DUIs Are Not Just for Alcohol

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

Last month, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize marijuana and since just a few weeks ago, we reminded our readers about The Basics of a California DUI, this may be a good time to also remind our readers that a DUI is not just about alcohol.

We tend to think about drunk driving only in terms of alcohol, primarily because it is the more dominant of legal substances that leads to a DUI. However, marijuana is also becoming more widespread and legal in recreational applications.

While marijuana may still be used by many for its medical properties, there has definitely been an increase in recreational use here in California, thus making DUI of marijuana more prevalent than it has been in the past.

California Vehicle Code section 23152 (f) states, “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.” “Any drug” includes those that are legal. The important factor here is “under the influence.” Although, prescription drugs and other legal drugs fall within this purview of “any drug,” a person must also have his or her mental or physical abilities impaired to such a degree that

he or she is unable to drive a vehicle with the caution of a sober person to be “under the influence.”

A recent survey by the AAA revealed that many Americans don’t believe that they will get caught when driving high on marijuana. An estimated 14.8 million Americans admitted to driving within one hour of using marijuana.

We have previously covered topics that have dealt with the insufficient methods of determining impairment, especially when it comes to the effects of THC and other drugs. This may add to the public’s belief that they may not get caught.

However, according to Executive Director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Dr. David Yang, “Marijuana can significantly alter reaction times and impair a driver’s judgement. Yet, many drivers don’t consider marijuana-impaired driving as risky as other behaviors like driving drunk or talking on the phone while driving.”

While it is true that no research has proven an exact correlation between impairment and specific levels of THC, unlike how we can calculate a correlation between heightened BAC levels, law enforcement is taking measures to train their officers to better detect impaired drivers. It is only a matter of time before a more consistent method of determining marijuana-impairment will be developed. There are already scientists and researchers hard at work in attempting to create a breathalyzer-type test for determining THC levels and even impairment.

Even current alcohol-testing breathalyzers (used for both the roadside test and for the mandatory “chemical test”), which have been around for quite some time, are by no means perfect. Depending on the officers administering them, how they are administered, and how they’re maintained, breathalyzer results can be challenged by competent DUI attorneys.

While probable cause may seem harder to prove with marijuana, or other drugs, when compared to alcohol, it does not mean that you are not actually impaired. The AAA website summed it up nicely, “AAA recommends all motorists avoid driving while impaired by marijuana or any other drug (including alcohol) to avoid arrest and keep the roads safe. Just because a drug is legal does not mean it is safe to use while operating a motor vehicle. Drivers who get behind the wheel while impaired put themselves and others at risk.”

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Supreme Court Rules Cops Can Withdraw Blood from an Unconscious Driver

Monday, July 1st, 2019

Yes, you read that title correctly. The United States Supreme Court just ruled that police can withdraw blood from an unconscious person suspected of driving under the influence.

Six years ago, police found Gerald Mitchell on a beach in Wisconsin and suspected he was intoxicated after a neighbor reported that he was drunk and suicidal. After being arrested, Mitchell was transported to a hospital. However, by the time he arrived at the hospital, he was unresponsive and law enforcement ordered hospital staff to draw his blood, which revealed a blood alcohol content of 0.22 percent.

Although Mitchell tried to exclude his blood alcohol content from evidence, he was denied and ultimately convicted of driving under the influence. After losing in the Wisconsin state courts, he appealed to the United States Supreme Court arguing that the withdrawal of his blood while he was unconscious without a warrant violated his 4th Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority which included Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and himself, concluded that the 4th Amendment, generally, does require a warrant to conduct a search. However, he went on to say that there are exceptions to the warrant requirement including “exigent circumstances” where, as here, a warrantless blood withdraw was necessary to “prevent the imminent destruction of evidence.” Alito continued that the alcohol in a person’s system is “literally disappearing,” which justifies the need to obtain the evidence before taking the time for law enforcement to obtain a warrant.

“Indeed, not only is the link to pressing interests here tighter; the interests themselves are greater: Drivers who are drunk enough to pass out at the wheel or soon afterward pose a much greater risk,” Alito wrote. “It would be perverse if the more wanton behavior were rewarded — if the more harrowing threat were harder to punish.”

