Articles Posted in Federal DUIs

Recent articles in the New York Times have raised questions about the reliability of breath testing devices used across the country in DUI cases.  These Machines Can Put You in Jail.  Don’t Trust Them  and 5 Reasons to Question Alcohol Breath Tests.  The authors also interviewed a defense lawyer and defense expert in NPR, and heard from other persons connected with the breath testing process including an officer and a defendant. Blown Away: Why Police Rely On Faulty Breathalyzers.

Breath testing is used to estimate a level of alcohol in the person’s blood.  Breath testing relies on an assumption that a persons breath can contain alcohol in roughly a 1/2100 ratio of the alcohol in the breath to the alcohol in the blood.  There are numerous other assumptions as well, highlighted in an article by Leonard R. Stamm, and published in the magazine of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Champion, titled The Top 20 Myths of Breath, Blood and Urine Testing.

The New York Times articles highlight some of the problems that have plagued the government’s efforts to prosecute drunk driving cases.  This includes problems with calibration, maintenance of the machines (officers insist on calling them “instruments”), the controls that are used, the adequacy of the procedures used to test individuals, failures in record keeping, secrecy in computer codes, human errors and others.

Mitchell was arrested for DUI.  He subsequently became unconscious.  Since he could not submit to a breath test, the arresting officer could not obtain his consent to a blood test, and he needed medical attention, the officer took him to a hospital for treatment and to have his blood drawn without a warrant.  The State conceded that exigent circumstances were not present to justify the warrantless blood draw.  Instead, the State argued that the blood draw was justified under the State’s implied consent law, that an unconscious suspect is deemed to not have withdrawn consent to a test where the officer has probable cause to believe the driver is impaired by alcohol.  In Mitchell v. Wisconsin, although the Supreme Court accepted review based on the implied consent issue, a plurality of four justices held that dealing with an unconscious driver will almost always involve exigent circumstances.

The court said:

When police have probable cause to believe a person has committed a drunk-driving offense and the driver’s unconsciousness or stupor requires him to be taken to the hospital or similar facility before police have a reasonable opportunity to administer a standard evidentiary breath test, they may almost always order a warrantless blood test to measure the driver’s BAC without offending the Fourth Amendment. We do not rule out the possibility that in an unusual case a defendant would be able to show that his blood would not have been drawn if police had not been seeking BAC information, and that police could not have reasonably judged that a warrant application would interfere with other pressing needs or duties. Because Mitchell did not have a chance to attempt to make that showing, a remand for that purpose is necessary. [1]

The National College for DUI Defense (NCDD) and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) just wrapped up their annual Las Vegas seminar.  As usual, it was well attended and the presentations were very informative.

The conference featured presentations on Thursday, September 22, on cross-examination by Jim Nesci; accident reconstruction by Steven M. Schoor; succeeding without an expert by Tommy Kirk; and, the psychology of winning by Allen Fox, Ph.D.  The conference continued on Friday, September 23 with presentations on case law update by Don Ramsell; NHTSA’s ARIDE program (Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement) by Tony Palacios; preparing for direct and cross of experts by Virginia Landry; ethics by Jim Nesci and nine other regents; gas chromatography for jurors by Suzanne Perry, M.Sc.; closing arguments by Joe St. Louis and Tommy Kirk; field sobriety test facts and fallacies by Tony Palacios; and, prescription medication issues by Fran Gengo, Pharm. D., Ph. D.  The conference concluded today with presentations on closing argument by Tommy Kirk; cross of the standardized field sobriety tests by John Hunsucker (for attorneys with 1-5 years experience) and by Don Ramsell (for attorneys with over 5 years experience); analyzing a DRE facesheet and narrative report by Steven Oberman and Tony Palacios; breath testing by Jim Nesci; defending the impaired marijuana case by George Bianchi; and, how to try your first DUI case by John Hunsucker.

The National College for DUI Defense (www.ncdd.com) just completed its annual summer session held in Cambridge Massachusetts.  The session featured large lectures, small lectures, breakouts, and small elective seminars.

