Articles Posted in Case Summaries

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June requiring warrants for blood tests for drivers suspected of DUI has continued to have repercussions throughout the United States. Now the Minnesota Supreme Court has decided that police cannot compel a driver to provide a urine sample for a DUI test unless they have a warrant. This ruling could set a precedent that dramatically changes the way that police in California handle cases of DUI in Los Angeles and other jurisdictions.MN-supreme-court

The Minnesota Supreme Court handed down a unanimous ruling in two cases: State v. Thompson and State V. Trahan. (Two justices did abstain, however.) In the Thompson case, the judges rejected arguments that a urine test is just part of a Constitutionally-valid search that police can conduct when they arrest someone.

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Court rulings and new laws in other states don’t have an immediate impact on California DUI laws and the outcome of arrests for DUI in Los Angeles.  But it’s always interesting to take a look and see how other states are dealing with challenges and updates to DUI law.TennLegislature-DUI-law-debate

•    The Tennessee State Legislature has taken the extraordinary step of going into special session to amend a law that they passed that raised the BAC limit for 18 to 20-year olds to 0.08 percent.  The legislature had reasoned that since the new penalties for drivers in that age group were the same as for drivers over 21, the BAC limits should be the same. But that put them in conflict with federal law, which mandates a 0.02 limit for those under 21. Since the federal government threatened to withhold federal highway construction funds from the state, the state legislature had to hold a special session (at a cost of at least $75,000) to amend its law and bring it into conformity with federal law. (The federal government refused to waive an October 1st deadline to allow the state to amend the law at its next scheduled legislative session in January 2017.)

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Suppose a police officer asks someone suspected of a DUI in Los Angeles to consent to a test to measure the blood alcohol content in their body. If the blood test turns up evidence of drug usage—which the officer did not mention in his request for that blood test—can the state use those results to win a DUI conviction?xanax-Alprazolam-DUI-los-angeles

The Minnesota Supreme Court recently addressed a similar question in a ruling in a 2014 DWI case. According to a report by Minnesota Public Radio, police requested a warrant to draw Debra Fawcett’s blood after she ran a red light and caused a two-vehicle crash. Fawcett admitted to drinking a few beers earlier in the day.

The test results showed that Fawcett’s blood was alcohol free. However, they also revealed that she had THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) and Alprazolam in her bloodstream. (Physicians often prescribe Alprazolam, better known by its trade name Xanax, for anxiety disorders.) Fawcett did have a valid prescription for the drug.

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If a driver is under age 21 in California, state law (Vehicle Code 23140) makes it easier for prosecutors to convict them of DUI in Los Angeles. Instead of the typical blood alcohol content measurement of 0.08 required for a DUI conviction, California’s DUI law lowers that standard to 0.01 for someone under age 21. This law complies with federal requirements, which set the BAC standard for underage drivers to 0.02.under-21-los-angeles-DUI

Tennessee used to comply with those standards as well. But a new law—actually intended to make the state’s drunk driving penalties tougher—raised the BAC standard to 0.08 for all drivers in the state. Lawmakers thought they were simply making the law consistent for all adults over age 18, but the change has threatened the state’s federal road funding.

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For some people, one charge of DUI in Los Angeles is enough to make them resolve they will never again drive under the influence. They never want to go through the humiliating experience of arrest, a bond hearing and a court trial again. There are others, however, who never seem to get the message no matter how many times they go to court, pay fines or spend time in jail. los-angeles-dui-repeat-offenses

KDVR in Denver reports on one Colorado man who has somehow escaped jail time despite the fact that he’s had seven DUI arrests and five convictions. Albert Torres’ most recent DUI arrest came last November, when he ran a red light and nearly hit a police car. In July, a judge accepted the 45-year-old’s plea deal, which will require him to serve a year on work release and three years’ probation.

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It’s rare for drivers to file suit when prosecutors or a judge dismiss a charge of DUI in Los Angeles. In Bozeman, Montana, however, a man once charged with felony vehicular homicide in his wife’s death is seeking his day in court. DUI-manslaughter-los-angeles

According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, prosecutors had accused Michael Soule of killing his wife, Jennifer Soule, in a January 2012 crash. They alleged that he had been driving his truck up to 103 miles per hour on I-90 and that his blood alcohol content was 0.231. The charges also stated that Soule had marijuana and cocaine in his system.

