In April of 2015 I wrote about Assembly Bill 1356, written by Assemblyman Tom Lackey from Palmdale, California, which would have allowed law enforcement to use a device similar to a breathalyzer that could detect the presence of marijuana and a number of other drugs in a driver’s system.
That bill however, failed to pass the Assembly Public Safety Committee the following May because of reliability concerns.
However, with the passing of Proposition 64 which allowed the use of recreational marijuana in California, Lackey who is a former sergeant with the California Highway Patrol, has introduced a new bill similar to that of the failed AB1356.
The newly proposed Assembly Bill 6 would allow tests using saliva samples taken from drivers suspected of driving under the influence. The test would let the officer know whether a driver has recently used a number of drugs including marijuana.
“The ballot initiative passed this year to legalize marijuana will result in more marijuana consumers on our state’s highways and roads,” Lackey said in a statement. “It is imperative that we invest in a broad spectrum of technologies and research to best identify marijuana-impaired drivers.”
The measure is supported by Chief Ken Corney, president of the California Police Chiefs Assn.
“Our federal partners have demonstrated the efficacy of oral fluid testing, and we look forward to utilizing the technology at a state level,” Corney said in a statement.
While the current devices referred to by Corney tests for the presence of drugs, it does not test for drug quantity nor impairment of the driver.
There is an established correlation between blood alcohol content, specifically the legal limit of 0.08 percent, and alcohol impairment. Unlike alcohol, however, there is no such correlation between the presence of drugs and impairment. In other words, a person can have traces of drug in their system without being impaired by that drug.
Marijuana, for example, can stay in a person’s system for weeks following the smoking or ingesting of the marijuana and well after the person was intoxicated or stoned. The purpose of DUI laws is to prevent impaired driving, not to punish sober and unintoxicated people merely because they ingested drugs at some point in the past.
It is unclear how the presence of a drug may affect the subsequent arrest or DUI case since presence doesn’t necessarily mean impairment. Until we can establish a correlation with drugs including marijuana like we have with alcohol, namely the correlation between quantity and impairment, we shouldn’t be using pushing for laws like this.
Assembly Bill 6 will be brought up for a vote early next year.
Many people know that a California DUI is a “priorable” offense. This means that if a person is arrested and convicted of a subsequent California DUI within ten years, the penalties by operation of law increase.
Generally, a first-time California DUI conviction carries three to five years of summary (informal) probation, up to six months in jail, between $390 and $1,000 in fines, completion of a court-approved three month DUI program, and a six-month license suspension.
A second-time California DUI conviction carries three to five years of summary probation, a minimum of 96 hours to a maximum of one year in county jail, between $390 and $1,000 in fines, completion of a court-approved 18 month DUI program, and a two-year license suspension.
A third-time California DUI conviction carries three to five years of summary probation, a minimum of 120 days to a maximum of one year in county jail, between $390 and $1,000 in fines, completion of a court approved 30-month DUI program, and a three-year license revocation.
With this understanding, the question arises: Can a prior out-of-state DUI conviction be used to make a current California DUI a “second offense” and allow the court to increase the penalties?
It depends on whether the facts in the prior out-of-state DUI case would have constituted a DUI in California, under California law.
For example, Florida’s DUI law reads, “A person is guilty of the offense of driving under the influence… if the person is driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state and…[t]he person is under the influence of alcoholic beverages…when affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired…”
The wording of Florida’s statute may prohibit a past Florida conviction from being used to make a California DUI a “second offense” for two reasons.
The first problem is that Florida’s statute requires that a person impaired “to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired.” This standard is less strict than California. California requires that a person be impaired to an appreciable degree. Thus, a person may be deemed impaired under Florida’s standard, but not necessarily under California’s.
The second problem is that Florida’s statute also requires that someone drive or is “in actual physical control of a vehicle.” This makes Florida what is called a “dominion and control state.” A person can have dominion and control over a vehicle by simply being in the driver’s seat. California’s DUI law, on the other hand, requires that a person actually drive the vehicle. Therefore, a person can be convicted under Florida’s DUI law by sitting in the driver’s seat while intoxicated. However, someone sitting in the driver’s seat while intoxicated cannot be convicted under California’s DUI law.
Therefore, if a person was convicted five years ago in Florida for a DUI under Florida law because they were found drunk in the driver’s seat of their vehicle, but not driving, that conviction cannot be used to make a current California DUI a “second offense” to increase the penalties because California DUI law requires that the person actually drive the vehicle.
If, however, that same person was pulled over after driving and are convicted of a Florida DUI, that prior Florida DUI conviction can be used to make the current California DUI a “second” offense.
An Indiana man was recently arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. It was later discovered that he was on his way to the Indianapolis airport. The man, identified as Robert Harris III, is a commercial pilot.
According to police, Harris’ eyes were bloodshot, his speech was slurred, and he had trouble with coordination. In fact, according to court documents, field sobriety tests could not be completed because Harris almost fell over while trying to walk. It was later determined that his blood alcohol content was 0.29 percent.
It is unclear if Harris was scheduled to fly that evening and the airline for which Harris was employed refused to comment on the matter.
While federal regulations require that pilots follow an 8-hour “bottle to throttle” rule, some airlines require a 12-hour period between a pilot’s last drink and flight. Also, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, a pilot must report an alcohol-related conviction, suspension, revocation, and/or failed breath test within 60 days.
Since federal aviation regulations do not require a person to hold a driver’s license to fly a plane, the arrest and a subsequent conviction for driving under the influence does not necessarily preclude piloting aircraft following the arrest and/or conviction.
“The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) does not hesitate to act aggressively when pilots violate the alcohol and drug provisions of the Federal Aviation Regulations,” said FAA spokesperson Elizabeth Cory. “Airlines are required to have random testing programs in place.”
