Man Arrested for DUI for Falling Asleep while Tesla in Autopilot Mode

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

Last week, California Highway Patrol arrested a driver for DUI after he had fallen asleep in his Model S Tesla while it drove down Highway 101 in autopilot mode.

A CHP officer spotted a grey Tesla going about 70 miles per hour on Highway 101 near Redwood City. As the officer approached the vehicle, he also noticed that it appeared the driver of the Tesla was asleep behind the wheel. CHP then closed traffic on the highway and proceeded to slow the Tesla by pulling a patrol vehicle in front of it and slowing down, thus causing the Tesla to slow down.

The driver of the vehicle eventually awoke to the CHP stopping his vehicle. Once stopped, responding officers suspected that the driver was under the influence and had the driver perform field sobriety tests, which he allegedly failed.

“It’s great that we have this technology; however, we need to remind people that…even though this technology is available, they need to make sure they know they are responsible for maintaining control of the vehicle,” CHP spokesman Art Montiel said.

In January of this year, CHP arrested a driver who was found passed out behind the wheel of a Tesla on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge. According to CHP, the driver’s blood alcohol content was more that double the legal limit. The man claimed he wasn’t responsible because the vehicle was in autopilot.

While fully autonomous vehicles may be in the offing, no major car manufacturer has yet to develop a fully autonomous vehicle for public consumption. In fact, Tesla warns that its autopilot features are not fully autonomous. “Autopilot is intended for use only with a fully attentive driver,” a Tesla spokes person told the Washington Post earlier this year. Rather, auto pilot systems are designed to detect obstructions in the road and, if necessary, bring the vehicle to a halt if the driver does not respond in time.

In fact, a goal of Elon Musk is to have fully autonomous vehicles in the near future.

“We aimed for a very simple, clean design, because in the future – really, the future begins now – the cars will be increasingly autonomous,” Musk said in July of last year. “So, you won’t really need to look at an instrument panel all that often. You’ll be able to do whatever you want: You’ll be able to watch a movie, talk to friends, go to sleep.”

This, however, raises an interesting legal dilemma.

California law requires that a drunk driver be in physical control of the vehicle and must cause the vehicle to move in the slightest amount. Are drunk drivers who are in autopilot really in physical control of the vehicle and cause it to move if the car is in autopilot? At least right now, the answer is a likely yes.

Drivers still need to operate a vehicle in autopilot to a certain degree. As Tesla’s spokesperson pointed out, Tesla’s autopilot feature still requires a fully attentive vehicle to take control of the vehicle to engage in maneuvers that are not available in autopilot. Just because a vehicle has autopilot mode does not mean that it is autonomous.

The question will become even trickier when fully autonomous vehicles are introduced to the public. If a vehicle is fully autonomous, then there is no need for a driver to be in any kind of control of the vehicle. On the other hand, a driver (now a passenger of a fully autonomous vehicle) will still need to input coordinates and tell the vehicle where to go, which can raise the argument that the passenger is, in fact, in control of the vehicle.

You can see how this technology can raise interesting legal questions. I suppose we’ll just have to 1.) wait for fully autonomous vehicles, and 2.) see what the legislature and/or courts do to define what it means to be “in control” of a fully autonomous vehicle.

Until then, drinking and getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while in autopilot mode will still land you a DUI in California.

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New Study Finds DUI’s Up 60 Percent Since 2014 Among Veterans

Thursday, November 29th, 2018

According to a new study by the American Addiction Centers, drunk driving among the veteran population is up 60% since 2014.

According to the study’s authors, “Since 2014, the percentage of U.S. vets identified as driving while drunk increased from 1.6 percent to 2.5 percent,” almost a 60 percent hike. The study, after having identified the veteran community as already at risk for excessive drinking, went on to say, “there’s no denying that American veterans contribute to the nationwide epidemic of drunk driving.”

The study further found that drunk driving among veterans occurred most often in California, Kentucky, and Washington D.C., whereas prevalence rates were lowest in Virginia, Alaska, and Utah.

The authors of the study suggest that a cause in the increased drinking habits and prevalence rates of DUI’s amongst the veteran community are from dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression following trauma suffered during active duty.

“The percentage of depressed veterans who at some point have been involved in an episode of binge drinking has increased substantially between 2014 and 2016,” said the study. Over 25 percent of “American veterans who self-identified as depressed” were linked to binge drinking. What’s more, the veterans suffering from depression “are more than twice as likely to be linked with drunk driving” than those veterans without mental health issues.

In addition to the mental health concerns as a contributing factor for the spike in DUI’s amongst the veteran community, a recent survey by the Department of Defense Health Related Behaviors found that one in three active duty military members met the characteristics for hazardous drinking and alcohol used disorder.