Alito also noted that the condition of a driver who is unconscious creates additional burdens on law enforcement since the driver will likely be taken to a hospital rather than the police station where a breath test can be administered.

“It would force them to choose between prioritizing a warrant application, to the detriment of critical health and safety needs, and delaying the warrant application, and thus the BAC test, to the detriment of its evidentiary value and all the compelling interest served by BAC limits,” he wrote. “This is just the kind of scenario for which the exigency rule was born – just the kind of grim dilemma it lives to dissolve.”

Justice Clarence Thomas concurred with the result, but not Alito’s rationale. Thomas maintained that since alcohol automatically leaves a person’s blood within a certain amount of time, police should be able to forcibly withdraw blood whether the driver is conscious or not.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion that was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Elena Kagan. Sotomayor argued that Alito’s rationale had missed the point. Sotomayor emphasized that, in this case, law enforcement admitted that there was time to obtain a warrant for Mitchell’s blood, but that they didn’t because of “implied consent.” Implied consent, which exists here in California, is a law that a driver has impliedly agreed to a chemical test by mere virtue of having a driver’s license.

“Wisconsin has not once, in any of its briefing before this Court or the state courts, argued that exigent circumstances were present here,” Sotomayor wrote. “In fact, in the state proceedings, Wisconsin ‘conceded’ that the exigency exception does not justify the warrantless blood draw in this case.”

She went on to say, correctly so in my opinion, that, while “drunk driving poses significant dangers that Wisconsin and other States must be able to curb…the answer is clear: If there is time, get a warrant.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch dissented separately also taking issue with the fact that the case had been decided on grounds that were not the basis for the appeal; whether implied consent laws violate the 4th Amendment.

“We took this case to decide whether Wisconsin drivers impliedly consent to blood alcohol tests thanks to a state statute,” Gorsuch wrote. “That law says that anyone driving in Wisconsin agrees — by the very act of driving — to testing under certain circumstances. But the Court today declines to answer the question presented. Instead, it upholds Wisconsin’s law on an entirely different ground—citing the exigent circumstances doctrine.”

Take a second to ask yourself what place you expect to be more private than any other place, including your home. I expect that the most prevalent answer is “our bodies.” Yet, for the place that we consider to be the most private, law enforcement does not need a warrant to intrude into it as long as we have a driver’s license.

Sound like a loophole for law enforcement? It is!

I am not saying that we shouldn’t be testing the blood of suspected drunk drivers. But the Constitution protects all of us, suspected drunk drivers included. And if the Constitution requires a warrant to search, especially the thing most of hold to be the most private, then law enforcement should have to get one.

It’s not like law enforcement is sending the warrant application by raven! How long (or difficult) would it really take to obtain a warrant? A few minutes if done digitally? Alito and the majority don’t seem to care as they continue to make it easier for law enforcement to violate constitutional rights.

Justice Sotomayor said it best. If there is time, get a warrant.

 

 

 

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The Basics of a California DUI

Thursday, June 27th, 2019

We often spend so much time talking about unique DUI-related topics, many of which discuss the complicated intricacies of DUI’s and DUI law, that we forget to go back and just remind our readers about the basics of a California DUI. Therefore, every so once in a while, I like to go back and just discuss the basics of a California DUI. Before I go any further, I’ll preface this post by saying that the below information is not for DUI’s where aggravating circumstances were present such as prior DUI convictions, collisions, injuries to third parties, an unusually high BAC, a refusal of a chemical test, and so on.

In order to be stopped and arrested on suspicion of a California DUI, officers need probable cause to believe that a person is driving under the influence. For an officer to have probable cause, they need to have reasonable and trustworthy facts that a person is driving under the influence. Officers obtain the probable cause needed to make a DUI arrest by observing poor driving patterns, observing signs of intoxication (slurred speech, smell of alcohol, bloodshot eyes), poor performance on field sobriety tests, and/or failure of a pre-arrest breathalyzer known as a “preliminary screening alcohol test” (PAS test).

A driver can limit the probable cause that the officers are looking for by taking steps to enforce their rights. If pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence, the driver should not say anything to police except to invoke their 5th Amendment right to remain silent and request an attorney. The field sobriety tests are optional and should not be performed. See any of our numerous articles on the inaccuracies of field sobriety tests. Lastly, the PAS test is also optional and also should not be taken. By limiting the probable cause, the driver will give their defense attorney the ability to argue that the arrest was illegal because the officer did not have the required probable cause to make the DUI arrest.

