A Vancouver Washington man was arrested for his 8th DUI in October 2006. He avoided a five-year prison sentence by avoiding arrest until October. Washington law provides that a driver convicted of his 5th DUI in a 10 year span must be sentenced to up to 5 years incarceration. Had he been arrested for DUI in July 2006 he’d be looking at a 5 year sentence. Instead he faces no more than 2 years and 3 months in jail.
The driver, one of the worst DUI offenders in Washington was charged with DUI, driving with a suspended license, and driving without an ignition interlock.
Blogs, local newspapers, and people in line at grocery stores across the country are repeating the same words–or versions of them. "How can she deny it?" It’s a question that arises every time a high-profile actress or musician or sports figure gets arrested for DUI and then enters a not guilty plea. It’s a question that’s often asked with a lot of passion and indignance. But it’s also a question that betrays a serious misunderstanding about the workings of our criminal justice system.
When a person is charged with a crime, that person is required to "enter a plea". Although there are some minor variations and alternatives in some states, the basic options are "guilty" and "not guilty". Remember, the defendant has to make that call early in the process, sometimes even before he or she has consulted an attorney. In some states, if the defendant hasn’t had the opportunity to consult with an attorney, the judge automatically enters a not guilty plea for him.
That’s because when a guilty plea is entered, it puts an end to some very important options. It relieves the state of the obligation to present evidence and prove its case. It also removes any incentive for the state to negotiate for a more favorable sentence.
Many defendants who enter initial not guilty pleas ultimately plead guilty, after consulting with an attorney and working out a plea agreement with the prosecuting attorney. But entering a guilty plea right off the bat would foreclose that process. If a defendant pleads not guilty, she can later change her plea to guilty, but it’s very difficult and sometimes impossible to change a guilty plea to not guilty.
So what does an initial not guilty plea mean in a criminal case? Here are just a few possibilities:
- I didn’t do it
- I did it, but I don’t think you can prove it, so I’m going to go to trial
- I don’t even know whether or not what I did meets the statutory elements of the crime (in short, I don’t know whether or not I’m guilty under the law)
- I’d like time to talk to an attorney about my options before I make a decision
- My attorney needs time to talk to investigate the evidence against me and advise me on how to proceed
- My attorney needs time to talk with the prosecuting attorney and try to arrange a plea agreement
The bottom line is that a not guilty plea is often no more than a means of keeping options open until more information can be gathered, an attorney can get involved and conduct some investigation, or plea negotiations are completed. In fact, the prosecuting attorney is often right on board with the defendant entering a not guilty plea at that stage so that both sides have more time to consider and. negotiate.
While many states have penalties for “extreme DUI,” Arizona lawmakers have proposed an extreme-extreme DUI penalty. Arizona already has a per-se DUI level of 0.08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC) and an extreme DUI level of 0.15 percent BAC. Lawmakers have now proposed a higher penalty for repeat DUI of at least 0.20 percent BAC.
Under bills cleared by Arizona’s Senate Transportation Committee, drivers found guilty of extreme DUI (0.15 BAC) would face a mandatory 30 day jail sentence. A driver with a second conviction for driving with a 0.20 BAC would be required to serve 6 months in jail.
A Phoenix police officer said that “a person who reaches the level of 0.20 has to be an experienced drinker. He said that means someone who has developed a tolerance for alcohol — and someone who likely has driven drunk before. The officer claimed it would take a 150-pound person eight drinks in a single hour to reach that level. A Gilbert police officer agreed that anyone that intoxicated would not just accidentally drink too much. “There’s no such thing as an ‘oops’ for a 0.20,” he said.
Bloomington-Normal Illinois police made about the same number of DUI arrests in December 2006 as in the previous December, but drivers arrested in 2006, had an average BAC double their BAC in 2005. Bloomington-Normal police made 19 DUI arrests in December 2006, about the same as the year before, but the average blood alcohol content (BAC) for these drunk drivers was 0.196, more than double the BAC limit for DUI in Illinois. The highest BAC was 0.287, more than three times Illinois’ per-se BAC for DUI.
A Bloomington Police spokesman said the increase may be related to mild temperatures and a lack of snow on roads at the end of 2006.
Paris Hilton’s lawyer appeared for her and entered a plea of not guilty to DUI in a Los Angeles California court. She was arrested for DUI just after midnight in September 2006. Hilton was allegedly driving erratically and was pulled over for field sobriety tests. Her BAC was measured to be 0.08 percent, matching California’s BAC limit for per-se DUI.
Hilton claims she had only one margarita after not eating all day. She likely will receive a plea deal on her DUI charge.
Some Florida DUI cases may be dismissed after Broward County Sheriff’s Office DUI technicians used tap water, instead of distilled water, to run maintenance checks on breath-test machines. A Florida appellate court upheld a Broward County judge’s decision to throw out breathalyzer results showing that a Boca Raton Florida driver was DUI. Florida officials had attempted to show that although using tap water to test the breath-test machines is against Florida regulations, it didn’t affect the BAC results from the machines. The defense attorney in the Boca Raton case has argued that using tap water to test the machines could result in false positive tests or elevate the breath-alcohol (BAC) readings
The defense attorney said that up to 300 DUI cases could be thrown out. Prosecutors say only about 50 DUI cases may be affected.
