Articles Posted in DUI/DWI

While 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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When 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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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.

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