Toddler Killed in Suspected DUI-Related Collision

Thursday, January 25th, 2018

“This accident was so violent, that even though it was a rear end accident, it injured everyone in the vehicle and also killed a one-year-old,” John Tyler of the California Highway Patrol said.

Tyler was referring to a collision that occurred this past weekend in Lemoore, California where 50-year-old Rodney Klamerus crashed into the back of a family’s Nissan. Three adults were in the Nissan along with one-year-old Liliana Valencia who was in her car seat.

All three adult passengers in the Nissan and Klamerus were transported to nearby hospitals. Valencia was transported to a hospital, but was later pronounced dead.

“We’re not sure exactly why, possibly due to his impairment, but he failed to slow down as this vehicle was ahead of him. And this vehicle turned northbound onto [Highway] 41, established itself in the lane, and was rear-ended shortly thereafter,” Tyler told KFSN.

Although investigators were unable to speak with Klamerus due to the severity of his injuries, he is facing several felony DUI charges which will likely include DUI-related homicide charges.

Homicide merely refers to the killing of another human being and encompasses murder charges, voluntary manslaughter charges, and involuntary manslaughter charges. It is still unclear exactly what homicide charge Klamerus faces.

Prior to 1981, a person who killed someone while driving under the influence could not be charged and convicted of murder. However, the landmark case of People v. Watson changed that.

California Penal Code section 187(a) provides that “Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being…with malice aforethought.” “Malice” refers to the deliberate intention to unlawfully kill someone else. However, malice can be also be “implied” and implied malice exists when a person knowingly engages in an act that is dangerous to human life and they engage the act with a conscious disregard for human life. It is almost as if the court is saying that the drunk driver might as well have intended to kill someone because they knew it was dangerous to drive drunk, yet they did it anyways.

The court in Watson found that if the facts surrounding the DUI support a finding of “implied malice,” second degree murder can be charged when the DUI led to the death of someone else. In other words, if a person engages in driving under the influence when they know that it is dangerous to human life to do so, and they kill someone, they can be charged with murder.  

Now the question becomes, “Did the person know it was dangerous to human life to drive drunk?”

While we all know that it’s dangerous to drive drunk, since Watson, courts started expressly advising people who have been convicted of DUI, on the record, that it is, in fact, dangerous to drive drunk. This was not because the court actually thought that the defendant didn’t know it, but rather to ensure that the prosecutor could charge murder instead of manslaughter upon a subsequent DUI causing the death of someone.

Whether Klamerus will be charged with murder or some lesser homicide charge will depend on whether prosecutors can prove that he expressly knew that, by driving drunk, he could kill someone, but decided to drive drunk anyways.


Recreational Marijuana Laws and the California DUI

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

As predicted, California passed Proposition 64, otherwise known as The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, on November 8th 2016. This made it legal for people to possess and use marijuana recreationally in California. However, it wasn’t until January 1st of this year that recreational marijuana could be sold to consumers.  

So what does this mean for marijuana laws in California, including marijuana DUI laws?

Well, let’s start with the laws that aren’t related to a DUI of marijuana. Adults over the age of 21 can purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana and can grow up to six plants per household out of public view. People under the age of 18 can only purchase marijuana if they have their medical license.

Those who are able to possess marijuana cannot consume in public, even in areas where it is legal to smoke cigarettes. Some cities plan on allowing consumptions of marijuana at designated lounges. However, until then, smoking in public places can lead to fine of $100 to $250.

Just like alcohol, drivers cannot consume marijuana while driving. And any marijuana that is being transported in a car, must be in a sealed container in the trunk.

While marijuana laws have changed in many other respects, it is still illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana.

California Vehicle Code section 23152(e) makes it illegal to drive a vehicle while under the influence of drugs including marijuana. Unlike California’s DUI of alcohol law, there is no legal limit for marijuana, or more specifically, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the psychoactive component of marijuana. Therefore, a person can only be arrested and convicted of a marijuana DUI if the ingestion of marijuana impairs a person’s ability to drive a vehicle as a sober person would under similar circumstances.

To prove that a person is driving under the influence of marijuana, a prosecutor can use officer observations of driving patterns, observations during the traffic stop, performance on field sobriety tests, and the presence of THC in any blood test done.

