OC Man Gets 7 Years for DUI with Injury

Monday, July 25th, 2016

In April of 2015, Leonardo Morales was driving his Chevy Tahoe and exiting the 55 freeway in Costa Mesa when he collided into a tree on the off-ramp. According to California Highway Patrol, two officers patrolling the area spotted the flames that erupted immediately following the collision.

The officers who spotted the flames called in to dispatch for other officers to respond. Responding officers Daryl Hansend and Timothy Montoya found Morales on the floor, 22-year-old Kathy De Rosa in the front passenger seat, and a 2-year-old “running around and crying and pointing at the car,” said CHP Officer Florentino Olivera.

As the officers were attempting to extract De Rosa, they heard the cries of a baby on the floorboard of the rear driver’s side seat. The children, whose parents were Morales and De Rosa, were taken to Children’s Hospital Orange County. Morales and De Rosa were taken to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana.

Morales was later determined to have alcohol in his system and was subsequently arrested.

Both Morales and De Rosa had prior DUI convictions. In 2014, Morales pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving under the influence and driving on a suspended license. In 2015, De Rosa pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving under the influence, misdemeanor driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher, and misdemeanor child endangerment since children were present in the vehicle when she was under the influence.

Last month, Morales pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury, driving with a blood alcohol of 0.08 percent or more causing injury, and two counts of child abuse and endangerment, all felonies. Additionally, Morales admitted sentencing enhancement allegations that he inflicted great bodily injury and great bodily injury on a child younger than five-years-old.

Morales was sentenced to seven years in prison just last week.

Unfortunately for Morales, a DUI may be elevated, and was in his case, to a felony when the DUI leads to the injury of another under California Vehicle Code 23153.

Although Morales was sentenced to seven years, he was originally facing two, three, or four years in a California State Prison, an additional and consecutive three to six years in prison for each other person who suffered great bodily injury, a “strike” on his record under California’s Three Strikes Law, up to $5,000 in fines, and 18 or 30 month DUI program, restitution to the victim or victims, a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) status with the California DMV for three years, and a five year revocation of driving privileges.

DUI with injury can also be charged as a misdemeanor. Although it was highly unlikely in Morales’s case given the facts, it is possible. If originally charged as a felony, alternatively a plea deal could involve reducing the charge to a misdemeanor. As a misdemeanor, the penalties include informal summary probation for three to five years, up to a year in county jail, up to $5,000 in fines, a three, nine, 18, or 30-month DUI program, restitution to the victim or victims, and a one or three year suspension of driving privileges.

For this reason, it is extremely important to hire a competent and experienced California DUI attorney to negotiate the best plea deal possible or, if the prosecutors unwilling to budge, fight the case through trial and achieve a not guilty verdict.

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Supreme Court Says Warrantless Blood Test Illegal, but not Warrantless Breath Tests

Monday, June 27th, 2016

In December of last year, both Lawrence Taylor and I wrote about the United States Supreme Court’s announcement that it would review the criminalization of chemical test refusals following a DUI stop. On June 23rd, that decision was announced.

In a split decision, the Court held that states can punish a person for refusing a chemical breath tests following a DUI stop absent a warrant. States, on the other hand, cannot punish a person for refusing a chemical blood test absent a warrant.

In late 2015, the Hawaii Supreme Court issued a decision that decriminalized chemical test refusals in DUI cases. Prior to the decision, it was a petty misdemeanor to refuse a chemical test after a DUI arrest punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

The Hawaii Supreme Court reasoned that criminalizing a chemical test refusal violated the 4th Amendment because we have the right against warrantless searches by law enforcement and the government cannot punish us for essentially invoking our 4th Amendment right. Furthermore, any consent to search (which is what a chemical test is; a search for alcohol in your breath or blood) cannot be voluntary if our only options are giving up a constitutional right or be punished.

Similar cases to that of Hawaii’s coming from North Dakota and Minnesota prompted the United States Supreme Court to take up the issue.

The decision affects thirteen states which make it a crime or increases penalties for to refusing to take a chemical test. Amongst those states is California where a prosecutor can allege that a person refused the chemical test in addition to the DUI charge in the criminal complaint. If the refusal is found to be true, a person can face additional penalties through the court case and a longer suspension of driving privileges through the DMV.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said that breath tests do not implicate “significant privacy concerns.” Alito went on to say that breath tests are different than blood tests which require the piercing of skin and leaves a biological sample in the government’s possession. Breath tests, on the other hand, only require a person to blow into machine.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg said they would have gone further and required search warrants for both breath and blood alcohol tests. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, saying he would have found both tests constitutional.

