Category Archives: Drug Recognition Expert

DUI & Opinion Evidence

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In City of Seattle v. Levesque, the WA Court of Appeals held that a police officer, who is not a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE), may not opine that a driver was showing signs of being impaired by a stimulant or that the driver was impaired by drugs at the time of an accident.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On April 29, 2015, the Seattle Police Department dispatched Officers Hinson and Officer Coe to the scene of an automobile accident involving two vehicles. Levesque had failed to stop his vehicle prior to hitting the vehicle in front of him. The accident caused moderate to severe damage, and Levesque’s vehicle could not be driven.

Officer Hinson placed Levesque under arrest for DUI.

Although Officer Hinson had received training in field sobriety tests (FSTS), he did not perform any FSTs at the scene because of Levesque’s symptoms, the absence of any alcohol smell, and the location of the accident and corresponding impracticability of FSTs. Officer Hinson did not perform a horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test for signs of impairment. Officer Hinson, who is not DRE certified, testified that he attempted to contact a DRE by radio, but no DRE was available.

For those who don’t know, a DRE  is a police officer trained to recognize impairment in drivers under the influence of drugs other than, or in addition to, alcohol.

After arresting Levesque, Officer Hinson transported Levesque to Harborview Medical Center, where he had his blood drawn. The drug analysis results showed that Levesque’s blood contained 0.14 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of amphetamine and 0.55 mg/L of methamphetamine. The City charged Levesque with DUI.

Before trial, Levesque moved in limine to exclude any testifying officer’s opinion on ultimate issues. The trial court granted the motion but ruled that an officer could state “in his opinion, based upon the totality of the circumstances, that Levesque was impaired.” The trial court also granted Levesque’s additional motion to exclude officers as experts but declared that an officer—testifying as a lay witness—could “certainly testify to what he objectively observed during the investigation.”

Officer Hinson testified that through his training and experience Levesque showed signs as possibly being impaired by a stimulant. When asked to opine as to whether Levesque was impaired by drugs, Officer Hinson testified that his opinion was that Levesque was definitely impaired at the time of the accident.” Levesque objected to Officer Hinson’s testimony and requested a mistrial outside the presence of the jury following a lunch recess. The court overruled Levesque’s objections.

Also at trial, Levesque offered an alternative theory for his perceived impairment. Levesque’s defense theory was that he was prescribed medication for injuries which explain his behavior. In support of this defense, Levesque presented testimony from his physician about treatment and prescriptions that she gave Levesque prior to the accident, her diagnoses, and Levesque’s symptoms.

The jury convicted Levesque of driving while under the influence. Levesque appealed his conviction to the superior court, which reversed based on Officer Hinson’s opinion testimony. The city of Seattle (City) appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that opinion testimony must be deemed admissible by the trial court before it is offered. Opinion testimony may be admissible under ER 701 as lay testimony or ER 702 as expert testimony. However, when opinion testimony that embraces an ultimate issue is inadmissible in a criminal trial, the testimony may constitute an impermissible opinion on guilt. Furthermore, impermissible opinion testimony regarding the defendant’s guilt may be reversible error.

Here, the opinion testimony at issue consists of Officer Hinson’s statements that Levesque showed signs and symptoms of being impaired by a specific category of drug – i.e., a CNS stimulant – and that Levesque was “definitely impaired” at the time of the accident.

“We conclude that because Officer Hinson was not a drug recognition expert (DRE) and lacked otherwise sufficient training and experience, he was not qualified to opine that Levesque showed signs and symptoms consistent with having consumed a particular category of drug.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Furthermore, the Court of Appeals reasoned that because the officer’s opinion that Levesque was “definitely impaired” constituted an impermissible opinion of Levesque’s guilt, the trial court’s admission of that testimony violated Levesque’s constitutional right to have the jury determine an ultimate issue. Finally, because Levesque presented an alternative theory for his behavior, the City did not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that any reasonable jury would have convicted Levesque. “Therefore, we affirm the superior court’s reversal of Levesque’s conviction,” said the Court of Appeals.

