Category Archives: Boating Under the Influence

Lower .08 to .05?

Image result for dui bac .05

Interesting article from Heather Bosch of KING 5 news reports that Washington state lawmakers are considering lowering the legal limit for driving under intoxication (DUI) from .08 to .05.

“The research shows impairment begins with the first drink,” said Representative John Lovick, D-44th District. “And I believe this after being a state trooper for 31 years.” Lovick said he based his legislation, House Bill 1874, on recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board.

According to Bosche, however, the American Beverage Institute opposes the bill and similar legislation being proposed in Hawaii and Utah. The industry group claims only a small percentage of deadly car crashes are caused by drivers with a blood alcohol concentration between .05 and .08, and that a 120-pound woman could reach .05 with just little more than one drink. A 150-pound man could reach it after two.

“The move would target responsible and moderate social drinkers while ignoring the hardcore drunk drivers who pose the greatest threat to safety,” said American Beverage Institute Managing Director Sarah Longwell. In short, Longwell says what’s needed is better enforcement of current laws: “We have to focus on the real problem and not be distracted by feel-good legislation that criminalizes perfectly responsible behavior,” said Longwell.

Representative John Lovick agrees that current laws could be better enforced, but says lowering the alcohol limit to .05 would be “a great first step in letting the public know that we are serious about keeping people who drive drunk, off the streets.”

Bosche reports that a public hearing before the House Transportation Committee will be held Tuesday. The bill already cleared the House Public Safety committee, but not without controversy.

“There will be a few ‘no’ votes on this side of the aisle,” Representative Dave Hayes (R-10th District) said during a recent hearing. “My personal viewpoint on this is just the fact that I don’t believe it’s necessary to reduce the blood alcohol level, based on testimony and my own personal experience in processing DUIs.” Hayes is a sergeant with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.  Lovick is the former Snohomish County Sheriff.

The National Transportation Safety Board has said that if every state lowered the legal blood alcohol limit to .05, it would save 1,000 lives every year.

Interestingly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) does not support the measure, calling it a “waste of time” because most people who are under .08 can pass field sobriety tests.

State Senate Passes Bill Making Fourth DUI a Felony.

Image result for dui and politics

The WA State Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would make driving under the influence (DUI) a felony if the driver has three or more prior offenses on their criminal record within 10 years.

Senate Bill 5037 passed Thursday and now heads to the House, where it has stalled in previous years. The bill’s sponsors are as follows: Padden, Frockt, O’Ban, Darneille, Miloscia, Kuderer, Zeiger, Carlyle, Pearson, Conway, Rolfes, Palumbo, Angel, and Wellman.

Under the measure, a person who is charged with a fourth DUI, and has no other criminal history, would be subject to a standard sentencing range of 13 to 17 months in jail.

However, this bill allows first-time felony offenders to spend up to six months in jail, instead of nine, and finish out the rest of their sentence under supervision, such as attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and other programs.

My opinion? We shouldn’t be surprised. Over the past 20 years, Americans have seen a significant increase in the harsh penalties for intoxicated drivers. Perhaps this is necessary move given the thousands of lives lost to drunk drivers. Speaking as a criminal defense attorney, there’s serious question as to whether people commit these violations purely out of willful disregard for the law and for the safety of others or because of an untreated mental illness or alcohol addiction. Nevertheless, public outcry has led to increased sentences.

Many attorneys in Whatcom County and Skagit County claim to represent clients in DUI cases, but not all attorneys have the experience and successes of attorney Alexander F. Ransom.  To learn more about DUI laws or if you have been charged with a driving offense, make your first call count. Call the Law Office of Alexander F. Ransom today.

New Federal Data Shows Decrease in Drunk Driving Rates

Image result for decrease in dui

According to reporter Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post, new federal statistics show that the rate of drunken driving in the United States fell to a 13-year low in 2014, the latest year for which data is available. The rate of driving under the influence of illicit drugs has not changed meaningfully in recent years but remains slightly lower than it was in 2008 and 2009 at the start of the Obama administration.

