DUI CHARGES CAN BE FILED UP TO ONE YEAR AFTER A DUI ARREST              

When a person is arrested for suspected misdemeanor DUI, he or she is typically booked at the police station, issued a citation to appear in court, and released once someone comes to pick them up. The citation to appear in court concerns the criminal charges, not the DMV administrative sanctions. The citation advises the arrestee of the court location and date in which he or she is to appear. If the arrestee does not appear on that date, a bench warrant for his or her arrest will probably be issued. The bench warrant is usually recalled once the person does appear in court.

But what if the person appears in court on the date and time stated on the citation and the clerk informs him or her that the case is not on the court’s calendar. It happens. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that the arrestee somehow lucked out and the criminal charges disappeared. Rather, what it probably means is that prosecutor just hasn’t gotten around to filing the charges.

HOW ACCURATE ARE FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS?

One of the first things an officer will ask a driver to do when he or she suspects the driver is under the influence is to perform field sobriety tests or FSTs for short. In California, drivers are not required to submit to these tests but the officer is not required to inform the driver that the tests are not required. Consequently, most drivers will submit to the tests, either thinking they must or because they are afraid to say no, or because they believe they can pass the FSTs and be on their merry way (that’s a false assumption). FSTs are almost designed to be failed—even many entirely sober people will “fail” the tests—and the only real purpose of FSTs is to give the officer a reason to arrest the driver and to provide the prosecution with evidence.

But how accurate are FSTs anyway? The Standardized Field Sobriety Test, which is endorsed by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), and used in California, consists of three separate tests: The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), the Walk and Turn (WAT). and the One-Leg Stand (OLS). The HGN measures eye movements in which the officer is looking for three indicators that suggest alcohol impairment. The WAT is the one most people associate with roadside drunk driving tests: the driver is asked to walk heel-to-toe in a straight line and to return in the same manner. The OLS requires the driver to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and to count to 30. Any swaying, loss of balance, or inability to stay on one foot for 30 seconds may indicate alcohol impairment. According to the NHTSA, these three tests accurately detect alcohol impairment in 91% of all cases. According to the NHTSA, non-standard FSTs are unreliable.

A TOSTITOS BREATHALYZER?

In strange DUI news, Tostitos, yeah, the corn chips, is marketing a limited-edition “Party Safe” version of its Tostitos chip bag that …. get this: serves as a breathalyzer. Well, not really a breathalyzer but the bag contains a sensor that will detect alcohol on a person’s breath. If the sensor detects alcohol on the person’s breath, the bag’s logo design that includes a green circle will turn the circle red with a warning message “Don’t Drink and Drive.” An Uber code, which can be tapped by a smartphone to send out a driver to the location (using near-filed communication technology) will also appear on the bag. And in order to entice the drinker to call Uber instead of driving, the Uber code includes a discounted Uber ride. Gimmicky, you bet. But Tostitos (and Uber) may be on to something.

While this particular technology is rudimentary and doesn’t actually measure the blood alcohol content, as a breathalyzer does, it does detect whether there is alcohol on a person’s breath. You might surmise that the person already knows if he or she has been drinking, but this serves as a not-so-subtle reminder that maybe they shouldn’t be driving. The Tostitos bag was produced in limited quantities specifically for the Super Bowl but might this be a harbinger of things to come?

IS A PERSON’S DRIVING ABILITY AFFECTED BY MARIJUANA?

As the laws and law enforcement scramble to keep up with the rapidly changing laws on marijuana use, researchers are asking the question: How does marijuana affect driving ability? The answer to this question has important implications for the establishment of driving under the influence of marijuana thresholds such as those already in place for driving under the influence of alcohol.

As to be expected, law enforcement organizations with an anti-drug agenda, say that any amount of marijuana use significantly impairs driving ability but studies, perhaps with a less biased point of view, have not yet definitively answered the question. The primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, THC, affects a person’s coordination, sensory and time perceptions (according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)). These brain activities are important in driving so it would stand to reason that marijuana use would affect a person’s ability to drive safely.

So, you are out with your buddies at the golf course on a beautiful Southern California day–putting along in your golf cart, knocking in a few balls and beers – ah, this is the life. Maybe you are having too much fun because you and your buddies are getting a little rowdy—enough to trigger a complaint. Suddenly the good life goes bad as you see one of Orange County’s finest approaching you and your buddies. “Step out of the golf cart please.” Next thing you know, the officer is conducting field sobriety tests on you.

Does this sound far-fetched? Well, an arrest for driving a golf cart under the influence can and has happened in this state. Under California law, it is unlawful to drive a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, which as everyone knows is defined as more than 0.08% BAC. You are certainly driving as defined by California’s vehicle code and a golf cart is a vehicle. As defined in Vehicle Code section 670, a vehicle is “a device by which any person or property may be propelled, moved, or drawn upon a highway.” A golf cart is such a device under this broad definition but what about that “highway” part? Under California law, “highway” means any public street or roadway. Technically speaking, a golf cart could motor down a “highway,” even if these vehicles are usually confined to the links.

