Drunk Driver May Finally Lose License After 28th DUI Arrest

Friday, October 6th, 2017

Danny Lee Bettcher of New York Mills, Minnesota, has been arrested for driving under the influence for the 28th time. Yes, that’s correct, 28th time.

This past week, an off-duty police officer spotted Bettcher drinking at a local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post. The off-duty officer notified authorities after he saw Bettcher leave the VFW post in his vehicle.

Authorities caught up with Bettcher and pulled him over after he ignored a stop sign and drove onto the highway at 10 mph while swerving. According to officers, Bettcher had bloodshot eyes and a beer can was located behind the passenger’s seat.

“I am way over. Take me to jail,” Bettcher told police after refusing to take a sobriety test, according to the criminal complaint.

According to Assistant County Attorney, Jacob Thomason, Bettcher could be sentenced up to seven years in prison.

Although Bettcher’s license was valid at the time of the arrest, it included “a restriction that any use of alcohol or drugs invalidates the license,” state Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Megan Leonard told the Star Tribune.

As of last week, a revocation of Bettcher’s license was pending.

Bettcher, who attributes his alcoholism to post-traumatic stress disorder following his military service, has already served four years behind bars for other DUI convictions and has been ordered to go to treatment at least 12 times.

So what would it have taken for Bettcher to have his license permanently revoked had he been in California?

The California license suspension can be rather complicated. Suffice it to say, on a first time DUI, a person faces a six-month suspension assuming the driver was over the age of 21, there was no refusal of the chemical test, and there were no injuries as a result of the DUI. You can read my previous posts about the nuances of a first-time DUI license suspension.

If, however, a person suffers a DUI and they have previously been convicted of a DUI within the past 10 years, then the suspension increases significantly.

A second DUI will trigger a two-year suspension and a third DUI will trigger a three-year suspension. If a driver suffers a fourth DUI within 10 years, they are facing a four-year suspension, but they may also be deemed a “habitual traffic offender” and can have their license revoked permanently.

Although Bettcher’s 27th DUI arrest occurred in 2010, it’s unclear whether any of his previous DUI’s occurred within a 10-year window.

I’m no mathematician, but at 64-years-old, as Bettcher was, I can’t imagine that the convictions could have been spaced out such that he would have been able to avoid the habitual traffic offender status and permanent revocation here in California.

Share

DUI with Keys in the Ignition but No Driving?

Friday, August 4th, 2017

Not only do I practice DUI defense and write these posts on DUI-related topics, but I also teach law which sometimes includes teaching students what is required for a DUI. Students are often surprised when I tell them that, in California, driving must occur for a person to be arrested, charged, and convicted of a California DUI.

States are split on whether a person can get a DUI for merely having their keys in the ignition. States that don’t require that the defendant actually drive are called “dominion and control” states. Fortunately, California is not one of those states.

In states that have “dominion and control” DUI laws, if a person is intoxicated and has dominion and control of their vehicle with the mere ability to drive, they can be arrested, charged, and convicted of that state’s DUI laws. California, on the other hand, requires that the defendant actually drive the vehicle.

In 1991, the California Supreme Court in the case of Mercer v. Department of Motor Vehicles held that the word “drive” in California’s DUI law means that the defendant volitionally and voluntarily moved the vehicle. While no movement is insufficient for a DUI, the courts have held that even a “slight movement” is enough to meet the requirement that the defendant drove the vehicle.

Therefore, in California, a person cannot get a DUI for merely having the keys in the ignition. The officers and prosecutor would need evidence, in addition to the keys being in the ignition, that the person voluntarily moved the vehicle.

When there is no direct evidence that the defendant drove, such as the officer witnessing the defendant driving, proof that the defendant drove can be established through circumstantial evidence and inferences.

For example, if a person is on the shoulder of the freeway as the sole occupant of a vehicle with the keys in the ignition and they are under the influence or have a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher, the prosecutor and jury can infer that there was no other way to get to shoulder of the freeway and there was no one other person who could have driven there.

Contrast that with a scenario in which the defendant is found under the influence or with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher in their vehicle which is in their driveway and the keys are in the ignition. Here, there is no other circumstantial evidence to create the inference that the defendant actually drove the vehicle.

So, just because you can’t be arrested, charged, and convicted of a DUI with just the keys in the ignition, doesn’t mean that a you should be drunk in a vehicle with keys in the ignition. Don’t put it past law enforcement and prosecutors to try to establish that a person drove even if ever so slightly.

Share

Miranda Warnings and the California DUI

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

An officer pulls over a person and begins asking questions. “Where are you going?” “Where are you coming from?” “Have you had anything to drink?”

The driver says, “I’m going home from the bar and I had two beers.” Boom. The next thing that the driver knows is that they’re getting arrested and only then did the officer read the Miranda Warnings to the driver.

Why did the officer not read the driver the Miranda Warnings before they arrested him or her? And more importantly, can this be used to help the driver’s DUI case?

All statements given to law enforcement must be voluntarily given, even those given during a DUI stop. The United States Supreme Court in the landmark case of Arizona v. Miranda said that a statement cannot be voluntarily given if a person doesn’t know they have a right not to say anything under the 5th Amendment. Therefore, in order for a statement to be voluntarily given, a person must be made aware that they have a right to remain silent.

Thus, was we have the Miranda Warnings.  

So, when must law enforcement actually read a person their Miranda Warnings?