Since “under the influence” is an extremely subjective standard, it is often very difficult to prosecute DUI of marijuana cases. This is especially true if the driver refused to perform the field sobriety tests and/or the officer did not observe driving that would be indicative of someone who is under the influence of marijuana.

Law makers could seek some sort of per se limit for how much THC can be in a person’s blood while driving. Several states have set a per se limit of five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Colorado, has set a five nanogram per milliliter of blood limit to allow for the presumption that a person is “under the influence.” Unfortunately, current per se limits for THC, are an inaccurate measure of how impaired a person is.

Unlike alcohol, THC is fat soluble and remains in a user’s system long after they have ingested the marijuana, sometimes by several weeks. This creates the possibility of being arrested with five nanograms of THC in the system weeks after a person has smoked marijuana and well after the “high” is gone. Yet, because the THC is present, a person can either be arrested or, in Colorado, presumed to be under the influence.

As tech companies are scrambling to be the first to develop a device that will allow law enforcement to test “how high someone is,” Assemblyman, Tom Lackey, who is a former sergeant with the California Highway Patrol, has introduced Assembly Bill 6 which would allow tests using saliva samples taken from drivers suspected of driving under the influence. The test would let the officer know whether a driver has recently used a number of drugs including marijuana.

“The ballot initiative passed [in 2016] to legalize marijuana will result in more marijuana consumers on our state’s highways and roads,” Lackey said in a statement. “It is imperative that we invest in a broad spectrum of technologies and research to best identify marijuana-impaired drivers.”

There is an established correlation between blood alcohol content, specifically the legal limit of 0.08 percent, and alcohol impairment. Unlike alcohol, however, there is no such correlation between the presence of drugs and impairment. In other words, a person can have traces of drug in their system without being impaired by that drug.

Marijuana, for example, can stay in a person’s system for weeks following the smoking or ingesting of the marijuana and well after the person was intoxicated or stoned. The purpose of DUI laws is to prevent impaired driving, not to punish sober and unintoxicated people merely because they ingested drugs at some point in the past.

Until we can establish a correlation with drugs including marijuana like we have with alcohol, namely the correlation between quantity and impairment, we shouldn’t be using pushing for laws like this.

Assembly Bill 6 will be brought up for a vote early this year.

Since it is perfectly legal to consume marijuana and have THC in your system, it is important to protect yourself from unwarranted DUI of marijuana charges. Do not say anything to the police. The 5th Amendment exists for a reason; use it. Politely refuse any field sobriety tests. Lastly, remember that you must submit to a chemical test after you have been arrested.


California Law Could Give Free Ride if You’re Too Drunk to Drive

Thursday, December 28th, 2017

Most of us have done it at least once and most of us don’t want the responsibility of being designated driver. Unfortunately, unless someone is willing to pay for transportation, a designated driver is one of the few ways to avoid a DUI and get home safely. However, a new law could make designated drivers a thing of the pass by allowing alcohol manufacturers and sellers to provide free rides through ride-sharing apps to its customers.

Too drunk to drive? New California law could give you a free ride

December 25, 2017, The Sacramento Bee – It’s an all-too-familiar scene in Sacramento. A group of friends heads to midtown for a night of partying and drinking, but one friend has to miss out on the fun and stay sober to be the designated driver.

A new law that takes effect Jan. 1 may not only let everyone join in on the fun, but it’ll also mean more money for the bubbly.

Under Assembly Bill 711, alcohol manufacturers and licensed sellers can offer free or discounted rides to transport drinkers home safely through ride-sharing services, taxicabs or other ride providers.

Vouchers or codes can be given to alcohol sellers or directly to consumers, but cannot be offered as incentives to buy a company’s product. Current law restricts alcohol licensees from offering discounts of anything more than inconsequential value to consumers, though liquor and wine manufacturers have been temporarily allowed to pay for rides for people attending private, invitation-only events.

The measure, by Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Cupertino, would relax the rules to expand that program, allowing alcohol manufacturers to underwrite free or discounted rides in all cases.

Low noted that thousands attending the Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara in 2016 didn’t have options to get home safely after drinking. Forty-four other states and the District of Columbia allow liquor manufacturers to pay for free or discounted rides, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.

The bill cleared the Legislature unanimously, and was supported by major beer manufacturers as well as ride-sharing company Lyft. Last year, Anheuser-Busch partnered with Lyft to offer rides home across 33 “safe ride” programs throughout the nation.

