Here’s a good reason – if you needed one in the first place – not to shop for lawyers on big referral sites. This gem comes from ZipcodeZ.com. Bear in mind that they are supposedly trying to sell you on the value of using one of the lawyers that has paid to be listed on their site:

At first glance, it may seem like a lawyer who represents drunk drivers is the biggest slime ball on the face of the earth, but the truth is not that simple. 

 

“Notthat simple”. Apparently it’s close. But not quite accurate. Later on we learn that…

 

…on the slimier side of things, DUI lawyers can and do get cases thrown out of court when the police or the prosecution fail to follow procedure.  While it may seem horrible that actual drunk drivers go unpunished, it is important to keep in mind that all citizens have rights whether or not they have broken the law. 

 

True. Plus here’s a big one you left out: some folks that get arrested for DWI aren’t actually guilty because they weren’t intoxicated.

 

That’s what happens when police departments institute an arrest-everyone-and-sort-it-out-later policy.

 

[Update: Taking a look at the lawyers listed for Austin in this particular internet directory I’m actually fairly certain that not all of them – and perhaps none of them – are paying for this listing. Still the point remains the same. That is …assuming I had one.]

From Chapter 12 of Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland:

‘Let the jury consider their verdict,’ the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

‘No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first – verdict afterwards.’

‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first!’

‘Hold your tongue!’ said the Queen, turning purple.

‘I won’t!’ said Alice.

‘Off with her head!’ the Queen shouted at the top of her voice.

“Sentence first, verdict afterwards” is a classic line for criminal defense lawyers. Fellow Austin lawyer Leon Grizzard said it to me in court not less than a month ago. It popped back into my head when I read this story about a DWI case in the Houston Chronicle:

On the afternoon of the third day, the jury retired to consider its verdict. And that’s when it got interesting.

While the jury was out, according to Price and her attorney, Paul LaValle, the judge started talking about what the sentence would be when the jury came back with a guilty verdict.

Then the judge decided she wanted Price to immediately take a drug screen urine test and ordered the bailiff to contact the Pretrial Services facility in the courthouse to arrange it.

The judge also said if Price tested positive, the results would be given to the jury, says LaValle…

So far, we only have a judge manufacturing extra punishment evidence for the prosecution. It’s a little out of the ordinary… but wait, it gets better:

Before the drug test could be arranged, the jury returned with its verdict.

Not guilty.

Price wasn’t surprised. She said she felt the video clearly demonstrated that she wasn’t drunk. Still, she was relieved. She was free.

Or so she thought. But Judge Johnson had different ideas. Having ordered the drug test, she instructed the bailiff to take Price away for the drug test.

That’s right. Over the defense lawyer’s objections this acquitted defendant was ordered to go take a drug test and then even forced to pay for it. For all the problems in Federal Court with taking acquitted conduct into account for increasing punishment, at least you have to be convicted of something.

So I guess we have to rearrange the saying. It’s not sentence first, verdict afterwards, it’s

Not Guilty First… Then the Sentence

Even better.  After all, if you’ve prejudged what the defendant should get before the jury comes back, it wouldn’t be logical to let the jury’s decision stand in your way. 

[Hat Tips: AHCL, Underdog & Blue Carp]

Even as Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo prepares to ‘train’ his officers to forcibly take blood from Travis County DWI suspects, a judge in Tarrant County has ruled that prosecutors may not use blood results from forcible blood draws done by improperly trained cops.

And, as of now, that appears to be all police officers. 

In my previous post, I predicted that Acevedo’s attempts to ‘train’ his police officers to take blood from DWI suspects that refuse a breath test would run into some legal problems: primarily that they wouldn’t meet the legal standards laid out in Texas Transportation Code Section 724.017 and would therefore be subject to a motion to suppress the test results.

As Robert Guest points out:

These cops had some EMT training. However, the law states that EMTs aren’t qualified.

Police should not be drawing blood.

First, they have a vested interest in convicting the defendant, not attending to medical needs.

Second, if the cop actually kills or injures someone they have near complete immunity.

Finally, State law includes breath, blood, and urine for evidence of intoxication. What if the police start getting breath/urine warrants?

Ok. So the last one is not likely (yet). However, we don’t want police playing nurse anymore than we want nurses driving the SWAT tank.

