Oregon State Crime Lab Backlog May Affect DUI Cases

Thursday, January 24th, 2019

The Oregon State Police crime lab is behind on its testing, way behind, and it’s affecting DUI cases in the state.

The chemical tests for motorists accused of driving under the influence has a backlog of about 14 months. While that is bad, it’s better than some departments within the lab such as property crimes, where they no longer process DNA for property crimes such as theft to allow more focus on other cases, such as sexual assault. This is problematic since the statute of limitations (the time period for which a prosecutor can file a criminal case) on a case might, and in many cases will run, without having the evidence tested.

Oregon’s Linn County District Attorney’s office handled more than 500 DUI cases in 2018. Alcohol related cases can use breathalyzers as evidence without the need for a crime lab. However, not all of the DUI cases that the DA’s office handles are alcohol related. About half of the DUI cases in Linn County involve other drugs where levels are determined by urine tests. The current backlog of 14 months is still within the standard statute of limitations of two years, so cases can still likely be filed. In its current state and with crime never ceasing, the crime lab is undoubtedly overworked, understaffed, and limited with what they can do. Therefore, the statute of limitations for some of those DUI’s may too come and go, which is unfair to both the prosecutors as well as the accused.

Although representatives of the District Attorney’s office were unaware of any cases directly being impacted by the turnaround time of the lab, Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson said, “The turnaround time for the lab is impacting our office because we’re having to wait for extended periods of time. But it’s critical for me to note that the [Oregon State police] crime lab, no matter how well they do their job, they have a finite capacity. and when that finite capacity is exceeded, the impact for us is the delay on having the lab work done.”

However, Haroldson also went on to say that, although a statute of limitation may not have run, suspects should not have to wait that long to be formally charged.

“Part of seeking justice is doing all we can to make sure that our systems are fair to everyone, including the accused. Long delays do not represent the best work that we can do if we were properly funded,” said Haroldson.

It was also noted that the testing delays can also lead to increased risks to the public as motorists who were suspected of driving under the influence will not have their licenses suspended until the charges have at least been filed. One county had at least four drivers who were arrested twice for DUI during 2018 and whose cases were yet to be settled as their lab results were still pending months later.

With Oregon’s legalization of recreational marijuana in 2015, the number of requests for toxicology tests have only continued to increase. As Oregon’s population also continues to rise, it can be anticipated that the growth in demand for the lab’s services will also continue to rise. Although science and technology have evolved to make some of the processes go much smoother and faster, toxicology result turnaround times still take much longer than our TV crime solvers make us believe. What’s more, costs are still too high to effectively rely on outsourcing as part of the solution.

Amanda Dalton, a lobbyist on behalf of the Oregon District Attorney Association, says that the association is hoping to change the backlog situation through current legislation.

“We believe delayed testing is a crisis as it relates to DUI prosecution and overall community safety and that [the Oregon State Police] is doing all they can with the resources they currently have,” said Dalton.

Although the Oregon District Attorneys Association realizes that the legislation currently proposed will not solve the problem, they maintain hope that it will, at a minimum, start the conversation that will eventually lead to the appropriate funding to fix the issues.

 

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UBER Fined $750,000 for Failing to Enforce Zero-Tolerance Policy

Thursday, December 20th, 2018

Ridesharing apps such as Uber and Lyft have introduced to the public a cheap and “right at your fingertips” method for calling a ride home after a night of drinking. These apps have given the public the comfort of being able to arrive at a destination without worrying about finding parking, or as is often the case at night, worrying about drinking and driving.

Back in June of 2016, BuzzFeed News posted an article entitled “Here’s What Happens When Your UBER Driver Gets A DUI.” The article focused on an interview with a passenger who suspected her Uber driver of driving under the influence, the subsequent customer service the passenger received, and the steps that the company took in handling the situation with the driver. BuzzFeed also reported that this was not the first incident where an Uber driver was arrested for driving under the influence. The driver associated with this particular drive was deactivated fairly quickly. However, that was not the case for all of Uber’s drivers who received complaints of drunk driving.

According to the Uber homepage, they have a zero-tolerance policy with regard to driving under the influence. Specifically, it states, “Uber does not tolerate the use of alcohol or drugs by drivers using the Uber app.” Yet, the Los Angeles Times recently released an article that highlighted an investigation by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that resulted in Uber being fined a total of $750,000 for failing to follow its own “zero tolerance policy.

The zero-tolerance policy is a requirement that was included by the CPUC within the regulations for smartphone-enabled ride share companies. The regulations, approved in 2013, were placed in an attempt to placate the angry licensed taxi companies and their drivers whose service was disrupted by the spread of these private drivers through the smartphone and online applications. The regulations called for the ride-sharing companies to institute a zero-tolerance intoxicating substance policy for all of its drivers and to suspend the driver to allow for an investigation as soon as a zero-tolerance complaint is filed.

Uber’s violation of the policy was discovered in an investigation of the customer complaints associated with driving under the influence from August 2014 to August 2015. An administrative law judge had recommended a fine of $7,500 per violation, which, with the number of violations found in the investigation, would have resulted in a total of $1,132,500.

