Evan Chadwick Receives Advanced Level Training on Defending Against Hospital Blood Tests

In furtherance of advancing his proficiency in DUI defense, Vermont DUI attorney Evan Chadwick recently received advanced level training on defending against hospital blood tests which are often secured by law enforcement during their DUI-drug and accident based DUI-alcohol investigations.

“Reviewing every aspect of the blood draw and analysis is a key component to defending DUI offenses”, stated Attorney Chadwick.  “The science and law behind these analysis are constantly evolving and we, as attorneys, need to stay ahead of the curve so that we can better understand the science that supports and/or undermines the reliability of these tests.”

For more information on the training received by Attorney Chadwick, click HERE.

 

 

 

Field sobriety tests invalid in determining whether driver is intoxicated by marijuana

With the legalization of marijuana in Massachusetts and Maine and the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana in Vermont and New Hampshire a new legal front has been established in determining how to measure an individual’s level of impairment when operating a motor vehicle.  The lack of specific scientific evidence as to how to detect impairment is one of the major reasons Vermont governor Phil Scott vetoed a bill to legalize possession of marijuana last year and continues to be a huge concern for Vermont law enforcement in their ability to arrest individuals for driving under the influence of marijuana or other drugs.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court decision in COMMONWEALTH V. GERHARD has now limited police officer’s ability to use the standardized field sobriety tests as evidence of drug impairment, tests which have long been validated to detect alcohol impairment.

“The research on the efficacy of FSTs to measure marijuana impairment has produced highly disparate results. Some studies have shown no correlation between inadequate performance on FSTs and the consumption of marijuana; other studies have shown some correlation with certain FSTs, but not with others; and yet other studies have shown a correlation with all of the most frequently used FSTs.”

As has been litigated in Vermont Courts (and recently won by Attorney Evan Chadwick in a drugged driving case), a law enforcement officer who is not a certified Drug Recognition Expert should not be able to  testify as to their opinion of impairment when investigating an individual for DUI-Drugs .  The Gearhardt decision adds an extra layer of protection for these types of investigations by limiting what evidence can be presented on the roadside investigation.

Vermont Attorney Evan Chadwick Successfully Completes Drug Recognition Expert Training

Attorney Evan Chadwick of Chadwick Law, traveled to Alpharetta Georgia in order to participate in a vigorous three day training regarding the process and science behind a Drug Recognition Evaluation that accompanies many Vermont DUI prosecutions.

Attorney Chadwick received a thorough overview in the 2015 NHTSA/IACP DRE Pre-School & DRE 7-Day training curriculum that officers attend nationwide. Emphasis was made on analyzing a DRE case file, to include, the DRE Face Sheet & DRE Narrative report, how to compare the two with one another and with the Drug Symptomology Chart, as well as emphasis on each specific step involved in a 12-step DRE evaluation. Time was also be spent covering the IACP’s rules and regulations that officers are required to follow in order to become certified and to recertify as a DRE.

“The training I received was essential in furthering my understanding of the science behind a Drug Recognition Evaluation and what errors officers make in conducting these evaluations”, stated Attorney Chadwick. “It is a training that anyone who is serious about defending DUIs in Vermont needs to take in order to best serve their clients”.

Smell of marijuana still enough for Vermont vehicle search

An officer needs probable cause  in order to be to search a vehicle without the owner’s consent.  Despite Vermont decriminalizing the possession of under an ounce of marijuana in 2013, the smell of marijuana alone still grants law enforcement the probable cause they need to request a search.  This reality was recently reinforced in Judge Helen’s Toor’s district court decision denying  a Rutland man’s motion to suppress the evidence seized as a result of the search.  “Vermont’s decriminalization statute explicitly states that it leaves unchanged marijuana’s ability to furnish probable cause. The national consensus is that the mere smell of marijuana supports probable cause.”  Although still currently good law in Vermont, Toor’s decision has since been appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court.

Further clarification as to the sniff test may be supported by recent decisions in Massachusetts and Colorado, that have found that the oder of marijuana alone does not give an officer probable cause.  The Massachusetts case is especially important to Vermont as at the time of the decision, possession of one ounce or less of marijuana was considered a civil infraction in Massachusetts as it is considered in Vermont.  “[W]e no longer consider the “strong” or “very strong” smell of unburnt marijuana to provide probable cause to believe that a criminal amount of the drug is present.  Commonwealth v. Rodriguez.

The wild card in the entire calculus is the fact that it is all but assured that Vermont will legalize recreational marijuana use in the near future.  In 2017, a legalization bill made it all the way to Governor Phil Scott’s desk before he vetoed it, stating that further study was needed before he signed the bill into law.  Thus, if legalization does occur, the Vermont courts may look more towards the recent decisions in Colorado to guide them in reviewing the smell test as a sole basis for a search.  “Because Amendment 64 legalized possession for personal use of one ounce or less of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older in Colorado, it is no longer accurate to say, at least as a matter of state law, that an alert by a dog which can detect marijuana — but not specific amounts — can reveal only the presence of ‘contraband,’”.  Colorado v. McKnight

If Vermont does pass a marijuana legalization bill, expect further challenges to law enforcement’s ability to decipher criminal behavior from that of legal, including, but not limited to their ability to tell the difference between a legal amount of marijuana and that which surpasses the criminal threshold.