Here’s a summary of some other findings:

  • In 2014, 27.7 million people aged 16 or older (11.1 percent) drove under the influence of alcohol in the past year, and 10.1 million (4.1 percent) drove under the influence of illicit drugs in the past year. About 7.0 million (2.8 percent) drove under the influence of alcohol and illicit drugs in the past year, including 5.9 million (2.4 percent) who drove under the simultaneous influence of alcohol and illicit drugs in the past year.
  • The percentage of people driving under the influence generally increased with age through the young adult years and then declined with age thereafter; percentages were higher among males than females.
  • The percentage of people aged 16 or older who drove under the influence of alcohol in 2014 (11.1 percent) was lower than the percentages in 2002 through 2012 (ranging from 11.8 to 15.3 percent).
  • The percentage of people aged 16 or older who drove under the influence of illicit drugs was lower in 2014 (4.1 percent) than in 2002 through 2006 and in 2009 through 2010.
  • The percentage of people aged 16 or older who drove under the simultaneous influence of alcohol and illicit drugs was lower in 2014 (2.4 percent) than in 2002 through 2010 (ranging from 2.9 to 3.4 percent).

Ingraham reported that although experts caution that while the trend is heading in the right direction, there’s still a lot of work to be done. “Although it is heartening to see a downward trend in levels of driving under the influence of alcohol, it still kills thousands of people each year and shatters the lives of friends and loved ones left behind,” said Frances Harding, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention at SAMHSA, the agency that produces the survey.

The SAMHSA survey showed that young adults — particularly men ages 21 to 25 — had by far the highest impaired driving rates. More than 1 in 5 men ages 21 to 25 drove drunk in 2014, nearly 1 in 7 drove under the influence of other drugs, and roughly 1 in 12 drove while simultaneously drunk and drugged.

One the other hand, young adults have also seen the greatest reductions in drunken driving prevalence over the past 13 years. Since 2002, the drunken driving rate fell by fewer than three percentage points among drivers age 26 and older. But the rate among drivers ages 21 to 25 dropped by more than 10 percentage points. And the prevalence among the youngest drivers, ages 16 to 20, fell by more than half.

Ingraham reports there’s no single factor driving the decline in drunken driving rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention credits interventions like strong drunken driving laws, public awareness campaigns, and ignition interlock systems that don’t allow drunk drivers to start cars.

Some states are experimenting with innovative programs that essentially take away the right to drink alcohol, period, for people convicted of certain alcohol-related crimes. There’s also evidence that ride-sharing services like Uber can reduce drunken driving rates, although not all researchers agree on this.

My opinion? This is extremely good news. Although it’s important to save lives by reducing traffic accidents through education, prevention, and all other possible measures; it’s equally important that defendants facing these criminal charges hire capable and competent defense counsel as soon as possible to protect their rights, review the evidence and ensure a fair trial when necessary.

Contact my office for a free consultation if you, a friend or family member face DUI or related charges.

AAA Questions Marijuana DUI Laws

According to a news article from the Chicago Tribune, recent studies conducted by car insurer AAA find that blood tests given to drivers suspected of marijuana DUI have no scientific basis.

A handful of studies released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drivers can have a low level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in their blood and be unsafe behind the wheel, while others with relatively high levels may not be a hazard. Below are the individual studies accompanied by capsule summaries comprising the effort:

“If you’ve had marijuana whether it’s medicinal or otherwise, don’t drive,” said AAA Chicago spokeswoman Beth Mosher, “It’s really that simple.”

The studies examined the results of more than 5,300 people nationwide who were arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana, 600 of whom tested positive for THC only, while the others had THC and other substances. This is because marijuana isn’t metabolized by the body in the same way as alcohol. The researchers compared the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) exam results of 602 drivers that only had THC present in their blood at the time of arrest to those of 349 volunteers that took the test drug-free and sober. Ultimately, the degree to which a driver is impaired by marijuana use depends a lot on the individual, the foundation said.

The data appears confusing because AAA also looked at Washington – one of the first states to legalize marijuana – and found fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana doubled.

“ In most recent data 1 in 6 drivers who are involved in a fatal crash there had marijuana in there system,” Mosher  said.  “And as more and more states look at legalizing marijuana we see this as a concerning trend.”

