LAPD Officers Charged in DUI Cover-Up

Monday, September 26th, 2016

Usually when I write about officers falsifying DUI police reports, it’s because they’ve done so to create non-existent evidence to justify a DUI arrest and help secure a wrongful conviction. So when I see a story of officers falsifying evidence to hide a DUI, I take notice.

According to the Los Angeles Times, two LAPD officers have been charged with attempting to cover up a DUI-related collision by driving the drunk driver home and falsifying the police report.

Officers Rene Ponce and Irene Gomez were patrolling a neighborhood in Boyle Heights, California on October 26, 2014, when they responded to a crash involving a drunk driver. According to prosecutors, the drunk driver had collided into two parked cars.

Prior to Ponce and Gomez’s arrival, a neighbor was awakened by the sound of the collision and observed the man who crashed into his neighbors’ vehicles attempt to flee the scene. The neighbor, Larry Chavez, 63, and two other neighbors gave chase and eventually caught up with the man.

“We held him down till one of the cops came,” Chavez told The Times. “He was so drunk.”

However, instead of conducting the DUI investigation, Ponce, 39, and Gomez, 38, lied in their police report and said that the drunk driver fled the scene when, in fact, they drove him home to his apartment and told him to sleep it off.

Following an internal affairs investigation, Ponce and Gomez were charged with felony filing a false police report and conspiracy to commit an act injurious to the public, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney.

Ponce’s attorney declined to comment. Gomez’s attorney, on the other hand, maintains that his client did nothing wrong.

“My client has an outstanding record, with an outstanding reputation for truth and honesty,” Gomez’ attorney, Ira Salzman told The Los Angeles Times. “She’s well-respected by her peers.”

If convicted, the officers face up to three years in jail.

There is a misconception that DUI defense attorneys condone drunk driving and anything that helps a drunk driver get off the hook is a good thing. I can speak for most DUI attorneys when I say that is absolutely not true. We want law enforcement to do their jobs, and we want the Constitution to be upheld, and we want the truth.

I do not applaud Ponce and Gomez’s actions. All I ask is that they investigate the DUI within the bounds of the law while maintaining the constitutional rights of the person suspected of driving under the influence.  

 

 

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Challenging the Breathalyzer in a California DUI Case

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

The breathalyzer is the most commonly used method for testing the blood alcohol content of suspected drunk drivers in California. Yet, both myself and Lawrence Taylor have written on more than a few occasions about the inaccuracies of the breathalyzer. Such inaccuracies include, but are not limited to an inability to differentiate between blood alcohol and “mouth alcohol,” elevated temperatures causing elevated BAC readings, and certain diets causing elevated readings.  

So can a person suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol in California challenge the accuracy of breathalyzers in court?

Notwithstanding the widely proven fact that breathalyzers are generally inaccurate, the California Supreme Court in 2013 ruled that scientific evidence refuting the accuracy of breathalyzers in general in California DUI cases are inadmissible.

The issue arose when a California trial court agreed with the prosecutor and excluded the testimony of a defense expert of Terry Vangelder who would have testified that breathalyzers, in general, can be inaccurate.

In 2007, California Highway Patrol pulled over Vangelder for allegedly going 125 miles per hour in San Diego. Although having admitted to consuming some alcohol, Vangelder passed field sobriety tests. Vangelder then agreed to a preliminary screening alcohol test (an optional roadside breathalyzer) which indicated that Vangelder’s blood alcohol content was 0.086 percent. Based on that, Vangelder was arrested and transported to the police station where he submitted to a chemical breath test (a required post-arrest breathalyzer). This breath test showed a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent. Vangelder then submitted to a blood test which indicated that his blood alcohol content of 0.087 percent.

At trial, Vangelder called Dr. Michael Hlastala, a leading authority on the inaccuracies of breathalyzers.

"They are (inaccurate)," Dr. Hlastala testified before the trial judge. "And primarily because the basic assumption that all of the manufacturers have used is that the breath that [is] measured is directly related to water in the lungs, which is directly related to what’s in the blood. And in recent years, we’ve learned that, in fact, that’s not the case."

The judge however, did not allow the testimony and Vangelder was found guilty. Vangelder appealed and the appellate court reversed the decision in 2011. San Diego City Attorney, Jan Goldsmith, then appealed the appellate court decision arguing that such testimony would undermine Californi’s a per se law making it illegal to drive 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or higher.

