Articles Posted in DUI

In cases involving driving under the influence, the state often relies on test results to show that the defendant was intoxicated.  However, the prosecutor may also point to the defendant’s behavior as evidence of intoxication.  A Washington appeals court recently considered whether a prosecutor committed misconduct when she referenced negative statements the defendant made about the other driver and her passenger after the accident in a recent unpublished case.

The defendant appealed his convictions for two counts of vehicular assault.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the defendant had three or four drinks on the evening of the collision.  His blood alcohol level after the accident was .12 grams per 100 milliliters. A witness had seen the defendant’s truck swerve across the yellow line several times.  The witness saw the defendant drive into the opposite lane toward an oncoming car.  The two vehicles collided head-on.

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Often, a person charged with driving while under the influence will face additional, related charges.  Attempting to elude police is one such charge.  Sometimes, a person may feel they are justified in not stopping for the police officer, but a necessity defense is very difficult to prove in this type of case.

In a recent unpublished case, a Washington appeals court considered a defendant’s claim of necessity based on her statement that she did not stop because she was fleeing a person who had threatened her.

According to the opinion, the defendant ran a red light in front of an officer and failed to stop when he engaged the emergency lights.  The defendant stopped in front of a residence and tried to go inside.  The officer tackled her to stop her and subsequently arrested her for DUI.

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Under Washington law, police must advise individuals of the right to independent testing when a breath test is administered pursuant to the implied consent statute.  Under a previous version of the statute, this information was also required for blood tests.  A Washington appeals court has recently addressed whether police must still inform of the right to independent testing of blood when it is no longer specifically included in the statute.

The defendant was convicted of vehicular assault as a result of a two-car collision.  The defendant appealed, arguing that blood test evidence should have been excluded because he was not informed he had the right to independent tests at the time the blood was taken.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant caused the accident by crossing the center line. The defendant called 911.  The police officer smelled alcohol and noticed signs of impairment at the scene.   The defendant went to the hospital by ambulance.  The trooper who spoke with the defendant at the hospital also smelled alcohol and observed signs of impairment.  The defendant did not respond to the trooper’s requests for a field sobriety test or a portable breath test.  Blood was subsequently drawn pursuant to a warrant.  The defendant’s blood alcohol content was 0.12 three and a half hours after the collision.

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The prosecution is generally required to prove some level of intent, or mens rea, to succeed in obtaining a guilty verdict in a criminal case.  Some offenses, however, are strict liability offenses, meaning the prosecution does not have to prove intent.  A Washington appeals court recently considered whether the vehicular homicide and vehicular assault statutes require the prosecution to prove a mens rea of ordinary negligence in the case of driving under the influence.

In a recent case, the defendant appealed convictions for vehicular homicide and vehicular assault, arguing the jury instructions were erroneous because they allowed the jury to find her guilty without a finding of ordinary negligence.

According to the opinion, the defendant’s truck spun out on an icy bridge, slid off the road, and hit two people who were investigating an accident scene.  One man died, and the other was seriously injured.   The officers restrained the defendant and had blood drawn at the hospital.  The tests revealed a blood alcohol concentration of .09.

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Implied consent is an important aspect of DUI defense.  The Washington implied consent statute, RCW 46.20.308, requires officers to inform a driver suspected of DUI of certain consequences of refusing or submitting to a breath test.  When recreational marijuana use was decriminalized in Washington, the legislature set a legal limit for THC levels in the blood while driving.  It also added a warning to the implied consent statute, stating the consequences of a breath test that indicated the driver’s THC concentration was above the legal limit.  The available breath tests, however, could not measure THC.  Although the statute has since been amended again, there were cases that arose under the language requiring the THC warning.

This blog previously discussed the case of State v. Murray, wherein the Court of Appeals found that the defendant’s breath test results were not admissible because the officer did not provide the THC warning.

The Supreme Court of Washington recently reviewed that case, consolidated with another.  The trooper involved in each case used an identical form in providing the implied consent warning.  The warning did not include statutory language regarding THC, but it advised the defendant that he or she was subject to a driver’s license suspension, revocation, or denial if the test indicated he or she was under the influence of alcohol.  The form stated the defendant had the right to refuse the test, but if he or she did so, his or her driver’s license, permit, or privilege to drive would be revoked or denied for at least a year, and that refusal could be used in a criminal trial.  It further stated that the driver’s license, permit, or privilege to drive could be suspended, revoked, or denied for at least 90 days if the defendant was at least 21 years old, the test indicated a blood alcohol level of .08 or more, and the defendant was in violation of RCW 46.61.502, Driving Under the Influence, or RCW 46.1.504, Physical Control of a Vehicle under the Influence.

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In Washington criminal cases, the prosecution must disclose upon written demand the names and addresses of the people it “intends to call as witnesses . . .” and any expert witnesses it intends to call at trial, if that information is within its knowledge, possession, or control.  The Washington Court of Appeals recently considered whether it was permissible for the State to wait until the day of trial to name the actual witness in State v. Salgado-Mendoza.

After being arrested for DUI, the defendant voluntarily submitted to two breath tests.  Several months before his scheduled trial date, he requested that the State disclose information about its expert witnesses.  The State filed a witness list in December 2012, naming nine toxicologists, one of whom would testify.

The defendant filed a supplementary discovery demand about two weeks before trial, seeking the names of all the expert witnesses the state intended to call.  Three days before trial, he moved for the dismissal or exclusion of the toxicologist’s evidence.  He argued the State had committed governmental misconduct by failing to disclose who would testify, despite multiple requests.

