The MADD Victim Impact Panel (VIP)

Mothers Against Drunk Driving… Who could argue against that? We all agree that drinking and driving is awful… what kind of awful person would go against this organization?

Well, after this whole experience… probably you.

One of the odder requirements the court has for you is to attend a MADD Victim Impact Panel (MADD VIP class).

I cannot, for the life of me, think of another instance where somebody who is sentenced for a crime has to go to a specific lobbyist organization and give money to them. Even if you’re sentenced to a rehabilitation program you don’t have to join AA, you can join AlAnon or other options that align with your views (such as one of those swanky $10,000/month outpatient treatments).

But with a DUI you’re forced to give MADD $50. There’s no other options.

I’m not here to say that MADD is a bad or even misguided organization (
there’s plenty of criticism against them here) but I will say they’ve had an overly large effect on this nation’s laws (they’re responsible for tying Federal highway funds to the .08 limit) and that requiring somebody to go to their class and pay for it seems like a kickback to me.

But who’s to say?

The Victim Impact Panel

The class you’re required to is, honestly, another waste of your time. It’s about two hours of family members describing how wonderful a loved one of theirs was, and how they lost their life, or suffered great injury, due to a drunk driver. It’s supposed to put a face to all the pain and suffering that could’ve happened due to your actions. I suppose it may be helpful to some - but with your DUI classes you’re forced to go to, you have plenty of people telling similar stories, and before too long you become completely numb to them. Perhaps it is different for people to see a person who was affected, but I’d heard enough stories at this point. I got it. I understood.

It’s an uncomfortable event and it’s best to just put your head down and get it over with. The important thing is to pre-register for the class (you really don’t want to show up and for it to be full so that you have to go again), and to show up on time.
DO NOT BE LATE. BE EARLY. PLAN FOR MISERABLE PARKING. If you’re late you may not be allowed in, and your pre-payment will not transfer to your new time. When I went they did not allow pre-payments and you had to get a money order to attend. Ridiculous. Now they allow credit cards for pre-registrations, but if you decide to show up you need a money order. It feels that we should be past being unable to take forms of payment in this day and age, especially for something you’re forced to do, but apparently not.

Get there early, check in (bring whatever you’re using as an ID), and then get comfy. Bathroom breaks are regimented so that people don’t hide out there. Don’t sleep, don’t be on your phone. If the people running it feel that you are not paying adequate attention they can refuse to honor your attendance. Be awake, pay attention, don’t chance it. It’s long, but not the longest thing in the world. Get through it. Clap when everybody else does. Look miserable (ok, that part is not hard). The best trick I can tell you: sit in the first three or four rows. They usually get out earlier since everybody tries to sit in the back or middle. Be a good student.

Once your lecture is over, you’ll be dismissed by rows, sent to a single file line where you’ll be greeted by every speaker, who is sure to give you a look like you’re a complete jerk. It’s a humiliating process, and that’s what they want it to be. Look them back, say “sorry for your loss” or “thank you for sharing”, be polite, be gracious. It’s almost over.

They’ll then lead you to a person who you’ll give your name and show your ID to again. Then they will ask you to make a donation - you've already paid $50 and an evening for this, so I declined. If you feel it was worth more, then do what you will. I can't imagine paying on top of this, however.

Then the big moment comes: They give you your completion certificate. Hold on to this with your life. If you lose it they might make you take it again. Or they might make you pay $25. Depends on how “generous” the MADD branch is. Either way, it’s very valuable. Take a picture of it. You’ll then either give it to your lawyer to file, or turn it in to the court yourself. Get a receipt.

It’s a ridiculous event they make you attend, and I do not know how much it helps anything. It’s absurd to force people to patronize a specific organization, and unbelievable that they’d make you go to something to shame you.

But there’s no choice.

Get it over with, get it out the way, and move on. Turn the paper in, check off the box.

You’re one step closer to being free of this.

On Probation

On Probation

Hi everyone. Been a while, I know. Truth of the matter is that once you’re sentenced, you’ve done your classes, gotten rid of your interlock, got your license back, life continues where you left off. Sure, your insurance is still high, but there’s an end in sight.

You might not believe this, but there comes a time when you
hardly even think about your DUI.

It’s a good feeling. It’s a weird feeling.

Probation in CA lasts for three years. Throughout my journey with the DUI I kept getting different answers as to when it started. In my final assessment, my DUI class instructor told me that it started from the date of arrest. That made me feel better. It did not turn out to be the case. You’re on
probation as soon as you get arrested, but it doesn’t count towards your probation. Would’ve been nice if it did, but, alas, it’s just how things go.

