Articles Posted in DUI/DWI

In 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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When 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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A 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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If 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.

When you’re facing a DWI charge, one of the many important factors you need to consider is which of your previous DWI convictions will (or won’t) “count” against you for purposes of determining how severe a punishment you should face for your current charge. The Louisiana Court of Appeal recently addressed such an issue, concluding that a trial court properly sentenced a southeast Louisiana man as a four-time offender, even though two of those four DWIs happened more than a decade before the current incident.

Defending yourself in a criminal matter in Louisiana, such as a DWI case, involves many parts. In addition to addressing the issue of guilt or innocence, there is also the aspect of sentencing. A pair of recent Louisiana Court of Appeal cases offer some useful insight into what must (and must not) go into a sentence for a DWI conviction.

In the first ruling, Timothy Hooter was arrested in February 2012 after a police officer spotted him driving a car with a license plate six years out of date and belonging to a 1992 Ford truck, not the 2001 Mitsubishi coupe Hooter was driving. In addition to having crossed the center line while driving, the driver, upon being stopped by police, had red eyes, slurred speech and smelled of alcohol. Faced with this evidence, Hooter ultimately pled guilty to drunk driving, fourth offense, and the trial court handed down a sentence of 12 years in jail and a $12,000 fine.

A man facing conviction on his fifth drunk driving charge could not be required to serve the entire 20-year jail sentence without the possibility of parole, probation, or suspension of his sentence. The trial court’s sentence was improper, according to a recent Louisiana Court of Appeal ruling, because the statute governing DWI sentences expressly required the driver to serve only two years of his 20-year term before being eligible for probation, parole, or suspension of his sentence.

Bernal Aguilar had a long history of interactions with law enforcement related to drunk driving, even before March 2012. In fact, he’d already been convicted of drunk driving offenses four times when he was arrested again.

One of the particularly noteworthy decisions from last year provides clarification and sets limitations regarding how district attorneys and sheriffs can collect payments for investigation and prosecution costs from persons convicted of DUI. The Louisiana Court of Appeal resolved the appeal of one man who had challenged the assessment of these costs, sending the man’s case back to the trial court and limiting valid fees to those expended on the man’s individual case.

The challenge was launched by Jesse Griffin II, who was stopped and arrested for first-offense DWI. In September 2012, the driver pled guilty, and the trial court sentenced him to a suspended sentence of 150 days, one year of probation, and a fine of $600 plus “all costs of these proceedings.” The costs assessed to Griffin included a $100 cost-of-prosecution amount payable to the District Attorney’s office and another $100 for cost of investigation, payable to the sheriff’s office.

DWI/DUI arrests can be damaging for anyone, but especially so for a commercial driver. One man, who was arrested on suspicion of DUI but was never convicted of any crime, nevertheless lost his commercial driving privileges for a year. The Louisiana Court of Appeal ruled that the statute that pertains to CDL suspensions allows the state to suspend a driver’s commercial privileges for a year based solely on that driver’s refusal to submit to a blood-alcohol test.

Robert Navarre was pulled over in April 2011 near Lake Charles and arrested for driving drunk. The officer asked the driver to submit to a blood test, but he declined. Based upon the driver’s refusal to complete the blood test, the state’s Office of Motor Vehicles suspended his personal driver’s license for one year, as permitted by statute. The state also barred the driver from driving a commercial vehicle for one year.

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A recent Louisiana Supreme Court ruling dispelled the notion that, in order to offer into evidence documents certifying the accuracy of a breathalyzer machine, the state was required to make the certifying technician available to testify. The ruling explained that, since the documents were “not testimonial” in nature, their admission without the technician’s testimony did not violate the Constitution’s Confrontation Clause.

The case stems back to the 2012 traffic stop of Maurice Hawley. After a state trooper stopped the man’s vehicle for speeding and an improper lane change, he suspected the driver of being intoxicated. Hawley blew a .144 using an Intoxilyzer 5000 device, prompting the state to charge him with driving while under the influence.

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