Can Police Go Off of an Anonymous DUI Tip?

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

I am currently representing a person for a California DUI who was arrested after an anonymous tipster informed law enforcement that a possible drunk driver was on the road. Such a situation often raises the question, “Can law enforcement arrest someone based on an anonymous tip when the officers themselves have not witnessed any conduct that would lead them to believe a driver was driving under the influence?”

Unfortunately, the United States Supreme Court recently held that law enforcement can go off of an anonymous tip of a potential drunk driver in the case of Navarette v. California _____ U.S. _____ (Docket No. 12-9490)(2014).

In August 2008, a California Highway Patrol dispatcher received a call from a motorist who had been run off the Highway 1 near Fort Bragg by someone driving a pickup truck. The anonymous caller provided the license plate number of the pickup. A short time later, CHP spotted the pickup and pulled it over. As the CHP officers approached, they smelled marijuana and discovered four bags of it in the bed of the pickup.

The occupants of the pickup were identified as brothers, Lorenzo and Jose Navarette. The brothers plead guilty to transporting marijuana after they unsuccessfully attempted to challenge the constitutionality of the search. Both were sentenced to 90 days in jail.

The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco relied on the 2006 California Supreme Court ruling of People v. Wells (2006) 38 Cal.App.4th 1078,  in upholding the conviction. The Court in that case said that “the grave risks posed by an intoxicated highway driver” justifies a brief investigatory stop. It found that there are certain dangers alleged in anonymous tips that are so great, such as a person carrying a bomb, which would justify a search even without a showing of reliability. The court went on to say that a “drunk driver is not at all unlike a bomb, and a mobile one at that.”

In its 3-0 ruling, the appellate court said, “The report that the [Navarettes’] vehicle had run someone off the road sufficiently demonstrated an ongoing danger to other motorists to justify the stop without direct corroboration of the vehicle’s illegal activity.”

The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court which held that an anonymous tip can give law enforcement the authority to pull someone over on suspicion of driving under the influence.

The Court held that “under appropriate circumstances, an anonymous tip can demonstrate ‘sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion to make [an] investigatory stop,’” quoting Alabama v. White (1990) 496 U.S. 325, 327.

In finding “sufficient indicia of reliability,” the court relied on 1.) the fact that the caller claimed eyewitness knowledge of dangerous driving, 2.) the fact that the tip was made contemporaneously with the incident, and 3.) the fact that the caller used 911 to make the tip likely knowing that the call could be traced.

According to the court, if the tip bears “sufficient indicia of reliability,” officers need not observe driving which would give rise to suspicion that a person was driving under the influence or even that the driver committed a traffic violation. They only need the unverified and unsupported anonymous tip.  

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Texalyzer to Help Cops Crack Down on Distracted Driving

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

You heard me right. Not a breathalyzer, but a texalyzer. A new device has been developed that could help law enforcement determine whether a person was using a cell phone at the time a traffic collision occurred.

Just as a breathalyzer can help determine whether alcohol in a person’s system played a part in a traffic collision, the texalyzer can help law enforcement and prosecutors determine whether a driver’s texting possibly played a part in a traffic collision.

By connecting the phone via a cord to the device, law enforcement would be able to know what apps were open and in use with a time stamp.

Lawmakers in New York and several other cities are considering allowing law enforcement to use the device to crack down on texting while driving. It is currently illegal in California to “drive a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone.” This provision includes texting while driving.

Cellebrite is the company behind the device and has been working with Ben Lieberman of New Castle, N.Y. whose son was killed in a 2011 car crash.

The driver who collided with the car whom Lieberman’s son was a passenger originally told law enforcement that he had fall asleep behind the wheel which led his car veering into oncoming traffic.

Law enforcement could not check the driver’s phone to see if he was lying without a warrant.

"We often hear, ‘just get a warrant’ or ‘just get the phone records.’ … The implication is that the warrant is like filling out some minor form," said Leiberman. "It’s not. In New York, it involves a D.A. and a judge. Imagine getting a D.A. and a judge involved in every breathalyzer that’s administered, every sobriety test that’s administered."

Leiberman was able to eventually get the phone records through a civil lawsuit which showed that the driver had been texting before the collision.

Privacy advocate groups have concerns with the device which is still in development.

"Distracted driving is a serious concern, but this bill gives police power to take and search our phones after almost every fender-bender," says Rashida Richardson, legislative counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union. "This is a concern because our phones have some of our most personal and private information — so we’re certain that if this law is enforced as it is proposed, it will not only violate people’s privacy rights, but also civil liberties."

The bill that Richardson is referring to is New York Senate Bill S2306 which provides for the field testing of mobile telephone and portable electronic device usage while driving after an accident or collision.

