Monday, August 10, 2009

Not All Courts Equal When It Comes to DUI/DWAI Sentencing

The Denver Post has published a story outlining a study it did regarding what Colorado drivers can expect in the way of criminal sentencing for a repeat DUI or DWAI offense. The sum of the report is that sentences of jail, alternative confinement, fines and costs for repeat DUI/DWAI offenders can vary greatly depending upon the judge and jurisdiction. "The discrepancy, according to judges, lawyers and other experts, is the result of the collision between judicial philosophy and legal interpretation against the overriding reality of full jails," the story explained. Judges have a variety of options when it comes to sentencing repeat DUI or DWAI offenders, and they appear to be exercising those options depending on the circumstances mentioned above. You can read the entire Post story at

This story demonstrates the importance of experienced legal counsel to assist someone charged with a second or subsequent DUI or DWAI--counsel that can explain the intricacies of sentencing and make the strongest possible argument for sentencing conditions that are in the best interest of the accused.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Traffic Tickets Bridge Revenue Gap

Anyone driving on our streets and highways recently will have noticed an abundance of law enforcement vehicles, both marked and unmarked, looking for any and all forms of traffic violations. Stepped-up enforcement of traffic signal lights, "aggressive driving" (AKA "road rage") laws, and of course, speed limits (which sometimes change by as much as 20 MPH on very short notice) are becoming the rule rather than exceptional law enforcement action. Why this beefed-up enforcement of our traffic code? One word: Revenue.

The recent economic recession has hit local governments particularly hard. With so many businesses failing or doing poorly and so many people out of work, tax revenues have taken their biggest plunge since the Great Depression (at least according to the Denver Post). Counties and municipalities are having to look to other means of raising money, and traffic tickets are a relatively easy and inexhaustive source of revenue. Law enforcement often limits concentration on traffic code violations because such action is rather unpopular with the folks who go to the polls and vote for sheriffs and on bond issues supporting law enforcement compensation. However, desperate times call for desperate measures and political leaders are willing to risk backlash at the polls in order to raise more money now. They know that most people won't bother to fight a ticket in court, simply because they can't afford to take the time from work or the attorney costs are higher than the fines. But keep in mind that traffic tickets have costs beyond the fines--insurance companies base their rates on driving records, and a handful of tickets will result in higher premiums, or in this economy, loss of coverage altogether.

Please drive safely and obey all traffic regulations...remember, they're watching!

U.S. Supreme Court Puts Brakes on Auto Searches Following Arrest

This spring in the case of Arizona v. Gant, the U.S. Supreme Court rolled back a bright-line automobile search rule in criminal cases established over a quarter century ago in N.Y. v. Belton that permitted a full-blown search of the interior of an automobile recently occupied by the subject of an arrest. Forty years ago, in Chimel v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, once a person was placed under lawful arrest, the police could lawfully search the person and the area of "immediate control" surrounding the person without a warrant. In Belton, the Court held that when a person was arrested after being in an automobile, the entire interior of the automobile was within the arrestee's "immediate control" and thus could be searched without a warrant.

All that was changed in the Gant case decided before the Court's summer recess. In Gant, the police were waiting with an arrest warrant for driving with a suspended driver's license at the defendant's home when they saw him drive into his driveway, park, and get out of his car. Once out of the car with the door shut, the police arrested Gant and then proceeded to search the interior of the car per Belton and found cocaine and a gun. Gant was then prosecuted on illegal drug and firearms charges. The evidence was suppressed by the Arizona Supreme Court, which was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, held that "...the Chimel rationale authorizes police to search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant's arrest only when the arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search."

It is unclear if this rationale will be extended to other arrest situations that do not involve an automobile--homes, purses, suitcases, etc. What is clear is that police no longer have carte blanche to search the interior of a car if they arrest an occupant thereof.