Articles Posted in DUI/DWI

DriInfographic of % of LA Drinking and Drivingnking and driving occurs all too often, especially in the state of Louisiana. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, more commonly known as MADD, there were 5,339 arrests in Louisiana last year for DWIs. According to a national poll conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Louisiana ranks well above average in citizens who report driving after drinking too much. Impaired driving has become a growing national concern over recent years spawning new legislation increasing the penalties for driving while intoxicated. This article will provide you with a overview on a Louisiana DWI and the penalties you can expect to face if arrested for a DWI.

DWI STANDARD  

A special law in Louisiana governs DWIs: Louisiana Revised Statute 14:98. A person is considered to be driving while intoxicated in Louisiana if their blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) is ) 0.08% or higher. Interestingly, about 7 years ago a court in Louisiana also determined that even an “attempted” DWI is a crime.

CalendarEach DWI case is unique in its own way. A first-offense DWI charge contains its own set of challenges for the accused driver that are different from those faced by drivers accused of second-, third-, or fourth-offense DWI. In one recent case originating in Jefferson Parish, a man convicted of misdemeanor first-offense DWI lost opportunities to challenge the way the state prosecuted his case because he did not follow the correct court procedures or observe the court rules, which led the Louisiana Court of Appeal to leave his conviction in place.

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judge with gavelThe Louisiana Court of Appeal recently refused to throw out a man’s conviction on third-offense DWI despite his arguments that one of his prior convictions should not have counted against him in his current case. Although there were certain things the judge in the previous case did not tell the man about criminal law and trial procedure, none of those pieces of information was required by the Constitution, so the conviction was properly included as part of the basis for the man’s current charge.

Damion Billups’ most recent DWI case began when a state trooper observed him speeding along a rural road in Northeastern Louisiana. When the trooper stopped the driver, he thought the driver appeared intoxicated, put him through some field sobriety tests, and, based on those results, arrested the man for DWI. The state charged the matter as a third-offense DWI, since Billups had two previous DWI convictions, one each in 2008 and 2010. The driver challenged the charge brought against him, arguing that his 2010 plea was unconstitutional and that this offense should not count against him. After the trial judge concluded that both prior offenses were validly counted against the man, Billups entered a conditional guilty plea and was sentenced to one year of hard labor.

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The_Jury_by_John_MorganThe Louisiana Supreme Court recently upheld a driver’s conviction and sentence to 25 years of hard labor for DWI, fourth offense, even though the jury in the driver’s trial consisted of only six people. The high court’s decision clarified that, in situations like this, when the driver’s mandatory hard labor sentence only arose from a multiple-offender sentencing enhancement, and the crime charged on the original indictment contained a range of possible sentences both with or without hard labor, the trial court’s empaneling of a six-person jury was not an error and did not require giving the driver a new trial.

The events leading up to this decision started with a traffic stop in Bogalusa in 2011. A state trooper pulled over a pickup truck that had been weaving erratically down the road. The driver, Gerald Dahlem, smelled of alcohol, slurred his speech, and displayed glassy, bloodshot eyes. A blood alcohol level test revealed that Dahlem’s BAC was .180.

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Fire_Department_-_Battalion_6While it may not be common, there are certain circumstances when Louisiana law allows a private citizen to stop another citizen for a suspected violation of the law. In a decision from last fall, the Louisiana Court of Appeal concluded that this aspect of the law made the stop of a suspected drunk driver legal, even though the citizen who made the stop was an employee of a fire department who used his vehicle’s emergency lights to make the stop and used physical force to restrain the driver at the scene.

At first, most of the facts of the case may sound fairly ordinary. Detective Darryl Sanders was driving his marked SUV early on June 18, 2011, when he spotted a white Ford Ranger proceeding in an erratic fashion north of Baton Rouge. Sanders turned on his lights and pulled the vehicle over. The driver, Michael Pratt, exhibited slurred speech and was belligerent toward Sanders. Sanders used physical force to restrain Pratt. Deputy Scott Courrege also responded and administered field sobriety tests, which the driver failed. Pratt refused a chemical breathlyzer test and ultimately was arrested for DWI.

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2015-la-drivers-licenseWhen you are arrested on suspicion of DWI, you may have the choice to submit to or refuse a chemical blood-alcohol test. If you choose to refuse, there may be certain consequences that go with refusing, such as the suspension of your driver’s license for a year. However, in some cases, you may be entitled to an immediate reinstatement of your license, as opposed to waiting for a year to pass. One driver arrested in Ascension Parish was entitled to such an immediate reinstatement, according to the Louisiana Court of Appeal, since the state failed to show that he had been previously arrested for DWI within the last 10 years.

