Friday, June 19, 2015

Judge Erred In Admitting MADD Evidence In DUI Trial

Case Name: People of California v. Corarrubias . Murder Prosecution involving a DUI crash.
 Covarrubias was convicted of second degree implied malice murder for causing a traffic accident in which a person died. Covarrubias had a .20 percent blood alcohol level at the time of the crash. During his jury trial, the court admitted testimony of two employees of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which included their own stories of tragedy related to drunk-driving accidents. On appeal, Covarrubias claimed that allowing the personal-tragedy testimony was prejudicial error
The appeals a Court agreed.  The trial court erred when it deemed the personal-tragedy testimony relevant and when it found the probative value of the testimony was not outweighed by its prejudicial effect . The tragic aftermaths of the DUI crashes experienced by the MADD witnesses and their family members were wholly unrelated to Covarrubias's charged offense, including whether he acted with implied malice. Further, the failure to exclude the evidence under section 352 of the California Evidence Code created a substantial danger of inflaming the jury's passions by engendering feelings of sympathy. However, the error was harmless under any standard because there was overwhelming evidence of implied malice. Covarrubias had already sustained three prior DUI convictions and had attended court-ordered programs and MADD victim panels as a result. There was substantial evidence that he knew the potential catastrophic consequences of drunk driving and he admitted that his cousin had warned him not to drive when they left a party drunk before the crash. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Getting Enrolled In DUI Class Early

If you have been charged with DUI and are awaiting a future Court date getting enrolled in a a DUI class in advance of any disposition may be in your best interests.  Here is why:

  1. Attendance in the class will usually allow you to stay out on your "O.R." release and not have to post bail.  The Judge will almost always order AA classes as a condition of you release pending future Court appearances and getting enrolled in the classes will substitute for the AA meetings.  Getting enrolled in an alcohol education program tells the Judge that you are being responsible and showing an act of taking the case seriously. 
  2. The DMV may ultimately require you complete the program in order to get you license reinstated.  
  3. The course will often be required even if the charges of DUI are reduced or dismissed.
Therefore, getting enrolled in a DUI program is a good idea, here's how to do it:

 The attorney will provide you with a list of providers, find one convenient to your residence or work.  When you show up for the appointment advise them you wish to "self enroll" in the AB541 program at a minimum.  You may be required to complete a longer term program depending on the Court orders but the AB541 is a good start, ensure the school will allow you to switch to a 6 or 9 month class should it become necessary.  Let the school know in advance that you do not have a Court referral or any paperwork because you have not been convicted but you want to self enroll for DMV purposes.

For a list of DUI schools click here: List of California DUI Schools

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What Happens At A DMV Hearing

If you were arrested for DUI and hired an attorney chances are he requested a DMV hearing to challenge the suspension that you are facing.  The date will be set out usually a month or two to allow. The attorney to prepare.  If you took a breath or blood test the issues will be 1.  Whether you were lawfully arrested. 2.  Whether you were driving, and 3.  Whether at the time of driving your blood alcohol level was .08 or more.

The hearing is very informal, there is no Judge, there is no bailiff or a Court Reporter.  The hearing is conducted in an office and is presided over by a DMV employee with the title "hearing officer".  The procedure is as follows:  first, the DMV will seek to identify all documents received by the police agency such as the arrest report, breath or blood results and any other documents prepared by the arresting officer.  The attorney will make any objections to the evidence such as any evidentiary defects that may affect their admissibility.  The hearing officer will usually overrule the objections and admit the documents over objection.  If a witness has been subpoenaed then they will testify and cross examined.  The attorney will be allowed to argue that the evidence is insufficient to sustain the burden of proof and can present case law or legal reasons why the Department should dismiss or set aside the suspension.

In many cases the client will be advised to be available by phone but not personally appear.  The reason for this is that there is no right against self incrimination at a DMV hearing and therefore the hearing officer can question them about anything relevant to the case.  If there is a defect or some evidence lacking in their case the DMV can "fill in the gaps" by questioning the licensee.  For example, if the officer failed to include information in the documents that is crucial to the case the DMV can get that evidence from the client.  Further, they can put the client in a tough position by questioning them about the number of drinks they had consumed.  In some cases it is vital to the defense that the client testify, but most of the time, the attorney will focus on making the DMV meet their burden of proof and not shift the focus to whether the client is credible or not.  For instance, if there was some error in the procedure, a regulation was not followed or the officer made some mistake, this will be dwelled upon.

At the conclusion of the hearing the DMV will render a decision.  In some cases, the hearing officer may take the matter under submission and send out a written decision of their findings.  This can sometimes take weeks but the client will be able to continue to drive pending a decision.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Death Of Two People In DUI Accident Results In 2 Strikes

Even though in many cases the death of an innocent person in a DUI accident was not intentional, California law deems the crime to be a strike for future enhancement purposes.  In this case the Court holds that two deaths and two manslaughter convictions equals two strikes under the 3strikes law.  Here are the facts:  In 1986, Rusconi pled guilty to two counts of vehicular manslaughter. The convictions grew out of a single drunk driving offense in which Rusconi hit and killed two bicyclists with her car. A subsequent conviction for driving while intoxicated resulted in Rusconi receiving a 25-years-to-life Three Strikes sentence. After she was found ineligible for Proposition 36 resentencing, she appealed, claiming her single act which resulted in two vehicular manslaughter convictions could not be counted as two strikes.

The Court Upheld the lower courts ruling.  In People v. Vargas(2014) 59 Cal.4th 635, the Supreme Court held that where a defendant's single act committed against a single victim results in multiple serious felony convictions, only one of those convictions may be used as a strike in a later prosecution. Vargas does not assist Rusconi, however, because her single criminal act resulted not only in multiple offenses, but also involved violent injury to multiple victims, circumstances to which the holding in Vargas does not extend. An offender who injures more than one victim is more culpable than an offender who injures only one victim. Thanks CCAP.

What Is A Restitution Hearing?

If you have resolved a DUI case that involved a traffic accident the Court has a duty to ensure that any damages are taken care of and any victims are compensated for any loss that may have incurred. If there was insurance involved they will usually pay the other side and make the parties whole.  Nonetheless, the Court will often set a restitution hearing to ensure that there is no outstanding loss.

A couple of things may happen at the hearing:

  1. The Court can order a specific amount to be paid if the victim shows up and presents a legitimate bill for loss.  The defendant has a right to challenge the amount of the loss if it is unreasonable.  
  2. If the victim does not show up then the District Attorney will usually request that the matter be taken off calendar.  What this means is that no restitution will be ordered.  The Court will maintain jurisdiction which means they can recall the case and order restitution at a later date.
The Court can also Determine that no restitution is required because there was no third party loss.
In any event, an appearance will be required either by the defendant or the attorney.