My opinion? Excellent decision. And excellent work on behalf of his defense attorney. They did a great job of making a record for not only trying to suppress the officer’s opinion evidence during motions in limine, but also for properly objecting at the right time and preserving the issue for appeal when the officer unlawfully offered the opinion testimony.

Under Evidence Rule 704, witnesses may not testify to opinions concerning intent, guilt, or innocence in a criminal case; the truth or falsity of allegations; whether a witness has testified truthfully; or legal conclusions. This is because testimony from witnesses on these issues is not probative and is, in fact, prejudicial to criminal defendants. Good opinion.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with DUI. Hiring a competent and experienced criminal defense attorney who is well-versed on pretrial motions and the rules of evidence is the first and best step toward justice.

New Year’s Eve DUI Patrols

Image result for A New Year but an old truth- There’s no safe place for impaired drivers to hide. 

The WA State Patrol (WSP) issued a press release stating WSP Troopers will be out looking for impaired drivers this week in preparation for the New Year. Patrols will be increased to include Troopers brought out to supplement regularly assigned patrols. WSP has partnered with five other states to form the Western States Traffic Safety Coalition. Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona are working together to save lives by removing impaired drivers from all of our roadways. The message is clear; A New Year but an old truth- There’s no safe place for impaired drivers to hide.

These extra patrols will include specially trained troopers to help identify and detect drug impaired drivers. Most WSP troopers receive additional training in drug impaired driver detection. This training, Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) is specifically focused on detecting drivers impaired by drugs. Troopers trained as Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) will also be out to assist in identifying and detecting drug impaired drivers. DREs receive training to identify what drugs a driver may be impaired by.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face DUI or any other alcohol-related driving crimes. It’s imperative to hire an experienced defense attorney who is knowledgeable of DUI defense.

Holiday DUI Patrols

According to an article in the Skagit County Herald, law enforcement agencies across the state are participating in emphasis patrols that search for motorists driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Drivers impaired by alcohol, marijuana and other drugs are involved in half of all traffic deaths in Washington, according to the state Traffic Safety Commission. From 2013-17, 1,268 people were killed in such crashes.

“These tragedies are completely preventable,” commission Director Darrin Grondel said in a notice of the emphasis patrols. “As a community, we can end DUI-related deaths. We are asking for help. If you are in the position to prevent someone else from driving impaired, please be bold. Offer to call them a ride or give them a safe place to sober up.”

In a recent commission survey, 81% of respondents said they would try to prevent someone from driving impaired.

The Washington State Patrol has investigated 18 fatal collisions year to date with the majority caused by impaired drivers. The Mobile Impaired Driving Unit (MIDU) will also be deployed in a central location for all law enforcement to use during this emphasis. There will be processors on board along with a phlebotomist for search warrant blood draws if necessary. This will allow for the suspected impaired drivers to be dropped off and allow law enforcement to return to patrol for additional impaired drivers.

The MIDU is a self-contained 36 foot motorhome that has been retrofitted as a mobile DUI processing center and incident command post. The MIDU is equipped with three breath testing instruments, two temporary holding cells, three computer work stations, an incident command computer terminal, a dispatcher console with wireless access to WSP dispatch centers and a microwave downlink tower for real time broadcasts from WSP aircraft. This is a full service police station on wheels.

Summer DUI Enforcement Patrols Begin

Be ready.As the deadliest time of the year for DUI crashes nears, police department across Washington will boost DUI patrols starting August 14th.

The Washington Traffic Commission just released data showing the deadliest time of year for DUI crashes tends to be before the Labor Day weekend. So starting today, police departments around the state will begin a nearly three-week long DUI emphasis.

About 150 departments across the state will participate in patrols between Aug. 14 and Labor Day. Between 2013 and 2017, the deadliest months for DUI crashes were August and September, when 238 and 259 people died in crashes total, according to WTSC data:

“We conduct the ‘plan before you party’ campaign during the busy summer travel time because we want everyone to get home safe,” said WTSC impaired driving program manager Mark Medalen in a press release. “Planning ahead for a safe ride is especially important for the small number of Washington drivers who mix alcohol and cannabis.”