Topics covered included Cross-Examination of the Arresting Officer by Marj Russell of the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyer’s College; Cross-Examination break out; Handling the High Profile case by Tony Coleman; immigration law by Brad Williams; postconviction, writs of error coram nobis by Professor Byron Warnken of the University of Baltimore Law School; plea negotiations and ethics by Assistant Professor Rishi Batra from the Texas Tech. School of Law.

We had small elective seminars (discussion groups) that were a new feature of the summer session and were very well received with the following topics: Win at the Initial Appearance, taught by Andrew Mishlove and Pat Maher; Suppression Motions: Winning it All Before Trial, taught by Jim Nesci and Steve Oberman, Leonard Stamm and Andy Alpert, Andrew Mishlove and Pat Maher, Don Ramsell and Michelle Behan, and, Mike Hawkins and George Flowers;  Getting What You Want-Creative Approaches to Obtaining Discovery, taught by Bell Island and Lauren Stuckert; How to Use Social Media Effectively and Ethically, taught by Bill Kirk and Brad Williams; Federal DUIs: Reinventing the Wheel? by Leonard Stamm and Andy Alpert; Don’t Let Your Military Client Go Down with the Ship by John Hunsucker and John Webb; Picking the Winning Jury by John Hunsucker and John Webb, Mimi Coffey and Ryan Russman, and Paul Burglin and Lynn Gorelick; Preparing for Plan B, Sentencing in Serious Cases, taught by Mike Hawkins and George Flowers; Follicles, IIDs, ETG and SCRAM: The Hairs, Airs and Other Snares of DUI, taught by Doug Murphy and Richard Middlebrook; Just Say NO to Losing Your Client’s Commercial or Professional License, taught by Virginia Landry and Steven Epstein; Turning the Tide with Treatment, taught by Paul Burglin and Lynn Gorelick; Using Technology to Win Your Case, taught by Joe St. Louis and Lawrence Koplow; Managing a Practice from the Stone Age to the Digital Age in 10 Easy Steps, taught by Bruce Edge and Matt Dodd; Writing Winning Appeals, taught by Don Ramsell and Michelle Behan.

The Supreme Court decided two Fourth Amendment cases this week that diminish our freedom from police searches.  The Fourth Amendment says:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Starting with the Supreme Court’s decision in Terry v. Ohio, in 1968, police have been allowed to stop a person without probable cause if they have an articulable reasonable suspicion that the person has, is, or is about to break the law.  Under the exclusionary rule, the government is not allowed to use in court evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment.  The exclusionary rule exists to deter officers from breaking the law.

The National College for DUI Defense (NCDD) just concluded its second annual Serious Science seminar Saturday in Ft. Collins, Colorado.  Attended by 21 lawyer students, the five day seminar featured a day and a half of lectures by the nation’s leading experts on forensic blood alcohol testing, Jimmie Valentine, Ph.D., Carrie Valentine, Ph.D.Janine Arvizu, NCDD Regent Joe St. LouisPatricia Sulik, Ph.D. and Robert Lantz, Ph. D., followed by a tour of a working forensic laboratory, Rocky Mountain Instrumental Laboratories. Rocky Mountain Instrumental Laboratories in Ft. Collins, Colorado, is run by Patricia Sulik, Ph.D. and Robert Lantz, Ph. D.

The science portion was followed by three days of lectures and breakouts on trial techniques  taught by by two veteran faculty members of the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College, Marjorie Russell, and Francisco “Paco” Duarte.   The TLC website says:

Trial skills are only part of being a force in the courtroom. The trial lawyers’ power originates from within. Knowledge of oneself gives the lawyer the capability to know others and to connect with each person in the courtroom including the witnesses, the judge and the jurors. The power of TLC’s methods come alive through creative, spontaneous, outside-the-box innovations that capture juries and move them to justice.

Today the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the cases of Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S.Ct. 614 (2015); Bernard v. Minnesota, 136 S.Ct. 615 (2015); and Beylund v. Levi, 136 S.Ct. 614 (2015).

Leonard R. Stamm, along with Donald Ramsell and Jeff Green, co-authored an amicus brief filed on behalf of the National College for DUI Defense and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, in these three cases on February 11, 2016.

