Labor Day Checkpoints and Knowing What to Do

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

Law enforcement agencies throughout Southern California will increase their efforts to thwart would-be drunk drivers this month and on into the Labor Day weekend. One tool I know they plan on using during this time is the DUI checkpoint.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Labor Day weekend is one of the deadliest holidays of the year when it comes alcohol-related collisions. In 2017, there was 376 deadly crashes nationwide for the Labor Day holiday period which ran from September 1st to September 5th. Of those 376 deadly collisions, more than one-third (36%) involved drunk drivers.

Last year, California saw two deaths and 31 injuries on Labor Day.

Since there is an increased chance of getting stopped at checkpoint in the next couple of weeks, it makes sense to remind our readers what their rights are when it comes to a California DUI checkpoint.

The 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution requires that officers have probable cause and a warrant before they can seize and/or search a person. Well, what is a checkpoint? It is certainly a seizure since the police are stopping people on the roads when they would otherwise be free to drive without interruption. It may be also a search if the law enforcement has drivers take a breathalyzer since by doing so they are looking for evidence of drunk driving.

So, checkpoints can involve both searches and seizures, yet police don’t have warrants to stop and breathalyze drivers. How?

In the 1987 case of Ingersoll v. Palmer, the California Supreme Court set forth guidelines to ensure the constitutionality of checkpoints in California such that law enforcement doesn’t need a warrant. Those guidelines are:

  1. The decision to conduct checkpoint must be at the supervisory level.
  2. There must be limits on the discretion of field officers.
  3. Checkpoints must be maintained safely for both the officers and the motorists.
  4. Checkpoints must be set up at reasonable locations such that the effectiveness of the checkpoint is optimized.
  5. The time at which a checkpoint is set up should also optimize the effectiveness of the checkpoint.
  6. The checkpoint must show indicia of official nature of the roadblock.
  7. Motorists must only be stopped for a reasonable amount of time which is only long enough to briefly question the motorist and look for signs of intoxication.
  8. Lastly, the Court in the Ingersoll decision was strongly in favor of the belief that there should be advance publicity of the checkpoint. To meet this requirement law enforcement usually make the checkpoints highly visible with signs and lights.

Three years later in the case of Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, the United States Supreme Court held that the state’s interest in preventing drunk driving was a “substantial government interest.” It further held that this government interest outweighed motorists’ interests against unreasonable searches and seizures when considering the brevity and nature of the stop. In doing so, the court held that sobriety checkpoints were constitutional even though officers were technically violating the 4th Amendment (because they don’t have a warrant when they seize and search motorists at DUI checkpoints).

Now that we’ve determined that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional, I would be remiss if I did not tell you what your rights and obligations are, as the driver, should you happen to find yourself stopped at a sobriety checkpoint.

Based on the last of the Ingersoll v. Palmer requirements, checkpoints must be highly visible. As a result, drivers are often aware of the checkpoint before they drive up to it. Believe it or not, drivers are allowed to turn around so as to avoid the checkpoint. They, however, must do so without breaking any traffic laws such as making an illegal U-turn.

If you do not turn away, but rather pull up to the checkpoint, the officer might first ask you some questions such as: Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Have you had anything to drink?

The 5th Amendment to the Constitution gives you the right not to say anything to law enforcement ever. And don’t! Invoke your right to remain silent by telling the officer, “I would like invoke my 5th Amendment right and respectfully decline to answer any of your questions.” Now keep your mouth shut until given the opportunity to call your attorney.

Surely this is not going to sit well with the officer. They may, at that point, have the driver exit the car and request that they perform field sobriety tests. Drivers should absolutely decline to perform the field sobriety tests. They are an inaccurate indicator of intoxication, but fortunately they are optional. I and many other people would have trouble doing them sober.

At this point, the officer is likely fuming, but who cares? You are exercising your constitutional rights.

As a last-ditch effort, they may request that you take a roadside breathalyzer commonly referred to as a “PAS” (preliminary alcohol screening) test. Under California’s implied consent rule, as a driver, you must submit to a chemical test after you have been arrested on suspicion of a DUI. The key word is “after.” Therefore, when you happen upon a checkpoint and the officer requests that you to take the PAS test, you can legally refuse. If, however, the officer has arrested you on suspicion of DUI you must submit to either a blood test or a breath test.

This Labor Day be on the lookout for sobriety checkpoints. But should you find yourself about to drive through one with no way to legally turn around, know your rights and use them. That’s what they’re there for.

