A Southern California man has posted one of the most poignant yet distressing social media feeds I have seen. In a Facebook picture, Zach Kincaid is standing over a coffin, his young child looking on. Inside the coffin is his 29-year-old wife, her unborn child in her arms. In another photo, Mr. Kincaid is holding his dead unborn daughter, who was only a month away from her anticipated birth date.

On September 9 Mr. Kincaid was speaking with his wife on her cell phone speaker as she was driving on Warren Road in Riverside County when he heard her scream, then he heard a collision. A drunk driver, pro boxing champion, Marcos Forestal-Coutin, was allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol as his speeding car veered into the wrong lane, hitting Mr. Kincaid’s wife’s vehicle head on.  In what must be one of the most egregiously arrogant statements, Forestal-Coutin claimed Mrs. Kincaid’s vehicle “appeared” in front of him and then went on to complain about the damage done to his vehicle. Forestal even livestreamed a video of the crash scene.

The social media photos are very disturbing and hopefully will impress the many thousands who have seen them. Drunken driving can kill, and these photos make that lasting impression. There is really no excuse to drive drunk. Unfortunately, a brain affected by alcohol makes poor decisions.

CAN THE DMV SUSPEND YOUR DRIVER’S LICENSE IF YOU ARE CONVICTED OF BOATING UNDER THE INFLUENCE?

The DMV wields a substantial amount of power over our driving privileges. When a person is arrested for driving under the influence, his or her license to drive is immediately suspended (with a 30-day grace period until the suspension takes place) unless the driver can successfully challenge the DUI arrest in an administrative per se (APS) hearing. As I have discussed on this website, the APS hearing is a completely separatefrom the criminal matter and, in virtually all DUI cases, the suspension of the arrested driver’s license to drive takes place before the DUI is adjudicated by the criminal court.

Although APS proceedings seem to fly in the face in the face of due process since the driver has not even been convicted yet of the alleged DUI, the appellate courts have consistently held that the administrative suspension is constitutional.

In previous blog posts I discussed driving under the influence of marijuana (cannabis) and the difficulties provingthat a driver was under the influence at the time he or she was driving. The active ingredient in cannabis, THC, stays in a person’s system long after the effect wears offmaking it difficult to prove that a driver was under the influence at the time of driving. And, unlike alcohol, a driver under the influence of marijuana does not always display the obvious symptoms.  Despite these difficulties in proving the offense, drivers are being charged and convicted of driving under the influence of cannabis and in recent years, there have been increasing numbers of vehicular manslaughter while under the influence of marijuana convictions (Penal Code 191.5(a).)

Recently a 24-year-old man was charged in Kern County jury of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence after swerving his car and hitting a teacher who was seven months pregnant, killing both the woman and her unborn child. (The manslaughter charge only attached to the woman due to a “loophole” in California law which may prosecute the murder of a fetus but does not define a fetus as a victim under the manslaughter laws.) The prosecutor alleged that the driver was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the crash. Under California law, if a driver kills another person while driving under the influence, he or she may be charged with grossly negligent manslaughter.  The jury found the young man guilty but convicted him on a lesser charge of negligent vehicular manslaughter rather than with gross negligence.

In San Diego County, a 27-year-old man made a U-turn on the freeway going the wrong way and crashed head on into a motorcyclist, also 27 years old. The crash killed the motorcyclist. It was alleged that the driver was high on marijuana at the time of the crash. The driver was never given a field sobriety tests but laboratory tests were conducted on the driver at the hospital which showed “a higher level of marijuana than they normally see,” according the district attorney prosecuting the case. The driver was convicted by a jury of gross vehicular manslaughter and sentenced by the court to six years in prison. While the driver’s behavior (making a U-turn on a freeway going the wrong way for three miles) certainly suggests he was under the influence of something, apparently the only substance present in his system was the THC. It is hard to imagine that cannabis would cause such dangerous driving.After trial, the prosecutor stated that the toxicologist could not definitively say that the driver’s conduct was attributable to the influence of marijuana.

IMPAIRED DRIVING

A driver can be arrested for driving under the influence even if the driver tests under the legal threshold of 0.08% blood alcohol content (BAC) or even a 0.00% BAC.  If the arresting officer has probable causeto believe that the driver’s ability to drive is impairedby any substance— be it alcohol, legal or medically prescribed cannabis, or any prescription drug (whether legally prescribed or not)—there are grounds for the arrest . When a driver tests over the per se limit of 0.08% BAC,  probable cause is presumed, but how does the officer determine that the driver’s ability to drive was impaired  when there is no obvious  symptom or immediate chemical test to establish probable cause?

It may boil down to the subjective evaluation of the officer.  In such cases, the prosecution will have the burden to prove the probable cause. Because this is often a subjective evaluation, an experienced DUI defense attorney may be able to get the charge dismissed.

According to the European Transport Safety Council, the European Union populous consumes more alcohol than any other region of the world. It is estimated that around 25% of all traffic fatalities in the EU are alcohol related.  This is actually lower than the estimated percentage of drunk driving related fatal accidents in North America, but the statistical difference may be explained by the fact that North America sees far more people driving longer distances than in Europe where public transportation abounds, where many people don’t even have a car, and if they do, their typical driving trips are generally cover far less distance than a driving trip on this continent.

Even so, drunk driving is an issue in Europe, just as it is here. And as on this side of the pond, attitudes towards drunk driving and stricter laws and enforcement have had an effect. Road deaths attributed to drunk driving have been on the decline in Europe, but that hasn’t save the thousands of lives that are lost each year in Europe after a drunk driving collision.

