Any time you’re crossing the border and have to go through Customs, you may be in for a rude awakening. You may not know that you’re on a “Lookout” list of people, requiring agents to search your belongings at border checkpoints. It may not matter either way. The power of government agents to seize your electronic information at these sites – and to hold onto it for an unspecified amount of time – is virtually unlimited. [Read more…]
No one likes being pulled over by the police, at any time. Even if you weren’t doing anything wrong, or perhaps know you committed a minor traffic infraction, it can be nerve-wracking. Of course, it is even worse if you fear you may have had a couple of drinks and could be legally impaired.
However, there are both good ways of handling this experience and bad ones that can cause the situation to escalate unnecessarily. [Read more…]
Multiple offense DUI cases produced outrage in the media and among the public, and unfortunately, outrage frequently means logic and reason go out the window. [Read more…]
A prominent government agency is taking a proactive potion to tighten drunk driving laws across the nation. The federal government’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is now recommending that all 50 states adopted a new, more stringent standard for determining when someone can be convicted for DUI (driving under the influence).
At present, every state uses a blood-alcohol content (BAC) cut-off level of 0.08. Should the new proposed standard be adopted, the BAC required to convict someone would drop to 0.05.
Opposition to the Newly Proposed BAC Standard
A May 15th, 2013 CNN article states the reasoning that that the current 0.08% level is fully adequate, and there are better ways to reduce drunk driving. They believe that lawmakers should concentrate on the two following approaches.
- Assign more resources to properly punishing the country’s many repeat DUI offenders, and
- Increase the penalties for those arrested with BAC levels of 0.15 or more.
These opponents believe that more deaths can be prevented by simply taking these actions than by urging all 50 states to once again lower their BAC levels.
Activist support for this proposal is limited, as even Mothers Against Drunk Driving is not taking up this cause, although they say they are not advocating against it. Still, that’s a serious blow to this getting done.
Why Some Groups Support A Change To a Lower Legal Impairment Threshold
Proponents of this BAC change – which can only occur if each state legislature independently decides to adopt it — reference the following current facts in support of their position.
- About 10,000 Americans die each year as a result of alcohol-related crashes;
- Stated differently, drunk driving “accounts for about a third of all road deaths in the United States;”
- Over the past 30 years, more than 440,000 Americans died due to alcohol-impaired drivers;
- Many lives have been saved over the past quarter-century in this country as a result of all 50 states dropping their BAC standards for DUI from 0.15 to the current 0.08 level;
- At present, “more than 100 countries on six continents have BAC limits set at 0.05 or lower;”
- The NTSB has research indicating that “most drivers experience a decline in both cognitive and visual functions with a BAC of 0.05;”
- The NTSB estimates that adopting the new BAC of 0.05 “would save about 500 to 800 lives annually.”
A “decline in cognitive and visual function” is obviously relative. How much more dangerous is a .05% BAC driver than the average septuagenarian?
(And those “alcohol related” accident figures have always been a little suspiciously broad, but that’s another subject.)
Other NTSB Recommendations
- All states should begin letting law enforcement officers “confiscate a motorist’s license at the time of arrest if the driver exceeds a BAC limit or refuses to take the BAC test;” This is already the case in Massachusetts.
- More states should start using the new “passive alcohol sensors” that help officers making traffic stops. These sensors can be used to justify more complete testing;
- Every state should require all DUI offenders to use ignition interlock devices on their vehicles — and tighten up compliance with this requirement. Massachusetts currently requires an interlock after a 2nd offense conviction.
Even if various states choose to adopt the new BAC standard, it could take many years for all of them to enact this type of legislation. After all, it took approximately 24 years for the current BAC standard to be adopted by all 50 states.
Our position is that this would do little to increase public safety, and really doesn’t attack the problem head on. Tougher punishment for dangerous drivers with a very high BAC level, like .15% makes more sense. As well as more alcohol education and access to treatment for the large number of people with alcohol addition problems. Alcoholism leads to bad decision making and impluse control issues, which leads people to get behind the wheel when they shouldn’t.
By Elizabeth Smith
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regularly updates and publishes key information to help all of us maintain responsible driving habits. Of course, some of the most basic information – about how alcohol affects our minds and bodies does not change.
