Paramedic charged with driving ambulance while intoxicated

The paramedic told police he had taken over-the-counter cold medicine and some prescribed drugs before hitting another rig outside a senior care facility

RIPLEY COUNTY, Ind. — An Indiana paramedic faces multiple charges, including felony official misconduct, after allegedly driving an ambulance while intoxicated.

Police received a call in October reporting that Ripley County EMS Paramedic Paul Robert Heon, 49, seemed to be having trouble operating the rig outside of an assisted living facility, missing the facility’s driveway, driving on a grassy area and hitting another parked ambulance while apparently on a medical run, according to The Versailles Republican.

Heon was transported to the hospital for evaluation, with EMS providers checking his blood sugar and for signs of stroke in transit.

In the emergency room, an Indiana State Patrol trooper performed field tests and questioned Heon, who told the trooper he had not had anything to drink but had been taking over-the-counter medication for a cold as well as prescribed medications, including Ambien.

Heon later told law enforcement officials he remembered going out on a call but did not remember going to the senior facility, and that he didn’t realize until after he exited the ambulance and people were staring at him that he was feeling foggy and “felt like he was going sideways,” The Versailles Republican reported. Heon told police he had been dealing with a cold for about two weeks.

After a toxicology report, Heon was charged with official misconduct, which is a level 6 felony, operating a vehicle while intoxicated and operating a vehicle while intoxicated endangering a person, and operating a vehicle with a schedule I or II controlled substance or its metabolite in the body.

The exact toxicology results were not publicly reported.

Breathalyzer Giant Accused of Fraud Won’t Come Clean About Booze Tests

Photo Illustration by the Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by the Daily Beast/Getty

A major breathalyzer manufacturer is under criminal investigation for possible forgery. Police forces nationwide have been using the same company’s machines to turn alleged drink-drivers into convicted ones—seizing licenses, imposing fines, and, in some cases, imprisoning people. Defendants have been asking judges to look under the hood of the machine that tests them, only for the breathalyzer maker to refuse to play ball.

These aren’t dystopian hypotheticals, but the reality surrounding a major supplier of breath-alcohol testing machines to cops across America.

Police departments in 11 states use the Datamaster DMT, a breathalyzer the size of a printer. Cops ranging from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to Vermont State Police have relied on it to test suspected drink-drivers at precinct houses, where—unlike the tests done on the side of the road—results are a major factor in criminal cases.

At least they did. In January, Michigan State Police announced it had suspended its contract with the maker of the Datamaster DMT, Intoximeters, and even mounted a criminal probe into possible fraud by the company in calibrating 203 devices in the state, the Detroit News reported.

The cops alleged that two members of the company’s maintenance staff, responsible for the state’s Datamaster DMTs, falsified records on multiple occasions. Police were investigating whether the technicians forged public documents saying they had performed routine maintenance when they had not, thus allowing the machines’ accuracy to erode. 

But Intoximeters’ alleged obfuscation is not confined to Michigan.

The Breathalyzer’s Effect on Drinking & Driving

In fact, the company has resisted at least three Minnesota court mandates that police furnish the source code of its breathalyzer software to defendants, court records and interviews show. Instead of cooperating, Intoximeters has submitted documents saying it is open to police doing so—contingent on various conditions—and then opposed requests to actually follow through. 

The code underpinning the Datamaster DMT and other breath testing machines has remained obscure to advocates and defense lawyers for many years, and as a recent New York Times investigation reported, the reliability of breathalyzer devices in general is suspect. But even when courts have compelled cops to reveal the code, the case of Intoximeters shows how they have nimbly evaded disclosure—and risked sabotaging their police clients. 

“Unless the court order is addressed to Intoximeters itself, they’re not violating it, but the court could well order the results of a test inadmissible, which would likely result in the case being dismissed without other evidence of intoxication,” said Georgetown law professor Paul Rothstein, author of three books on legal evidence. 

Intoximeters, like other industry majors, has long insisted its products are both accurate and cutting edge. In a 2013 press release announcing the company’s acquisition of the Datamaster’s original maker, National Patent Analytical Systems (NPAS), Intoximeters CEO Rankine Forrester said, “We have long felt that NPAS has the best infrared technology in the industry.”

But that doesn’t mean they welcome anyone looking too closely at the inner workings of their machinery.

“Source code is a red herring,” Intoximeters’ counsel Wilbur Tomlinson concluded in his rejection of an October 2018 court order in Hennepin County, Minnesota, after inveighing at length against the prospect: “Testing the instrument itself is the recognized method for determining whether the instrument has an issue. Any problem with the source code that could produce an erroneous result should be detectable by testing the instrument. The converse, however, is not true.” 

