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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Don’t Laugh at DUI Victims

Friday, May 26th, 2017

A Michigan woman learned not to mock DUI victims the hard way; she was thrown in jail.

Amanda Kosal, 25, was in court and waiting to be sentenced for a DUI-related collision that killed Jerome Zirker, a father of five. While Zirker’s sister was giving the court a victim impact statement in court, Kosal’s mother, Donna, and Donna’s boyfriend could be heard laughing in the audience of the courtroom.

Judge Quiana Lillard heard the laughing and kicked Donna’s boyfriend out of the courtroom calling him a clown.

“It’s time for him to go … Whoever can sit here at a tragic moment like this and laugh and smile when somebody has lost a family member, I mean the entire time that Mr. Zirker’s sister was speaking, that clown, and that’s what I am going to call him, a clown, was sitting there smiling and laughing,” said Judge Lillard.

While Donna followed her boyfriend out of the courtroom, Judge Lillard said to her, “You can go too because if you don’t know how to act, you can go to jail, so leave.”

Donna could be heard saying something as she stepped out of the courtroom. Almost immediately after leaving the courtroom, Judge Lillard ordered her bailiff to bring Donna back into the courtroom where she was given 93 days in jail for contempt of court.

“Take her, she’s going in the back,” the judge said to the bailiffs.

Then Judge Lillard addressed the rest of the courtroom audience saying, “Anybody else wanna go? You can go too.”

“These are very serious matters. I understand that you all are very upset because your loved one is going to prison, but guess what, she’s going to prison for the choices that she made. These people are here grieving, saddened because a senseless act took away their loved one and you’re sitting here acting like it’s a joke?”

After spending the night in jail, Donna apologized to Judge Lillard the following morning saying, “I deeply apologize for what I did. I was under a lot of stress.”

Judge Lillard took pity on Donna and reduced her 93 days in jail to 92 days and was given credit for the night she spent in jail. She was then released.

“What you have to understand is as hard as this is for you to see your baby going to prison, imagine what that family feels like when their child is dead. I hope that you learned a valuable lesson from this,” said Judge Lillard.

Amanda Kosal, Donna’s daughter, was ultimately sentenced to three to 15 years in prison for the deadly DUI collision that killed Zirker. Kosal admitted that she was drunk when she veered into oncoming traffic colliding with Zirker’s SUV, killing him and severely injuring his fiancée, Brittany Johnson.

I represent DUI defendants like Kosal every day. I also represent people who have been charged with contempt of court. But that doesn’t mean that I condone either Kosal or her mother’s actions. In fact, I find them reprehensible.

The video of the incident can be found here:

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Do Drugged Drivers Cause More Traffic Deaths than Drunk Drivers?

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

The increase in DUI of drugs has led some to ask whether drugged drivers cause more fatal traffic collisions than drunk drivers. At least according to a new study, the answer is yes.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, a nonprofit funded by alcohol distillers, released a report in April of this year that found in 2015, drivers killed in vehicle collisions were more likely to be under the influence of drugs than alcohol. This was the first recorded time where it is suggested that drugged driving is responsible for more traffic fatalities than drunk driving.

“Drug impaired driving is increasing,” said Jim Hedlund a private consultant from Ithaca, New York who conducted the study for the Governors Highway Safety Association. “We have new data that show drugs are more prevalent to drivers than alcohol is for the first time.”

The study showed that 43 percent of drivers tested in fatal vehicle collisions in the United States had used either a legal or illegal drug. According to the study, 37 percent of drivers tested had a blood alcohol content above the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Marijuana was the most common drug detected. 9.3 percent of drivers who had their blood tested had amphetamines in their system and in many cases, drivers had multiple drugs in their system.

While the result of the study may be accurate, those who are suggesting that the results indicate that drugged driving causes more traffic fatalities than drunk driving is somewhat misleading.

The presence of alcohol in a person’s system does not necessarily mean that they are under the influence. However, the legislature has created a per se blood alcohol content limit of 0.08 because science has shown that the mental or physical abilities of those with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 are likely so impaired that they can no longer operate a vehicle with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary case, under similar circumstances.

