By John Clark
A woman from Gainesville, Florida, was reportedly driving to a bar with eight children in tow when she was arrested for driving under the influence, according to a shocking report this week from the Gainesville Sun.
Sources say that Lawanda Lowery-Gale, a 32-year-old mother of six children, was charged with one DUI count, eight counts of child neglect, and one count of driving with a suspended license.
Late last Friday night, members of the Gainesville Police Department arrived at the scene of an accident where a van side-swiped a smaller car on a street near the University of Florida.
The van was being driven by Lowery-Gale, who had eight children ranging in age from 10 months to 14 years in her van. Six of the children were her own, while two others were her nieces.
Before the accident, sources say the woman was trying to get to a nightclub called Fubar, although there is no indication that she had a plan for the children when she arrived at the club.
The accident occurred around 10:00 p.m., and when officers arrived at the scene of what sources call a “minor traffic crash,” they discovered a woman who appeared to be drunk, had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech, and reportedly smelled like alcohol, sources say.
To make her own legal matters worse, Lowery-Gale apparently “performed poorly” on her sobriety test, and the responding officers administered a breath test to determine the level of her intoxication.
To no one’s surprise, Lowery-Gale blew a 0.166 on her blood alcohol test, which is more than twice the legal limit in Florida of 0.08.
Fortunately, no one was injured in the accident, which reportedly caused vehicle damage worth more than $1,000.
And the woman could receive a tougher sentence than she would otherwise have seen because her license has already been suspended five times and she was cited less than two years ago for failing to take an alcohol test at a traffic stop.
In addition, states across the country have started to pass laws aimed at punishing drivers who put children at risk by driving with them while intoxicated. Under many of these laws, drivers receive automatic extra jail time if children are present in the car when they are arrested.
Many of these measures have been passed in response to the alarming trend of parents driving drunk with their children in tow, a practice which Lowery-Gale seemed to push to the extreme last week.
By John Clark
A Utah resident was recently arrested for drunk driving three times over a 45-hour span, according to an alarming report from the Salt Lake Tribune.
Sources indicate that 41-year-old Daniel Kropf was released from jail this week after posting a $30,000 bail, but he is facing a third-degree felony DUI charge for his actions over a two-day period in early July.
Apparently, the defendant’s first two DUI arrests counted as misdemeanors, but his arrest for a third DUI made him eligible for potential felony charges.
The legal tussle is a direct result of the man’s actions that started on July 8, when Kropf was driving a truck that was pulling a flatbed trailer when he struck a dumpster outside a gas station in Cache County, Utah.
The impact of the collision sent the dumpster spinning into an unlucky employee who was taking out the trash. The employee was sent to the hospital after suffering serious injuries in the crash, and has reportedly filed a personal injury lawsuit against Kropf.
After being arrested for drunk driving, Kropy posted bail and was released. Shortly thereafter, however, Kropf was again arrested for drunk driving. After his second release, Kropf was arrested for a DUI for the third time in a 45-hour period, according to sources.
And while the picture may look bleak for Kropf, his DUI attorney plans to fight the charges tooth and nail, and believes that his client may be facing unfair charges.
According to his attorney, state prosecutors should not be able to charge Kropf with a felony because they have yet to prove his two prior misdemeanor charges.
In response, prosecutors say they are confident that Kropf will be found guilty on the two misdemeanor charges, and have asked the court to include the two lesser charges in the trial for the felony offense.
Kropf’s attorney, however, claims that “the fact that someone arrests for something isn’t a conviction,” and that his client should not be treated as if the first two charges have already been established as fact.
Somehow, the attorney successfully argued that Kropf was not a danger to society, and was not a flight risk, so his client was able to post bail.
Kropf, however, must wear a monitoring device on his ankle that allows court officials to track his movements before his trial.
Sources say that Kropy has no prior criminal history, so his past good behavior may have played a role in the judge’s decision to grant him limited freedom before he faces trial.
By John Clark
A 40-year-old Illinois woman who allegedly drove over and killed her young daughter was arrested last week and is being held in the Will County Adult Detention Facility, according to a report from the Chicago Tribune.