So what does this mean for California?

Well, we’ll just have to wait and see exactly how this plays out. However, based on the Court’s decision, California courts and the California DMV can still punish people for refusing a chemical test after a DUI arrest, but only if the chemical test is a breath test. If the only chemical test that is available is a blood test after a DUI arrest, officers must obtain a warrant before forcing a person to submit to the blood test and a person cannot be punished for refusing that blood test absent that warrant.

This decision, unfortunately, is yet one more example of the erosion of our constitutional rights. The 4th Amendment and the warrant requirement was written to ensure that searches are not arbitrary capricious. Warrants ensure that searches are reasonable so as to protect the privacy of citizens. There mere arrest of a person does not make a search, be it a breath test or otherwise, per se reasonable.

Chisel, chip, and off falls our 4th Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

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Entrapment as a Defense to a California DUI?

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Many of my clients, especially those who have been arrested at a DUI checkpoint, often ask whether entrapment can be a defense to a California drunk driving charge. Another scenario where the defense of entrapment is inquired about is when an officer parks his vehicle outside of some alcohol-serving establishment and waits for an unsuspecting patron to hop behind the wheel after having one too many drinks.

Unfortunately in both scenarios entrapment cannot be used as a defense.

According to People v. West, (1956) 139 Cal.App.2d Supp. 923, 924, “Entrapment is the conception and planning of an offense by an officer and his procurement of its commission by one who would not have perpetrated it except for the trickery, persuasion, or fraud of the officer. Persuasion or allurement must be used to entrap.”

People v. Barraza, (1979) 23 Cal.3d 675, 689, simplified the definition of entrapment when it concluded, “[T]he proper test of entrapment in California is the following: was the conduct of the law enforcement agent likely to induce a normally law-abiding person to commit the offense?”

In other words, for purposes of a California DUI charge, law enforcement must compel a person to drink and/or compel them to drive when that person would not have otherwise done either.

An example of this would be when an officer finds an intoxicated person in a vehicle who does not plan on driving and the officer then forces them to drive. Since the person would not have driven but for the officer’s demand, an entrapment has occurred. Although unlikely, it has happened.

While DUI checkpoints may be viewed upon as a “trap,” it does not fall within the definition set forth above. People who drive drunk are already driving drunk when they happen upon a DUI checkpoint. Law enforcement is not compelling the drunk driver to drink nor drive.

Furthermore, DUI checkpoints time and time again have been held by numerous courts to be constitutional. In fact, in California, one of the requirements a DUI checkpoint must adhere to in order to be constitutional is that drivers must be allowed to lawfully turn away from the checkpoint. Yes, that’s right. Drivers cannot be forced to go through a DUI checkpoint.

Often times, officers will park themselves outside of a bar or other alcohol-serving establishment and wait until they see a patron drive away. This is when the officer pulls the person over.

If the person voluntarily drives away from the establishment drunk, the officer has not forced the person to neither drink nor drive. The officer is merely observing the illegal acts of a person from a public place where he or she has a right to be.

Now, the officer must have probable cause to believe that a person is driving drunk before an arrest can be made. The mere leaving a bar does not give the officer probable cause that a person is driving drunk, although the officer may suspect the person is driving drunk. If, however, an officer observes a person commit a traffic violation after leaving a bar, they can be pulled over. The traffic violation stop can be used as a pretext to investigate for a DUI.

Unfortunately, while both California DUI checkpoints and law enforcement bar stakeouts are intended to “trap” drunk drivers, neither give rise to the entrapment defense.

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Can Body Cameras Assist in DUI Stops?

Monday, March 14th, 2016

It’s no big secret that many people have come to distrust law enforcement. The public distrust peaked in recent times after the highly publicized, and criticized, officer-involved shootings of Kelly Thomas, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Freddy Gray, to name a few.

In response, several law enforcement agencies began to issue body cameras to their officers with the hopes that incidences like these stop or, at a minimum, provide unbiased, objective information on what actually occurred.

In fact, even President Barack Obama urged law enforcement agencies throughout the country to issue body cameras to officers and offered $20 million in federal funds towards obtaining them.

As of April this year, Davis Police will be the latest law enforcement agency to be equipped with body cameras to record interactions with the public.

“It’s a great evidence-gathering tool for us,” said Lt. Tom Waltz. “It’s also another level of transparency. In situations where there’s a dispute about what occurred, we have a recording of it.

