Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The DWI Success Formula

As I am about to impart on my 3rd TLC this year, that's not TLC as in tender loving care but Trial Lawyer College regional seminar. This one is outside of Seattle, WA. Nothing like the Ithaca to New Jersey puddle jump hop, and then onto a real plane in Newark.

I like to learn and grow. It's been said, "that if you're green you're growing, and if you're ripe you rot. Success at anything leaves clues. I go to a restaurant in Lenox, PA called Bingham's. Just a small hole in the wall with deer heads on the wall. They make great pies, and the best turkey club this side of NYC. Their secret... fresh turkey, crisp quality bacon, and homemade bread. That is a success recipe for an incredible club.

There are successful formulas for just about anything. I believe the formula for greater success in DWI defense practice is to keep looking at the case from different perspectives. Reading through the police report over and over (one perspective), talking to my client (another perspective), visiting the scene (what can it tell me), re-enacting the night, and then seeing the case as a story made up of many smaller stories.

What doubts (honest and reasonable) can be raised concerning the government's evidence?
Are their conflicts in proof? Do the times of the events jive? Do things fit together or do they seem askew?

Sometimes justice and fairness are merely a feeling. Can I make the jurors sense the injustice in my case? Has the government (law enforcement) betrayed my client's trust by not following proper procedures? Have my client's constitutional rights been violated at any juncture?

Superficial reading of reports or quick black and white answers do not cut it in the world of criminal defense. I live and practice my art in degrees and subtle shades of gray. Success is in immersion. Being inside my case gives me greater "insight" to defend the charges being brought against my client.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Standardized DWI Arrest

As winter gives way to spring in lovely Ithaca I am reminded of the beauty of nature. The birds are coming back, the croci (crocuses) are beginning to emerge, and I hope we have seen the last snow of winter. It has been a mild 2010. Our friends in the big cities (Philly and NYC) got hit this year. We had hardly anything (relatively).

The wonderful thing that nature reminds me every year is that people like flowers or snowflakes are unique. Your fingerprints, DNA, and combination of traits is unlike any other the world will ever see. Yet we (as a society) like to "standardize" everything. So what gets mass produced, marketed, and sold is the average. What is played again and again is the popular song. Popular doesn't mean good, it means what the common majority likes.

So Larry, what the hell does this have to do with DWI defense? Excellent question!

Law enforcement and the government builds their case evidence (proof) using:

1. Standardized administration procedures (in both the SFSTs and Breath test)
2. Standardized clues
3. Standardized testing criteria

A DWI arrest is usually based upon the officer giving you tests at roadside. His observations, and your performance will support his decision to arrest. He feels he has probable cause (based upon his proof) to make an arrest for driving while intoxicated.

The SFSTs (Standardized Field Sobriety Tests) are:

1. A series of three evaluations that have to be administered in a standardized manner by law enforcement. They are the walk and turn, one leg stand, and HGN (horizontal gaze nystagmus).

2. They have been created/chosen/selected and established by Government Authority (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) as a RULE.

3. This RULE is for measuring the loss of mental and physical faculties (impaired function).

But are they accurate? In other words, do they conform exactly to truth or a standard?
And are they precise? Do they strictly conform to a set pattern, standard, or convention?

The first problem with any testing following a car stop is the officer has NO BASELINE.
He or she doesn't know YOUR normal. He doesn't know your physical and/or mental limitations. This is where standardized tests don't account for YOUR unique characteristics. YOUR past knee, back, shoulder, hip, neck problems. YOUR inner ear infection, cold, or flu.

A second problem with testing is that it is usually done outside. The conditions are usually not ideal. Weather is one issue. How many winter DWI cases with snow, ice, and freezing wind as our backdrop? How many motorists are without coats, jackets, or proper (appropriate) attire for being outside at 1:00AM in Ithaca, NY in December? What of the road conditions? What area were you forced to use to perform these balance, coordination, and mental exercises in the dark and in the middle of the night?

A third problem with testing is that the officer does not always follow procedures or he complies haphazardly. Standardized testing must be done in a set way and by following very specific protocols (rules/guidelines). Often officers will refuse to acknowledge they even "measured" anything. They prefer the word "estimated" or "scored" because those terms have less precise connotations. Did the officer leave "all" his emergency lights on when giving the tests? Did he communicate what he wanted from you clearly?