The woman, Yvette Y. Guerrero-Silva, is facing two separate counts of aggravated DUI, with one count amounting to a Class 2 felony, and the other count qualifying as just a Class 4 felony.
Guerrero-Silva will probably spend her weeks before trial behind bars, as a local judge reportedly set her bond at a lofty $1 million.
The story of her DUI is as tragic as it is unbelievable. According to sources, the mother was backing out of the driveway of a family business in the early evening when her car rolled over her 19-month-daughter, Holly.
The force of the car caused massive head injuries to the toddler, who was pronounced dead just a few hours later at a Cook County hospital near Chicago. The official autopsy said the girl died of numerous injuries, and her death was considered an accident.
At the scene, after the accident, Guerrero-Silva reportedly admitted to law enforcement officials that she had consumed several drinks containing alcohol before getting into her car.
Sources say that a blood test administered at the hospital after the accident showed that her blood alcohol levels were well above the legal limit in Illinois, which is 0.08 percent.
Obviously, the mother was devastated by the results of her actions, but the trial court may not factor her personal loss into the sentencing equation.
The charges she is currently facing could bring several years in prison, and sources say that prosecutors will likely bring several more charges against her after the results of her toxicology tests are officially announced.
If she is convicted of the Class 2 felony charge, she could spend up to seven years in prison. If she is also convicted of the lesser felony charge, this sentence could reach a full decade.
In DUI cases that do not involve a loss of life or an injury, typical punishments include a fine, the suspension of a license, or some time in jail.
But when DUI accidents involve serious injuries or fatalities, even if there was no intention to hurt another person, prison sentences can become very lengthy, and some drivers may even have their licenses permanently revoked.
Only time will tell whether Guerrero-Silva will face such a harsh punishment.
By John Clark
A Florida resident received a prison sentence of 25 years this week after accidentally killing his wife during a drunken car accident in 2010, according to a sobering report from the Tampa Bay Times.
Sources say 60-year-old Charles Peoples killed his wife in a drunk driving accident that occurred early one evening two years ago when Peoples veered into the path of an oncoming car on Interstate 75.
At the time of his DUI arrest, Peoples had a blood alcohol level of 0.204, which is well above the legal Florida limit of 0.08. In addition to his drunkenness, Peoples was also on probation and driving with a revoked license.
Sources say that Peoples made matters worse after the accident when he cut his wife’s seat belt and allegedly moved her behind the steering wheel, in an effort to keep police from learning that he was driving unlawfully.
At his sentencing, Peoples said he was the victim, and that he felt “railroaded” by the court. He also claimed that he never tried to move his wife behind the steering wheel after the accident and that he “never made her do anything she didn’t want to do.”
Peoples also told the court he had been a good husband and father. Sources say Wanda Peoples stayed with her husband for 42 years and they had four children together. But Charles Peoples struggled with addictions to alcohol and heroin during most of their marriage.
The judge, however, had little sympathy for Peoples, especially given his multiple arrests over the past 40 years. According to Circuit Judge Gregory Holder, the “only appropriate punishment” for Peoples was the “maximum allowed by law.”
After finding Peoples guilty on charges of DUI manslaughter, driving on a revoked sentence, and violating probation, Judge Holder gave Peoples 25 years in prison, the maximum amount he was able to level against the wayward driver.
Sources speculated that Peoples may have regretted dismissing his attorney and choosing to represent himself. Peoples’ self-representation led to some awkward moments, as he initially pleaded not guilty, but switched to a guilty plea to avoid trial.
When Peoples changed his mind for a third time and tried to withdraw his guilty plea, Judge Holder refused to let him do so.
When Peoples requested a delay in sentencing so a doctor could testify that he suffered from a chronic illness, Judge Holder refused to allow the testimony, and instead read the doctor’s written report.
A bus driver from Utah was arrested this weekend after allegedly driving under the influence while hauling a bus full of young students on a school trip to Disneyland, according to a report from the Deseret News.
Sources say that 30-year-old Brandon Mark Gilman, a resident of South Jordan Utah, was also allegedly carrying drugs on the bus. Fortunately, Gillman was caught by police before the group of Canyon View High School graduates left for Disneyland.
