10 years ago I posted my first blog on here. 1,322 posts later we’re still going strong. Not as strong as I used to- I post much less frequently nowadays between keeping busy with the job and growing kids that have gotten involved in all kinds of activity. Thanks to everyone that has sent me post ideas over the years, I wish I could have written a post for all of them. WordPress tells me I’ve had over 285,000 page views and over 180,000 unique visitors, which is kind of crazy.
I thought the anniversary might be a good time for a little trip down memory lane.
One of my favorite subjects was the shark trial, where a man claimed self-defense for taking a shark: “The Shark Trial Recap“
Self-defense has been one of the more interesting repeat topics we’ve discussed on crimcourts, probably in part due to timing. I started writing this not too long after the Stand Your Ground Law has been enacted, and the Florida courts have been a trying ground for that policy. Also, being Florida, we’ve seen self-defense claimed for Bears, the aforementioned shark, and even an iguana.
Sometimes I like to think it would be fun to do videos, but I really don’t have the time. I don’t have as much time as I’d like to spend on the blog, as it has been fun, but I’ll keep posting whenever I can find time so follow me here and on Twitter.
I was able to get back into a courtroom for a socially distanced trial this week. It was my first since the pandemic hit, and quite a different experience, between physical distancing and the clear face masks that were provided so that we could see the faces of the jurors and the witnesses. We got a not guilty verdict for my client’s DUI, which was a huge win for him, and a relief to be able to move past the case now that it was done. And it was made easier for us since there was no video. I’ve talked about the failure of many law enforcement agencies to provide regular video recording of their citizen interactions and arrests, including just recently. Many times, the video would assist the government in their prosecution of the case. That’s particularly true in DUI cases, where the only form of proof is the officer’s testimony about their subjective opinion about the performance on field sobriety exercises. Jury’s expect that evidence, and defense attorneys hammer the absence of video (or often, any corroborating evidence to the opinion testimony.) In my trial this week, there were several jurors that indicated during jury selection that they would WANT to see video evidence. While the ones that said it out loud may have been struck from the panel, there were likely jurors selected that had a similar, unstated desire to see video evidence as well. After all, jurors want as much evidence as possible, and prosecutors want as much evidence to introduce to help prove their case. There’s a concern that a video might not support an officer’s testimony, but if that’s the case, we shouldn’t be prosecuting those cases. For instance, on a DUI case, if the video doesn’t help the impairment case, prosecutors can know which cases should not be taken to trial before they drag a panel full of jurors in for the day, particularly during a pandemic. Frequently, there are disputes between different versions of a story by witnesses on a case. Often, there is a discrepancy between what an officer says, and what the Defendant or his witnesses say about the details of a case. I suspect there is a thinking that it is beneficial for law enforcement not to create video, so that it is harder to challenge the officer’s version of events; the reality is that many disputes would be settled by the video. Disputes in evidence lead to more hearings and trials to settle the disputes, where a video is usually the best qualitative evidence that could be presented. The lack of video hurt the state’s prosecution in this case, and I have several other cases that are still pending because we don’t have video to resolve the dispute in facts. I feel like I do an “all cops should have videos” blog post nearly annually here, and several of our local agencies have added body cameras (Fort Myers and Cape Coral police both have done so). But the majority of law enforcement officers in Southwest Florida still do not have body or even car cameras. And defense attorneys like myself are going to keep hammering the issue in court, and jurors are going to keep being surprised that videos are not readily available in the year 2020.
John Demeo was first warned to stay away, after he allegedly got intoxicated and threatened his girlfriend. Officer’s told him not to call her, but he called her again while they were still at her home and threatened her while the officer was listening. They tracked him by cell phone GPS to a parking lot, but agreed to not arrest him, and waited for someone to pick him up. About 10 minutes later, they got another call from the girlfriend that John had returned. When they detained him, they discovered he already had an out-of-county warrant for a DUI violation of probation, and proceeded to arrest him for disorderly intoxication, criminal mischief (for damaged property) and the violation of the governor’s emergency order, all misdemeanors. He was held with no bond until he went in front of a judge, but was subsequently able to bond out.