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Under the missing witness doctrine, if a person who could have been called to testify is not, the jury may infer that person’s testimony would have been unfavorable to the party who naturally would have called him or her.  This doctrine and the associated jury instruction can be highly detrimental to a case, and are therefore to be used sparingly, particularly in the case of a criminal defendant.  There are therefore requirements and limitations to when they apply.

The Washington Court of Appeals recently considered the application of the missing witness jury instruction in State v. Houser .  A woman called 911 after the defendant knocked on her door at about 9 p.m. with a swollen lip and bloody nose.  He told the woman’s husband that his car was in a ditch about a mile away.  The defendant later told the state trooper he had some beers that night and drove off the road and struck a pole.  After a field sobriety test indicated impairment and he was arrested, the defendant said he was not driving and that his “buddy” had been the driver.

The defendant was charged with felony DUI.  The defendant testified he was waiting in his truck outside his friends’ house when he saw an old friend he had not seen in many years.  The two decided to get some marijuana, with the friend driving the defendant’s truck because the defendant had been drinking.  Afterward, they were on their way to another friend’s house when the accident occurred.  The defendant testified his friend was driving at the time of the accident.  He said he could not remember exiting the truck.  He knew his friend did not stay in the truck, but did not know how he got out or where he went.  He had not contacted the friend since the accident, had not tried to reach him, and did not know how to do so.

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In a significant ruling, Washington’s highest court tackled the question of whether a defendant’s refusal to perform a field sobriety test may be used against him at trial on a charge of driving under the influence (DUI). The court ultimately held that a field sobriety test is not a search but a seizure justified under the doctrine of Terry. Therefore, the court explained, defendants do not have a constitutional right to refuse a field sobriety test, and such a refusal may properly be used as evidence of guilt against them at trial.

In State of Washington v. Mecham (Wash. June 16, 2016), a police officer ran a random license check on the defendant’s vehicle while stopped behind him at a light. After finding an outstanding warrant, the police officer pulled over the defendant and arrested him. The officer smelled alcohol on the defendant’s breath and observed an open beer can in the defendant’s passenger seat. The officer asked the defendant if he would consent to perform a field sobriety test, and the defendant refused. The police eventually obtained a search warrant authorizing a blood draw, which indicated alcohol in the defendant’s system. Following a trial, a jury found the defendant guilty of felony DUI. The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in allowing evidence of his refusal to perform a field sobriety test to be used against him at trial.

In Washington, although prosecutors may not comment on a refusal to waive a constitutional right, the state may admit evidence that a defendant is asserting a non-constitutional right as evidence of consciousness of guilt at trial. On appeal, the court narrowed the dispositive issue to whether a defendant has a constitutional right to refuse to perform a field sobriety test.

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Police officers must generally follow statutory and constitutional protections when arresting or interacting with individuals. In a recent case, the Washington Court of Appeals addressed the consequences of failing to provide the required statutory warnings before administering a breath test to a defendant arrested for driving under the influence (DUI).

In State v. Murray, 192 Wash. App. 1040 (2016), a Washington State Patrol Trooper stopped the defendant for a traffic violation. The trooper alleged that she smelled alcohol from inside the defendant’s vehicle and that the defendant’s eyes were bloodshot and watery and her speech slurred. After the defendant performed field sobriety tests, the trooper arrested her. During a standard inventory search, a pipe and a bag of marijuana were found in the defendant’s vehicle. At the police station, the trooper read the defendant the implied consent warnings for the breathalyzer test, but she failed to provide warnings about per se THC concentration in her blood. The defendant agreed to a breath test that indicated a level over the per se limit for alcohol.

Pursuant to RCW 46.20.308, an officer is required to inform a driver of specific warnings regarding the consequences of denying or submitting to a breath test. Before trial, the defendant moved to suppress the evidence of the breath test results, contending that the trooper’s failure to provide all of the warnings required by RCW 46.20.308 was a violation of her rights. The defendant’s motion was denied by the trial court, and the defendant was found guilty as charged. On appeal, the superior court reversed the lower court, holding that officers do not have discretion to decide which of the required warnings are given to subjects suspected to have consumed both alcohol and THC. The state appealed, and the matter was brought before the Washington Court of Appeals.

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In an important decision, the Court of Appeals of Washington addressed the issue of whether a warrantless blood test violated the rights of a defendant charged with driving under the influence (DUI) of marijuana. In City of Seattle v. Pearson (Wash. Ct. App. Feb. 29, 2016), the defendant struck a pedestrian with her car. The defendant suffered from health conditions for which she was authorized to consume medical marijuana and told police she had smoked earlier in the day. After the defendant performed field sobriety tests, the police officer arrested the defendant on suspicion of driving under the influence. The officer then transported the defendant to a hospital for a blood draw without her consent or a warrant, two hours after the accident had occurred. The test determined a THC concentration of approximately 20 nanograms.

Both the U.S. and Washington State constitutions provide protection against unreasonable searches, including the intrusion into a person’s body to draw blood. Absent a recognized exception, a warrantless blood draw is unlawful. An exception may exist in the case of exigent circumstances, in instances where acquiring a warrant is not realistic because the delay that occurs in the pursuit of securing a warrant would adversely affect factors such as an officer’s safety, enable escape, or allow for the destruction of evidence. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of the blood test after finding that exigent circumstances existed to justify the warrantless blood test.

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