I should note that a driver will likely still be arrested whether they take measures to protect their rights or not. Again, the purpose of protecting your rights is to help with the DUI defense in court, not to prevent an arrest. I repeat, the officers will almost always still make the arrest.

Once arrested, the driver will be required to submit to a chemical test which can either be a breath or a blood test. Do not confuse this test with the roadside breathalyzer (PAS) test. The PAS test is optional. The chemical test is required, but is only required after a driver is lawfully arrested.

After the driver is arrested, they will be held until they sober up and released with a court date. In the time between the arrest and the court date, the law enforcement agency will send its police report to the appropriate prosecuting agency to make the decision about whether to file charges.

If a DUI is charged, it will typically be under California Vehicle Code section 23152(a) and/or 23512(b). Simply put, Vehicle Code 23152(a) makes it illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol and Vehicle Code 23152(b) makes it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher. If a person is arrested having been suspected of driving while under the influence of an intoxicant other than alcohol, they will likely be charged with California Vehicle Code section 23152(e).

The filing of charges triggers a criminal case in the appropriate courthouse. The court will schedule a hearing called an arraignment. At arraignment, the DUI suspect, who is now a DUI defendant, will enter a plea, be advised of their rights, and the charges pending against them.

Following the arraignment, there may be several or no pretrial hearings to allow the prosecutor and any defense attorney, either private or a public defender, to assess the merits of the case and negotiate a plea deal. A plea deal may include a reduction in charges to a “wet reckless,” “dry reckless,” or some other lesser charge. It may also include a reduction in sentence.

If no deal can be reached, the case proceeds to a trial where the prosecutor will have to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the DUI defendant drove a vehicle either under the influence of alcohol, under the influence of a drug, or with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher.

If the jury finds the person not guilty, the DUI defendant will suffer no legal penalties. However, if the finds the person guilty, they face a minimum of three years of summary probation, a fine between $390 and $1,000 plus penalties and assessments, and a three-month drunk driving program known as AB-541, and up to six-month in county jail. Other penalties that a defendant might face are a longer DUI program, a longer probationary period, a hospital and morgue program, a Mothers Against Drunk Driving Victim Impact Panel, AA meetings, and a SCRAM device (alcohol detecting anklet).

I’ve only scratched the surface of the basics of a California DUI, and I haven’t even mentioned the DMV consequences of a DUI arrest and/or conviction, which, by itself, could take up several stand-alone articles. See any number of previous posts about the DMV consequences of a DUI.

Needless to say, just the basics of a DUI are extremely complicated. Factor in other intricacies not mentioned here and it goes without saying that a person who has been stopped, arrested, and charged with a DUI should absolutely not try to take on the system by themselves. Hire a qualified and experienced DUI attorney who knows the process inside and out, and who will give you the best chance at a favorable outcome.

 

 

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How Effective is Utah’s New DUI BAC Limit?

Thursday, June 6th, 2019

Back in January, we covered Utah and its new DUI law that lowered their blood alcohol content limit to 0.05 percent. (Utah Now Has the Lowest BAC Limit in the Country)

FOX13 of Salt Lake City did a deep dive into new DUI statistics in Utah since the new law’s start. It was reported by the Utah Department of Public Safety that of the 844 people who had been arrested statewide and 38 of them were arrested for having a blood alcohol concentration of between 0.05 and 0.079.

FOX13 took it a step further and broke down the numbers within the 38 who were arrested.

  • 7 were found to be under the legal age of drinking
  • 24 were alcohol restricted drivers and had previously been arrested for a DUI
  • 2 were arrested with a combination of drugs, either prescription or illegal, in their system along with alcohol
  • 1 refused a field sobriety test or chemical blood draw, the results which were positive after a warrant was issued
  • 4 were arrested with the BAC being the only issue with the results between 0.05 and 0.079

Interestingly, the number of underage drinking violations do not show a change prevalence and, according to Michele Corgliano of the Salt Lake Are Restaurant Association, the breakdown and its supporting numbers show that the majority of the DUI arrests are not of drivers who registered a BAC that fell within the new lowered range.