 

 

DUI checkpoints net more than just DUIs

checkpoint

The sign should read, “law compliance checkpoint ahead”, as officers are on the lookout for all types of potential criminal offenses.

A favorite tool for law enforcement in detecting drivers operating under the influence of alcohol, DUI checkpoints have long been effective in law enforcement netting arrests on busy holiday weekends such as Memorial Day and the 4th of July.  However, drivers would be remiss to believe that these checkpoints are present only to detect potential alcohol based offenses along busy Vermont roads.  Instead, in recent years, law enforcement have honed their skills to detect other offenses, such as drug consumption that can also result in a motorist be inglead off to the mobile command post to be processed for a criminal offense.

Of the most common offenses detected by law enforcement is the possession and consumption of marijuana.  Although possession of small amounts of marijuana have been decriminalized (resulting in only a civil infraction, not a criminal citation for possession of under 1 oz.), the detection of marijuana can now lead to not only a hefty fine, but also increased scrutiny by law enforcement to see if the operator is under the influence of marijuana while driving the motor vehicle.  Although this is not your standard run of the mill DUI investigation, drug recognition experts are being trained at increased levels to be able to respond quickly to a report of a potential driving while high infraction.

These offenses carry with them the same penalties as a driving under the influence of alcohol charge (maximum of 2 years in jail and loss of license for up to 6 months).  Further, even if a motorist is found not be under the influence of marijuana, but is under the age of 21, they can face up to a 6 month license suspension as a result of merely possession a small amount of marijuana.

DUI checkpoints are misleading in name and in purpose.  Law enforcement use these checkpoints to have unfettered brief contact with a magnitude of individuals to detect and arrest those suspected of violating Vermont laws.  Thus, when approaching one of these checkpoints it is important to know that all actions committed by the driver will be heavily scrutinized and that you will not be off the hook if you have not consumed alcohol, but may have something else of interest in the vehicle that a well trained Vermont law enforcement officer may be able to detect.

Will marijuana legalization change Vermont DUI laws?

By most accounts, marijuana legalization is now considered a foregone conclusion in the State of Vermont. According to a recent Castleton State College Poll, 56 percent of Vermont adults now support legalization. Further confidence in legalization has been voiced by the Governor Peter Schumlin, Speaker of the House, Shap Smith, and Attorney General, William Sorrell.

With momentum growing, the State elected to commission the Rand Corporation, to conduct a financial analysis of the cost benefits of marijuana legalization to the State of Vermont.

In its recently released report, it was disclosed by Rand that Vermont could generate up to $75 million in tax revenue per year. This figure certainly rings bells in the minds of legislators, as they faced a $113 million budget shortfall by the end of 2014.

With the potential benefits in mind, it should come as no surprise that Jeannette White, D-Windham County and Joe Benning R-Caledonia County, introduced a 41-page bill in December proposing legalization of the possession of up to one ounce for recreational use and cultivation of that totaled 100 square foot or less.   White has long supported legalization, as she led the effort to approve Act 76, which decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2013.

Despite the optimism of passing a legalization bill in 2016, there remain some headwinds for legalization the strongest of all being the interpretation and enforcement of DUI laws when it comes to Driving while under the influence of marijuana or Driving While High (DWH). If this delay lasts too long, the bill’s approval may outlast Schumlin’s 3rd and final term, causing the bill to be placed on the desk of an unknown governor.

Currently, Vermont law does not give much clarity on the subject of DWH, merely stating that someone is under the influence of marijuana or other drugs if the impairment, is “noticeably and appreciably” affecting a person’s ability to drive a vehicle safely.

“Noticeably and appreciably” certain appear to lend themselves subjective observations that allow for significant discretion by individual law enforcement officers.  However, convictions for DWH have posed significant challenges for prosecutors to scientifically prove that the motorist was influenced by marijuana at the time of the stop due to the lack of a numeric standard for impairment that could be relied upon similar to the current .08 law for alcohol.

Now, with legalization on the negotiating table, reports have surfaced that lawmakers are considering amending Vermont DUI laws to allow for the admission of saliva tests, which could be conducted roadside. These tests are alleged to be able to detect recently ingested marijuana and provide a reading that could give prosecutors further tools to prove DWH charges.

In a 2013 report from the Drugged Driving Coalition, Greg Nagurney, the appointed representative of the State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs, stated that a majority of county prosecutors and sheriffs supported an amendment to DUI laws to allow prosecutors to charge motorists with DWH if impairment could be detected “to the slightest degree” (23 VSA 1201(a)(2). If this low standard of proof is approved as part of the legalization bill, it may be difficult for any motorist who has consumed marijuana in the last 30 days to immediately refute law enforcement suspicions of DWH. If these suspicions are supported by other evidence such as smell, bloodshot eyes or confusion, a probable cause arrest could very well ensue even in cases when the high from smoking marijuana has long subsided.

