Drunk Driving Charges Following Drunk Flying Conviction

Monday, December 8th, 2014

It’s not uncommon for a person to get caught driving under the influence after they’ve already been convicted of a California DUI. What is uncommon, however, is for a person to be caught driving under the influence after they’ve previously been convicted of operating some other type of vehicle while intoxicated like…say…an airplane.

Michael Ferrero, of Petaluma California, was arrested this past November for a California DUI after he drove his pickup truck into a ditch. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the responding California Highway Patrol officer smelled alcohol and discovered an open bottle of vodka.

Sounds like a pretty standard California DUI. That is, until you hear about Ferrero’s previous alcohol-related conviction.

In 2012, California Highway Patrol plane piloted by CHP officer, Gary Wareham, was patrolling for speeding vehicles on the highways north of San Francisco when he spotted a plane flying approximately 50 feet above the road. At the time, the Press Democrat reported that Wareham followed the plane after witnessing it pitching and rolling through the air. Wareham followed the plane to a Petaluma, California airport

Ferrero later failed a breathalyzer. However Ferrero claimed that he had taken a shot of whiskey in the hangar after landing.

Ferrero ultimately pleaded no contest to flying under the influence, but not before saying, “Nobody needs to worry about me ever again.”

That proved to be an untrue statement with Ferrero’s current arrest.

I’ve covered the law for cycling under the influence, boating under the influence, and even riding a horse under the influence. What about the law for flying thousands of feet in the air (or in Ferrero’s case, 50 feet in the air) while intoxicated?

Crewmembers of civil aircrafts, including pilots, are governed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations section 91.17 states that, “no person may act or attempt to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft within 8 hours after drinking alcohol, while under the influence of alcohol, while using any drug that affects the person’s faculties in any way contrary to safety, or while having an alcohol concentration [BAC] of 0.04 or greater in a blood or breath specimen.” Furthermore, the FAA requires random alcohol screenings of pilots and are subject to an implied consent law similar to California’s DUI implied consent law.

California Public Utility Code section 21407 is similar to the federal regulations in defining a FUI charge. California penalties for a first time FUI include a county jail sentence of 30 days to six months, and/or a fine of $250 to $1,000.  Federal penalties, on the other hand, are far more severe and can include up to 15 years in federal prison and up to $250,000.

The prosecution agency has discretion to charge under state or federal law.

The interesting question in Ferrero’s case is whether the prosecutor will treat the current charge as a second-time California DUI since, technically, this is Ferrero’s first time violating California’s Vehicle Code law for driving under the influence.

Share

Can a California DUI Conviction Get You Deported?

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

A California DUI conviction can have severe consequences. For non-citizens, however, the consequences of a California DUI conviction can be particularly devastating because it can lead to deportation from this country.   

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), specifically section 237, sets for the crimes for which a person can be deported. Although a California DUI is not specifically included in this section as a deportable offense, other categories of deportable offenses are listed which a California DUI conviction can fall under. Those categories include aggravated felonies, crimes of moral turpitude, and offenses involving controlled substances.

Prior to 2004, a DUI was considered a crime of violence and therefore deportable under the category of aggravated felonies. However, the United States Supreme Court in the case of Leocal v. Ashcroft, 543 U.S. 1, held that DUIs are not, without other aggravating circumstances, deportable. Specifically, the Court held that a crime of violence is one that includes a “higher degree of intent than negligent or merely accidental conduct.” A DUI, on the other hand, is a general intent crime because it involves negligent conduct rather than a specific intent to cause harm.

If a DUI is not a crime of violence, then may it be a crime of moral turpitude?

Although vague, the phrase “moral turpitude” has been interpreted as shocking the public conscience or acts that are considered wrong by society’s standards. In determining whether a crime shocks the public conscious, the court will look to aggravating circumstances such as a “guilty intent.” As I stated before, a simple DUI, by itself, does not involve any specific intent to cause harm or even commit a crime and therefore cannot be a crime of moral turpitude.

If, however, the DUI is coupled with another offense that does require a “guilty intent,” the DUI conviction could be considered a deportable offense. For example, if someone is arrested for driving under the influence while their license is suspended, it may be considered a crime of moral turpitude if the person knew their license was suspended and drove drunk anyways.

Lastly, a California DUI conviction can be deportable if it involves a controlled substance. As I’m sure you’re aware having read previous posts on this blog, a California DUI does not necessarily involve alcohol. A DUI can involve both legal and illegal drugs. However, being under the influence of only drugs listed in the Controlled Substances Act can cause a DUI to become a deportable offense. The drugs listed in the Controlled Substances act can be found at http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/schedules/orangebook/c_cs_alpha.pdf.

Share

PAS Test vs. Chemical Breath Test

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

People are often confused about whether the law requires them to take a breathalyzer during a California DUI arrest. Unfortunately, the answer is just a little more complicated than just “yes” or “no.”

Let me clear up the confusion.

I often use the term “breathalyzer” in my posts for both a preliminary alcohol screening test and a chemical breath test. They, however, are not the same thing. In fact, the type of test being administered will determine whether a person is required to take the test or not.

For chronological clarity, let’s start with the preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test.

When an officer stops a driver and begins investigating a possible California DUI, they may conduct several field sobriety tests. These tests include the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the one-leg stand test, or the walk and turn test. The PAS test is a breathalyzer test which is considered a field sobriety test. Like the other field sobriety tests, the PAS test is optional.

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.”

As a field sobriety test, the PAS test is not required. Law enforcement is required to advise that the PAS test is, in fact, voluntary. 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.”

In other words, the PAS test is only used as a means to determine if there is enough probable cause to arrest a person for a California DUI.

However, once a person is lawfully arrested for a California DUI, California’s Implied Consent Law requires a person to submit to a chemical test which can be either a breath or a blood test.