Recent studies have shown that distracted driving, like texting while driving, is just as dangerous a drunk driving.

A new study by the Cambridge Mobile Telematics, a leader in smartphone-centric telematics, is one such study.

Some of the study’s key findings included: Distracted driving occurred during 52 percent of trips that resulted in a crash; on drives that involved a crash, the average duration of distraction was 135 seconds; phone distraction lasts for two minutes or more on 20 percent of drives with distraction, and often occurs at high speeds; the worst 10 percent of distracted drivers are 2.3 times more likely to be in a crash than the average driver, and 5.8 times more likely than the best 10 percent of distracted drivers.

You can be sure we’ll be keeping our eyes and ears open for whether law enforcement usage of such a device gains any traction here in California.

 

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Do Drugged Drivers Cause More Traffic Deaths than Drunk Drivers?

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

The increase in DUI of drugs has led some to ask whether drugged drivers cause more fatal traffic collisions than drunk drivers. At least according to a new study, the answer is yes.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, a nonprofit funded by alcohol distillers, released a report in April of this year that found in 2015, drivers killed in vehicle collisions were more likely to be under the influence of drugs than alcohol. This was the first recorded time where it is suggested that drugged driving is responsible for more traffic fatalities than drunk driving.

“Drug impaired driving is increasing,” said Jim Hedlund a private consultant from Ithaca, New York who conducted the study for the Governors Highway Safety Association. “We have new data that show drugs are more prevalent to drivers than alcohol is for the first time.”

The study showed that 43 percent of drivers tested in fatal vehicle collisions in the United States had used either a legal or illegal drug. According to the study, 37 percent of drivers tested had a blood alcohol content above the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Marijuana was the most common drug detected. 9.3 percent of drivers who had their blood tested had amphetamines in their system and in many cases, drivers had multiple drugs in their system.

While the result of the study may be accurate, those who are suggesting that the results indicate that drugged driving causes more traffic fatalities than drunk driving is somewhat misleading.

The presence of alcohol in a person’s system does not necessarily mean that they are under the influence. However, the legislature has created a per se blood alcohol content limit of 0.08 because science has shown that the mental or physical abilities of those with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 are likely so impaired that they can no longer operate a vehicle with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary case, under similar circumstances.

Thus, while the study only tested whether drivers had a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or higher and not actual impairment, we know that if the driver had a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher, they were also likely impaired.

Therefore, to conclude that more drugged drivers cause fatal vehicle collisions than drunk drivers is inaccurate. In other words, we cannot compare driving statistics of those with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent and those with drugs in their system.

Furthermore, drugs such as marijuana can stay in a person’s system for far longer than alcohol, sometimes for up to weeks at a time. Therefore, the likelihood of drugs being present in a person’s system, whether they used recently or not, is far higher than the likelihood of alcohol being present in a person’s system.

For once, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and I actually agree on something.

Like myself, MADD officials questioned the methodology of the results, noting that there is no scientifically agreed level of impairment with drugs such as marijuana.

Another of MADD’s concerns is that the study is leading people to believe that the country is doing better than we have been in terms of drunk driving.

“There is no way you can say drugs have overtaken alcohol as the biggest killer on the highway,” said J.T. Griffin, chief government affairs officer at MADD. “The data is not anywhere close to being in a way that would suggest that … We’re doing a lot of good things on drunk driving, but the public needs to understand this problem is not solved.”

According to NORML, with whom I tend to agree, the study merely reflects the increased detection of drugs and alcohol, but does not reflect any direct connection to fatal vehicle collisions.

 

 

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Man Found Asleep in Car in OC High School Arrested DUI

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department found an intoxicated man asleep inside of his parked vehicle which was located in the middle of Aliso Niguel High School.

According to the Lt. Dan Dwyer of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Alexander Nixon, 23, of Las Vegas was arrested last week on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol when he was found asleep in his 2014 Dodge sedan which was parked inside of Aliso Niguel High School in Orange County.

Upon waking Nixon, officers suspected that he was under the influence. Nixon then told officers that he had been drinking before attempting to drive home. Nixon also told officers that he thought that he was in a parking lot in Santa Ana.

Nixon field sobriety tests and was subsequently arrested on suspicion of a California DUI.

Although law enforcement said that the car was located in a back lot of the school, media photographs of the scene showed the car inside of an enclosed walkway leading to an outside seating area.

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Had Nixon not confessed to driving, his situation raises an interesting question: Can prosecutors prove that a person drove (which is required for a California DUI) if the person was not seen driving, but their vehicle could have only reached its location through driving?