Thus, while the study only tested whether drivers had a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or higher and not actual impairment, we know that if the driver had a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher, they were also likely impaired.

Therefore, to conclude that more drugged drivers cause fatal vehicle collisions than drunk drivers is inaccurate. In other words, we cannot compare driving statistics of those with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent and those with drugs in their system.

Furthermore, drugs such as marijuana can stay in a person’s system for far longer than alcohol, sometimes for up to weeks at a time. Therefore, the likelihood of drugs being present in a person’s system, whether they used recently or not, is far higher than the likelihood of alcohol being present in a person’s system.

For once, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and I actually agree on something.

Like myself, MADD officials questioned the methodology of the results, noting that there is no scientifically agreed level of impairment with drugs such as marijuana.

Another of MADD’s concerns is that the study is leading people to believe that the country is doing better than we have been in terms of drunk driving.

“There is no way you can say drugs have overtaken alcohol as the biggest killer on the highway,” said J.T. Griffin, chief government affairs officer at MADD. “The data is not anywhere close to being in a way that would suggest that … We’re doing a lot of good things on drunk driving, but the public needs to understand this problem is not solved.”

According to NORML, with whom I tend to agree, the study merely reflects the increased detection of drugs and alcohol, but does not reflect any direct connection to fatal vehicle collisions.

 

 

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How Do I Choose the Right California DUI Attorney?

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

It goes without saying that the day a person is arrested on suspicion of a California DUI is very often the worst day of that person’s life. As the handcuffs are being slapped around the wrists, thoughts flood the mind of the person who has just been arrested for a California DUI: How long will I be under arrest? What will happen in court? What am I facing?

Fortunately, people don’t have to do it on their own. The legal system is complex to say the least and should never be tackled by the person facing the charges. Most lawyers have spent at least four years at an undergraduate university then three years at law school. Then, lawyers must pass the scrutiny of the bar exam, which in California is the most difficult in the country, before they can actually practice law.

Ok, so lawyers have a lot of education under their belt. How does a person tell if a lawyer is qualified and right for their case?

The first step is research. You don’t buy the first car you see at the dealership. With so much at stake, why would you hire the first attorney you talk to? Ask family and friends if they know a lawyer. You’d be hard pressed to not find anyone who hasn’t used a lawyer in the past. Check user-based rating websites like Avvo.com or Yelp.com to see what others have said about a lawyer’s services. Lastly, check the California Bar Association’s website at Calbar.org to check if a lawyer has had any disciplinary action taken against them for misconduct.

After a lawyer becomes licensed to practice law, they are legally allowed to practice any and all areas of law, but this does not necessarily mean that they are qualified to practice any area of law. Many lawyers are known as “general practitioners.” General practitioners practice everything from personal injury law to real estate law to estate planning and possibly even criminal defense, which may include DUI law. While the law, in general, is complicated, DUI law is complicated in its own right. Understanding the nuances of DUI law and the science involved is crucial in defending a DUI case. If I’m hiring an attorney to represent me for a DUI, I want a lawyer who defends DUI cases day in and day out, not a lawyer who may defend a DUI case every couple of months.

Although many of don’t like to say it, but we, by the nature of our profession, are also salespeople. We need to convince people to hire us to represent them. Unfortunately, the reputation of salespeople runs true with many attorneys as well. Some lawyers will tell you what you want to hear to make the sale. They might claim that they can help because the case is a “slam dunk.” I have been practicing DUI defense for some time now and I can tell you firsthand that no case is a slam dunk. In fact, very few things in law are black and white. DUI defense lawyers don’t know the facts of the case, other than what the potential client tells them, until the first court date. In fact, many times what the potential client tells the lawyer is very different than what is in the police report. Therefore, when a person contacts a lawyer for the purpose of hiring them for representation in a California DUI case, the lawyer lacks the information necessary to predict the outcome of a case. Furthermore, it is actually illegal for a lawyer to guarantee an outcome.