California Vehicle Code section 23612(a)(1)(A) sets forth the Implied Consent requirement. “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].”

This essentially means that if you are licensed to drive in California, you have impliedly given consent to submit to a chemical test if you have been lawfully arrested for a DUI. The operative words here are “lawful arrest.” The obligation to submit to a chemical test only attaches once a person is lawfully arrested. Before that point, no obligation exists.

So then what does it mean to be lawfully arrested for a California DUI?

An officer can arrest someone if they have probable cause to believe that the person is driving drunk. Probable cause exists when an officer has reasonable and trustworthy facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the person has been driving drunk.

Officers obtain probable cause for a DUI arrest through the driver’s statements that they have been drinking, driving patterns consistent with intoxication, observations of signs of intoxication, and failure of field sobriety tests…including the PAS test.

Okay, let’s put this whole process into a nutshell.

The officers use the PAS test, which is optional, to determine if there is probable cause for a DUI arrest. If there is probable cause for an arrest, and a person is arrested, they must submit to a chemical test which can be either a blood or a breath test.

Bottom line is: Don’t give the officers the probable cause when you don’t have to. Like other field sobriety tests, always respectfully decline the PAS test.

Share

Can a Person Be Charged and Convicted of Attempted DUI?

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Let’s envision a scenario: a man is drinking rather heavily at a bar. Barely able to stand, the man closes out his tab and stumbles to his car intending to drive home. However, after getting into his car, the man unsuccessfully attempts to fit the key into the ignition because he’s just that drunk. The man then passes out before he is able to start his vehicle. Unbeknownst to the man, an officer has witnessed the man’s unsuccessful attempts at driving home.

Since California DUI law requires that a person actually drive a vehicle, the question becomes, “can a person be arrested for attempted DUI?” Does such an offense even exist?

States are divided as to the answer. However the issue in California was addressed by the California Appellate Court in the 1989 case of People v. Garcia, 262 Cal. Rptr. 915.

In People v. Garcia, the defendant was found in the driver’s seat of her vehicle. Her vehicle, at the time, was in the fast lane of the highway with the hazard lights on. Her vehicle began to roll backward and the defendant unsuccessfully attempted to start the car. She was, however, able to stop the vehicle from rolling backward by putting it in park. Unfortunately, for the defendant, officers were observing and arrested her.

The court held that the California Penal Code sections dealing with the crime of “attempt” are applicable to DUI cases.

California Penal Code section 21(a) states that an “[a]ttempt requires a specific intent to commit the crime, and a direct but ineffectual act done toward its commission.”

Driving under the influence is, what is called, a “general intent” crime because it only requires that a person intend to commit the act of driving. A “specific intent” crime, on the other hand, requires that a person intent to commit a crime. Murder, for example, is a specific intent crime because it requires that the person have the specific intent to kill someone. If someone is killed unintentionally, say during a traffic collision, the crime becomes involuntary manslaughter which is a general intent crime.

In applying California’s attempt laws to DUI, the court in Garcia essentially made attempted DUI a specific intent crime. In doing so, the court created an interesting paradox.

If attempted DUI requires the specific intent to commit the crime of driving drunk, the mere fact that a defendant was drunk may serve to negate the possibility that they specifically intended to commit the crime of DUI.

Perhaps this paradox is exactly what the Garcia court was referring to when it said that it was “not unmindful that there might be some troublesome questions which will have to be resolved in later case.”

Troublesome questions indeed…

 

Share

Law Enforcement and the Confirmation Bias

Monday, August 4th, 2014

While I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, I’m by no means a psychologist. Nor can I say that there’s much that I remember from my college studies except those things that are proving to be particularly relevant in my law career. One of those things is the “confirmation bias.”

The confirmation bias occurs when a person has beliefs or expectations and unconsciously seeks out and interprets information to confirm those beliefs and expectation while ignoring contradictory information. Put in simple terms, people see what they want to see.  

The confirmation bias is proving to be particularly relevant in criminal law because unfortunately, it affects law enforcement decisions, particularly in DUI cases, more often than I’d like to admit.

Although proven to be unreliable, the purpose of field sobriety tests are to allow officers to obtain information sufficient to establish probable cause that a person has been driving drunk. However, often is the case that the officers have already decided that a person is guilty of drunk driving even before the field sobriety tests are conducted.

Regardless of how the DUI suspect performs on the field sobriety tests, the officers will interpret the performance to justify their own expectations about the DUI suspect. This is exactly why I always advise my clients and anyone else who may happen to find themselves in the unfortunate predicament of being stopped on suspicion of DUI: never agree to perform field sobriety tests.

While I’ve seen this psychological phenomenon play out in more than a number of California DUI cases that I’ve handled, until recently I was unaware that the confirmation bias effect on law enforcement in DUI cases has actually been empirically tested.

In 1977, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) commissioned a study by the Southern California Research institution to test the best field sobriety tests. Ten police officers observed several hundred subjects who were given varying amounts of alcohol. Neither the officers nor the participants knew how much alcohol was ingested by each participant. Based on the subject’s performance on the field sobriety test, the officers incorrectly identified subjects as having a blood alcohol content above 0.10 percent a whopping 47 percent of the time.

In 1994, Dr. Spurgeon Cole, a researcher at Clemson University, conducted a study which tends to confirm the 1977 study. Dr. Cole videotaped 21 sober individuals performing six field sobriety tests. Fourteen police officers, with a median experience level of 11.7 years, viewed the videotapes. I would be remiss not to mention that all of the officers had completed state-mandated DUI detection training courses. Even though the subjects were completely sober, the officers determined that the subjects were too drunk to drive an astonishing 46 percent of the time.

Leo Tolstoy once said, “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any ideas of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of a doubt, what is laid before him.”

Share