“The FAA evaluates these cases on an individual basis, which could affect the pilot’s certificate eligibility,” said Cory.
Not surprisingly, this did not settle well with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
“I would have assumed the FAA would have similar sanctions to the state of Indiana and withholding their license to operate a motor vehicle whether that’s a plane or car,” said MADD spokesperson Lael Hill. “It’s a little bit concerning knowing someone accused of a crime and is allegedly drinking and driving and could have their driver’s license taken away and not their pilot’s license or certificate.”
Hypothetically, had Harris had been on his way to the airport to fly, what would have happened had he flown an airplane under the influence?
First off, the California Vehicle Code does not apply to aircraft. Rather, crewmembers of civil aircrafts, including pilots, are governed by the FAA. Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations section 91.17 states that, “no person may act or attempt to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft within 8 hours after drinking alcohol, while under the influence of alcohol, while using any drug that affects the person’s faculties in any way contrary to safety, or while having an alcohol concentration [BAC] of 0.04 or greater in a blood or breath specimen.”
Furthermore, the FAA requires random alcohol screenings of pilots and are subject to an implied consent law similar to California’s DUI implied consent law.
Similarly, California Public Utility Code section 21407 reads, “It is unlawful for any person to operate an aircraft in the air, or on the ground or water in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another. In any proceeding charging operation of aircraft in violation of this section, the court in determining whether the operation was careless or reckless shall consider the standards for safe operation of aircraft prescribed by federal statutes or regulations governing aeronautics.”
California penalties for a first time FUI include a county jail sentence of 30 days to six months, and/or a fine of $250 to $1,000. Federal penalties, on the other hand, are far more severe and can include up to 15 years in federal prison and up to $250,000.
The West Virginia Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s decision and ruled that people can be arrested and convicted of driving under the influence even if it occurred on private property and have their licenses revoked.
The case stems from an incident in 2012 when a man by the name of Joshua Beckett crashed an ATV in a field on the farm owned by his family. Following the collision, Beckett was taken to the hospital where it was discovered that his blood alcohol content was 0.17 percent. He was subsequently charged with driving under the influence.
A magistrate dismissed the DUI case, but an administrative judge upheld a prior revocation of Beckett’s driver’s license for 45 days notwithstanding Beckett’s argument that there was no evidence that he drove on a public street or highway.
Beckett appealed the decision to the Monroe County Circuit Court. There, the circuit court judge ruled that because Beckett’s “actions did not occur on land open to public use,” the administrative judge did not have jurisdiction to revoke his license.
The Division of Motor Vehicles’ commissioner who originally revoked Beckett’s license appealed the decision to the West Virginia Supreme Court.
“The Legislature’s definition of the phrase ‘in this State’ … extends the reach of our driving-under-the-influence laws to any individual driving a vehicle within the physical boundaries of West Virginia, even if the vehicle is driven only upon private property not open to the general public,” Chief Justice Menis Ketchum who wrote a portion of the majority opinion. “The Legislature chose to structure our DUI statutes to regulate the condition of the driver, not the locale in which the driving is taking place. Thus, the Legislature expressed its plain intent to prohibit an intoxicated person from driving a vehicle anywhere in West Virginia, whether on public roads or across private land.”
The decision and its rationale mirrors that which the law here in California.
Division 11 of the California Vehicle Code sets forth the “rules of the road,” if you will, which includes California’s laws against driving with a 0.08 blood alcohol content or higher and driving while under the influence. California Vehicle Code section 21001 states, “The provisions of [Division 11] refer exclusively to the operation of vehicles upon the highways, unless a different place is specifically referred to.” The Code then goes on to state, “[t]he provisions of this chapter apply to vehicles upon the highways and elsewhere throughout the State unless expressly provided otherwise.”
Prior to 1982 the vehicle code made it illegal to drive drunk “upon a highway or upon other than a highway areas in which are open to the general public.” However, in 1982, the legislature deleted the language referring to the locations upon which a person could be arrested and ultimately convicted of drunk driving.
The California Court of Appeals in People v. Malvitz relied on the earlier version of the California Vehicle Code to help clarify the issue. The Court concluded that the “statute that prohibited driving under the influence of alcohol and/or any drug has emerged unencumbered with any language restricting its reach.”
In other words, the Court concluded that it was the intent of the legislature that, in deleting the portion of the statute which referred to location, the law which prohibits drunk driving should extend to anywhere in California where drunk drivers pose a threat included public highways as well private property.
Furthermore, California Vehicle Code section 23215 states, “[law enforcement] may, but shall not be required to, provide patrol or enforce the provisions of [California’s DUI law] for offenses which occur other than upon a highway.”
Whether you’re in West Virginia or in California, it is illegal to drive under the influence on public roads as well as on private property.
A person is arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence here in California. They are booked and released with a citation when law enforcement believes they have sobered up. The citation includes a court location and a date upon which the person must appear for their arraignment. About a month goes by and the person appears on the date indicated on the citation, but is surprised to learn that their case is not on the court’s calendar. They are given a slip proving that they appeared and told to keep their eyes open for a notification in the mail from the prosecutor’s office letting them know that charges have been filed.
After this scenario plays out, two questions arise from clients; 1.) Is this common? and 2.) How long do I have to wait?
Let’s tackle the first question.
When law enforcement gives the citation to the person who has been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, they don’t actually know that the case will be filed on the date indicated in the citation. Typically, the date is set at least a month, sometimes several months, in advance. This gives law enforcement and prosecutor time to do several things before the court date.
Following, the arrest the officers must prepare the police report on the DUI arrest. This includes the actual written report, the interview of witnesses, the examination of evidence, and the preparation of any video footage.
