now break the bank.

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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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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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How Effective is Utah’s New DUI BAC Limit?

Thursday, June 6th, 2019

Back in January, we covered Utah and its new DUI law that lowered their blood alcohol content limit to 0.05 percent. (Utah Now Has the Lowest BAC Limit in the Country)

FOX13 of Salt Lake City did a deep dive into new DUI statistics in Utah since the new law’s start. It was reported by the Utah Department of Public Safety that of the 844 people who had been arrested statewide and 38 of them were arrested for having a blood alcohol concentration of between 0.05 and 0.079.

FOX13 took it a step further and broke down the numbers within the 38 who were arrested.

  • 7 were found to be under the legal age of drinking
  • 24 were alcohol restricted drivers and had previously been arrested for a DUI
  • 2 were arrested with a combination of drugs, either prescription or illegal, in their system along with alcohol
  • 1 refused a field sobriety test or chemical blood draw, the results which were positive after a warrant was issued
  • 4 were arrested with the BAC being the only issue with the results between 0.05 and 0.079

Interestingly, the number of underage drinking violations do not show a change prevalence and, according to Michele Corgliano of the Salt Lake Are Restaurant Association, the breakdown and its supporting numbers show that the majority of the DUI arrests are not of drivers who registered a BAC that fell within the new lowered range.

 “These results are in line with our stand prior to the law: 33 of these arrests would have been illegal under the previous law: underage drinking, drugs, suspended license, etc. This is in line with our research, in that it does NOT show .05 is the reason for impairment,” Corgliano said to FOX13.

The average time it takes for the labs to return with the toxicology results to confirm blood alcohol contents is approximately 60 days. Therefore, we have yet to find out if the more recent months show a similar trend. However, since the time that the new law had been implemented, it seems that most of the arrests were for violations of DUI laws that were already in place before the new 0.05 DUI limit took effect. It may still be too early to make any deductions, but if this trend continues, the effectiveness of the new law could face some scrutiny.

Supporters of the 0.05 DUI law have been focused on the reduction of the crashes, injuries, and deaths, noting that it was never about the number of the arrests, but rather saving more lives from the act of driving under the influence. While that may or may not be true, we do not yet have the numbers of injuries and deaths since the implementation of the new law to determine if this law is making a difference. And having said that, I’m sure they’re not crying that at least some people were arrested under the new lowered BAC limit.

Other states such as California have been contemplating following in Utah’s footsteps and lowering their legal limit from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent. It will be interesting to see if California lawmakers take into account the numbers that Utah produces before making a decision. Given the aforementioned statistics for Utah’s new law, and if the current trend of seeming ineffectiveness continues, I certainly hope that California takes Utah’s numbers into account.

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