To be arrested, charged, and convicted of a California DUI, the prosecutor needs to prove that the defendant actually drove the vehicle. And California Courts have held that even slight movement will suffice to meet this requirement.

Movement of the vehicle can be proven through circumstantial evidence, meaning evidence that creates an inference of vehicle movement.

Such was the case in People v. Wilson (1985) 176 Cal.App.3d Supp. 1. The defendant in that case was found asleep in his car which was blocking the 60 freeway in Los Angeles.

The court concluded that “there was ample evidence from which the jury could have inferred that the defendant had been driving his vehicle on the public highway at a time when he was intoxication. From the combination of circumstances – defendant’s sitting in a vehicle in the center of the street–behind the wheel–engine running–lights on, it can be inferred that defendant must have placed himself in such position, and that he accomplished this by driving the car to the place at which he was found.”

The defendant in Wilson argued that it was possible that a friend drove him to the location and placed him in the driver’s seat. He also argued it was possible that the car was already in that position, he intended to drive it, but fell asleep before he could do so.

The Court rejected the defendant’s arguments stating, “It seems unlikely that in either situation the car would have been left parked in the middle of the street, straddling the traffic lanes and facing generally at right angles to the street. Suffice it to say that the jury apparently discarded these possibilities as being unreasonable and adopted the more likely deduction that defendant had driven himself to the area and was then unable to continue."

With that in mind, it seems unlikely prosecutors would even need Nixon’s confession that he drove to convict him of a California DUI. How else would his car have ended up in the middle of a high school?

 

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How Do I Choose the Right California DUI Attorney?

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

It goes without saying that the day a person is arrested on suspicion of a California DUI is very often the worst day of that person’s life. As the handcuffs are being slapped around the wrists, thoughts flood the mind of the person who has just been arrested for a California DUI: How long will I be under arrest? What will happen in court? What am I facing?

Fortunately, people don’t have to do it on their own. The legal system is complex to say the least and should never be tackled by the person facing the charges. Most lawyers have spent at least four years at an undergraduate university then three years at law school. Then, lawyers must pass the scrutiny of the bar exam, which in California is the most difficult in the country, before they can actually practice law.

Ok, so lawyers have a lot of education under their belt. How does a person tell if a lawyer is qualified and right for their case?

The first step is research. You don’t buy the first car you see at the dealership. With so much at stake, why would you hire the first attorney you talk to? Ask family and friends if they know a lawyer. You’d be hard pressed to not find anyone who hasn’t used a lawyer in the past. Check user-based rating websites like Avvo.com or Yelp.com to see what others have said about a lawyer’s services. Lastly, check the California Bar Association’s website at Calbar.org to check if a lawyer has had any disciplinary action taken against them for misconduct.

After a lawyer becomes licensed to practice law, they are legally allowed to practice any and all areas of law, but this does not necessarily mean that they are qualified to practice any area of law. Many lawyers are known as “general practitioners.” General practitioners practice everything from personal injury law to real estate law to estate planning and possibly even criminal defense, which may include DUI law. While the law, in general, is complicated, DUI law is complicated in its own right. Understanding the nuances of DUI law and the science involved is crucial in defending a DUI case. If I’m hiring an attorney to represent me for a DUI, I want a lawyer who defends DUI cases day in and day out, not a lawyer who may defend a DUI case every couple of months.

Although many of don’t like to say it, but we, by the nature of our profession, are also salespeople. We need to convince people to hire us to represent them. Unfortunately, the reputation of salespeople runs true with many attorneys as well. Some lawyers will tell you what you want to hear to make the sale. They might claim that they can help because the case is a “slam dunk.” I have been practicing DUI defense for some time now and I can tell you firsthand that no case is a slam dunk. In fact, very few things in law are black and white. DUI defense lawyers don’t know the facts of the case, other than what the potential client tells them, until the first court date. In fact, many times what the potential client tells the lawyer is very different than what is in the police report. Therefore, when a person contacts a lawyer for the purpose of hiring them for representation in a California DUI case, the lawyer lacks the information necessary to predict the outcome of a case. Furthermore, it is actually illegal for a lawyer to guarantee an outcome.

It’s no surprise that lawyers can be expensive. But remind yourself that you’re paying for someone with the experience to help you make it through one of the most difficult times of your life. Make your decision to hire a lawyer based on experience, not cost. Fees for California DUI lawyers range from $1000 to $10,000. DUI defense lawyers almost always charge flat fees, not hourly fees. Often, the price of a DUI lawyer corresponds with their experience and what is included in the service. Sometimes, however, it isn’t. Make sure that you’re getting what you’re paying for.

I can’t say it enough. Hiring a lawyer is an extremely important decision and one that can have lasting effects on your life. Do your research and find the right California DUI attorney.

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