Wanted to share this as a reminder to take Driving Under the Influence seriously. Colorado Rockies legend Todd Helton pled to a DUI and was sentenced to two days of incarceration, in addition to probation and classes and all of the other requirements of a DUI conviction. The article doesn’t say if he had any credit, he may have done those days the night he was arrested, but it just goes to show that even rich and famous don’t get a break on DUI.
It’s worth noting that even with the public health emergency, law enforcement is still on patrol, and will still arrest for DUI. Even if you don’t go to jail tonight… that doesn’t mean you aren’t facing jail time down the road. The cases are not getting dropped… just pushed down the road. Be safe, and don’t drink and drive!
States across the country have set a testable limit on the level of alcohol in someone’s bloodstream as a threshold in lieu of demonstrating impairment. While .08 has been established as a baseline legal limit for alcohol, there is no test available to readily measure the amount of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, that is present in someone’s system. CNN.com took a long look at the issue, and at ongoing efforts to create a test similar to the breathalyzers that measure alcohol for purposes of prosecuting DUIs.
It is against the law for anyone to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, even if the drugs have been prescribed. Florida defines under the influence as “under the influence to the extent that normal faculties are impaired,” and other states use similar definitions. That’s why law enforcement use field sobriety exercises: they are meant to give the officers a chance to observe a driver to see if their faculties appear to be impaired. The shortcoming of those tests is their unreliability and that they are subjective: an officer will see impairment if they are looking for it. The breath and blood alcohol tests at least provide some consistency, though they are not impairment based. Time will tell if science can come up with something comparable for THC and other controlled substances.
Reliance on impairment based tests is challenging for law enforcement when a case goes to trial. Unless the impairment is clear, a jury may be reluctant to find it beyond a reasonable doubt. The subjectivity may matter more in a DUI than any other, and the outcome of a DUI is more dependent on the skill of the attorneys trying the case. The ambiguity cuts both ways, because the subjectivity of the field sobriety testing may lead to an arrest, and there is no dispositive scientific test to disprove the allegation. If a cop thinks you are impaired, you can be arrested, and the case may have to go to a jury trial. It will be interesting as this field becomes more important with the expansion of recreational and medicinal marijuana.
As always, be safe and don’t drink and drive this holiday. FHP wants to make everyone aware of the dangers, and are running a DUI enforcement operation for New Year’s Eve. Other agencies know it’s a big party night, and are generally out in force. AAA is doing a free tow and go service, and Uber/Lyft/Cabs are way cheaper than getting a DUI! Be safe!
Andy Sigears was arrested last week for driving a Segway under the influence in Davenport, Florida. He was driving it right down a road, just down from where a Sheriff’s substation is located. Deputies say he was swerving, unsteady, and impeded traffic. He admitted he had drunk two bottles of wine, and blew .243, .220 & .238 on a breath test. Florida gives at least two tests, and would have administered a third since the first two were more than .02 apart. The legal limit to operate a vehicle is .08… and a Segway has wheels, so it is definitely a vehicle under the law in Florida!
So… a deputy in rural Ohio noticed an Amish buggy rolling down the street, and spotted a 12-pack of Michelob Ultra on the back, so he decided to pull it over. The occupants of the buggy ran off into the woods, and authorities are still looking for them. The horses continued walking down the road, but the officer was able to safely corral them. Not only did they have a case of beer, they apparently outfitted the buggy with a bangin’ sound system and there was a case of Twisted Tea found inside, too. The buggy was taken to a neighboring farm to care for the horses and law enforcement is waiting for someone to claim them.
LCSO, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office is planning a DUI checkpoint this weekend, in addition to saturation patrols targeting impaired drivers. Everybody be safe out there, get an Uber or a cab, but don’t drink and drive!
If you have any questions, be sure to speak to an experienced Defense attorney.
Deputies were called out to a parking lot in Bonita Springs for a naked man… and arrived to find him rolling around in an office chair. He had on nothing but underwear and shoes. The man appeared to be drunk or high (duh), and there were complaints that some vehicles were damaged. However, nobody saw the man damage the vehicles, so he was released to relatives. They found his vehicle, with a bottle of booze in it, but didn’t see him driving the car. They also think he took furniture from a nearby Buffalo Wild Wings and scattered it around the parking lot.
I am disappointed here… they legally could have charged him with DUI on a rolling chair. It would be a crappy case, but this guy was itchin’ to get locked up. He was certainly drunk and disorderly. We don’t even get a mug shot out of it…