 

 

 

Smell of marijuana may not be enough for search of vehicle in Vermont

With the passage of Act 76 in the State of Vermont, decriminalizing possession of under 1 ounce of marijuana, questions have been raised as to whether or not the discovery of such an amount can still give a basis for law enforcement to search a motor vehicle.  Without owner consent, Vermont law enforcement need to meet a probable cause of criminal wrongdoing in order to receive approval from a judge for a search warrant.  Thus, given that possession of small amounts of marijuana is now considered a civil infraction, similar to a speeding ticket, challenges are beginning to surface in Vermont and surrounding states as to the lawfulness of warrants issued on a violation of ACT 76 alone.

Although the law is clear that for civil violations, officers may not detain motorists for a time that would exceed the normal time for issuing a traffic ticket, law enforcement continues to challenge this rule by attempting to expand the scope of their investigation when they claim to smell a strong odor of burnt marijuana.  However, some recent cases against search and seizure have arisen recently in Massachusetts, one most notably in      COMMONWEALTH vs. MATTHEW W. OVERMYER, which states “In sum, we are not confident, at least on this record, that a human nose can discern reliably the presence of a criminal amount of marijuana, as distinct from an amount subject only to a civil fine. In the absence of reliability, a neutral magistrate would not issue a search warrant, and therefore a warrantless search is not justified based solely on the smell of marijuana, whether burnt or unburnt.”

Thus, with the increasing number of drugged driving arrests occurring on Vermont roads, and the legalization of marijuana possession in the forefront of the Vermont legislature, it is reasonable to conclude that a substantial amount of grey area continues to exist in prosecuting such cases that can only be clarified through litigation in the Vermont County court system.

The battle over the saliva test in Vermont drugged driving

Vermont lawmakers continue to struggle with finding the correct balance in prosecuting motorists who may be under the influence of marijuana or other drugs while operating a motor vehicle.  Vermont law enforcement has claimed that there is a saliva test that can be implemented in order to prove that a motorist has marijuana in their system.  However, what lawmakers continue to struggle with is determining whether that detection alone, satisfies the DUI statute, which states that the presence of the drug must effect the motorist’s ability to operate their motor vehicle safely.

In an effort to address the vague nature of the current DUI-drugs statute, the Vermont legislature introduced a bill in 2014 that lowered the standard of proving a Drugged Driving charge by being able to prove that the operator was under the influence to “the slightest degree”.  However, several lawmakers in the Judiciary Committee, including Chair, Jeanette White: D-Windham County, stated that this standard cast the net too wide.

In an effort to compromise, language to the bill was introduced that would allow someone to be arrested for Drugged Driving if prosecutors could show that drug use “interferes with safe operation of a vehicle in the slightest degree.”.

If this language is in fact adopted, it still remaining unclear exactly how law enforcement will be able to detect this level of impairment beyond the flawed Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) standard that they have used to this day.  John Flannigan, a Lieutenant with the Vermont State Police, has stated that a roadside saliva test may in fact be the answer to this question.

Flannigan’s argument is that the saliva test, which is able to detect the presence of certain drugs, including marijuana, along with the DRE testimony, would be sufficient to show impairment.

However, even with this additional evidence, under the revised drugged driving bill, law enforcement would still need to show that the motorist’s impairment “slightly” effected their ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.  Although the saliva tests and DRE testimony may be sufficient to arrest an individual, much remains to be seen if these charges can actually stick when individual cases maker their way through the Vermont Judicial system.

 

 

What is a Vermont DRE?

DRE stands for drug recognition expert.  It is an attempt by Vermont law enforcement to combat the growing concern of individuals driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana or other drugs, which is otherwise known as Driving While High (DWH).  Here is how it works.

A motorist will get pulled over by law enforcement and during their initial interaction, law enforcement will note that they recognize certain clues of impairment (blood shot eyes, confusion, seating, nervousness etc..)  Based on these observations, the officer will inquire if the motorist has consumed any alcohol or drugs recently.  If the motorist admits to some form of consumption of drugs, the officer may, along with their observations, have enough evidence to perform certain tests aimed at detecting drug impairment.

In order to perform these tests, an officer needs to have specialized training that certifies them as a DRE.  Although prosecutors have attempted to enter DRE testimony into evidence at trial, there is still substantial question as to whether the training the officers have received is sufficient to qualify them as an expert and whether their testimony alone is sufficient to uphold a conviction for DWH.

According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, there are currently 35 officers across the State of Vermont that have been certified as a Vermont Drug Recognition Expert, with the aim of having an increased number of officers take the two day training each year.  The  additional training offered to law enforcement is beginning to see dividends for enforcing DWH laws as in 2014 it was reported that officers conducted 214 evaluations, a steady increase from previous years.

With marijuana legalization making its way through the Vermont legislature and additional tools being added to the arsenal of Vermont law enforcement, motorists will need to become increasingly cautious as to their driving if they have ingested drugs or alcohol recently. It appears that Drug Recognition Experts are only one small part of a significantly wider net law enforcement will be casting when they commence a DWH or DWI investigation that could ensnare many motorists who do now know the DWH laws in the State of Vermont.