LAPD Officer Charged with DUI Murder

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

A Los Angeles Police Department officer was arrested last week on suspicion of three counts of murder as the result of a suspected DUI-related collision in Whittier last fall.

On September 26, 2017, Edgar Verduzco, 27, was allegedly speeding in the carpool lane under the influence of alcohol on the 605 freeway in Whittier, California, when his Chevy Camaro collided into the rear of a Nissan. The Nissan burst into flames and Verduzco’s vehicle went on to hit a second vehicle.

A family of three – Mario Davila, 60, Maribel Davila, 52, and their son, Oscar Davila, 19 – were the occupants of the Nissan and all three died as a result of the collision. The occupant of the second vehicle suffered minor injuries. Verduzco suffered a broken nose.

Before the collision, Verduzco posted a video on Instagram from a bar and included the hastag #Dontdrinkanddrive. The video depicted a male in a police uniform with a badge with the name “Verduzco.” The video also showed an animated person sitting in a car which appeared to be sitting on the bar counter with beers.

Although the LAPD could not verify the authenticity of the post or the account’s owner, KTLA reported that other videos on the account show a Chevy Camaro and a police officer which appears to be Verduzco in an LAPD patrol car.

For anybody else, officers responding to a collision where drunk driving was suspected would have whipped out their breathalyzers quicker than a gunslinger in the old west. Suspiciously, however, the officers who responded to the collision did not give Verduzco a breathalyzer to determine his BAC at the scene even though, according to California Highway Patrol, he showed signs of intoxication. Instead, a blood test was later conducted and Verduzco was subsequently released on bail pending the outcome of the blood test.

Although it is unclear whether the blood result is in, Verduzco was re-arrested at a friend’s house in Long Beach last week and was booked on three counts of second degree murder, three counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and drunk driving causing injury.

Last Friday, Verduzco continued his arraignment to May 16th. However, it was not before Judge Deborah S. Brazil set his bail at $6.1 million.

It is unclear why Verduzco is being charged with murder in addition to the “lesser-included” vehicular manslaughter. If you’ve read my numerous posts on a DUI-murder charge (also known as “Watson murder”), you’ll know that to charge murder, prosecutors need to prove that the driver was expressly aware of the dangers of driving drunk, yet they did so anyways. This is usually proven when the driver suffered a prior DUI conviction and is admonished on the dangers of driving drunk. Since there is no indication that Verduzco suffered a prior DUI conviction, my guess would be that his position as a law enforcement officer, whose job it is to arrest people on suspicion of DUI, makes him expressly aware of the dangers of driving drunk.

Verduzco is an Army veteran who joined the LAPD in 2015 after returning from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

“There’s never an excuse for driving under the influence, and if Officer Verduzco is found guilty of whatever he is accused of, then he should suffer the consequences for his reckless actions,'’ said the Los Angeles Police Protective League in a statement issued shortly after the collision.

“My heart goes out to the victims and families so tragically impacted by Verduzco’s criminal actions,” said police Chief Charlie Beck. “Police officers have a moral and legal obligation to abide by the laws that they enforce. [The] arrest demonstrates how seriously we take that obligation.

Stay tuned for updates.

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Lung Condition Causes Woman to Fail Breathalyzer

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

According to the American Lung Association, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, commonly referred to as COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is a chronic lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe. And according to the World Health Organization, COPD affects 65 million people worldwide. COPD, however, affected one Canadian woman in an unexpected way; it caused her to fail a breathalyzer.

Connie McLean, a 64-year-old woman from New Brunswick, Canada, who suffers from COPD, said that the condition can make everyday living difficult.

“When I’m carrying in wood, I can only carry in a couple sticks at a time and I usually have to stop and get some air before I go and get some more,” she said last week. “And shoveling is even worse.”

Early last month, McLean was pulled over by local law enforcement. The officer asked her if she had been drinking. McLean responded that she had a beer that afternoon. At that point, the officer produced a breathalyzer to try and determine her blood alcohol content.

As a result of the COPD, McLean could not produce a strong enough of a breath sample to provide a breathalyzer reading.

“I tried several times, but due to COPD and mucous in my airway I wasn’t successful,” she said. “And he just almost hollered, ‘You’re not trying, you’re under arrest and you’re going to jail.’”

McLean was charged with refusing to comply with the breathalyzer test which resulted in her vehicle being impounded for 30 days and her driver’s license being suspended for 90 days.

“It makes perfect sense to us that if you have severe COPD that it would be impossible to exhale for any length of time,” said Henry Roberts of COPD Canada. “I would hope the police would show some compassion to people who have difficulty breathing.”

McLean has a court date next month and intends on fighting the charge.

McLean’s predicament is not an unusual one, even here in the United States. Often, people are unable to provide a sufficient breath test for a number of health-related reasons. Breathalyzers require deep lung air, known as alveolar air, to be able to produce a blood alcohol content reading. If a person does not advise an officer of the health issue that might prevent them from providing alveolar air, the officer may believe that the person is deliberately trying to provide a sufficient breath sample.