My lawyer told me it would start from the day I was
sentenced. This seemed to make sense, but this, too, wasn’t quite the case. One day a few weeks ago, I decided to call up the DMV and double check (always a good idea) to make sure that my probation had passed like it should have. It did. Just my last day of probation was a month and a half later than I had calculated.

No idea why, and there’s really nothing I could’ve done about it. Can you imagine calling the DMV, “Hi, while I didn’t violate my probation, can you retroactively make my probation have ended earlier?”

If I had to do it again, which I’m trying my damnedest not to, I would’ve gotten my lawyer or called myself to find a definitive date that my probation was over. Would’ve had a small little celebration to myself when midnight ticked over on the clock when it happened (not drinking and driving, of course).

The probation you go on for your first DUI (and possibly others) is called “Summary Probation”, which basically means “don’t fuck up or we’ll throw the book at you”. There’s no expensive probation officer, which is probably the first time they let you not have another fee they could charge you. No PO, no checking in, nothing like that. Just don’t mess up.

Additionally you can't refuse a field sobriety test, and your odds of getting picked at a
DUI checkpoint raise if they're checking plates (although I cruised through two, sober, without being tested).

So what is messing up?

Some people believe it’s committing any crime, but that’s not quite it. My lawyer told me that he had somebody arrested for shoplifting while on DUI probation and the court didn’t care, didn’t consider it a violation. (
Update: I have been told in other states that this will trigger a violation, so best to keep clean as a whistle) While this blog does not condone shoplifting or any other crimes in any way whatsoever, you should know what scrutiny you’re under.

This probation deals with alcohol and driving - basically you can’t get caught with even a drop of alcohol in your blood when you’re driving or else you’ll face some consequences (and remember, you can't refuse a test). The common thing to say is that it’s another DUI even if you’re at .0001, but that’s not true either. They can only give you a DUI if you’re over .08 (.05 now in some places), otherwise it’s “just” a probation violation, which means more school, more money paid, more probation. If you’re above .08 you get a DUI on top of that. Not good.

Other traffic infractions are fine. This I can verify personally - I did receive a parking ticket, and an out-of-state speeding ticket (14 over on the highway, bullshit speed trap), and neither affected my probation or caused any additional consequences (and yes, I was sweating bullets when pulled over on that highway and very worried about if this counts as a violation. Next rest stop I did a lot of googling until I calmed down enough to continue on my trip.)

Any sort of aggravated driving, road rage, that sort of thing takes you into the “maybe” territory. It’s all up to a judge and the system, and by this point you know how it goes. If they can, they usually will. You might catch a break, probably not, depends on a lot of things out of your control, and how you handle yourself around them. Bottom line: I wouldn’t depend on anything.

Your Summary Probation basically comes down to two tenets:
  1. Don’t drink and drive
  2. Don’t be an asshole.

Seems easy enough. But three years is a long, long time. It gets harder and harder the longer you are from your DUI. Drinks after work, wine with a meal, beer at a ballgame. The temptations are everywhere. And if you’re like me, and haven’t quit drinking, you’ll eventually indulge yourself.

“A beer or two won’t hurt, not like I’m getting drunk, not like that night”

And then you wait a little bit, don’t get ‘one more for the road’, call it early.

And then you get in your car, and you head home. With just a little bit in your system. Nothing too bad, just a little bit.

And then a cop gets behind you.

And then you start sweating, worrying. Praying that your tail light is working, making sure your seat belt is fastened tight.

And the cop keeps following you, and you start worrying if he is playing games with you, you’re worrying that he somehow knows that you’re in violation.

You turn off the radio, you pay the best attention you can, and then eventually the cop turns down another road, and you let out a big sigh of relief.

Then two weeks later your friend asks you to happy hour.

And you start to sweat again, and think about what could happen.

This is what it’s like. It’s easy in that you don’t really have to do anything except not mess up. It’s hard in that our society practically pushes people to drink and drive. Odds are you’re reading this because you went to a social function, or did something that we’re told is how you relax. You felt fine because we don’t teach people how alcohol affects the body and it’s impossible to “feel” what your BAC level is. We make fun of people who use breathalyzers, and everyone condemns drinking and driving but nearly everyone does it.

You’re going to find yourself in a lot of situations where you will be tempted to violate your probation. I suggest
knowing your BAC by using a portable breathalyzer, or taking an Uber or Lyft.

