Category Archives: DUI

Traffic Deaths Increase

US traffic deaths way up; reckless driving blamed by feds

Excellent article from journalist of the Washington Post reports that U.S. traffic deaths jumped in 2022, hitting 20-year high.

More than 9,500 people were killed in traffic crashes in the first three months of this year, federal transportation officials said Wednesday — a figure that represents the deadliest start to a year on U.S. roads in two decades.

In seven states and the District, officials estimated crash deaths jumped at least 50 percent. Nationwide, deaths were up 7 percent compared with the same period last year.

The figures are preliminary estimates, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) did not release breakdowns of the causes of crashes. Officials say a surge in traffic fatalities that started in 2020 as the pandemic began has continued unabated.

“The overall numbers are still moving in the wrong direction . . . Now is the time for all states to double down on traffic safety.”  ~Steven Cliff, Administrator for NHTSA.

EXPLANATIONS FOR THE SURGE IN TRAFFIC FATALITIES

Experts have struggled to come up with an explanation for the spike in deaths but have pointed to less congestion amid changed driving patterns during the COVID-19 Pandemic, which they say have allowed more dangerous speeds. Officials say there’s also evidence of an uptick in Reckless Driving, DUI,   DUI or Driving Without a Seatbelt.

The early stages of the pandemic saw roads become emptier as people stayed home. However, drivers quickly returned to their vehicles, even as driving was no longer as dominated by morning and evening commutes. NHTSA reported that Americans drove more than 750 billion miles between January and March, an increase of more than 5 percent compared with 2021.

NHTSA reported 7,893 traffic deaths in the first three months of 2020, a period mostly before the onset of the pandemic. In 2021, the figure jumped to 8,935 deaths, then rose to 9,560 this year. The number of deaths this year was the highest in the first three months of a year since 2002. The first quarter is consistently the least deadly on U.S. roads.

SOLUTIONS FROM THE GOVERNMENT

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg earlier this year said the nation would work to eliminate crash deaths, pledging to adopt a “safe system” approach that would look as much at the design of roads and cars as the behavior of individual drivers. The effort is backed by billions in new safety funding from last year’s infrastructure law, including a $5 billion fund that will provide grants aimed at protecting bicyclists and pedestrians.

The infrastructure law included mandates for technology that could address some of the biggest causes of fatalities, such as calling for NHTSA to require breath monitoring devices for alcohol in new cars. Such a system is in testing, but a mandate is likely years away.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with Reckless Driving, DUI, or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

“Operation Dry Water” Works to Reduce Boating Under the Influence

Operation Dry Water Launches

According to Kiro 7, police are looking for alcohol and drug-impaired boaters this Fourth of July weekend.

Washington State Parks supports a nationally coordinated effort called Operation Dry Water.  This large-scale effort works to reduce boating-under-the-influence (BUI) accidents and fatalities. As part of the campaign, emphasis patrols are conducted annually around the Fourth of July. Independence Day is known for increased boating activities, use of alcohol, and an increase in the number of boating accidents and fatalities. Operation Dry Water includes the Coast Guard and local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. There will be an increase in patrols on Puget Sound waters.

Similar to DUI, a BUI outlaws the use any substance that impairs a person’s ability to operate a vessel in the state. A “vessel” includes kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and other watercraft. It is also illegal to operate a vessel with a blood alcohol content level of 0.08 or higher, the same as a vehicle.

Below are some things for boaters to know:

  • State law allows law enforcement officers to require boaters suspected of operating a boat while intoxicated to submit to a breath or blood test.
  • Refusing to submit to a test is a civil infraction with a maximum fine of $2,050.
  • The penalty for operating a boat under the influence is a gross misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000 and 364 days in jail.
  • Additionally, a BUI is considered a prior offense if there are later convictions for driving under the influence (DUI).

