While most DUI charges conclude with a plea bargain, some DUI defendants chose to put their case before a jury.  A trial before a jury of his or her peers is the DUI defendant’s right under the U.S. and California Constitutions. Whether the DUI is charged as a felony or a misdemeanor, the defendant has this right to a jury trial.

When would a jury trial be a better choice?

There are situations where a defendant might choose to go to trial on a DUI charge. Some examples include: When the prosecution refuses to negotiate on a charge even though the prosecution’s evidence is less than certain, when the charges are serious felony charges (such as DUI enhancements), when the BAC evidence is right on the threshold, or when a commercial driver’s license in on the line.

In the last of my three-part series about Dave’s misadventuresafter an afternoon of beer and barbeque at a friend’s, we come to another possible defense Dave may have following his arrest for DUI and a hit and run. To summarize: Dave ran into his neighbor’s car on his way home from the barbeque and fearing that he stood a chance of getting arrested for DUI if he stopped and reported the mishap, he made the decision to go straight home and hope for the best. Perhaps he planned to go tell his neighbor after he sobered up a bit, but it was too late; another neighbor, Millicent, saw the accident and reported it to the police. When the police arrived at Dave’s house, Dave decided to “hide” upstairs and his wife covered for him. The police, suspecting Dave was in the house and that he had been drinking, conducted an unwarranted search of the house after Dave’s wife refused to consent to the search.

In my previous blog, I discussed Dave’s potential defense based on the unlawful search of his house. Even though this presents a strong defense argument, the judge still might not grant Dave’s motion to suppress the search.

Dave has another potential defense: the police never witnessed him driving; they are basing their arrest for DUI on Millicent’s report that she saw him driving. Let’s start with the Penal Code. Section 836 of the Penal Code does not permit an officer to make a warrantless arrest for a misdemeanor unless the misdemeanor took place in the officer’s presence. Dave’s DUI, his first,was a misdemeanor. Does that mean that the officers’ arrest was unlawful under Penal Code Section 836? Well, not always.

Last week I discuss a hypothetical, but realistic, scenario where our driver, Dave, hit a neighbor’s car on the way home after enjoying an afternoon barbeque with friends. Dave had had a few beers so he worried that if he stopped and reported the accident, he might also end up with a DUI.I wouldn’t advise anyone to do what Dave did, but he decided to drive home and avoid the consequences.

Unfortunately for Dave, his neighbor, Millicent, witnessed Dave backing up and driving off after he hit the car. When she saw the damage done to the car and believing she recognized Dave as the culprit, she called the police. When the police arrive, Dave runs upstairs and his wife answered the door. She denied any knowledge of the accident even though there was damage to their car now parked in their driveway that was consistent with the neighbor’s report. Dave’s wife even went so far in her attempts to protect her husband to say that she had just brought the car home after running errands. She denied the police request to search the house. The police, believing that Dave was inside, searched anyway and found Dave. Dave was arrested and later charged with DUI, hit and run, evading arrest, and DUI test refusal. Dave might be in trouble… or maybe not.

If the search of Dave’s house without an arrest was unlawful, the evidence obtained subsequent to the arrest must be suppressed. If the evidence is suppressed, there is no case against him. (The hit and run might survive but the other charges would not.) Was the search unlawful?

After an afternoon barbeque party, Dave gets in his car and heads home.  As he turns the corner on his street, he hits the side of a car parked on the corner. Dave had more than a few beers at the party and he figures that if he sticks around, he stands a good chance of getting a DUI. So, Dave quickly backs up, and speeds down the street to his home where he parks his car in the driveway and runs inside. His neighbor Millicent heard the collision and peeked through her front window. She saw Dave backing up and thought she recognized him (and his car) as a neighbor down the street. When she sees the damage to the parked car, she calls the police and reports the incident. She tells the dispatcher that she believes the driver of the car was a neighbor who lives down her street and she describes the neighbor’s car.