In the comments to the local Austin story about “No Refusal Weekends” many local citizens complained that the police would open themselves to civil liability if Acevedo’s plan was implemented. Actually, I think Guest is right: it would be difficult to mount a successful civil lawsuit.

But while I love the nurses & SWAT tanks line, I’m not as confident as he is that forced urine tests are so impossible. Painful? Orwellian? Perhaps.

But then again, they could be coming to a city near you

Austin is the only Austin in Texas. Or, as the saying goes, “When you leave Austin, you enter Texas”.

And Austin has reacted – albeit in a non-statistically significant way – to the news that our Police Chief announced that he intends to stick it to every DWI arrestee that refuses a breath sample. As in stick a needle in their arm and draw blood.

And furthermore, he’s going to have police officers doing the sticking. Yes, again, with the needle. They’ll be trained though. They’re not trained now – but he’ll get ‘em up to speed.

KXAN ran a story on it, and included a link in their webpage. The type of webpage that allows comments. And Austin commented.

At last count, there were over 50 commenters, and here’s how the pros and cons ran:

4 folks thought it was a great idea.

1 person I categorized as ‘neutral’ although, that’s generous because what he said was:

Don’t see a problem, except Officers should not be drawing the blood. The nurse at the jail can do it. Taking blood is a risky thing, and only a trained professional should do it. This not what cops should be doing.

Mr. Neutral didn’t read the story fully, because the story is about cops sticking the needle in. At any rate, I counted him as neutral because on some level he didn’t ‘see a problem’ with it.

The overwhelming majority said it was a bad idea. 46 commenters – out of 51 total – were against it.

A smattering of the con comments?

  1. This guy [Acevedo] has got to go.
  2. Maybe the cops will also perform surgery on accident victims. That would save a lot of money on doctors.
  3. We all know government agencies want an inch but take 100 miles. APD’s intentions may seem like a good idea, but eventually leads to more government control and less individual rights. Are we are all guilty until proven innocent?
  4. What’s next body cavity searches at a traffic stop?
  5. What happened to the Bill of Rights?
  6. This is the exact thing that our forefathers sought to protect us from.
  7. This is insane. This kind of precedent can lead to a very scary future.

My personal favorite? It’s a tie:

  1. I dont drink, but I don’t care for this idea. I hate blood tests more than I hate beets.
  2. Nothing scarier than a redneck cop with a mouth full of Copenhagen and a needle.

On a more serious note, KXAN has picked up on this ‘vibe’ with their story today about ‘Groups react to APD’s proposal’ and will be broadcasting a follow up story in less than 45 minutes. Looking forward to it.

KXAN ran a story tonight about Austin Chief of Police Art Acevedo’s plan to do away with breath test refusals in Austin DWI cases:

"My intent in the future is to make it so there is no such thing as a refusal. You can refuse all you want, but we are going to aggressively seek search warrants," said Acevedo.
           
The search warrant would give an officer the right to stick a needle in your arm to get a blood alcohol level, replacing the job of a jail nurse.
           
"It’s about saving money for the taxpayer. If I have an officer that’s already involved in a case, they’re already going to be going to court. Come to find out, the defense attorneys around here are telling people not to give them a test," said Acevedo.

Ouch – literally.  My friend and fellow Austin DWI lawyer Ken Gibson is quoted in the story as well:

"Folks that are exercising their right shouldn’t be afraid, that by doing so, ‘Bubba Police Officer’ may stick them in the arm," said Austin DWI attorney Ken Gibson.
           
Gibson said police officers shouldn’t play nurse as well.
           
"The officer’s going to have a liability if they don’t do it right. The city’s going to have a liability if they don’t do it right. In today’s times of AIDS and hepatitis and everything else, police officers don’t want to be out sticking needles in people," said Gibson.

Kenny’s got a point.

First, there’s no way that APD is going to be able to train police officers to be physicians, chemists, registered professional nurses or licensed vocational nurses. So that means Acevedo is going to have to find a way to train them to be ‘qualified technicians’ – the only other category of person allowed to take blood in a DWI case by statute. (See Texas Transportation Code 724.017.)