In 2021, more than 570 local, state and federal agencies participated in Operation Dry Water, which resulted in nearly 640 BUI arrests and more than 42,440 citations and warnings for safety violations that were issued.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with BUI, DUI or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Lawsuit: Washington State Patrol Misused Breathalyzer Tests, Misconstrued Readings

Datto Lawsuit: Ex-Employee Took Trade Secrets to ConnectWise

A recently filed lawsuit claims that the Washington State Patrol official responsible for ensuring the consistency and reliability of breath-test machines violated the rights of drunk driving suspects who later had their licenses revoked.

I discussed this in an earlier blog where a panel of District Court judges had already found breath machine results inadmissible in all Kitsap County cases. The four District Court judges tossed the breath machine results in all drunken-driving cases before the court. The judges also found that Fiona Couper, the WA State Patrol Forensics Lab, “submitted false or misleading testimony by declaration in tens of thousands of cases.” About 81,000 people were tested over the past decade.

THE LAWSUIT

The lawsuit was filed by David LaCross on behalf of plaintiff Nicholas Kori Solis, 29, of Bremerton. The respondent is Ms. Couper. The lawsuit claims that Ms. Couper filed false statements vouching for the legality of the machines and “deprived the plaintiff of due process.”

The lawsuit specifically criticizes Washington’s procedures for revoking drunk driving suspects’ licenses. This process is administrative, not criminal, and the breath test results are admitted to prove the driver was impaired to allow the state to revoke their driver’s license. The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of money for damages, among other remedies.

BACKGROUND

Mr. Solis was arrested March 19 by a State Patrol trooper who observed him driving 88 mph on Highway 3. In addition to signs of impairment, the trooper tested Solis using the Dräger breath test machine. The machine found Solis had a blood alcohol content reading of about .10. Solis was charged with DUI in Kitsap County District Court. He pleaded not guilty and entered a diversion agreement with prosecutors.

LEGAL ISSUE

The legal issue is whether Washington’s BAC machine accurately processed the results of breath tests. The state limit for blood alcohol content is .08. As the machines perform the required calculations, however, they produce results that contain more than two digits.

State law says the numbers are to be “rounded” but instead the software had been “truncating” them, or cutting off the numbers at a certain decimal point, a fact the judges found Couper knew or should have known.

The practical results of truncation vs. rounding can actually benefit defendants – as rounding a number could result in it increasing and showing a person was perhaps more intoxicated, something that cannot happen when the numbers are simply cut off.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with DUI or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Kitsap Judges’ Ruling Could Invalidate DUI Convictions Statewide

How Does a Breathalyzer Work? And Should You Refuse One?

Journalist reports that the Kitsap County District Court invalidated the results of a breathalyzer test (BAC Test) used by police. This ruling could have state-wide implications in thousands of DUI cases.

All four judges of the court agreed the state toxicologist violated state law when she approved software for the Dräger breathalyzer. This device is commonly used to test a person’s blood-alcohol level. The Dräger breathalyzer has been in the field since 2015 and is now used by nearly every law enforcement agency in the state.

Background Facts

On May 9, 2020, Mr. Keller was involved in a single-vehicle crash in Bremerton. Court records showed a Kitsap County sheriff’s deputy responded and smelled alcohol on Keller’s breath. He gave Keller a field sobriety test and Keller submitted to a blood alcohol test in the field using the portable Dräger breathalyzer. The test resulted in a 0.132 blood alcohol level. The legal limit in the state is .08.  Keller was arrested and is awaiting trial for DUI. On pretrial motion, his defense attorneys argued a  CrRLJ 3.6 Motion to Suppress the BAC Test. And apparently, they were successful.

How the Dräger Functions

The Dräger machine takes four samples of a person’s breath and then calculates the median, the center point of all four results.  It then provides a median number that is truncated to several decimal points. State law said the machine needs to truncate to four decimal points and then round up or down to three decimal points. Because the rounding was not part of the final calculation, any result the machine produced using the software approved by the state toxicologist violated state law.