The DUI laws in California once made it illegal to drive a vehicle while under the influence on highways or other areas open to the general public. But in 1982, the law was changed to prohibit simply driving under the influence without any reference as to where. The courts have held that the wording of the statute means that it is unlawful to drive under the influence anywhere in California and that includes private property and even golf courses.

In what must be a record—I have certainly never seen this in my almost 25-year career defending DUIs—an Orange County man was recently arrested for DUI, his ninth in six years! Several news outlets even reported that it was actually his tenth DUI arrest in six years. This driver is (or was) a successful businessman with a company that employs over 50 people and at one time, he was paying a driver $50,000 a year to drive him around.

On January 29, after crashing his vehicle into an electrical box in Placentia, police responded and found the driver to be under the influence. Not only was he driving under the influence but he was driving on a suspended license (for prior DUIs) and he was also cited for not having an ignition interlock device on his vehicle. (I am not sure why an IID would be ordered if his license was suspended but perhaps the court had ordered the IID when, and if, his license was reinstated.)

The driver clearly has an addiction problem. Despite being sentenced to prison for his seventh DUI in 2014, he received an eighth DUI in 2015 and was sentenced to prison again. He entered rehab and agreed to take Vivitrol, a drug that is used to help with drug and alcohol dependencies. He was under Post-Release Community Supervision, when this recent DUI occurred. Post-Release Community Supervision is a type of probation supervision that is offered to non-violent offenders, mostly to relieve the California prison overcrowding.


WEARABLE BLOOD ALCOHOL MONITORS

You’ve seen the ankle bracelets that some people are ordered by the court to wear to monitor their whereabouts while under house arrest. And you are probably aware of the Ignition Interlock Devices (IID) that are being ordered in many counties in California after conviction on a DUI. Here’s a new one that will probably become a new tool in the state’s ever sophisticated ways to regulate drunk driving: Wearable Blood Alcohol Monitors.

Several wearable blood alcohol monitors have been developed and will soon be available to law enforcement and the public. One of these devices—a type of skin patch— has been developed by UC San Diego engineers. It is described as a “temporary tattoo” that sticks to the skin and electrochemically detects alcohol levels through the wearer’s sweat. Maybe they decided to describe it as a “tattoo” rather than a skin patch to make it sound more appealing. In order to read the results, a small electronic circuit board is connected to the tattoo by a magnet and the results are communicated via Bluetooth.

ALCOHOL EDUCATION PROGRAMS AFTER CONVICTION FOR DUI

When a person is convicted of DUI in California, or even if he or she is not but the DMV admin per se hearing officers finds that the driver was driving under the influence, the offender will be required to attend an alcohol education program. This requirement is written into the statute and there is usually no way out if the driver want to get his or her driver’s license back. There are varying levels of DUI education programs depending on the driver’s BAC and whether it is a first or subsequent DUI offense.  The programs are offered by private entities that are licensed by the state. The offender must pay for this education and the price tag can be hefty.

The least onerous of the alcohol education programs are those required when a person is convicted of a “wet reckless.” A wet reckless is basically a plea to something less than a straight-out DUI and is usually available to those defendants whose DUI case is weak, for example, a border-line BAC. Persons convicted of a wet reckless need only complete 12 hours of lectures, which is the educational component of the first-time DUI offenders program.

ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL

Have you ever heard this one: A guy in Any City California drank too much and decided to sleep it off in his car. He was snoozing in the driver’s seat with the keys in the ignition but the car was not running. Police spotted him, tapped on his window and woke him. Upon investigation, they arrested him for drunk driving because he tested above the legal blood alcohol threshold.

This is a common “urban legend” …well sort of. In fact, in California a person is not driving under the influence if the person is not driving. Makes sense. Under California case law, the word “drive” as it applies to the DUI laws means that a person by his or her own conscious efforts causes the vehicle to move. However, if there were any witnesses that reported the sleeping driver drove to his resting spot or if there is other evidence that the driver had been driving, even though he is not driving now, he can still be arrested.

NO, A CALIFORNIA MAN DID NOT GET ARRESTED DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF CAFFEINE

Maybe you read the many news stories recently about the Solano County man who was stopped and arrested for DUI when an officer observed him driving erratically, so erratically that it was reported he almost caused several accidents. He field tested a 0.00% blood alcohol level but he was still arrested and taken in for a blood test because the officer suspected he was under the influence of a substance other than alcohol. The blood test came back positive…. for caffeine, nothing else, and boy did the media run with it. This story got so much traction it was even reported by CNN and other big-time news outlets.

What many of the news stories neglected to report is that the police believe he was under the influence of a substance that did not show up on the toxicology tests. The Solano County District Attorney even made it clear that he was not arrested for the caffeine in his system. But that didn’t stop the media from reporting the sensationalist headline: “CALIFORNIA MAN ARRESTED, CHARGED WITH DRIVING UNDE THE INFLUENCE OF CAFFEINE,” neglecting to mention (or leaving it as an afterthought at the bottom of the article) that the district attorney said it was not the caffeine that prompted the DUI charge. You can almost bet that this will become an urban myth with people swearing that you can be arrested for driving under the influence of caffeine.