 

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Non-Lawyer Judge Throws Out DUI Against Prosecutor

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

Most of us will agree that we want the courtroom to be a place of fairness and justice. Sadly, some days that just doesn’t seem to be the case. According to Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner, Marshall Fisher, the day a judge made the decision to throw out a DUI case against the Tupelo city attorney was such a day.

According to Fisher, “Judges are to use the law and facts when deciding whether police actions are constitutional, and Justice Court Judge Chuck Hopkins had neither the law nor the facts on his side when he dismissed the case against Tupelo city attorney Ben Logan.”

Back in December, Mr. Logan was stopped at a Mississippi Highway Patrol safety checkpoint and arrested for driving under the influence. He had been seen attempting to avoid the checkpoint by pulling into a private lot of a closed business. Multiple officers witnessed Logan showing visible signs of intoxication such as glassy eyes and slurred speech. He was taken to the Lee County jail but was never booked. He was, however, released to his girlfriend who was allowed to drive him home.

Although hearing was scheduled at the Lee County Justice Court, Logan’s attorneys filed a motion claiming that the checkpoint was unconstitutional. Judge Hopkins agreed with the motion and dismissed the case on July 11th citing court records which apparently did not show that the troopers who conducted the checkpoint had permission from their supervisors.

However, according to Fisher, “No Mississippi Supreme Court case requires law enforcement have permission from their superior before conducting a safety checkpoint. But even if that permission was required, the troopers in this case had it. The Master Sergeant was present and even witnessed Ben Logan avoid the safety checkpoint.”

Mississippi Justice Court is the only court in the state where judges are not required to be attorneys. They are elected positions and according to Jackson County’s website, Justice Court Judges are elected officials serving four-year terms. To qualify to serve as a Justice Judge the candidate must meet the following requirements:

  • High School diploma is mandated
  • Justice Court Training Course provided by the Mississippi Judicial College of the University of Mississippi Law Center
  • Annual continuing education requirement prescribed by the Judicial College
  • Resident of the County at least two years prior to serving.
  • Hold at least one session of court per month, but not more than two.

Guess what? Judge Hopkins is not an attorney and, according to Fisher, “created his own requirements for [the] safety checkpoint.”

Does this bother anyone else? Does it bother anyone else that Judge Hopkins doesn’t need a license to practice law, doesn’t need a law degree, and doesn’t even need an undergraduate college degree?  What’s more, according to the Mississippi Code, newly elected justices have six months to complete their Justice Court Training Course. This essentially means that someone could potentially finish the courses in less time than that.

Attorneys in every other state, for the most part, are required to obtain a four-year undergraduate bachelor’s degree before attending law school. Law schools then select only a handful of top-performing undergraduate students to attend and obtain a law degree. After three grueling years of law school, students obtain a law degree…if they survive law school. Then, if they graduate law school, students can take the bar exam for their respective state, the pass rate of which is often very low (especially here in California). If they pass the bar exam, only then can they become lawyers who can later become judges. This is a screening process to ensure that only qualified, legally versed professionals are able to make important decisions which affect the lives of citizens.

Now contrast this with Mississippi’s lax (to put it mildly) standards.

Lives are literally in the hands of judges and justices. It takes years to learn the law so that it can be applied properly to achieve a just result. It does not and should not take a high school diploma and a six-month (likely less) course. Otherwise, as Fisher pointed out, you have lay-people sitting on judge benches making decision which affect the lives of people, not based on the law, but based on their own personal beliefs, gut feelings, or political preferences.

I find this appalling.

“This case is nothing more than local politics getting the end result they wanted by blaming a state agency,” Fisher said. “When non-lawyer judges start making decisions on what is considered constitutional under the law, these types of mistakes will continue to happen.”

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BUI Blamed for Boater Death

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

The body of a New Jersey man was recovered from Lake Hopatcong in New Jersey this week. The driver of the pontoon boat that he was a passenger on has since been charged with boating under the influence.

This past weekend, 24-year-old Jason Gill of Mr. Arlington was a passenger on a pontoon boat operated by Nicholas Zarantonello, also 24-years-old and from Lake Hopatcong, the lake from which Gill’s body was recovered from. According to state police, Gill fell into the state’s largest fresh-water lake this past Saturday. Although a search started that evening, it was suspended due to poor visibility and lighting in the area.

Search operations continued on Sunday using a helicopter, side-scan SONAR sub-surface detection equipment, the State Police TEAMS Unit, and rescue boats from a nearby fire department. Gill’s body, however, was not recovered until Monday.

Zarantonello, the boat’s operator, has since been arrested, charged with boating under the influence, and has since been released from custody with a future court date.