A Fort Wayne Indiana woman is facing felony battery charges after she scratched and kicked a police officer following a DUI stop. Fort Wayne police say that the woman was DUI and driving with a suspended driver’s license and without insurance when she fled from a property-damage accident. She had ran her car head-on into a guardrail. Her car was so damaged that it couldn’t be driven, so she fled on foot. When captured, she was taken to a hospital for a blood alcohol (BAC) test.
At the hospital the woman had to be restrained. While being restrained, according to court documents, she scratched an officer’s neck and kicked him several times in the legs, groin, and chest. Her BAC was 0.34 percent, more than four times the BAC limit for DUI in Indiana.
A Mississippi judge set bond at $400,000 for a Hermanville driver accused of DUI. The man had struck four teenagers who were shooting off bottle rockets on New Year’s Eve. The driver was charged with two counts of aggravated felony DUI. The judge set his bond at $200,000 for each count. Two of the kids remain hospitalized.
The driver had struck a van, a truck, and the teenagers. When police arrived he was reportedly spraying himself and his car with cologne to mask the smell of alcohol. His BAC has not been reported.
Chiefs defensive end, Jared Allen, will spend 48 hours in jail after a municipal judge revoked an agreement for Allen to participate in a DUI diversion program and found him guilty of DUI. Allen was stopped for DUI in Overland Park Kansas in May 2006. He was granted diversion in July, but was arrested for DUI, again, in September. Because he violated the terms of the program, the judge revoked his diversion agreement. Allen pled to DUI and the judge sentenced him to 48 hours in jail, a $500 fine, and a 90 day suspended sentence.
Allen must still face a judge in February for the September DUI arrest.
The Gila Valley of Arizona used a new tool, the Eastern Arizona DUI Task Force, to make 37 DUI arrests over the New Year’s weekend. The average BAC for their New Year’s DUI arrests was 0.135 percent, well above Arizona’s BAC limit for DUI of 0.08 percent. The new Eastern Arizona DUI Task Force was created out of the Southern Arizona DUI Task Force and funded by a $40,000 grant from the State.
Chocise County donated a DUI processing van to the Task Force. The van is equipped with alcohol detection equipment, including a chair for drawing blood to test a driver’s BAC.
The next major deployment of the Task Force will be during the Super Bowl.
Compared to 2005, Ohio saw a hundred fewer DUI deaths in 2006. The Ohio State Highway Patrol announced that fatal crashes due to DUI in Ohio fell to 1,209 in 2006, down from 1,320 in 2005. While deaths decreased, the number of DUI arrests rose by 972 in 2006.
Regarding fatal DUI accidents, an Ohio State Trooper said that “people just feel it’s not going to happen to them, and it happens to everybody else.”
Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson was released from jail without bond on a felony drug possession charge following his December 29th arrest for suspicion of DUI in Scottsdale, Arizona.
After leaving a nightclub in the early morning hours of the 29th, Tyson was pulled over by police when his BMW blew a stop sign and nearly hit a sheriff’s vehicle. An arresting officer found cocaine in the car and two bags of the drug on Tyson, who showed signs of impairment and failed field sobriety tests.
Tyson was arrested and booked at Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff’s jail, where no alcohol was found in his system. The Mike Tyson DUI charge was not filed pending toxicology tests. Tyson did admit to using cocaine on the day of his arrest. A January 16th preliminary hearing has been scheduled for the Tyson felony drug charge.
To follow the latest developments in the Tyson case and other celebrity DUI arrests, visit our Celebrity DUI Spotlight.
This time, the New York Daily News has misstated New York’s DUI law. Currently, due to a last minute typo, New York law declares “aggravated driving while intoxicated” to be operating a motor vehicle with 0.18 grams of alcohol in the driver’s bloodstream. 0.18 grams of alcohol equates to a BAC of less than 0.01 percent.
Several news outlets, including the Daily News, however, continue to report that New York has a new aggravated DUI law under which a driver can receive an enhanced penalty for driving with a BAC of 0.18. 0.18 what? Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is measured by percent of alcohol in the bloodstream, not by grams, yet news outlets are ignoring this inconsistency.
As the law stands, prosecutors in New York counties have declared that because, as written, the statute is not prosecutable, they will not enforce the aggravated DUI law until the typo is corrected. They will still enforce New York’s DUI law which has the nationally recognized DUI limit of 0.08 percent BAC.
Through New Year’s eve, the Southern Arizona DUI Taskforce had made 55 arrests for DUI. The Taskforce has been out every weekend since Thanksgiving. They will conduct one more DUI enforcement period lasting through midnight, New Year’s Day.
Four of the arrests were for underage DUI. The average BAC for the other 51 arrests was 0.16, double the BAC limit for DUI in Arizona. Arizona’s penalties for extreme DUI kick in at 0.15 percent BAC. Eleven drivers were charged with extreme DUI.
Out of 2,233 traffic stops, two designated drivers were encountered.