The issue in the case was whether a state may make it a crime to refuse a warrantless breath test, or put differently to exercise one’s constitutional right to require the state to comply with the Fourth Amendment.   Maryland has a sentencing enhancement of up to 60 days that may apply if a person is found by a judge or jury to have knowingly refused a test.  The National Park Service, which controls a number of roads in Maryland, including the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, has a regulation, 36 CFR § 4.23(c) that makes it a crime to refuse a breath test, with a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail and a $5,000 fine.  In both state and federal DUI cases, a suspect is told there is a possible jail sentence if he or she refuses to submit to a breath test.  As a result, every breath test in state and federal court in Maryland is subject to a motion to suppress alleging that giving that advice is coercive and in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Every breath test in Maryland is subject to suppression.  Every administrative suspension based on a failed breath test should be thrown out.  The reason is – in Maryland there is a potential 60 day enhanced jail penalty for every driver arrested for DUI who refuses to take a breath test.  The question is – can the State put someone in jail for refusing to consent to a search of their body?  Can the State make it a crime, or a sentencing enhancement to refuse to consent to a warrantless search?  And if they cannot, can they comply with due process when they use the threat of jail to induce the person to consent to a breath test?  The answer to these three questions should be NO.

There is a conflict among courts on the issue of whether a State can criminalize refusal to submit to an alcohol test.  If it cannot, then any consent obtained by advising a suspect that refusal is a crime carrying a potential penalty of incarceration is coerced and involuntary as a matter of law.  In Maryland, the DR-15 advice used to obtain consent gives this questionable advice.

This is an important issue currently because on December 11, 2015, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in three cases that raised this issue: Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S.Ct. 614 (2015); Bernard v. Minnesota, 136 S.Ct. 615 (2015); and Beylund v. Levi, 136 S.Ct. 614 (2015).  These cases will be argued in the Supreme Court on April 20, 2016.

The Hawaii Supreme Court announced its decision today in State v. Won.  The court held that where a suspect in a DUI case is told that it is a crime to refuse to submit to an alcohol test, that consent to submit to the test is coerced and invalid because it is not voluntary.   The Fourth Amendment requires that searches be conducted pursuant to a search warrant or the government must rely on an exception to the warrant requirement.  In most DUI cases, the government relies on consent to justify warrantless breath and blood tests.  However, some jurisdictions have criminalized refusal to submit to a test, providing that refusal can result in a jail sentence.

The Hawaii court said:

Where arrest, conviction, and imprisonment are threatened if consent to search is not given, the threat infringes upon and oppresses the unfettered will and free choice of the person to whom it is made, whether by calculation or effect.30 See id. at 261-63, 925 P.2d at 829-31 (finding that a permissive response to a request to search the defendant resulted only from “inherently coercive” circumstances that were “calculated to overbear [the defendant’s] will”); Pauʻu, 72 Haw. at 508, 824 P.2d at 835 (same). Thus, the threat of the criminal sanction communicated by the Implied Consent Form for refusal to submit to a BAC test is inherently coercive.  [Footnotes omitted].

The Court of Appeals announced its decision in Norton v. State today.  I was privileged to have been local counsel on the amicus brief filed by the Innocence Network in this case.  The case was a win for Norton, but more importantly, it was a win for all defendants who wish to confront scientific evidence offered against them in court.

The rules governing application of the Confrontation Clause have been changing over the past few years.  A series of cases had helped to expand the ability of defendants to confront scientific evidence: Crawford v. Washington, Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, and Bullcoming v. New Mexico.  These cases required the State to produce in court a chemist who actually tested a defendant’s blood in a DUI case.  I was also privileged to have helped to write the amicus brief filed in Bullcoming by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National College for DUI Defense.

Unfortunately, in Williams v. Illinois, the Supreme Court backtracked and ruled that in a DNA case, the State did not have to produce the analyst.  However, there was no majority for what became a plurality opinion of four justices.  There were also four justices in dissent.  The deciding vote was cast by Justice Thomas, who agreed with the dissenting justices with respect to their reasoning but voted to not require confrontation because the document stating what the DNA results were was not sufficiently formal.  This confusing alignment of justices brought into question what rule should be applied by the lower courts.