Katja Zastrow, vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility for Anheuser-Busch, said since teaming up with the ride-sharing service, the program has provided more than 64,000 rides. “Drunk driving is 100 percent preventable and offering safe rides is one way that we can have a real impact on reducing (it),” she said.

The bill was opposed by Alcohol Justice, a San Rafael-based nonprofit that lobbies against policy thought to promote the “alcohol industry’s harmful practices,” according to the group’s website.

Carson Benowitz-Fredericks, the organization’s research manager, said AB 711 could encourage people to drink more. Alcohol Justice says overconsumption of alcohol costs California $35 billion a year and causes 10,500 deaths annually.

“The idea that drunk driving is the only harm from alcohol is a real misunderstanding of alcohol harm,” Benowitz-Fredericks said.

The main concern from both Benowitz-Fredericks and the Rev. James Butler, the executive director of the California Council on Alcohol Problems, is that though the bill says the rides should be provided in order to get drinkers safely home, there is no real way to prevent consumers from using the free rides to go to another drinking spot.

“If they get free transportation, maybe instead of two beers they have six,” Butler said. “And when people overconsume alcohol, they make bad decisions.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Anything that helps people get home safe after a night of drinking and avoid a DUI I’m in favor of, including this new law.



OC Judge Vacates DUI Sentence After Victim Seeks Harsher Sentence

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

In January of this year, a man by the name of Jorge Perez was driving under the influence of alcohol when he struck 20-year-old Cal State Fullerton student Jessica Weber as she was walking with her friends back to the dorms.

Perez drove through a red light and hit Weber with his left-side mirror. Perez then drove away before law enforcement arrived at the scene. Witnesses helped police track down Perez where he was later arrested. Meanwhile, Weber was left with broken bones in her back, hip, pelvis, and left arm.

Bonnie Masters-Weber, Jessica’s mother, had told the Orange County Deputy District Attorney who was assigned to the case that she wanted to be present for every hearing. Masters-Weber, who lives in Sacramento, was told by the prosecutor that there was no need for her to make the long trip for every hearing, but that they would inform her of when sentencing would take place.

Under the California Victim’s Bill or Rights Act of 2008, commonly known as Marcy’s Law, victims of crimes and their families have the right to be present during the criminal proceedings of the defendant and give a statement at the defendant’s sentencing.

According to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, the prosecutor on the case “inadvertently failed to notify” Masters-Weber that Perez had accepted a two-year deal with the judge.

Unbeknownst to Masters-Weber, Perez was sentenced in October. Although the DA had been pushing for four years and four months in prison, Perez accepted an offer from the judge of two years in prison.

When the failure to notify the Weber family was discovered, prosecutors filed a motion for reconsideration of Perez’s sentence and Judge Scott Steiner ordered a hearing.

“The DA failed us,” said Masters-Weber at the hearing which took place last month. “It refused to acknowledge their violation of our constitutional rights.”

Judge Steiner agreed that the Weber and her family’s rights were violated and vacated Perez’s guilty plea.

“I am making the determination that it is proper in the interest of justice to vacate the guilty plea that was entered in this case,” ruled Judge Steiner.

Perez’s attorney disagreed with the ruling arguing that the court had considered letters of impact before it offered the two-year sentence to Perez.

With the guilty plea vacated, Perez’s initial not guilty plea effectively gets reinstated and Perez’s defense can continue to fight for a better offer or take the case to trial. Given the statements provided by Weber and her family, Judge Steiner told Perez’s defense that the new court offer would be four years and four months, the same as what the DA’s office had pushed for originally.

Susan Schroeder, the Orange County District Attorney’s chief of staff issued the following statement:

"The Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) is a leading enforcer of Marsy’s Law rights and takes its advocacy for crime victims seriously. In the case of People V. Jorge Perez, the OCDA was vigorously pursuing a sentence of 4 years and 4 months on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury, driving with blood alcohol .08% or more causing bodily injury, hit and run with injury, driving on a suspended/revoked license, and a sentencing enhancement for inflicting great bodily injury."

"Early on in the case, the victim’s mother, Ms. Masters, had been working with a deputy district attorney, who is no longer with the office, who suggested she not make the long drive from northern California for each and every proceeding and that our office would notify her prior to the sentencing. A note was made in the file to contact her when the time came. The judge offered the defendant a two-year sentence, an offer that was not supported by the OCDA. The OCDA gave Ms. Masters’ prepared victim impact statement to the judge who considered it at the sentencing hearing on October 17, but inadvertently failed to notify Ms. Masters to be present."