Along with extra patrols, the WTSC is placing signs in cannabis shops around the state to remind users not to drive impaired — and not to mix cannabis with alcohol. Between 2013 and 2017, about 75 percent of drivers in fatal crashes were also using alcohol or another drug, according to WTSC.

From 2013 to 2017 nearly 75 percent of cannabis-positive drivers in fatal crashes were also positive for other drugs and/or alcohol.  Poly-drug drivers are now the most common type of impaired driver involved in fatal crashes.

Responding to this trend, traffic safety officials are improving techniques used to test drivers for impairment from cannabis. For example, in King County, the Kent Police Department is participating in a Law Enforcement Phlebotomy training and certification program.  Police officers are trained to draw and test blood, avoiding a lengthy wait in the hospital where the blood is typically drawn from the suspect.

The WTSC is advising everyone in the state to make a transportation plan before consuming alcohol or drugs, whether it’s finding a designated driver or saving money for a ride-share. Otherwise, police in just about every city in Puget Sound — plus Washington State Patrol — will be out looking to arrest DUI drivers.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are involved in DUI or any other alcohol-related criminal charges.

Bellingham’s Most Dangerous Intersections

Informative article by David Rasbach of the Bellingham Herald reports on statistics provided by the Bellingham Police Department Traffic Division showing Bellingham’s most dangerous intersection.

Apparently, at least in terms of the sheer number of accidents, West Bakerview Road and Northwest Drive reigns as the most dangerous intersection in the city.

In a distracted driving study conducted by its traffic division from January 2016 through June 2017, Bellingham Police received 1,350 reports of accidents within city limits, regardless of severity or injury. Of those, 43 accidents occurred at the intersection of Bakerview and Northwest — the highest total of any intersection in town.

Rasbach also reports that three of the top four most dangerous intersections during the 18-month study were in that same corridor: West Bakerview Road and Eliza Avenuehad the third highest accident total with 22 wrecks, while West Bakerview Road and Cordata Parkway was fourth highest with 18.

The only intersection breaking up Bakerview’s stranglehold on the top of Bellingham’s dangerous intersections list — Lakeway Drive and Lincoln Street, which had 25 reported accidents — is very similar, with two busy shopping centers and a school occupying three of the four corners. Nearby Lakeway Drive and King Street tied for sixth-most dangerous with Woburn Street and Barkley Boulevard with 14 reported accidents, each.

Also, the lone roundabout at Cordata Parkway and West Kellogg Road had 16 accidents reported.

Please contact my office if you, a family member or friend are criminally charged for traffic-related incidents. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to be charged with DUI, Reckless Driving, Negligent Driving, Driving While License Suspended, Eluding and/or numerous traffic citations. Bellingham’s dangerous intersections only exacerbate the situation and make it more likely that an unlawful pretextual pullover will happen.

Most of all, drive safe!

5 Types of Alcoholics

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Apparently, there are several types of alcoholics.

Scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) conducted a survey of 43,093 individuals, screening them for alcohol dependence as well as a wide range of other factors. The NIAAA researchers found that there were five distinct patterns of alcohol dependence.

YOUNG ADULT SUBTYPE

This is the most prevalent subtype, making up 31.5 percent of people who are alcohol dependent. The average age of dependent young adults is 25 years, and they first became dependent at an average of age 20. They tend to drink less frequently than people of other types (an average of 143 days a year). However, most of their drinking is binge drinking – they drink five or more drinks on an average of 104 (73 percent) of those days. On drinking days, the average maximum number of drinks is 14. This pattern of alcohol use is more likely to be hazardous than non-binging patterns.

Young adult alcohol dependents are 2.5 times more likely to be male than female. About 75 percent have never been married, 36.5 percent are still in school, and 54 percent work full time. Approximately 22 percent have a first- or second-degree family member who is also dependent on alcohol. Compared to other types of alcoholics, young adults are less likely to have psychiatric disorders or legal problems. Fewer than 1 percent of them have antisocial personality disorder. About 32 percent also smoke cigarettes, and 25 percent also use cannabis.

