What to expect in a Vermont DUI prosecution

Part 2  of the series on the Vermont DUI Process

Following the DUI investigation and the receipt of a citation, which tells you the date and time of the initial hearing on a DUI, the case turns from an investigation, into a prosecution.  For Vermont DUIs, the initial hearing is termed as an arraignment, which essentially means that it is the starting point of where the police officer’s work concludes and the Vermont State’s attorney’s work begins.  This article will touch on the basics of the formal process and give defendants a general idea of what to expect while their Vermont DUI winds its way through the court system.

Arraignment

The arraignment is where the defendant and their attorney are provided with the initial paper work (i.e. evidence) that supports the charge.  Affidavits from police, criminal background checks of all witnesses and other supporting documents are customarily produced at this hearing.  This packet of information does not constitute all of the evidence that the prosecution may rely on, but it serves as a good starting point for a defendant to understand what facts are being alleged and by whom.

After having time to review this information, the defendant and his/her counsel will appear before the judge and enter their plea to the charge.  If a not-guilty plea is entered, the judge will set a time for the parties to return to court and may also issue conditions that the defendant will need to comply with during the pendency of the case.  These conditions can range from informing your attorney of a change in address and coming to court when your told to do so, to checking in on a daily basis to a local police station to be subject to a breathalyzer.  The severity of the condition will be heavily dependent on the defendant’s personal circumstances and their prior criminal history.

The Discovery Phase

The 60-90 days between hearings affords both sides to the case time to review the evidence and request that additional information be provided, such as police video tapes, expert reports and other evidence that either supports or refutes the allegations.  This is also the time that motions to suppress evidence or dismiss the case can be filed.  If a motion is filed, the Court can either rule based on the motion itself, or set the matter for a hearing.  If a hearing is set, this will likely push back the date of the calendar call or pre-trial conference until after the motion has been ruled on.

Pre-Trial/Calendar Call

After all legal issues are settled and, if the case has not been dismissed, the pre-trial/calendar call represents a chance for the state and defendant to come together to see if a resolution can be reached.  This hearing can last several hours as there are numerous cases that are heard during the same time block.   It is not an ideal situation for any defendant to be place in a crowded court room while they wait for their attorney to report to them the substance of their discussions with the State.

If it is clear however, that a deal will not be reached at this hearing, a lot of time can be saved if it is reported to the judge early on that the case should be scheduled for its next hearing.  This will allow the defendant to leave the courthouse and for discussions between the State and defense counsel to occur off the record at another time.

Final Jury Call/Final Calendar Call

This hearing, in theory, is the last chance for a defendant and the state to reach an agreement before a jury is drawn and a trial occurs.  In reality, given the court schedule and the backlog of cases waiting for trial, the first final jury call/final calendar call will likely not be the last chance, to settle a case before a jury is draw.  In similar fashion to the pre-trial conference/calendar call, a defendant’s case will be one of many heard that day and again may entail a lot of waiting while the state’s attorneys meet with defense attorneys and self-reporesented individual to discuss settlement.

Settlement or Trial

If the Vermont DUI case is not dismissed, there will come a time in the prosecution where  the defendant will need to choose between settling the case or  trial.  Regardless of what advice a Vermont DUI attorney gives, the ultimate choice on whether to settle or go to trial falls on the shoulders of the defendant.  Depending on the court calendar and the facts of the case, a defendant  may have up to a year before they are forced to make this decision.  However, when and what decision to make will fall solely on the individual facts of the case and the final determination by the defendant.

 

 

What to expect in a Vermont DUI investigation

For many facing a DUI first offense, this experience is the first time they have ever come into serious contact with law enforcement.  If arrested for a DUI-first offense in Vermont the initial handcuffing and ride in the back of a police cruiser certainly is enough to scare most otherwise law abiding citizens straight.  However, the initial contact with law enforcement, the roadside field sobriety tests and the breathalyzer submitted on the roadside are only the first steps in what can be a multi-hour process that constitutes the DUI-first offense investigation process in the State of Vermont.

The Processing

Once arrested, a defendant will be brought back to the arresting agencies barracks, where they will be submitted to a lengthy processing.  It is at this stage where many officers will shore up the evidence in their case, and it is where many defendants, mostly due to their unfamiliarity with the process, will end up incriminating themselves and thus reducing or eliminating all together the potential legal defenses they may have to the charge.

Miranda Rights

The first step in the processing is for the officer to issue the all too famous Miranda warnings, informing the defendant of their rights prior to interrogating them.  To boil down the rights afforded to defendants pursuant to the landmark Miranda v. Arizona case of 1966, it was found that:

The prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way, unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination. Pp. 444-491.

Simply put, if a Defendant is taken into custody they do not need to answer questions and cannot be punished due to their exercising this right.

In most Vermont DUI-first offense cases, the defendant wishes to be cooperative because they think they can curry favor with the officer and maybe handed a break.  There is a difference between being polite and courteous to the officer and being cooperative.  Certainly officers deserve a defendant’s courtesy however, they do not deserve a defendant’s cooperation.  A simple, “I would like to exercise my right to remain silent sir” achieves both purposes after an officer reads Miranda and protects the Defendant from providing evidence that will affect the outcome of their case later on.

Implied Consent

Officers are required to read from a prepared statement a defendant’s implied consent rights under the Vermont DUI statute (Title 23).  These rights inform the defendant of their right to either refuse or submit to a breath test at the station and the consequences of each decision.  For most officers, the breath test is the defining evidence in a Vermont DUI investigation and thus choosing to submit or refuse to a datamaster test may be the biggest decision the defendant makes.