Once the law enforcement agency completes its report, their file is sent to the prosecuting agency. Here in Southern California, the prosecuting agency is usually a City Attorney or a District Attorney. The prosecuting agency then reviews the file which was given to them by the arresting law enforcement agency and determines if there is enough evidence to file charges.
Often is the case that, by the time this process is complete, the date written on the bottom of the citation has come and gone. Once the prosecutor has all of the information they need and actually make the decision to file California DUI charges, they’ll issue a notification to the person letting them know that charges have been filed and give them a new court date.
So, to answer the first question, unfortunately the answer is yes, it is common and more common than people know.
On to the second question; “How long does the prosecutor have to file the charges?” In other words, how long must a person have to anxiously wait for those charges to be filed?
California Penal Code section 802 states, “Except as provided in subdivision (b), (c), or (d), prosecution for an offense not punishable by death or imprisonment in the state prison shall be commenced within one year after commission of the offense.” Subsections (b), (c), and (d) are not applicable to DUI cases.
Therefore, the prosecutor has one year from the date of arrest to file misdemeanor DUI charges. This is what is called a “statute of limitations.”
Unfortunately, many people mistakenly believe that because the prosecutor hasn’t filed charges by the date on the citation, that the prosecutor has forgotten or that the case just simply and magically disappears. Not so. They have a year.
Additionally, people whom DUI charges have been filed against them within that year, but fail to go to court for years afterwards are also mistaken in believing that they can’t face charges because it is past the statute of limitations. As long as the charges were filed within that year, the charges remain and the person likely has a warrant out for their arrest.
At least in my experience, prosecutors very rarely “forget” to file charges. While it may be common for the date on the citation to come and go, it is not common for that year to come and go without charges being filed. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how California DUI law could be affected generally should voters pass Proposition 64 this coming November.
If you haven’t read it, here’s the gist:
If Prop. 64 is approved, California would legalize 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.
While THC is the psychoactive component of marijuana that is detected in cases of DUI of marijuana, there is no way to determine how impaired someone is regardless of how much THC is in their system Unlike alcohol, there is not an established correlation between THC and impairment. As a result, a number of companies are racing to create a roadside test to determine impairment of marijuana rather than just presence of THC.
If Prop. 64 passes, there are many more questions that need answering. One of these questions is whether we will see more marijuana-DUI traffic collisions.
The Los Angeles Times consulted with Beau Kilmer, senior researcher at RAND Corp. specializing in drug policy and co-author of the book “Marijuana Legalization” to ask the very same question.
The Los Angeles Times made mention of the fact that AAA announced last week that it was opposing efforts to legalize marijuana in California and Maine citing statistics showing an increase in marijuana related fatal collisions in Washington, a recreational marijuana state. While AAA opposed Prop. 64, it also conceded, “While the data analyzed for the study did not include enough information to determine which driver was at fault in a given crash.”
To this Kilmer responded, “The bulk of the research suggests that driving drunk is worse than driving stoned, but driving stoned is worse than driving sober. The research suggests that when people are under the influence of both marijuana and alcohol, it does increase the probability of getting into a crash.”
But, he added, “If you are going to be objective about this and you really want to know how marijuana legalization is going to affect traffic safety, you don’t just look at the number of people in crashes who are testing positive for THC. You want to look at total crashes and total accidents. It might be the case that yeah, more people are driving stoned, but some of them are now less likely to drive drunk.”
Kilmer added that the studies are not definitive.
Kilmer’s statements are correct in that, if we are to be objective about this, we can’t just look at AAA’s cited statistic. Just because a person has THC in their system at the time of a collision does not mean that the person is driving under the influence. What’s more, it may be that the amount DUI of alcohol related collisions have reduced since the legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington.
Most of the time, officers don’t know that a person is actually drunk when they pull that person over. You can bet, however, that they’re suspicious. It’s not just the commission of a traffic violation itself that gives them suspicion. It could very well be a number of things.
So what do officers look for when spotting a suspected drunk driver?
Because people who are under the influence have trouble with vision and balance, they often have trouble driving in a straight line. This means that they may weave through traffic, cannot stay in their own lane, drift, straddle one side of a lane, swerve, and/or make wide turns. The California Court of Appeals has held that “pronounced weaving within a lane provides an officer with reasonable cause to stop a vehicle on suspicion of driving under the influence where such weaving continues for a substantial distance.”
Drivers who are under the influence also often have trouble gauging speed and distances. As a result, many drunk drivers have trouble stopping their vehicles as a sober person would. This includes stopping their vehicle too far from a curb or a stop sign as well as stopping their vehicle too suddenly.
Similarly, drunk drivers may also have trouble accelerating and often accelerate abruptly rather than gradually. They might also have trouble maintaining a consistent speed. Now it would be unreasonable to expect a person to maintain the speed perfectly, however the speed of drunk drivers often fluctuates more drastically than one might reasonably expect of a sober driver.
What I’ve mentioned are what officers look for, but what about what they listen for? I’m not talking about the sound of drunk drivers. I’m talking about anonymous tips from callers who may suspect that a person is driving under the influence. Can an officer use an anonymous tip to help him or her “spot” a drunk driver?
In the recent case of Navarette v. California, the United States Supreme Court held that an anonymous tip can give law enforcement the authority to pull someone over on suspicion of driving under the influence. This is true even though it is impossible to verify the reliability of the tip and the officer has not witnessed any driving that would indicate intoxication.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, these are the things that give officers the authority to pull someone over with only the suspicion that they may be driving under the influence. These things alone, however, are not enough to give the office the probable cause to arrest the person on suspicion of driving under the influence.