Interestingly, police officers had already grown suspicious of Gillman, and they headed to the high school to search Gillman and his Utah Trailways bus before the group left for California.
When police officers arrived, Gillman and the two other bus drivers on the trip allowed police to search their buses, with the aid of police dogs that were specially trained to search for illegal substances.
According to the police report, when Gillman was told that dogs would be accompanying the police during the search, he “became very nervous.”
Gillman, it seems, had a good reason to be nervous, as he appeared to hiding something. When police entered his bus, Gillman reportedly picked up his backpack, opened the bag, pulled out an item, and placed it in his pocket.
After viewing this “suspicious” behavior, the police officer then asked Gillman to leave his backpack on the bus while the dogs conducted the search. When the dog entered the bus, it “quickly indicated on the bag left on the driver’s seat by Brandon.”
The police then asked Gillman to empty his pockets, which reportedly contained 17 Endocet pills and two Zolpidem pills. Sources say that Gillman did not have a prescription for either drug.
In addition to the presence of these allegedly illegal narcotics, Gillman also had three plastic bags filled with powder, which is never a positive sign for a bus driver.
For his alleged crimes, Gillman is being charged with three counts of possession of a controlled substance (one of these counts is a misdemeanor, while the other two are felonies), and with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
While DUI arrests often involve the use of alcohol while driving, drivers should also remember that driving under the influence of many controlled substances also qualifies as a DUI offense.
Gillman learned this lesson this weekend, and he will likely face a serious fine or substantial jail time for his actions, which could have jeopardized a busload of young high school graduates, had it not been for the quick response of local police.
A wild DUI arrest occurred this week in Orland when a doctor allegedly bashed his head against the back seat of a police cruiser and spat blood in an officer’s face, according to an alarming report from the Palm Beach Post.
Sources say that video footage from inside a police cruiser capture Zach Bird losing his temper after officers from the Florida Highway Patrol threw him into the back of their car.
Bird, who works as an anesthesiologist in central Florida, reportedly had $40,000 in cash that police officers found after searching him. The police also found “unknown” pills and two handguns in Bird’s car when they conducted their search after his arrest.
In the video recording, Bird can be heard yelling, “[a]ll the officers are stealing my money!” After making this announcement, Bird started kicking and screaming, and eventually began beating his head against the Plexiglas divider in the police cruiser.
After several bashes against the divider, the video shows blood running down Bird’s face as he continued to accuse the police of stealing his money.
The arresting officers, quite naturally, were worried that Bird would injure himself, so they pulled him out of the cruiser and back onto the road.
According to the police report, when Bird was escorted out of the cruiser, “he swallowed, took a deep breath” and “spit blood all over” one of the arresting officer’s faces. Needless to say, this was not a wise decision.
Sources say that, in addition to his DUI charge, Bird now faces an additional charge of resisting arrest with violence, as well as a charge of property damage, due to the damage he inflicted on the glass in the police car.
The price tag on the damage to the car alone may be very steep, as the Florida Highway Patrol had to hire a team of biohazard specialists to clean the interior of the car.
And Bird’s odd behavior did not start after his arrest. According to sources, Bird was initially pulled over by police after he almost ran a state trooper off a local highway. When he was pulled over, Bird immediately failed a sobriety test, which is when police took him into custody.
Interesting, police also found an extra $14,000 in Bird’s car, which was separate from the $40,000 he had in his pockets. It can fairly be said that Bird may have to answer for the gun, cash, and drugs in his car, as well as his behavior after the arrest.
A South Carolina state representative who is currently running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives has been arrested for drunk driving and illegally carrying a handgun, according to a report from Columbia’s WACH News.
Ted Vick, a 39-year-old resident of Chesterfield, South Carolina, was being held earlier in jail this week on charges of speeding, committing a DUI, an carrying a pistol without a valid permit, sources say.
Shortly after his arrest, Vick was given a personal recognizance bond on the speeding and DUI charges, but the court has not yet set a bond for the weapons charge.
Vick was arrested by the Columbia Police Department after he was caught driving more than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit.
When the officer pulled him over, he detected a “strong high odor of an alcoholic beverage” coming from the car, according to the police report.
