Can Personal Breathalyzers Prevent Drunk Driving?

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

How many people would think twice about getting behind the wheel after having a few drinks knowing that they were above the legal limit? My guess is a lot. No longer must a person guess whether they are over or under the legal limit if they have their own personal breathalyzer.

So can a personal breathalyzer prevent a DUI? I don’t see why not.

Breathalyzers are so readily available nowadays that, in addition to the standard multiple-use breathalyzer, they have developed single-use disposable breathalyzers and breathalyzer apps for the smartphone.

As you can imagine, the range in the quality and price of personal breathalyzers is quite large. Costs will vary between $15 and several hundred dollars. Breathalyzers under $50, and those coming on key chains have questionable accuracy from the start and accuracy continues to decrease after multiple uses.

Unlike novelty breathalyzers, quality breathalyzers will be backed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that the FDA conducts research to confirm that the breathalyzer does what its literature says it does.

Just because I believe that personal breathalyzers can prevent a DUI, it doesn’t mean that they are 100% accurate. Almost all quality breathalyzers, like those the police use, require calibration after repeated use to ensure accuracy. Some products allow for owners to calibrate themselves and some require that the breathalyzer be sent to the manufacturer for calibration. Heavily used and non-calibrated breathalyzers will likely not be accurate.

It is possible for a person’s blood alcohol content to continue to rise after a breathalyzer reading, especially if they’ve only recently stopped drinking. Therefore, it is also possible for a person to have a blood alcohol content of 0.07 when they leave the bar (and when they test themselves) and a 0.09 after they’ve been driving for a while. If that is the case, you can still be arrested and charged for a California DUI.

Lastly, a person does not necessarily need to be above a 0.08 blood alcohol content to be arrested and charged with a California DUI. A person can be arrested and charged with a California DUI if they are above a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or if they are “under the influence.” In other words, you can be a 0.07 percent, but if an officer determines that you cannot safely operate a vehicle as a sober person could, you can still be arrested and charged with a California DUI.  A breathalyzer may determine if you are under the legal limit, but it cannot determine whether you are “under the influence.”

Although I can’t imagine some DUI’s not being prevented with personal breathalyzers, the Colorado Department of Transportation wants to be sure. They are providing personal breathalyzers to people with prior DUI’s in certain counties.

Those who participate in the program have agreed to actually use the breathalyzer and complete a survey. At the end of the program and when the survey is completed, participants can keep the breathalyzer.

You can be sure that when the Colorado Department of Transportation releases the results of this experiment, you can be sure that I’ll update you with that information.  

 

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Drunk Driver Incriminates Herself on Facebook

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Sometimes clients or potential clients send me messages on public forums like Facebook. Shockingly, the messages include incriminating statements or even admissions of guilt. I have to remind them that the internet is like Las Vegas in that what goes on the internet, stays on the internet and that it can be seen by anyone, including the police and prosecutors.

A Michigan woman found this out the hard way when she posted about her DUI collision on social media.

The woman was driving under the influence of alcohol when she collided into another vehicle. Following the collision, she fled the scene to a nearby hotel which had a computer and she immediately began posting about the incident.

Officers tracked her down to the hotel. The front desk attendant told the officers that the woman had come in, said that she had been in a collision, and that she had been drinking.

The officers then then tracked down the computer that the woman had been using. The woman had closed neither Facebook nor the Facebook messages that she had sent a friend. Lo and behold, there was a message from the woman to her friend detailing the DUI-accident.

A later breath test revealed that the woman had a blood alcohol content of 0.12 percent. It was also discovered that her license was expired. She was booked on charges of driving under the influence, operating a vehicle with an expired license, and leaving the scene of an accident causing injury.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the Facebook message will be used against the woman in court.

Ok, so the officers in this instance didn’t discover the incriminating social media information as you might’ve expected, namely scanning pages hoping to come across incriminating information. That doesn’t change the point I’m trying to make.

Keep your mouth shut…and your fingers off the computer.  

The Fifth Amendment exists for a reason and is useless unless it is exercised. It doesn’t matter whether you’re guilty or innocent. Exercising your right to remain silent is about protecting yourself and your rights.

Not only will statements made to police be used against someone in a DUI case, or any criminal case for that matter, but also the information they post on social media.

Being a criminal defense attorney for close to eight years now, I’ve known prosecutors and law enforcement agents to search Facebook and other social media platforms for information that might incriminate people. If found, that information is often used as evidence in a criminal case against the person.

If you are arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, simply tell the officers that you respectfully decline to answer any questions without a lawyer present. Bear in mind that officers do not need to read you the Miranda Rights before they start asking question during a DUI stop. If you are arrested and charged, do not discuss the matter with anyone, either online or in person, to anyone but your attorney.

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California Drunk Driver Faces Homicide Charges for Killing Officer

Friday, August 25th, 2017

A California driver is being held on homicide charges for allegedly driving under the influences and striking an off-duty Modesto Police Department sergeant who was riding his bike.