The police arrive and spot the car described by the neighbor parked in Dave’s driveway. They feel the hood of the parked car and find that it is still warm. They see front-end damage consistent with the damage they noted on the car parked down the street. The officers knock on Dave’s front door and Dave’s wife, Susan, answers. By this time, Dave was upstairs vigorously rinsing his mouth out with mouthwash. On his way upstairs, he had briefed his wife on what happened and told her, “If the police come, don’t tell them I am here.”

The police ask Dave’s wife whose car is parked in the driveway. She tells them it belongs to her and her husband and in an effort to protect her husband, she tells them she just brought it home from grocery shopping. When questioned, she tells them the damage they observed on the front end is from a previous fender bender. Based on Millicent’s report, the police don’t buy Susan’s story. They ask if her husband is home. She tells them he is not. The police remain suspicious. As the police question Susan, the police hear footsteps upstairs.

Alcohol addiction afflicts many individuals and no doubt, is one of the main factors in many DUIs. But what about marijuana? Is marijuana also addictive? Now that recreational marijuana is legal in California, will we start seeing an increasing number of multiple driving under the influence of marijuana offenders and an increasing number of crashes caused by marijuana-influenced drivers?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), a person with “marijuana use disorder” uses marijuana frequently and often experiences withdrawal symptoms if he or she stops using the drug. This disorder, according to NIH, afflicts approximately 30 percent of those who are marijuana users. Some individuals with Marijuana Use Disorder cannot stop using the drug; these individuals become addicted to marijuana. The NIH reports that approximately 9 percent of marijuana users will become addicted. In 2015, approximately 40 million people in the United States have marijuana use disorder. Extrapolating from that number, there are approximately 432,000 individuals addicted to marijuana in California. (This is a rough estimate.) Of course, this number pales in comparison to the estimates of the number of alcoholics in California— approximately 5 million—but now that the use of recreational marijuana is legal, it is reasonable to suspect that more Californians will find themselves addicted to the drug?

We have no doubt that alcohol impairs a person’s ability to drive safely, but there are conflicting studies regarding the effects of marijuana use on driving ability.  However, the potency of marijuana has been steadily strengthening over the years, foreboding the possibility of not only more addicts but increasingly dangerous effects on the ability of a high driver to drive safely.

The vehicle code, section 23152(b) makes it unlawful to drive with “0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in [a driver’s] blood.” You might immediately note that most DUIs are charged based on a breathalyzer measurement, not a blood measurement. I previously discussed how breathalyzers measure the alcohol content in a person’s blood but to complicate matters, the alcohol weight in a person’s breath must be translated into an equivalent blood weight measurement . If you continue reading section 23152(b) it states, “percent, by weight, of alcohol in a person’s blood is based upon grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood or grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.”

These different measurements of alcohol by weight depending on whether the test was of blood or breath is known as “partition ratio variability.” The more accurate measurement of BAC is by measurement of alcohol content in the blood. Breath analysis loses some accuracy and though rigorous scientific testing, test established that the average amount of alcohol in 230 liters of breath is equivalent to what would be found in the 100 milliliters of the same subject’s blood. This may vary from person to person on either side of the scale. To allow for possible variations among individuals and to give the benefit of the doubt to the driver, the California legislature, set the conversion at 210 liters of breath to 100 milliliters of blood, or a ratio of 2,100 to one.

Before it was amended in 1990, section 23152(b) defined blood alcohol concentration (BAC) only in terms of “grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood.” Because, then as now, many DUI charges were based on breathalyzer results, the breath results had to be converted using the standard 2,100 to one ratio. But because the partition ratio was not written into the statute, a common DUI defense was based on the effect of partition ratio variability factors. Following amendment of the law, the California Supreme Court held that the amended language was meant to criminalize driving with the specified blood alcohol level or the specified breath-alcohol level. In other words, the amendment did not simply provide an alternate method for calculating BAC but was meant to make it unlawful to drive with an .08 percent or more BAC as measured per 210 liters of breath.