It’s no surprise that lawyers can be expensive. But remind yourself that you’re paying for someone with the experience to help you make it through one of the most difficult times of your life. Make your decision to hire a lawyer based on experience, not cost. Fees for California DUI lawyers range from $1000 to $10,000. DUI defense lawyers almost always charge flat fees, not hourly fees. Often, the price of a DUI lawyer corresponds with their experience and what is included in the service. Sometimes, however, it isn’t. Make sure that you’re getting what you’re paying for.

I can’t say it enough. Hiring a lawyer is an extremely important decision and one that can have lasting effects on your life. Do your research and find the right California DUI attorney.

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The DMV and License Suspension After a California DUI

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

When a person is arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, their license is usually taken and the officers give the driver a “pink slip.” The pink slip is a temporary license which will allow them to drive…at least for 10 days.

The officer should inform the driver that they have 10 days to contact the DMV to schedule a hearing to try and save their driving privileges. However, in the confusion and anxiety of the DUI arrest, many people forget or ignore the instruction. The 10 days lapse and, much to the surprise of many of my clients, their license is suspended even though their court case hasn’t concluded or in some instances, hasn’t even begun.

A DUI of alcohol triggers two separate actions; a California DMV “administrative per se” (APS) action and a criminal court case.

After 10 days from the date of arrest, the DMV will automatically suspend a person’s license for four months unless the person or their attorney schedules a hearing with the DMV. If a hearing is scheduled within 10 days, the DMV will “stay” or postpone the suspension pending the outcome of the hearing.

The DMV hearing is to determine 1.) whether the officer had reasonable cause to believe the driver was driving under the influence, 2.) whether the driver was lawfully arrested, and 3.) whether the driver had a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher.

Once again, this process is separate and distinct from what happens in court.

If the driver or their attorney schedules a hearing with the DMV within the 10 days, and the suspension is “stayed,” the hearing itself presents an uphill battle. By “uphill,” I mean completely stacked against the driver.

Since the DMV is not a court, the standard of proof needed to suspend a person’s license is much lower than what is needed to convict a person or a crime. A prosecutor in a criminal case must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver was either 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or “under the influence.” A DMV hearing officer must only prove more likely than not that the driver was either a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or that they refused the chemical test.

The DMV, the same agency which is trying to sustain the suspension, is the agency which conducts the hearing. The DMV hearing officer, who is a DMV employee, conducts the hearing. The hearing officer can object to the driver’s evidence. The hearing officer can rule on his own objection. Finally, the hearing officer decides if he or she wins. And they almost always do.

Hearsay statements, which are generally excluded from court cases because the person making the statement cannot be cross examined, are admissible in DMV hearings. Most of the time, arresting officers are absent from DMV hearings. If a driver wishes to cross examine the arresting officer who wrote the report, he or she must subpoena the officer at his own cost. This includes paying for the officer’s salary for the time that they attend the hearing.

The DMV hearing officer, who, like a judge, determines the outcome of the DMV hearing is merely a DMV employee with no background in law. In fact, according to the DMV’s employment eligibility requirements, a hearing officer does not even need to have a college degree.

Although unlikely, if the DMV hearing is won by the driver, they save their license from a four-month suspension, but they still face the criminal case in court.

I won’t go into what can happen in court for a California DUI case. Just read one of many previous posts on what to expect out of the court case.

If the driver pleads to a DUI or is convicted after a trial, the court will notify the DMV of the conviction triggering yet another suspension called a “mandatory action.” The mandatory action suspension is a six-month suspension, but the driver gets credit for any time spent on the four-month DMV-triggered suspension. In other words, the driver should serve no more than six months of a suspension.

This information is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It only applies to a first-time DUI without aggravating circumstances such as a chemical test refusal. Clearly, the complexity of not just the court case, but the DMV action as well, is yet another reason to let an experienced DUI defense attorney do the heavy lifting.

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