Can the DMV penalize someone for a DUI in Los Angeles based upon a police officer’s observation of their behavior? Can you lose your license even if your blood alcohol content is borderline for a DUI charge?
A ruling earlier this year by the California State Supreme Court in the case of Ashley Coffey vs. Shiomoto permits the use of circumstantial evidence to support the finding of DUI when the DMV is ruling on a license suspension.
The case involved Ashley Jourdan Coffey’s appeal of her loss of license after a DUI conviction. Police officers stopped her after observing her weaving in and out of traffic lanes around 1:30 a.m. in the morning of November 13, 2011. Coffey claimed that she had been in a bar celebrating her birthday—but not drinking. The officers who spoke with her observed several behaviors that suggested otherwise. Her breath smelled like alcohol, her eyes were red and watery and she failed several roadside sobriety tests.
Police gave Coffey a breathalyzer test about an hour after pulling her over. It measured .08—just at the legal limit. A test three minutes later showed a BAC of 0.09.
Coffey chose to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving. But she appealed the suspension of her license by the DMV, bringing in an expert who opined that Coffey’s BAC was below 0.08 at the time she was stopped by the police.
The DMV administrative hearing officer discounted the expert’s testimony and upheld the license suspension based in part upon the officers’ observations of Coffey at the scene.
Coffey appealed the decision, but the Supreme Court judges sided with the DMV. While the court said that the DMV should take the expert’s opinion into account, the agency also had the right to rely on the circumstantial evidence surround her arrest.
Unless the legislature intervenes, this case could make it easier for anyone charged with DUI to lose their licenses in cases when the BAC results are questionable. Under California Vehicle Code, you have only 10 days after a DUI arrest to request an administrative hearing on a license suspension.
Call Michael Kraut of the Kraut Criminal & DUI Lawyers to schedule a free consultation with a qualified Los Angeles DUI defense attorney. Mr. Kraut is a Harvard Law School educated ex-prosecutor with nearly 20 years of experience and an excellent track record for getting justice for DUI defendants.