The drowning took place in an area of the lake that had been under an advisory to avoid swimming because of high levels of harmful algae bloom. Boating, however, was not affected by the advisory.

It goes without saying that DUI laws exist to protect us and others on the road from drivers whose judgment and motor skills have been impaired as the result of alcohol and other intoxicants. The same logic can be applied to laws that prohibit operating a boat while under the influence; namely to protect ourselves and others on the water from boat operators whose judgment and motor skills have been impaired.

Don’t think that because it’s a boat out on the open water that drunk driving laws don’t apply to you.

Boating under the influence is treated in very much the same way as a DUI is treated here in California.

California Harbors and Navigation Code section 655 states in pertinent part: 

(b) No person shall operate any vessel or manipulate water skis, an aquaplane, or a similar device while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, any drug, or the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug.

(c) No person shall operate any recreational vessel or manipulate any water skis, aquaplane, or similar device if the person has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more in his or her blood.

The Harbors and Navigation Code also provides a zero tolerance for aquaplanes and water skis.

What’s more, the penalties for boating under the influence in California are similar to those for a California DUI; up to six months in jail, up to $1,000 in fines and fees, and a California DUI school.

Unlike a California DUI, however, any prior boating under the influence or driving under the influence conviction will only enhance a future boating under the influence charge if the prior conviction occurred within seven years. If you are charged with a California DUI, any California DUI or BUI that occurred in the last 10 years will increase the penalties of the current DUI.

Also, while the passengers of vehicles cannot drink alcohol within the vehicle under California open container laws, passengers of boats can legally drink alcohol on the boat.

In addition to running the risk of getting arrested, charged and convicted, boaters need to also realize the danger to themselves and others when boating under the influence. There are no lanes, no rules of the road, just open water.

 

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Robotic Bartenders: Great Idea or Drunk Driver Enabler?

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

If you have been fortunate enough to step into Google’s developer conference, or perhaps on one of Royal Caribbean’s cruises, you may have gotten your cocktail, not from a human, but from a robotic bartender.  

Back in 2013, Makr Shakr’s Bionic Bar graced our presence and this piece of smart technology is starting to change the way that we order some of our favorite drinks. While many bars may still not have the budget to incorporate this technology into their enterprises, engineers have scaled down the technology to smaller versions like the Somabar Robot Bartender for smaller businesses and even personal use within the home.

On the outset, this idea of a robot bartender sounds like a fascinating idea. You won’t have to shout across the bar to try and get the bartender’s attention and you don’t have to worry about the bartender getting your correct order over the sounds of the DJ’s turntable, people conversing, and the other noises typical of a bar. You have the capability of customizing your drink to your heart’s content and the Nino, which is the updated version of the Bionic Bar, will allow you to place your order via phone app.

I’m also sure that it is fascinating to watch the robotic arms pull the bottles from their vault of liquors on the ceiling and create your concoction. The arms on the Nino were programmed to be like the “dance-like” movements of humans.

While in California, it is not the legal responsibility of the bartender to prevent a drunk patron from getting behind the wheel (see Should Bars be Allowed to be Sued when they Serve Alcohol to Someone who Later Causes a DUI-Related Accident? ), bartenders can still act as a “gatekeeper” of alcohol to someone who has already had too much to drink. My concern comes from how these “bartenders” will be able to stop a customer from indulging too much.

We know of many lawsuits in other states by grieving family members against bartenders and the bar owners for having not restricted the number of drinks served to an individual before that individual made the decision to get back into their car and drive their vehicle. One can only imagine the lawsuits that people are going to file against bars who are using robotic bartenders who are, in turn, incapable of determining whether someone is to intoxicated to drive and should not continue to be served alcoholic drinks.

We are starting to see advancements in vehicle technology aimed at being able to determine the driving capabilities of a person, including whether they are intoxicated, when they get into their vehicle.

So how are these robotic bartender systems equipped with being able to determine how much is too much? Sure, they may be able to track an amount of alcohol purchased, but we all know that person who always buys rounds for their friends, or that friend who buys a cute girl/boy across the bar a drink in order to start up a conversation. A watchful bartender would be able to determine if the person ordering is actually drinking alcohol or purchasing it for others. A robot, however, will not be programmed with those capabilities, not yet anyway.

While these robots are not yet mainstream, it will be interesting to see if the larger robotic bartender systems that have made their way to tech-savvy cruise ships and Las Vegas hotels will expand their reach into the everyday bar and how that may change how bar owners keep an eye on their clientele. It will also be interesting to see exactly how they might affect or be affected, if at all, by some legal changes that are currently being discussed in California such as extending last call and lowering the BAC limit.

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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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