Articles Tagged with Traffic Arrests

nigth-at-hyper-1455387On January 25, 2016, Trump signed two draconian executive orders targeting documented and undocumented immigrants in the United States. There has been much attention regarding the executive orders barring refugees and any citizens’ entry of seven predominately Muslim countries. However, the impact on the criminal justice system regarding immigrants currently in the United States has received far less attention.

The Supreme Court case Padilla v. Kentucky placed an affirmative obligation on criminal defense attorneys to advise immigrant clients about potential immigration consequences for entering into guilty pleas. That seminal case created significant overlap between criminal defense and immigration law. Trump’s recent Executive Orders and their likely impact on the criminal justice system further blur the line between criminal defense and immigration law.

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In the District of Columbia, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is responsible for prosecuting DUIs and it takes this job very seriously. While other jurisdictions routinely offer favorable deals for DUI offenders, DC rarely does. What that means is that often times you would be no better off pleading guilty than you would be if you took the case to trial and lost. Your best bet at beating a DUI conviction is going to trial and holding the government to its burden of proof.

To be convicted of a DUI, the government must prove that you were (1) operating a motor vehicle (2) while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. While two elements may not seem like much to prove for the government, there are numerous ways to challenge the evidence against you on both elements.

The first element of the DUI offense is the trickiest element to challenge because DC law has a broad definition of what it means to operate a motor vehicle. Operate is defined as actual physical control over the vehicle. Physical control means capable of putting the vehicle into movement or preventing movement. If you were pulled over and the police witnessed you driving, it is hard to say you were not operating the vehicle.

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A Wisconsin man is currently facing up to 30 years in prison after being convicted of his eighth DUI. In the state of Wisconsin, while a single DUI conviction is usually charged as a misdemeanor, multiple DUIs are charged as felonies which carry significantly higher penalties. Unlike in Wisconsin, however, DUIs within the District of Columbia are never charged as felonies.

As previously discussed, in the District, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has jurisdiction over the prosecution of DUIs. The OAG can only prosecute traffic misdemeanors like DUIs, reckless driving, and hit and runs. Conversely, if a person within DC is charged with a felony, the United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) has jurisdiction to prosecute the case. Consequently, the OAG will rarely ever charge a DUI as a felony because it does not want to lose jurisdiction over the case. What this means is that no matter how many DUIs you get within DC, you will only ever be charged with a misdemeanor. So while the Wisconsin man mentioned earlier faces up to 30 years in prison for eight DUI convictions, the most time a person will spend in jail for any DC DUI or DWI is up to 1 year.

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In recent news, Public Enemy hype man Flavor Flav was arrested for driving under the influence in Las Vegas. This arrest follows a string of other charges plaguing the Rock & Roll Hall-of-Famer including charges for marijuana-related DUI, speeding, open container, operating a vehicle without a valid permit, and battery. Considering the length of the rap legend’s rap sheet, you can imagine how quickly Flavor Flav said “Yeahhh Boiii” when the judge in the most recent case accepted his plea of no contest.  In some states, when you are arrested for a crime, you have the option of pleading three different ways to the charges: not guilty, guilty, or no contest. Generally, the government will offer you some type of deal in order for you to plead guilty or no contest because it gives the government a chance to close your case quickly and secure an easy conviction.  Flava Flav’s case illustrates an important point about handling a DUI or DWI in DC.

In many cases, it is common for the government to offer some sort of lighter sentence in return for a defendant’s guilty plea. In other cases, a defendant may plead no contest (or nolo contendere) and the government will not oppose this plea because the defendant will be punished the same way as if he or she pled guilty. A no contest plea is preferable for some defendants because it allows the defendant to avoid admitting guilt for the crime and the negative effects that a guilty plea may have otherwise had in the future. A nolo contendere plea is basically the Defendant saying: “I may or may not be guilty but I don’t want to take the time and effort to challenge the prosecution.”

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sleep-1431410What started out as a mission to satisfy a late-night craving, ended in disaster for one Florida man when a police officer found him sleeping in his car at a Taco Bell drive-thru.