When asked to perform a field sobriety test, Vick refused. The state representative also refused to take a breathalyzer test before he was hauled off to jail.
Police also found a .380 semiautomatic pistol in Vick’s front right pocket, and they eventually learned that his concealed weapons permit had expired in 2007. In addition, Vick did not tell the officer who pulled him over that he had the handgun in his pocket.
The police report written after the incident says that Vick had a few drinks with a female student from the University of South Carolina at a local pub before heading to another bar, where they continued to drink.
Needless to say, the DUI and weapons charge, as well as the information that Vick was drinking with a young college student, amount to a public relations nightmare for a man who is running for federal office.
His campaign, however, did not immediately offer any comments on Vick’s arrest, and sources do not say whether he has hired a DUI attorney.
According to his campaign website, Vick has a wife and two daughters. His website also describes him as a “trained minister” who “is a strong believer in traditional southern family values.”
Vick is one of five Democrats who are vying for the nomination to represent the 7th Congressional District, a newly minted political district.
For his alleged crimes, Vick is facing potentially hefty fines, a possible loss of his license, and perhaps even jail time, although it’s too early in the process to gauge exactly what his punishment will be. In the meantime, Vick will have to determine whether he should continue his campaign.
A woman who ran over her boyfriend and killed him with her SUV without even realizing what she had done was sentenced to seven years in prison this week, according to a report from the Orlando Sentinel.
26-year-old Allison Ryan Chambliss had already pleaded no contest in March to a charge of DUI manslaughter after her actions resulted in the death of her 20-year-old boyfriend, Jeremy Honarvar Adams.
The horrific accident occurred last June, when Adams and Chambliss were driving home in separate vehicles from an Orlando bar at around 3:00 a.m. after drinking for several hours, according to a police report.
Adams was driving his motorcycle in front of his girlfriend’s SUV when she apparently ran him over. Somehow, Chambliss did not realize she had struck and killed her boyfriend until she noticed that Adams was no longer in front of her.
After arriving at the scene, police administered a breathalyzer test to Chambliss, who registered a staggering .243, which is more than three times the legal limit of .08.
For her actions, Chambliss was sentenced to seven years in prison, eight years of probation, and she must perform a significant amount of community service, which will include giving talks to children about the potential dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol.
In addition to these severe punishments, the judge in her case also revoked her driving privileges on a permanent basis. So, if Chambliss attempts to drive after she is released from prison, she could be incarcerated again.
Sources indicate that both Chambliss and Adams struggled with alcoholism, and that their parents had repeatedly urged them to seek counseling. Adams had previously sought counseling before, but his parents wished they would have secured similar treatment for his girlfriend.
According to Linda Adams, the mother of the deceased young man, her son was working as a waiter and hoping to take classes at Valencia College so he could fulfill his goal of becoming an English teacher.
In her words, her son’s death “should have never happened.” She also said that her family “will always be heartbroken at his loss,” and she generously observed that the event was “a tragedy for our family and for Allison’s family.”
Observers might question how it is possible that Chambliss struck a motorcycle without recognizing it, but the size and power of an SUV combined with the diminished capacities of a drunk driver can be an incredibly lethal combination.
An Ohio resident who received a lifetime revocation of his driver’s license after striking and killing an Ohio state trooper while driving drunk was sentenced to prison this week after driving against the court’s orders.
43-year-old David Dye was sentenced to 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to a charge of driving under a specified lifetime suspension. The plea negotiation also included an open container violation, according to a report from local news source nbc4i.com.
In 2001, the resident of Westerville, Ohio struck and killed Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Frank Vazquez, who was conducting a traffic stop on a highway when Dye lost control of his vehicle and slammed into the officer’s patrol car.
One year later, Dye was convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide, a felony DUI, and he eventually served seven years in prison for his crime.
In addition to the homicide charge, the sentencing judge also took into consideration Dye’s previous drunk driving convictions, which occurred in 1987, 1989, 1991, and 1995.
Dye was released from prison a few years ago and was released from his parole in January 2011. His parole, however, came with a strict order from the judge that Dye would never be allowed to drive again.
