Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The One Opinion DWI State

Living in the land of: "Ignorance is Bliss" and "What you don't know won't hurt ya." The problem with attending Forensic Science DUI conferences is that you can no longer be a mushroom in the dark. Choosing to remain silent is difficult. So enough beating around the bush...

New York State just takes one breath sample. It's called "replicate" testing. They (the police) Test one sample twice versus the industry accepted norm of "duplicate" testing whereby they take two separate samples. Many other states do duplicate sampling. Because CSI fans, having two separate and distinct samples (within .02 of each other) assures greater accuracy of the procedures.

Imagine for a moment going to the doctor, and getting a high blood pressure reading on his machine. The doctor makes a hypertensive diagnosis based solely upon the one test, and prescribes medication. How about one better, have a blood test for HIV and you are told it is positive. Sorry no second opinions for you, you just have to live with those results.

Well having a breath machine spit out a number is scary stuff. The machine is an unsworn trial witness. Scarier still is the fact that for the test results to even approach any accuracy the machine operator needs to follow the proper procedures. Couple to that fact that machine breath testing of alcohol ASSUMES: an average body temperature, an average metabolism, an average lung capacity, your body is done absorbing alcohol, and you are healthy we have all the ingredients of an inaccurate test.

An inaccurate test is bad enough but when you only get one opinion (from one test sample) it makes that test critical to your guilt or innocence of DWI "per se" (based on the test). Errors in breath testing generally come from three different areas:

1. Machine errors
2. Operator errors
3. Subject errors

Looking at each of these areas in detail is crucial to mounting an effective DWI defense. Recently, I had a case where the chemicals used in testing were expired prior to doing the test. Technically, the chemicals have a certified expiration date from the NYS Police crime lab but more importantly is that that is a "shelf" life (date) for the chemicals. Once the chemicals are put into use for testing on the machine they can only be used for 60 days ("use" life) from the date of first use. So checking chemical logs (the police must keep weekly logs of the chemicals) against the certified expiration dates is important.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Price of Success

Everything has a cost. Nothing is ever truly free. I tell people beware of freebies. Beware of the free lunch or the easy anything. Things of "value" have a price. Of course, the word value is the kicker.

So what is it that we value? First and foremost, I think that those that are building a future for themselves value their name and reputation. I guess if you are not planning to venture forward to bigger and better things having a lifetime criminal conviction on your permanent record would not matter. For those that are dreaming of jobs, positions, professions, prospects, and opportunities their life file of pluses and minuses can impact their future choices and their options.

People ask me many of the same questions again and again. The BIG Question in DWI defense: What is the difference between a DWI and DWAI? The main difference, the crucial difference is that one makes you a criminal (a person with a criminal conviction) on their record and one does not. The money and other associated pains, as in the fines, state surcharges, DMV fees, classes, etc. are not that different between the DWs (the driving while...).

If you want to fight the charges. To contest the evidence. To challenge the government. All of that comes with a price. It takes time, money, and effort. In some cases, we need expert witnesses. We need experts to testify about your asthma, your reflux, your diabetes, your medications for allergies, and any other reason why your breath test result (your BAC) was what it was, and not because you were intoxicated. Defenses like these do not come cheap.

Wars are never easy or inexpensive, and trials are wars. The government has the power to charge and prosecute, and the resources to accomplish this. They often exercise this power without discretion. Those that are naive believe that their lifetime of good work, achievement, standing, and clean living will somehow negate the government's intent on pursuing prosecution of crimes.

The prosecutors do not care about any of that. Their focus is always on: can they make out their case against you? Can they make the charges stick? In theory, they are supposed to seek justice but in truth they seek convictions.

New York State DWIs are not commonly (rarely) reduced to non-criminal dispositions. Those with BACs of 0.12 or higher should brace for a bumpy ride. In 2010, refusal (without a breath test) cases are being prosecuted just as seriously.

I am committed to the challenge of DWI defense. I have a wife and four kids and they all pay the price of my learning. Getting to and attending conferences thousands of miles away comes with a large price. Many long weekends spent in airports, planes, hotels, and conference centers takes it's toll on marriage and family life. I believe learning can never and should never end.

This year, I have already been to three Gerry Spence Trial Lawyer College conferences (one in January in California, another in Texas, and another in Washington state). I am about to jump on a plane in the morning for the annual Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers DWI seminar in New Orleans, Louisiana. It is called "Mastering Scientific Evidence" and we will be working with the breath machines. These are not sit in the room and take notes types of get togethers. We have mock DWI trials, we have hands on work with the Datamaster breathalyzers, and we practice skills building exercises. Defending DWI cases demands hard work, diligent focus, and persistent effort to be successful. I invest in success so that when my clients place their trust and faith in me as their attorney it stands on current education and experience.