However, a settlement was made between the CPUC and Raiser-CA, an Uber owned company, and the final amount of $750,000 was reached Thursday, November 8th. According to the Los Angeles Times, “In addition to the fine, Uber agreed to implement an education program on zero-tolerance regulations and file a motion to expand existing regulations and develop stronger standards for the ride-hailing industry.”

AB 2687, a bill that passed in 2016 and has been in effect since July 1, 2018, lowers the blood alcohol level of drivers with passengers for hire in their vehicles to 0.04 percent or more to be considered under the influence. How this new bill affects how Uber handles their education program and renews their standards will be an interesting development.

Hopefully, Uber will be able to remedy the issue in a timely manner. One of the main reasons that many people utilize ride sharing services like Uber is to prevent drunk driving. If hired drivers continue to create an issue of driving under the influence, we are essentially replacing one drunk driver with another, resulting in a public safety issue that we had wanted to avoid in the first place.

 

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California DUI Law 101

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

The law surrounding California DUI’s is so expansive and complicated that sometimes it’s worth wild to take a step back and just talk about the basics of a California DUI.

In California, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher. It is also illegal to drive while under the influence. While every person is different, with a different metabolism and different tolerances, a mere two drinks in an hour can certainly get a driver to a 0.08 percent. Additionally, person is “under the influence” if they cannot operate a vehicle as a reasonable and sober person would have under similar circumstances.

Now, let’s be very clear. A person does not have to be above a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more to be charged with a California DUI if they were under the influence. Similarly, a person does not have to be under the influence to be charged with a California DUI if they have a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more. Having said that, most people who are caught driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher will be charged with both under California Vehicle Code section 23152(a) and section 23152(b) respectively. Yes, you read that correct. Most people who get a DUI are actually looking at two separate charges.

For example, John is heavy in weight and is an alcoholic. If John drinks four beers in an hour, he may likely have a blood alcohol content of above a 0.08 percent, but he’ll probably not be “under the influence” because he can function as though he were sober. He will still be arrested, charged, and may be convicted of driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more under Vehicle Code section 23152(b).

On the other hand, for example, Jane is underweight and very rarely drinks. If she were to have one glass of wine, she may not be above a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more, but she may certainly not be able to function as a sober person would. As such, while she cannot be charged with having a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher, she may very well be arrested and charged with driving under the influence under Vehicle Code section 23152(a).

Whether a person is a 0.08 percent or higher, or if they are under the influence, officers have no knowledge of either when they decide to pull someone over. They might suspect that a person is under the influence based on observed driving patterns, but that alone is not enough to arrest a person. An officer must have probable cause to arrest a driver for a DUI. An officer has probable cause when they have trustworthy facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the driver was either a 0.08 percent or higher, or that they were driving under the influence.

The key is that the officer must have facts that the driver is DUI before they can make the arrest. The officer can obtain the facts to meet the probable cause standard through observation of driving patterns, statements made by the drive (ex. “I had a few beers with dinner”), smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath, bloodshot and watery eyes, slurred speech, poor performance on field sobriety tests, and failure of a roadside breathalyzer.

Just because these may be what an officer uses to justify a DUI arrest, there are things that drivers can do to limit the amount of “facts” that they give the officer.

Drivers do not need to talk to the officers, nor should they. The 5th Amendment exists for a reason. Use it. Rather than potentially providing incriminating statements and allowing the officer to smell the driver’s breath, the driver should simply invoke his or her 5th Amendment right to remain silent, request their attorney, and then keep their mouth shut.

Drivers do not need to perform the field sobriety tests, nor should they. The officer might threaten arrest if the driver does not perform them, but the driver has that right. Chances are that the officer has already made up his or her mind to arrest the driver. However, by not performing the field sobriety tests, the driver has prevented the officer from obtaining any facts that the driver is impaired.

Lastly, drivers do not need to perform the roadside breathalyzer, nor should they. This test, referred to as a preliminary alcohol screening test or “PAS” test, is optional. That is not to say that a driver will not have to perform any test.

Once a person has been lawfully arrested for a DUI, meaning the officer does have the requisite probable cause to make the arrest, the driver must submit to either a breath test or a blood test under California law. Not doing so can lead to increased penalties with both the court as well as the California DMV.

Speaking of the California DMV, when a person is caught driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more, it triggers an action by the DMV to determine whether the driver’s license should be suspended. The driver or their attorney must contact the DMV within 10 days to request a hearing and stop the automatic suspension of the driver’s license. If the hearing is lost, then the person’s license will be suspended, the time of which will be dependent upon prior DUI’s and whether the driver refused the required breath or blood test. If the hearing is won, albeit unlikely, the driver’s driving privileges are saved…for now.

After the arrest, the driver must challenge the DUI in court. If convicted, the driver faces some serious consequences. For a first time DUI, the driver is facing a minimum of $390 in fines, which will increase to about $2,000 after court fees are included, three years of informal probation, a three-month DUI course, additional license suspension time, and a DUI on their criminal record. Now, these are minimums. A driver could face a whole host of other penalties including jail of up to six months.