Only 8.7 percent of young adult alcohol dependents have ever sought treatment for their drinking problem. If they do choose to seek help, they tend to prefer 12-step programs over specialty treatment clinics or private professional practices.

The NIAAA reports that four out of five college students drink alcohol and half of those who do binge drink. They also note that each year, among college students between the ages of 18 and 24:

  • At least 1,825 students die from alcohol-related accidental injuries.
  • Over 690,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
  • More than 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related date rape or sexual assault.
  • About 599,000 students are unintentionally injured while they are under the influence of alcohol.
  • Over 150,000 students develop alcohol-related health problems.
  • About 25 percent of students experience school-related consequences from their alcohol consumption, such as being late to or missing classes, falling behind on coursework, doing poorly on homework, exams or papers, and receiving overall lower grades.

YOUNG ANTISOCIAL SUBTYPE

Young antisocial alcohol dependents make up 21.1 percent of alcoholics – 54 percent of them have antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). ASPD is characterized by at least three of the following:

  • Recurring criminal activities
  • Regular fights or assaults
  • Lack of regard for the safety of others
  • Lack of remorse
  • Impulsiveness
  • Deceitfulness
  • Irresponsibility

They are also young (average age 26 years), and they have the earliest age of onset of drinking (average 16 years) and the earliest age of alcohol dependence (average 18 years). Young antisocial alcoholics drank an average of 201 days in the last year, binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks) on an average of 161 (80 percent) of those days. When they drink, their maximum number of drinks is 17, the highest of any subtype of alcoholic.

About 76 percent of this type of alcoholic are male. Only 7.6 percent have received a college degree, although another 13.4 percent are still in school. Approximately 47 percent are employed full time. Family incomes average around $32,000, the lowest among the subtypes (alongside the chronic severe subtype).

Over half of young antisocial alcoholics (52.5 percent) have a close family member who is also alcohol dependent. In addition, they also have high rates of psychiatric disorders:

They also have high rates of substance abuse:

Almost 35 percent of young antisocial alcoholics have sought help for their alcohol-dependence problems. They tend to go to self-help groups, detoxification programs, and specialty treatment programs, and they have high rates of participation in treatments offered by individual private health care providers.

The NIAAA reports that alcohol and ASPD make for a dangerous combination. People with ASPD are 21 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence in their lifetimes. Meanwhile, alcohol is more likely to increase aggressive behaviors in people with ASPD than in people without. This may be because alcohol interferes with executive functioning in the brain, which regulates and inhibits aggressive behavior. People with ASPD also show impaired executive functioning, which may make them particularly vulnerable to this effect.

FUNCTIONAL SUBTYPE

Functional alcoholics make up 19.4 percent of alcohol-dependent individuals. This group tends to be older (average age 41 years), has a later age of first drinking (average 19 years), and a later onset of alcohol dependence (average age of 37 years). They tend to drink alcohol every other day (an average of 181 days per year), and they consume five or more drinks on an average of 98 (54 percent) of those days. On drinking days, they tend to consume a maximum of 10 drinks.

About 62 percent of functional alcoholics work fulltime, 3.6 percent are in school fulltime, and 5 percent are retired. Nearly 26 percent have a college degree or higher, and average household income is almost $60,000, the highest among any of the subtypes. Approximately 40 percent are female, and nearly 50 percent are married.

About 31 percent of functional alcoholics have a close family member who also has alcohol dependence. They have moderate rates of major depression(24 percent) and smoking cigarettes (43 percent), and low rates of anxiety disorders, other substance use disorders, and the lowest rates of having legal problems (fewer than 1 percent). Fewer than 1 percent of these individuals have antisocial personality disorder.