Once pulled over for the reasons mentioned above, the officer can substantiate their suspicion that the driver is under the influence with their own observations in making the stop. These are the pieces of information that have become as common in DUI police reports as the officer’s name, namely the smell of alcohol, the slurring of words, and the bloodshot and watery eyes of the driver. The officer can then further substantiate their suspicion and produce the probable cause needed to make the DUI arrest if the driver agrees to and fails field sobriety tests and/or produces a pre-arrest breathalyzer result above a 0.08 blood alcohol content.
It goes without saying that the punishment for driving under the influence in California, and across the United States for that matter, continues to increase significantly thanks to the hypervigilance of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and like organizations.
So what are the current penalties for a California DUI conviction?
The following is a list of what a person can expect if arrested and convicted of a first-time California DUI. It should be noted that penalties and punishment increase beyond what is listed below when a person has suffered prior DUI convictions within 10 years. The following is what can be expected out of a first-time conviction only.
The first thing a person can expect are the fines and fees. The statutory minimum fine that a person must pay following a California DUI is $390. The maximum is $1,000. Absent aggravating circumstances such as a collision, a person can expect $390. However, in addition to the $390, a person can expect to pay “penalties and assessments,” which will bring the overall amount to about $2,000, give or take a few hundred. I can’t tell you exactly what “penalties and assessments” means. In fact, I’ve heard judges say that they don’t know what it means. Suffice it to say, they are akin to court taxes.
When convicted of a California DUI, a person will be placed on summary (informal) probation for a period of three to five years. Again, absent aggravating circumstances, a person should expect the lower term of three years. Informal probation simply means staying out of trouble and doing what the court ordered. This includes not picking up any new cases, DUI or otherwise, not driving without a valid license, and not driving with any measurable amount of alcohol in the system. During the probationary period, a person must also complete the terms associated with that probation. This includes paying all fines and fees, completing a DUI program, and completing any other conditions the court might order.
The last of the penalties that are required by law is the requirement that a person complete a DUI program. For a first-time California DUI, a person is facing a three-month, six-month, or nine-month program. Like the probation and fines, the longer programs are given when the facts surrounding the DUI include aggravating circumstance. Otherwise, a person can expect to complete the three-month program called AB-541.
The aforementioned are what a person can expect by law. There are, however, other penalties which are not mandated by law, but rather discretionary.
If arrested and convicted of a California DUI, a person can be ordered to complete a “Hospital and Morgue Program.” The program is self-explanatory and is, in my opinion, the most unpleasant of the penalties. Participants in this program must first visit the hospital and listen to doctors explain the negative consequences of drinking and driving. Then the person must visit the morgue or coroner’s office and view the bodies of victims of drunk driving. Following the completion of both the hospital component and the morgue component, the participant must write an essay on their experience.
Another discretionary punishment for a California DUI is a Mothers Against Drunk Driving Victim Impact Panel. This is a one-day lecture hosted by the group where victims of drunk drivers speak on the impact that driving under the influence has had on their lives.
The court may order a person to complete a number of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. As many people know, AA meetings are hosted by the non-profit organization for the purpose of “stay[ing] sober and help[ing] other alcohols achieve sobriety.”
Lastly, the court can order a person convicted of a California DUI to install an ignition interlock device (IID). An ignition interlock device is essentially a breathalyzer that is installed into the ignition of a person’s vehicle. The device will not allow a person to start their vehicle unless they provide a breath sample free of alcohol. It should be noted that, by law, the DMV already requires the installation of an IID for five months in four California counties; Alameda, Tulare, Sacramento, and Los Angeles.
Again, this is what is commonly ordered and what can be expected. The courts have great discretion as to what can be given as punishment for a California DUI including the unexpected. Believe me, prosecutors are currently pushing for as much punishment as possible and this is precisely why it is extremely important to hire an experienced California DUI attorney if arrested on suspicion of a California DUI.
It’s not a common question, but one that I was asked about during a criminal law class that I teach: Is there such a thing as attempted DUI?
“When might this scenario present itself,” you might ask.
Imagine a scenario when a person is extremely drunk at a bar. After leaving the bar, the person enters their vehicle, but cannot start it because they are drunkenly using the wrong key. Unbeknownst to the person, a police officer was outside of the bar and witnessed the whole thing.
The officer can’t arrest the person for a DUI because in California, the law requires that the person actually drive their vehicle. But can the officer arrest the person for attempting to drive drunk?
In People v. Garcia, law enforcement found the defendant in her vehicle which was in the fast lane of the highway with the hazard lights on. As her vehicle began to roll backwards, the defendant unsuccessfully attempted to start the engine. She was, however, able to put the vehicle in park. Law enforcement observed the entire thing and arrested the defendant.
After the defendant was convicted, the court of appeals determined that the crime of “attempt” can be applied to a California DUI.
According to the California Penal Code, an “[a]ttempt requires a specific intent to commit the crime, and a direct but ineffectual act done towards its commission.”
Driving under the influence is, what is called, a “general intent” crime because it only requires that a person intend to commit the act of driving, but not necessarily driving while drunk. A “specific intent” crime, on the other hand, requires that a person intent to commit a crime. Theft, for example, is a specific intent crime because it requires that the person have the specific intent to steal the property of someone else. But very few people intend on driving while drunk. Rather, they intend to drive while they also happen to be drunk. It is subtle, but very important distinction.
The court in Garcia essentially ruled that an attempted California DUI is a specific intent crime. In other words, a person can specifically intend on attempting to commit the crime of driving under the influence, not just the act of driving. This ruling begs the question: If a person can specifically intend to attempt to drive while under the influence, then can the mere fact that they are drunk negate their specific intent to commit a crime?
This may sound a little confusing, so let me put it in other terms. Let’s say a person becomes so drunk that they “black out,” but are still conscious. That person then steals his neighbor’s lawn gnomes because, in his drunken state, he thinks it will be funny. If he is prosecuted for theft, the prosecutor would have to prove that the person had the mental state to specifically commit the crime of theft. This may be difficult for the prosecutor to do if the person was “blacked out” drunk.