Even as emerging techniques of modern law enforcement like facial recognition and large-scale data analysis have raised new privacy questions, the breathalyzer has remained ubiquitous in American policing. So have concerns about the precision of their measurements. A Minnesota district court judge found in 2018that the state’s Datamaster DMT machines were falsely rounding up their results. (The company claimed the judge didn’t get how it worked.)

But critics say the legal tactics employed by the companies are just as disturbing as the machines themselves.

“The hallmark of good science is transparency, which is not what Intoximeters is doing,” said Charles Ramsay, an attorney representing defendants in the Minnesota cases. “They safeguard their software more tightly than Microsoft. It’s not because it’s something they need to do to protect their business. They do it to prevent us from discovering the fatal flaws in the software.”

Do you know about a breathalyzer company that’s fighting to keep information hidden? Do you work for a private forensics company? Contact this reporter at or from a secure device at

The company does not see it that way.

“The consent order does not comply with Intoximeters’ contractual obligation with the State,” Tomlinson wrote in response to an October 2018 Minnesota court order. He asserted that a protective order meant to safeguard Intoximeters’ intellectual property was inadequate, and disputed the qualifications of the defendant’s expert, who wanted to analyze the source code.

When contacted by phone, Tomlinson declined to comment. A spokesperson for Intoximeters itself did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

The company’s fight against transparency is not unique in an industry that has traditionally worked hard to conceal trade secrets. But shoddy design and subpar maintenance by police affecting various breathalyzer brands have had dire consequences for the U.S. legal system. Judges in Massachusetts and New Jersey have invalidated upwards of 30,000 breath tests over the past year alone, according to the Times investigation. 

“It’s basically the defendant’s constitutional right to defend himself and confront the evidence versus the need of commercial companies to protect information that they own,” Rothstein said. “There is a societal interest in protecting trade secrets. On the other hand, the defendant’s right is expressly in the Constitution, so that weighs very heavily.” 

There may not be a clear winner—the defendant’s right to confront the evidence or protecting IP—until such a forensics case makes its way to the Supreme Court, according to Rothstein. 

Until then, part of how companies like Intoximeters get away with this is simple geography: The company is headquartered in Missouri, where a Minnesota judge has no jurisdiction, and Missouri also has not signed an interstate evidence sharing agreement with Minnesota, according to a court order in the ongoing case of a Minnesotan accused of driving while impaired with a suspended license. The man’s driving privileges were revoked for months based on two Datamaster DMT tests.

But even if a technology company like Intoximeters might have legitimate intellectual property concerns, judges have shown signs of cracking down harder on attempts to keep breathalyzers secret in recent years.

Chastising the state commissioner of public safety for not providing the code in a case, Minnesota District Court Judge Andrew Pearson wrote in a December 2019 court order, “The Court points out that this request for discovery of the source code is neither surprising nor unexpected, given Minnesota’s experience with the prior model of breath testing machine or the litigation surrounding it.” The judge also suggested that Intoximeters had failed to cooperate with at least one prior Minnesota court order. 

Courts have repeatedly ordered the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) to supply the source code, according to documents obtained by The Daily Beast. The contract for the Minnesota DPS purchase of Datamaster DMT machines grants the agency the right to share the source code and obligates it to do so at a court’s request, Judge Pearson wrote in December. 

But Minnesota DPS won’t submit the code because, spokeswoman Jill Oliveira argued, the agency does not “own, possess, or control” it, making disclosure impossible. By the department’s logic, Intoximeters, the manufacturer of the machines and the software that runs on them, owns the code. 

Pearson disagreed. “The Court concludes that the Commissioner does have possession and control of the source code for the purposes of this discovery motion,” he said. The case is ongoing.

That question—whether cops have the ability to disclose the source code of the machines they use to make cases—has divided judges. Another judge in Minnesota, JaPaul Harris, ruled in September that the state did not possess the source code after Intoximeters refused to give it up. But Harris had issued a ruling reaching the opposite conclusion in the same case back in March.

Even Intoximeters itself may not own the entirety of the code: The company said in a 2016 disclosure agreement that there are some elements of the code it does not have the intellectual property rights to share. It has left unspecified exactly who does.

Technical arguments about possession of IP aside, judges and experts say inspecting the source code of breathalyzers remains important because it allows defendants to analyze the methodology used to convict them of driving under the influence.

