Vermont Drivers Are Expected to Use Turn Signals Even in Designated Turn-Only Lanes


By Robb Spensley

It is very common that drivers operating or waiting in a designated turn-only lane will NOT put on their turn signals, perhaps assuming that their intention to turn is clear enough. However, as established in recent Vermont Supreme Court Decision State v. Cook (google “2017-368 Vermont”), the failure to utilize your turn signal in a designated turn-only lane will now be considered adequate grounds for a police officer to pull someone over and ticket them. The Vermont Supreme Court has not previously decided this precise issue, with past decisions indicating that an actual turn signal may not be necessary when the lane designation clearly allows only one legal maneuver.

Some American States do not require a turn signal in a turn-only lane, but Vermont and many other States do. Police officers in Vermont are allowed by law to perform a traffic stop whenever they have a reasonable and articulable suspicion of a Vermont traffic violation, like speeding, or a crime, such as driving under the influence. The Vermont Supreme Court reached its recent decision in Cook primarily based upon the specific wording of Vermont’s turn-signal statute. 

The Vermont Supreme Court also cited safety issues to support the decision in Cook, reasoning for example that other drivers stopped at an intersection may not be able to identify that an opposing or nearby lane is a turn-only lane. One might speculate that snowstorms and low visibility situations may also worsen a driver’s ability to perceive the designated direction of a nearby lane. 

I do not expect that this type of traffic stop will become common in Vermont. However, if a Vermont police officer decides to perform a traffic stop based upon a driver’s failure to activate their turn signal within a designated turn-only lane, that traffic stop will be upheld and the turn-signal violation is ticketable.

Attorney Fox prevails in Vermont DUI Refusal trial

Attorney Fox obtained a “not guilty” verdict on behalf of his client on a DUI-First offense trial in Vermont Superior Court this week.  The State introduced evidence that the Defendant had refused the evidentiary test and had performed poorly on the field sobriety tests.

Attorney Fox argued that you “could drive a truck through the reasonable doubt in this case” and, after 2.5 hours of deliberation, the 12 person jury agreed.

 

 

 

Proving a Vermont Marijuana DUI

Michael was unfamiliar with the rural Vermont road he was traveling on.  On his way to play some football in northern Vermont with a friend, Michael choose to make a pit stop off of exit 5 on the heavily traveled Interstate 91.

According to police affidavits, Michael was pulled over for staying in the passing lane as he approached the onramp to I-91.  The officer who pulled him over, a local sheriff’s deputy, stated that he could smell marijuana coming from the car. Michael admitted to the officer that he was in possession of under an ounce and he handed over the marijuana to the officer.

What could have resulted in a traffic ticket and a fine, turned into a criminal investigation due to the officer suspecting that Michael may be under the influence of marijuana.

Michael was subject to standard alcohol based field sobriety tests, and a roadside breath test, which showed that Michael had no alcohol in his system.

Instead of letting Michael go, the officer arrested him, alleging that he had probable cause to believe that Michael was under the influence of marijuana.  Attempts were made to contact a specially trained Drug Recognition Expert, whose 12 step evaluation is used to issue an opinion on whether a motorist is under the influence of drugs.  No such DRE was available to evaluate Michael on this evening.

Michael was subsequently lodged at the Southern State Correctional Facility, where he was released several hours later after being able to post bail.  Michael’s name and details of his arrest were released to the media and he was issued a citation to appear in court.

Michael hired an attorney and he plead not guilty.  Several months later, the State dismissed all charges against him.

Marijuana and Driving

Michael’s arrest illustrates the significant grey area surrounding marijuana use and its effect on operating a motor vehicle.  State legislators across the country are grappling with marijuana based DUIs as legalization for both medical and recreational use continues to gain momentum.

Currently 29 States have legalized medical marijuana use, while 9 States have enacted laws legalizing recreational use, with three; California, Massachusetts and Vermont enacting legalization that will take effect in 2018.

According to a recent Rand report, which was commissioned by Vermont lawmakers, household surveys found that 12 percent of Vermont’s population ages 12 and older— and nearly 30 percent of those ages 18 to 25—reported using marijuana in the past month.  “We have seen statistically speaking a slight rise in marijuana consumption over the last 15 years,” stated Ben Hansen, an economist with the University of Oregon who has conducted extensive research in the Marijuana market. “Meanwhile, tobacco and alcohol sales have been plummeting during that same time period.”

Proving a Marijuana DUI

The changing legal landscape has placed an urgency on developing reliable investigative criteria for Law Enforcement in order to support an arrest on suspicion of an operator operating under the influence of marijuana.