The Court’s Ruling & Analysis

The judges reasoned that the Washington State Patrol oversees the State Toxicology Lab and is responsible for distributing the Dräger breathalyzer with the proper software to all local law enforcement in the state. However, the software approved by then-state toxicologist did not follow the calculations mandated by state law.

The judges issued two rulings. First, they wrote an 89-page ruling explaining their decision to their findings that the software did not follow state law. Second, they issued a court order stopping the use of results of the Dräger machine as evidence in all cases in Kitsap County.

Kudos to the defense attorneysGeorge Bianchi and Tom Weaver. They fought hard for justice. Thankfully, other defense attorneys in other counties can use the Kitsap County ruling in their own DUI cases. The state toxicologist approved software that was used in the Dräger machine across the entire state of Washington. Clearly, the software did not have the proper calculations and is presently being used by prosecutors and police.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with DUI or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

GR 37 Challenges to Striking a Potential Juror

Why Is It So Easy for Prosecutors to Strike Black Jurors? | The New Yorker

In State v. Booththe WA Court of Appeals held that a trial court’s decision to deny a defendant’s peremptory challenge was not reversible error. Booth captured an interesting scenario where the State – and not the defendant – made a race-based challenge to the opposition’s reasons for striking a potential juror.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On August 9, 2017, Ms. Booth went to a Metallica concert in Seattle with her cousin. After the concert ended around 11:00 p.m., Booth and her cousin went to his hotel room to talk and catch up. While they were talking, Booth’s cousin—a “very big guy”— began to say things that made Booth uncomfortable. He tried to kiss her. That caused Booth to panic and flee to her car, feeling like she “just had to get out of there.” She began driving without knowing where she was going. According to Booth, she drank a single glass of wine at the concert and had another serving of wine at her cousin’s hotel.

Around 3:30 a.m., Washington State Patrol Trooper saw a car remain stopped at a traffic light the entire time the light was green. When the car drove, it was drifting over lane lines and failed to stop even after he turned on his patrol car’s emergency lights. After the car stopped and the driver rolled down her window, Trooper Roberts smelled a very strong odor of alcoholic beverages coming from within the car. Booth was driving. Her eyes were bloodshot and watery, and she had a glazed stare on her face. She struggled to answer Trooper Roberts’ questions, seeming very forgetful.

Trooper Roberts arrested Booth on suspicion of DUI. Booth did not consent to sobriety tests. Her blood-alcohol content was never measured. Trooper Roberts decided against getting a warrant for a blood draw because he thought she was  obviously intoxicated.

The case moved on to trial. Booth’s defense theory was that her appearance and behavior resulted from memories of past sexual trauma being triggered by her cousin’s unwanted physical advance. Booth sought to testify about the details of the assaults that traumatized her. The court limited Booth’s testimony about her past to stating she had a history of victimization, and it allowed testimony about her mental state after her cousin’s unwanted advance.

VOIR DIRE

During voir dire – jury selection – Ms. Booth tried to exercise a peremptory challenge to a prospective juror who is a member of a cognizable racial minority. However, the State made a General Rule (GR) 37 objection, arguing race “could” have been a factor underlying the peremptory challenge. The trial court agreed. It denied Ms. Booth’s peremptory challenge and concluded GR 37 prohibited the striking of the juror.

The jury found Booth guilty both of DUI and of refusing to submit to a breath test. Booth appealed on arguments that the trial court mistakenly refused to grant her peremptory challenge.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Ultimately, the WA Court of Appeals reasoned that peremptory challenges are not required by the federal or state constitutions. The error here does not fit within the narrow class of per se reversible errors. Also, there was no showing of any prejudice from the erroneous seating of an otherwise competent, unbiased juror. Therefore, a reversal of Booth’s conviction and a retrial of her case was not required.