"Once the error was discovered and prior to being contacted by the media, the OCDA initiated the process of getting the case put back on the calendar to remedy the situation so Ms. Masters may address the court personally. OCDA prosecutors strive for perfection and in this case, we fell short. We certainly understand why Ms. Masters is upset and we are working to correct our error."

In no way do I condone what Perez did and I want to be perfectly clear when say that Weber and her family should have had the opportunity to address the court. While it may be difficult for some to sympathize with, I’d be remiss if I did not point out another less-obvious inequity:

The prosecution fouls up and, as a result, gets exactly what they originally wanted; a more severe sentence.

Perez is due back in court later this month for a pretrial hearing.




Wet Reckless vs. California DUI: What are the Differences?

Friday, November 17th, 2017

People who have been charged with a California DUI always ask whether it’s possible to get the case reduced to a wet reckless. They often ask this question without even knowing what the difference is between a DUI and a wet reckless, except that it’s a reduced charge. While it’s true that it is a reduction to a DUI charge, there are a number of other differences.

The wet reckless if the first of several reductions that are sometimes offered in lieu of a DUI. The wet reckless is usually offered when the flaws in the prosecution’s case are relatively small. For example, the wet reckless is often offered when the chemical breath or blood test shows that the driver’s blood alcohol content is at a 0.08 percent or close. Further reductions may be offered when there is no chemical test and/or there is little evidence that the driver was “under the influence. Rather than risk losing at a trial, the prosecutor may offer a wet reckless or another reduction merely to secure a conviction.

If, however, the problems in the prosecution’s case are more than minor, the prosecutor may offer to reduce the DUI charge to a “dry reckless” or an “exhibition of speed.” Discussions on these, I’ll save for another day.

Unlike these other charges, the wet reckless can only be offered as a reduction. In other words, a prosecutor cannot file a criminal complaint with a wet reckless listed as a charge.

If the wet reckless is offered as a reduction and a DUI defendant accepts the reduction, they’ll  be pleading guilty or no contest to California Vehicle Code section 23103 pursuant to 23105.5 which reads, “A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving…If the prosecution agrees to a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to a charge of [reckless driving] in satisfaction of, or as a substitute for, an original charge of a violation of [DUI], the prosecution shall state for the record a factual basis for the satisfaction or substitution, including whether or not there had been consumption of an alcoholic beverage or ingestion or administration of a drug, or both, by the defendant in connection with the offense. The statement shall set forth the facts that show whether or not there was a consumption of an alcohol beverage or the ingestion or administration of a drug by the defendant in connection with the offense.”

Simply put, a defendant who is convicted of a wet reckless is deemed to be guilty of reckless driving involving alcohol.

Now that we’ve clarified exactly what a wet reckless is, let’s talk about the benefits of it.

Well, first off, it’s not a DUI. There is an obvious stigma attached to a DUI conviction and a wet reckless simply isn’t a DUI.

Another benefit to a wet reckless reduction is that there are no mandatory sentencing enhancements. In other words, if a person is convicted for a second-time DUI within 10 years, they face a minimum of 96 hours in jail. If a person is convicted for a third DUI within 10 years, they face a minimum of 120 days in jail. However, when a person is convicted of a wet reckless when they’ve suffered prior DUI convictions within a 10 year period, there is no mandatory minimum jail sentence. If however a person suffers a DUI conviction within 10 years of a wet reckless conviction, the wet reckless will be used to increase the sentencing enhancements of the current DUI and subsequent DUI convictions.

Other possible advantages of the wet reckless include a shorter probationary period, lower fines and fees, and a shorter DUI program. I say possible because it depends on what the prosecutor offers as a sentence to the wet reckless reduction.

The last advantage to a wet reckless conviction is that it does not trigger a 6 month driver’s license suspension with the DMV. It should be noted, however, that a license may still be suspended through the DMV’s admin per se suspension which occurs if a person does not request a DMV hearing within 10 days of their DUI arrest or they lose their DMV hearing. Therefore, the only way to completely avoid any license suspension following a DUI arrest is to request the DMV hearing within 10 days of the arrest, win the DMV hearing, then get the DUI charge reduced to a wet reckless.