Do “Dominion and Control” DUI Laws Incentivize Drunk Driving?

Monday, September 12th, 2016

Despite what some think, drunk driving doesn’t necessarily involve driving. In some states a person can actually be arrested, charged and convicted of drunk driving even when the person didn’t drive their vehicle. Such states have what are called “dominion and control” DUI laws. Under “dominion and control” DUI laws, if a person is intoxicated and have dominion and control of their vehicles with the mere ability to drive, they can be arrested, charged, and convicted of that state’s DUI laws.

Simply put, “dominion and control” DUI laws create the possibility of someone getting arrested, charged, and convicted of a DUI when they’re trying to sober up in their vehicle and have absolutely no intent to drive.

Having said that, the question arises, “Do ‘dominion and control’ DUI laws give people incentive to actually drive drunk?”

This question is currently being asked by law makers in New Jersey.

Steve Carrellas, director or government and public affairs for the New Jersey chapter of the National Motorists Association, considered the repercussions of such a scenario.

“But then they’ll say, ‘Well, I have more of a chance of getting arrested doing the right thing than I do attempting to drive home, so I’m going to drive home.’ What a mixed message,” said Carrellas.

“I think it has to be looked to on a case-by-case basis,” said New Jersey Assemblyman John McKeon.

McKeon says it appears the law needs redefining.

“I’m going to consider it now that this topic is swirling around and there seems to be a lack of consistency. I’m going to do it in an intelligent way, though. We’ll have special hearings in the Legislature and hear what law enforcement has to say, hear what attorneys have to say that specialize in that field and try to come up with something that’s consistent,” he said.

Carrellas and McKeon are right to question the law. Lawmakers, be it the courts or our legislators, have a duty to create laws to deter bad behavior and not punish good behavior. First off, we don’t want to punish people who deliberately attempt to avoid driving drunk by sleeping it off in the car. And we most certainly don’t want to give incentive people to drive drunk.

Fortunately, we here in California don’t have that problem. California is not a “dominion and control” DUI law state. In California, the law requires that a person actually drive a 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. The court has held that even a “slight movement” is enough to meet the element of driving.

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Marijuana Legalization and the California DUI

Monday, September 5th, 2016

It would not be a surprise to many if California was the next state to legalize recreational marijuana with Proposition 64. If approved, California would follow the heels of Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and the District of Columbia. California is among five states to vote on the legalization of recreational marijuana this November 8th. As the sixth largest economy in the world and an already existing thriving medical marijuana market, it is estimated that the marijuana industry could become a $6 billion industry by 2020.

In 2010, voters failed to pass Proposition 19, which would have legalized recreational marijuana, by a 53.5% majority of vote. So do California voters have the same sentiment six years later? Current polls show support for the passing of Proposition 64 by 60% or more, making it the initiative most likely to pass on the ballot.

Since Proposition 64 is likely to pass, it would be appropriate to discuss how it might affect California DUIs and California DUI law.

California Vehicle Code section 23152(e) makes it illegal to drive a vehicle while under the influence of drugs including marijuana. Unlike California’s DUI of alcohol law, there is no legal limit for marijuana, or more specifically, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the psychoactive component of marijuana. Therefore, a person can only be arrested and convicted of a marijuana DUI if the ingestion of marijuana impairs a person’s ability to drive a vehicle as a sober person would under similar circumstances.

To prove that a person is driving under the influence of marijuana, a prosecutor can use officer observations of driving patterns, observations during the traffic stop, performance on field sobriety tests, and the presence of THC in any blood test done.

Since “under the influence” is an extremely subjective standard, it is often very difficult to prosecute DUI of marijuana cases. This is especially true if the driver refused to perform the field sobriety tests and/or the officer did not observe driving that would be indicative of someone who is under the influence of marijuana.

If proposition 64 is passed, law makers could seek some sort of per se limit for how much THC can be in a person’s blood while driving. Several states have set a per se limit of five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Colorado, has set a five nanogram per milliliter of blood limit to allow for the presumption that a person is “under the influence.” Unfortunately, current per se limits for THC, however, are an inaccurate measure of how impaired a person is.

Unlike alcohol, THC is fat soluble and remains in a user’s system long after they have ingested the marijuana, sometimes by several weeks. This creates the possibility of being arrested with five nanograms of THC in the system weeks after a person has smoked marijuana and well after the “high” is gone. Yet, because the THC is present, a person can either be arrested or, in Colorado, presumed to be under the influence.

