Friday, April 30, 2010

New Jersey Holds Drunk Drivers Can Recover From Bars That Over-Served Them

P6033602Image by afsart via Flickr

Last week, the New Jersey Law Journal reported on a New Jersey appeals court's ruling in Voss v. Tranquilino, A-5431. In Voss, the court addressed the issue of whether a person convicted of drunk driving can then turn around and sue the bar that over-served them for economic and non-economic damages. The defendant in Voss, the bar at which he had been drinking, asserted that it was immune from liability pursuant to the operation of the 1997 anti-drunken driving amendments to motor vehicle insurance law, at N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.5(b), which specifically state that a driver convicted of DWI in connection with an accident "shall have no cause of action for his or her injuries." The court disagreed, basing its decision on the the legislative intent behind the law:
(The) legislature could not have thought it could reduce the number of drunken drivers by immunizing liquor establishments from their claims and thus providing a disincentive to the licensees...
The court's decision makes sense. Although some might argue that it encourages people to drink and drive, bar owners should not be exempted from dram shop laws when the natural extension of their negligent action occurs: the drunk person operates a motor vehicle and is involved in an accident. Had the person not been intoxicated he or she might not have made the unfortunate decision to operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated. Where the bar's failure to stop serving alcohol to the injured party may have been at least one cause of the accident, the bar should not be absolved from liability by operation of law. Visit Americas Top DUI and DWI Attorneys at or call 1-800-DIAL-DUI to find a DUI OUI DWI Attorney Lawyer Now!
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Operating a Russian Tanker While Intoxicated is Probably a Bad Idea

Last week we learned that, for any number of reasons, throwing back a few drinks prior to taking your kid's Barbie car for a spin is a bad idea. This week we learn that operating a Russian tanker while intoxicated is likewise inadvisable. As you'll see in the video below, a Russian soldier learned that lesson the hard way. His drunken tank excursion ended as quickly as it began when he abruptly crashed into a house, knocking down a supporting wall. Following the collision, the tank driver exited the vehicle, clinging to 2 unopened bottles of vodka. However, despite appearances, according to a military spokesman, "The driver was absolutely sober, because he was going to military exercises." You be the judge. Drunk Russian Tank Driver - More amazing video clips are a click away Visit Americas Top DUI and DWI Attorneys at or call 1-800-DIAL-DUI to find a DUI OUI DWI Attorney Lawyer Now!
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Inexcusable lab errors in DUI cases

Red and blue liquids inside graduated test tubesImage by Horia Varlan via Flickr

Tests for blood alcohol content are not infallible and can be tainted by any number of factors, including human error and faulty equipment. It is for that reason that good DUI defense attorneys never assume that tests results are accurate. Case in point--in recent months, across the country, lab errors have resulted in the dismissal of DUI charges. For example, as reported at, 7 DUI cases were dismissed due to lab errors:
Colorado Springs authorities in December announced the discovery of errors and a review of results at the lab where the alcohol content in blood samples was higher than the true result...In all, the lab retested 7,892 blood alcohol cases dating back to 2006 and found a total of 206 errors. Of the nine affected cases, five defendants had served jail time.
In San Francisco, human error and tampering is alleged to have affected thousands of criminal cases. The lab test problems, which were initially thought to have affected only drug cases, may affect DUI cases as well, as explained in this ABC article:
The public defender's office says the shortcomings which the scandal exposed in the drug unit, may also pertain to DUI testing. They include sloppy work, lack of protocols and inadequate staffing..."One of the most critical pieces of evidence in a driving under the influence case is whether or not the person had alcohol in his system and how much," former San Francisco crime lab director Jim Norris said.
Elsewhere, in Pennsylvania, one county is taking matters into its own hands in order to save money. In Cumberland County, officials have decided to hire a phlebotomist rather than outsource blood alcohol testing. As noted at the Philadelphia DUI Blog, this new arrangement concerns local DUI attorneys:

"I worry about the chain of custody," said a Harrisburg Pa DUI lawyer, referring to the problems in administering the county's part-time blood lab. Indeed, many Pennsylvania lawyers feel that such blood tests, if done at the hands of the county, could pose problems relating to conflicts of interest and impartiality.

