April 2007

The day after I post about possible quotas in Austin DWI arrests, Lawrence Taylor notes that some officers get rewarded for making arrests, whether they result in convictions or not. Since Lawrence is the guru of DUI/DWI blogging out in California, I like to think great minds think alike, and that we are on the same wavelength. But, sticking to the theme, Skelly takes the cake by finding this example: the officer who makes the most DWI arrests wins a Pizza!

Allen Trapp at Georgia DUI Blog comments on a real life example of the low-carb diet producing false alcohol readings. [Low carb dieters generate increased levels of acetones, which the Intoxilyzer 5000 mistakes for alcohol.]

Allen and his blogging partner DUI Rob both comment on the FDA warning requirement for Ambien, Lunestra, etc in Sleep Driving post 1, and Sleep Driving post 2. And for those who thought my recent posts about Ambien DWI, and the Sleep Driving Defense were figments of a defense lawyer’s imagination…please read a well reasoned prosecutor’s perspective on the same issue. (Maybe DWI lawyers aren’t making it all up.)

Wretched of the Earth talks about voir dire in his first Felony DWI trial, specifically the number of folks on the panel who already had friends and family in the system. [And congrats on the win, as well!]

Orange County DUI Blog points out the ineffectiveness of roadblocks and checkpoints.

Kentucky DUI Lawyer Stephen Isaacs talks about the legislature’s attempts to quantify per se levels for DUI/ driving under the influence of drug cases.

Austin criminal defense attorney Keith Lauerman is often in the news for his high profile cases. Give him credit… first he blogs on the new Austin Police Department policy of taking blood by force in DWI cases. And then he follows it up with a post about the age old question…but how would you feel if you were on the other side?

Penny Umstattd-Cope has been ‘blawging’ for some time now at the Missouri Business Lawyer, and the Missouri Divorce Lawyer. She’s added the Missouri Criminal Defense Lawyer to her repertoire, blogging about, among other things, a recent decision by an appeals court denying a drivers license suspension based on the trial court’s determination of insufficient evidence of DWI.

And finally, let’s welcome Lawrence Koplow of Arizona DUI Central to the blogosphere as he writes his first post about points on Arizona’s Drivers Licenses and suspensions. [And kudos to Kevin and the usual gang of suspects at LexBlog for another good looking and professionally designed ‘blawg’.]

“Does the Austin DWI Task Force have arrest quotas?”

I get asked this semi-frequently by folks recently arrested for DWI. I can tell you that the officers will testify, under oath, that there is not.

And, depending on the definition of the word “quota”, that may or may not be true.

It’s almost definitely true that individual officers are not told “You need to make X number of DWI arrests tonight,” or “You must average Y number of arrests per week/month,” etc.

But I do remember** former Austin police chief Stan Knee being quoted in an Austin American Statesman article, March 4th, 2006 as saying:

“This community needs to take seriously driving while impaired…We will make 6,000 DWI arrests in 2006.”

Bear in mind that the article itself had just acknowledged that fewer than 6000 DWI arrests were made in Austin for 2005. I think you can make a pretty good argument that the chief of police was coming pretty close to not just predicting, but mandating an increase in arrests.

What’s the difference between telling one individual officer “You must make an average of 5 DWI arrests per shift,” vs. predicting not only an increase, but a threshold level of expected arrests for the department as a whole? Just a little math and some semantics, I suppose.

[**I usually link to sources, but unfortunately, the Statesman free archive does not go back far enough. Anyone caring to pay a “small fee” to access the article can do so here.]

David Rauf’s article in today’s Austin American StatesmanLawmakers seek to curb drunken driving; Opponents worry about racial profiling” highlights 3 pieces of DWI legislation now pending:

#1) DWI Roadblocks/Checkpoints

#2) Ignition Interlock for First Time DWI in Texas, and

#3) Creating a Presumption of Guilt for DWI in Texas

The legislators in Austin are presented with multiple bad ideas on the DWI front – and I’ve had to break them up into 3 separate posts.

From today’s Austin American Statesman article about an unsuccessful attempt to reverse the presumption of innocence for DWI cases in Texas:

A third proposal would have simplified the method used for determining a person’s blood-alcohol content at the time he or she was driving.