So let’s recap. A California DUI is a general intent crime because a person doesn’t intent to drive under the influence. However, when they attempt to drive under the influence, but unsuccessfully do so, it is a specific intent crime where a prosecutor must prove that a person actually intended on committing a crime of attempted DUI. The intoxicating effects of alcohol consumption can serve to negate the specific intent needed to commit the crime of attempted DUI.
So where does that leave us? Unfortunately, I don’t know and I don’t think the court knows either.
The court in Garcia went on to say that it was “not unmindful that there might be some troublesome questions which will have to be resolved in a later case.”
We all know that if someone is arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, they will be required to take a breathalyzer test, usually later at the police station. And this test result will be the primary evidence used against him in a drunk driving case.
The first problem with this is that the amount of alcohol in the blood is constantly changing — either rising due to absorption from recent drinking or, more likely, falling due to metabolism of the alcohol.
The second problem is that it is only illegal to have a .08% blood-alcohol concentration at the time of driving — not later at the police station. And this breath test may not be given for an hour or two after the driving has ended — particularly in accident cases, where the police may not arrive for some time. So the prosecution has to try to estimate what the blood-alcohol level was when the suspect was driving based upon the later test.
The third problem is that because of this, for the test results to be admissible as evidence in court they have to have been obtained within a certain period of time — in California, for example, within three hours.
But what if there was a breath-testing device which could record what the blood-alcohol level was at the time the suspect is actually driving?
Flexible Wearable Electronic Skin Patch Offers New Way to Monitor Alcohol Levels
San Diego, CA. Aug. 2 – Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed a flexible wearable sensor that can accurately measure a person’s blood alcohol level from sweat and transmit the data wirelessly to a laptop, smartphone or other mobile device. The device can be worn on the skin and could be used by doctors and police officers for continuous, non-invasive and real-time monitoring of blood alcohol content.
The device consists of a temporary tattoo — which sticks to the skin, induces sweat and electrochemically detects the alcohol level — and a portable flexible electronic circuit board, which is connected to the tattoo by a magnet and can communicate the information to a mobile device via Bluetooth…
Clearly, the government would be very interested in requiring anyone convicted of DUI to wear such a patch for the probationary period (commonly three years).
But what if that government decided to take the next step…..and require everyone to wear these skin patches — as a condition for driving any vehicle?
California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1046 into law this past week making ignition interlock devices mandatory for most DUI offenders.
An IID device is essentially a breathalyzer that is attached to the dashboard of an offender’s vehicle. The device will not the offender to start their ignition if it detects alcohol on the offender’s breath.
The bill was authored by Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) and extended California’s existing pilot program for another two years which required the installation of an IID for all first time offenders for a period of five months in Alameda, Sacramento, Tulare, and Los Angeles counties.
The bill would require an IID in a number of circumstances; a first-time DUI offense involving injury would require an IID for six months, a first-time non-injury DUI offense would require an IID for six months with full driving privilege if a person does not want to serve a one year suspension with a restricted license, a second-time DUI offense would require an IID for a year, a third-time DUI offense would require an IID for two years, and a fourth or subsequent DUI offenses would require an IID for three years.
“This is a great day for California and this bill will clearly save lives. A week doesn’t go by without us hearing about another death from a drunk driver,” Hill said, noting the recent killing of a 3-year-old in the East Bay, as well as the Southern California accident where a drunk driver killed the 10-year-old daughter of a Hillsborough Elementary School District board member. “It’s needless to say the state should not condone this behavior and we need to do something to stop it.”
Not so surprisingly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving pushed heavily for the bill and applauded its signing last week.
“No parent should have to lose their child to the criminal negligence of a drunk driver — especially when technology exists to prevent such a tragedy,” said MADD board member Mary Klotzbach, whose son Matt was killed by a drunken driver in 2001, in a statement.
Opponents of the bill, including Sarah Longwell, executive director of the American Beverage Institute, argue that California should focus its resources on higher risk, multiple DUI offenders rather than first and second-time offenders. Other complaints of opponents are that the bill undermines a judge’s discretion in sentencing DUI offenders and that the IID requirement is expensive to implement and enforce.
“Our argument is there’s a hard-core population of offenders who are out there habitually driving at extreme intoxication levels. Let’s … focus our resources on that hard-core population, make sure they’re complying,” Longwell said. “We think ignition interlocks can absolutely be a useful tool in fighting drunk driving, it’s about at what level do you expand these mandates and at what point is it a diminishing return?”
The bill will go into effect January 1st of 2019 and last until 2026 unless the California Legislature extends or modifies is.
The typical cost of an IID runs between $60 and $80 per month for maintenance and calibration with a $70 to $150 installation fee.
Usually when I write about officers falsifying DUI police reports, it’s because they’ve done so to create non-existent evidence to justify a DUI arrest and help secure a wrongful conviction. So when I see a story of officers falsifying evidence to hide a DUI, I take notice.
According to the Los Angeles Times, two LAPD officers have been charged with attempting to cover up a DUI-related collision by driving the drunk driver home and falsifying the police report.
Officers Rene Ponce and Irene Gomez were patrolling a neighborhood in Boyle Heights, California on October 26, 2014, when they responded to a crash involving a drunk driver. According to prosecutors, the drunk driver had collided into two parked cars.
Prior to Ponce and Gomez’s arrival, a neighbor was awakened by the sound of the collision and observed the man who crashed into his neighbors’ vehicles attempt to flee the scene. The neighbor, Larry Chavez, 63, and two other neighbors gave chase and eventually caught up with the man.
“We held him down till one of the cops came,” Chavez told The Times. “He was so drunk.”