The driver who contested his license suspension was Jay Veasman, whom law enforcement officers arrested for DWI in April 2013. Veasman was informed of his rights and elected to refuse a chemical blood-alcohol test. The state suspended Veasman’s license, and an administrative law judge determined that the suspension was proper. A trial court judge, however, disagreed and reinstated the driver’s driving privileges.

The state Department of Public Safety appealed but lost. One aspect of the case that favored the driver was the plea deal he worked out in his criminal trial. Although he was originally charged with DWI, Veasman and the state agreed to an arrangement in which the state dropped the DWI charge, and the driver pled guilty to Careless Operation of a Motor Vehicle. Since the impaired driving-related charges were dismissed, the 2013 incident alone could not stand in the way of the man’s immediate license reinstatement.

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Gavel-MOneyIn an important new ruling, the Louisiana Supreme Court decided that courts may impose cost-of-investigation and cost-of-prosecution fees on a driver guilty of DWI, even if those fees do not have a specific, direct connection to that driver’s case. The ruling, a reversal of a previous Louisiana Court of Appeal decision in favor of a driver, states that the Louisiana statutes give trial courts broad discretion in assessing such fees, as long as they are reasonable and not excessive.

The driver challenging the fees was Jesse Griffin II, whom law enforcement officers arrested in July 2011 for first-offense DWI. A little more than a year later, the driver pled guilty. He received a suspended jail sentence and probation, along with a fine. The fine was $600, plus a $100 “cost of investigation” fee, payable to the local sheriff’s office, and another $100 for the “cost of prosecution,” payable to the local District Attorney.

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800px-Phelps_County_Courthouse-300x225When one is facing a charge of DWI, one can go to trial or engage in plea bargaining with the state. Deciding to negotiate a guilty plea, just like going to trial, carries with it its own set of potential advantages and disadvantages. If you plead guilty, the state can use that offense against you if you are charged again in the future for another DWI, unless you can show that your plea was improperly obtained. One driver from St. Tammany attempted to defeat his guilty plea by arguing that he did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his rights. The Louisiana Court of Appeal was unpersuaded, though, since the evidence in the case showed a knowing and voluntary plea, even though the trial judge did not obtain an express statement of waiver of rights from the driver in open court.

On Aug. 31, 2010, a Louisiana State Trooper reported to the scene of a single-car accident on US 190 in St. Tammany Parish. In investigating the vehicle, the trooper found a bottle and a cup that smelled of alcohol. At a nearby hospital, the trooper performed sobriety tests, which the driver, Thomas Mason, III, failed. A blood-alcohol test yielded a result of 0.17. The driver had alcohol, Ambien, Xanax, and hydrocodone in his system.

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courtroomA Jefferson Parish man received a decade in jail and a $5,000 fine for his 2013 DWI conviction. Why was his sentence so severe? Because the year before, the driver, facing four counts of DWI among other charges, negotiated his own plea deal without the assistance of an attorney. That 2012 deal resulted in four convictions on the four DWI counts, meaning that the state was entitled to charge him in 2013 as a fifth-time DWI offender. The Louisiana Court of Appeal recently affirmed his conviction and sentence on the 2013 charge, concluding that the man understood what he was doing when he voluntarily waived his right to an attorney in the first case.

John Henry Boyd, Jr. appeared in court in Jefferson Parish in April 2012 facing four counts of DWI, along with charges of resisting arrest, driving without a license, and possession of alcohol in a vehicle. Boyd, who was proceeding without a lawyer, agreed to take a deal offered by the prosecutor in which he pled guilty on all four DWI charges. In exchange, the state would drop the other charges Boyd was facing. Boyd signed four forms stating that his intent was to waive his rights and plead guilty.

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Breathalyzer_trainingIf you’re arrested on suspicion of DWI, you have the option of refusing a chemical test to measure your blood-alcohol content. If you are arrested multiple times and refuse multiple tests, this may have an impact on the status of your Louisiana driver’s license. If the state suspends your license, the law gives you certain rights with regard to challenging that suspension. In one recent case, a ruling against a driver was overturned by the Louisiana Court of Appeal because a District Court did not follow the correct procedure for hearing the driver’s challenge of his license suspension.

The driver involved was Johnny Cook, Jr., whom law enforcement officers arrested in March 2013 on suspicion of driving drunk. The driver received the option of submitting to a breathalyzer test. Both the driver and the arresting officer signed a form stating that the officer informed the driver of his rights regarding chemical tests. Cook refused the test.

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