“If a person doesn’t get to test the evidence that’s relied on to convict them, doesn’t get to confront that evidence, doesn’t get to test the accuracy of that evidence, doesn’t get to air these questions in public, it violates their Constitutional rights to due process,” said Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.

Judge Pearson seemed to agree. In the December 2019 court order, he wrote, “Given that there is no way to retest this sample on a different machine, source code review of the only analysis that will ever be performed on this now-absent breath sample is that much more crucial and proportional.” 

One Minnesota forensic expert said in July went so far as to say he believed the Datamaster DMT produced “bad evidence.”

Other experts say source code analysis isn’t necessary. The National Safety Council Committee on Alcohol and Other Drugs, a safety advocacy nonprofit, issued a position statement in February 2009 asserting that analyzing the source code of a breathalyzer was not “pertinent, required, or useful for examination or evaluation of the analyzer’s accuracy, scientific reliability, forensic validity.” The Safety Council stood by the opinion when contacted by The Daily Beast for this story, and Intoximeters cited the paper in at least one rejection of a court order for disclosure.

Privacy advocates aren’t having it.

“The evidence is presented as being from an infallible, truth-telling computer,” Eidelman said. “But algorithms are human constructs that are subject to human bias and mistakes, which get in the way of their design and use.”

West Point Let Football Star Break Rules Before Drunk Driving Death, Investigation Found

Drink-driving cases involving fights over source code disclosure have persisted for more than a decade. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that another company, CMI, must make the source code for one of its testing devices available to a defendant. CMI initially declined, claiming the code was a trade secret, but later made it available. Meanwhile, in 2013, a North Carolina judge ruled that Intoximeters could withhold the source code from a defendant.

In 2007, a New Jersey court ruled that a defendant’s experts could analyze a breathalyzer made by Dräger, an Intoximeters competitor. The analysts described it as riddled with “thousands of programming errors,” but the court deemed the machine “generally scientifically reliable,” even if it also had “shortcomings,” according to the Times. The company claimed it quickly fixed the problems. 

“There is a problem with junk science in forensics. We’ve seen numerous instances of technologies used in court getting debunked,” Eidelman said. “Public access to information about that technology and the underlying principles has been central in making those challenges successful.”

One source code inspection of a breathalyzer in Washington state made by Dräger revealed alleged flaws so glaring that the analysts commissioned by defense lawyers summed up their findings in a report titled “Defective Design = Reasonable Doubt.” The researchers said the company quashed the report with legal threats, to which Dräger replied that it was only protecting its intellectual property.

But privacy stalwarts say these quiet legal fights over breathalyzer code point to larger trends in the legal system. Those trends do not favor defendants.

“This isn’t happening only with breathalyzers,” Eidelman said. “Only more problems will be coming out as more forensic analysis becomes computerized.”

Kentucky police arrest GM engineers street racing C8 Chevy Corvettes

Doing 120 mph in a 45 after leaving a bar is not a good idea

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible in orange

It is one of the purposes of youth to do things that can only be justified with the phrase, “We were young, what can I say?” Two GM engineers have allegedly given themselves an excellent opening to use that plea decades hence, after a Kentucky state trooper reportedly caught them street racing pre-production 2020 Chevrolet Corvettes down a city street in Bowling Green, Kentucky. WNKY reports that the incident occurred last Wednesday, January 8, the charges rung up including racing a motor vehicle on a public highway, reckless driving, and speeding 26 miles per hour or more over the speed limit. That last charge means a mandatory court hearing and a potential loss of license. The details laid out on the citation lead us to believe the two engineers could have more to worry about than a fine or needing to bum rides for a few months.

GM employee Alexander Thim, 27, does computer-aided engineering on induction and exhaust systems according to his LinkedIn page, while the same site lists Mark Derkatz, 30, as an electrical engineer. Both men are are temporarily in Bowling Green, home of the Corvette assembly plant, preparing America’s sports car for its retail launch. Going by the description on the ticket, sometime after after leaving the Cue Time Cocktails and Billiards bar in Bowling Green in a trio of Corvettes — Thim in a red one, Derkatz in a white one, an unnamed third GM engineer in a blue one — two of the three decided to hit a back road called Lovers Lane to enjoy the fruits of their labors. On a street with a 45-mph speed limit, Thim allegedly hopped in the left lane and got clocked by radar doing 120 mph, Derkatz took the right lane and got clocked at 100 mph. The third engineer, heeding his good sense or a guardian angel, reportedly didn’t participate in the race and was not cited.