However, instead of conducting the DUI investigation, Ponce, 39, and Gomez, 38, lied in their police report and said that the drunk driver fled the scene when, in fact, they drove him home to his apartment and told him to sleep it off.
Following an internal affairs investigation, Ponce and Gomez were charged with felony filing a false police report and conspiracy to commit an act injurious to the public, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney.
Ponce’s attorney declined to comment. Gomez’s attorney, on the other hand, maintains that his client did nothing wrong.
“My client has an outstanding record, with an outstanding reputation for truth and honesty,” Gomez’ attorney, Ira Salzman told The Los Angeles Times. “She’s well-respected by her peers.”
If convicted, the officers face up to three years in jail.
There is a misconception that DUI defense attorneys condone drunk driving and anything that helps a drunk driver get off the hook is a good thing. I can speak for most DUI attorneys when I say that is absolutely not true. We want law enforcement to do their jobs, and we want the Constitution to be upheld, and we want the truth.
I do not applaud Ponce and Gomez’s actions. All I ask is that they investigate the DUI within the bounds of the law while maintaining the constitutional rights of the person suspected of driving under the influence.
The breathalyzer is the most commonly used method for testing the blood alcohol content of suspected drunk drivers in California. Yet, both myself and Lawrence Taylor have written on more than a few occasions about the inaccuracies of the breathalyzer. Such inaccuracies include, but are not limited to an inability to differentiate between blood alcohol and “mouth alcohol,” elevated temperatures causing elevated BAC readings, and certain diets causing elevated readings.
So can a person suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol in California challenge the accuracy of breathalyzers in court?
Notwithstanding the widely proven fact that breathalyzers are generally inaccurate, the California Supreme Court in 2013 ruled that scientific evidence refuting the accuracy of breathalyzers in general in California DUI cases are inadmissible.
The issue arose when a California trial court agreed with the prosecutor and excluded the testimony of a defense expert of Terry Vangelder who would have testified that breathalyzers, in general, can be inaccurate.
In 2007, California Highway Patrol pulled over Vangelder for allegedly going 125 miles per hour in San Diego. Although having admitted to consuming some alcohol, Vangelder passed field sobriety tests. Vangelder then agreed to a preliminary screening alcohol test (an optional roadside breathalyzer) which indicated that Vangelder’s blood alcohol content was 0.086 percent. Based on that, Vangelder was arrested and transported to the police station where he submitted to a chemical breath test (a required post-arrest breathalyzer). This breath test showed a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent. Vangelder then submitted to a blood test which indicated that his blood alcohol content of 0.087 percent.
At trial, Vangelder called Dr. Michael Hlastala, a leading authority on the inaccuracies of breathalyzers.
"They are (inaccurate)," Dr. Hlastala testified before the trial judge. "And primarily because the basic assumption that all of the manufacturers have used is that the breath that [is] measured is directly related to water in the lungs, which is directly related to what’s in the blood. And in recent years, we’ve learned that, in fact, that’s not the case."
The judge however, did not allow the testimony and Vangelder was found guilty. Vangelder appealed and the appellate court reversed the decision in 2011. San Diego City Attorney, Jan Goldsmith, then appealed the appellate court decision arguing that such testimony would undermine Californi’s a per se law making it illegal to drive 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or higher.
Unfortunately, the California Supreme Court sided with Goldsmith.
“[T]he 1990 amendment of the per se offense was specifically designed to obviate the need for conversion of breath results into blood results — and it rendered irrelevant and inadmissible defense expert testimony regarding partition ratio variability among different individuals or at different times for the same individual," Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye wrote for the court. "Whether or not that part of expired breath accurately reflects the alcohol that is present only in the alveolar region of the lungs, the statutorily proscribed amount of alcohol in expired breath corresponds to the statutorily proscribed amount of alcohol in blood, as established by the per se statute."
The Court went on to say that, “Although Dr. Hlastala may hold scientifically based reservations concerning these legislative conclusions, we must defer to and honor the legislature’s reasonable determinations made in the course of its efforts to protect the safety and welfare of the public."
I’m sorry, but I read that to say, “We recognize that science is important in determining the accuracy of breathalyzers, but we’re not going to undermine the legislature because of its good intent.”
Legislators are not scientists.
The effect of the decision was that people suspected of a California DUI can no longer offer evidence that breathalyzers, in general, are inaccurate. People suspected of a California DUI can, however, still challenge the accuracy of a particular breathalyzer.
Seems to me that the California Supreme Court doesn’t want accuracy in California DUI cases.
Law enforcement continues to be frustrated in trying to prove that a possibly impaired driver is under the influence of marijuana (so-called "stoned driving").
As recent posts on this blog have pointed out, the simple fact is that there is no scientifically valid method for measuring marijuana and its effect. The current method involves drawing a blood sample from the person after the suspect is arrested and analyzing it for marijuana — or, more accurately, for the presence and amounts of the active ingredient, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), in the blood.
But there are two primary problems with this. First, the marijuana measured may well be inactive and still present in the body from ingestion days or even weeks earlier. Second, there is no generally accepted scientific evidence as to what levels of THC can cause sufficient impairment to the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. See, for example, my previous post Identifying and Proving DUI Marijuana ("Stoned Driving").
The latest attempts for a quick-and-easy way to prove "stoned driving" involve developing a "marijuana breathalyzer" — a device that will test for THC on the breath, as is done for alcohol with current breathalyzers. To date, these have proven inaccurate and unreliable. See previous posts Can Breathalyzers Measure Marijuana? and Is a Marijuana Breathalyzer in the Offing?