Recognizing active military and veterans as a vulnerable portion of the population to alcohol abuse and driving under the influence, the legislature recently amended California Penal Code section 1001.80 to allow military members to participate in a pre-trial diversion program to avoid a DUI conviction.

What is a pre-trial diversion program?

Pre-trial diversion is the process by which a court postpones criminal prosecution to allow a defendant to participate in a program that addresses the underlying root cause of the criminal conduct. If the program is successfully completed, the criminal proceedings halt and the case is dismissed.

Although pre-trial diversion exists for a number of other offenses, they don’t generally apply to DUI’s.

Pre-trial diversion which has been offered to a military member, veteran or active, who has been arrested and charged with a California DUI will involve, at a minimum, a substance abuse course as part of the program. If the program is successful, the military member will avoid a DUI conviction and all of the consequences that come with a DUI conviction.

However, if the court determines that the military member is unsuccessful in the program, criminal proceedings will continue and, if they are convicted, they will be subject to the same consequences as anyone else caught driving under the influence.

Not all veterans are eligible for pre-trial diversion. The Penal Code specifically states that only veterans that may be suffering from sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, or any other mental health issues as a result of having served in the military.

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Drunk Driver Thanks Police for “Saving Her Kid from Her”

Thursday, November 22nd, 2018

A drunk driver told police that she had a reason to be thankful this Thanksgiving right after she was arrested for a DUI.

A drunk Crystal Elaine McMillan, of Indiana, apparently flew into a fit of rage after she discovered that her friend would not be cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving this year. That friend was the passenger in McMillan’s truck. Between them sat McMillan’s 6-year-old son.

As McMillan approached an intersection, swerving from lane to lane, her passenger told her to “slow down.” McMillan, still mad at her friend, said, “I’ll show you” and proceeded to speed up. By the time she reached the intersection the light had turned red. McMillan collided with a vehicle turning left in the intersection.

McMillan fled, but was apprehended after a man called police saying a drunk woman was on his property. McMillan reportedly told police that she was too drunk to attempt field sobriety test. She admitted to drinking before the crash. She also, however, admitted to drinking after the collision because she “knew she was going to jail.”

Following her arrest, McMillan thanked the arresting officer for “saving her kid from her.”

McMillan was charged with three counts of felony reckless endangerment and DUI, amongst a host of other charges.

While I can’t tell you what McMillan is looking at in Indiana, what I can say is that a DUI with a child in the car in California is no walk in the park.

Not only is a person looking at the punishment under California’s DUI law, which can carry up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 for a first time DUI, they are also looking at additional penalties under California Vehicle Code section 23572, also known as California’s DUI child endangerment enhancements.

Under California Vehicle Code section 23572, a first time DUI conviction where a minor under the age of 14 is in the car will bring an additional 48 hours in a county jail. A second time DUI conviction will bring an additional 10 days in jail. A third time will bring an additional 30 days in jail. A fourth will bring an additional 90 days. Furthermore, these penalties are to be served consecutively, not concurrently with the underlying DUI penalties.

The prosecutor need only prove that you were driving under the influence and that there was a minor child under the age of 14 in the car while you drove.

This Thanksgiving be thankful for what you have. You never when those things your thankful for might be taken from you by a drunk driver.

 

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20,667 DUI Cases in New Jersey Tainted by Bad Breathalyzers Results

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

It was only a couple of months ago that tens of thousands of breathalyzer results were called into question in Massachusetts, affecting countless DUI cases. It appears New Jersey is dealing with a similar issue now that the state’s highest court ruled that 20,667 breathalyzer results were faulty and therefore inadmissible in the DUI cases where the results were used to secure convictions.

The ruling stems from a case that begun more than two years ago after the attorney for a woman by the name of Eileen Cassidy was notified by the state that the breath results were possibly faulty. At the time the attorney was notified, Cassidy was two weeks into a 180-day sentence on a third-time DUI. Cassidy then filed a lawsuit which led to the appointment of a special master to determine the reliability of the breathalyzer results.

Cassidy’s lawsuit led to the charging of Sergeant Marc W. Dennis with falsely certifying that he had followed proper calibration procedures when calibrating breathalyzers used in DUI stops. The court, in its recent ruling, concluded that the results of the breathalyzers calibrated by Dennis, called Alcotests, were untrustworthy.

“Confidence in the reliability of instruments of technology used as evidence is of paramount importance,” Justice Walter Timpone wrote for the court. “Unfortunately, alleged human failings have cast doubt on the calibration process.”

In addition to determining that the results of the breathalyzers were faulty, the court also vacated Cassidy’s conviction. Unfortunately, Cassidy passed away from cancer in March, never allowing her to see her case vacated by the court.

That, however, didn’t stop her attorney, Michael R. Hobbie, from continuing to fight for her.