It appears that police either knew something was up, or were merely intrigued by the sight of three of the country’s most important and forbidden-fruit vehicles in patriotic color scheme tooling around on a school night. The report details troopers noticing the three Corvettes at 11:20 pm, then following them for at least a mile as the engineers made their way from the main road to Lovers Lane. Measured from the turn onto Lovers Lane, the police who made the stop were 1.5 miles down the road.

The worst bit is this line from the citation: “The odor of an alcoholic beverage was present on the breath of the operator. PBT detected presence of alcohol.” The trooper didn’t include names, but none of the three engineers were reportedly charged with driving under the influence.

Thim and Derkat were booked and released on $1,000 bail, and will need to deal with a pretrial conference on February 18. The cars were confiscated, towing services hauling them to an impound lot where a representative retrieved them the following day. When Automobile asked GM for comment, the automaker responded, “We are aware of an incident involving our test vehicles and are currently investigating. Safety remains our overriding priority at General Motors. We have no further comment at this time.”

As an aside, seems one of the troopers did have time to comment. A Corvette Forum thread has popped up to run a full CSI routine on the incident, with member DebRedZR1 tracking down a snapchat photo of Thim’s stop. The caption: “GM ain’t gonna be happy with these engineers tomorrow.” Which was probably true.

Fugitive of the Week wanted on driving while impaired by drugs charges

ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — This week’s Fugitive of the Week is wanted on two felony county court bench warrants for driving while impaied by drugs.

Carrie Phalen, also known as Carrie Riccardi and Carrie Mayhoefer, was arrested twice in 2017 on charges of driving while impaired by drugs.

Her first arrest in July 2017 was by the Onondaga County Sheriff’s office after a volunteer fireman observed her swerving all over the road. When Phalen pulled into a gas station, the volunteer fireman pinned her vehicle in until authorities arrived.

Phalen’s second arrest came in October 2017 by the New York State Police on the same charges.

Phalen was placed on probation, which was violated in January of 2018.

Phalen is described at 5’3” and 103 pounds with blond hair and green eyes.

If you know of her whereabouts, give the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Tip Line a call at (315) 435-3032.

Man to serve 3 years in drunken-driving crash that killed best friend

Ethyn Buotte was driving drunk and under the influence of drugs when his car hit a tree May 31, 2018, in Weld – resulting in the death of a Dixfield man. 

Ethyn Buotte, right, is comforted by his attorney, Jeffrey Wilson on Friday morning in Franklin County Superior Court in Farmington as Buotte reacts to Justice Robert Muller reading the obituary of Griffyn Smith, who was killed in a crash exactly a year ago in a car Buotte was driving. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

FARMINGTON — A Franklin County justice sentenced a Rumford man Friday to serve three years of a 10-year sentence for driving drunk and under the influence of drugs when his car crashed in Weld on May 31, 2018, and a Dixfield man was killed.

Upon his release from prison, Ethyn Eric Buotte, 19, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter Friday in Franklin County Superior Court, will serve four years probation in connection to the death of  his best friend and neighbor, 19-year-old Griffyn Smith.

Smith was well liked and was a four-time state champion wrestler when he attended Dirigo High School in Dixfield. He earned an associate’s degree at college as a precision machinist and had planned to enter the U.S. Navy. He had studied precision machining in college and graduated with an associates degree.

Buotte’s guilty plea was part of a partially negotiated agreement with the sentence being 10 years with the suspended portion of it capped at three years, Deputy District Attorney James Andrews said.

Ethyn Buotte enters Franklin County Superior Court in Farmington Friday morning for his sentencing. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

The state dismissed a charge of operating under the influence resulting in death.

Andrews read a summary of the facts before Buotte was sentenced.

If the case went to trial, the court would have heard from several witnesses including a front-seat passenger Alysa St. Cyr,  police and  experts.

According to Andrews, Buotte was 18 and driving a 2008 Toyota Corolla at 71 mph in a 35 mph zone when he lost control of the car at about 11:30 p.m. on the West Side Road in Weld. Smith was a passenger in the back seat of the car. The car started to spin, rolled over several times. The car hit a tree and the roof imploded and came down on Smith. The car continued to spin and Smith was ejected. The cause of Smith’s death was blunt force trauma, Andrews said.

Evidence shows that Buotte had been drinking alcohol and there was a presence of marijuana and had snorted an opioid painkiller — hydrocodone and had taken a prescription medicine in his system.