Alas, Dye failed to abide by this rule, and concerned neighbors told police in November 2011 that Dye was driving again, and that he wasn’t always sober when he stepped behind the wheel.
So, for roughly two weeks, police were wary of running into Dye, and their vigilance was rewarded one night last November when they pulled Dye over in Genoa Township.
The police report indicates that Dye was seen going into a store to receive a haircut and police caught him driving away from the business on a Saturday afternoon.
To their surprise, the police discovered a cup of lemonade and vodka in Dye’s car, although Dye claims that he had not been drinking the vodka while he was driving.
Such a claim, of course, is not a valid defense to an open container violation, and the police had little patience for the man who had been responsible for the death of one of their own a decade ago.
So, Dye will serve 30 months in prison for driving to a barber shop, but the lesson to be learned in this case is that lifetime driver’s license suspensions are taken very seriously by the court system.
A 20-year-old Florida resident was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing two men in a felony DUI accident on New Year’s Day 2010, according to a report from the Orlando Sentinel.
Earlier this year, Nieves pled guilty to two counts of DUI manslaughter and had waited several weeks for the judge to make a determination about the length of her sentence.
Sources indicate that, at the time of the accident, Toni Nieves was already on probation for a previous drunk driving incident when she struck and killed 18-year-old Bradley Summersill and his 22-year-old friend, Brian Walker.
Summersill and Walker had been driving to a nearby town to pick up a friend’s mother when their car was struck by Nieves’ vehicle.
The sentencing was fraught with emotion, as the mothers of the two men held up pictures of their dead sons while Nieves refused to lift her eyes to look at the pictures.
Summersill’s mother made an emotional appeal to Nieves, telling her that she “should have never been on the road that night,” as she fought back tears.
In response to the emotions displayed by the families of the victims, Nieves’ stepfather, Frank Petrillo, later offered an apology on her behalf, saying there was a “lot of anguish here and a lot of feeling” and noting that he and his family were deeply sorry for the tragic result of the accident.
At the time of the fatal DUI accident, Nieves was already serving probation for a previous DUI, and sources say that the terms of her probation prohibited her from driving, much less driving while under the influence of alcohol.
Sources say that Nieves’ blood alcohol content was measured at 0.189 percent, which is significantly higher than the legal limit of .08. She claims that she saw the other vehicle’s taillights and, instead of hitting her brakes, accidentally hit the gas pedal.
During the court proceedings, Nieves’ family claimed that Summersill, the driver of the other car, should share a portion of the blame because he allegedly pulled in front of Nieves’ car and reportedly had a blood alcohol level of 0.10 percent after the accident.
The judge may have taken this mitigating factor into consideration when sentencing Nieves, because the young driver faced a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
Instead, Nieves will serve a decade in prison, which will be followed by five years of court-supervised probation. In addition, Nieves will eventually have to pay $20,000 in restitution to the families of the two sons for the cost of their funerals.
In a story that reads like a piece of bizarre fiction, an Alaska man has been accused of driving and crash his ATV while intoxicated, with his 5-year-old daughter in tow, according to a disturbing report from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Sources say that 36-year-old Keri Lee Koch has been charged with driving under the influence and reckless endangerment for his driving exploits. In addition, officials have charged Koch with reckless assault for his tussle with Alaska State Troopers at the scene of the accident.
The scene at the accident was, in brief, disturbing. A witness who reported the crash said he saw Koch and his young daughter fall to the ground while the ATV continued down the road.
When state troopers arrived on the scene, Koch was reportedly unconscious, but his daughter was conscious and screaming for help.
When medics arrived, sources say that Koch woke up and refused to leave the ambulance in which his daughter was being treated for serious head trauma, despite repeated requests for him to leave by both medics and police.
After he repeatedly refused to leave the ambulance, a state trooper grabbed Koch’s arm to pull him out, and the two fell to the ground after Koch resisted. Soon, though, the trooper was able to place Koch in handcuffs and under arrest, according to the criminal complaint against Koch.
Sources indicate that Koch was taken to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and was later released. His daughter, however, was not so fortunate.