Since this post is about the basics, I won’t get into the penalties for a second or more DUI, or other penalties for various DUI scenarios.  

Needless to say, even the basics are extremely complicated. A driver absolutely should not try to tackle a DUI case on their own. They should hire an experienced California DUI attorney who has studied California DUI law and who practices it day in and day out. Simply put, having a California DUI attorney can be the difference between going to jail and not.

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What are the Benefits (and Disadvantages) of a Wet Reckless?

Friday, October 19th, 2018

People very often ask whether it’s possible to get a wet reckless in their DUI case without even knowing what a wet reckless is or what it entails. They do, however, know that it’s something better than a DUI conviction. While they are correct in that it is better than a DUI charge, there are some very important distinctions between a DUI and a wet reckless.

First, it’s important to explain exactly what a wet reckless is.

A prosecutor cannot charge a wet reckless from the outset. It can only be reduced from a DUI charge. If it is offered and the driver accepts, the driver will be pleading guilty or no contest to California Vehicle Code section 23103 pursuant to section 23103.5 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.”

In other words, a driver who takes a wet reckless is pleading guilty (or no contest) to reckless driving involving alcohol.

A wet reckless is one of several reductions to a DUI charge that a prosecutor might offer as incentive to get the driver to take a plea deal. Typically, the wet reckless is only offered if there are issues with the prosecutor’s case that might make it difficult for them to win at trial. For example, a wet reckless might be offered when it is determined that the driver’ blood alcohol content is close to the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

In addition to looking better on paper than a DUI conviction, there are a number of other benefits to the wet reckless.

If a person is convicted of a second-time DUI within 10 years, they face a mandatory minimum of 96 hours in jail. If a person is convicted of a third-time DUI within 10 years, they face a mandatory minimum of 120 days in jail. However, if a person is convicted of only a wet reckless when they’ve suffered prior DUI convictions within a 10-year period, there is no mandatory minimum jail sentence. For example, if a person is convicted of a DUI in 2010 and then a wet reckless conviction in 2018, there is no mandatory minimum jail for the wet reckless.

On the other hand, if a person is convicted of a wet reckless and then suffers a DUI within 10 years of the wet reckless conviction, the wet reckless will be treated as though it was a DUI prior. For example, a person is convicted of a wet reckless in 2010 and then suffers a DUI conviction in 2018, they are facing are facing a mandatory minimum of 96 hours in jail.

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.

Lastly, a wet reckless conviction does not trigger the 6-month suspension with the DMV. The license will still be suspended, however, if the driver loses the DMV’s administrative per se action.

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Arrested for a DUI by Robocop

Friday, September 14th, 2018

Could it be that sometime in the future drunk drivers can be arrested by robotic law enforcement? If you’re anything like me, a product of the 80’s, you might be envisioning something like the Terminator, or Robocop. While we may be closer to automated law enforcement than some might think, it’s not as cool as what my imagination envisions.

Motorola has patented an autonomous car that may actually replace law enforcement in the fight against drunk driving.

Called the “Mobile law enforcement communication system and method,” the vehicle as described in Patent 10049419 is a “communication system, comprising: a self-driving vehicle within which to detain a detainee by law enforcement” that has the ability to make an arrest of a drunk driver, reads the drunk driver their Miranda Rights, determines who the driver’s attorney is, calls the driver’s attorney, communicates with a court regarding bail, and allows the drunk driver to swipe a credit card to post that bail.

Don’t believe me? See Patent 10049419 for yourself.

According to the developers, a self-driving vehicle will respond to a DUI stop where “the detained or arrested individual is placed into the self-driving vehicle for initial processing. Depending on the type of incident or alleged infraction, the individual may or may not remain handcuffed within the vehicle, but is detained within at least a portion of the vehicle throughout the process, such as a backseat area. [P]redetermined law enforcement processes and proceedings take place…using the autonomous vehicle’s communication system.

“Depending on the severity of the incident or alleged infraction, the processes and proceedings taking place within the self-driving vehicle may take the form of one or more of testing, booking, arraignment, and even full adjudication, if applicable. For example, the mobile communication system can be used as a mobile test hub for determining alcohol levels, drugs, and/or weapons. Sensors and scanners plugged in within the self-driving vehicle provide preliminary in-vehicle screening tools to help law enforcement officers assess a driver suspected of being drunk, carrying a dangerous or weapon, and predetermined drugs. As air sensors and scanners continue to evolve, the detained individual may simply remain within the vehicle while the tests are processed, analyzed, and results communicated to one or more appropriate recipients. Depending on the status of the detainee’s confinement, results may be communicated, over one or more wireless communications networks, to law enforcement, a remote attorney, and/or an on-call judge which may be contacted by the communication as part of the mobile processes and proceedings.”

Should this ever come to fruition in my lifetime, I’m not sure how I feel about it considering I still use a pin-on-the-wall calendar to keep track of my upcoming events rather than my smartphone. I can say, however, that it may be better than the subjective and often bias determinations made by the human law enforcement officers we deal with today.

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