Blood alcohol testing is a critical area of concern and plays a key role in the evidentiary burden of the prosecutors. But if the evidence were left in the hands of the county prosecutors, isn't it natural that Pa DUI lawyers would have objection?

Prosecutors and law enforcement officers rely on lab test results to convict people of crimes, such as DUI, which can wrongfully deprive innocent citizens of their liberty if performed incorrectly. For that reason, accurate lab test results are of paramount concern.

The lab testing scandals in Colorado and California and the potential conflicts of interest raised by the newly proposed lab testing scheme in Pennsylvania are clear indications that we still have a long way to go. Innocent people continue to be wrongfully convicted of DUI every day, something that is inexcusable--and entirely preventable.

Visit Americas Top DUI and DWI Attorneys at or call 1-800-DIAL-DUI to find a DUI OUI DWI Attorney Lawyer Now!
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Friday, April 23, 2010

Come on Barbie, let's go party.

(WARNING: The song in this video, "Barbie Girl," is catchy, to say the least. Watch at your own risk). Perhaps Paul Hutton of Essex in the UK was inspired by this song on that fateful evening when he decided to go cruising in the electric Barbie car that belonged to his children. On the other hand, maybe--just maybe--the alcohol he drank just before he decided to take the car for a spin had something to do with it.

On Our WayImage by di_the_huntress via Flickr

Either way, as he explained during his court appearance for operating that very same Barbie car while intoxicated, getting in the car wasn't an easy feat for a grown man:
It is designed for three-to-five-year-olds...You have to be a contortionist to get in, and then you can't get out.
Fortunately, as reported in this article ( even though Hutton had souped up his car with "bigger wheels," it topped out at speeds of 4 mph and no one was hurt. As described by one of the magistrates on the bench:
The vehicle (was) not even capable of doing the speed of a mobility scooter and could be outrun by a pedestrian.
For that reason, Hutton received only a conditional discharge as his sentence. Visit Americas Top DUI and DWI Attorneys at or call 1-800-DIAL-DUI to find a DUI OUI DWI Attorney Lawyer Now!
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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Latest Criminal Defense and DUI Links

The ChainImage by ...-Wink-... via Flickr

Here's a list of recent links from around the criminal defense legal blogosphere that are worth a second look: Visit Americas Top DUI and DWI Attorneys at or call 1-800-DIAL-DUI to find a DUI OUI DWI Attorney Lawyer Now!
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Watch Out--Law Enforcement Uses Social Media

Facebook, Inc.Image via Wikipedia

It was simply a matter of time. Social media has become increasingly popular in recent years and law enforcement is now beginning to collect user data from social media sites for evidence. In fact, as reported in this AP article, some FBI officers are actually "going undercover" on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace by creating fake profiles. In some cases, undercover officers actually communicate with suspects in an effort to obtain information to support criminal charges. Similarly, as explained in the article, social media sites are being used to confirm suspect's alibis and are being mined for information about suspects, including their activities, their personal relationships and their spending habits. However, as explained in this post from AlterNet, it's unclear whether the warrantless attempts of law enforcement to collect evidence on social media sites is legal:
As law enforcement agents increasingly find reasons to use social-networking sites, questions regarding crime-fighting and privacy arise. The bad news is there are no real good answers regarding what users' rights really are, what social-networking companies are required to do (and not to do), and what regulations ought to govern the use of these sites in investigative law enforcement work given that there isn't really a legal system designed to supervise social-networking sites.
Unfortunately, this is one of the areas where the laws and regulations that control law enforcement agencies' actions haven't yet caught up with new technologies. And, until a court holds that these warrantless intrusions are unlawful, the police will continue to mine social media sites for evidence. What does that mean for you? It means that you should exercise caution when using social media. Don't post anything on social media sites that you wouldn't want shared with the entire world. If you are currently facing DUI charges, don't post pictures in which you are drinking alcohol or are out with friends who are drinking. Don't allow others to photograph you engaging in questionable activities that could reflect poorly on you or on your pending case. The bottom line--use common sense. Think before you post updates to a social media site. If you think it might be a bad idea to post a particular photo, it probably is a bad idea. Finally, don't accept friend requests from people that you don't know. Social media is a part of our lives; it's not going away. If you'd like to participate in social media, then by all means, do so. But be smart about it. Don't give law enforcement--or anyone else--access to information that could be used against you. Just like anything else-- it's better to be safe than sorry. Visit Americas Top DUI and DWI Attorneys at or call 1-800-DIAL-DUI to find a DUI OUI DWI Attorney Lawyer Now!
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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Illinois Supreme Court Issues Decision on DUI & HGN