While the court vacated Cassidy’s conviction, the New Jersey Supreme Court failed to enunciate in its ruling who could challenge their conviction or exactly how to challenge their conviction.

“With respect to the other 20,667, their cases weren’t vacated,” said Hobbie. “They just going to get notified that the breath test in their case has been deemed inadmissible and they should seek whatever remedy is available to them.”

County prosecutors have already notified thousands of people whose cases may have been affected by the faulty breathalyzer results. The New Jersey Supreme Court, however, has now ordered state authorities to notify everyone whose faulty breath test was used in their case that the results are inadmissible.

“We’ll be issuing guidance shortly for our county prosecutors and municipal prosecutors over how to handle those cases,” said Gurbir Grewal, the New Jersey attorney general.

Although the court declaring the results of the breathalyzers inadmissible is a step in the right direction, ask yourself: How much is it going to cost those people affected by the faulty breathalyzer to legally challenge their conviction (after many, I’m sure, have already spent thousands of dollars to fight the underlying DUI charge in the first place)? As I’ve pointed out many times in previous posts and as I’m sure you’re aware, lawyers are not cheap. Should these people have to bear the burden, financial or otherwise, to remedy something that would not have occurred but for the actions of a corrupt law enforcement officer trying to secure convictions of people who may have been innocent?

Sergeant Dennis was indicted in 2016 and is currently facing criminal charges.

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What is DUI Probation in California?

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

In nearly all misdemeanor DUI’s that result in a conviction, probation is a term of the driver’s sentence. There is, however, much confusion about what exactly misdemeanor DUI probation entails. But, before I go into what probation entails, let’s discuss what probation even is and where it comes from.

In 1841, a Boston cobbler named John Augustus persuaded a Boston Police Court to place a “drunkard” in his care to become rehabilitated prior to sentencing. 37 years later, in 1878, the mayor of Boston hired a former police officer, “Captain Savage,” to become what many recognize as the first probation officer. By this time, many federal judges were regularly suspending the sentences of people convicted of crimes. In 1916, the United States Supreme Court decided what is known as the “Killets Decision,” where it held that a federal judge by the name of Killets could not suspend a criminal sentence indefinitely. The Killets Decision led to the passing of the National Probation Act of 1925, which allowed courts to suspend the sentences of people convicted of crimes and place them on probation.

Simply put, probation is court supervision over an offender for a specified period of time rather than placing the offender in jail or prison.

In the context of a California DUI, probation is much more than merely supervision.

For a misdemeanor DUI in California, a person can be placed on summary (informal) probation for a period of three to five years depending on the circumstances surrounding the DUI. Probation can be less if a driver is able to get the DUI reduced to, for example, a “wet reckless.” Summary probation, also known as informal probation, is given in all misdemeanor DUI cases and doesn’t require supervision by a probation officer. For felony convictions, on the other hand, formal probation requires supervision and meetings with a county probation officer.

In addition to being placed on probation, the court will sentence a DUI offender to abide by certain conditions during the time of probation, some passive and some active.

The passive conditions of probation can and will include not picking up any new cases (this does not include infractions such as traffic tickets), not driving without a valid license, and not driving with any measurable amount of alcohol in their system. Normally, it is not illegal to drive with some alcohol in a person’s system as long as they’re not above a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher, or if they are “under the influence.” However, when a person is on probation, they cannot have any alcohol in their system, not even a 0.01 percent blood alcohol content.

Additionally, normally a person does not have to submit to field sobriety tests or a pre-arrest breathalyzer when stopped on suspicion of a DUI. However, if a driver is already on probation for a California DUI, they must submit to field sobriety tests and a pre-arrest breathalyzer if they are stopped on suspicion of a subsequent DUI.

The active conditions of probation include the driver doing whatever the court orders them to do during the probationary period. This can include paying their fines and fees, completing a court-approved DUI course, completing a MADD Victim Impact Panel, completing a Hospital and Morgue program, completing AA meetings, completing community service, and completing community labor (which in most Southern California courts means picking up trash on the side of the freeway with CalTrans). Although the purpose of probation is to avoid jail, sometimes going to jail for a shorter period of time is a condition of probation.

If the probationary period expires and the person has completed all of their passive and active conditions of probation, probation will terminate, the case is completed, and the driver should discuss a 1203.4 dismissal (commonly referred to as an “expungement”) with their attorney.

On the other hand, if a person violates any condition of probation, the court can revoke probation and sentence the driver up to the maximum of what the original DUI allowed. For a first time DUI, this is a $1,000 fine and six months in county jail. For a second or third time DUI, this is a $1,000 fine and a year in county jail.

Although not pleasant, probation is, most of the time, a preferred alternative to potentially spending months in jail for a California DUI.

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