Only 17 percent of functional alcoholics have ever sought help for their alcohol dependence. Those who do tend to make use of 12-step programs and private health care professionals. Functional alcoholics make up 19.4 percent of alcohol-dependent individuals. This group tends to be older (average age 41 years), has a later age of first drinking (average 19 years), and a later onset of alcohol dependence (average age of 37 years). They tend to drink alcohol every other day (an average of 181 days per year), and they consume five or more drinks on an average of 98 (54 percent) of those days. On drinking days, they tend to consume a maximum of 10 drinks.

INTERMEDIATE FAMILIAL ALCOHOLICS

Intermediate familial alcoholics make up 18.8 percent of all alcoholics. Nearly half (47 percent) of them have a close family member who is also an alcoholic. They have an average age of 38 years, began drinking at almost age 17, and developed alcohol dependence at an average age of 32 years. Intermediate familial alcoholics drink on an average of 172 days a year, consuming five or more drinks on 93 (54 percent) of those days, with a maximum of 10 drinks.

They have the highest rates of employment among alcoholics, with 68 percent working full time and with an average family income of nearly $50,000 a year. Nearly 20 percent have a college degree. About 64 percent are male, while about 38 percent are married and 21 percent are divorced.

Intermediate familial alcoholics have elevated rates of mental illness:

They also have higher rates of substance use/abuse:

  • 57 percent smoke cigarettes
  • 25 percent have cannabis use disorder
  • 20 percent have cocaine use disorder

Almost 27 percent of intermediate familial alcohol dependents have sought help for their drinking problem. They tend to prefer self-help groups, detoxification programs, specialty treatment programs, and individual private health care providers.

CHRONIC SEVERE SUBTYPE

This is the rarest and most dangerous type of alcoholism, making up 9.2 percent of alcoholics. Chronic severe alcoholics average 38 years of age. They begin drinking early (at 16 years) and develop alcohol dependence later (around 29 years of age). This group has the highest rates of drinking, consuming alcohol on an average of 247.5 days a year and binge drinking on 172 (69 percent) of them, with a maximum of 15 drinks.

The majority of chronic severe alcoholics are male (65 percent). They also have the highest divorce rates, with 25.1 percent divorced and 8.6 percent separated, and only 28.7 percent married. Only 9 percent have a college degree, and they also have the lowest employment rate, with only 43 percent of chronic severe alcoholics employed full time and 7.6 percent both unemployed and permanently disabled.

Chronic severe alcoholics have the highest rate of family members who also experience alcohol dependence, at 77 percent. They are most likely to have mental illnesses:

  • 55 percent have depression
  • 47 percent have antisocial personality disorder (the second-highest rate, after young antisocial alcoholics)
  • 34 percent have bipolar disorder
  • 26 percent have social phobia
  • 25 percent have dysthymia
  • 24 percent have generalized anxiety disorder
  • 17 percent have panic disorder

Substance abuse is also common:

  • 75 percent smoke cigarettes
  • 58 percent have cannabis use disorder
  • 39 percent have cocaine use disorder
  • 24 percent have opioid use disorder

Chronic severe alcoholics experience the most pervasive symptoms:

  • Highest rate of emergency room visits related to drinking of any subtype
  • 94 percent drink larger/longer amounts than intended
  • 92 percent drink despite experiencing problems from drinking, such as at work, school, in relationships, or while driving
  • 88 percent experience withdrawal symptoms
  • 83 percent have repeatedly tried to reduce their drinking
  • 64 percent spend significant time recovering from drinking
  • 48 percent reduced meaningful activities, like hobbies or family time, because of alcohol

Almost 66 percent of chronic severe alcoholics have sought help for their alcoholism. They have the highest rates of attendance at self-help groups, detoxification programs, and specialty rehabilitation programs, and the highest rates of treatment in inpatient programs. When seeking treatment, they tend to turn to social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and private physicians.

Alcoholism is a debilitating disease. Making matters worse, it can lead people to commit crimes they otherwise would not commit. DUI is the perfect example of a crime which necessarily involves alcohol or drug abuse. Fortunately, there are defenses. Voluntary Intoxication and/or Diminished Capacity might apply. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member suffer from alcoholism and are charged with a crime. Perhaps good defenses combined with hard work and strong dedication to a alcohol treatment program might persuade the Prosecutor to reduce or dismiss the charges.