According to St. Cyr, Buotte moved the car in an attempt to leave the scene. She called 911, according to Andrews. Buotte moved Smith’s body and tried to resuscitate him. Buotte also burned some evidence — a pair of pants to before first responders arrived, St. Cyr told police. He had a blood-alcohol level 0.138%  about two hours after the crash, Andrews said.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Wilson said Buotte  disagrees with some of the state’s evidence, including that he attempted to leave the scene and burned evidence.  Wilson had motions to suppress evidence filed with the court but Buotte told him not to go through with them because he wants to take responsibility for his actions, Wilson said.  He withdrew those motions.

There were lots of tears in the courtroom from both side, even after the sentencing was over.Advertisement

This was a fatal crash that resulted in layer after layer of reckless conduct, Andrews said. Buotte also had two contacts with police within two months of the crash, one of those resulted in a conviction on a misdemeanor charge of terrorizing, he said.

Andrews argued for Buotte to serve three years while Wilson argued for nine months and a day. The latter means it would be a sentence to the Department of Corrections and would allow Buotte could continue to better himself.

Ethyn Buotte, right, listens as his attorney, Jeffrey Wilson addresses Justice Robert Muller in Franklin County Superior Court in Farmington Friday morning. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

“Ethyn has the rest of his life to live and my son has none,” Smith’s mother Cheryl Smith said. She said her family has been very compassionate with Buotte.

“It is only fair he get the full amount,” Smith said, meaning the plea agreement’s three-year cap.

Other family members also asked for him to serve the three years.

Cindy Smith Prakash and Allison Smith Daley, Griffyn’s aunts, both addressed the court. Prakash read from a prepared statement. She told the court her nephew was killed by Buotte’s intentional, selfish and senseless actions. In a cruel twist of fate, it was on his parents wedding anniversary, she said. The car Buotte was driving was unsafe and had two spare donut tires on it, she said.Advertisement

“I can’t imagine the terror that Griffyn experienced,” Prakash said, right before his death. “Griffyn actually cared about you, Ethyn, when others didn’t,” she said.

When she started to cry harder, Daley took over reading the statement.

In part, she said, “A bright shining light of a young man is now gone.”

A case worker for Buotte said for the past six to nine months he has not only worked hard to better himself, he has set some goals with one of them being to speak youth to help them not make the mistakes he made.

Buotte has started to take control of his life, Wilson said, and even went back and finished high school. Buotte was just 18 at the time, barely an adult, and is very remorseful of what happened. Buotte wanted the Smiths kept informed of what was going on in the case. Buotte requested a day be added to the nine months so that he would serve his sentence in the Department of Corrections facility and not a county jail.

Buotte spoke directly to Errin and Cheryl Smith, Griffyn’s parents, and apologized more than once to the family, and he recognized that was not enough. He thinks of Griffyn constantly and wishes he could undo that night. He also apologized to his family and the community.Advertisement

“I will never be able to make this right,” he said.”I want to reach out to young adults to keep them from doing the same things I did.”

Once Buotte was sentenced and before he was taken into custody, he spoke to the family personally. It ended with a handshake from Smith’s father and a hug from Smith’s mother.

Cheryl Smith went over and hugged Buotte’s family members.

Supreme Court stumped by the case of the unconscious drunken driver

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S.
FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court building is pictured in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday wrestled with whether police need a court-issued warrant to draw an unconscious suspect’s blood in a case involving a Wisconsin man convicted of drunken driving based on blood obtained without his consent.

The nine justices appeared divided over the case as they heard about an hour of arguments in an appeal by the man, Gerald Mitchell, of state court rulings that endorsed the ability of police to test blood drawn from an unconscious person.

Mitchell appealed a ruling by Wisconsin’s highest court that the blood draw did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches. Police drew the blood, which showed his blood-alcohol concentration far above the state’s legal limit, after finding Mitchell shirtless, wet and covered in sand near the shores of Lake Michigan.

At issue is a Wisconsin law that assumes motorists automatically give consent to tests of their breath or blood simply by driving on the state’s roads, even if they are unconscious. More than half the 50 U.S. states have similar laws.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, both conservatives, appeared sympathetic to Wisconsin.

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” Roberts said, invoking a old legal maxim. “Why do you need them to sign a piece of paper?”

Alito noted that agreeing to a blood draw could be viewed as “a condition to the privilege of driving” on Wisconsin’s roads.

Liberal justices appeared to sympathize with Mitchell. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said although motorists generally know that driving under the influence is illegal, whether they are aware blood can be drawn without consent is a different issue.

“This is not quite ignorance of the law. This is something substantially different because you’re talking about … knowledge that your body can be invaded by police to secure evidence to prove you drove intoxicated,” Sotomayor said.