The proposal, House Bill 915, by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, would have specified that if a driver’s blood-alcohol content is higher than the legal limit of 0.08 within 90 minutes of being pulled over, the driver would be considered intoxicated.

"Right now, the problem is you have to prove they were intoxicated while driving," Aycock said. [Emphasis Mine]

So it’s a problem that the State has to meet their burden of proving guilt beyond all reasonable doubt? A problem that can be fixed with some legislation?

Fortunately, this bill was voted down by the House Law Enforcement Committee. I’ve written previously about the “Rising BAC defense” that is available to some DWI defendants in Texas. Being over .08 at the time of the breath test does not necessarily mean you were over .08 at the time of driving.

But some lawmakers objected to “forcing” the State to prove their case, so they attempted to create a presumption that any breath test within 90 minutes of driving would automatically do the trick.

David Gonzalez, counsel for TCDLA and also a local Austin DWI lawyer hit the nail on the head when he…

…said the bill would create a presumption of guilt.

"What that really means is, we need to make it easy for convictions, and when science and other things get in the way, let’s disregard them," Gonzalez said.

Politicians can’t change the science of breath or blood alcohol testing…and Texans should continue to object to illogical manipulations of DWI statutes.

From today’s Austin American Statesman:

House Bill 934 by Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, would require first-time offenders in driving while intoxicated cases to use an ignition interlock device in their vehicles. The driver must blow into the device to have his or her blood alcohol content measured. The car will not start if the driver is legally intoxicated.

Under current Texas law, judges are allowed to use discretion in requiring ignition interlock for first-time offenders.

Opponents of the measure say the bill will strip judges of their discretion.

Fellow Austin DWI Attorney Ken Gibson recently commented on this idea on KXAN’s coverage of this bill:

Gibson said it’s the repeat offenders who need ignition interlocks, and requiring them for first-time offenders is a result of aggressive lobbying by the manufacturers.

"Ignition interlock is a multi, multi-million dollar business, and to require everybody to have them in their cars is going to increase their business by a thousand times," Gibson said.

Ken’s right, of course, that the folks that make money installing Ignition Interlocks lobby hard for these types of measures.

And I can add this: most of the people that come to my office after an Austin DWI arrest aren’t alcoholics. Putting aside for now those that aren’t guilty of DWI to start off with, many are primarily my clients for making a one time bad judgment.

And don’t forget that the costs and penalties involved for first time DWI convictions in Texas are already punitive. This pending legislation is a classic example of politicians pandering to knee-jerk reactions, rather than real problems.

From today’s Austin American Statesman:

Senate Bill 59, written by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, gives police the authority to set up temporary sobriety checkpoints. The roadside barricades haven’t been legal in Texas since 1994. A state court of appeals ruled them unconstitutional because the Legislature had not developed guidelines to ensure they were being conducted legally.

The bill would add (literally) a new chapter to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure entitled “Sobriety Checkpoints”. This sort of legislation often sounds like a good idea at first…I mean, let’s get those drunks off the roads, right?

But make no mistake about though…this bill will authorize the police to stop vehicles without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.  Non legal mumbo-jumbo translation?… The cops will be able to stop you for any reason, or for no reason at all.

They will then be allowed, after the fact, to “develop” probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed.

Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court has long ago ruled that DWI roadblocks can be constitutional, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has so far not allowed them. This is truly a slippery slope folks…be careful what you wish for.  It’s not to late to tell your representatives you oppose this.

Dr. Greg Kane at Med-Mal Experts has published an excellent 3 part series on the flawed math that NHTSA uses to calculate “accuracy rates” for the Field Sobriety Tests. These papers were originally published in the Colorado Trial Lawyer’s Association magazine Trial Talk, and are now reproduced on Kane’s website “The predictive value of the NHTSA’s Standardized Field Sobriety Tests”.

Ultimately, Kane answers the question that all DWI lawyers need to be asking: What does it really mean when the officer testifies that “failure” of the field sobriety tests means there is a 93% chance that the defendant was intoxicated? How did NHTSA come up with that number…and is it meaningful?

From Kane’s site:

Around the country, DUI defense attorneys form organizations, give seminars and share trial strategies to overcome FST evidence. Prosecutors do the same, from the other direction. The two sides bicker about mechanics. Did the officer follow procedure exactly? Did the officer consider medical conditions that cause incoordination?