In June of last year, Cannabix Technologies Inc., a Vancouver based company announced the testing of a prototype marijuana breathalyzer. The company says that the breathalyzer will be able to test whether a person has ingested alcohol within the past two hours. Although the machine will not test for a quantitative amount of THC, it will provide a timeframe for marijuana usage, which is a better indicator of impairment that nanograms of THC in a person’s blood.

In April of this year, the California state legislature awarded UCSD’s cannabis research center $1.8 million to study THC impairment and develop an accurate roadside test for marijuana impairment.

While an accurate test for marijuana impairment may be in the offing, nothing yet exists to provide lawmakers with the ability to create an accurate per se level. Until that happens, which may be before pot shops open up in January of 2018 if Proposition 64 is passed, law enforcement and prosecutors will have to continue to rely on California’s flimsy standard of “under the influence.”

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Turning a Blind Eye to DUI

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Put yourself in the following situation: You and your friend, Vary Waysted agreed to go out to the local watering hole for the evening. This time, however, is Vary’s turn to be the designated driver. Half way into the evening, you notice Vary at the bar ordering a drink, but you do nothing. You know he shouldn’t have any alcohol because he was to be driving the both of you home, but still you do nothing. Sure enough, on the drive home Vary is stopped on the way home and arrested on suspicion of a California DUI.

You may be thinking to yourself that you would never allow that, that you would’ve spoken up and admonished Vary for not staying absolutely sober. But believe it or not, this is an extremely common phenomenon and it, unfortunately, is the cause of many drunk driving incidences and arrests.

Still don’t believe me? The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) recently offered a brewery tour as part of a social experiment which demonstrated that turning a blind eye to drunk driving actually does happen.

Denver, Colorado is quickly becoming one of America’s epicenters for craft breweries. And a group of beer enthusiasts signed up to partake in tour of three of its breweries. Unbeknownst to the beer enthusiasts was that the transportation for the tour was a bus driven by an actor hired by the CDOT and the tour guide was also an actor.

With hidden cameras documenting the tour, the participants enjoyed their beers. None of the participants, however, seemed to care too much that their bus driver was enjoying beers right alongside them.

Fortunately, the driver was only drinking non-alcoholic beer. To drive the point home, the tour guide, who was similar to the driver in height and weight was actually drinking the alcoholic beer. After three 16-ounce beers, the tour guide had a blood alcohol content of 0.10 percent.

In a news release, the CDOT said "even small amounts of alcohol can land you a DUI."

"The experiment confirmed for us that many adults underestimate the dangers associated with driving after having a few drinks," CDOT spokesman Sam Cole said in a statement. "The participants never expressed concern that their driver was drinking and driving."

So why do so many people willfully choose to ignore information and situations which may be harmful to themselves or others?

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a background in psychology. While my focus on the law has long since overshadowed my focus on psychology, my interest does get piqued when psychology intersects with DUI law.

Humans turn a blind eye to information and situations which may be harmful to themselves or others when doing so is easier than facing the scary, hostile, and/or objectionable consequences of acknowledging and confronting the situation.

Let’s go back to our scenario. Instead of turning a blind eye, you confront Vary Waysted about ordering the drink when he was supposed to be the designated driver. The confrontation leads to an argument, but eventually Vary acquiesces to remaining sober. Although Vary doesn’t talk to you for the rest of the evening, both of you make it home safe and DUI-free.

Before turning a blind eye to DUI, ask yourself, “Would I rather have someone upset with me for a little while or run the risk of being involved in a DUI-related accident?”

 

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Supporter of Anti-Drunk Driving Law Charged with DUI with Children in Car

Monday, August 1st, 2016

Stephen Miller, 40, of Pennsylvania was arrested and charged early last month with two counts of driving under the influence, two counts of endangering the welfare of children and various traffic citations. Miller championed Pennsylvania’s “Kevin’s Law,” the name of which honored his son who was killed by a hit-and-run driver suspected of drunk driving. The law increased the penalties for hit-and-run drivers in fatal accidents.

Miller’s son, Kevin, was killed in 2012 after being hit by a driver who fled the scene. It was suspected that the driver, Thomas W. Letteer Jr., 26, was driving under the influence at the time, however never faced charges of DUI because he was not caught until much later.