Apparently, the young girl was also taken to the hospital after she was treated for head trauma at the scene and was placed on a ventilator.
The girl’s whereabouts now, however, are unknown, as a hospital employee told sources earlier this week that the girl was no longer at that hospital, and no information about her condition was available at press time.
With his daughter being treated for head trauma, a DUI arrest was likely the last thing on Koch’s mind, but he will soon have to answer for his irresponsible actions.
According to sources, Koch had a blood alcohol content of .108 long after the crash, and he admitted to drinking a “few shots” before climbing behind the wheel of his ATV.
And, given the fact that the accident involved such a young child, and that he was involved in a physical altercation with police after the crash, a court is unlikely to take pity on Koch when it is time for sentencing.
A Tampa Bay resident who has reportedly been a binge drinker for more than 30 years has somehow survived long enough to tally his ninth DUI conviction, according to an incredible report from the Tampa Bay Times.
And a Florida judge who had little sympathy for a man with a clear disease has sentenced him to 10 years in prison for his latest brush with the law, in which the man was caught driving drunk despite the fact that his license had been permanently revoke.
According to sources, 48-year-old James Vernon Smith pleaded with Judge Kimberly Fernandez for mercy before she announced his sentence.
Wearing an orange jumpsuit and clad in shackles around his wrists and ankles, Smith asked the judge not to throw him in jail, and claimed, “I’m more than just a drunk. I’m a son, I’m a brother, I’m a father and there’s still good left in me.”
Despite this plea, Judge Fernandez said the man’s conduct “simply demonstrates a flagrant disregard for the law,” which led to her decision to levy a 10-year jail sentence and five years or probation.
After he is released from jail, Smith will also receive psychiatric and alcohol evaluations, although his DUI lawyer argued that Smith should receive more treatment immediately, rather than jail time.
In the words of Smith’s attorney, the “reality is that he will go sit in a prison cell for the next eight years and he won’t receive the help he needs.”
The attorney also observed that a mental health counselor employed by the state said that Smith suffers from several mental disorders which went undiagnosed until last week but have had a significant impact on Smith’s behavior.
In fact, the mental health counselor also observed that Smith’s mental illnesses likely contributed to his binge drinking, and that the man needs serious psychiatric help in order to remedy his problems.
While the judge listened respectfully to the lawyer’s arguments, she was ultimately swayed by the extreme disregard for DUI laws displayed by Smith, and decided that a more severe punishment was warranted.
In addition to his time in jail, Smith will also be required to perform up to 100 hours of community service and he will have to give speeches to younger people about the dangers of driving while intoxicated.
Sources say that Smith lives in Louisiana and works an underwater welder. He also has two daughters who live in Florida.
Unlike alcohol, which allows police officers to easily detect the amount of the substance in a driver’s system, marijuana poses all sorts of testing issues for state officials.
First, THC, the psychoactive agent in marijuana, stays in a person’s body for weeks after the initial high has long since worn off. And, today, scientists do not have a reliable test to determine exactly how much marijuana is in a person’s system at any given point of time.
However, scientists across the country are working on developing a saliva test to determine whether a driver is impaired by marijuana, as several states look to push more aggressive marijuana marijuana DUI laws , according to a report from Reuters.
Sources indicate that scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a relatively obscure government research lab, have been developing a simple saliva test that will be able to detect whether a driver has recently been using marijuana.
The test, though, won’t be able to specifically measure the user’s level of marijuana use. In fact, according to the so-called White House drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, “I’ll be dead – and so will lots of other people – from old age, before we know the impairment levels.”
So, scientists are creating an admittedly less-than-reliable saliva test to gauge whether a person who is driving after smoking marijuana is too impaired to get behind the wheel.
And the unreliability of the saliva test has many DUI attorneys concerned that their clients could be hauled before a judge for DUI violations due to drug use that occurred days, or perhaps weeks, before the incident in question.
In response, law enforcement officials say that there are other gauges to determine just how stoned a driver is, including the redness of eyes, coordination, speech, and the like. But this seems to add a lot of guess work to an arrest that could lead to jail time or serious fines.
