Teen Who Livestreamed DUI that Killed Her Sister Sentenced to More than Six Years in Prison

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

In July of last year, I wrote about then 18-year-old Obdulia Sanchez, who livestreamed her own DUI-related collision which killed her 14-year-old passenger sister. At the time, Sanchez pleaded not guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter and several other felony offenses. On January 24th, however, Sanchez withdrew her not guilty plea and entered a plea of no contest and just today was sentenced to six years and four months in prison.

In July of 2017, Sanchez, who was from Stockton, California, was livestreaming herself driving with her sister, Jacqueline and another 14-year-old in the back seats. Sanchez, who had been drinking, could be seen dancing to music with her hands off of the steering wheel moments before the fatal collision.

According to police, Sanchez veered onto the shoulder of a road and overcorrected causing her vehicle to flip several times. Sanchez’s video recorded the collision from the inside of the vehicle. When the car stopped rolling, Sanchez continued livestreaming the incident.

Neither Jacqueline nor the other passenger had been wearing seatbelts. Jacqueline was ejected from the vehicle and sustained fatal head injuries. The other passenger was also ejected and sustained severe injuries to her leg.

While standing over her sister’s body, Sanchez could be heard saying, “Hey, everybody, if I go to f***ing jail for life, you already know why. My sister is f***ing dying. Look, I f***ing love my sister to death. I don’t give a f***. Man, we about to die. This is the last thing I wanted to happen to us, but it just did. Jacqueline, please wake up.”

The livestream was recorded from Instagram and later reposted to Facebook by someone who had seen it.

Sanchez’s blood alcohol content was later determined to be 0.10 percent and she was subsequently charged with felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, felony manslaughter while intoxicated, two counts of felony driving under the influence resulting in injury and two counts of felony driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more causing injury.

At her sentencing, Sanchez addressed the court saying that the moment she realized that her sister had died played “over and over in [her] head.”

“When I look at my mom’s face, I know she hates me,” Sanchez said. “I would hate myself too. I’m such a disappointment to my parents.”

Members of Sanchez’s family pleaded with the court to grant her probation. Sanchez’s public defender also requested probation arguing that prison time would further harm Sanchez who had a difficult childhood. Sanchez was sexually abused as an 11-year-old by a family friend. Two years later, she was abducted, sexually assaulted, and forced to use methamphetamine and alcohol which, according to her attorney, began her addiction to drugs and alcohol.

The district attorney, however, pushed for a 12-year prison sentence pointing to the “callousness” of the video following the crash.

Judge Ronald Hansen disagreed with both the district attorney and Sanchez’s attorney saying that both 12 years in prison and probation were inappropriate. In finding that Sanchez was not “callous,” but remorseful, he sentenced her to six years and four months in a California State Prison.

According to Sanchez’s attorney, with prop 57, Sanchez may get out of jail in 2020.

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Sobering Up by Sleeping in Your Car

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

It’s not an unlikely scenario when a person leaves a bar too drunk to drive and they decide to sleep in their car until they sober up. Kudos to the person for having the wherewithal to avoid driving when drunk. But if a law enforcement officers happens upon the sleeping bar patron, the question becomes whether they can be arrested, charged, and convicted of a California DUI.

Some states hold that a person can be arrested, charged, and convicted of a DUI if they are in “dominion and control” of their vehicle with the ability to drive the it, even though they may not have actually driven it.

Fortunately, California is not a “dominion and control” state, meaning that prosecutors here in California must prove that the person actually drove their vehicle.

The California Supreme Court in the case of Mercer v. Department of Motor Vehicles in 1991 held that the word “drive” in California’s DUI law means that the defendant volitionally and voluntarily moved the vehicle. The court has held that even a “slight movement” is enough to meet the requirement that the defendant drove the vehicle as long as it was voluntary.

Does this mean that a person who is sleeping in a car while under the influence can completely avoid criminal charges? No.

If a person is found sleeping in their car, it is likely that any arresting officer did not see the person drive. Therefore, there may not be any direct evidence for a prosecutor to prove that a person drove. A prosecutor, however, can use circumstantial evidence to prove that the person drove to where they were found while under the influence and then fell asleep.

For example, if an intoxicated person is sleeping in their vehicle in the middle of the road or at the scene of a collision (yes, it happens more often than you would think), then the prosecutor can raise those facts to create the inference that the person had driven. In other words, the prosecutor would argue that it is reasonable to infer that the defendant drove.

On the other hand, if those facts do not exist that would create the inference that the defendant drove then the prosecutor is going to have difficult time proving that the person actually drove the vehicle while being under the influence. This scenario presents itself from time to time as well. But the person may still be charged with another crime such as drunk in public.

In the 1966 case of People v. Belanger, officers found the intoxicated defendant asleep in his vehicle which was located in a parking lot. Although the facts in that case were not enough to create the inference that the defendant had driven to the location while under the influence because he could have driven there sober, drank, and then fell asleep, the officers did arrest the defendant for drunk in public.

The Court concluded that, in order to prevent the defendant from waking up and driving drunk, they needed to arrest him on suspicion of being drunk in public.

Bottom line is that no person should be in a vehicle when they’re intoxicated whether they’ve driven it or not. A prosecutor may still be able to prove a case for driving under the influence or, in the event that they cannot create the inference that person drove, the person is still facing drunk in public charges.

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Drunk Driving…A Drone

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

As I’m sure you’re aware, the purpose behind DUI laws is to protect the public and drivers themselves from harm caused by an automobile driven while the driver was intoxicated. The same logic can be applied to vehicles other than automobiles, which is why people can be prosecuted for operating other vehicles while intoxicated such as a bicycle, a boat, a horse, a plane, and yes, even a Zamboni. What these “vehicles” have in common is that they are operated by a driver while the driver is in the vehicle. But should the same logic apply to vehicles where the driver isn’t actually in the vehicle like, say…a drone?

New Jersey certainly thinks so.

This week, New Jersey lawmakers approved a ban on operating drones while under the influence. The new legislation, which was approved 39-0 in the State Senate and 65-0 in the State Assembly, would punish pilots of drones who operate while under the influence with up to six months in jail and $1,000 fine.

Although the law doesn’t specify the type nor the size of drone that cannot be operated while intoxicated, it does, however, use the DUI standard for blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent as the legal limit.

According to the text of the bill, “…it is a disorderly persons offense to operate a drone: 1) knowingly or intentionally in a manner that endangers the life or property of another; 2) to take or assist in the taking of wildlife; and 3) while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, a narcotic, hallucinogenic, or habit-producing drug or with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more by weight of alcohol. Disorderly persons offenses are punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to six months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.”

“The use of drones has increased dramatically in recent years for a variety of purposes,” State Sen. Paul Sarlo told NJ Advance Media in December of last year. “There are many benefits for commercial and recreational purposes but they can also pose threats to safety, security and privacy. The technology has outpaced regulations.”

Although drunk drone driving has yet to become the problem that vehicle DUI’s pose, with the increased availability and use of drones, state lawmakers are seeking to preemptively stamp out problems like that which occurred in 2015 to an off-duty National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency employee. After the employee had been drinking, he flew a two-foot by two-foot “quadcopter” from a friend’s apartment balcony and lost control of it over the White House.

Similar bills have been pocket-vetoed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, but it is unknown whether he’ll sign the current bill before his second term ends on January 16, 2018.

We’ll also have to wait to see if California follows suit. Who knows, maybe by that time, California will also outlaw drunk driving remote control cars as well.

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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.

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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.

 

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