Courts have held that an officer must read a person their Miranda Warnings before a “custodial interrogation.” This means after an arrest and before an interrogation.

When a person is stopped on suspicion of a DUI or even a traffic violation that leads to a DUI investigation, the person is not arrested even though they may be temporarily detained. And inevitably the officer is going to ask questions after stopping the person.

Now, the person has the right not to speak to the officers or answer their questions. But the officer’s duty to advise the driver of the Miranda Warnings has not yet been triggered because the person is not yet under arrest.

Questions asked during this time are considered merely preliminary in nature. And yes, any answers given by the driver during this time are fair game for officers and prosecutors to use in a DUI case against the driver.

It would be a different story if, after the DUI stop, the driver is arrested, but not given Miranda Warnings. If the officer then proceeds to ask the driver questions and the driver answers, those answers would be in violation of Miranda and thus in violation of the 5th Amendment.

So whether it’s before a driver is arrested or after with Miranda Warnings given, a person never has to talk to officers or answer questions. The 5th Amendment right to remain silent exists whether the Miranda Warnings are given or not. Use it! When stopped on suspicion of a California DUI, simply respond to any questions with, “I respectfully decline to answer any questions under the 5th Amendment. Am I under arrest or am I free to leave?”

Share

Bill to Help Veterans Avoid a California DUI

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

A new California Senate bill would allow veterans to avoid a California DUI conviction with a treatment diversion program.

Senate Bill 725 would expand a current military diversion program. The bill, if passed, would provide veterans with the opportunity to receive treatment for issues stemming from their service and which often leads them to drink and drive. If the treatment program is completed successfully, veterans could have their case dismissed and avoid a California DUI conviction

To qualify, veterans must have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma or other conditions related to their service.

The Legislative Counsel’s Digest on the bill states, “This bill would…specify that a misdemeanor offense for which a defendant [veteran] may be placed in a pretrial diversion program…includes a misdemeanor violation of driving under the influence or driving under the influence and causing bodily injury. The bill would not limit the authority of the Department of Motor Vehicles to take administrative action concerning the driving privileges of a person arrested for a violation of those provisions.”

Advocates, myself included, argue that the bill’s intent is rehabilitative and deals with the underlying causes of driving drunk.

“We want to get those people into treatment as early as possible. We don’t want them going out jeopardizing future victims,” said the executive director of the California Veterans Legal Task Force in San Diego. “Everybody on both sides of this thing is pro public safety.”

However, not all are fans including district attorneys and other prosecuting agencies.

“We’re very much pro-veteran and pro-treatment, but we want it to be balanced with the needs of public safety,” prosecutor Harrison Kennedy told NBC 7.

Among their primary complaints are that the bill does not address restitution to victims of DUI related collisions which cause injury and that the bill does not limit the number of times that a veteran offender can utilize the program.

“This creates potential for a dangerous cycle of diversion that jeopardizes the safety of our streets and highways,” said the California District Attorneys Association.

The bill does not affect the DMV’s ability to suspend a veteran offender’s license through the administrative action.

If the bill does not pass, veterans face the same consequences of a California DUI as the rest of the public; informal probation, a DUI program lasting three, six, or nine months, between $390 and $1,000 in fines and fees, possibly AA meetings, possibly a Mothers Against Drunk Driving lecture, possibly a hospital and morgue program, and possibly even jail.

The bill easily passed through the Assembly public safety committee last week and will soon be voted on by the full Assembly.

Share

Avoid a 4th of July DUI

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

The 4th of July is the annual celebration of the day that the original thirteen colonies declared independence from Great Britain. On this day in 1776, delegates from the colonies formed the Continental Congress which drafted and adopted the Declaration of Independence and announced that the United States of America was its own country.

In fact, John Adams wrote that Independence Day “will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

Amen!

And John Adams was right. The 4th of July is celebrated with pomp and parade…and now also fireworks, barbeques, and alcohol.

Although the holiday lands on a Tuesday this year, it’s not going to stop drunk drivers from hitting the roads nor is it going to stop law enforcement from taking to the streets in full force to catch those drunk drivers.

CHP’s “maximum enforcement period” will begin at 6pm on Friday evening and will conclude at 11:59pm on Tuesday night.

Last year during the enforcement period, CHP arrested 1,118 motorists statewide on suspicion of a California DUI and CHP investigated 35 traffic collisions in which people were killed. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), between 2011 and 2015, a total of 751 people were killed in DUI related traffic collisions during the 4th of July enforcement period.

Don’t celebrate America’s independence by losing your own with jail. Plan ahead to avoid a 4th of July DUI.

Appoint a designated driver. Make sure that the designated driver remains sober. Often is the case that “designated drivers” just don’t drink as much as their passengers. This is not a designated driver, but someone who runs the risk of getting arrested for drunk driving themselves.

Use alternative means of transportation. We live in a time where a trolley is not the only way to get somewhere without driving. Take a taxi…if you can get one. Good luck with that. Use Uber or Lyft or another ridesharing app. Although a little more expensive, they more available and a little nicer than a cab.

Stay the night. Unless you want to be arrested for drunk in public, don’t try this one at the bar you go to. However, if you attend a 4th of July party, ask the host if you can crash on the couch.

Don’t drink. This may not be the most appealing option if you want to partake in the festivities. However, it is the only surefire way to avoid a California DUI if you plan on driving this 4th of July.

 

Share