Today, a company claims to have finally developed the long-hoped-for answer to law enforcement’s dilemma…
Pot Breathalyzer Hits the Street
U.S. News & World Report. Sept. 14 – American police have for the first time used a marijuana breathalyzer to evaluate impaired drivers, the company behind the pioneering device declared Tuesday, saying it separately confirmed its breath test can detect recent consumption of marijuana-infused food.
The two apparent firsts allow Hound Labs to move forward with plans to widely distribute its technology to law enforcement in the first half of next year, says CEO Mike Lynn. Lynn, an emergency room doctor in Oakland, California, also is a reserve officer with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and he helped pull over drivers in the initial field tests, none of whom were arrested after voluntarily breathing into the handheld contraption…
The technology, if all goes according to plan, will be welcomed by both sides of the pot legalization debate, those who fear drugged drivers and reformers outraged that pot users in some jurisdictions are subjectively detained and forced to undergo blood tests that don’t prove impairment, especially in frequent users….
There’s a two-part testing challenge now: confirming with laboratory equipment that the device gives accurate results, and then correlating specific measurements (given in picograms of THC) with levels of intoxication, a challenge that will include sending stoned drivers on an obstacle course — something already done informally….
Hound Labs, of course, isn’t the only company that sees an opening as U.S. states increasingly regulate sales of marijuana for recreational or medical use, but it is ahead of the curve, beating another company aiming to introduce a marijuana breathalyzer, Cannabix Technologies….
Hmmmm…..Might there a conflict of interest when the CEO is a reserve police officer involved in field testing his own product? And how can an indirect analysis of THC on the breath done in the field be more reliable and accurate than directly analyzing it in the blood in a laboratory?
Profit and politics has always trumped science and truth in the DUI field. See my post DUI Laws Overrule Scientific Truth.
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.
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.”
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?”
Of all the questions I get about what to do and what not to do during a California DUI stop, the question about whether a person has to give a breath sample after a DUI stop is among the most common of the questions.
Strangely enough, the answer is both “yes” and “no” depending on which breath sample we’re talking about.
When law enforcement pulls someone over, chances are they already think the person is driving under the influence. However, in order to arrest them for a California DUI, law enforcement needs probable cause. This means that the officers must have facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the person is driving drunk. In other words, the officers cannot just arrest someone on the hunch that the person is driving while under the influence. They need facts to suggest that the person is actually driving drunk.
The officers get the probable cause, or facts, through their own observations and when the driver performs and fails the field sobriety tests. In addition to the field sobriety tests that people typically think of, there is the preliminary screening alcohol (PAS) test. This is a roadside breathalyzer that is also considered a field sobriety test. And like the other field sobriety tests, the PAS test is optional. If the PAS test shows that a person has alcohol in their system, then the officers have the facts that would suggest that the person is driving under the influence.
According to California Vehicle Code section 23612(h), the PAS test “indicates the presence or concentration of alcohol based on a breath sample in order to establish reasonable cause to believe the person was driving [under the influence]…[it] is a field sobriety test and may be used by an officer as a further investigative tool.”
The officer who makes the stop, by law, must advise the person that the PAS test is optional. California Vehicle Code section 23612(i) states that “If the officer decides to use a [PAS], the officer shall advise the person that he or she is requesting that person to take a [PAS] test to assist the officer in determining if that person is under the influence. The person’s obligation to submit to a [chemical test under California’s Implied Consent Law] is not satisfied by the person submitting to a [PAS] test. The officer shall advise the person of that fact and of the person’s right to refuse to take the [PAS] test.”
If the PAS test detects alcohol in the person’s system, they’ll likely be arrested for a DUI. Once the person is arrested, they must take a chemical test which can either be a breath or a blood test according to California’s Implied Consent Law.
California Vehicle Code section 23612(a)(1)(A) sets forth the Implied Consent requirement. “A person who drives a motor vehicle is deemed to have given his or her consent to chemical testing of his or her blood or breath for the purpose of determining the alcohol content of his or her blood, if lawfully arrested for an offense allegedly committed in violation of [California’s DUI laws].”
In other words, if you’re licensed to drive in California, you have impliedly consented to give either a breath or a blood sample when you are lawfully arrested on suspicion of a California DUI.
The key word here is “lawfully” arrested. If the officer did not observe any poor driving and the person does not perform any field sobriety tests including the PAS test, the officer may not have the probable cause to arrest the person. And if the officer does not have probable cause that the person is driving under the influence, yet they arrest the person anyways, the arrest is no longer lawful.
When an arrest is unlawful, all evidence obtained after that arrest, including the results of the chemical test are inadmissible.
As you can see, it can be rather complicated. So simply put, you do not have to take the pre-arrest breathalyzer called the PAS test, but you do have to take a post-arrest chemical test which could include a breathalyzer.
Considering purchasing a personal breathalyzer? I’ve suggested it before as one of several ways to help prevent a DUI. What if knowing your blood alcohol content was a simple as slapping on a temporary tattoo? Well, researchers at the Center for Wearable Sensors at the University of California San Diego have created a removable electronic tattoo that detects the wearer’s BAC.
A team of researchers at the center were interested in a device that offered continued BAC monitoring which typical breathalyzer do not offer. The researchers also wanted to develop a BAC detector that could not be skewed by factors other than blood alcohol such as mouthwash, acid reflux, or alcohol residue in the mouth all of which affect typical breathalyzers.
The tattoo is similar to other devices sometimes mandated by the court as a condition of a California DUI sentence or a condition of being release without having to post bail pending the outcome of a California DUI case. At least in Southern California, the device is called a SCRAM device which passively tests “insensible” sweat, or trace amounts of sweat, excreted from a person’s skin. The SCRAM device is rather bulky and can be relatively expensive.
