Court Rules Illegal Coerced Breath Tests are Okay

Friday, October 12th, 2018

What good is the Constitution if we don’t use it?

I find myself asking this more often than I’d like to admit. But unfortunately, courts throughout the country continue to issue decisions that erode the protections guaranteed to all of us by the Constitution. Such was the case earlier this month when the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that, even though officers illegally coerced a DUI suspect into giving consent to be breathalyzed, the results would stand.

In August of 2015, Arizona officers stopped Angel Soza on suspicion of driving under the influence. The officers told Soza that Arizona law “required” him to submit to and successfully complete tests of breath, blood or other bodily substance to determine alcohol concentration or drug content.

Like California, under Arizona law, drivers are impliedly deemed to have given their consent to a chemical test. However, if a driver refuses to provide breath or blood, officers may obtain a warrant to determine the driver’s blood alcohol content. Without a warrant, the driver must voluntarily agree to the testing. In fact, Arizona Revised Statutes section 28-1321, which is Arizona’s implied consent law, states that “[i]f a person under arrest refuses to submit to the test…[t]he test shall not be given.” The judges in Soza’s case admitted as much.

“The mere fact that the defendant does not resist the test is insufficient under the statute; consent must be express, said Judge Sean Earl Brearcliffe, who wrote for the majority.

Based on the officer’s admonition that he was “required” to submit to a test, Soza consented.

This was admittedly a violation of Arizona’s implied consent statute. In fact, Judge Brearcliffe said, “Here, the officer who arrested Soza read him a coercive admonition telling him he was ‘require[d]’ to submit to testing” and “[B]ecause there was no consent and no warrant, the breath test violated [the implied consent law].”

But, apparently, coercion doesn’t matter.

Notwithstanding its own determination that Soza’s consent was coercively obtained by police, the court went on to justify why the results could still be used against Soza.

“As a general rule, because the legislature is charged with providing remedies for the violations of the laws it enacts, unless a law states that exclusion of evidence is a remedy for its violation, the exclusionary rule is not imposed by the courts,” Judge Brearcliffe wrote. “Because the legislature nowhere in Section 28-1321 prescribed suppression of evidence as the remedy for its violation, were we to do so of our own accord, we would be engrafting on the law a remedy neither provided for by the legislature nor required by the Constitution.”

The exclusionary rule is a canon or American criminal justice where evidence obtained in violation of the Constitution cannot be used against a criminal defendant. In other words, for example, when a confession is illegally coerced by police, the confession cannot be used at trial against the defendant.

Therefore, the court ruled that even though the officers illegally coerced Soza’s consent, the results can stand because the implied consent law specifically does not refer to the exclusionary eule as a remedy.

Chief Judge Peter J. Eckerstrom, who dissented, believed that Soza’s breath results should have been thrown out, and I agree.

“In short, the Arizona Supreme Court has twice sanctioned violations of the implied-consent law by applying the exclusionary rule,” Judge Eckerstrom said. “As a subordinate court, I believe we are compelled to follow those cases and apply the rule to the similar violation here.”

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Electric Scooter DUI

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

I’m sure you’ve seen them around town. First it was the rentable bicycles on sidewalks throughout Southern California. Now it’s electric scooters as an alternative to walking around town for pedestrians in urban areas like downtown Los Angeles or my neck of the woods, Long Beach.

How do they work? Well, like many things today, there’s an app for it. Download the app onto your smartphone for one the scooter companies that offer their services in your area; Bird, Lime, Skip, Scoot, or Spin. Once downloaded, you can access a map that tells you where the nearest scooter is. Find the nearest scooter, enter your credit card number into the app, and scan the bar code on the scooter with your smartphone to unlock the scooter. Ride.

This week, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said that his office secured the conviction of Nicholas Kauffroath, 28, for driving a rentable scooter under the influence.

Kauffroath was riding a rentable Bird scooter in West Los Angeles when he collided with a pedestrian and scooted away without rendering help or providing information.

Law enforcement found Kauffroath at a nearby apartment building where they were able to test his blood alcohol content, which registered at 0.279 percent; more than three times the legal limit.

Kauffroath subsequently pleaded no contest to one count of misdemeanor operating a motorized under the influence and one count of misdemeanor hit and run. He was sentenced to three years of informal probation, a $550 fine, a three-month DUI program, and was ordered to stay off scooters while drinking.

