Anonymous “Tips” Now Enough to Stop Drivers for DUI

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court has done it again.

Yesterday, in a typical 5-4 decision, the Court held that an anonymous tip — an unidentified call with absolutely no indication of truth or reliability — was sufficient to justify police stopping a driver on the road and detaining him on suspicion of drunk driving.  Navarette v. California

Amazing.

The Fourth Amendment of our Constitution clearly states that "The right of the people to be secure in their persons…against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…but upon probable cause".   In other words, a cop can't just stop a driver on suspicion of drunk driving unless he has "probable cause" — a reasonable belief — that he is intoxicated. 

So, the issue is:  Does a telephone tip from an unidentified source constitute a reasonable suspicion of guilt — even where the responding cop sees no indication of drunk driving?  Or, for example, can an anonymous phone call from a spiteful former wife or a disgruntled neighbor be enough to get you pulled over by the police and subjected to a DUI investigation?

As I've said so many times on this blog, there exists a DUI Exception to the Constitution — and there is no better example of this than the Supreme Court holding in Navarette.  But it's easy for some to ignore these destructions of our constitutional rights, since they only apply to those "drunk drivers", right?  The problem is, as I've also repeatedly written, we are a nation of legal precedent : a loss of constitutional protections in a DUI case will be used as a precedent in any other criminal case.  See my post, Who Cares About the Rights of Those Accused of DUI?.  


Clarence Thomas vs. Antonin Scalia on 4th Amendment and 'Reasonable Suspicion'

Washington, DC.  April 22 - The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a major ruling today with profound implications for the Fourth Amendment rights of all persons who drive or ride in automobiles on public roads. At issue in Navarette v. California was a traffic stop prompted by an anonymous call to 911 claiming that a truck had driven the caller off the road. Going by the information supplied in that call alone, the police located a matching truck in the vicinity of the alleged incident and pulled it over on suspicion of drunk driving. That stop led to the discovery of 30 pounds of marijuana stashed in the truck.

The question before the Supreme Court was whether that single anonymous tip to 911 provided the police with reasonable suspicion to stop the truck. Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas ruled that the "the stop complied with the Fourth Amendment because, under the totality of the circumstances, the officer had reasonable suspicion that the driver was intoxicated." While this is a "close case," Thomas acknowledged, it still passes constitutional muster. Joining Thomas in that judgment was Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, and Samuel Alito.

Writing in dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia came out swinging against Thomas. "The Court's opinion serves up a freedom-destroying cocktail," Scalia declared, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. It elevates an anonymous and uncorroborated tip above the bedrock guarantee of the Fourth Amendment. "All the malevolent 911 caller need do is assert a traffic violation, and the targeted car will be stopped, forcibly if necessary, by the police." That state of affairs, Scalia declared, "is not my concept, and I am sure it would not be the Framers', of a people secure from unreasonable searches and seizures."

So even if such a telephone call were reliable — and there is now no longer requirement that it has to be — you can be stopped for suspicion of drunk driving if the caller says that you were…speeding.  Even if  the responding cop sees no evidence that you are intoxicated.

In his dissent, Justice Antonio Scalia wrote further:

Drunken driving is a serious matter, but so is the loss of our freedom to come and go as we please without police interference. To prevent and detect murder we do not allow searches without probable cause or targeted Terry stops without reasonable suspicion. We should not do so for drunken driving either. After today’s opinion all of us on the road, and not just drug dealers, are at risk of having our freedom of movement curtailed on suspicion of drunkenness, based upon a phone tip, true or false, of a single instance of careless driving. I respectfully dissent.

…and they continue to chip away at our Constitutional freedoms.
 

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Supreme Court: Cop’s Version Trumps Filmed Proof

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

When it comes to drunk driving cases, judges and prosecutors are very sensitive to political realities:  if you want to get re-elected, don't go against cops and don't look "soft on drunk drivers" — even if it means having to occasionally ignore the facts….


Officer Testimony Overrules Video Evidence

The Newspaper, April 2 — Videotape evidence can be overruled by the testimony and after-the-fact interpretation of a police officer, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled last week. In a 6 to 1 decision, justices overruled the state Court of Appeals which reviewed dashcam footage of Joanna S. Robinson driving her Chrysler PT Cruiser at around 1am on October 15, 2011 in Elkhart County and found no evidence of a crime. 