Davis officers will not be allowed to delete or modify footage obtained from the body cameras. They will however, be allowed to view the footage before giving a statement or preparing a police report. The footage will be uploaded to a server following an officer’s shift, or the footage can be uploaded immediately in cases where it is necessary to view the footage immediately.

With the use of body cameras increasing amongst law enforcement agencies here in California, the questions arises, “what effect will body cameras have on DUI stops?”

Many law enforcement agencies currently use what are commonly known as “dash cams;” cameras mounted to the dash of police squad cars. The cameras capture the DUI stop and provide information on whether the officer had the probable cause to make the traffic stop. The camera, however, is limited in that it cannot capture what the officer regularly uses as a justification to begin investigating and ultimately making an arrest for a DUI; the up-close interaction with the person whom they’ve pulled over.

What’s more, when officers have a person perform field sobriety tests, they often take them out of the view of the dash cam. The officers then prepare a police report which indicates that the person failed the field sobriety test, sometimes without even explaining how or why they came to the conclusion that the person failed.

The job of police is to obtain information and evidence objectively. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.  Officer testimony and police reports are regularly made for the purpose of securing a DUI conviction and, as such, are biased.

A body camera, however, would serve to provide first-hand evidence to support officer claims that a person was, in fact driving drunk. If an officer justifies a DUI arrest by claiming that an arrestee had slurred speech and bloodshot, watery eyes, the footage would verify the officer’s claims. If an officer determines that a person failed field sobriety tests, the footage from the body camera could support the officer’s interpretation of the person’s performance.

Lt. Waltz of the Davis Police Department used a word that I think captures what will hopefully become effect of using body cameras for law enforcement; transparency. The purpose of the body camera is not necessarily to find incriminating evidence, exculpatory evidence, or even evidence of police misconduct. The purpose of the body camera is to find the truth and if that’s what it provides, I’m on board.

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What is the Difference between a PAS Test and a Chemical Test?

Monday, January 25th, 2016

Most people are unaware that many California DUI stops include two separate and distinct breath tests. And people are often confused about whether they must provide a breath sample to both or either test. It is admittedly confusing, and most people are surprised when I tell them that one of the breath tests is required and the other is not.

The two tests I am referring to are 1.) the preliminary alcohol screening test (PAS test), and 2.) the chemical breath test. While they are both “breathalyzer” tests, their distinction lies in when the DUI arrest is made.

According to California Vehicle Code section 23612(h), the PAS test “indicates the presence or concentration of alcohol based on a breath sample in order to establish reasonable cause to believe the person was driving [under the influence]…[it] is a field sobriety test and may be used by an officer as a further investigative tool.”

Following a California DUI stop, but before a DUI arrest, an officer may request that the suspected drunk driver perform field sobriety tests which, most people know, includes the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg stand test. What most people don’t know, however, is that the breathalyzer test requested by officers before an arrest is also a field sobriety test. This is the PAS test. And like the other field sobriety tests, the PAS test is optional.

The investigating officer must advise the DUI suspect that the PAS test is, in fact, optional. California Vehicle Code section 23612(i) states that “If the officer decides to use a [PAS], the officer shall advise the person that he or she is requesting that person to take a [PAS] test to assist the officer in determining if that person is under the influence. The person’s obligation to submit to a [chemical test under California’s Implied Consent Law] is not satisfied by the person submitting to a [PAS] test. The officer shall advise the person of that fact and of the person’s right to refuse to take the [PAS] test.”

Field sobriety tests, including the PAS test, are a means to determine if the officer has the required probable cause to arrest the DUI suspect for a California DUI.

If the officer has the requisite probable cause to make an arrest, whether through the field sobriety tests, the PAS test, or any other information, California’s Implied Consent Law kicks in. Herein lies the difference between a PAS test and a chemical test.

California Vehicle Code section 23612(a)(1)(A) sets forth the Implied Consent requirement. “A person who drives a motor vehicle is deemed to have given his or her consent to chemical testing of his or her blood or breath for the purpose of determining the alcohol content of his or her blood, if lawfully arrested for an offense allegedly committed in violation of [California’s DUI laws].”

In other words, licensed California drivers have impliedly consented to provide a chemical test following a lawful DUI arrest.

The post-arrest chemical test can be either a breath test or a blood test. If a person opts against providing blood, they must provide a breath sample. And for this breath test, they will be taking a breathalyzer very much like the PAS test.

The short version of this article is this: A pre-arrest PAS test is optional and you should always politely decline this test. A post-arrest chemical breath test is required provided the suspect opts not to provide a blood sample and provided that the arrest was lawful.

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