Director Must Prove Elements Of Refusal Of Breath Test In DWI Cases

In a recent decision, the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the standard required for the Director of Revenue to prove in DWI cases involving an alleged refusal to submit to a breath test.  The case was Ryan McPhail v. Director of Revenue (ED101307, from December 2014).  The Appellant, McPhail, argued that the Director had not proved he refused to submit to a breath test under RSMo. 577.041.1.  The Appellate Court agreed with him.

The facts were as follows.  The police officer conducted a traffic stop after observing a vehicle swerving and hitting parked cars.  The officer told the driver to get out and sit on the curb, and then told him to get his license and insurance.  The officer claimed he noticed signs of impairment, like slurred speech and stumbling; he asked McPhail to perform sobriety tests and take a breath test, and McPhail allegedly refused.  He was then arrested.

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For A DUI Stop, Police Need “Reasonable Suspicion” Of Criminal Activity

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Every now and then, a DUI decision comes along that sums up a very important point of law. One of these decisions came down in January 2015 from the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District.

If the police wish to stop a motorist for a suspected DUI, they must have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.  Stops based on mere curiosity, or based on pretexts, are not legally valid.  This was the rule that the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District recently (2014) reminded the legal community of.  The case was State v. Cardwell (WD76791), on appeal from Cole County, Missouri.  After a bench trial, Mr. Cardwell was convicted of driving while intoxicated under Section 577.010 of RSMo.  On appeal he argued that the trial court should have granted his motion to suppress evidence. The Court of Appeals agreed with Cardwell and reversed the conviction.

Cardwell had filed a motion to suppress evidence during the case.  He argued that, because the officer who stopped him did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to do so, all evidence obtained thereafter should be suppressed. His motion was denied, and he was convicted.  When the officer initiated the stop, Cardwell argued, he did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that Cardwell’s behavior suggested that he may be involved in illegal activity.  Thus the officer’s stop and seizure of Cardwell was unreasonable, and evidence obtained thereafter should have been suppressed.

The officer testified that when he first stopped Cardwell, he observed Cardwell to have watery, bloodshot eyes, could smell the odor of alcohol from his car, and Cardwell admitted to the officer that he had been drinking.  But the real issue, the Court found, was whether Cardwell should have been stopped in the first place.

The testimony of the police officer was the heart of the case.  The officer testified that on September 16, 2011, he was on his way to assist another officer, at approximately 1:00 in the morning, when he observed a vehicle in front of him traveling “very slow.”  The road was  gravel and “not a very wide road.” He testified that he quickly caught up with the vehicle, which was traveling in front of him and going in the same direction. The officer testified that the vehicle then stopped in the right hand lane and the driver motioned for him to go around and left him room to do so.

The officer said he instead chose to “check on the driver, make sure everything was okay[,]” and so he turned his lights on “so that he would know that it was a deputy behind him and that it wasn’t someone that was possibly a threat to him and also as a warning beacon to anyone else that would come up behind us or a beacon for other deputies should I need help.” At that point, the officer testified that he contacted the driver and had him show his driver’s license. The officer said although Cardwell then told him he was fine, he could smell alcohol coming from inside the vehicle.

The officer said he had not observed the vehicle commit any traffic offense. The officer testified that most people do not drive fifty-five miles per hour on a gravel road, indicating his perspective that driving slower than that was not “unusual conduct which [would] lead[] him reasonably to conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot, as required for the existence of reasonable suspicion.

Cardwell was detained when the officer activated his emergency lights. At that moment, the Court noted, a reasonable person would have believed he was not free to leave.  From looking at the entire circumstances, the Court found nothing to indicate that the detention of Cardwell was justified in the first place.  In other words, the officer had no reason to believe that criminal activity was in progress or had occurred. The detention and the arrest never should have occurred.

The Court summed up its position with this brief but succinct expression of the law in this area.  It is worth quoting here:

However, “whether an officer lacked reasonable suspicion ‘turns on an objective assessment of the officer’s actions in light of the facts and circumstances confronting him at the time and not on the officer’s actual state of mind at the time the challenged action was taken.’” Id. (quoting Maryland v. Macon, 472 U.S. 463, 470–71 (1985)) (emphasis added). An objective assessment of the events leading to Sergeant Huffman’s [the officer conducting the stop] stop of Cardwell fails to reveal any specific and articulable facts and rational inferences therefrom that would reasonably warrant the stop. Driving slowly on a rural gravel road in the early morning, coming to a stop when quickly approached from behind by another vehicle, and motioning the approaching vehicle to go around with adequate room to do so does not constitute “unusual conduct” leading reasonably to a conclusion that criminal activity is taking place. There was no indication Cardwell’s vehicle was in any way disabled or that Cardwell was in need of help. In fact, Cardwell waved the officer on.