Nevertheless, AAA is sending the message that the legal limits established for marijuana are arbitrary. A handful of states have moved to specify the maximum amount of active THC — the main chemical in marijuana — that drivers can have in their system. But AAA says that doesn’t work.

“We think those are meaningless,” said Mosher. “They are not backed by any science. One person can have one limit of THC in their blood and be significantly impaired and others can have that same limit and not be impaired at all,” Mosher said.

Many in law enforcement and AAA say that officer recognition of impaired drivers is really the only what to determine whether someone is too high to drive.  Of course all of this a public safety concerns as pot becomes legal across the country.

The Neurology of Risky Driving Behavior

A very interesting article from the Association for Psychological Science discusses how a team of Canadian psychological scientists is looking at the personality, cognitive, and neurobiological factors that contribute to reckless driving behavior. By better understanding the patterns of emotional processing and risk perception shown by repeat offenders, the researchers hope to design interventions that more effectively target these subgroups of dangerous drivers.

The evidence certainly exists. According to the article, drunk driving accounts for 35-40% of all driver fatalities in Canada and the United States, and drunk driving crashes kill more than 10,000 Americans every year. Amazingly, an estimated 30% of DUI offenders will continue to drink and drive, even after being arrested and punished.

“Surprisingly, these drivers usually don’t consider themselves as risk takers,” lead author Thomas G. Brown of McGill University said. “If drivers don’t believe they are risky, they will not accept the need to change. On the other hand, if we and they don’t understand their behavior, how can they be expected to change it effectively?”

The study began when Brown and his colleagues recruited four groups of male drivers who had different criminal histories: 36 men with at least two convictions for drunk driving (DUI group); 28 reckless drivers with at least three speeding violations in the past two years (speeders); 27 men with arrests for both DUI and speeding (DWI-speeders); and 47 low-risk drivers with no history of serious traffic offenses (control group).

According to the article, participants completed a battery of personality and impulsivity assessments, ranging from a Big Five personality measure to an executive control task that assessed their sensitivity to punishment and reward. Participants’ cortisol response, a hormonal reaction to stress, was measured by collecting saliva samples before and after they completed a timed mental arithmetic task previously shown to elicit stress.

Even more interesting, participants also completed a session of simulated driving that included driving on virtual highways, merging lanes, turning at intersections, and avoiding pedestrians.

The researchers found that different subgroups of risky drivers had distinctive neurobiological profiles. Compared to the low-risk control group, speeders were prone to making decisions based on thrill-seeking and a need for high levels of stimulation. Repeat DUI offenders, in contrast, had the lowest level of risk-taking behavior while sober.

“One possibility in line with the present results is that once heavy drinking has occurred, more impulsive drivers are more vulnerable to alcohol’s disruptive effects on the behavioral control mechanisms required to avoid DWI,” the researchers explain.

All of the dangerous driving groups exhibited significant blunting in their cortisol stress response compared with the control group. Cortisol, along with other stress hormones, influences cognitive processes that range from risk assessment to encoding emotional memories. These results suggest that dysregulation of the body’s cortisol response could act as a neurobiological marker for risky driving behavior.

“Relative to the other [risky driving] profiles considered here, the profile exhibited by group DUI may be the most amenable to interventions that aim to augment recall of the negative consequences of DUI behavior and pre-emptively decouple alcohol use from driving,” the researchers conclude.

Stated differently, interventions designed to improve drivers’ recall of the negative consequences of drinking and driving are effective for preventing drunk driving. This explains the findings why repeat DUI offenders had the lowest level of risk-taking behavior while sober.

My opinion? The study is interesting, for sure. Not surprisingly, the criminal justice system uses many of these these psychological deterrents to “decouple alcohol use from driving.” When it comes to DUI cases, gaining a worthwhile reduction of the charges often means the defendant obtaining an alcohol/drug evaluation, attending mandatory treatment, attending AA meetings and attending a Victim Impact Panel. Additionally, the financial costs of DUI fines and mandatory ignition interlock devices are constant reminders to DUI offenders that future risky behavior is simply not worth it.