As explained in a recent Los Angeles Times article, the driver fell asleep while placing his order early one Friday morning.  After the drive-thru attendant woke the driver up, he pulled his car into a parking spot to wait for his order there.  Not long after the driver parked his car, a police officer who had been dining inside the restaurant, noticed him sleeping.  The driver explained to the officer that he was just waiting on the food he’d ordered, but the officer knew something the man did not—he had actually never ordered his food.  Suspecting the driver may be under the influence, the officer asked him to take a roadside breath test but he refused.  However, the man was eventually charged with DUI after failing a field sobriety test.

This news article demonstrates the confusing nature of what it means to “operate” a motor vehicle while intoxicated or under the influence.  Employing the general standards of common sense, one would think the driver wasn’t in control of his vehicle in this situation because the car was parked and the driver was asleep.  In the District of Columbia, however, common sense does not prevail.

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black police cuffsThe District of Columbia Superior Court is unlike many jurisdictions in that it does not have a bail bond system. In fact, there is not a single bail bonds person or business in the entire District. The City Council outlawed bail bonds years ago. So, the question is how is bond determined in a DC criminal case. DC Superior Court has a condition based system that starts with the general principle that most people should be released on their personal promise to appear in court.

That means in most misdemeanor cases, including DUIs, the person arrested will be released and required to sign notice to return for their next court date and appear with their attorney. The notice informs the person that if they fail to appear at the next court date, they could be charged with a separate crime (called a Bail Reform Act violation) that carries a maximum penalty of 180 days and/or a $1,000.00 fine. Often times, however, the judge will also impose court ordered conditions as part of the person’s release. Sometimes these conditions make sense. For example, when a repeat drug offender gets ordered to participate in a drug treatment program. However, many times the conditions imposed can be invasive, burdensome, and even paternalistic.

As previously discussed, the Pretrial Services Agency supervises most of the individuals charged with a crime and released on their personal promise to appear. Pretrial is a giant government bureaucracy that is understaffed and overworked. However, it appears that a recent trend has been a push to get more individuals charged with DUI’s and DWI’s in DC under Pretrial Supervision. At Scrofano Law PC, we recommend anyone charged with a DC DUI, including a first-offender enroll in a private alcohol program in an effort to avoid the requirement to report to and be supervised by Pretrial Services Agency.

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As is the case with most legal inquiries, the answer to the above question is “it depends.”

Whether or not you should appeal your DC DUI conviction depends on what you are looking to get out of the situation. If you are only trying to avoid the trial court’s sentence, maybe an appeal isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you would like to have your conviction overturned and your conviction removed from your record, maybe an appeal is for you. Obviously, all three results are preferable. However, avoiding your sentence is impossible due to time it takes for the parties to brief the appellate issues and the time it takes the DC Court of Appeals to issue a decision.

Having dealt with your DUI at the trial level, you have probably realized that the judicial process is lengthy and time-consuming. The appellate court process is tedious and time-consuming as well. On average, DUI appeals take approximately a year to resolve.

In the District of Columbia, you have 30 days from the trial court’s judgment to note your appeal. After you note your appeal, you must file your Appellant’s Brief within 40 days. The government has 30 days to respond to your brief. Then, you have 21 days to file a reply. At this point, your appeal has already taken 121 days—not including weekends or national holidays. If you factor in the numerous motions for extension of time, which is common for both parties to ask for in order to file briefs, the timetable nearly doubles. Finally, once the parties have filed everything, the case is submitted to the DC Court of Appeals and it issues a decision in months or even a year.

Any jail sentence imposed for a DC DUI conviction will most likely take you less than a year to complete. However, probation could take a year or longer. Thus, even if the DC Court of Appeals ruled in your favor, you may have already served your sentence. Nonetheless, you have a lot to gain from appealing your DUI conviction.

Winning an appeal could result in your conviction being overturned and erased from your record. There are numerous reasons why having your conviction cleared from your record is ideal such as future employment and educational opportunities. Or maybe having your conviction erased from your record is more of a moral victory to you. Just think of the weightlessness you would feel without a conviction hanging over your head.