The law specifically says that emergency medical personnel do not meet the definition of ‘qualified technicians’ so who knows what training Acevedo thinks he can put his officers through to get them to meet the requirements of the statute. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Second, take a look at the last line of 724.017 (b):

This subsection does not relieve a person from liability for negligence in the taking of a blood specimen.

Acevedo knows a thing or two about civil lawsuits against police departments, so he might want to make sure he knows what he’s getting into on this one.

[I guess it could be worse…]

Update: Below the Fold

Continue Reading Forced Blood Draws Coming To Austin in DWI Cases

Blogging from the Rusty Duncan seminar, and listening to San Antonio DWI lawyer George Scharmen give an excellent presentation on the Field Sobriety Tests yesterday.

One interesting tidbit. Scharmen argued that while of course you must cross the officer about the 6 out of 6 (isn’t it always all 6 clues?) on the Horizontal Gaze Nystagamus, it’s not important to go on and on about it. In fact, it may give it more effect than the jury would otherwise.

Scharmen said – and my notes are skimpy here – he asks about how the officer is only trained by another officer, not a medical professional; impeaches the officer if necessary with the manual where he has made errors in administration, eg. Holding the stimulus for less than 4 seconds at maximum deviation; asks why the results weren’t reproduced for the jury by placing the subject in front of the vehicle to put the HGN on tape, and then…

“I mostly leave it alone”.

[Scharmen asks more than those 3 or 4 questions of course; he’s just saying he deemphasizes it by doing an effective short cross on it where he can.]

I’m at the Rusty Duncan seminar in San Antonio, and news comes by way of the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association listserv that Austin DWI lawyer Bill Mange just got a Not Guilty verdict on a .12 breath test trial back in Travis County. I heard the jury came back in just under an hour.

Congrats Bill.

I knew you were on to something when I walked into County Court Number 7 yesterday and saw an Intoxilyzer sitting in the middle of the courtroom with a “Defendant’s Exhibit #6” sticker on it.

I assume you’ll be getting that back, eh?

Prosecutor Western Justice has an amusing – so amusing it’s possibly fake? – video up on his website from a DWI arrest. Basically, it’s the falling over type.

WJ introduces the video with this thought:

Defense attorneys always make a big deal that the walk and turn test is on an imaginary line! (gasp). Well, even though it really does not matter if it is an imaginary line or an actual line, here is another reason why some police officers use an imaginary line.

Well, yes, defense attorneys do ‘make a big deal’ about that, and let’s talk about why.

Police officers come into court and testify that attending a Field Sobriety Testing course taught by another police officer makes them an expert in DWI, and juries generally believe them.

In return, DWI lawyers ask jurors to believe the manual from the training the officer received. Seems like a fair bargain.

One common misconception that I see over and over on the part of officers, up to and including some of the local Austin DWI task force officers, is the belief that book doesn’t require that a designated actual line be used.

If asked why the defendant was asked to walk an imaginary line instead of an actual line, most officers reply – some smugly – that ‘the manual’, that is the NHTSA manual, doesn’t require it. Some offer to show the defense lawyer exactly where in the book it says they don’t have to use an actual line.

Invariably, the officer will flip the pages and find this portion of the manual:

Procedures for Walk and Turn Testing

1. Instructions Stage: Initial Positioning and Verbal Instructions

For standardization in the performance of this test, have the suspect assume the heel-to-toe stance by giving the following verbal instructions, accompanied by demonstrations:

“Place your left foot on the line” (real or imaginary). Demonstrate.

[I’m taking this from the February 2006 Edition, Student Manual, page VIII-9 from Session VIII: Concepts and Principles of the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. It should be in Chapter 8 of most or all other manuals.]

That certainly looks at first blush as if the manual says there’s no difference between the difficulty between walking an actual line, or walking an imaginary line. Although, it literally begs the question, “Officer, how wide a line did my client imagine?”

But no. The officer who so testifies is wrong. (Sorry, WJ, you’re wrong too.)

Flip the page once more – VIII-11 in the one I’m reading now – and you come to the part entitled:

4. Test Conditions

Walk-and-Turn test [sic] requires a designated straight line, and should be conducted on a reasonable dry, hard, level, nonslippery surface.

Requires. So, how to explain the seeming discrepancy? Easy.

The first section is talking about “Verbal Instructions” and is clearly labeled so. It is the Instructions Stage. That means… it is talking about the portion of the test where the officer demonstrates the Walk and Turn to the suspect.