 “These results are in line with our stand prior to the law: 33 of these arrests would have been illegal under the previous law: underage drinking, drugs, suspended license, etc. This is in line with our research, in that it does NOT show .05 is the reason for impairment,” Corgliano said to FOX13.

The average time it takes for the labs to return with the toxicology results to confirm blood alcohol contents is approximately 60 days. Therefore, we have yet to find out if the more recent months show a similar trend. However, since the time that the new law had been implemented, it seems that most of the arrests were for violations of DUI laws that were already in place before the new 0.05 DUI limit took effect. It may still be too early to make any deductions, but if this trend continues, the effectiveness of the new law could face some scrutiny.

Supporters of the 0.05 DUI law have been focused on the reduction of the crashes, injuries, and deaths, noting that it was never about the number of the arrests, but rather saving more lives from the act of driving under the influence. While that may or may not be true, we do not yet have the numbers of injuries and deaths since the implementation of the new law to determine if this law is making a difference. And having said that, I’m sure they’re not crying that at least some people were arrested under the new lowered BAC limit.

Other states such as California have been contemplating following in Utah’s footsteps and lowering their legal limit from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent. It will be interesting to see if California lawmakers take into account the numbers that Utah produces before making a decision. Given the aforementioned statistics for Utah’s new law, and if the current trend of seeming ineffectiveness continues, I certainly hope that California takes Utah’s numbers into account.

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Pomona Man Charged with Murder for DUI that Killed 6-Year-Old

Wednesday, May 15th, 2019

Last week, Franky Provencio, 19 and from Pomona, was arrested for murder amongst other charges after it was suspected that he drove drunk, collided with another vehicle, and killed the six-year-old passenger of the other vehicle.

On Tuesday of last week, Provencio veered his GMC Yukon into oncoming traffic on White Avenue in Pomona and collided with a pickup truck. The pickup truck, driven by Peter George of Upland, was also carrying his six-year-old son, Julian Anthony George. While Peter George was hospitalized in critical condition, Julian Anthony George was pronounced dead at the scene. Provencio and his passenger were also hospitalized, although the passenger was released shortly thereafter.

Officers responding to the scene determined that Provencio was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Officers also determined that George had been drinking prior to the collision. Julian was not properly secured in a child seat.

Provencio was found to have suffered a prior DUI conviction from last year that he was still on probation for. Additionally, Provencio was driving on a suspended license.

Provencio was arrested after he was released from the hospital late last week and now faces charges of murder, DUI causing great bodily injury, and possession of a controlled substance. He is being held on $2.63 million at the Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles.

While the crime of murder is generally reserved for people who intend on killing another person, California has created an exception that allows prosecutors to charge murder for DUI-related collisions that kill someone else if the suspect has suffered a prior DUI conviction.

Prior to 1981, a person who killed someone while driving under the influence could not be charged and convicted of murder. However, the landmark case of People v. Watson changed that.

California Penal Code section 187(a) provides that “Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being…with malice aforethought.” “Malice” refers to the deliberate intention to unlawfully kill someone else. However, malice can be also be “implied” and implied malice exists when a person knowingly engages in an act that is dangerous to human life and they engage the act with a conscious disregard for human life.

The court in the Watson case found that if the facts surrounding a DUI-related fatality support a finding of “implied malice,” second degree murder can be charged. In other words, if a person engages in driving under the influence when they know that it is dangerous to human life to do so, and they kill someone, they can be charged with murder.  

Now the question becomes, “Did the person know it was dangerous to human life to drive drunk?”

While we all know that it’s dangerous to drive drunk, since Watson, courts started expressly advising people who have been convicted of DUI, on the record, that it is, in fact, dangerous to drive drunk. This was not because the court actually thought that the defendant didn’t know it, but rather to ensure that the prosecutor could charge murder instead of manslaughter upon a subsequent DUI causing the death of someone.

Having handled hundreds of DUI cases myself in Los Angeles County, I can tell you almost positively that Provencio was told the “Watson advisement” by the judge while being convicted in his first DUI case, or at a minimum signed a document acknowledging the “Watson advisement,” or both.

Provencio is due at the Pomona Courthouse on June 5th.

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