A fourth problem with testing is footwear. In the summer and spring the issue is usually flip flops. In the winter it is usually boots. High heels are always an issue when it comes to having to walk on imaginary lines, and balance/stand on one leg.

The breath test also has protocols and guidelines. It also needs to be "administered" properly. Sometimes law enforcement doesn't follow all the rules. Adherence to the rulebook is not always forefront in their minds. Not being being strict in compliance can lead to inaccurate results.
And inaccurate results can lead to wrongful DWI convictions.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

DWI "Just the facts, ma'am"

I listen to stories about drinking and driving almost every day. I need to know all the details. In my day we had a TV show called Dragnet. The show had a cop named, Joe Friday who loved to say, "All we want are the facts ma'am." I too want the facts but more importantly I want my client's version of the night. I want to understand his perceptions and viewpoint.

This allows me to piece together the timelines, the potential witnesses, behavior patterns, and the amount of alcohol consumed. Ultimately I want to have a more clear picture of the prosecution's case against my client. I also have a software program that allows me to input my client's age, sex, height, weight, and drinking information to arrive at a pretty accurate BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) at the time of driving. Of course it is only a BAC range, and highly dependent upon my client giving me reliable information.

One of the first things that is difficult to estimate is the potency of the drinks. What type of beer or wine was drank? What was it's alcohol concentration? How big were the cocktails or the glasses they came in? Sometimes "one" drink has really 3 or 4 shots of 80 proof liquor. Beer can be 3-5 % and wine can go up to 14 %. Bacardi 151 is 75 % alcohol!

I recently had a client who swore he only had 3. Yeah, as in 3 Long Island Iced Teas! Do you know how much alcohol is in one LI Iced tea? In a good one, there is probably at least 4 shots.
So my client had 12 drinks before he began drinking Lite beer later in the evening. I would imagine smoking a few hits off his buddy's joint didn't help matters.

Remember that proof is twice the percent of alcohol.

5 ounces of wine
24 proof

24 ÷ 2 = 12 (% alcohol)

12 ÷ 100 = 0.12

0.12 x 5 oz
0.6 ounces ethanol

12 ounces of beer
10 proof

10 ÷ 2 = 5 (% alcohol)

5 ÷ 100 = 0.05

0.05 x 12 oz
0.6 ounces ethanol

1 1/2 shot
80 proof

80 ÷ 2 = 40 (% alcohol)

40 ÷ 100 = 0.4

0.4 x 1.5 oz
0.6 ounces ethanol

One drink = .6 ounces of ethanol and usually one drink will cause someone (the average person) to go up .02 to .03 BAC per drink. If you had 4 drinks in a one hour period then your BAC would be .08 to .12. Alcohol dissipates (is expelled, eliminated) at around .015 to .02 per hour. In theory you can drink one drink per hour and clear the alcohol from your body at that rate (in other words remain alcohol free), after the alcohol clears.

So you are at a bar and have two drinks over two hours, you leave the bar, your BAC should be less than .04?
But we do not know the size of the drinks, or your metabolism, how much you weigh, or what you ate? All these factors affect your elimination rate.

Breath tests are not always reliable, accurate, or valid. Often they are not administered properly. People come in all different shapes and sizes. Getting a real BAC is a beginning, and getting the facts of the case from my client takes us one step closer to defeating a DWI.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Defending Marijuana Possession Charges

As part of my practice of the defense of DWI and other traffic related matters I often have to deal with other drug offenses. It is all too common that a bong, pipe, and/or other paraphernalia (vaporizers, spoons, hammers, chillums, bubblers, sidecars, sherlocks, raydiators, tubes, bats, headies) are found inside the car. All the police have to do is scrape together enough resin/residue, and another criminal charge is added to the fray.

Over the course of my years of practicing in the Fingerlakes I have defended many college students from SUNY Cortland, SUNY Binghamton, Cornell University, Ithaca College, Keuka College, etc. Marijuana use seems to go with college like cereal goes with milk. Some people think that New York State has decriminalized marijuana, sometimes it is only charged as a violation, but even in relatively small quantities it can be charged as a misdemeanor or even as a felony (if sold to minors).