Vermont Bill H.501, which amended the drugged driving statute in 2013, gave law enforcement significant leeway in making arrest determination. Instead of requiring law enforcement to prove that the operator was “under the influence to a degree that renders the person incapable of driving safely”, lawmakers amended the language to only require that law enforcement prove the operator was “under the influence to the slightest degree”, which is the same standard used to charge individuals of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Lt. John Flannigan, the Drug Evaluation and Classification Coordinator for the State of Vermont, stated that the amendment has given additional power to law enforcement, that allows for the same standard to be used for all substances.  “There is no set criteria for law enforcement to reach a conclusion of impairment,” stated Flannigan, “There is no magic number of clues, in order to make an arrest, an officer must look at the totality of the circumstances”

The totality of the circumstances noted by Flannigan equates to the finding of Probable Cause which is necessary for a citizen to be arrested for suspicion of a committing a criminal offense.  The Vermont Supreme Court in the 2005 case of State v. Goldburg found that  probable cause exists when the affidavit sets forth such information that a judicial officer would reasonably conclude that a crime had been committed …” (internal citations omitted).

Much of the fact finding to support a reasonable conclusion of criminal activity falls on the shoulders of the 52 Drug Recognition Experts located within Vermont, commonly referred to as DREs. “We want to make sure that we provide specialized service to every corner of the State,” stated Lieutenant Flannigan. “We still have areas of need in the state and we are looking to fill those holes.”

Flannigan has acknowledged the evidentiary hurdles law enforcement face when investigating drugged driving cases as many of these cases hinge not only on the DRE opinion but also the results of blood tests, which can be taken several hours after a traffic stop, and analyzed several weeks after the arrest.  “It is very difficult and inefficient to get a timely sample of blood for a drugged driving case,” stated Flannigan. “We are looking at other bodily fluids that are less invasive such as the saliva test, which a lot of states appear to be moving towards.”

State legislators have begun to take steps to incorporate a roadside saliva test into Marijuana based DUIs.  The bill just recently was passed by the House of Representatives.

Although the Bill is meant to address some of the concerns associated with blood tests, the 2017 National Highway Transit Safety Association (NHTSA) report to Congress on Marijuana based DUIs has found “that saliva does not appear to an an accurate and reliable predictor of impairment from THC.”  

Flannigan argues however that these tests are merely used to confirm drug use, which taken with the other observations of a DRE are useful in establishing a case for drugged driving.

“Blood and saliva tests are excellent at identifying the drug that is causing impairment, but there is not a correlation between blood or saliva concentration and drug impairment”, stated Dr. Marilyn Huestis, former Chief of Chemistry and Drug Metabolism at the National Institute of Drug Abuse Intramural Research Program. Her research documented that small amounts of THC can be detected in chronic frequent cannabis users up to 30 days after last use. “There is no blood THC cutoff concentration that documents marijuana impairment in occasional and frequent cannabis users”, “For the occasional user, THC is out of the blood in 6-8 hours, but with the frequent user, THC can be stored for longer periods of time in fat tissue.  Having THC in the blood in the occasional user means recent use, but in the chronic user, it may not represent recent cannabis use. For this reason, I feel it is important to document impairment by a trained police officer or other witness, and then test a biological fluid (either blood or preferably oral fluid or saliva, to indicate which drug is producing the impairment.”

Marijuana and Crash Risk

The 2017 NHTSA report found that there are contradictions in the science based studies that have evaluated marijuana use and the risk it may impose on being involved in a motor vehicle crash.  Some scientific reports have found “minimal or no effect on the likelihood of crash involvement, while others have estimated a doubling in the risk of crash involvement.”

Hansen has stated that these conflicting findings may be due to the reduced risk taking behavior that those under the influence of marijuana partake in when operating a motor vehicle.  “There is limited evidence on the crash risk of marijuana influenced individuals,” stated Hansen. “What has been found is that there is a difference in risk adversity, where with alcohol you see an increase and in marijuana you see a reduction.”

Due to the limited scientific evidence, NHTSA has acknowledged that there is no set standard for marijuana impaired driving and thus, the onus for arrests falls solely on the shoulders of law enforcement.  “In 1908 the Model T was released, in 1910 we had our first drunk driving studies, the first quantification of DUI a level was in 1927 and the first drunk meters were constructed in 1938,” stated Hansen. “However, with marijuana DUIs, we are currently stuck in the 1920s scientifically.”

 

Exercise your right to remain silent when being pulled over for a Vermont traffic violation

One of the first questions that officers will ask you when they approach your vehicle is whether you know why they pulled you over.  This question is set up in a way that many motorists may feel like they must answer.  It is this initial statement, in most cases merely meant as a way to be cooperative with the officer, that can be later introduced in court and can be difficult to defend against.  Judges have found that these statements are voluntary and admissible, which means that even if all the other facts contradict the issuance of a Vermont traffic ticket or criminal citation, this statement alone can be enough to uphold a conviction.  A few tips for the roadside questioning are as follows:

  1.  Never reply with a substantive response to the question of why you think you were pulled over:  A simple “I am not sure sir” is sufficient.
  2. Make the officer’s job as easy as possible:  The less time an officer spends in your presence the better it is for both of you.  Have your license and insurance information ready, hand it to the officer as soon as he approaches the vehicle and keep the verbal exchange to a minimum.
  3. Remember, everything you say is likely being recorded:  Most officers have body cams or microphones connected to their uniforms and can catch the entire interaction between the officer and the driver.