The court reasoned that in order to bring a GR 37 challenge, the party alleging the violation must establish a prima facie case demonstrating that the struck juror is from cognizable racial group. The burden than shifts to the non-moving party to provide a race-neutral justification. The court than determines whether “an objective observer could view race or ethnicity as a factor in the use of the peremptory strike.” A court evaluates the reason for the peremptory under the totality of the circumstances.

The court also reasoned that in this case, defense made a motion to strike a juror, the State objected under GR 37 and the trial judge denied the peremptory strike.

Under these circumstances, the Court held that an objective observer could not find race as the basis for the motion to strike. When a juror is wrongly impaneled, it implicates the constitutional rights of the defendant. However, erroneous denial of peremptory is not a per se reversible error, as it merely results in the improper seating of a competent and unbiased juror.

“Booth does not explain how juror 6’s presence on the jury made a difference. She does not argue juror 6 could have been challenged for cause, and, in fact, the trial court explained it would not have sustained a for-cause challenge to juror 6, given his answers. And, assuming the jury found Trooper Roberts credible, his testimony provided overwhelming evidence of Booth’s guilt. Thus, Booth fails to show prejudice because the record does not suggest juror 6’s absence would have changed the outcome.” ~WA Court of Appeals.

My opinion? Interesting decision. You don’t often see the State challenging a defendant’s peremptory challenges on the basis of race. You typically see the reverse: the defendant challenging the State’s peremptory challenge as race-based.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

WA Supreme Court Rules People Can Be Cited for DUI While Driving High

Driving While High | Time

In State v. Fraser, the WA Supreme Court held that people can be cited for DUI for driving while high. The decision upholds the state’s decade-old law regulating marijuana use behind the wheel of a car.

BACKGROUND FACTS

A Washington State Patrol trooper pulled Mr. Fraser after seeing him speeding alone in an HOV lane, changing lanes erratically and cutting off other drivers. When the trooper approached the car, he noticed Fraser was wearing an employee badge from a local cannabis dispensary. The trooper said Fraser was shaking, sweating and had dark circles under his eyes. According to the trooper, Fraser said he had smoked “half a day” earlier but that he no longer felt impaired. After performing several field tests, the trooper arrested Fraser on suspicion of DUI.

A blood test later showed Fraser had a THC blood concentration of 9.4 nanograms per milliliter, with a margin of error of 2.5. That put his THC blood concentration above the state’s 5 ng/ml limit.

Fraser went to trial. He was convicted of DUI.

On appeal, Fraser challenges the constitutionality of the DUI statute. He claimed that the THC limit was not correlated to any real measure of impairment. Therefore, it was arbitrary, vague and unconstitutional. He backed his opinion with testimony from a doctor who said the effect of a given level of THC can vary significantly from person to person.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSION

All nine justices rejected Douglas Fraser’s argument that his 2017 DUI was based on an arbitrary and vague standard for THC levels in the blood. The justices acknowledged that the correlation between THC levels and impairment is challenging to pinpoint. However, they found that blood measurements nevertheless provide a useful and constitutionally acceptable measurement.

“Although this limit may not be perfect in terms of identifying degree of impairment for all individuals, it is reasonably and substantially related to recent consumption, which is related to impairment.” ~WA Supreme Court Justice G. Helen Whitener

And while driving and cannabis use are both legal, neither is a right, the justices said. The impairment caused by 5 ng/ml of THC in the blood may vary. However, the limit serves its purpose by discouraging drivers from taking to the roads after using marijuana.

“The laws aim to deter people who have consumed cannabis from driving when there is a possibility they could be impaired, thus promoting some public interest of highway safety.” ~WA Supreme Court Justice G. Helen Whitener

It’s reasonable to assume the law will continue to do just that, Whitener wrote, and “the highways will be safer because of it.”

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with DUI or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

DUI Emphasis Patrols Start Again At WSU

The Costs Associated With A Houston DUI - Butler Law Firm

The WA State Patrol (WSP) just announced it will conduct DUI emphasis patrols starting March 10-20 as Washington State University (WSU) students travel across the state for Spring Break.  District 4 troopers in Spokane, Whitman and Adams counties and District 6 troopers in Grant and Kittitas counties, will be focusing on speeding to include driving too fast for conditions, distracted/impaired driving and other collision-causing violations during the emphasis.