There were 92,800 arrests for Marijuana in New York during 2007. Males aged 15 to 24 made up 56% of those arrested, and 70% of those males were white.

NOTE: After any lawful arrest in an automobile in NYS the entire car is subject to search top to bottom, inside and out. So much for your 4th amendment rights in New York State.

Outside, in a public park or on the street we have a different story. Police will sometimes make a false statement ie. lie to get an arrest. I know, as unbelieveable as that may sound Virginia, it happens. Law enforcement will tell college kids that they "have to" make a search. That if they want to avoid an arrest they should empty their pockets, and to show them what they have or else? Legally they could only pat you down for weapons, but to go into your pockets requires permission or probable cause, but once the marijuana is exposed to public view we have a full blown misdemeanor.

Here is a ranking of the New York State Pot Laws from least severe to more severe (in terms of penalties and consequences):

1. UPM under Penal Law 221.05: Unlawful Possession of Marijuana is not a crime it is merely a violation BUT since marijuana is a controlled substance under Federal Law a plea of guilty will make you ineligible for Federal Financial Aid (thank you President Clinton) for one year. Side note: Marijuana is not considered a controlled substance under New York State Law but we are discussing Federal Student Loans, Federal Work Study Monies, Federal Grants, and the Federal Hope College Credit.

UPM is possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana. In the majority of these cases (with first time offenders) your attorney can move for an ACD (adjournment in contemplation of dismissal) or a straight dismissal of the charge. The judge will set the term of staying out of trouble (no new criminal charges) FOR EITHER 6 MONTHS OR ONE YEAR. It is in his discretion. Also in his discretion is whether there is a substance abuse evaluation. Some judges also require community service.

The next level up of Marijuana offense is:

2. CPM under Penal Law 221.10: Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the 5th degree. This where the marijuana is either open to public view, burning, or where the amount is over 25 grams but less than 2 ounces. CPM is a crime. It is class B misdemeanor.

The next level up of Marijuana offense is:

3. CPM under Penal Law 221.15: Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the 4th degree. This is where you have more than 2 ounces but less than 8 ounces. Now that's what the District Attorney will say is real weight, and they are thinking at this point you are dealing drugs and not just possessing them for personal use. CPM in the 4th is a class A misdemeanor.

4. Penal Law 221.35 is for the Sale of Marijuana. All that is necessary is less than 2 grams or one joint/blunt. It is a Class B misdemeanor. Sale is a very loose term under the statute. Sale also includes gifting or an exchange of anything, as no "consideration" is needed under the statute to consider it a sale.

5. Penal Law 221.40 is for the Sale of Marijuana. Less than one ounce. It is a Class A misdemeanor.

The next two levels are where we move from misdemeanor level offenses (less than a year in jail) to felony level offenses (more than one year in jail). Misdemeanor offenses can be handled by City, Town, or Village Courts. Felony charges are only handled at the County Court level.

* Beware that Sale of More than ONE OUNCE moves the offense to Class E FELONY Status in New York State (punishable by up to 3 years in State Prison).

* Beware of New York State Penal Law 221.50. Sale of Marijuana to a minor (a person less than 18 years old). It is a Class D Felony Status. Which is punishable by a term of 4 to 7 years in State Prison, that's not county jail.

I would like to end off with the GOOD NEWS about number 1 through 5 above:

That Penal Law 221.05 UPM (Unlawful Possession of Marijuana), Penal Law 221.10 CPM (Criminal Possession of Marijuana) in the 5th degree, Penal Law 221.15 CPM (Criminal Possession of Marijuana) in the 4th degree, Penal Law 221.35 Sale of Marijuana, and Penal Law 221.40 Sale of Marijuana are all covered under the First Time Offender ACD statute.

New York Criminal Procedure Law Section 170.56.

Captioned as "Adjournment in contemplation of dismissal in cases in involving marijuana."

If a person qualifies under the statute a motion can be made by his attorney, and then his marijuana charges may be dismissed in the future, and all his official records and papers relating to his arrest and prosecution, whether on file with the Court, the police, or the New York State Division of criminal justice services will be sealed and not made available to the public or private agencies.