So, going by the book, it’s perfectly OK for the officer to show the defendant how to do the test on his own imaginary line if he wants to do it that way. Heck, we all know they don’t even have to demonstrate all 9 steps. They are allowed to do it that way.

But the NHTSA Manual makes no bones about it: if this test is going to be administered properly, then the defendant is supposed to be afforded the opportunity to do it on an actual line. It is literally: required. And yes, that’s a potentially reasonable explanation for someone stepping ‘off the line’ – it wasn’t there in the first place.

Perhaps WJ’s point was that sometimes the defendant is so obviously impaired that it wouldn’t make any difference whether there was an actual line or not. And yes, I have represented more of my fair share of those types of cases.

But as for defense lawyers insisting that their DWI clients be graded properly… I don’t see anything wrong with that.

You can click the topics and tags in this blog to see my various thoughts on the over-punishment of DWI convictions in Texas. For ‘just a class B misdemeanor’ it’s inarguably the most penal of anything else in that category in the Penal Code.

And in general that’s a fair and relevant subject for DWI bloggers to write about.

Near the top of my list of DWI blogs on my RSS reader is Lawrence Taylor’s granddaddy-of-em-all DWI blog, simply titled “DUI Blog”. (Those Californians call it D-U-I.) Taylor’s blog is aptly subtitled “Bad Drunk Driving Laws, False Evidence and a Fading Constitution”.

Taylor always does a great job of bringing us the latest and greatest in ridiculous DWI/DUI prosecution moments. See for example his recent post: DUI  – While Walking a Bicycle.

And so with great anticipation I click on an even newer post titled “First DUI = West Point Expulsion + 1 year in Prison”. Here are his intro remarks on the article:

As Draconian as DUI penalties have become, one would nevertheless hope that the offense would not destroy the accused’s life, at least for a first offense.  Increasingly, one would be wrong…

Great another example of Lawrence’s niche topic, which I will sum up as “MADD has driven us all mad”. And of course he’s right – most of the time – first time DWI penalties are too stiff, and this one sounds ridiculous.

Here’s what Lawrence cut and pasted from the news article:

A U.S, Military Academy cadet was found guilty of drunken driving by a military judge and sentenced to dismissal from the U.S. Army yesterday.

The verdict came less than three weeks before Dixon was due to graduate with the class of 2008.

Dixon was formally charged in December with violating two articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice: drunken and reckless operation of a vehicle, and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman…

The judge sentenced Dixon to one year and one month confinement, dismissal from the Army and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

Well, that certainly fits the bill. Perhaps getting kicked out of West Point is appropriate, perhaps it’s not – but one year is waaaay to high a punishment for “just a DUI” – especially a first time offense. Unreasonable, capricious, arbritary, unfair, in other words: great material for a DWI blog.

There were a couple of things that didn’t ring 100% true to me though. Number one, although I’m no expert on Military law nor what gets you kicked out of West Point, I thought conduct unbecoming an officer was a little odd for a DUI. That might actually be true and I’ll try to check on it with my military defense lawyer friends over the next few days. I’ll report back if anything comes of it.

But number two was the ellipsis. I use – or perhaps overuse – parentheses, dashes and all sorts of unnecessary punctuation. But the dot-dot-dot after the next to last paragraph preceding the part about punishment. What could it be? Well here’s that portion of the original article with the quoted paragraphs before and after:

Dixon was formally charged in December with violating two articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice: drunken and reckless operation of a vehicle, and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.

Dixon allegedly fled the scene and giving a false official statement after being involved in a drunken driving accident while on temporary duty in Maryland last July.

The judge sentenced Dixon to one year and one month confinement, dismissal from the Army and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

[Emphasis Added]

Ah.  That explains a lot now doesn’t it? Sounds like ‘conduct unbecoming’ and theoretically would justify a higher sentence. A defense lawyer could certainly argue that the sentence here was still too high, given all the facts, but hiding that and pretending this is the wave of the future for first time DWI sentencing?

Stick to the facts and don’t embellish, even by omission. DWI penalties are indeed too high as is. Don’t lose credibility by getting caught in what now seems like a deliberate misrepresentation. After all, that dot-dot-dot didn’t come out of nowhere.