Old gavel and court minutes displayed at the M...Image via Wikipedia

In February, the Illinois Supreme Court handed down its decision in People v. McKown, a case appealed by our office on behalf of our client, Joanne McKown. In McKown, the court considered the following arguments that we asserted on behalf of our client:
(1) the HGN test is not a reliable indicator of impairment due to alcohol and, therefore, does not meet the Frye standard; (2) even if the HGN test does meet the Frye standard, admissibility of test results should be limited to showing probable cause for arrest; (3) if HGN test results are admissible at trial, the court must strictly enforce standards for performance of the test; (4) police officers who testify regarding HGN test results are testifying as expert witnesses and should not be considered qualified unless they have received extensive training; (5) the trial court’s findings of fact in the Frye hearing were erroneous; and (6) the HGN test results should not have been admitted at her trial because the officer did not properly administer the test.
The most important conclusion reached by the court was that HGN test results are not proof of actual impairment, and instead can be used only for the possibility of impairment. Other significant conclusions reached by the court were that:
  • The HGN test cannot be used to establish an alcohol concentration or to suggest a concentration greater than 0.08%
  • The HGN test now requires strict compliance with NHTSA (in other words, police officers can no longer claim “I don’t know what NHTSA is, but I did it according to my training”….)
  • The trial court must assess each matter on a case by case basis and can rule that the admission of HGN test is inadmissible on grounds of undue prejudice
  • Police officers must be properly trained under NHTSA protocol
  • The HGN test is not properly performed while a subject is seated, as explained by the State's expert.
You can learn more about this important decision via this Illinois Lawyer Now article published by the Illinois State Bar Association.
Visit Americas Top DUI and DWI Attorneys at or call 1-800-DIAL-DUI to find a DUI OUI DWI Attorney Lawyer Now!
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Monday, April 12, 2010

VIDEO: Ten Rules for Dealing with Police

No one likes being stopped by the police, even if it's for a simple traffic infraction. Regardless of why you've been detained, any police encounter is bound to be nerve wracking. Sure, in an ideal world, you'd have your criminal defense lawyer right there with you--but in the real world you can still make educated decisions about the police encounter as long as you know your rights and how to assert them in a calm and effective manner. The following is a great video from the Cato Institute that can help you do this. It's called "Ten Rules for Dealing with Police." In it, attorney Bill Murphy explains, in everyday language, how to effectively deal with the police while asserting your Constitutional rights. Visit Americas Top DUI and DWI Attorneys at or call 1-800-DIAL-DUI to find a DUI OUI DWI Attorney Lawyer Now!
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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Chicago Tribune Castigates Lawyers and Judges for Allowing "Dangerous Drivers" to Drive

Chicago Tribune buildingImage via Wikipedia

A few weeks ago the Chicago Tribune suggested in this article, "Judges don't slow 100 mph speeders" that Illinois judges, and to an extent, defense attorneys, were responsible for excessive leniency toward chronic and dangerous drivers. It is suggested in the article that in some counties, judges tend to give breaks to "dangerous drivers" who appear with attorneys:

Prosecutors in DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties insist they rarely accept plea deals calling for supervision for people driving 100 mph or faster. Most blame judges for agreeing to it.