Looking over your shoulder for cops all the time sucks.

Some lawyers will offer you a service to where they can reduce your probation, usually take off the third year. I didn’t go for this, they wanted a thousand dollars for it, and I’d spent enough. Instead, I went through the whole thing. The theory is they cite your fulfilling all your commitments and use your two years (one and a half in some cases) of not violating probation as evidence that you won’t violate it for the next. Works some times, doesn’t work others. I decided to stick it out, a thousand dollars buys a lot of Lyfts, and I can refuse one last round and wait it out.

And so I did.

And now I’m free.

Reader, I can’t tell you how good it feels to be free of the system to come this far. Now I just have to get past the 3-year anniversary of finalizing my suspension to get my insurance rates to fall to normal and then… it’s all behind me.

The journey is long, and it’s hard, but just take it one step at a time, and you can get through it. It costs a lot, and it takes up a lot of time, but you can get through it.

You can Survive a DUI.

Guest Post: Ways to Challenge Breathalyzer Test

I received an email via my contact page from John Adam, who wanted to wanted to give some perspective on how to challenge the Breathalyzer test. Interesting stuff - Tom

The use of breath to determine the blood alcohol level of a person is the most popular scientific method in DUI cases. There are many cases, when the wrong Breathalyzer tests cause the person, under suspicion of driving while drinking, face DUI charges. Breathalyzer results are inaccurate because of certain problems with calibrations or if there is an untrained police officer using the device.

The prosecuting party has to prove in the court that the defendant’s BAC was at or above the legal limit. In a few states, it is .10% while in others it is .08%. When the person is wrongfully charged on the basis of defective Breathalyzer tests, the defendant needs a
DUI attorney to challenge the Breathalyzer test in court.

The Burden of Proof in Challenging the Results:
Under the wrongful DUI charges, the defendant must prove that these charges are invalid for the conviction. This is possible when the attorney convinces the court that there is a lack of strength in evidence or it is insufficient to convict the accused. The defense team may focus on the witness statement and evidence without having the burden of proof. When the defense refutes the proof and demonstrates that the prosecution has not strengthened in the case, this may help in dismissing the
charges.

Use of Breathalyzer:
There are many cases when the Breathalyzer is not used properly. The police officer uses the device inaccurately given improper maintenance, training or calibration, which gives the inaccurate results. When the prosecuting party has Breathalyzer results as the only evidence, by only refuting this proof it becomes easy as well as effective to defend the person from the conviction. However, in this case, the defense team needs the help of an expert in these devices or understands well the proper calibration to give accurate results.

Training of the Police Officer:
In many cases, the police officer who pulls over the driver on suspicion of being under the influence of drug or alcohol, may not be properly trained to conduct a Breathalyzer test or use the device. The device cannot provide the results if the officer does not use it accurately. There are certain rules for this such as observing the driver for twenty minutes to determine whether the results are accurate or not. Moreover, the office is supposed to check the intestinal health of the accused or alcohol in the mouth.

Calibration:
Breathalyzers have settings as well as calibrations that need regular maintenance and understanding. In case the officer in charge is unaware of how to set the device and keeps it maintained, the device can produce the wrong results.

Few devices need to be repaired and parts replaced. In case of lack of knowledge about taking care of the device, there will be inaccurate results leading to wrong DUI charges. Not only one, but all or most of the arrest will be affected.

Challenging the Results Varies According to the Case:
In addition to the above-mentioned ways, there are other ways to challenge the Breathalyzer tests. For instance, the accused may have a special condition that could lead to the retention of the alcohol in his or her system that brings wrong results. This is another effective to challenge the results and refute the charges completely.

Other factors involved, the environmental temperature and pressure in the atmosphere, and the chemical composition of the person taking the test. This refers to the emotional stress and physical activity, hyperventilating, heavy breathing due to anxiousness.

Given these several factors, the results are inaccurately measured. This is the reason few of the DUI cases involve expert witness who gives the testimony about the inaccuracy of the device with incorrect results. The DUI attorney must present the valid argument based upon these facts and evidence.

Final Word:
The defendant needs the support of the lawyer to challenge the Breathalyzer tests, as the attorney is skilled in dealing with such cases and will guide according to the given circumstances.

Adding an FAQ...

Adding an FAQ section to the site, hoping to clear up a lot of the myths, rumors, and misconceptions about the DUI process.

What are your questions? What false ideas did you have? What did you wish you had known?

I'll try to answer everything I can. Please
send me an email and I'll try to answer.

Thanks,
Tom

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