The press release advises students traveling across the state should make sure to prepare for winter travel conditions.  A small emergency kit with water, food, blankets, winter clothing and emergency flares are a good idea. “Our primary mission is to ensure that everyone travels during Spring Break without incident,” said WSP District 4 Commander Captain Jeff Otis.

Motorists traveling to and from WSU will see an increased WSP presence on State Routes 26 & 195 as well as Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass.

“We encourage travelers to pay close attention to posted speed limits and to be prepared for changing road and weather conditions.” ~WA State Patrol

The WSP, WSU, and other state and local officials will be working hard throughout the break to ensure everyone heading to and from Pullman has a safe and enjoyable vacation. WSP public information officers will be updating information throughout the emphasis using the hashtag #BeSafeCougs.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with DUI or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

2021: Deadly for Drivers

Excellent article by journalist David Kroman found that 2021 was the deadliest on Washington roads in 15 years.

Washington for the year saw 540 fatal crashes, which killed more than 600 people, according to data from the Washington State Department of Transportation. Not since 2006 have the numbers been that high. In 118 of the year’s fatal crashes, a bicyclist or pedestrian was killed. An additional 2,411 crashes in 2021 resulted in likely serious injury — also the most since 2006 and 16% more than in 2020.

Alcohol- and drug-influenced serious and fatal crashes remained high in 2021, sustaining a harrowing 25% jump from 2019 to 2020. Speed, too, continued to play an outsized role after climbing nearly 18% in 2020.

Kroman reports that in Seattle, 31 people were killed in car crashes in 2021, according to preliminary data from the Seattle Department of Transportation. That, too, is the most since 2006. Jim Curtain, project development director at SDOT, said 19 of those deaths were pedestrians, and nearly half involved hit-and-runs. The city has also seen a jump in impaired driving, Curtain said.

INTERPRETING THE DATA

Kroman reports that early in the pandemic, reports from state troopers suggested behavior behind the wheel had become more extreme. There was a rise of speed-related crashes and so-called “aggressive drivers.” As the roads emptied, drivers could more easily hit triple digits on their speedometers. Combined with a rise in alcohol and drug use, collisions that may have been moderate in 2019 became serious or deadly in 2020.

As traffic returns, 2021’s picture is less obvious. Speed and distraction are almost certainly at the trend’s core, said Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center at the University of Washington. But there’s another, more nebulous cause that’s even more difficult to track.

“We have a pissed-off society . . . When you are in your big metal box of a car, you have an awful lot of ability to act out your frustrations both with accelerator and brake.” ~Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center

HOW WASHINGTON COMPARES

Washington’s 6% rise in serious and fatal crashes from 2019 to 2020 was close to average for the country that year, which saw a national 7% spike, according to the National Safety Council. Maine, Arkansas and Washington, D.C., experienced the sharpest jumps, each over 30%. Rhode Island saw a 24% increase.

My opinion? The stressors of 2020-21 — isolation, uncertainty, fear — remain. And with them comes an environment still conducive to risk, substance abuse and high speeds. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a DUI, Reckless Driving or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Racial Disparities & Traffic Stops

Black and Latino drivers are searched based on less evidence and are more  likely to be arrested, Stanford researchers find - Los Angeles Times

Excellent article by Nick Bowman of MyNorthwest.com reports on a new study regarding racial disparities in traffic stops. Apparently, the study provides five years of data on traffic stops made by Washington State Patrol. Ultimately, it gives mixed results.

According to Bowman, the study comes courtesy of researchers at Washington State University. It analyzed over 3.4 million traffic stops, 47,000 calls for service, and 175,000 collisions between January of 2015 and December of 2019.

