11/29/2018Federal Court OKs Charging Sober Drivers With DUI
Federal appeals court sees no problem with charging motorists with DUI weeks before lab test results are available.
A sober woman will see no relief after Utah prosecutors charged her with driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol. The Tenth Circuit US Court of Appeals on Wednesday ruled that neither police nor prosecutors in Summit County did anything wrong when they went after Anexora Leon for driving after having a single beer with lunch.
Utah is known for its strict liquor laws limiting the sale of strong beers. Beginning December 30, the state will also have the toughest DUI standard in the nation, with those found driving with a 0.05 percent blood alcohol content facing $10,000 in fines and legal fees, a mandatory two-day jail sentence and a three-month license suspension on the first offense. Yet Leon was well under even that limit., A county-administered blood test showed she had been driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.01.
Leon's troubles began on October 27, 2016, when she got behind the wheel of her silver Chrysler 300 on Highland Drive in Snyderville with an expired license plate on the back. Officer Mike Graham pulled her over and promptly verified that Leon was telling the truth when she told him the correct plate was in the trunk. The stop did not end there, however, as the officer suspected she was drunk, even though her balance was fine, her speech was not slurred and her eyes were not bloodshot.
Officer Graham and his partner insisted that they smelled alcohol, so they made her perform the standard battery of roadside tests, which they said she failed. Leon said the officer gave unclear instructions. She was handcuffed and placed under arrest so that she could provide a blood sample at the county jail. Leon had formal DUI charges hanging over her for two-and-a-half months before the results of that blood test became available.
Leon sued Summit County for its practice of opening DUI prosecutions before the results of DUI tests arrive from the lab, forcing innocent motorists to hire expensive attorneys to defend against the charges, even though they are eventually dropped.
"As a general rule, payment in full is required by defense attorneys prior to be retained as counsel to defend a client against an allegation of DUI," Leon's attorney, Daniel Baczynski, explained. "Summit County's practice of prosecuting individuals for DUI without a result from a blood or breath test... is a direct violation of both state and federal constitutional and statutory rights."
The three-judge federal appellate panel rejected Leon's argument since the standard for conducting a DUI test is much lower than the standard in court for finding someone guilty of DUI.
"This is a typical investigative detention, which does not require probable cause but can be conducted upon reasonable suspicion," Judge Harris L. Hartz wrote for the court.
Since any admission of a beer consumed even three hours prior to the stop is enough to create reasonable suspicion, Officer Graham was given immunity for his actions.
"Given the odor of alcohol in plaintiff's vehicle and her admission to having had a beer with lunch (as stated in the complaint), there was arguable reasonable suspicion to detain her further and require her to participate in field sobriety tests," Judge Hartz wrote.
For the prosecutors who were ready to slap DUI charges on Leon before the blood test results arrived, the court offered the same immunity.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.