Unfortunately, the California Supreme Court sided with Goldsmith.

“[T]he 1990 amendment of the per se offense was specifically designed to obviate the need for conversion of breath results into blood results — and it rendered irrelevant and inadmissible defense expert testimony regarding partition ratio variability among different individuals or at different times for the same individual," Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye wrote for the court. "Whether or not that part of expired breath accurately reflects the alcohol that is present only in the alveolar region of the lungs, the statutorily proscribed amount of alcohol in expired breath corresponds to the statutorily proscribed amount of alcohol in blood, as established by the per se statute."

The Court went on to say that, “Although  Dr. Hlastala may hold scientifically based reservations concerning these legislative conclusions, we must defer to and honor the legislature’s reasonable determinations made in the course of its efforts to protect the safety and welfare of the public."

I’m sorry, but I read that to say, “We recognize that science is important in determining the accuracy of breathalyzers, but we’re not going to undermine the legislature because of its good intent.”

Legislators are not scientists.

The effect of the decision was that people suspected of a California DUI can no longer offer evidence that breathalyzers, in general, are inaccurate. People suspected of a California DUI can, however, still challenge the accuracy of a particular breathalyzer.

Seems to me that the California Supreme Court doesn’t want accuracy in California DUI cases.

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Temporary Tattoo Give BAC Reading

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

Considering purchasing a personal breathalyzer? I’ve suggested it before as one of several ways to help prevent a DUI. What if knowing your blood alcohol content was a simple as slapping on a temporary tattoo? Well, researchers at the Center for Wearable Sensors at the University of California San Diego have created a removable electronic tattoo that detects the wearer’s BAC.

A team of researchers at the center were interested in a device that offered continued BAC monitoring which typical breathalyzer do not offer. The researchers also wanted to develop a BAC detector that could not be skewed by factors other than blood alcohol such as mouthwash, acid reflux, or alcohol residue in the mouth all of which affect typical breathalyzers.

The tattoo is similar to other devices sometimes mandated by the court as a condition of a California DUI sentence or a condition of being release without having to post bail pending the outcome of a California DUI case. At least in Southern California, the device is called a SCRAM device which passively tests “insensible” sweat, or trace amounts of sweat, excreted from a person’s skin. The SCRAM device is rather bulky and can be relatively expensive.

The tattoo, however, emits a drug called pilocarpine, which generates sweat. The tattoo then tests the sweat excreted from the skin as a result of administration of the pilocarpine for ethanol alcohol through sensors which are attached to the skin. However, unlike the SCRAM device, the temporary tattoo and sensors are attached to a flat, flexible circuit board that is about an inch in length. The circuit board then transmits the information to the wearer’s phone via Bluetooth.

One of the project scientists and professor of nanoengineering, Joseph Wang, has said that the tattoo device could be made even smaller than its current form with continued engineering. He added that, unlike the SCRAM device, the tattoo could cost a mere pennies to produce.

“We developed a new tattoo-based wearable alcohol sensor that enables real-time monitoring of blood alcohol level, overcoming limitations of conventional non-invasive alcohol sensors,” said Jayoung Kim, a co-author and PhD student at UCSD.

The tattoo comes at a time when law makers and law enforcement agencies are actively seeking more reliable and efficient ways to detect blood alcohol content.

Earlier this year, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which is part of the National Institute of Health, awarded $200,000 to San Francisco-based BACtrack for developing a bracelet-type device as the winner of its Wearable Alcohol Biosensor Challenge. BACtrack has produced a number of personal breathalyzers for consumer use.

Keith Nothacker, BACtrack’s founder and chief executive officer, said that the firm is working on bringing the winning sensor, called “Skyn,” to the consumer market for around $99 and offer a version that is integrated into a band for the Apple watch.

In a press release, Joseph Wang said that the primary purpose for developing the BAC-detecting temporary tattoo was to prevent drunk driving.

“Lots of accidents on the road are caused by drunk driving. This technology provides an accurate, convenient and quick way to monitor alcohol consumption to help prevent people from driving while intoxicated,” Wang said.

Hopefully soon the temporary tattoo will be available for consumer use. And maybe the BAC detecting tattoo will prevent, not just drunk driving, but also someone from getting so drunk that they get a real tattoo that they might regret the next morning.

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Law Requiring Ignition Interlock Devices for California DUI Passes Senate

Monday, June 6th, 2016

On Tuesday of last week, the California Senate passed a new bill that would require all people convicted of a California DUI to have an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicle. Senate Bill 1046 will now be sent to the California Assembly for consideration.