On June 12th, Miller was stopped because law enforcement spotted his vehicle traveling at night without headlights and unlit tail lights. At the time of the stop, Miller had this two other children in the vehicle, one of which was Kevin’s twin. It was later determined that Miller’s blood alcohol content was more than three times the legal limit at 0.27 percent.

Miller is set to appear on August 17th.

In addition to the penalties for the DUI, Miller is facing 100 hours of mandatory community service and a fine of at least $1,000 under Pennsylvania law.

California, on the other hand, is not as forgiving.

In California, if you are charged with a DUI under California Vehicle Code section 23152 and at the time of driving, you have a minor under the age of 14, you also face an enhancement to the DUI charge under California Vehicle Code section 23572.

In addition to any penalties given for a DUI conviction, if the enhancement is found to be true, the person faces an additional and consecutive 48 hours in a county jail for a first DUI conviction, 10 days for a second DUI conviction, 30 days for a third DUI conviction, or 90 days for a fourth or subsequent misdemeanor DUI conviction.

For other reasons, I’ve said that it is extremely important to hire an experienced California DUI when facing criminal charges. The same absolutely holds true for a California DUI charge with a child endangerment enhancement.

If an experienced California DUI attorney can successfully defend against the underlying DUI charge, the child endangerment enhancement cannot stick nor can a person be punished under it. This is true if the underlying California DUI charge is found to be untrue by a jury after a trial, the charges dismissed, or if the charge is reduced to what is known as a “California wet reckless.”

It should also be noted that drunk drivers who have children in the vehicle at the time of driving can also be charged under California Penal Code section 273(a), otherwise known as California’s child endangerment law. Child endangerment can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor when a person places a child under the age of 18 in a situation where his or her heath or welfare can be endangered. If charged with child endangerment, a person faces up to a year in county jail for a misdemeanor and up to six years in a California state prison for a felony.

If a person is convicted of a DUI and child endangerment under California Penal Code section 273(a), they, however, cannot face the DUI enhancement under California Vehicle Code section 23572.

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California’s DUI Education Programs

Monday, July 18th, 2016

When a person is convicted of a California DUI, they face a number of penalties one of which is to attend a court-approved DUI program. The most common of inquiries regarding the programs have to do with their duration. The length of the required program depends on the individual facts and circumstances of the case.

I would be remiss if I first did not explain that the names of each program relate to the legislative bill that created the program.

When a person under the age of 18 is convicted of a California DUI, they may be required to attend AB-803. AB-803 is a 12-hour program that is attended over the course of six weeks.

A “wet reckless” conviction is a reduction from an original DUI charge. As such, it may allow for only a 12-hour program called SB-1176 which taken over six weeks. It should be noted that a reduction to a wet reckless will not automatically call for the SB-1176 program. It may be that a longer program will be required by the court. Furthermore, the California DMV will also require at least a three month program before it will reinstate driving privileges following a DUI suspension.

A three-month, 30-hour program called AB-541 is typically required for a first-time DUI or wet reckless reduction assuming that the facts are not particularly aggravating. However, if the DUI case involves a crash or a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent to 0.14 percent.

If, however, a first time California DUI involves a blood alcohol content between 0.15 percent and 0.19 percent, a person could be required to attend AB-762. AB-762 is a six month program usually to be attended once a week for two hours.

When a first-time California DUI involves particularly aggravating circumstances such as a vehicle collision or a blood alcohol of 0.20 percent or more, the court may require a nine-month DUI program called AB-1353. AB-1353 usually consists of 60 hours of class time.

If a person is convicted of a second or more DUI or wet reckless within a ten-year period, they face a multiple-offender program called SB-38. SB-38 is an 18-month program. Since SB-38 is a rather lengthy course, the court will likely require several progress reports throughout the 18-month period.

Although highly unusual, the court can impose the longest of the California DUI programs. SB1365 is a 30-month program and is usually required when a person suffers two or more California DUI related convictions within ten years or when the case involves extremely aggravating facts such as an extremely high BAC level. SB1365 is only offered in Los Angeles County and Stanislaus County.

It is important to note that there is no hard and fast rule to know exactly which California DUI program will be required. It really will depend on the circumstances and facts surrounding the case, the discretion of the court, and the ability of your DUI attorney. This is why it is extremely important to hire a competent DUI attorney to fight for the shortest program, possibly even no program.

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