Driving under the influence is most commonly associated with younger drivers under the influence of alcohol, but if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that unlawful DUI includes not only driving under the influence of alcohol but also driving under the influence of drugs, both legal drugs (including prescription drugs) and illegal drugs. Driving under the influence of drugs is becoming an increasingly dangerous occurrence on our roads and highways. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) drugs (legal and illegal) account for 16% of all motor vehicle crashes. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 11% of fatal vehicle crashes involved a driver under the influence of a drug or drugs.

With our aging population, another fact must be addressed: older adults are more likely to be taking prescription drugs that may affect their ability to drive safely. This is a sensitive topic that hasn’t received much attention. The NIDA cited a study that found more than one-quarter of drugged drivers involved in fatal crashes were over the age of 50.   As the NIDA observed: coupled with mental decline and the slowdown in the ability of an older adult’s system to process drugs, the use of prescription drugs can lead to the unintended driving under the influence by older adults.

And just because the drug is prescribed does not mean the older driver can’t be arrested for a DUI. This is especially true if the driver causes an accident or worse.

Perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that the United States has among the highest rates of death from drunk driving in the world, with 31 percent of all fatal accidents being attributed to alcohol impairment. You might be surprised to learn that our neighbor to the north, Canada, has an even higher rate at 34 percent and South Africa’s rate is even higher at 58%–that represents 25.1 deaths caused by impaired drivers for every 100,000 people in South Africa. These three countries, according to the Global Status Report on Road Safety (2015) have the three highest rates in the world of road deaths caused by impaired drivers. Australia, France, and Italy come in just below the United States at 30 percent, 29 percent, and 25 percent, respectively.

There may be a number of reasons to explain the high rate of fatalities caused by impaired drivers, including lack of public transportation options and dispersed population centers. But Russia, a country rumored to celebrate drinking and a country with a huge land mass, is reported to have only 9 percent of its road fatalities caused by drunk driving. Now you might reasonably surmise that Russia’s statistical reporting is lacking or otherwise manipulated, but the World Health Organization, which compiled this report takes into account any data manipulation or lack of reliable statistics. Germany, a country known for its robust beer drinking, matches Russia’s 9 percent rate.

Could these differences be explained by the drunk driving laws? Perhaps, but probably not by the legal BAC levels. Canada (most provinces) and the United States have a 0.08 percent BAC threshold. But the legal limit is South Africa is 0.05 percent BAC. And while Germany and Russia have a 0.05 percent BAC legal threshold, so does Australia, France and Italy, countries that have a much higher rate of deaths caused by impaired drivers. Consider that France, with a 29 percent rate of drunk driving fatalities has a 0.05 percent BAC threshold, while Great Britain, with a 16 percent rate of drunk driving fatalities has a 0.08 percent BAC limit.

WHOA COWBOY; YOU CAN’T RIDE YOUR HORSE DRUNK DOWN THE 91 FREEWAY.

Being arrested for driving under the influence doesn’t always happen when are driving a car. As I previously discussed, you can get a DUI while driving a golf cart, riding a bike, or operating a boat or jet skis. Here’s a new one: Riding a horse while under the influence.

Yes, indeed. This past weekend, a man on a white horse was arrested for riding his horse on the 91 Freeway. Riding a horse down the freeway is unlawful enough, but this knight on his white horse was suspected of being drunk, very drunk. His initial blood alcohol screening registered a .021% BAC.

DUI School

When a driver is convicted on a DUI, his or her term of probation will include a requirement to complete a DUI program. On a typical first-time conviction, the driver will be required to complete a 3- to 4-month, 30-hour program. In some instances, the court may order a shorter program of 12 hours if the offense was reduced to a “wet reckless” or for other reasons, such as a conviction on a below .08% BAC. However, if the driver’s BAC was over .19% or if there were extenuating circumstances, such as reckless driving or an accident coincident to the DUI, the court may order a 6-month, 42-hour program or even a 9-month, 56-hour program.

In straight DUI conviction, without enhancements, the 6-month and 9-month programs are generally ordered only on a second or third DUI (within ten years). A driver convicted of a third (or more) DUI within ten years will be ordered to complete an 18-month, 64-hour program or even a 30-month DUI program.