Upon the granting of such an order by the Court, the arrest and prosecution can be considered and deemed a nullity (as if they never happened) and the person shall be restored to his or her pre-arrest status.

If of course someone has has other prior charges (relating to marijuana and/or other drugs) then his attorney can potentially negotiate to some other non-criminal disposition, such as disorderly conduct. This is a violation and all the records of the arrest and prosecution would be sealed at the local level.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The New York DWI is a Two Headed Monster

In New York State if someone does (as in takes) the breath test, more accurately known as the "chemical" test back at the station then they will be charged with two counts of DWI.

1. DWI Common Law VTL 1192 (3): The government must prove (beyond a reasonable doubt) that you (the operator) were incapable (to a substantial extent) of operating the automobile both mentally and physically as a reasonably prudent driver. This usually is through the stop officer's (the arresting officer) testimony concerning your driving, behavior, appearance, testing, odor, etc. In other words, his "subjective" opinion.

2. DWI Per Se VTL 1192 (2) A BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) of .08 or higher or Aggravated DWI Per Se VTL 1192 (2) (a) A BAC of .18 or higher. The government needs to prove (beyond a reasonable doubt) that the breath test was given within 2 hours of your arrest, was properly administered, by a currently licensed BTO (Breath Test Operator), using properly mixed chemicals, with a calibrated and maintained breath machine. This of course is an indirect measurement of blood alcohol via a breath measurement.

The two most common machines are the Datamaster DMT (used by town, village, and city police depts.) and the Draeger Alcotest (used primarily by the N.Y. State Police). These machines are accepted by the Courts as approved for BAC testing.

There are various ways to attack both the DWI counts but remember that if you took the test it will need to be dealt with and can not be overlooked by your attorney. The per se count becomes the primary target because it is a number that the prosecution will mention again and again.

I believe that a shotgun approach to arguing that all breath testing is inaccurate and unreliable (fraught with error) will usually fall on deaf ears. A focused and detailed strategy is the most effective way to defeat each count.

Depending upon the specific facts of each DWI case arguments can be waged against:

1. Whether the procedures and protocol of breath testing were adhered to?
2. Whether the machines were calibrated in a timely manner?
3. Whether the machine in question had any recent repairs or issues?
4. Whether the chemicals were properly mixed and/or expired (out of date)?

So records need to be examined carefully and potentially subpoenas must be issued against the police to get ALL the machine records. To get police records your attorney is going to need to get Judicial Subpoenas (issued and approved through a Judge). With a lot of work often the ugly truth comes out, and the breath test's validity becomes an issue of doubt.

In recent cases, I found that the State Police had written in the wrong chemical expiration date. The chemicals were expired days before my client's breath test. After I filed my motions the Judge was compelled to throw out the test, and the prosecution's case along with it. In another case the machine had frequent break downs, and parts replaced concerning the same issue, the machine would not accept a breath sample. My client was charged with a refusal because the police said she wasn't trying (blowing) hard enough. That case was also thrown out after I subpoenaed all the machine records, and brought to light the machine's problems.

Nothing of any value is easy, cheap, or speedy. That first case went to multiple hearings and motions. My client was relieved when the nightmare was over but during the process had many uneasy days and nights. To me the DWI is a two headed monster with one head uglier than the other.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Defeating A DWI

I love to surf, the internet that is. Just yesterday I punched in the above terms "defeating a dwi" and what pops up number one but an article by me. At first I was excited, a google number one, then my expression changed as I saw that my name was left off, and admin was put on as the author.

This was a website for a chemical that eliminates odor from your breath. It was being marketed to drinkers who wish to avoid detection as in if you are ever stopped for a traffic infraction just a quick spray and the cops will go away. As I delved further I found more articles sans name. My anger at this internet piracy grew. The articles mentioned the death of my father the day after my 17th birthday, the name of one of my friends, and other personal information. Everything was there except credit to moi! I'm just a little Upstate New York DWI defense lawyer but I do have feelings. Ithaca inspires me to write and share so it is with joy that I create but give a guy credit.

Their site and my articles sans my name and info.

My original articles:

So on that note I wish to highlight the power of "honesty" in defeating a DWI. Some may think me mad in advocating for truthfulness and openness with a criminal case but I have found that not trying to cover up your fears is a better philosophy and strategy for long term success.