While it says that it found “no evidence for intentional, agency-level racial bias,” it also showed some disparities in racial demographics most likely to be pulled over, cited, and searched. Over the five-year period it pulled data from, 5.7% of all traffic stops involved a Black driver, despite that demographic making up roughly 4.4% of the state’s population.

The highest rate of racial disparities involving Black drivers was seen in Pierce County, comprising 12.7% of traffic stops despite making up 7.7% of the county’s population. That was followed by King County, where Black motorists — comprising 7% of the county’s population — made up 11.5% of traffic stops.

White drivers made up 74.4% of traffic stops statewide, while comprising 78.5% of Washington’s population. Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Hispanic drivers were stopped by troopers at lower rates compared to their population.

Disproportionate practices were seen among the racial groups most likely to be searched. While Native American, Hispanic, and Black drivers were more likely to be searched than white drivers, so-called “hit rates” — the rate at which searches turned up contraband — were lower among the former group compared to searches of the latter.

“Particularly for Black and Hispanic motorists, searches were less productive (10% difference in contraband found) which may indicate that probable cause standards are lower for searches of these groups,” the study notes.

In terms of traffic citations, “white motorists received the most, but their overall proportion of total citations fell over the five-year period.” Native American and Black drivers were found to be less likely to be cited compared to white drivers, while Asian/Pacific Island and Hispanic drivers were more likely to be cited.

Please review my Search and Seizure Legal Guide. And please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with DUI or any other driving-related crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

 

New Car Tech May Stop DUI

Infrastructure law mandates new technology to prevent drunk driving — here's how it would work - MarketWatch

According to an article in US News, President Biden will sign legislation which has new cars monitor and stop intoxicated drivers. It’s an auto safety mandate aimed at stopping road fatalities included within the $1 trillion infrastructure package.

The technology would roll out in all new vehicles as early as 2026. The Transportation Department must assesses the best form of technology to install in vehicles and give automakers time to comply. For now, the legislation doesn’t specify the technology. It must merely “monitor the performance of a driver of a vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver is impaired.”

In all, about $17 billion is allotted to road safety programs, the biggest increase in such funding in decades.

“It’s monumental,” said Alex Otte, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Otte called the package the single most important legislation in the group’s history that marks the beginning of the end of drunk driving. “It will virtually eliminate the No. 1 killer on America’s roads,” she said.

Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported an estimated 20,160 people died in traffic collisions in the first half of 2021, the highest first-half total since 2006. The agency has pointed to speeding, impaired driving and not wearing seatbelts during the coronavirus pandemic as factors behind the spike. Each year, around 10,000 people are killed due to alcohol-related crashes in the U.S., making up nearly 30% of all traffic fatalities, according to NHTSA.

THE NEW TECHNOLOGY

According to the article,  the most likely system to prevent drunken driving is infrared cameras that monitor driver behavior. That technology is already being installed by automakers such as General Motors, BMW and Nissan to track driver attentiveness while using partially automated driver-assist systems.

The cameras make sure a driver is watching the road, and they look for signs of drowsiness, loss of consciousness or impairment. If signs are spotted, the cars will warn the driver.  If the behavior persists, the car would turn on its hazard lights, slow down and pull over.

The voluminous bill also requires automakers to install rear-seat reminders to alert parents if a child is left inadvertently in the back seat, a mandate that could begin by 2025 after NHTSA completes its rulemaking on the issue. Since 1990, about 1,000 children have died from vehicular heatstroke after the highest total in a single year was 54 in 2018, according to Kidsandcars.org.

My opinion? This is an interesting development. is the technology reliable? There’s certainly good argument  over whether the technology could backfire, or prove ineffective in detecting impairment. Is your car searching you by passively monitoring your physical condition? Clearly, there’s Fourth Amendment Search and Seizure issues, involved in this too.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with DUI or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.



Alexander F. Ransom

Attorney at Law
Criminal Defense Lawyer

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Suite #1420
Bellingham, WA 98225

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