Wednesday, October 22, 2008

U.S. Supreme Court Decisions Influencing DUI Defense

Over the years, the United States Supreme Court has handed down numerous decisions that have had a tremendous impact on the prosecution of DUI cases. The following is a brief survey of a few of these important cases.

Blood Tests Used for DUI Conviction
Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757 (1966)
The landmark decision in this case allows blood test results to be used as evidence in DUI cases even when taken over the defendant’s objection. In this case, the police officer forced the DUI suspect to submit to the blood test. The court determined that the blood sample drawn by a doctor in a hospital, following the proper procedures, was reasonable. The court ruled that a defendant’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination did not apply to physical evidence, when such evidence came from the individual under medical circumstances. The court also concluded that the taking of blood did not involve the suspect providing communication or testimony, in an oral or written form, which would have been protected under the 5th Amendment.

Hearings Necessary for DUI License Suspension
Bell v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535 (1971)
The court ruled that a driver’s license is a possession which may not be taken away without the procedural due process required under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court recognized that a driver’s license is essential to one’s livelihood and a driver’s license may not be taken by the state, such as in the case of a DUI prosecution, without some type of procedural due process. This ruling effectively ensured that a motorist charged with a DUI must receive some type of hearing. This hearing must then allow the individual to challenge the state’s attempt to take away his or her driver’s license for any length of time.

Breath Analysis Used for DUI Conviction
California v. Trombetta, 467 U.S. 479 (1984)
The Supreme Court ruled breath analysis tests are admissible evidence in DUI prosecutions even though samples of the suspect’s breath are not preserved as possible exculpatory evidence.
Officers in this case used a device called an intoxilyzer to determine the blood alcohol concentration of a suspected drunk driver. The breath test required the driver to breathe into the intoxilyzer, thus providing a breath sample. The device then recorded the level of alcohol concentration in a printout, thereby providing a breath analysis. The driver’s breath was removed from the device and not saved. Individuals prosecuted using intoxilyzer results argued that they should have access to any evidence necessary to their defense. They argued that they should be given the opportunity to independently analyze the breath used to determine the blood alcohol concentration. However, the Supreme Court determined that the breath collected from any suspect was unnecessary to their defense. This decision was based on the finding that the intoxilyzer had extremely low error rates and that an individual could challenge the results through other means, such as cross examination of the officer that performed the test.

These cases represent just a small part of the many influential decisions related to DUI law that the Supreme Court has handed down. Be sure to return to my blog for more information regarding court decisions influencing drunk driving defense. Thanks for reading my blog. If you have a comment, please feel free to post it here, but keep in mind your comments will not be confidential. If you have been accused of a DUI or traffic violation, contact me for a free, confidential consultation.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Update on Former Lake County Chief Judge David Hall

In a prior blog entry, we followed the arrest of Lake County Chief Judge David Hall for driving under the influence and resisting arrest following an incident on Illinois Highway 60 on April 26th. At the time of this arrest, Hall refused to submit to field sobriety or breathalyzer tests. Hall had entered a plea of not guilty and asserted that arresting Vernon Hills officer Jesse Goldsmith used pepper spray on Hall without provocation, while Hall was seated in his vehicle. According to Goldsmith’s report, he used pepper spray on Hall after Hall refused to exit the vehicle.

Hall had hoped to demonstrate at a pre-trial hearing that Goldsmith lacked probable cause to stop his car. However, presiding Judge Keith Brown of Kane County ruled that Goldsmith’s traffic stop was justified. Judge Brown determined that Goldsmith’s report that Hall swerved and crossed the center line several times sufficiently established probable cause. Hall also hoped to establish that Goldsmith did not have the jurisdiction to arrest Hall. Judge Brown also rejected this argument. He found that Goldsmith first observed Hall’s alleged erratic driving within the village limits of Vernon Hills.

Following Judge Brown’s rulings, the Judge set Hall’s case for a trial date of November 10th, according to the Chicago Tribune. The sufficiency of the evidence available to the prosecution to obtain a conviction is unclear because Goldsmith passed away on June 2nd from a heart attack. Typically, the arresting officer will be called to testify to the circumstances leading to the arrest and any information contained in the officer’s reports. A second arresting officer, Mark Sosnoski, maybe available to testify. However, according to news reports, Sosnoski arrived at the scene after Hall had been stopped. As a result, it is unclear whether Sosnoski observations will be sufficient to obtain a conviction.

In Other News: Efforts in Lake County and Kane County to Remove DUI Offenders from the Road

As reported by the Daily Herald, Lake County and Kane County initiated programs to contend with the increase in drinking over holiday weekends. Lake County over Labor Day weekend and Kane County over Memorial Day weekend, each instituted a policy applicable to DUI suspects who refuse to take a breathalyzer test. These individuals are then informed that a search warrant will be issued allowing for the suspect’s blood to be drawn. A refusal to submit to the blood test after the warrant has been issued could lead to contempt charges. The Daily Herald reports that failing the blood test after refusing the breath test could result in an individual’s license being revoked for at least a year.

Thanks for reading my blog. If you have a comment, please feel free to post it here, but keep in mind your comments will not be confidential. If you have been accused of a DUI or traffic violation, contact me for a free, confidential consultation.