Exercise right to consult with an attorney

Before deciding to either take or refuse a breath test, a defendant has a right to consult with an attorney of their choosing or with an on call public defender.  CONSULTING WITH AN ATTORNEY PRIOR TO DECIDING ON WHETHER TO TAKE THE BREATH TEST IS CRUCIAL BE SURE TO EXERCISE THIS RIGHT!

An experienced attorney can go through the evidence that the officer currently has and can give sound advice as to whether the breath test may help or hurt the defendant in their defense of the charge and what risks are being run for either determination.  Further, the attorney can go back through the implied consent rights to ensure the defendant understands them fully so they can make an educated decision based on the entire picture.

Notice of Intent to Suspend 

If a defendant submits to the breath test and the reading is above a .08 of if the defendant refuses to submit to the test, the officer will issue defendant with a notice of intent to suspend.  This is a form that carries a white and yellow copy.  A DEFENDANT HAS 7 DAYS TO REQUEST a hearing on the license suspension.  If they do not, their right to operate a motor vehicle in Vermont will be suspended on a date certain that is defined in the notice.  It is important for a defendant to preserve their right to a hearing on the civil suspension and thus, sending in the request immediately after being released is a crucial element of the DUI process

Citation

After the processing is complete, an officer will issue a defendant a citation to appear in court.  This gives the date and time and location of where the initial court hearing will take place.  In many cases this arraignment is held during the middle of the working week and can pose significant issues to the defendant, especially if they live far from the courthouse.  Seeking a waiver of one’s personal appearance is not out of the question if the defendant engages an attorney prior to the arraignment date.  This attorney in many cases can seek court approval for the attorney to appear in defendant’s stead, thus relieving the defendant from taking a day off of work to make the trip for what is a relatively brief initial hearing.

In the next post, we will discuss the actual prosecution of the DUI case, the timelines associated with the court process and a discussion on what potential outcomes may arise based on the facts of the case.

 

 

Will my insurance company know about my Vermont traffic ticket?

One major question many non-Vermont residents ask when they are facing a traffic ticket in Vermont is whether their insurance carrier will be notified of the violation.  There is not a clear answer to this question, as each insurance company’s policy differs with regards to how often they run a motorists DMV record.  However, the State of Vermont has made it incredibly easy for any legitimate insurance company, employer or other agency to quickly gain access to a motorist’s Vermont DMV violation record.

The State of Vermont has partnered with Vermont Information Consortium, LLC to set up a portal that, for a $75 annual fee, allows for most any legitimate business, to check an individual’s driving or criminal record.  There are no cumbersome forms to fill out, or significant lag time between the request and production of the record.  All the company needs is the driver’s name and date of birth and they can quickly review whether that individual has been convicted of violating any traffic laws in the State of Vermont.

Many may believe that if they do not reside in the State of Vermont, that their motor vehicle violation can remain their secret if they just pay the fine and move on.  However, with the ever improving technology of State agencies, no motorist is free from the ever watching eye of those companies who may profit off finding a record of a motorists violations.

Expanding the Vermont Traffic Stop: Know your Rights

Most people are unaware of the law related to illegal expansion following a motor vehicle stop. The police routinely perform motor vehicle stops on motorists in Vermont, which can often result in a Vermont speeding ticket, some other Vermont traffic ticket, or a criminal citation related to DUI. Most often, it is the quality of the driving itself that alerts the police to a particular vehicle. But what happens if the police use a minor traffic violation, and the resulting motor vehicle stop, as a mechanism to investigate the driver or passengers pertaining to issues that are unrelated to a Vermont speeding ticket or Vermont traffic ticket?

The vast majority of motor vehicle stops in Vermont are related to speeding and minor traffic infractions. But once a motor vehicle stop has occurred, the police are only permitted to investigate and inquire about issues directly related to the reason for the stop. They are not allowed to detain you any longer than it takes for them to issue you the ticket.

Does this mean that, following a stop based upon a speeding infraction, an officer would be forced to ignore and walk away from the obvious open alcohol container, plainly visible illegal substances, or a driver who appeared visibly intoxicated? No! The driver or occupants would clearly be in more trouble. However, if the police make no such observations, they are not allowed to use this opportunity to further inquire about other potential criminal or wrongful conduct. This is an illegal expansion.

At Chadwick Law, we not only specialize in defending Vermont speeding tickets and Vermont traffic tickets, we specialize in challenging illegal expansions. As a motorist in Vermont, be aware of your rights. If you are pulled over related to a Vermont speeding ticket or Vermont traffic ticket, politely decline to engage in conversation of issues that are not related to the stop itself and decline any requested searches. The common result of challenging a case due to an officer’s illegal expansion of a stop is that the criminal charge is dismissed. Protect yourself with awareness.

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.

 

 

What type of insurance hit can I expect from a Vermont moving violation

The fine and the points associated with a traffic ticket only tell a small part of the total monetary story.  The financial consequences of a Vermont moving violation can encompass much more then the fine itself.  One of the biggest concerns for motorists is what type of rate increase they should expect from their auto insurance if their carrier catches wind that the motorist has been convicted of a Vermont DUI or moving violation.

According to a report written by Bankrate.com a  single speeding ticket alone can carry with it between a 19-23% hike in insurance rates.   While a DUI carries with a 93% hike, while reckless driving such as texting while driving can bring with it rate increases as much as 82%.

What is even worse for those with less the pristine driving records is that if you add up a few of these violations, many insurance companies will refuse to even offer you insurance.

Based on the real and substantial consequences of even the most benign of traffic violations, it is important for motorists to calculate what the actual cost of that Vermont DUI, speeding ticket or reckless driving conviction could bring before determining whether or not it is worth the effort and expense of fighting it in the hopes of mitigating or eliminating the collateral consequences.