The tattoo, however, emits a drug called pilocarpine, which generates sweat. The tattoo then tests the sweat excreted from the skin as a result of administration of the pilocarpine for ethanol alcohol through sensors which are attached to the skin. However, unlike the SCRAM device, the temporary tattoo and sensors are attached to a flat, flexible circuit board that is about an inch in length. The circuit board then transmits the information to the wearer’s phone via Bluetooth.
One of the project scientists and professor of nanoengineering, Joseph Wang, has said that the tattoo device could be made even smaller than its current form with continued engineering. He added that, unlike the SCRAM device, the tattoo could cost a mere pennies to produce.
“We developed a new tattoo-based wearable alcohol sensor that enables real-time monitoring of blood alcohol level, overcoming limitations of conventional non-invasive alcohol sensors,” said Jayoung Kim, a co-author and PhD student at UCSD.
The tattoo comes at a time when law makers and law enforcement agencies are actively seeking more reliable and efficient ways to detect blood alcohol content.
Earlier this year, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which is part of the National Institute of Health, awarded $200,000 to San Francisco-based BACtrack for developing a bracelet-type device as the winner of its Wearable Alcohol Biosensor Challenge. BACtrack has produced a number of personal breathalyzers for consumer use.
Keith Nothacker, BACtrack’s founder and chief executive officer, said that the firm is working on bringing the winning sensor, called “Skyn,” to the consumer market for around $99 and offer a version that is integrated into a band for the Apple watch.
In a press release, Joseph Wang said that the primary purpose for developing the BAC-detecting temporary tattoo was to prevent drunk driving.
“Lots of accidents on the road are caused by drunk driving. This technology provides an accurate, convenient and quick way to monitor alcohol consumption to help prevent people from driving while intoxicated,” Wang said.
Hopefully soon the temporary tattoo will be available for consumer use. And maybe the BAC detecting tattoo will prevent, not just drunk driving, but also someone from getting so drunk that they get a real tattoo that they might regret the next morning.
A conviction in a drunk driving case depends, of course, on the accuracy and reliability of the blood or breath test administered to the suspect. And this depends upon the accuracy and reliability of the government’s crime laboratory — more specifically, on the honesty and skills of the crime lab technicians. It is the crime lab techs who analyze the blood tests, maintain and check the accuracy of the breath machines — and testify in trial.
It is, of course, assumed that these lab techs — who are usually working for the same government that is prosecuting the accused defendant — are objective and honest scientists, with no stake in the outcome. This is certainly what prosecutors reassure their juries.
But what if the crime labs have a financial interest in the outcome of the trial?
New Study Finds That State Crime Labs Are Paid Per Conviction
Huffington Post, Aug. 29, 2013 – I’ve previously written about the cognitive bias problem in state crime labs. This is the bias that can creep into the work of crime lab analysts when they report to, say, a state police agency, or the state attorney general. If they’re considered part of the state’s “team” — if performance reviews and job assessments are done by police or prosecutors — even the most honest and conscientious of analysts are at risk of cognitive bias. Hence, the countless and continuing crime lab scandals we’ve seen over the last couple decades. And this of course doesn’t even touch on the more blatant examples of outright corruption.
In a new paper for the journal Criminal Justice Ethics, Roger Koppl and Meghan Sacks look at how the criminal justice system actually incentivizes wrongful convictions. In their section on state crime labs, they discover some astonishing new information about how many of these labs are funded…
The author of this article, Radley Balko, then excerpts the following findings from that study (entitled "The Criminal Justice System Creates Incentives for False Convictions"):
Funding crime labs through court-assessed fees creates another channel for bias to enter crime lab analyses. In jurisdictions with this practice the crime lab receives a sum of money for each conviction of a given type. Ray Wickenheiser says, ‘‘Collection of court costs is the only stable source of funding for the Acadiana Crime Lab. $10 is received for each guilty plea or verdict from each speeding ticket, and $50 from each DWI (Driving While Impaired) and drug offense.’’
In Broward County, Florida, ‘‘Monies deposited in the Trust Fund are principally court costs assessed upon conviction of driving or boating under the influence ($50) or selling, manufacturing, delivery, or possession of a controlled substance ($100).’’
Several state statutory schemes require defendants to pay crime laboratory fees upon conviction. North Carolina General Statutes require, ‘‘[f]or the services of’’ the state or local crime lab, that judges in criminal cases assess a $600 fee to be charged ‘‘upon conviction’’ and remitted to the law enforcement agency containing the lab whenever that lab ‘‘performed DNA analysis of the crime, tests of bodily fluids of the defendant for the presence of alcohol or controlled substances, or analysis of any controlled substance possessed by the defendant or the defendant’s agent.’’
Illinois crime labs receive fees upon convictions for sex offenses, controlled substance offenses, and those involving driving under the influence. Mississippi crime labs require crime laboratory fees for various conviction types, including arson, aiding suicide, and driving while intoxicated.
Similar provisions exist in Alabama, New Mexico, Kentucky, New Jersey, Virginia, and, until recently, Michigan. Other states have broadened the scope even further. Washington statutes require a $100 crime lab fee for any conviction that involves lab analysis. Kansas statutes require offenders ‘‘to pay a separate court cost of $400 for every individual offense if forensic science or laboratory services or forensic computer examination services are provided in connection with the investigation.’’
In addition to those already listed, the following states also require crime lab fees in connection with various conviction types: Arizona, California, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
The Huffington Post author then concludes:
Think about how these fee structures play out in the day-to-day work in these labs. Every analyst knows that a test result implicating a suspect will result in a fee paid to the lab. Every result that clears a suspect means no fee. They’re literally being paid to provide the analysis to win convictions. Their findings are then presented to juries as the careful, meticulous work of an objective scientist.
Do you still think that a citizen accused of drunk driving can receive a fair trial? Or is this yet another example of "Bad Drunk Driving Laws, False Evidence and a Fading Constitution"?