Taking all of the circumstances into consideration, then, the Court was able to find that the officer never should have stopped Cardwell in the first place.  Why?  He had no reason to.  There was no indication that anything of a criminal nature had happened or would happen. The law is clear on this point, and it is good for law enforcement to be reminded of it.  For this reason, the Court reversed Caldwell’s conviction.

Read More:  The Field Sobriety Test In A DUI Or DWI Case

Kansas City Missouri Municipal Court: An Overview

The Kansas City Municipal Division is part of Judicial Circuit 16.  The courthouse is located at 1101 Locust, Kansas City MO  64106.  It hears misdemeanors, infractions, and even housing code violations cases that arise out of incidents alleged to have occurred in the metropolitan Kansas City Missouri area.  It has eleven courts that deal with such cases, and the courts are indicated by letter (Courtroom A through K).  Persons who have received a citation or a summons to the the KCMO Municipal Court should look at their documentation carefully to make sure that they know when and where their court date is.  If you do not have your paperwork, your attorney can find this information out for you.

It is important to have an attorney when dealing with issues in KCMO Municipal Court.  Too often, people make the mistake of not doing this, and then find out later that big problems have been created.  In addition, having and attorney can do the following for you:  (1) Work on withdrawing active warrants and getting you a court date; (2) Changing the time and date of your current court date.  For many people, having these things done is an important part of the preliminary matters surrounding a case.  Under the “add on” system, and depending on the nature of the case, your attorney can often resolve your issue without you having to be there in court.

The Municipal Court should not be confused with the Jackson County Circuit Court itself, which is located near the Municipal Court but hears different types of cases.

Read More:  Overland Park Municipal Court:  An Overview

Overland Park Municipal Court: An Overview

The Overland Park Municipal Court is located at the W. Jack Sanders Justice Center, 12400 Foster, Overland Park KS 66213.  The court handles misdemeanor and infraction cases that arise out of the City of Overland Park.  It should be distinguished from the Johnson County District Court system, which is located in Olathe, Kansas.  If you have been issued a summons or ticket, you should review it carefully to make sure that your case is actually being held in the Overland Park Justice Center.  There are a great number of municipal courts in the greater Kansas City area, and confusion frequently arises about the location of a case.

It is strongly advised that a person have the assistance of legal representation in Overland Park Municipal Court. Issues can arise that affect a person’s legal rights in significant ways, and to proceed without the assistance of counsel is asking for trouble.  It is important to point out that not all courts have the same “personality” or organizational culture.  People with no exposure or experience with Overland Park Municipal Court are often surprised at the formality and rigor with which it is conducted, when compared to smaller municipal courts in the area.  For this reason, a person should not be proceeding without representation.  If you get legal representation, Overland Park Municipal Court has a special “attorney docket” where your attorney can confer with the city prosecutor about your case.  An attorney experienced in municipal court practice can help you resolve your case in the best way possible for you.

Read More:  Drug Crimes In Kansas City

Drunk Driving Debts And Bankruptcy In Kansas And Missouri

Section 523(a) of the Bankruptcy Code deals with various types of nondischargeable debt.  On of the subsections of Section 523(a) addresses the matter of a debt for “death of personal injury caused by the debtor’s operation of a motor vehicle, vessel, or aircraft if such operation was unlawful because the debtor was intoxicated from using alcohol, a drug, or another substance.”  11 U.S.C. §523(a)(9).  In other words, Section 523(a)(9) deals with certain types of debts arising from drunk driving.  While this type of debt is not common, it is important to spot it when it does arise.

The intent behind Section 523(a)(9) was to allow victims (or their families) of drunk driving crimes to pursue wrongful death or other civil actions against persons who may have committed drunk driving offenses.  Unlike some other nondischargeability provisions under Section 523(a), Section 523(a)(9) is “self-executing”, meaning that a victim creditor is not required to file an adversary proceeding to seek a determination of nondischargeability.  There is no requirement that the debtor actually be convicted of a DUI or DWI offense in state or municipal court.  A creditor seeking to use Section 523(a)(9) need only show that (1) the debtor was “intoxicated” within the meaning of state law; (2) the debtor was “operating” a motor vehicle or other type of vehicle while intoxicated; and (3) that the claim for personal injury or death resulted proximately from such conduct.

Despite the current climate of aggressive prosecution and enforcement of DUI and DWI offenses, the bankruptcy code construes exceptions to discharge strictly against creditors.  In other words, there is a presumption that debts should be discharged, and that a creditor seeking prevent this will have an uphill battle.  As far as Section 523(a)(9) is concerned, the burden is on the creditor to prove each and every element of nondischargeability by a “preponderance of the evidence.”  This is not an easy matter.  In Re Race, 198 B.R. 740 (W.D. Mo. 1996).