If you are having a drink or two and may drive later, it is important to know how alcohol affects you. The standard calculator for estimating Blood Alcohol Content relies on your size, the number and strength of drinks, and the time elapsed. But there are always additional variables that can influence your level of impairment (or not).
Key Facts Concerning Alcohol Metabolism
Although most people always assume they can “hold their liquor” when preparing to slide behind the wheel of a car, it’s important to keep in mind the following basic questions.
- Are you taking any new prescription or OTC (over the counter) medications? Have your prescribed doses changed recently?
- How much food have you recently consumed?
- Are you mainly drinking beer, wine or hard liquor?
- Are you currently well hydrated or have you recently worked out and failed to replenish your normal level of body fluids?
- Are you usually able to hold more or less alcohol than others of your gender?
- Has it been more than one to three hours since you last drank any alcohol? Have you eaten during that same timeframe?
- Has your food intake mainly included highly salty foods which can increase your measured blood alcohol concentration (BAC)?
- Do you currently suffer from any major liver or kidney function problems that might further impair your ability to metabolize alcohol?
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST)
Officers use these balance “tests” to attempt to objectively document how your alcohol intake has impaired you. Here are some of the three most common exercises in the field sobriety test battery.
- The HGN. The horizontal gaze nystagmus test is the one you often see used in TV and film where a subject is asked to carefully “track” the movement of an officer’s hand as he or she holds up an object and asks the detained driver to follow it. The officer is looking to see to what extent, if any, your eyes tend to “involuntarily jerk” while following the object. If you’ve had too much to drink, this “jerking” movement of your eyes will be easy to discern; The HGN test is generally NOT ADMISSABLE as evidence in Massachusetts courts, due to its highly technical nature the need for an expert to explain and verify the scientific basis for this evidence.
- The WAT. The 9 step walk-and-turn test requires to walk a straight line heel to toe; and
- The OLS. The one-leg stand is where you elevate one foot for 30 seconds to test a person’s balance and coordination.
Of course, some individuals have underlying medical conditions that can cause a person to fail these tests and create a false impression that they are drunk or inebriated; we frequently present this type of information on your behalf should your case go before a judge.
If you believe you’ve been wrongfully arrested for DUI, be sure to contact the Law Offices of Russell J. Matson to learn more about your rights and to obtain legal representation.
As marijuana is growing increasingly acceptable– with several states and locales decriminalizing it, more passing medical marijuana legislation, and a few legalizing it altogether—cops are scrambling for a way to enforce “driving while high” laws. But as of yet, they simply don’t have a solid method of testing someone for being under the influence of marijuana. One Swedish-designed device is being touted as a potential solution, but it has (at least) one serious flaw. [Read more…]
Overly aggressive cops aren’t always to blame when someone is pulled over on suspicion of DUI. In fact, some drivers practically beg for attention from law enforcement. Perhaps the best known error is driving around in a car with a broken tail light. Once the cops see one, they’ll watch you much more closely to see if there’s another, more compelling reason to pull you over. [Read more…]
Few would argue with the fact that police should catch car thieves. You’d especially agree with this if you’ve ever had a vehicle stolen. But just how important is catching a car thief? Is it worth possibly infringing on the privacy rights of others? What about people who drive on a suspended license—should cops be able to track everyone in an effort to nab some people skirting driver’s license laws?
These are important questions that must be asked as the city of Boston, and other smaller towns in Massachusetts, are becoming increasingly dependent on the use of automatic license plate recognition (APLR) technology.
“We located more uninsured vehicles in our first month…using [the camera] in one cruiser than the entire department did the whole year before,” boasted Boston PD Sergeant Robert Griffin proudly to the Boston Globe. The scanner installed on his cruiser paid itself off (to the tune of $24,000) in its first 11 days on the road.
In the next month, 21 new plate readers will be added to Boston area police departments. Really, they are being employed faster than the questions can be answered.
For instance, what care is being taken to ensure the information gathered by these instruments isn’t used in a way that violates an innocent person’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures?
Fewer than one-third of police departments using the scanners have policies in place to govern the use of the machines. This means the vast majority of departments offer no guidance as to who can see the records and how long they will be maintained.
To put it in perspective, Sgt. Griffin’s scanner can scan about 800 plates in an average hour. With nonstop scanning and many vehicles around, they can process up to 1,800 per minute. These plates are processed through the system and he is alerted if there is a stolen vehicle report or if the registered driver is uninsured. The vast majority of those scanned plates are unremarkable. But their images are still saved.