The European Transport Safety Council issued a report this year titled “Progress in Reducing Drink Driving in Europe.”  (Drink driving being what we call drunk, or drunken, driving in this country.) The report is interesting for what it tells us about reducing drunk driving country by country.

The California Department of Insurance just issued an advisory in preparation for heightened DUI enforcement over the July 4th holiday period. Noting that over half of vehicle fatalities involved multiple substances, including cannabis.  The CHP reports that there has been a 28 percent increase over the decade of fatalities involving some sort of drug, including prescribed drugs.

In response to this uptrend, the Department of Insurance is sponsoring demonstrations where young drivers put on a suit that simulates being under the influence of marijuana and alcohol. The suited-up drivers then drive on a controlled course. The opportunity to suit up will also be offered to reporters, no doubt with the hope that their experience will be filmed and reported on in the local media.

The vehicles that the suited-up drivers will operate will also be equipped with GoPro cameras. The footage captured will be made available to the media.   Also on hand for the demonstrations will be law enforcement representatives to discuss the effects of drunk or drugged driving.

If you are, or were, a member of the United States military and suffering from trauma related to your service, you may be eligible for a pre-trial diversion program if you get a DUI. Penal Code section 1001.80 allows a court to suspend prosecution on misdemeanor charges if the defendant may be suffering from PTSD, or other mental health problems related to the defendant’s military service. Specifically, the trauma as delineated in the statute includes:

Sexual trauma;

Traumatic brain injury;

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog postciting studies that indicate ride sharing apps are responsible for a decrease in  drunk driving crashes for drivers under the age of 30 and another blog postabout studies that suggested ride sharing apps have had no impact on the incidence of drunk driving fatalities. Now recent studies conducted by the University of California and a national personal injury law firm show a significant decrease in DUI arrests in major California urban centers in the years since ride sharing has become a thing.

The decrease in DUI arrestsin urban areas is remarkable. San Diego has seen a 32% decrease after ride sharing, San Jose, a 28 percent decrease, Sacramento, a 26 percent decrease, and San Francisco and Los Angeles both saw a 14 percent decrease.  These decreases are not confined to California. Large cities across the county report significant decreases in DUI arrests. And party-city, Las Vegas, has seen the largest decrease in DUI arrests: down nearly 40 percent.

The study estimates that 33 percent potential drunk drivers chose ride sharing instead. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that more drivers are choosing ride share if they intend to drink. For instance, traffic enforcement units report a substantial increase in ride share drivers at DUI checkpoints.

Even one DUI has the potential to affect a parent’s right to custody of their child. Whether in Family Law Code child custody adjudications or Welfare and Institutions Code dependency hearings, a DUI can affect how the court will decide on a child custody matter. This is especially true if the child was in the car with the parentwhen he or she was arrested for DUI or if the DUI was aggravated by circumstances such as an accident, a hit-and-run,injuries, or other DUI sentencing enhancements.

In a child custody battle between parents, a DUI can be used by one parent against the other to convince the court that the parent is a risk to the child. If the parent has more than one DUI, this may be especially convincing evidence and the more recent the DUI or DUIs, the more detrimental to the child it might be in the eyes of the court. The decision of the court in any child custody case is what is in the best interests of the child or children. The judges have great latitude in making this decision.

Will a parent lose custody over one DUI? Probably not, but the apportionment of physical custody time to a parent with a DUI might be impacted. Will multiple DUIs or aggravated DUIs cause a parent to lose custody? Almost certainly if the DUI was committed with the child in the car and likely if the parent has multiple DUIs.

We know that sleep walking is a genuine disorder. It is a state of combined sleep and wakefulness leaving the sleepwalker is in an attenuated state of consciousness.  Those with the disorder can even perform complex tasks behaviors while sleeping such as moving furniture around, cooking, or cleaning. In rare cases, according to the American Alliance for Healthy Sleep and other organizations devoted to sleep studies and education, a sleepwalker may get in his or her car and drive away.

In a 2012 appellate case, a driver who was convicted of driving under the influence of drugsunder Vehicle Code section 23152(a), alleged that he was sleep driving and therefore not criminally liable. The driver who had taken prescription Ambien prior driving his car. He was observed driving erratically. When detained by the police, the driver appeared coherent and was cooperative, but he had glassy eyes, was swaying, and his speech was slow and slurred, but he did not smell of alcohol. The officer concluded that the driver was under the influence of drugs. The blood test results showed that the driver had zolpidem in his system. Zolpidem is marketed under the brand name Ambien. The driver’s blood test results indicated that the driver had taken more than the recommended dosage of the drug. According to both the prosecution and defense experts at trial, sleep driving can be a rare side effect of taking Ambien. Indeed, among the warnings on the Ambien label, is that it can cause sleep driving.

At trial, the driver argued that he acted (drove) while legally unconscious. Unconsciousness can be a complete defense to a criminal charge. (Penal Code §26.)  To be legally unconscious does not require that a person be unable to respond or walk, and so on but only that the person is not conscious of acting. For example, someone could perform an unlawful act while suffering from a delirium or after unknowingly ingesting a drug (for example, drinking punch not knowing it is laced with LSD, as happened in an actual California case), or after being taking a prescription drug. But that last example, which would seem to apply here, has a catch. The defense of unconsciousness is only available if it is not induced by voluntary intoxication. (Penal Code §22.) This exception makes sense: someone who decided to get drunk or high should not them be able to use the defense that he or she was not aware. The driver here voluntarily took the Ambien and he had admitted that he knew Ambien can cause sleep driving. Knowing the potential effect is key.