Fellow liberal Justice Elena Kagan said a law like Wisconsin’s works fine when drivers are conscious because they can withdraw consent when police ask for a blood draw.

“But that falls apart in this situation of the unconscious driver,” Kagan added.

The Supreme Court in recent years has limited police ability to draw blood without a warrant and without a motorist’s consent, and frowned upon criminal penalties against people who refuse to consent to a blood draw.

The case dates to 2013 in Wisconsin’s Sheboygan County when Mitchell’s neighbor called police to report that Mitchell had driven away in a van, apparently drunk, and may have been suicidal. He had taken about 40 pills along with vodka mixed with the soft drink Mountain Dew, according to court filings. Mitchell later testified he had been depressed and suicidal.

After police found him, Mitchell fell unconscious as authorities drove him to a hospital, where they ordered staff to draw his blood for an alcohol concentration test despite not having a warrant. Police charged him with operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

A ruling is due by the end of June.;_ylt=AwrXnCFz78VcezkAlHLQtDMD;_ylu=X3oDMTEyazBic2xyBGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwM5BHZ0aWQDQjc2MDlfMQRzZWMDc3I-

Lawyer Who Won Supreme Court DUI Case: ‘Straight Black-Letter Law’

Greg Willis, Willis Law Firm, Atlanta (Courtesy photo)

The Georgia Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion Monday barring a drunken-driving defendant’s refusal to take a blood test from being used as evidence at trial is being portrayed as a bombshell ruling threatening to undermine law enforcement’s ability to keep impaired drivers off the road.

In fact, as Justice Keith Blackwell noted during oral arguments last year, an array of amicus briefs filed by the Office of the Attorney General, Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia and district attorneys from Cherokee, Gwinnett and Athens-Clarke counties weighing in to support the state’s implied consent law presented a “sky is falling” scenario if the justices ruled exactly as they did.

But the lawyer who argued and won the case said he believed the outcome was likely all along.

“I would like to say that this was some magnificent legal work, but it’s really just straight black-letter law,” said Willis Law Group principal Gregory Willis. “My entire argument was that the Georgia Constitution has been interpreted this way since 1879. Every one of our constitutions has used the same language.”

Willis’ client, Andrea Elliott, was stopped by Athens police in 2015 and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and other offenses. She was read the Georgia “Implied Consent Notice,” which notifies drivers they are required to submit to blood, breath or urine tests. Drivers also are told that refusal to comply can result in their license being suspended and that refusal can be offered as evidence at a criminal trial.

Elliott refused to take a breath test and was arrested and jailed.

Her lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence, which the trial court denied.

During oral arguments last April, Willis argued that the use of Elliott’s breath test at trial was a violation of her constitutional protections against self-incrimination under the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment and the Paragraph XVI of the Georgia Constitution.

Athens-Clarke County Chief Assistant Solicitor William Fleenor argued the requirement to take a test is not a “coerced action” but is instead part of the agreement between a driver and state laying out the duties and obligations necessary to drive in Georgia.

If the justices did feel there might be constitutional concerns, he said, the state has a compelling interest in keeping impaired drivers off the road. The statute is narrowly tailored to meet that interest and thus meets the “strict scrutiny” necessary to pass constitutional muster, he said.

Fleenor’s arguments were met with skepticism, particularly an assertion that his office could find no case law asserting the Fifth Amendment is a “fundamental right” that can be subjected to strict scrutiny.

Monday’s 94-page opinion overruling the lower courts harkened back to a 2017 ruling inOlevik v. State, S17A0738,  that said forcing someone to take a breath test was unconstitutional.

Monday’s opinion, penned by Justice Nels Petersen, said Georgia’s Constitution actually goes beyond the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee against being forced to testify against oneself.

“Based on the well-established meaning given to the constitutional right against compelled self-incrimination and carried forward into subsequent state constitutions, we concluded that a breath test is an act incriminating in nature and, therefore, Paragraph XVI prohibits the State from compelling such a test,” according to the opinion.

Such evidence may not be introduced in a criminal trial, Petersen wrote, although he observed that the General Assembly may want to “revise the provisions of the implied consent law, particularly the content of the implied consent notice.”

Willis said he was encouraged by the justices’ strong reaction during oral arguments to the state’s suggestion that the Fifth Amendment may not be a fundamental right but also by the fact that it has no case law supporting its position.

“The argument really comes down to self-incrimination,” Willis said. “If you look at what the Fifth Amendment and Paragraph XVI protect, the rights are very similar. The state could not provide a single case under the Fifth Amendment or state Constitution where someone invoked their right prior to trial, and it was still submitted as evidence.”