Sheriff's Deputy Casey Claeys followed Robinson on County Road 4, and he testified that he saw her "drive off the right side, which was the south side of the road, twice." He conducted a traffic stop which led to her being busted for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) after her breathalyzer reading was 0.01 over the legal limit. She also was carrying a small amount of marijuana. The justices, however, only concerned themselves with whether the initial traffic stop was justified. Elkhart Superior Court Judge Charles Carter Wicks concluded that the stop was justified when the case came to trial.

"I reviewed the video on approximately ten occasions and cannot conclude from the video that the defendant's vehicle actually left the roadway," Judge Wicks found. "But it does show the vehicle veering on two occasions onto the white fog line."

The trial judge found the deputy's experience was more accurate than the videotape, but the appeals court reversed, saying the video showed what appeared to be no more than a driver momentarily distracted. The state Supreme Court concluded the trial judge had it right the first time.

"Deputy Claeys, as he drove down County Road 4 on that October night, was observing Robinson's vehicle through the lens of his experience and expertise," Justice Mark S. Massa wrote for the majority. "And when Deputy Claeys testified at the suppression hearing, the trial judge heard his testimony — along with the other witness testimony and evidence, including the video — through the lens of his experience and expertise. Ultimately, that experience and expertise led the trial judge to weigh Deputy Claeys's testimony more heavily than the video evidence, and we decline Robinson's invitation to substitute our own judgment for that of the trial court and rebalance the scales in her favor."…
 

(Thanks to Joe.)
 

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The Futility and Costs of the “War on Drunk Driving”

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

For the past couple of decades we have seen increasingly severe punishment for misdemeanor drunk driving offenses, often exceeding those imposed for serious felonies.  Spurred on by MADD's "War on Drunk Driving", this never-ending flood of politically-popular laws has continued to blindly accept the idea that imposing harsher sentences will eventually eradicate DUI-caused traffic fatalities.  With each new law, MADD issues press releases trumpeting their latest achievement with promises of an end to the "carnage on the highways" — along with solicitations for contributions to their over $50 million annual revenue.  And yet it continues…along with the collateral costs to our Constitution (see The DUI Exception to the Constitution).

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".  Maybe it's time for a change….

I have not dealt with 1000s of DUI clients over the years without drawing certain conclusions:

1. The system, clearly, does not work: despite unfair laws, constitutional violations and increasingly harsh penalties, the problem remains…and people continue to die on the highways.

2. Playing games with statistics, as MADD and the government are so fond of doing, only obscures the problem.

3. The problem is not black-and-white, but involves shades of gray. It is convenient to punish anyone with a .08% blood-alcohol concentration, but neither fair nor productive. It is easy to lump all offenders into the same category of "drunk drivers" and simply adjust jail time by a reading on a machine, but neither fair nor productive.

4. You cannot simply identify what the problem is ("drunk drivers are dangerous"), but who the problem is. The problem is not people who drive with .08% BAC or higher, but people who represent a real danger to others on the highway. Who are they?

The problem is the person who severely abuses alcohol and chooses to drive. You can call him an "alcoholic", but it has been my experience in dealing with those 1000s of clients that there are different kinds of "alcoholics" and that using a simple label is no answer (we do love to put things in neat categories).

Statistics repeatedly show that the vastly disproportionate majority of alcohol-caused injuries and deaths are caused by a few "problem drinkers" (for want of a better term). Thus, the first objective in any solution is to identify these individuals. In my experience, they can usually be identified by a combination of factors:

1. Their blood-alcohol level is not just high — it is very high, say .16% to .30% or more.

2. This is probably not the first DUI — and prior incidents are likely to be relatively recent.

3. There is a genetic flag: the individual is likely to have one or two "alcoholic" parents.

All right, we've identified some markers for who the problem is , but what do we do with them? To begin, let's understand what we don't do: we don't hit them with stiff jail sentences. If we do, we simply remove the person from society for a few days or months — and on the day he gets out, he gets in his car and drives directly to a bar. What has been accomplished? Is society being protected — or are we simply punishing people for drinking too much?

