In April, a ruling out the California Superior Court in Orange County ruled
that the Department of Motor Vehicles has the right to consider circumstantial
evidence, such as failing
field sobriety tests, or swerving, to prove that a driver’s
blood alcohol content (BAC) was above .08% - the legal limit.
With the ruling,
DUI defense attorneys are concerned that more drivers could end up with suspended
driver’s licenses in DMV administrative hearings where the BAC results
were inconclusive or close to the legal limit.
It’s going to be harder for defendants with borderline BAC levels
to show that they were not impaired, or at the .08% BAC limit at the time
that they were driving. Now, if a person was close to the legal limit,
the DMV could look to circumstantial evidence to suspend a driver’s license.
It All Started With an Orange County DUI Case
The Supreme Court case started with an incident that happened in November
2011 in Orange County. A. Jourdan Coffey, 21, was arrested for drunk driving
after an officer spotted her driving erratically on the 55 freeway.
According to the officer, her eyes were red and a strong odor of alcohol
came from her vehicle. Coffey told the officer that she just turned 21
and she was at a bar but she didn’t drink any alcohol. After failing
field sobriety tests, she was arrested for DUI.
About an hour after she was pulled over, her BAC measured at .08%; three
minutes later she measured at .09%. A third blood test measured at .0.095%.
Coffey ultimately pleaded guilty to “wet reckless,” but she
fought her driver’s license suspension, which was suspended at a
DMV administrative hearing.
During the hearing, a toxicologist testified that Coffey’s BAC was
below .08% at the time that she was pulled over. The DMV hearing officer
rejected the BAC testimony, calling it “insufficient” and
suspended Coffey’s driver’s license based on officer accounts.
Subsequently, a trial and appellate court ruled in favor of the DMV.
The high court ruled that the circumstantial was relevant in Coffey’s
case; this was the first case to rule that a hearing officer
could consider such evidence. Still, the evidence must be reasonable and expert
testimony can’t just be excluded.
The high court said that circumstantial evidence has to be looked at on
a case-by-case basis.
Many California DUI attorneys are concerned that DMV hearing officers will
use circumstantial evidence too freely, and to widely penalize drivers
whose BAC readings were just below the .08 legal limit.
Was your BAC close to the legal limit? Defend your rights by contacting an Orange County DUI lawyerat the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc. today!