That said, hiring a competent DUI attorney to fight DUI charges might be a worthy endeavor. The basic legal issues surrounding a DUI arrest are (1) whether the stop was lawful, (2) whether there was enough evidence to arrest, (3) whether the officer informed the defendant of Implied Consent Warnings, and (4) whether the defendant either (a) refused the BAC breathalyzer machine or (b) blew over .08 and/or had .05 nanograms of active THC in their blood when pulled over.

If you’re charged with DUI, the best advice is to immediately contact a competent DUI defense attorney to discuss your case. Good luck!

Lower Legal Alcohol Limit?

The National Transportation Safety Board wants the nationwide legal limit of .08 cut almost in half to .05, in an effort to save more lives.

Oddly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the nation’s most prominent advocacy group against drunk driving, does not support the legislation. MADD says there’s not enough data to show it would make much of a difference.

“Until we know that and can compare that and have an intellectual conversation on that, we want to focus on what we know is effective,” said Jason Derscheid, the Executive Director of MADD North Texas.

The organization most recently helped pass an interlock ignition law in Texas, allowing DWI offenders to have a device installed on their car. MADD has found that the alternative, suspending an offender’s license, doesn’t prevent them from continuing to drink and drive.

It’s advocating for similar laws to be passed in all 50 states.

Despite its lack of support for lowering the legal limit, MADD says it does not condone any level of drinking of driving.

“The only safe way to get home is to have a non-drinking, designated driver,” said Derscheid.

 

Study: Youth Tolerance Of Marijuana May Increase Chances of DUI

Study offers support for the notion of e-cigarettes as a gateway drug

A new study from the journal Pediatrics suggests ways to reduce the risk that children will drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs as teenagers.

The study found that 12-year-old children who believed marijuana could help them relax or was otherwise beneficial were more likely to drive under the influence when they were 16. The study also showed these minors were also significantly more likely to ride with someone else who was buzzed, drunk or high behind the wheel.

“Youth view marijuana use as less dangerous than drinking,” the study authors wrote. “We must begin to address how changing views of marijuana might increase risk for not only marijuana use, but other behaviors.”

Driving under the influence is common among American teenagers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10% of high school students do so in any given month, and more than 20% have been passengers of someone driving under the influence.

So researchers from Rand Corp. in Santa Monica and Arlington, Va., went looking for risk factors in middle school that could predict these dangerous behaviors in high school. They turned to data from a substance use prevention program called CHOICE that was tested in 16 middle schools in greater Los Angeles.

The Rand researchers focused on 1,124 students who completed detailed surveys in 2009 (when their average age was 12.2 years old), 2011 (when their average age was 14.3) and 2013 (when their average age was 16.3 and 88% were eligible to drive in California). The majority of these students (57%) were girls, and half were Latino.

Using statistical models to control for the students’ age, gender, race and ethnicity, school and whether their mothers had graduated from high school, the researchers identified several factors that seemed to predict unsafe driving at age 16.

According to the study, those who held more tolerant ideas about marijuana when they were 12 (in sixth or seventh grade) were 63% more likely than their peers to admit either driving under the influence themselves or to ride with someone who was under the influence

Additionally, 12-year-olds who felt most confident that they could resist marijuana use wound up being 89% more likely to mix alcohol and drugs with cars, motorcycles or other vehicles. This finding surprised the researchers, they wrote.

By the time the students were 14, some of the risk factors had changed. Those who said they had used alcohol in the last month were more than twice as likely as their peers to drive under the influence or ride with an intoxicated driver two years later.

Also, those whose friends used marijuana were 2.4 times more likely to be involved in unsafe driving later, and those whose family members used marijuana were 54% more likely to do the same.

And positive beliefs about marijuana still mattered — 14-year-olds who had them were still 67% more likely to mix alcohol, drugs and motor vehicles at age 16.

The researchers noted that marijuana has taken on a benign image among middle schoolers “as medical and recreational marijuana legalization increases in our country, adolescents are becoming more accepting of marijuana use,” they wrote. “This highlights the need to address these types of beliefs as early as sixth grade.”

