California DUI case law
This page is a brief summary of some of the most important California DUI cases. It is certainly not a comprehensive review of all California DUI case law, or cases that might have an issue important to your particular case in CA or elsewhere.
US Supreme Court DUI case law: Miranda v. Arizona
Holding: Custodial interrogation must be preceded by warnings. And crime TV shows and movies were never the same again. Everyone knows about “Miranda Rights”. In this case the Court required that any “custodial interrogation” (questioning after arrest) must be preceded by the now-famous “Miranda warning” (the right to remain silent and the right to have counsel present). Failure to so advise will result in suppression of any statements made after the warnings should have been given.
In DUI cases, questioning takes place at the DUI traffic stop (considered a non-custodial interrogation); it is not uncommon, however, for the police to continue asking questions in the police car or back at the police station during breath testing. Police usually claim this is consensual.
US Supreme Court DUI case law: Gideon v. Wainright
Holding: Having a defense attorney is a right, not just a privilege for teh rich.This famous case dealt with a defendant charged with a felony who was indigent, and requested the Court for a public defender. The request was refused since state law provided for a PD only in capital cases. The defendant tried to defend himself at trial, and was quickly convicted. The Court stated that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel applied not just to federal courts but to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, and this “right to counsel” included the right to one even if one could not be afforded: “lawyers in criminal courts are necessities not luxuries. The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours.”
After this case, the public defender offices in almost all states were funded with new hires to handle the defense of all cases. Unfortunately, the PD;s office in California are for the most part so under budget, and over whelmed with cases, that they cannot give much attention to any single case, or handle DMV hearings from a DUI.
California DUI case law: California v. Trombetta
Holding: Drivers have the choice of a blood test in addition to a breath test, for later retesting. In a DUI, where a breath test is given by the police, the sample is captured in a test chamber, analyzed and purged out of the machine and into the air; nothing is saved. Since there is relatively cheap technology available to save such breath samples for later re-analysis by the defense, does the purging of the sample and the failure to preserve it constitute willful destruction of potentially exculpatory evidence? No, said the Supreme Court, reversing the California Supreme Court: the destruction was “not a calculated effort to circumvent the disclosure requirements established by Brady v. Maryland“, and, more importantly, the defense failed to show that the breath sample would have had an “exculpatory value that was apparent before the evidence was destroyed, and also be of such a nature that the defendant would be unable to obtain comparable evidence by other available means.”
U.S. Federal DUI case law: Nelson v. City of Irvine (1998) 143 F.3d 1196.
Holding: Requiring a DUI arrestee to submit to a warrantless test of the officer’s choosing and/or forcing the officer’s preferred blood test violates the Fourth Amendment’s general prohibition against non-consentual, warrantless searches. In other words, forcing a blood test when other tests are available is an unlawful search. This prohibition is now even stronger under Ferguson v. City of Charleston, 532 U.S. 67, 121 Sup. Ct. 1281.
US Supreme Court DUI case law: Crawford v. Washington
Holding: Defendants and their attorneys have the right to cross examine any witnesses testifying against them. In a prosecution of a man accused of stabbing another man who raped his wife, the prosecution played a tape recording of the wife describing the stabbing. The defendant objected on the grounds that he could not cross-examine the woman, but the trial judge found the tape recording to be “reliable” since it had been taped by the police and admitted it for the jury to hear. The Supreme Court held in a 9-0 opinion that this is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment right to confrontation (“in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”).
In DUI cases, where judges have commonly permitted prosecutors to introduce police reports in lieu of the testimony of the police themselves, this can be asserted and is an important right.
US Supreme Court DUI case law: Bell v. Burson
Holding: Drivers have more rights than just a privilege, and a license cannot be taken without due process. Normally a driver’s license is considered “a privilege — not a right”, and there were few remedies available to a driver who wished to contest a suspension.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court changed that, and stated that a license’s “continued possession may become essential in the pursuit of a livelihood”. They “are not to be taken away without that procedural due process required by the Fourteenth Amendment”.
US Supreme Court DUI case law: Missouri v. McNeely
Holding: A blood test in a DUI case is invasive enough of the body to be a search requiring a search warrant, in cases where there is not consent to take blood. Forcefully taking blood from a suspect who has refused to submit to blood or breath testing is a common situation in DUI refusal cases. This has usually been accomplished without a search warrant. In this case, the defendant was arrested for DUI and refused both breathalyzer and blood tests. Without attempting to get a warrant, the arresting officer directed hospital personnel to withdraw blood from him.
The Court held that absent emergency circumstances, the police must first obtain a warrant before taking a blood sample from an accused. The Court rejected the prosecutions argument that such exigent circumstances always exist in routine drunk driving cases since the blood-alcohol level will dissipate over time. Rather, the majority said, it depends upon the totality of the circumstances in each case and, absent further facts, the possibility of some dissipation is not sufficient reason to avoid getting a warrant.
California DUI case law: Lake v. Reed
Holding: Unsworn documents and information can be used to support conclusions and findings in a DMV license hearing from a DUI. Lake v. Reed is a DMV case that involved a DMV hearing where there was an unsworn police report (which is technically hearsay), and an unsworn laboratory report to suspend a driver’s license.
In this case, because the DMV presented sufficient evidence to show the individual arrested was driving the motor vehicle, when the only evidence that satisfies an exception to the hearsay rule is contained in an unsworn police report, and, the DMV presents sufficient evidence to show the person driving did so with a prohibited BAC, when the only evidence is an unsworn forensic laboratory report documenting the results of a chemical test of the driver’s urine, they could still suspend the license.
California DUI case law: Ingersoll
Holding: DUI Checkpoints are legal in California, but require certain specific guidelines for the DUI checkpoint to be upheld as constitutional. The Ingersoll case set up the following guidelines for any DUI checkpoint to be considered legal, and must be followed by police, or the DUI checkpoint is illegal and can be excluded. DUI sobriety checkpoints must include:
- Supervising officers making all operational decisions, and being responsible for the checkpoint;
- The criteria for stopping motorists must be neutral;
- The checkpoint must be reasonably located;
- Adequate safety precautions must be taken;
- The checkpoint’s time and duration should reflect “good judgment”;
- The checkpoint must exhibit sufficient indicia of its official nature;
- Drivers should be detained a minimal amount of time; and
- Roadblocks should be publicly advertised in advance.