Interacting with an officer on the roadside can be uncomfortable.  Of course you want to be polite to the officer, who is doing their job.  However, it may not be advisable to turn this cooperation into an admission, which may negatively effect any defense one may have to the issuance of a Vermont traffic ticket.

 

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.

 

 

 

Vermont attorney Evan Chadwick completes Field Sobriety Instructor Training

Evan Chadwick, the founding attorney for the Vermont DUI/Criminal Defense Law Firm of Chadwick Law, finished an intensive four day training in Alpharetta, Georgia this week to become a certified DUI field sobriety test instructor by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA).

Evan Chadwick fresh off his completion of his DUI investigation instructor course.

The training required Attorney Chadwick to complete both a practical and written exam on teaching the principals of roadside DUI investigations by law enforcement.   “I am thrilled to have taken this course”, stated Attorney Chadwick while awaiting his flight home in Atlanta, Georgia.  “The training has given me further practical experience in evaluating DUI cases, and will go a long way in ensuring that my clients, who are facing a DUI in Vermont, will be best served in their pursuit of navigating the Vermont criminal justice system”

This recent certification furthers the field sobriety and DUI investigation practical student course which Attorney Chadwick completed in September of this year and allows him to give seminars to other practicing attorneys on the ins and outs of DUI investigation and the application of the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (or SFSTs).  “The goal of any attorney should be to never stop learning”, stated Chadwick.  “Although I feel that this training gives me a wealth of knowledge in defending Vermont DUIs, I will continue to look for other ways to broaden my understanding on the complexities of Vermont DUI defense.

 

Vermont DUI attorney passes field sobriety practitioner course

Attorney Evan Chadwick recently completed a four day course that resulted in his certification as a field sobriety practitioner.  Using the same curriculum that trains all police officers, Attorney Chadwick passed both the practical and written test to earn his certification.

“The training I received is vital to my practice of Vermont DUI defense” stated Chadwick.  “By receiving the exact training law enforcement officers receive I am now able to better understand the nuances of the application of the field sobriety tests that may cause their application on the roadside to be questioned.”

Attorney Chadwick anticipates furthering his education in the near future, as he has been invited to attend the field sobriety instructor training this winter, which will allow him to apply for field instructor certification.  “Educating myself on the many facets of Vermont DUI defense has always been my long term goal” stated Chadwick.  “The more I understand the DUI investigation and where mistakes can be made, the better I can serve my clients in ensuring they receive the best defense possible”.

 

HGN-A Vermont DUI defendant’s worst and possibly best friend.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus or HGN is a key tool in law enforcement’s arsenal to investigate an alleged DUI.

Defined as the “involuntary jerking of the eyes that occurs when eyes gaze to the side” the HGN has been validated as one of the most reliable indicators of driver impairment when compared with all the other field sobriety and investigative tests officers employ while on the roadside.

If HGN is conducted correctly a 2013 San Diego validation study has found that it can be 88% accurate in detecting that a motorists BAC is above .08. The findings in an HGN test alone can give an officer the probable cause they need to arrest a motorist and bring them back to the barracks where an evidentiary breath test is taken.

As is the case with all field sobriety tests however, the key determination in the HGN is if the test was in fact administered properly according to National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) standards.

As a certified HGN practitioner who has gone through the certification process of administering the HGN, I can say with conviction that the NHTSA requirements are difficult to administer correctly in a controlled classroom environment, let alone in the wide variety of environmental conditions that an officer would face when conducting an HGN test on the roadside.

Timing, position of the stimulus (object motorist is to follow with eyes), medical conditions (such as head injuries) and the surrounding environment are but a few of the many factors that can play a role in the accuracy of the HGN. If any of these are comprised by failing to follow NHTSA guidelines, the entire test and, in turn a significant portion of the DUI investigation can be compromised, leaving serious doubt as to whether the officer has the evidence necessary to charge a motorist with DUI.

 

Beware! Increased police patrols on I-89/I-91 throughout Vermont this weekend

It is no secret that a holiday weekend brings an increase in traffic driving through the Green Mountain State.  This increase is especially felt on the two major highways which cross the State; I-89 and I-91.  As a result, Vermont Law Enforcement has made it clear that they will be increasing their presence on the highways in order to detect and deter unsafe driving behavior, with an emphasis on investigating DUIs and speeding violations.

According to the Valley News, there has been an expected dramatic surge in the number of vehicles on the road, including on I-89, which sees traffic counts of about 41,000 near the Vermont/New Hampshire state line on an average day.  This surge of traffic resulted in 100 motorists being issued tickets for speed violations and 8 for the use of hand held electronic devices during a joint task force of Vermont and New Hampshire Law Enforcement officers along the Connecticut river valley on Friday.

The interstate’s are customarily Vermont State Police turf.  Do not be surprised to see numerous green cruisers in the median along the highways this weekend.  Although safe driving is always the best defense to avoiding traffic tickets, in the event you find yourself with blue lights behind you, it is important to remember the following:

  1. Be polite;
  2. Be efficient in producing your license and insurance to the officer;
  3. Do not interrogate the officer; and
  4. Keep that PBA care in your pocket at all times and make no mention of it.

Safe travels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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”.