My opinion? If these studies are accurate, they merely reveal our need to EDUCATE our youth about drugs, alcohol and vehicles. In short, DRUGS/ALCOHOL AND VEHICLES DON’T MIX. It doesn’t matter what type of drug you’re taking; whether it be prescription, medical marijuana or street drugs. Don’t do drugs and drive. And it doesn’t matter what type of alcohol you’re drinking. Don’t drink and drive.  If your doctor informs you that taking your prescription medication may affect your ability to operate a motor vehicle, then please think twice about operating a motor vehicle.

I’ve assisted many clients facing DUI charges of varying degrees. However, studies like this show that society is becoming less tolerant and sympathetic toward individuals charged with DUI. It takes a very competent and experienced defense attorney to reveal the science, forensics and idiosyncrasies of DUI litigation in today’s anti-drug climate. Please consult a qualified attorney if you’re facing DUI charges.

Study: Marijuana and Alcohol Doubles Odds for DUI

Alcohol & Marijuana: A Dangerous Combination

Marijuana is becoming increasingly legalized in the US for medical and recreational use. A new study analyzes the simultaneous use of alcohol and marijuana. In short, simultaneous users had double the odds of drunk driving, social consequences, and harm to self and others.

The researchers analyzed data from the 2005 and 2010 National Alcohol Survey (n=8,626; 4,522 females, 4,104 males). This was a Random Digit Dial, Computer Assisted Telephone Interview survey of individuals aged 18 and older from all 50 states and DC. Blacks and Hispanics were over-sampled. The study authors assessed differences in demographics, alcohol-related social consequences, harms to self, and drunk driving across simultaneous, concurrent, and alcohol-only using groups.

“We looked at three groups of adults,” explained Meenakshi S. Subbaraman, a corresponding author for the study and associate scientist at the Alcohol Research Group, a program of the Public Health Institute. “One, those who used only alcohol in the previous 12 months; two, those who used both alcohol and cannabis but always separately, or concurrently; and three, those who used both alcohol and cannabis and usually together, or simultaneously.

According to the study, simultaneous users did not necessarily always use cannabis while they drank; the groups were based on how often they drank when using cannabis, and not vice versa.

The study authors found that, compared to adults who solely used alcohol, simultaneous users had double the odds of drunk driving, social consequences, and harms to self. Compared to concurrent users, simultaneous users had double the odds of drunk driving. Simultaneous users also had the heaviest drinking patterns in terms of quantity and frequency.

The research brought interesting conclusions. “If cannabis use becomes more prevalent as U.S. states and other countries continue to legalize it, then we need to be prepared to advise people appropriately,” cautioned Subbaraman. “If you use both substances together, your risk of drunk driving, and possibly other consequences, may be higher than if you stick to using one at a time.”

The study appears in the May 2015 online issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Didlake v. DOL: Fees for DOL Hearings Held Constitutional

Cost of a DUI

Here’s an interesting opinion on the ever-increasing financial costs of fighting DUI crimes and the Department of Licencing’s (DOL) automatic suspension of a DUI defendant’s driver’s license.

In Didlake v. Department of Licensing, the Court of Appeals held that Washington’s Implied Consent Statute, RCW 46.20.308, which requires drivers arrested for DUI to pay a $200-$375 statutory fee in order to have an administrative hearing on license suspension, does NOT violate due process because of the driving privilege is not a fundamental right and DOL waives the fee for indigent drivers.

In 2010 – 2011 police arrested James Didlake and other defendants for DUI. Washington’s Implied Consent Statute, RCW 46.20.308, requires that a driver arrested for Driving Under the Influence of an Intoxicant (DUI) pay a filing fee to obtain an administrative review hearing to prevent a driver’s license suspension or revocation. And as required by Washington’s implied consent law, the Department initiated license suspension proceedings against them. Each defendant paid a $200 fee for an administrative review hearing. After they prevailed at their hearings, the Department rescinded their license suspensions.

Didlake filed a class action lawsuit against the DOL, asking for injunctive and declaratory relief, plus a refund and damages. He alleged that the $200 statutory fee for an administrative hearing violates due process. Didlake filed a motion for class certification under CR 23. After filing its answer, the DOL filed a motion to dismiss Didlake’s lawsuit under CR 12(b)(6).