Jurors are not stupid. They have the same doubts and concerns as the lawyer looking at the case. If you do not allay their questions openly they will most assuredly be discussing them back in the Jury room.

We as DWI defense lawyers can not look to sweep dirt under rugs and pray that it is never discovered. Everything can be seen from different perspectives. The key with good advocacy is to put yourself in everyone's shoes. Put yourself in the shoes of the juror, put yourself in the shoes of the cop, put yourself in the shoes of the prosecutor, and put your self in the shoes of the judge. Now the case can be seen as a total whole and not a bunch of random pieces or events.

The facts of any DWI case are nothing without context. Someone has to have a viewpoint of that fact.

This is from an actual case. Fact, a driver was pulled over for having headlights that were too bright. The officer in his report made no mention of investigating or asking about the headlights. The motorist only traffic violation was the headlights but no detail or documentation of this fact, just a single ticket plus of course the DWI investigation and subsequent criminal charges.

I demanded a suppression hearing on the stop (was there reasonable suspicion), and the arrest (was there probable cause). My plan of attack was a whole line of questioning, first on the importance of the report and it's detail, then on the fact that my client showed him the dashboard, demonstrated the lights on and lights off controls. The "stop officer" had one goal for this stop (investigate the bright lights) and this sole purpose was never addressed by his investigation/inquiry.

All the DWI criminal charges were dropped. This was with a .15BAC. The outcome was a DWAI (traffic violation) pre-trial. My thoughts for this case were always that jurors would want to know, the judge would want to know THE BIG WHY? If you say the stop was for x why are you not checking x, asking about x, and investigating x?

I was able to listen to my client and get "the story" of this DWI case. His story included the lights where the officer's did not.

btw that Company in California that "borrowed" my content without giving me credit:

Pure One International

3400 West Warner Ave., Unit A

Santa Ana, CA 92704


fax 714-641-1432

Bytes for All (Website creation/hosting) from someplace overseas.

I really do believe what comes around goes around so God bless them and may they reap the fruits of the seeds they sow.

Lawrence Newman, Esquire
Ithaca, NY

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Don't Worry Bout It!

Oh the problem of these four little words. When I hear them I cringe. I have heard these words all too often in Court. They are usually spoken by some lawyer to their client. As in, "don't worry about ... your legal status (non-citizen), your out of state license privileges, your future ability to find employment, your ability to get a professional license, your ability to travel to Canada, etc. etc.

You have to anticipate Collateral Consequences of anything. Everything (every decision) has far reaching and typically long lasting affects. Much like the game of dominoes, once we set a course of events into action, many fall one against the other, and often we cannot even predict when this chain of action will end.

So that said,

1. You have to talk to more than one lawyer about your problem. Get some different perspectives.
2. It is best to talk to a lawyer who specializes in the specific type of problem you are facing.
3. Just because someone has 20, 30, or 40 years of experience does not make him better.
4. Lawyers that use the phrase, "Don't Worry Bout It" should be avoided like the plague.
5. A DWI conviction can affect multiple life areas including your out of state driver's license, your professional licensure, your employability, your permanent record, your ability to travel freely, and your insurance rates and insurability.

As an example of this, I recently had a college student come to me with a first time DWI charge. He held a driver's license from another state. He was attending college in New York State. Since he was planning on staying here for a number of years (establishing residency) for college he should have switched over his license to New York State.

Now he faced a crossroads. Should he switch his license before his initial appearance? Should he get a New York State license? Some lawyers told him, "Don't worry bout it," I told him if I represented him I would investigate the potential DWI conviction ramifications back in his home state. I am a member of the National College of DUI Defense, and have DWI defense friends (on my list serve) as an invaluable resource of information.

The range of consequences in these situations is immense. From fines of $3,000 (ie. New Jersey) to license revocations of 210 days (ie. New Jersey) without conditional (any) driving privileges. So these decisions (much like choosing a lawyer) should not be made or taken lightly. What happens in Colorado, Mass., PA, and the other 43 states varies. But making educated and informed decisions by knowing what happens and saying "don't worry bout it" are two totally different things.