Under a current pilot program here in California, only four counties require the installation of an ignition interlock device following a DUI conviction; Alameda, Los Angeles, Tulare, and Sacramento. A first-time DUI requires installation for five months upon eligibility to drive either with a restricted license or a full reinstatement of driving privileges. The pilot program also requires an IID for 12 months for a second-time DUI, 24 months for a third DUI, and 36 months for a fourth or subsequent DUI.

If you don’t already know, an ignition interlock device is a breathalyzer that is installed into the dashboard of a person’s vehicle. The device must be blown into before the engine can be started, but only if the breathalyzer does not detect alcohol on the breath sample. Once the vehicle is started, the breathalyzer must be blown into at random times throughout the drive.

The proposed law was introduced by Senator Jeremy Hill and, not surprisingly was overwhelmingly praised by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

“MADD is grateful to the Senate for moving this life-saving bill forward," said MADD’s National President, Colleen Sheehey-Church. "In the coming weeks, MADD will be visiting Assembly members and calling on them to quickly pass SB 1046 to protect residents and visitors from this 100 percent preventable crime."

MADD released its “Ignition Interlock Report” compiled from data collected during the pilot program which has been running since 2010. According to the report, ignition interlock devices have prevented more than one million drunk driving attempts in California with about 125, 000 of those attempts involving a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more.

However, the California DMV is also compiling a report on the effectiveness the ignition interlock devices have had on preventing drunk driving.

In fact, the California DMV previously found that such a law would not prevent people without ignition interlock devices from driving drunk. Additionally, there are ways to circumvent the requirement of providing a clean breath sample before starting a vehicle.

The cost of the interlock device can run approximately $75 to $100 for installation, about $75 per month, and often additional fees for maintenance and calibration. This is on top of the cost already associated with a California DUI conviction which can run upwards of $10,000.

If passed, first time offenders would be required to install the devices for six months, a year for a second offense, two years for a third offense and three years for a fourth or subsequent offenses.

The will be heard by several Assembly committees, including the Committee on Public Safety, and must be approved by the Assembly before it can be considered by California Governor Jerry Brown.

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California Senate Committee Passes IID Law

Monday, April 4th, 2016

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about whether a person who has been convicted of a California DUI will be required to install and maintain an ignition interlock device. 

Currently, ignition interlock devices are only required by the DMV for people convicted of a California DUI in four counties as part of a pilot program: Alameda, Los Angeles, Tulare and Sacramento. Otherwise, the requirement that a person install an ignition interlock device is dependent upon whether a judge orders it as a condition of probation.

Last year, Senate Bill 61 extended the pilot program, which was set to end January 1, 2016, to July 1, 2017.

July 1, 2017, however, was too long for Senator Jerry Hill.

Hill authored Senate Bill 1046 which, if passed, would require people convicted of a DUI to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle throughout California.

The bill took a big step into becoming law this past week when the California Senate Public Safety Committee voted 7-0 in favor of passing the bill. Now that the California Senate Committee has unanimously voted for the bill, it will be sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Not surprisingly Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) fully backed the proposed bill.

“Senator Hill has shown extraordinary leadership on drunk driving prevention, and we are extremely grateful to the committee for agreeing that ignition interlocks do save lives,” said Mary Klotzbach, a MADD National Board member and whose 22-year-old son, Matt, was killed by a drunk driver.

This past February, MADD released its own Ignition Interlock Report, which reportedly showed the deterrent effect that ignition interlock devices had on repeat drunk driving. According to their report, ignition interlock devices prevented 1.77 million drunk driving attempts where the would-be driver’s blood alcohol content was 0.08 percent or more. The report also alleges that ignition interlock devices prevented more than 124,000 drunk driving attempts.

“Today, the Senate Public Safety Committee voted to protect all Californians from the completely preventable, violent crime of drunk driving,” said Klotzbach. When I buried Matt, I buried a piece of my heart. Now I want make sure no other parent, child, brother, or sister ever has to endure this kind of heartache.”

The mandatory installation of ignition interlock devices will add to an already long list of mandatory conditions that a person convicted of a California DUI must complete. What’s more, in addition to the other thousands of dollars associated with a California DUI conviction, people required to install the ignition interlock device will have to pay between $50 and $100 per month to have the device installed and maintained.

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