California courts have found that an inference can be made that a person is deliberately attempting to avoid providing a sufficient breath sample if the facts permit. If such an inference is made, the court treats it as a refusal.

Fortunately, here in California, a driver is not required to give a breath sample for a roadside breathalyzer, commonly referred to as a “preliminary alcohol screening” test or “PAS” test. Refusing it will not result in additional penalties with either the court or the DMV. In fact, many DUI attorneys like myself recommend politely refusing the PAS test.

Of more importance, however, is the mandatory “chemical test” under California’s “implied consent law.” Under the implied consent law, a driver must submit to a chemical test once they are lawfully arrested on suspicion of a DUI. The chemical test can be either a breath or a blood test. Only for a refusal of the chemical test, not the PAS test, may a driver be punished.

Here in the California, a refusal of a chemical test can result in jail time, a longer DUI program, and/or a longer license suspension.

Let’s hope that reason prevails in the Canadian courts for McLean’s sake.

 

Thanks to my student, David Hong, for sending me this story!

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Drunk Drivers Say Personal Breathalyzers Helped them Prevent Driving Drunk Again

Friday, December 1st, 2017

This past August, the Colorado Department of Transportation gave 475 personal smartphone breathalyzers to people who had been convicted of a DUI. In addition to the obvious objective of preventing drunk driving, the Colorado Department of Transportation also wanted to see if, in fact, having the breathalyzer actually helped keep them from driving drunk again.

After recently surveying those people who were given breathalyzers, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s results showed that having a personal breathalyzer helped those people avoid driving drunk. In fact, a whopping 90 percent said that having a breathalyzer helped them avoid driving drunk and 94 percent said that they would recommend a personal breathalyzer to others who regularly drink alcohol.

The Colorado Department of Transportation teamed up with BACtrack, who created the smartphone breathalyzer, during the informal study. The breathalyzer is linked to a smartphone app through Bluetooth. If the user determines that they cannot legally drive, the smartphone app can order them a taxi or Uber.

I’ve written a few times on the benefits of purchasing a personal breathalyzer.

Like those handed out by the Colorado Department of Transportation, people can buy breathalyzers that can either be attached directly to a smartphone or connect to smartphone through Bluetooth and will run buyers between $100 and $150.  

Other, less expensive, breathalyzers can come on keychains and can cost buyers as low as $15. Like many things, quality comes with price and the results of these novelty breathalyzers are questionable at best and decrease in accuracy after time.  

Some breathalyzers are handheld and resemble those commonly associated with the breathalyzers used by law enforcement. Those breathalyzers range widely in terms of price and quality. Some come as low as $50 and some can go as high as a few hundred dollars. Obviously, the less expensive handheld breathalyzers have lower quality, but those more expensive handheld breathalyzers are the ones used by law enforcement because of their accuracy and may even be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Law enforcement grade breathalyzers have an accuracy range of plus or minus 0.002 percent which means that if a person is a 0.08 percent, the breathalyzer results can range between 0.078 percent and 0.082 percent.

I purchased my own personal handheld breathalyzer to experience first-hand what I’ve been writing about. I didn’t break the bank, but I did spend $60 on the lower end of the legitimate handheld breathalyzers. After having a few drinks, I gave it a go. While I don’t know what my actual blood alcohol content was because different readings were provided, I can say that the multiple readings ranged by about 0.03 percent. In other words, using that range, a person could register between a 0.095 percent and 0.65 percent, or between a 0.18 percent and 0.12 percent, or between 0.26 and 0.23 percent. After a few months of use, the breathalyzer stopped working and I need to send it to the manufacturer.

While on the face of it, it might seem as though this range is too large to help drivers know whether they are okay to drive because if a person is actually at a 0.08 percent, the breathalyzer reading can show results as high as 0.095 percent and as low as 0.065 percent. Having said that, if a person knows that a breathalyzer is less than accurate and shows a blood alcohol content of 0.065 percent, they may know that they might actually be at a 0.08 percent and abstain from driving. And bear in mind that this is one of the less accurate handheld breathalyzers.

At a minimum, having a personal breathalyzer might help people bridge the gap between how a person perceives what their intoxication level is and what their blood alcohol content is. And while many breathalyzers might not provide an accurate reading, it might still prevent people from driving merely knowing that they are close to the limit. And knowing a range is certainly better than knowing nothing and making a stupid guess.

 

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Prosecutors Decline to Prosecute Long Beach Councilwoman for DUI

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

This story is disturbing to me not just because it occurred in my hometown of Long Beach, but because it exemplifies the partiality with which prosecutors and police treat DUI’s of those whom they have a working relationship with versus everyday citizens.

Prosecutors have decided not to prosecute Long Beach Councilwoman, Jeannine Pearce with domestic violence nor driving under the influence in a June 3rd incident involving her former chief of staff, Devin Cotter.

District attorney declines to charge Long Beach Councilwoman with drunk driving, domestic violence

October 26, 2017, Los Angeles Times – Prosecutors have decided not to charge Long Beach Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce with domestic violence or driving under the influence in connection with a June clash with her former chief of staff.