This means, the cops can filter through their system of scanned license plates to determine where someone was at a given time. Fitchburg police used this to catch a serial flasher but with no regulations on who has access, the records could be used in other, unknown capacities as well.
“The worst-case scenario — vast databases with records of movements of massive numbers of people — is already happening,” warns Kade Crockford of the ACLU- Massachusetts.
One thing police are not coming clean about is that their ALPR scanners are not just for “catching bad guys” but for generating income. And like faulty red-light and speed cameras, it’s only a matter of time before they must answer for criminalizing the masses.
As historically tough-on-crime states are beginning to strike a balance that allows for punishment without a extreme dependence on incarceration, Massachusetts is struggling to find similar footing. A new report on the state, offered by a coalition of criminal justice professionals and officials, indicates that while crime has gone down over the past several years, the percentage of people behind bars has actually increased—a serious problem to be sure. [Read more…]
Although some Massachusetts citizens are still celebrating the state’s passage of its medical marijuana law that went into effect on January 1, 2013, all of the highly detailed regulations required for running the program have not yet been finalized. However, the law only gives the state 120 days to finalize those guidelines.
According to the state’s Department of Public Health, the first draft of these regulations will be posted on the department’s website on March 29th so that thoughtful debate and discussion can take place and then close on April 20th. Hopefully, a final draft of the regulations will be passed by the Massachusetts Public Health Council on May 8th. If the council adopts the regulations that day, they will become effective on May 24, 2013.
While all of this does signify a step forward for the proponents of what the state ballot referred to as “the humanitarian medical use of marijuana,” Massachusetts citizens must keep the following key facts in mind before assuming they can immediately enjoy the open use of medical marijuana for many of their medical ailments.
Five Key Warnings about Medical Marijuana Use in Massachusetts
- The federal laws of this country still do not formally recognize “medical” marijuana. Like users in the 17 other states that have already passed medical marijuana laws, Massachusetts citizens must bear in mind that the federal government’s Office of National Drug Control Policy still holds that (a) marijuana is very likely to be abused, (b) there still isn’t widespread acceptance of marijuana in the medical community as a form of proper treatment in this country and (c) there are inadequate safety guidelines in place for physicians to properly monitor patients’ usage of the drug for their medical needs. While this same office indicates that it’s less likely to pursue those who are seriously ill, it clearly states on its website that it will very closely monitor all of those who are in the business of actually providing marijuana to patients in states that have passed “medical marijuana” laws.
- Not every medical condition qualifies a patient to use medical marijuana. Although physicians are often granted great latitude in deciding which conditions qualify patients to use “medical marijuana,” Massachusetts is mainly focused on providing it to those who are being treated for specific medical conditions. These ailments include: cancer, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma (per the state’s Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts). Anyone seeking treatment for a different ailment runs a great risk of legal complications — if not actual penalties.
- Individual prescription limitations exist. Patients are only allowed to have a 60-day supply of medical marijuana in their possession at any one time. (Slightly different regulations will govern which patients may be allowed to cultivate their own marijuana for medical usage only).
- At some point, medical marijuana users might see their driving rights challenged. The science and law of driving under the influence of marijuana is still evolving. But there is no question that it is illegal to drive while impaired by any drugs. Multiple studies keep indicating that those who smoke pot are much more likely to get into accidents than those who do not smoke it. This type of problem was clearly reviewed in a 2004 Department of Transportation study (DOT HS 809 725) and in others since, including one study noted in a February 2012 CBS News story (by Ryan Jaslow) entitled, “Marijuana-smoking Motorists Twice as Likely to Crash Cars.” While this type of challenge may not take place for a number of years, it’s still quite possible on down the road.
- There appear to be distinct health risks tied to marijuana usage. Recent medical studies clearly indicate that marijuana users, especially younger males, have a higher chance of developing testicular cancer than those who do not smoke the substance. Even the American Cancer Society is now posting this information on its website, including a September 2012 story by Stacy Simon entitled, “Study Links Marijuana Use to Testicular Cancer.”
All of these key warnings must be kept in mind as Massachusetts finalizes its regulations for medical marijuana patients within its state.
By Elizabeth Smith