In 2013, before the case came to trial, Soule took a plea agreement that allowed him to avoid jail time. But Gallatin County District Court Judge Mike Salvagni refused to accept the plea, and Soule withdrew his agreement. When the case came before Judge Salvagni, he dismissed the charges, saying that Montana Highway Patrol troopers had failed to preserve evidence; they had performed a warrantless search of Michael Soule’s hospital room; and they had taken photos of his injuries without permission from his family or the hospital. He also noted that the Montana state crime lab’s official BAC test showed that Soule’s BAC measured 0.07, which is under the legal limit. While a urine screening at the hospital turned up positive for marijuana and cocaine, the state police never did a blood alcohol test to confirm those findings.

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Drivers who lose their licenses after a conviction for DUI in Los Angeles have several alternative forms of transportation they can use to get around. But if they’ve been drinking to the point of intoxication, one choice they don’t want to make is getting on a bicycle. Under California Vehicle Code 21200.5, riding a bicycle under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a misdemeanor; while the maximum fine ($250) is a lot lower than it is for driving a motor vehicle under the influence, anyone arrested for this offense may still lose their driver’s license.DUI-bicycling-in-los-angeles

But the State of Kansas doesn’t take the same dim view of riding a bicycle while intoxicated. A recent story in the Wichita Eagle noted that under state law, devices moved by human power aren’t considered vehicles, so the laws on DUI don’t apply. In the City of Wichita, however, ordinances do define bicycles as vehicles, so the city’s DUI laws do apply. Operating a bicycle under the influence of drugs or alcohol in Wichita can get you two days in jail or 100 hours of community service plus fines ranging from $750 to $1,000 for a first offense.

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Is an arrest for a DUI in Los Angeles valid if the arresting officer happens to be from San Francisco? If the California Supreme Court had the same reaction as the Supreme Court in Georgia, the accused DUI driver would go free.
According to 41 NBC in Macon, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled on June 20th that police officers in that state can’t make arrests outside of their jurisdictions. The case that prompted that decision involved the arrest of Bajrodin Silke for DUI by Officer Decari Mason, a Kennewa State University police officer who was POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training Council) certified.

Back Row L-R David Nahmias, Robert Benham, Carol Hunstein, Keith Blackwell and Harold Melton. Front Row L-R Presiding Justice Harris Hines and Chief Justice Hugh Thompson. Handout Photo 7-14-2014

Back Row L-R David Nahmias, Robert Benham, Carol Hunstein, Keith Blackwell and Harold Melton. Front Row L-R Presiding Justice Harris Hines and Chief Justice Hugh Thompson. Handout Photo 7-14-2014

Mason was on his way back to the University on May 5, 2013, but 10 miles off campus when he noticed Zilke was swerving in and out of his lane and driving without lights. He pulled Zilke over and noticed that the young man smelled of alcohol, had bloodshot eyes and was unsteady on his feet. Zilke, who said he had drunk two beers, blew into a breathalyzer which registered .08, which is just at the state limit for DUI. Mason charged him with two counts of DUI and operating a vehicle without lights.

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The Golden State already has many laws dealing with DUI in Los Angeles and its other cities. But state legislators are often looking for ways to refine those statutes with the goal of reducing the number of DUI incidents even further.
IID-device-losangeledDUI
For the past several years, Los Angeles, Alameda, Tulare and Sacramento counties have required anyone convicted of a DUI—even first time offenders—to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on their vehicles. According to a study released in December 2015 by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, interlocks prevented 1,900 DUI driving incidents per month in California.

Many legislators want to extend the IID requirement to the entire state, and they are halfway towards achieving that goal. On May 31st, the Senate unanimously passed SB 1046, which requires anyone convicted of DUI in California to install the IID. That bill now goes to the California Assembly, and MADD has promised to lobby for it extensively.

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Changes to California’s DUI laws can affect hundreds or even thousands of drivers accused of DUI in Los Angeles.
To that point, consider the big legal dust up currently transpiring in the Show Me state. Missouri legislators recently ended their 2016 legislative session without addressing a typo in regulations regarding calibration of breathalyzers used to measure blood alcohol content. The regulations, written by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, should have read that breathalyzers had to be calibrated to 0.10 percent, 0.08 percent OR 0.04 percent. missouri-dui-law-typo-los-angeles-dui-lawyer-reports

Instead the regulations said that the calibration had to be to 0.10 percent, 0.08 percent AND 0.04 percent.

The regulations were in effect from December 30, 2013 until April 2014, when the DHHS corrected the error. Missouri’s Supreme Court ruled that drivers charged with DUI during that time could get their breathalyzer results thrown out as evidence, if the instrument had not been calibrated at all three levels.

According to local reports, however, the court suggested a way that the state legislature could fix the issue. While the Missouri Senate and the Missouri House of Representatives had actually both passed laws to that effect, these different bills were never reconciled.

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