According to investigators, 38-year-old Sgt. Michael Pershall was riding his bicycle on Tuesday evening when he was struck from behind by a vehicle. The vehicle then crashed into a fire hydrant. The driver of the vehicle, 32-year-old Matthew Gibbs of Modesto, California, was subsequently arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Gibbs was booked into the Stanislaus County Jail and is being held without bail.

Court records show that Gibbs was arrested for a misdemeanor DUI in 2015. That case, however, was dismissed.

Gibbs is facing a homicide charge as well as two charges of DUI causing injury.

Homicide merely refers to the killing of another human being and encompasses murder charges, voluntary manslaughter charges, and involuntary manslaughter charges. It is still unclear exactly what homicide charge Gibbs faces.

Prior to 1981, a person who killed someone while driving under the influence could not be charged and convicted of murder. However, the landmark case of People v. Watson changed that.

California Penal Code section 187(a) provides that “Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.” Malice can be expressed or implied, and implied malice is present when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.

So what does that mean?

Simply put, implied malice is when a person knowingly engages in an act that is dangerous to human life with a conscious disregard for human life.

The court in Watson found that if the facts surrounding the DUI support a finding of “implied malice,” second degree murder can be charged. In other words, if a person engages in driving under the influence when they know that it is dangerous to human life to do so, and they kill someone, they can be charged with murder.   

Now the question becomes, “Did the person know it was dangerous to human life to drive drunk?”

While we all know that it’s dangerous to drive drunk, since Watson, courts started expressly advising people who have been convicted of DUI, on the record, that it is, in fact, dangerous to drive drunk. This was not because the court actually thought that the defendant didn’t know it, but rather to ensure that the prosecutor could charge murder instead of manslaughter upon a subsequent DUI causing the death of someone.

Gibbs was only arrested for a prior DUI, but never convicted. Therefore, there’s a good chance that judge never gave Gibbs the “Watson advisement.” Thus, if the prosecutor wants to charge Gibbs with murder, they must find some other way to prove that Gibbs knew it was dangerous to drive while under the influence and that he ignored that danger.

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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.

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Two DUI’s in Less than Three Hours

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

A Wisconsin man was arrested twice in about two and a half hours for driving under the influence according to Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin Public Safety. What’s more, he’s only 18 years old.

18-year-old Preston Bierhals was on his way home from a graduation party last week when he lost control of his vehicle and struck a light pole. Bierhals told responding officers that he was trying to make a phone call when he lost control of his car.

His blood alcohol content was later determined to be 0.157 percent.

At the time, Bierhals’s license was suspended.

“The legal limit for him is zero, but he was still above the 0.08, he was over 0.10 actually both times,” said Capt. Jody Crocker.

Bierhals was booked for “operating while intoxicated” (OWI), which is the Wisconsin equivalent of California’s “driving under the influence” (DUI).

Instead of keeping Bierhals to sober up, officers released him to someone who signed a Responsibility Agreement not to allow him to drive a vehicle.

“They signed an affidavit that says to us that they will take that responsibility in lieu of this person sitting in jail for the next 12 hours. Here of course, that didn’t work,” said Capt. Crocker.

Why didn’t it work? Well, because less than three hours later, an officer working traffic detail for a triathlon that morning spotted Bierhals driving and recognized him from the arrest just hours prior.

The officer stopped Bierhals once again and administered field sobriety tests to which Bierhals failed again. And again he was arrested on suspicion of OWI.

This time, Bierhals’s blood alcohol content was a 0.121. This is consistent with the average rate of alcohol metabolism (burn-off) of 0.015 percent per hour, assuming no more alcohol was consumed since the first arrest.

In Wisconsin, prosecutors cannot file charges for a second drunk driving offense until the citation Bierhals received for the first OWI is resolved.

According to Capt. Crocker, law enforcement is looking into whether charges should be filed against the person whom Bierhals was released to.

Some of you may be thinking, “What could happen to someone like that?”

Well, here in California a minor who is caught driving with alcohol in their system can face several charges and penalties.

California Vehicle Code section 23136 makes it illegal for a minor to have a blood alcohol content of 0.01 percent or greater while driving. This is knowns as California’s “Zero Tolerance” law for underage drivers. Under this law, a minor faces a one-year suspension of their driver’s license.

California Vehicle Code section 23140 makes it illegal for a minor to have a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent or greater while driving. Unlike section 23136, this section is an infraction which can result in fines of up to $100 and a one-year suspension of their driver’s license.

However, in Bierhals’s case, had it occurred here in California, prosecutors would have likely charged him with the standard adult DUI under California Vehicle Code section 23152 (driving under the influence and driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or greater). A violation of section 23152 is a misdemeanor which carries a three to nine month DUI program, three years of summary probation, up to $1000 in fines, up to six months in jail, and a six-month suspension of driving privileges.

Of course, Bierhals is facing the penalties for a second-time DUI as well. A second time DUI, here in California will also be charged as a misdemeanor, but this time, he’s facing between 96 hours and one year in jail, an 18-month DUI program, and two-year suspension of driving privileges.

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