In fact, these concerns have already been addressed by a wary public. In California, for example, Proposition 19, which would have elevated marijuana to the status of alcohol in DUI arrests, failed in 2010 in part because voters were concerned that it didn’t specifically set forth a THC driving limit.
In the voters’ minds, if blood alcohol levels are capped at .08 percent, then THC levels should have an equally concrete limit for drivers. This limit, however, may be impossible to adequately set, given today’s current marijuana-detecting technology.
The U.S. Congress has launched a study into the effectiveness of “in-vehicle” technology, such as ignition interlock systems, when trying to prevent drunk drivers from starting their cars, according to a report from Politico.com.
In a recent transportation bill passed by the Senate, politicians subtly inserted a provision that asks the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to study the potential effects of a “more widespread deployment” of in-vehicle devices.
The research will be conducted by the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, which is a joint effort between the automobile industry and the NHTSA to reduce the overall occurrence of drunk driving.
The goal of the research is to design technology that is “far less intrusive” than the current ignition interlock devices, which require drivers to blow into a breathalyzer device that is attached to the car’s dashboard and wait up to a minute for the breath sample to be measured.
Several states require repeat DUI offenders to have these devices installed in their cars, and some states have even proposed laws that would require first-time drunk drivers to blow into these machines before starting their cars.
Of course, the efforts by Congress to develop better DUI prevention technology have been met with some resistance from civil liberties advocates, as well as the alcohol industry itself.
According to Sarah Longwell, the managing director of the American Beverage Institute, the bill could eventually lead to a mandate that forces all car makers to insert these devices into their cars as original equipment.
This, naturally, upsets the American Beverage Institute, which represents alcohol distributors and restaurants that sell alcohol, because the presence of alcohol testing devices in cars could dramatically reduce the number of people willing to go out on the town to drink.
In response to these concerns, those who support the bill claim that car companies would not necessarily have to insert these devices into every new vehicle.
According to J.T. Griffin, a senior vice president with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, “car companies right now are trying to figure out how to do it and if it can even be done. The goal is this would be a voluntary technology.”
However, Griffin also said his organization believes that, ultimately, “every parent in America is going to want this on their vehicle.”
If this prediction proves correct, alcohol detection systems could eventually become as common a car feature as radios, windows, and air conditioning.
A few months ago, police officials in San Francisco faced a great deal of embarrassment when an investigation revealed that several breathalyzer tests administered to DUI suspects were flawed, a finding that threatened hundreds of DUI convictions.
This problem, however, does not seem to be isolated to San Francisco, as police departments across the country have experienced troubles with the reliability of their breathalyzer tests, according to a recent report from the San Francisco Chronicle.
An eerily similar situation happened in Philadelphia last year. There, the district attorney was forced to offer new trials to almost 1,500 people who had been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol over a 15-month period.
This offer was made necessary by the finding in March 2011 that four different breath test machines used by the Philadelphia police department had not been adequately calibrated before their use.
San Francisco faced a similar problem with the calibration of their breathalyzer devices, but they used a different type of breath test, according to sources.
In addition to San Francisco, other California communities, such as those in Santa Clara County and Ventura County, have seen some dropped DUI convictions due to faulty breath tests, but not to the extent that San Francisco experienced.
In the city by the bay, the district attorney’s office is currently reviewing hundreds of cases dating back to 2006 to possible mismanagement of breath testing devices used by the city’s police department.
According to San Francisco Public Defender Jess Adachi, as many as 1,000 convictions could eventually be altered, although Adachi does have a bit of a skewed perspective, given that he stands to benefit from any overturned convictions.
Still, the fact that even hundreds of DUI convictions could be overturned is unnerving for judges and prosecutors alike, and it reveals the danger of relying on technology when identifying possible DUI offenders.
People who are arrested for a DUI should also note that there are a wide range of complications that could arise from a breath test, including the possibility of condensation in the device that skews the blood alcohol results, or simply misuse of the machines by poorly trained police.
A DUI arrest does not necessarily mean a DUI conviction, given the wide range of possible procedural violations or technological mishaps that sometimes plague DUI stops.
So, if you’ve been arrested for a DUI, remember that you are not necessarily convicted automatically. The court must still prove your guilt.