While the facts of every case are different and winning a DUI appeal is never a guarantee, there are various issues that you can attack to ensure the best possible result for your appeal. For instance, it has recently come to light that the Metropolitan Police Department has a history of problems with their breathalyzer program which resulted in a multitude of wrongful DUI and DWI convictions. Wrongful DUI conviction is just one example of the many issues an experienced appellate lawyer could challenge in your DUI appeal.

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1423322313o0gx3If you operate a vehicle in the District, DC law states that you have given consent to submit to a breathalyzer test if you get stopped by the Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) for suspected DUI or DWI. However, MPD is not going to force you to take a breathalyzer test. You can refuse to submit to testing. At Scrofano Law PC, while the facts of every case are different, we believe that if you have had even a drop of alcohol, refusing to take a breathalyzer test will usually better protect you and your rights.

To convict someone of DUI, the government must prove that the person (1) operated a motor vehicle in DC, and (2) was intoxicated. Without breathalyzer results, it is more difficult for the government to prove that you were intoxicated. DC criminal laws allow the government to use your refusal to take the breath test as evidence that you were intoxicated. What this means is that the government will provide a judge with proof that you refused to take the test and argue that you must have refused because you were feeling guilty about drinking and driving.

For first time DC DUI or DWI offenders who refuse to take a breathalyzer test, the government has to provide more evidence than just your breathalyzer refusal to prove that you were intoxicated. For example, the government will have an MPD officer testify about the way you were acting when you got pulled over and why they thought you were intoxicated based on your actions—like odor of alcohol on breath, performance on the SFST’s, and other observations. For people charged with a second DUI or DWI offense in DC who refuse to take a breathalyzer test, a different legal standard applies.

DC DUI and DWI laws state that if a second time DC DUI offender refuses to take a breathalyzer test, a jury is allowed to presume a person was intoxicated based only on the refusal. As a second time DUI or DWI offender, if you refuse to take a breathalyzer there is a rebuttable presumption that you were intoxicated. A rebuttable presumption means that unless you can prove that you were not intoxicated, a jury can find you guilty of DUI based solely on the fact that you refused to take the breathalyzer test.

You might be thinking “I only had a few drinks. Wouldn’t it have been easier to prove I wasn’t drunk if I submitted to the breathalyzer test?” Not exactly. MPD has a history of problems with their breathalyzer program. This no-win situation is exactly why the rebuttable presumption for second time DUI offenders is a highly contentious area of the law.

In our legal system, you are innocent until proven guilty—at least that is how the system is supposed to work. For second time DUI offenders who refuse to take the breathalyzer test, you are essentially guilty until you prove yourself innocent. The DC Court of Appeals has not decided whether the rebuttable presumption is constitutional, but many DC Superior Court judges have ruled that it is unconstitutional and have refused to apply it.

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Breathalyzer

Breathalyzer

In August of 2012, the District of Columbia City Council, with little public comment, amended DC’s DUI/DWI law. Among the many changes included doubling mandatory minimum jail sentences for repeat offenders and cases with high chemical scores. Another change included doubling the maximum penalty for first offenders from 90 days to 180 days. The law also added additional situations in which mandatory minimum jail applied and lowered the blood alcohol score from .08 to.04 for individuals who possess a commercial driver’s license. Buried in the law included provisions that made DC’s hit and run law much broader. Many of the changes brought DC’s DUI law closer to the trend among most states who have created harsher penalties.

However, many of the changes were either arbitrary or say more about local institutional politics than public policy. One major arbitrary and ridiculous change to the law is a provision that bars individuals facing mandatory minimum jail time from serving that time on the weekends. Under the old law, judges routinely when forced to sentence individuals to mandatory jail time allowed them to serve that time on the weekends.

There are a variety of reasons an individual may wish to serve a ten day mandatory minimum sentence over the course of a few weekends.