On April 5, 2013, the trial court granted the DOL’s motion to dismiss. Didlake asked the Washington Supreme Court for direct review. On March 5, 2014, the Supreme Court transferred the case to the Court of Appeals.

In rendering its decision, the Court of Appeals gave lots of background on the procedural aspects of challeging DOL license suspensions. The court reasoned that the implied consent law provides certain procedural protections to drivers. The DOL must give the driver written notice that it intends to suspend or revoke the driver’s license. The DOL must also notify the driver of the right to a hearing and specify the steps to obtain one. Within 20 days of this notice, the driver may request in writing a formal hearing before the DOL. As part of the request, the driver must pay a mandatory fee. The DOL may waive the fee, however, for drivers who are indigent.

At the hearing, the driver may have assistance of counsel, question witnesses, present evidence, and testify. The hearing officer determines if the officer had reasonable grounds to believe the driver was driving under the influence and if the driver refused to take a test or took a test that revealed a BAC of 0.08 or higher. After the hearing, the DOL “shall order that the suspension, revocation, or denial either be rescinded or sustained.”

Here, the Court reasoned that Washington courts have almost always have upheld the constitutionality of filing fees. Courts have consistently distinguished between fundamental interests and interests that are “solely monetary,” involving “economics and social welfare,” or even “important” or “substantial.” If the interest involved is fundamental, due process requires access for all. Here, the court reasoned, a fee waiver for indigent litigants accomplishes this mandate. If the interest is not fundamental, “a monetary prerequisite to an appeal is thus permissible, even for indigent appellants.

Additionally, Courts have identified the driving privilege as an “important” and “substantial” but not fundamental right. Consequently, the court reasoned, this contradicts Didlake’s assertion that the filing fee has a “chilling effect” on drivers’ exercise of their due process rights. Thus, he fails to establish a facial challenge on due process grounds. And because he paid the fee and received a hearing that complied with due process, he does not show that the fee requirement is unconstitutional as applied to him. “Whether facial or as-applied, Didlake’s due process challenges fail.”

 The Court concluded that because Didlake failed to establish that the implied consent statute’s fee requirement violates procedural due process, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order dismissing Didlake’s class action claim.

My opinion? Speaking as a DUI attorney, DOL hearings and license suspensions are just another way for the State to profit from defendants charged with DUI. These days, a DOL hearing costs $375. Additionally, a defendant’s window of time to apply for these hearings is small – only 20 days after the DUI incident happened. Finally, DOL hearings are very difficult to win. There must be some glaring legal weakness in the case regarding (1) the pullover of the defendant’s vehicle, (2) the evidence of DUI, (3) whether the officer read the Implied Consent Warnings, and/or (4) whether the defendant tested over .08 BAC or refused the BAC machine.

Unfortunately, given the Court’s analysis above, it appears the wheels of justice shall continue to financially grind upon defendants facing license suspensions from DUI charges.

Marijuana / THC Breathalyzer Available Soon.

Cannabix Marijuana Breathalyzer

Technology appears to be catching up.

Since Colorado and Washington legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2014, and the growing trend to legalize pot in some capacity across the nation, there is an increased interest in addressing drugged driving.

However, today’s standardized testing marijuana intoxication is not as simple as detecting alcohol. More science and research are required. It the meantime, technology will be coming to market, such as the marijuana breathalyzer being developed by Cannabix Technologies, Inc. to give police officers an on-site tool to enhance detection of THC, the psychotropic metabolite in marijuana.

In the future, devices of this type will likely be dialed in by the forensic community and become an integral element in identifying marijuana-intoxicated drivers and in other settings, including workplaces and general consumer use, just as the alcohol breathalyzer is today.

My opinion? We saw this coming. It’s almost humorous. Typically, the law lags behind technological advances. Here, technology appears to be lagging behind the evolution of marijuana legalization! Interesting development, no? This device is another tool in the hands of law enforcement – along with Drug Recognition Experts, and search warrants for the testing of blood – for investigating DUI charges.