“Drinking while operating a vehicle, a bike – or a scooter – is not only illegal, but can lead to serious injury or worse,” Feuer said in a statement. “This conviction demonstrates our office’s continued effort to enforce our drunk driving laws and make our streets and sidewalks safer.”

While the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office treated Kauffroath’s case as though it was a standard DUI with a vehicle based on the sentence he received, the law regarding DUI’s on scooters is not necessarily the same as a DUI with a vehicle.

California Vehicle Code section 21221 states in pertinent part, “Every person operating a motorized scooter upon a highway…is subject to all…provisions concerning driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs.” Under this section, it seems as though Kauffroath’s sentence was not wholly inconsistent with vehicle DUI laws regarding punishment.

However, section 21221.5 states in pertinent part, “[I]t is unlawful for any person to operate a motorized scooter upon a highway while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or any drug, or under the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug…A conviction of a violation of this section shall be punishable by a fine of not more than two hundred and fifty dollars ($250).”

The conundrum here is that in the latter section, the penalty for a DUI on a scooter cannot, under the law, be more than $250. This necessarily means that a DUI on an electric scooter cannot be charged as anything more than an infraction with a penalty of nothing more than the $250 fine.

Of course, I don’t know exactly what discussions and/or negotiations occurred between Kauffroath’s defense attorney and the City Attorney’s office regarding his plea deal. I can say that I recently had one of these cases, which was originally charged as a misdemeanor. If convicted as a misdemeanor, my client was looking at three to five years of probation, an 18-month DUI course, fines and fees, and a probation violation for a previous DUI conviction, which could have very well led to jail time. However, after arguing that the language of the law only allowed for a fine of no more than a $250 fine, the case was dropped to an infraction with that $250 fine.

It should be noted that, before scooter renters are allowed to rent and ride the scooters, they are required to confirm that they will not ride while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

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Should Every Step of the DUI Arrest be Recorded?

Thursday, August 30th, 2018

A report about a South Carolina law has raised the question, “Should every step of the DUI arrest be recorded?” If you’ve my previous posts, you know my answer is a vehement, “yes.”

A South Carolina law requires that the entirety of a DUI stop and arrest must be recorded otherwise the driver’s charges could get dismissed. And a new report suggests that DUI conviction rates have decreased significantly as a result of the law.

Many drunken drivers walk free in SC because of strict law, report says

August 29, 2018. The Post and Courier – In South Carolina, a police dash camera pointed the wrong way could be considered cause for a judge to throw out a drunken driving case, even when deputies say a motorist was clearly impaired.

State law, which critics describe as one of the strictest in the country, requires videotaping virtually every step of a DUI arrest. If the suspect is out of the shot of a dashcam or body camera or the video does not work, courts could dismiss the charges.

Greenville-area prosecutors who handle nearly 1,000 DUI cases a year say that loophole in state law, along with others, hurts conviction rates that have been criticized by Mothers Against Drunk Driving in a report released this week.

The report examined the outcome of hundreds of DUI cases in the Greenville and Columbia areas and found less than half resulted in drunken driving convictions.

An assistant solicitor handling a pending DUI case said she’s preparing arguments for why the judge should accept video into evidence because part of an arrest wasn’t captured on screen. Another Greenville prosecutor said a judge dismissed a case this year because a suspect couldn’t be seen being given Miranda rights, even though a dashcam captured the audio.

“It’s just a really odd and unreasonable requirement,” said Jennifer Tessitore, assistant solicitor for the 13th Circuit.

Technical glitches often spur prosecutors to offer suspects plea deals for lesser crimes, such as reckless driving, she said.

The issue is highlighted in a new report from the South Carolina chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving that calls on S.C. leaders to bring down the state’s more than 330 drunk driving deaths a year, which ranks sixth in the nation.

A majority of misdemeanor DUI cases in the Greenville area, or roughly 49 percent, are pleaded down to a lesser charge, while roughly 45 percent result in convictions, according to the 13th Circuit’s analysis of more than 1,200 cases between 2016-17 that was released Tuesday.

That conviction rate is much lower than other major crimes, 13th Circuit Solicitor Walt Wilkins told reporters Tuesday. He pointed to the state requirements on video evidence as a key hurdle.

“Our ability to (prosecute) is hindered by this current statute,” Wilkins said. “It makes it more difficult than it could, or that is allowed by other states.”

For the Columbia area, the conviction rate was 48 percent and another 48 percent of cases were pleaded down, according to MADD’s own analysis of 160 cases between 2016-17.

Defense lawyers who have handled drunken driving cases said the video requirement is no excuse for a poor conviction rate.