For the purposes of §523(a)(9), the most commonly encountered vehicle will of course be an automobile.  But motor boats also fall under this section, as well as airplanes and even snowmobiles.  In Re Race, 198 B.R. 740 (W.D. Mo 1996).  Incredibly, a bankruptcy court had to rule on whether a “horse and buggy” was considered to be a vehicle under §523(a)(9).  Not surprisingly, it ruled that it did not qualify as a vehicle.  In Re Schumucker, 409 B.R. 477 (N.D. IN 2007).

How, then, does the bankruptcy court determine whether the debtor’s operation of the vehicle was in violation of Section 523(a)(9)?  The court must apply state law, as a first matter.  Every state has its own requirements for what constitutes intoxication, and the bankruptcy court will defer to these standards.  In Re Spencer, 168 B.R. 142 (N.D. Tx, 1994).  The bankruptcy court must be convinced that the debtor was legally “intoxicated” under state law, and that the liability for the personal injuries resulted from such conduct.  If these state law issues have already been determined in another judicial proceeding, there is a good chance that the principles of res judicata and estoppel will preclude these issues from being tried over again.  This can be a slippery matter, however, because frequently in state or municipal court, actual judicial determinations on DUI/DWI issues may not have been made.

It is important to note that Section 523(a)(9) only applies to damages traceable to “personal injuries.”  In other words, drunk driving damages that may arise from damage to property, or from punitive damages awards, will not be covered under this section.  Thus there can arise the situation where the property damage debt is discharged, but the personal injury debt is not.  Regarding punitive civil damages, there are two different lines of reasoning that have developed.  Some courts have held that Section 523(a)(9) was intended to apply to debts directly resulting from personal injury; therefore, punitive damages from drunk driving personal injury claims would be nondischargeable.  In Re Dale, 199 B.R. 1014 (S.D. FL, 1995).

Other courts have ruled differently, holding that punitive damages do not have anything to do with personal injuries, and are therefore dischargeable.  In the rare situation where this type of debt comes up in a case, it will be important to probe into the circumstances of the incident, and to examine the nature of the claim against the debtor.  It is critical in these situations to examine in detail the nature of any civil judgment that may have been awarded against a bankruptcy debtor, in order to determine what (if anything) might be nondischargeable.

Read More:  Title Loans And Bankruptcy In Kansas City

Using Intoxication As A Defense In Kansas And Missouri

It sometimes happens that accusations of crimes happen when one or more parties are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  Sometimes this intoxication is voluntary (i.e., a person knowingly and deliberately consumed intoxicants) and sometimes it is involuntary (i.e., a person was given intoxicants without his or her knowledge).

Suppose, for example, a person attends a party and drinks punch that has been “spiked.”  He then commits a crime at the party.  When is intoxication (voluntary or involuntary) a defense to a criminal charge?  What are the rules?  The answers can get complicated, depending on a variety of factors.  We discuss the basic outlines here.

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Expungement Of A DWI In Missouri

The state of Kansas has a very detailed and comprehensive statutory scheme for the expungement of various types of criminal issues (arrests, diversions, convictions).  This is a great benefit to people with criminal records in Kansas.  At some point, people appreciate being able to move on and put things behind them.

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Discharging Debts In Bankruptcy From Drunk Driving Cases

DUI and DWI cases are some of the more common criminal offenses.  People who have the bad luck to become involved in drunk driving cases quickly find out that these cases carry with them a significant financial burden.  And at the conclusion of the case, it often happens that there are fines, restitution, or other forms of court-ordered payment that need to be made.  Can these debts be discharged in a bankruptcy filing?

The answers are complex, and provide a good example of the intersection between criminal defense and bankruptcy.  At Phillips & Thomas LLC, we practice in both of these areas and are experienced in dealing with the nuances of bankruptcy and drunk driving cases.

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The Field Sobriety Tests In A DUI Or DWI Case

When a person is stopped by a law enforcement officer for suspicion of having driven while under the influence (DUI) or intoxicated (DWI), the officer will often ask that the driver perform a series of “field sobriety tests.”  These tests were established in 1982 by the National Highway Traffic And Safety Administration (NHTSA) as a way to impose (in theory, at least) some measure of uniformity and consistency in determining whether a person has been driving under the influence.

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DUI And DWI Cases In Johnson and Wyandotte County Kansas

Overland Park DUI Attorney

The holiday season is in full swing, and with it comes the unfortunate possibility of being stopped for the offenses of driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI).  Driving (or “operating” a vehicle) while over the legal limit is considered “intoxicated”, while operating under that limit is considered “under the influence.”

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