Police often rely on a handheld device to test drivers’ breath at the scene of traffic stops. Politicians, prosecutors, judges, and often defense lawyers and juries, incorrectly think these devices are reliable. That is not necessarily the case. Read more about it in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Here’s a fine example of how DUI laws are applied unfairly by judges, in this case in Northampton County Court of Common Pleas:
[T]he jury found Trump not guilty of second-offense drunken driving, after she and two people she was with testified she wasn’t the driver of the car.
But minutes later, the judge who presided over her trial convicted her of a lesser DUI offense that he concluded he, and not jurors, should decide. In so doing, Judge Michael Koury Jr. said he accepted testimony that the panel apparently had rejected when they reached their verdict.
[O]fficer John Lakits conceded on the witness stand that he “could not tell for sure” that Trump had been driving the stopped vehicle. Trump testified the real driver was her friend, Brad Wilcox, who had just gotten out of the car to unlock the back door of his home.
Trump said she was a rear passenger, but had gone to the front to grab some bags of food to take into Wilcox’s house. Her story was repeated by the two other passengers, Andrew Polly and Jessy Norwillo, both of whom said Wilcox was the designated driver that night.
Thanks to the Morning Call for publishing this story.
Here’s an interesting DUI decision, from the Philadelphia area: Judge Suppresses Evidence.
Why is this interesting? Because in a case involving a political insider, the judge found the police officer was “less than truthful.”
The officer testified that he’s arrested 200 people for DUI, and 100 of them were later determined to be under the influence. The judge, finding that means 50% of his arrests were not intoxicated, said this called into question probable cause for the stop.
We are happy the judge ruled this way in this case, but we have to wonder about the other 100 or so who were apparently found guilty. Why was this new rule suddenly applied in a case involving an elected official?
We agree that stops should only be made with reasonable suspicion, and that arrests should only be made with probable cause. That’s the requirement under the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution and a host of Supreme Court cases.
We at FairDUI.org also believe that these rules should be applied by all judges in all cases, not just to protect political insiders.
Interesting story: Florida Judge arrested for DUI.
We love this quote: “Judge Nelson has now experienced the embarrassment that many other innocent people have felt after being arrested and having the news of their arrest make the papers” – that’s what her lawyer says.
Need a Florida DUI Lawyer?
He’s right, of course, but is that how Judge Nelson has treated defendants in her court in the past?
Her judicial assignment is: “40% of All St. Lucie County Court Criminal Cases; One third County Ordinance Cases; Misdemeanor Drug Court,” per her page on the Kathryn Nelson page on the 19th Circuit website. And she spent 15 years as a prosecutor.
To be fair, we don’t know how she ruled as a judge. Maybe she was fair to defendants.
Checkpoints are a common method used by police to address drunk driving. While this approach is popular within MADD circles (see the MADD FAQ on sobriety checkpoints for their perspective), there are some concerns that you may not have heard.
First and foremost, checkpoints infringe on a basic constitutional right. Under the Fourth Amendment, we are supposed to be free from unreasonable search and seizures. The US Supreme Court addressed this in 1990 in the case of Michigan v. Sitz, ruling that checkpoints are permitted. The Court did not go into detail on what the limits are on such checkpoints.
A second concern most don’t consider is the impact of these checkpoints on everyone. In that Michigan case, only 1% of stops led to arrests. That means stopping 100 people for every arrest. Those one hundred people endure flashlights shone in their eyes, and other police behavior that many find intimidating. And of the one percent arrested, there is no indication of how many were innocent.
I remember one checkpoint I encountered was unsafe. The police were on the backside of a hill on a freeway ramp (at the start of the I-87 Northway for traffic coming from Route 20 eastbound). As I was approaching the hill the car in front of me suddenly hit their brakes hard as they became aware of the checkpoint.
Drunk driving is dangerous. But the efforts to stop drunk driving have consequences too.
There’s an interesting dispute brewing between MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and the American Beverage Institute (ABI), and some minor media are jumping in.
The story starts with MADD getting a poor rating as a charity for its efficiency – that it spends a relatively low percentage of its money on programs. So then comes an ABI press release that MADD gets a D. Then we get an article in Slate on ABI and MADD, which criticizes ABI for bias.
You’d think we’d be done there, but then Paul Mulshine of the New Jersey Star Ledger jumped in. Mulshine criticizes Slate for assuming MADD is genuine and points out evidence that MADD manipulates DUI statistics.
Both the Slate and the Star Ledger articles have a number of comments. But in all, the discussion diverges from the key point: MADD did get a poor rating from an apparently neutral group that rates charities.
In the US, DUI/DWI laws are getting increasingly harsh. While we agree that drunk driving is a problem, we are concerned that the current approach is ineffective and unfair. There is a better way.
Stay tuned and find out more. Read our Fair DUI Issues page too.