Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Seattle Police Department DUI Squad Investigation

Below is a report by King 5 News featuring attorney Raymond Ejarque. For the full story and video visit: http://www.king5.com/news/TIMES--118384084.html

SEATTLE - The Seattle Police Department has reassigned all but one member of its DUI squad amid an ongoing internal investigation into alleged mishandling of drunken driving arrests.

The department confirmed Monday that three of the squad's four officers and its sergeant were pulled from their duties last week.

The possible mishandling of DUI arrests could compromise dozens of cases.

The department isn't talking, but they do confirm the internal investigation.

The allegations are that DUI arrest reports were not properly screened and signed off on by a sergeant in the DUI squad. Department policy requires that all arrests be screened in person by a supervisor.

One Seattle man, arrested on Saturday for DUI, says there was no supervisor present when he was taken in.

"It was just one officer. I never saw a sergeant or a supervisor at all," he said.

The allegations against police are that the sergeant routinely did not report to work and approved the arrests by phone, and the papers were stamped with his name.

In response to the Seattle Police Department's internal review of the DUI squad, the Criminal Division of the City Attorney's Office said Monday they will conduct an individual analysis to determine whether any of the DUI cases - past and present - may be impacted by the investigation findings.

"Once we determine the full scope of the issue we may look at past cases," Criminal Division Chief Craig Sims said.

In traffic court Monday, more than a dozen DUI cases were continued, with some discussion of the police investigation.

With the allegations against Seattle Police, DUI defense lawyers could have a field day.

"I'm absolutely sure that all the DUI attorneys are carefully reviewing their files and their cases to determine how this would affect their cases," said attorney Raymond Ejarque.

It was a Seattle Police captain who noticed some inconsistencies in the DUI squad. He brought it to the attention of his superiors and that led to the internal investigation.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Illegally Driving Under the Influence of Legally Prescribed Medication

While the majority of DUI offenses stem from the use of alcohol or illegal drugs, it’s becoming common to get a DUI in Seattle for driving under the influence of anything that leaves you impaired. This means that a Seattle driver runs the risk of a DUI by driving while under the influence of perfectly legal prescription or over-the-counter medications.

Possessing and ingesting over-the-counter and prescription medications is legal, but so is alcohol. So, like alcohol, if an officer believes that prescriptions have impaired driving, it can still result in a DUI. The penalties for driving under the influence of over-the-counter or prescription medication are the same as driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs.

Even though both may have impairing effects, medication does differ from alcohol in a DUI case. For alcohol, detection of it’s the BAC can be done by breath or blood test and 0.08 is a known legal limit throughout the country. For medicated driving, there is no agreed-upon limit for which impairment has been scientifically calculated. Furthermore, determining current drug levels can be difficult, since some drugs linger in the body for a period of days or weeks after initial ingestion.

Some states have made it illegal to drive with any detectable level of prohibited drugs in the blood. But setting any kind of limit for prescription medications is far more complicated, partly because the complex chemistry of drugs makes their effects more difficult to predict than that of alcohol. Determining whether a driver took drugs soon before getting on the road can be tricky, since some linger in the body for days or weeks.

There is no reliable data on how many drivers are impaired by prescription drugs, but law enforcement agencies are putting police officers through special training to spot signs of drug impairment and clamoring for better technology to detect it. Washington is among those states that now has trained drug recognition experts (“DRE”) trained to spot signs of impairment in drivers.

The police may struggle, however, with the challenge of prosecuting someone who was taking valid prescriptions. In an interview with the New York Times, Mark Neil, senior attorney at the National Traffic Law Center, stated: “How do we balance between people who legitimately need their prescriptions and protecting the public? It becomes a very delicate balance.”

Police are arguably casting too wide a net and unfairly punishing people who are taking prescriptions as directed. With Washington’s vague definition of “impairment” including “driving while under the influence of drugs,” police have great discretion in who they decide to stop and arrest for an alleged DUI charge.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Danger Ahead: What Commercial Drivers Stand to Lose

A driver operating a commercial vehicle and carrying a Commercial Drivers' License (CDL) does not carry the exact same rights as other drivers. Driving a commercial vehicle means that you have already given implied consent to drug or alcohol testing required by the State of Washington. This means that if you are stopped for a DUI, you do not have the opportunity to withhold consent to test the level of drugs or alcohol in your system.

The consequences of a DUI conviction are very severe for commercial drivers because the consequences carry with them the risk of losing a job. First, because it is illegal to operate a commercial vehicle with any alcohol in the system, law enforcement could place an impaired driver out of service for up to 24 hours. If convicted of operating a commercial vehicle under the influence, a driver may stand to lose his/her CDL for one year (3 years if the incident occurred while the driver was transporting hazardous materials.)

Even worse, if a driver is found guilty of a second instance of driving a commercial vehicle under the influence, the driver runs the risk of losing his/her CDL for life. The Washington Department of Licensing does not allow a driver to re-qualify for a CDL after this sort of lifetime disqualification.

In the event that a CDL is suspended, cancelled, or disqualified, a driver will not be able to operate a commercial vehicle. This means that a driver runs the risk of losing his/her job because they are no longer licensed to drive a commercial vehicle. You will have to notify your employer of all traffic convictions within the last 30 days, meaning that you must inform your employer of your DUI.

While a CDL is suspended, you cannot get an Occupational/Restricted License to drive a commercial vehicle; you may only apply for a license to operate a non-commercial vehicle. Once again, this means that if you depend on commercial driving for your job, you likely will not be able to perform your employment duties.

These reasons show why it is imperative to request a Department of Licensing hearing at least 20 days after an arrest. Like all DUIs, driving a commercial vehicle while allegedly impaired runs the risk of extreme consequences. If your job requires you to maintain your CDL, then you undoubtedly have a lot at stake when fighting a DUI charge. The only way to avoid these penalties is to know the law, understand your rights, and fight your DUI charge with full force.