But a district attorney’s memo detailing the decision also raises questions about the Long Beach Police Department’s response to the June 3 incident involving the councilwoman and Devin Cotter.

In its initial statement, the Police Department said it received a call for assistance from the California Highway Patrol about a possible drunk driving incident on the shoulder of the 710 Freeway in Long Beach at 2:40 a.m.

The city’s officers smelled alcohol on Pearce, who admitted to drinking that night, according to the district attorney’s memo. A field sobriety test conducted about 4 a.m. showed she was mildly impaired.

But the memo said a test of the councilwoman’s blood alcohol level was not conducted until 4:20 a.m., nearly two hours after the CHP called. At that point, the test showed Pearce had a blood alcohol level of 0.06%, under the legal limit of 0.08%, the memo said.

The testing device used on Pearce was unreliable, the prosecutor’s memo said. A department toxicologist had recommended it not be used a month before the incident. Additional tests were not performed, according to the district attorney’s memo.

A police spokesman said in a statement that officers initially investigated whether domestic violence had occurred when they arrived, interviewing Cotter and Pearce before realizing that the councilwoman had been drinking. At that point, the officers called for a colleague who is a certified drug recognition expert to investigate, Sgt. Brad Johnson said in the statement.

He said the testing device had been “tagged to be replaced but was not removed from its storage cabinet. The officer who retrieved the device did not realize … and unfortunately used it during the DUI investigation.”

Police at the scene saw Cotter with swelling, redness and a cut to his head and cuts to his hand, according to the district attorney’s memo. Pearce at one point had shoved Cotter, causing him to fall to the ground, the memo said.

Prosecutors ultimately decided that Pearce, who was first elected to the City Council in 2016, could argue she was defending herself when she shoved Cotter.

Pearce said she could not immediately comment. Cotter could not be reached for comment.

 

I can tell you that, had this been an average Joe Schmoe driver, it would not have ended up in a refusal to file DUI or domestic violence charges.

Many DUI cases are filed everyday where the blood alcohol content is below the legal limit or a breathalyzer is faulty. While it may have been true that Pearce was under the limit at the time of the test and that the breathalyzer was inaccurate, had it been a regular member of the public, charges for driving under the influence would still have been filed and prosecutors would have left it to the defendant their attorney to dispute the results.

The same thing can likely be said for the refusal to file domestic violence charges. If prosecutors declined to prosecute domestic violence charges when anybody “could argue [they were] defending [themselves],” then they’d never prosecute anyone. And believe me, in the many domestic violence cases I’ve handled, not once has a prosecutor dropped a case because a person “could argue that they were defending themselves.”

So now let me ask you: Is this a coincidence?

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Breath or Blood Test After a California DUI Stop?

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

Let’s imagine a common DUI scenario.

A person is stopped on suspicion of a California DUI. The person stopped has read my many posts telling readers that the field sobriety tests are optional and should not be submitted to. So they politely decline the field sobriety tests. Then the officer requests an on-scene breathalyzer known as the “preliminary alcohol screening” test or PAS test. In addition to my posts reminding readers that this too is option, the officer also informs the driver that the PAS test is optional. So this too is politely declined by the driver. Lastly, the officer advises the driver that they are under arrest on suspicion of a California DUI and that, by law, they must submit to a chemical test which can either be a breath or a blood test.

Which test should the driver choose? Breath or blood?

The DUI blood test is much more accurate than the DUI breath test. The blood test is far less likely than a DUI breath test to produce a false reading. Another benefit of a DUI blood test is that the law requires that a sample of the blood is saved for future testing by the DUI suspect’s defense attorney. The defense attorney can have the sample tested by its own blood analyst to contradict the results of the prosecutor’s analyst. This is called a “blood split” and it is commonly used in DUI defense.

The blood test, however, is not infallible. See my previous post:

The Dirty Skin Defense

Since the blood test is more accurate, if a person knows that they have not had much to drink and they are fairly certain that they are under the legal limit of 0.08 percent, then a blood test might be the better option. On the other hand, the blood test might not be the best for someone who is clearly over the legal limit because it will be more difficult to dispute the test results.

 Unlike the blood test, the breath test is rather unreliable. Breath tests can provide false readings for several reasons. See Lawrence Taylor’s post:

Are Breathalyzers Accurate?

Although California DUI attorneys cannot dispute the reliability of breathalyzers as a whole during a DUI trial, they can provide evidence that the particular breathalyzer used in an individual case was inaccurate.

Unlike the blood test, the breath test may be a better option for someone who knows they are likely over the legal limit because it will be easier for a California DUI attorney to refute the results. However, many people who are actually under the legal limit may still test over the legal limit because of the same inaccuracies.

Simply put, if you are fairly confident that your blood alcohol content will below the legal limit of 0.08 percent, you’re probably better off opting for the blood test because it will accurately show that you were, in fact, under the legal limit. However, if you think there is a chance that you could be above the legal limit, you might be better off opting for a breath test so that your attorney can challenge the results if you test above the legal limit.

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