“They say it’s a burdensome technicality, but there’s nothing technical about a fair process,” said Joe McCulloch, a Columbia lawyer who handles dozens of DUI cases a year.

Then-state Rep. Ted Vick had a DUI charge thrown out in 2014 because officers failed to videotape the lawmaker being read his Miranda rights. The state has required some form of video evidence in DUI cases since 1998, said Sen. Brad Hutto, a Democratic Orangeburg attorney who worked on the legislation.

Requiring officers to record their interactions has actually strengthened evidence in DUI cases for juries to consider, Hutto said.

“If you have two people there, it’s your word against mine,” he said. “Who are you supposed to believe? If you have a video tape, you can see who’s actually right.”

More than $220,000 in grants from the S.C. Department of Public Safety funded the MADD study. Another $72,000 grant is funding a similar study of the Charleston area, which is expected to be published next year.

Fresh concerns about impaired driving in Charleston were raised in July when a motorist careened onto a sidewalk, fatally striking an 11-year-old girl. Though the driver had no alcohol in his system, police suspected that he had used drugs before the crash.

In June, police said a woman with a blood-alcohol content nearly twice the legal limit swerved into the wrong lane, causing a head-on collision with congressional candidate Katie Arrington, who was traveling on the Savannah Highway in Charleston County.

 

Guess what, critics of the law? You have it because we can no longer trust the arresting officer’s word that the stop was lawful, that procedures were done properly, and that the driver was actually drunk! If prosecutors want a higher conviction rate, how about training officers better or making sure that the equipment is functioning properly?

I’ve been doing DUI defense long enough to know that police lie in DUI police reports more often than I’d like to admit.

In a recent case of mine, a driver told the officer who stopped him that he had one glass of wine with dinner. This prompted the officer to have the driver perform field sobriety tests. Although there was sufficient space in front of the officer’s vehicle and within view the dashcam to perform the tests, the officer took the driver out of the camera’s view. Lo and behold, the officer’s report indicated that the driver failed all of the tests. However, after the driver was arrested and submitted to a chemical test, it was revealed that he had a blood alcohol content of only 0.02 percent, a mere ¼ the legal limit of 0.08. Either the driver failed the field sobriety tests while being sober, which is a problem in and of itself, or the officer lied in his report. I tend to believe the latter.

This shouldn’t be about giving the prosecutors more convictions. It must be about truth, fairness, and transparency with officers who make DUI stops. I applaud South Carolina, and every state should have similar laws.   

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Can you be Stopped for a DUI after an Anonymous Tip?

Friday, August 17th, 2018

I’ve seen them and I’m sure you have too; road signs or billboards that encourage drivers to call the police if they spot a suspected drunk driver on the road. I can tell you that drivers often do, in fact, anonymously call police to report other drivers whom they suspect are driving drunk. If the callers are anonymous, how do the police know whether they are telling the truth about what they saw or whether they are even accurate? Police don’t know and, unfortunately, they don’t need to know. According to the law, an anonymous tip is enough for law enforcement to stop someone on suspicion of driving under the influence.

In 2014, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Navarette v. California, which concluded that law enforcement can go off of an anonymous tip to stop a suspected drunk driver.

The case stemmed from a 2008 stop where a motorist was pulled over by California Highway Patrol after an anonymous tip. The anonymous tipster told the dispatcher that they had been run off of Highway 1 near Fort Bragg by someone driving a pickup truck and provided the pickup’s license plate number. As the CHP officer approached the pickup, they smelled marijuana and discovered four bags of it inside the bed of the truck.

Following the stop, the occupants of the truck were identified as brothers Lorenzo Prado Navarette and Jose Prado Navarette.

At the trial level, the brothers filed a motion to suppress evidence claiming that the officers lacked the reasonable suspicion needed to stop them, thus violating the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The judge, however, denied the motion. The brothers then pleaded guilty to transporting marijuana and were sentenced to 90 days in jail.

The brother appealed. However, the appellate court in a 3-0 ruling said, “The report that the [Navarettes’] vehicle had run someone off the road sufficiently demonstrated an ongoing danger to other motorists to justify the stop without direct corroboration of the vehicle’s illegal activity.”

The appellate court relied on the 2006 California Supreme Court case of People v. Wells, which stated, “the grave risks posed by an intoxicated highway driver” justifies a brief investigatory stop. It found that there are certain dangers alleged in anonymous tips that are so great, such as a person carrying a bomb, which would justify a search even without a showing of reliability. The court went on to say that a “drunk driver is not at all unlike a bomb, and a mobile one at that.”