“Whether it’s the right to not to blow into a machine, give a handwriting sample … they could not provide a single example,” he said. “They asked the court to reverse an unbroken line of cases back to 1879 and prior to that.”

The opinion noted that a blood or urine test can still be obtained if an officer gets a warrant, which happens “every day,” Willis said.

“I’m of the opinion that this implied consent warning should have been changed years ago,” Willis said.

“They need to take out that section about Georgia law ‘requiring’ you to submit,” he said. “You have a constitutional right to refuse testing.”

“I’m just proud of our Supreme Court for empowering the law as required,” he said.

Athens-Clarke County Solicitor Carroll Chisholm said officers there will adjust their procedure for DUI arrests accordingly.  

“Our local law enforcement will continue to enforce the DUI laws here in Athens-Clarke County,” said Chisholm in an email. 

“In light of the Elliott ruling, the only difference will be that officers will now read Implied Consent to request a blood test in all DUI cases instead of the previous practice of requesting breath tests in most DUI cases,” he said.

Find A Designated Driver Superbowl Weekend

Find A Designated Driver Superbowl Weekend: Laguna Beach

LAGUNA BEACH, CA —If you live in Laguna Beach and plan to go out and about over the weekend for Super Bowl LIII parties, consider yourselves warned. On Sunday, the California Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies plan to be out in force to look for impaired drivers.

CHP officers, along with personnel from other law enforcement agencies throughout Orange and Los Angeles County, will be conducting saturation patrols and staffing sobriety checkpoints to nab suspected drunk or drug-impaired motorists.

“Impaired driving is not only irresponsible, but it can also destroy lives,” CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley said. “Choosing to get behind the wheel while under the influence can result in arrest, injury or death. If you drink or use other impairing substances, do not drive.”

According to Stanley, CHP officers arrested 352 people statewide on suspicion of DUI during last year’s Super Bowl Sunday crackdown.

Seven people died and 134 others were injured in alcohol-fueled collisions investigated by the CHP, figures showed.

“Have a plan in place before the game,” Stanley said. “If you will be consuming alcoholic beverages or using other substances that may affect your ability to safely operate a vehicle, make the smart choice to use public transportation, a designated driver, or a ride-share service to get home.”

Anti-DUI operations are generally scheduled between 1 p.m. and 11 p.m. Sunday, covering the hours before, during and well after the conclusion of Super Bowl LIII, which is scheduled to begin about 3:30 p.m.

Officials offered the following tips to people planning to host Super Bowl parties:

  • ensure guests have a designated driver or can arrange for ride-sharing;
  • serve plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages at the party;
  • stop serving alcohol before the end of the game’s third quarter
  • take the keys away from guests showing signs of impairment, then call them a cab or arrange for alternate transportation.

Plus, if you watch the game in Los Angeles County, Ride Share services, such as Uber, planned a campaign offering an “Unhappy Hour” for fans in the city of losing teams.

Under state law, anyone with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent or higher is considered impaired.Penalties for anyone convicted of a DUI offense can include suspension or revocation of driving privileges, steep fines, jail time and prison if there are injuries involved.”Millions of people will be watching the Super Bowl at parties and bars across the country,” Long Beach Police Lt. Kris Klein said. “Don’t put others at risk because you chose to break the law and drive impaired.”

Klein reminded motorists that driving under the influence “doesn’t just mean booze.

“Prescription drugs, particularly those with a driving or operating machinery warning on the label, and marijuana can also be impairing and result in a DUI, especially when used in combination with alcohol or other drugs,” Klein said.;_ylt=AwrXnCXC9VZcLykAKV_QtDMD;_ylu=X3oDMTEyMHQxc3UyBGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwM0BHZ0aWQDQjY5NDZfMQRzZWMDc3I-

DWI Checkpoints: Checking All the Boxes

DWI cases often begin with a driver being stopped at what is referred to as a DWI checkpoint. From the standpoint of defending drivers charged with Driving While Intoxicated, there are important Constitutional issues arising from a checkpoint stop that should be considered.

As a basic Constitutional principle, individuals acting on behalf of the State such as Police Officers and State Troopers, cannot stop motor vehicles unless they can justify the stop. Both the United States and New Jersey Constitutions require that the State demonstrate a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the law has been violated before an officer can intrude upon the driver’s right to travel without State interference. Simply stated, the State has to make some showing that a law has been violated before a car can be stopped. If not, the State will be prevented from having evidence acquired as a result of that stop considered by the court. In the case of a DWI prosecution, this could include evidence of the driver’s intoxication, which could be crucial to the State’s ability to prove the driver’s guilt.

