Stopped by Police for No Front License Plate, Is it Legal?

May 19, 2013

The CHP has a policy to enforce the license and registration laws with great zeal, this may have something to do with the fact the agency receives nearly all of its funding from the DMV fees collected through vehicle registration and license plates. California law issues two license plates to all cars and requires that a plate be on both the front and back of any car registered in this state. With that being said, what about the cars that come in from out of state?

Many states do not require a front license plate, in fact, the states only issue one plate which is to be displayed in the rear of the car. For example, Florida and South Carolina both do not compel an owner of a non-commercial vehicle to place a license plate on the front of the car. With this in mind, what if a cop stops a person driving a vehicle from one of these one-plate states solely for the reason that they were not displaying a front plate? California specifically addresses this issue by dictation that the car is not required to have a front plate if it is registered in that state. A car stop that eventually leads to a DUI arrest then that was based solely on the perceived violation of the law would presumably be illegal.

Indeed, this was the decision in a case called Reyes, where the appeals court ruled that the police are presumed to know the law, when they stop a driver and they are mistaken about what the law states, the stop is generally illegal. In that case, the officer found drugs while talking to the driver, the Court threw out the criminal charges saying that the officer had no reasonable basis to pull the driver over in the first place because his car was from Florida and the law in that jurisdiction only required one plate.

In cases where the vehicle is registered in CA however, the police can and will likely pull you over and the stop would be legal if the car did not display a front California license plate.


Federal Agency Seeks To Lower Alcohol Driving Limits

May 15, 2013

Many attorneys. including a prominent Kern County DUI Lawyer, has been predicting it for years, finally a governmental authority is pushing for it, a BAC limit of .05. Indeed, according to ABC News, A leading government safety entity is calling on the U.S. to lower the allowable blood alcohol level for drivers by 35 percent. The board of the National Transportation Safety Board this morning recommended that the blood alcohol content, or BAC, from .08 percent down to .05 percent. The aim is to cut the nearly 10,000 deaths every year related to alcohol impaired driving. Most of the industrialized world already has the lower standard. “It will happen,” says Robert Molloy of the NTSB. “We are behind the world.” In addition to lowering the standard, the NTSB staff asked that penalties for first and repeat offenders be increased. NTSB recommended more technology including a “sniffing flashlight” used by police officers which can detect alcohol odors. There is also a call to accelerate research into cars which can detect if the driver has been drinking and not allow the car to be started. The staff report suggests that if the BAC standard is lowered, between 500 and 800 lives could be saved every year. Driving under the influence is responsible for nearly a third of all crash fatalities in the U.S. The NTSB suggests those deaths and the 170,000 yearly injuries add up to a cost of $66 billion every year. The American Beverage Institute called the NTSB’s recommendation “ludicrous” and the “latest attempt by traffic safety activist groups to expand the definition of ‘drunk.'” “Moving from .08 to .05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior,” said Sarah Longwell, managing director of ABI. The institute estimated that the average woman would reach the .05 level after just one drink. The group also disputed NTSB’s claim that lowering the BAC threshold would save lives. “Out of the over 32,000 U.S. traffic fatalities in 2011, less than 1 percent were caused by drivers between .05 and .08 percent BAC,” Longwell said. “Further restricting the moderate consumption of alcohol by responsible adults prior to driving does nothing to stop hardcore drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel,” she said. The NTSB has no authority to change the standard. It can only recommend that each state make the change. Currently every state, including California, is at the .08 percent standard. It took more than two decades for states to lower from .10 percent to .08 percent.


Court Finds Drug Sniffing Dog Provided Probable Cause To Search

May 14, 2013

Our Highways are constantly patrolled by CHP and other police that sometimes have dogs with them that are used in drug interdiction. In one recent case our Courts found that the “alert” of a drug detection dog during a traffic stop provides probable cause to search a vehicle. The defendant’s truck was pulled over by a deputy sheriff because his license plate was expired. The officer observed that Harris appeared nervous and he saw an open can of beer in the truck. Harris refused to consent to a search. A canine officer was brought to the suspects truck and alerted on the vehicle. Based on the alert the sheriff concluded he had probable cause to search the truck for drugs. The search yielded methamphetamine manufacturing components; not drugs the dog was trained to detect. Harris was charged with possession of pseudoephedrine for use in manufacturing methamphetamine. The defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence was denied at trial and affirmed on appeal. The state Supreme Court reversed finding lack of probable cause because the State failed to present adequate data regarding the dog’s training, experience, and certification. An appeal to the highest Court was granted and the Justices reversed the lower Court. The strict evidentiary checklist fashioned by the state court is the antithesis of the “totality of the circumstances” test. “[E]vidence of a dog’s satisfactory performance in a certification or training program” may show reliability and establish probable cause. The adequacy of such training and/or certification or the circumstances of a particular alert may be the subject of cross-examination by the defendant. The trial court should examine all of the circumstances surrounding the dog’s alert to determine whether a reasonably prudent person would believe that a search would reveal evidence of a crime. “A sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test” as it did here. According to Kern County DUI Lawyer, Bruce Blythe, this type of procedure is utilized often. Many agencies in California use drug sniffing dogs for motorists pulled over for suspected drunk driving. The Court’s ruling will be used in many proceedings in the future.


What is a “Drug” for Purposes of a DUI?

May 5, 2013

California laws make it illegal to drive while impaired by either a drug or alcohol.  The term “drug” is defined by Veh C §312 as any substance or combination of substances, other than alcohol, that could affect the nervous system, brain, or muscles of a person as to impair, to an appreciable degree, his or her ability to drive a vehicle in a prudent and reasonable manner. It does not have to be an illegal substance. It is no defense to a charge of driving under the influence of any drug or the combined influence of alcohol and any drug in violation of  California Vehicle Code section 23152 or 23153 that the defendant is or has been entitled to use the drug under state law.

For example, in one case a person was convicted for driving under combined influence of alcohol and insulin. The critical issue is whether the defendant was under the influence.  In another case a driver was convicted for DUI when his driving ability appreciably impaired by methamphetamine use based on failed sobriety tests and anxious, agitated, and paranoid mental state

Actual notice of each drug that constitutes a basis for prosecution under state law is not required if a person is reasonably made aware of the proscribed conduct, in other words, impaired driving ability resulting from the ingestion of some substance,  For example, one Court found that it was legal error to dismiss charge against defendant based on his consumption of Kava. 

Lastly, the actual criminal complaint or citation need not specify particular drug, it is enough that the allegation is raised.