In DuPage County, where 62 percent of triple-digit speeders get the deal, State's Attorney Joe Birkett said those speeders usually impress judges by getting attorneys.

"Unfortunately, the mere fact they step up with a lawyer, the judge will take into consideration that this person is taking this seriously," Birkett said.

Judges in those counties, for their part, say they look at every case individually. They don't want to be overly harsh. Convictions can cost a driver his or her license, which could mean losing a job. And, judges often face a heavy volume of cases, with pressure to move through them quickly and assign fines.

Unfortunately, the the article is based upon incorrect facts and assumptions that call into question the conclusions reached therein. For example:
  • Contrary to the claim in the article, sentences of court supervision do not keep the tickets ‘off’ the drivers’ records--in fact, the Tribune was easily able to locate the records of drivers who received this sentence
  • The article refers to people convicted of speeding as "dangerous drivers," but in the article, the Tribune was unable to locate any evidence that drivers who received a sentence of court supervision had been in an accident after receiving that sentence
Another important omission--the article fails to mention that in 2000, Jesse White and the named prosecutors successfully lobbied to make speeding 40 mph above the limit a crime – a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail. Thus, anyone convicted of this ticket is now a convicted criminal in the eyes of the law, and that conviction follows a person for their lifetime. Such a conviction is a strong barrier toward future employment. At that time, the Illinois State Bar Association opposed making speeding a crime, predicting that it would cause judges to offer court supervision more frequently, due to the harsh consequences of a criminal conviction. And, lo and behold, that's exactly what appears to be happening. Finally, Jesse White’s suggestion that we should be treating speeders as convicted criminals is wrong. The suggestion that a speeding driver with no accidents on his record should be treated more harshly than a person caught stealing, or criminally damaging property, or assaulting or battering another (all also Class A misdemeanors) is simply wrong. We do not punish people for what might or could happen. Speeding should be discouraged--not demonized. **Visit Americas Top DUI and DWI Attorneys at or call 1-800-DIAL-DUI to find a DUI OUI DWI Attorney Lawyer Now**
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Monday, April 05, 2010

DUI and blood draws by force?

Amendment 4Image by Subliminati via Flickr

A few weeks ago the Chicago Tribune reported that Rep. Keith Farnham, D-Elgin, introduced a bill to the Illinois House that authorizes police to use "all reasonable and necessary force" while executing a search warrant. If passed, this provision would apply to, among others, DUI suspects who refuse to submit to a search warrant for a sample of their blood. The current law requires that a person who has been involved in an accident causing serious injury or death must provide a sample of their blood, but it is silent as to the amount of force that can be used to require a suspect to comply. However, the failure to comply with a request for a breath test or blood draw does have ramifications: a refusal will result in an automatic 1-year drivers' license suspension. Of course, even if this law is enacted, it will have little practical effect, as Don Ramsell of our office explains in the article:
Defense attorney Donald Ramsell, who serves on the Illinois State Bar Association's traffic law committee, says the number who refuse is "minuscule." Ramsell says he's handled more than 13,000 DUI cases since 1986. "I have never had a single client in the face of a search warrant who has ever refused."
Nevertheless, the implications of the proposed law are disturbing, since a forced blood draw implicates fundamental privacy rights. Fortunately, as explained in the Chicago Tribune article, the proposed bill is likely unconstitutional:
The Farnham bill, though, is probably unconstitutional. Former Cook County Circuit Judge Daniel Locallo cites a 2005 ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court that a DUI defendant did not have the right to refuse such a test. But the court warned that its ruling "does not give law enforcement officers unbridled authority " use physical force in obtaining blood, urine and breath samples."
Let's hope that the proposed bill never sees the light of day. If, however, it does become law, then subsequent forced blood draws and the arrests resulting therefrom may set the ground work for an interesting and important constitutional challenge addressing one of our most basic rights: the right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures.
**Visit Americas Top DUI and DWI Attorneys at or call 1-800-DIAL-DUI to find a DUI OUI DWI Attorney Lawyer Now**
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