Since the punishment model clearly doesn't work for the problem drinker, we must consider the other criminal justice models — isolation, deterrence and rehabilitation.  

1. Isolation. Yes, we can put the problem drinker in jail for a few months or even a few years, and we are safe from him for that period. But can we really afford to house tens of thousands more inmates? For how long? And what happens when they get out? For that matter, given the evidence, aren't we punishing them for a genetic condition?

2. Deterrence. How do you deter an "alcoholic"?

3. Rehabilitation. Once the favored approach in the criminal justice system, rehabilitation fell into widespread disfavor many years ago. Yet, this would appear to be the only logical approach with problem drinkers.

Ok, but what about the driver who is not a problem drinker but who is simply impaired from drinking too much? Answer: Treat him like any other misdemeanant. Statistically, we know he is unlikely to cause serious injury or death, but there is undeniably some risk there. Can this individual be deterred from such future conduct? Unlike with the "alcoholics", statistics show he can. Thus, it may be fair and productive to impose a fine on the typical first-offender, perhaps even suspend his driver's license for a short period; if a high blood-alcohol level is involved, say .20%, the punishment may include a 2-day jail term. But certainly not the punishments so destructive to families and careers that are now being administered to all caught up in the dragnet.

While we're at it, a refreshing approach — and a healthy one for society — would be to reinstate constitutional rights in DUI cases: due process, presumptions of guilt, timely right to counsel, protectiona against double jeopardy, the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination, the right to confront witnesses, 4th Amendment "sobriety checkpoint" violations, ad nauseum. (Again, see The DUI Exception to the Constitution.)

Does all of this finally solve the drunk driving problem? No: people will always drink and drive. But it will focus on the real threat — the truly dangerous driver — rather than on drinking and driving per se. And, in the process, reinstate the essential fairness and due process that has been slowly removed from the criminal justice system.
 

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High Breath Alcohol?…or Just Pumping Gasoline?

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Folks who have read my post, "Why Breathalyzers Don’t Measure Alcohol", seem quite surprised to find out these DUI machines are not as reliable as MADD and law enforcement agencies would have us believe. In fact, the manufacturers of some of these machines have refused in the past to even warrant them to do what they’re supposed to: accurately measure blood-alcohol levels (see my earlier post, "Breathalyzers: Why Aren’t They Warranted to Measure Alcohol?")

So how reliable are these "breathalyzers" that determine a person’s guilt or innocence in DUI cases? And just what do they measure?

Well, thousands of different chemical compounds, according to scientists. Gasoline for one. Consider an article appearing on the front page of the Spokane Spokesman-Review in which a person sitting in jail awaiting trial for DUI claimed that he had nothing to drink. He said he had run out of gas and had been siphoning gasoline from a container into his tank before being stopped by the officer and arrested. In siphoning, he had sucked on the hose to get it started and accidentally swallowed a small amount of the gasoline. He claimed that this must have caused the later high breathalyzer reading. The individual finally talked the sheriff into a demonstration to prove his story.

Taken from his cell after one week of incarceration, he swallowed a cup of unleaded gasoline and then blew into the breath machine — in this case, an Intoximeter 3000. The results? After 5 minutes, the reading was .00%…..after 10 minutes, .04%……after 20 minutes, the Intoximeter registered .31%…..and after one hour, the reading was .28%. Even after three hours, the person still blew a .24% on the machine — three times the legal limit! (A quick call from the sheriff to a local gasoline distributor confirmed that gasoline contains no alcohol.)

This was not a freak occurrence. The results have been scientifically verified in a study conducted by CMI, Inc., the manufacturer of a competing breath machine, the Intoxilyzer 5000, and reported in 8(3) Drinking/Driving Law Letter 6. The CMI technicians mixed a simulator solution of 800 micrograms of gasoline with 500 milliliters of distilled water, then introduced it into their machine. The solution produced readings of .619%, .631% and .635% — or about eight times the legal limit for "alcohol" levels.

You don’t have to drink gasoline to get a reading on the breathalyzer. Breathing the fumes will do it. Or even absorbing fumes through the skin.  Like at a gasoline pump.
 

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