What no one does, as far as I can tell, is doubt the NHTSA "validation" contractors’ analysis of what a mechanically meticulous coordination test actually implies about alcohol impairment. The driver failed the FST. No one asks, "Exactly what does that mean?"

I have to admit that he’s right. DWI defense lawyers and prosecutors tend to argue back in forth about whether the officer administered the tests properly. And any good DWI lawyer better know the NHTSA manual back and forth, so that when he watches the videotape of his client on the scene, he can evaluate the officer’s performance as well as his client’s.

But is it possible that we in the DWI defense bar have been missing the forest for the trees? I’ve digested the first paper thoroughly, and frankly, am truly excited about Kane’s work in these areas. As soon as I make it through the next two, I’ll post more on this subject.

That depends on whether it’s a misdemeanor or a felony. First and Second Offense DWIs in Texas are Class B, and Class A Misdemeanors, respectively. Third Offense DWI (and above) are Felonies.

Chapter 12 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure covers all of the limitations periods for prosecution in Texas. 

All misdemeanors in Texas have a 2 year statute of limitations, including DWI. Felony DWIs fall under the “regular” 3 year statute of limitations.

I was arrested for the first time ever last weekend for DWI. The police officer stated I didn’t come to a complete stop at a stop sign and that’s why he pulled me over. I thought I did OK on the field sobriety tests but was arrested. Scared and nervous, but I did about as well as I could have on the tests.

At the police station I blew a 0.09. Just a fraction over the limit. I personally knew I was OK to drive the two miles home, but the law is the law.

I cooperated with the officer and did what he asked.

I have two questions: First, the officer did not put on my seat belt after I was placed in the cruiser; second, I was never read my rights. Could these two issues help me in my case?

By the way, I have never been in trouble in my life – ever, and I have clean driving record. I am also 44 yrs old. Any thoughts?

I have several thoughts; let me address some of the un-asked questions first.

I recently posted about the “Rising BAC” defense, and it’s possible it could apply in your case. As you acknowledge, barely over the limit is still over the limit…but the State must prove either (a) loss of the normal use of your mental and/or physical faculties, i.e. impairment or (b) having a breath or blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher at the time of driving.

Depending on how long it was from the time of the stop until the time of the breath test, it may be arguable that you were under .08 at the time of driving (or, as the law phrases it: “while operating a motor vehicle in a public place”).

Polite and cooperative is always a good fact as well. Most police officers will acknowledge that “some people you have arrested for DWI become quite belligerent and rude”. I like to phrase it as “some people” on cross examination, because frankly, that’s probably the best you can get out of the officer, and anyway, a jury will know that not all who are “drunk” will be impolite.

As I said in the previous post, doing reasonable well on the field sobriety tests is a prerequisite to getting a dismissal, reduction of charges, or not guilty on an “over .08 breath test DWI” case. Sounds like you may have done well on them – obviously, will have to wait to see the video of the tests to know for sure.

The video will also show whether the officer asked questions about when your first and last drink were consumed, when your last meal was, and other questions potentially necessary for the State to prove “over .08 at time of driving”.

As for your actual questions, I don’t think either of those will provide you with a defense. Not seat-belting you in properly sounds like a bad idea; perhaps it’s an indication that he might be a rookie, maybe it shows that he’s sloppy, and that sloppiness might carry over into his grading of your performance on the FSTs. But that’s (1) a bit of stretch, and (2) definitely not the kind of technicality that would make a judge grant a Motion to Suppress the Evidence, or throw your case out.

I’ll post later about DWI officers not reading Miranda warnings to those arrested for DWI (it deserves a post of its own). But suffice it to say here that most officers don’t read DWI defendant’s their rights, nor do they need to.

Statements made by a defendant in response to questioning from an officer after they have been placed under arrest for any offense, without the Miranda warnings are potentially suppressible. But, in most DWI cases, all the evidence gathered against you is taken in the “investigation phase” (most of what you told the officer was before he even administered the tests to you – never mind cuffed you and stuck you in the back of his car).

Thus, the Miranda warnings do not usually apply in DWI cases.

As for never being in trouble before? The prosecutors don’t so much give you credit for lack of a prior record, as they give you grief (and enhanced penalties, fines, jail time, etc.) for it being the second time around.