First and foremost, an individual could lose their job when forced to take a full week or longer off from work. Furthermore, this provision discriminates socio-economically. DUI in particular is a crime that transcends socio-economic barriers. Doctors, lawyers, politicians, and engineers are just as likely to get a DUI as waiters, carpenters, and janitors. Those with salaried positions who get a DC DUI or DWI that triggers mandatory minimum jail time can usually take that time off work as vacation days and still get paid. Wage laborers who get paid hourly don’t have that luxury. They not only don’t get paid; they often lose their jobs when they tell their employer they have to miss the next ten days at work.

What possible public policy goal does barring individuals from serving their statutorily mandated jail time on the weekend? While I certainly recognize my inherent bias to favor the individual over the institution as a DC DUI lawyer, I challenge anyone to make out a public policy rationale for such an arbitrary provision in the law. Certainly, society benefits from having folks who are employed, paying their bills, and paying taxes.

I have often seen how a criminal conviction can wreak havoc on an individual. The conviction can lead to job loss, which in turn can cause some folks to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the stress and frustration. Compound that with the loss of driver’s license and other collateral consequences of a DUI conviction. Meanwhile, the person can’t find gainful employment because every time a potential employer does a background check, they find a criminal conviction.

Who is more likely to reoffend? The gainfully employed person who managed to retain employment by serving time on weekends or the unemployed frustrated individual barely getting by? This provision in particular serves no valid public policy and is a shameful example of prosecutorial overreach in the District of Columbia.

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beer-delivery-system-1-1246534-mI usually advise my clients to enroll in a private alcohol program after getting arrested for a DC DUI or DWI. For most people who get arrested for DUI, the police will release them at the station after several hours with a Citation to Return to Court. The citation gives them a date is for the Court to arraign the person on the charge of DUI and any other additional charges based on the police officer’s allegations.

At the arraignment, the prosecutor from the Office of the Attorney General will ask for several release conditions. The standard release conditions include (1) do not drive without a valid permit; (2) do not drive after the consumption of drugs or alcohol; and (3) report to the Pretrial Services Agency for a full screening and assessment. In almost all DC DUI cases, traffic judges in Superior Court will agree with government’s request and impose those conditions.

Now, the first two are no brainers and easy to comply with. Do not drive without a valid permit is just what it means. If you have a valid license, drive all you want. If you don’t, then don’t drive. If you get caught driving with a suspended license while under that release condition, you can not only get arrested for operating after suspension but also be charged with contempt of court. This condition is particularly important where the person’s license gets suspended as a result of the DC DUI arrest. The second condition is also an easy one. If the person has even one sip of alcohol or ingests any type of drugs, do not drive.

The third condition is where most folks have issues. The Pretrial Services Agency is an agency that supervises individuals with a Superior Court case. It is basically where the Court puts someone on probation while their case is pending. I will save a discussion on what Pretrial does to the presumption of innocence for a future posting. The point is reporting to Pretrial can be degrading, disruptive to one’s life, and very uncomfortable.

Each individual is assigned a case manager who is often overworked with hundreds of other individuals under their supervision. Reporting requirements make individuals charged with a DC DUI come down to the courthouse once per week to wait in line during business hours to report. Reporting can be particularly cumbersome for people who live or work in Maryland or Virginia. Office visits for the initial assessment can take hours. If the individual is ordered to drug test, they must come down to the courthouse once per week, wait in a long line, then urinate in a cup while a Pretrial employee watches their genitals against a mirror. This is done to ensure people don’t sneak in another person’s urine to avoid detection of drugs. However, in my view, it is a humiliating and dehumanizing process that is unfortunately ordered routinely in Superior Court.

So, how can one avoid reporting to Pretrial? Prior to the arraignment, enroll in a private alcohol program. Most judges will refrain from imposing the Pretrial requirement as a court ordered condition when their DC DUI attorney informs the Court the person has already enrolled in a private alcohol program. Accordingly, like I said, I advise most all clients to do that. Sometimes getting arrested for DUI is a red flag that an individual has an alcohol issue that needs treatment. Others may get arrested for a DC DUI or DWI and its truly an isolate incident. In either case, enrolling in a private alcohol program can help the person avoid Pretrial.

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