“Furtive Movements”

Image result for furtive movements

In State v. Weyand, the WA Supreme Court held that officers lacked sufficient facts to justify a Terry stop of the defendant. Walking quickly while looking up and down the street at 2:40 a.m. is an innocuous act, which cannot justify intruding into people’s private affairs.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On December 22, 2012, at 2:40 in the morning, Corporal Bryce Henry saw a car parked near 95 Cullum Avenue in Richland, Washington, that had not been there 20 minutes prior. The area is known for extensive drug history. Corporal Henry did not recognize the car and ran the license plate through an I/LEADS (Intergraph Law Enforcement Automated System) database. However, that license plate search revealed nothing of consequence about the vehicle or its registered owner.

After parking his car, Corporal Henry saw Weyand and another male leave 95 Cullum. As the men walked quickly toward the car, they looked up and down the street. The driver looked around once more before getting into the car. Weyand got into the passenger seat. Based on these observations and Corporal Henry’s knowledge of the extensive drug history at 95 Cullum, he conducted a Terry stop of the car.

After stopping Weyand, Corporal Henry observed that Weyand’s eyes were red and glassy and his pupils were constricted. Corporal Henry is a drug recognition expert and believed that Weyand was under the influence of a narcotic. When Corporal Henry ran Weyand’ s name, he discovered an outstanding warrant and arrested Weyand. Corporal Henry searched Weyand incident to that arrest and found a capped syringe. Corporal Henry advised Weyand of his Miranda3 rights, and Weyand admitted that the substance in the syringe was heroin that he had bought from a resident inside 95 Cullum.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The State charged Weyand with one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Weyand moved to suppress all evidence and statements under Criminal Rules (CrR) 3.5 and 3.6 and to dismiss the case against him. Weyand argued that the officer did not have sufficient individualized suspicion to conduct the investigatory stop.

After the hearing, the court concluded that the seizure was a lawful investigative stop. According to the court, Corporal Henry had reasonable suspicion to believe that Weyand was involved in criminal activity. The court found Weyand’s case distinct from State v. Doughty, because in this case there was actual evidence of drug activity at, as well as known drug users frequenting, 95 Cullum.

The court additionally found that Weyand knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights; thus, all post-Miranda statements were admissible at trial. Weyand waived his right to a jury trial and agreed to submit the case to a stipulated facts trial. Finding that Weyand possessed a loaded syringe that contained heroin, the court found Weyand guilty of unlawful possession of a controlled substance.

Weyand appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. It reasoned that the totality of the circumstances, coupled with the officer’s training and experience, showed that the officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that justified the stop. Those circumstances included “the long history of drug activity at 95 Cullum, the time of night, the 20 minute stop at the house, the brisk walking, and the glances up and down the street.”

LEGAL ISSUE

Whether the specific facts that led to the Terry stop would lead an objective person to form a reasonable suspicion that Weyand was engaged in criminal activity.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court held that officers lacked sufficient facts to justify a Terry stop of the defendant. It reasoned that under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution, an officer generally may not seize a person without a warrant. There are, however, a few carefully drawn exceptions to the warrant requirement. The State bears the burden to show that a warrantless search or seizure falls into one of the narrowly drawn exceptions.

One of these exceptions is the Terry investigative stop. The Terry exception allows an officer to briefly detain a person for questioning, without a warrant, if the officer has reasonable suspicion that the person is or is about to be engaged in criminal activity. An officer may also briefly frisk the person if the officer has reasonable safety concerns to justify the protective frisk.

The Court found that the totality of the circumstances did not justify a warrantless seizure. It reasoned that in order to conduct a valid Terry stop, an officer must have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity based on specific and articulable facts known to the officer at the inception of the stop. To evaluate the reasonableness of the officer’s suspicion, Courts look at the totality of the circumstances known to the officer. The totality of circumstances includes the officer’s training and experience, the location of the stop, the conduct of the person detained, the purpose of the stop, and the amount of physical intrusion on the suspect’s liberty. The suspicion must be individualized to the person being stopped.