Obviously, cars stopped at DWI checkpoints are not stopped because of a motor vehicle violation. Rather, they are stopped simply because a checkpoint has been mounted at a particular location, on a particular date and at a certain time. This would seem to be at odds with Constitutional requirements. An exception to the unusual standard has been provided by United States and New Jersey court decisions holding that checkpoints meet Constitutional standards if certain requirements are met.

Firstly, the checkpoint must be under control of a superior officer who has organized the checkpoint so it meets Constitutional and safety standards. The United States Supreme Court determined some time ago that cars cannot be stopped without a prior plan being approved and put into effect by superior officers.

More important is the requirement that the checkpoint be placed at a location where intoxicated drivers are expected to pass through, based upon prior police experience. This, in turn, must be based upon objective data which demonstrates occurrence of prior DWI arrests and accidents where intoxication is a factor, in the vicinity of the DWI checkpoint. In other words, the State must demonstrate a reasonable expectation that intoxicated drivers will pass through a certain location at a particular time, based upon data reflecting this experience.

Before an attorney or prosecutor reaches the question of a driver’s intoxication then, the attorney and prosecutor must consider whether the checkpoint leading to the stop, was justified the stop in the first place. This means obtaining all documentation which was created, leading to the checkpoint in question, including data which the State relied upon in choosing the date, time and location. Obviously, this information must be carefully reviewed to determine whether Constitutional standards have been met. If not, evidence of intoxication will be excluded.

The viability of the checkpoint will be the product of the effort made to justify its existence, before a single drive passes through. The quality of the underlying police work, therefore, is crucial in determining whether the checkpoint meets Constitutional muster and results in suppression of evidence. I have seen officers go to great ends to gather this data. Even when this is the case though, problems can arise for the State.

I was involved in a case not long ago where the officer, who was bright and capable, went to great efforts to ferret out the necessary data to justify the checkpoint time and place. Close analysis of the data however, suggested that the officer’s decision was questionable.

The defense attorney’s first job in this type of case is to acquire all of the data upon which the officer and State is relying. The  next job is to evaluate, analyze and make sense of that data. To do so, all of the records of prior DWI and drug related investigations leading to arrests and accidents in the immediate vicinity of the proposed checkpoint site, must be evaluated to determine the frequency of these events. This is done with an eye to determine whether a correlation existed between the proposed site, date and time of the checkpoint and these previous events.

After putting this information together, some surprising results became clear. Firstly, the data showed that only four DWI related events over the prior 10 years occurred in the immediate vicinity of the proposed checkpoint location. More than that, the month chosen by the officer for the checkpoint was one of the lowest months in terms of occurrence of prior DWI events.  Indeed, a review of the data suggested a low probability that the particular site, date and location selected would be efficacious, that is, drunken drivers could be reasonably expected to pass through the checkpoint. That low probability was reflected in actual results from the particular checkpoint, where one single arrest was made for DWI, after almost four hours of stopping hundreds of cars passing through the checkpoint. Hardly efficacious, it would seem. But it got worse.

Due to our quaint tradition known as cross-examination, I was able at trial to delve beyond the data provided to get to what Paul Harvey referred to as “the rest of the story.” The rest of the story was simple. Notwithstanding all of the data obtained and what that data did or did not suggest, the officer set the date of the checkpoint so it did not interfere with his scheduled move into his new house! Data be damned … a man has to move when he has to move! Checkpoints can wait!

Winston Churchill famously said that that, “you can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else.” I guess the officer never got around to trying everything else.

Former Prosecutor Arrested for Fourth DUI

Lynn Haven, Fla. – A former prosecutor was arrested for the fourth time on DUI charges.

Richard Albritton III, was arrested by Lynn Haven Police earlier this week and appeared before a judge Thursday afternoon.

Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet ordered Albritton to sign up for a pre-trial release program. Under the terms of the program, there will be zero tolerance for alcohol consumption.

Albritton has never been convicted of DUI but he has been convicted of lesser charges stemming from DUI arrests.

However, according to court records in New York City Albritton is also currently facing a felony charge for “criminal possession of a firearm.”

In 2015 his license to practice law was suspended for 60 days by the Florida Bar.

That suspension came from a 2012 arrest for driving under the influence, possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. According to documents obtained from the Bar Albritton accepted a new driver’s license even though he knew his license had been suspended. Albritton also signed a statement saying that his driving privileges had not been revoked.