The case was appealed once again to the United States Supreme Court. And, once again, the Court ruled that an anonymous tip can give law enforcement the reasonable suspicion to pull someone over on suspicion of driving under the influence.

The Supreme Court stated that ““under appropriate circumstances, an anonymous tip can demonstrate ‘sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion to make [an] investigatory stop,’” quoting the 1990 case of Alabama v. White.

In finding “sufficient indicia of reliability,” the court relied on 1.) the fact that the caller claimed eyewitness knowledge of dangerous driving, 2.) the fact that the tip was made contemporaneously with the incident, and 3.) the fact that the caller used 911 to make the tip likely knowing that the call could be traced.

According to the Court, if the tip bears “sufficient indicia of reliability,” officers need not observe driving which would give rise to suspicion that a person was driving under the influence or even that the driver committed a traffic violation. They only need the unverified and unsupported anonymous tip. 

The problem with this ruling is that people are not anonymously reporting drunk drivers. Rather, they are reporting driving errors, any of which can be interpreted as drunk driving. Everybody makes mistakes while driving. In fact, it might be fair to say that no driving excursion is flawless. This necessarily means that everyone on the road is a target of anonymous tipsters and anyone can be arrested on suspicion of DUI simply because someone else reported their mere driving mistake.

In his dissent, Justice Scalia voiced the same concerns:

“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…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.”

 

 

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Visiting Canada with a DUI Conviction

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

Canada considers driving under the influence a very serious crime, so much so in fact, that they consider it an “indictable offense.” This is the functional equivalent to a felony under California law.  Unlike California where a DUI is, for the most part, considered a misdemeanor for a first, second, and third offense and punishable up to a year in jail, as an indictable offense in Canada, a DUI is punishable up to five years in jail.

Because all DUI’s are, for all intents and purposes, considered felonies, anybody convicted of a DUI or even a wet reckless is excludable from entry into Canada.

Notwithstanding a DUI conviction, however, a person can currently enter Canada if they are “deemed rehabilitated.” To be deemed rehabilitated, the maximum term of imprisonment for the DUI conviction was less than 10 years (which it almost always is unless you’ve been convicted of certain felony DUI’s), the sentence for the California DUI conviction was completed at least 10 years ago, and no other indictable offenses were committed during those 10 years. If someone meets these criteria, they do not need to do anything further to gain entry into Canada, although it would be a good idea to have proof of this when trying to cross the border.

In other words, to gain entry into Canada, you must have completed your sentence more than 10 years ago and you cannot have picked up any more “indictable offenses” since.

This, however, may soon change under a new Canadian law which would make it even harder to enter Canada with a DUI on the books.

The new law which will take effect this October is part of Canada’s Cannabis Act, which legalizes recreation marijuana.

“Those people that have been entering into Canada after that 10 years had passed can now have that undone and now become inadmissible again,” said immigration attorney Jamie Fiegel who is a partner at the law firm Fiegel & Carr, which specializes in immigration cases in Canada and the United States.

Under the new law, people will no longer be able to automatically enter Canada following the 10 year-wait period.

“There will be no time period that will be able to be passed that would allow you to automatically regain the right. You will have to file at the Canadian consulate in order to regain the right to enter back into Canada,” said Fiegel.

Fiegel is referring to what is called “individual rehabilitation,” otherwise known as “rehabilitation by application.” The first requirement is that at least five years must have passed since the completion of the sentence for a California DUI conviction. It gets tricky however in trying to calculate the five-year wait period. The five-year wait period can be calculated in the following ways: 1.) five years from the date of sentencing if given a suspended sentence; 2.) five years from the date a fine was paid if given a suspended sentence and a fine; 3.) five years from the end of a prison term with no parole; 4.) five years from the end of parole or probation if sentenced to either; or 5.) five years from the end of a driver’s license suspension.

If someone meets the criteria needed for individual rehabilitation, they will need to fill out an application and submit it to a Canadian visa office located in the U.S. The application requires the applicant to explain why they are rehabilitated. The submission of the application for individual rehabilitation also requires a non-refundable application fee that will also be increasing in October.

While our neighbors to the north might have a reputation for being friendly, they most certainly are not when it comes to past DUI convictions, eh.

If you plan on traveling to Canada and you have a DUI on your record, regardless of how long ago it was, I suggest you contact an immigration attorney to make sure you’re not turned away at the border.

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