“Here, the trial court’s decision rested primarily on evidence that 95 Cullum was a
known drug location,” said the Court. “However, Corporal Henry did not observe current activity that would lead a reasonable observer to believe that criminal activity was taking place or about to take place in the residence.”

Furtive Movements

Also, the Court reasoned that reliance on ‘furtive movements’ as the basis for a Terry stop can be problematic. “Case law has not precisely defined such movements, and courts too often accept the label without questioning the breadth of the term.” It explained that ‘furtive movements’ are vague generalizations of what might be perceived as suspicious activity which does not provide a legal ( or factual) basis for a Terry stop.”

The Court quoted Judge Richard Posner in recognizing that “furtive movements,” standing alone, are a vague and unreliable indicator of criminality:

“Whether you stand still or move, drive above, below, or at the speed limit, you will be described by the police as acting suspiciously should they wish to stop or arrest you. Such subjective, promiscuous appeals to an ineffable intuition should not be credited.”

With that, the WA Supreme Court reasoned that simply labeling a suspect’s action a “furtive movement,” without explaining how it gives rise to a reasonable and articulable suspicion, is not sufficient to justify a Terry stop. Furthermore, reasoned the Court, police cannot justify a suspicion of criminal conduct based only on a person’s location in a high crime area:

“It is beyond dispute that many members of our society live, work, and spend their waking hours in high crime areas, a description that can be applied to parts of many of our cities. That does not automatically make those individuals proper subjects for criminal investigation.”

Consequently, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and hold that walking quickly and looking around, even after leaving a house with extensive drug history at 2:40 in the morning, is not enough to create a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity justifying a Terry stop.

My opinion? Excellent decision. I’m very impressed the Court addressed the term “furtive movements” and put it in perspective. Law enforcement officers regularly use this catch-phrase to describe suspicious behavior allowing them stop/search/seize people. Although officer safety is a primary concern and a very good reason to search people who are already in police custody and making “furtive movements” in the presence of officers, it cannot be a basis for stopping and searching people who are simply going about their business walking down the street. Great decision.

DUI: Men vs. Women

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Great news article from the Bellingham Herald discusses the physiological differences in alcohol impairment levels experienced between men and women.

In Who Gets Arrested More for DUI: Men or Women?,  author Doug Dahl states that over the past couple decades, alcohol-impaired driving has steadily been decreasing, however, the reduction in impaired driving doesn’t apply to women. Dahl is the Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force.

Apparently, in a recent 10-year period, DUI arrests for men decreased by 7.5 percent while DUI arrests for women increased by 28.8 percent.

“According to the CDC, the average weight of an American man is 196 pounds, while the average American woman weighs 166 pounds,” said Dahl.  “Also, because of differences in enzymes, hormones and body fat percentages between men and women, women generally metabolize alcohol at a slower rate.” Simply put, says Dahl, women get drunk faster and stay drunk longer than men:

“To be clear, both of our imaginary people in this example shouldn’t drive. A BAC of .06 will cause impairment. It’s a big enough concern that legislators in some states, including Washington, have proposed reducing the legal limit to .05.”

Mr. Dahl further states that the level of impairment between a BAC of .06 and .09 is significant. According to a study of impaired driving crashes, a driver with a BAC of .06 is about 1.6 times more likely to cause a crash than a sober driver. For a driver with a BAC of .09, that jumps up to 3.5 times more likely. “Don’t judge your own impairment based on how someone else handles the same amount of alcohol, and always have a plan for a safe ride home before going out for drinks,” says Dahl.

Regardless of your gender, please contact my office if you, a friend or relative faces charges of DUI. These charges are serious, threaten careers and can significantly limit one’s driving privileges.

State Senate Passes Bill Making Fourth DUI a Felony.

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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

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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.