Best of 2016 December Newsletter

In the final edition of the 2016 newsletter we highlight the most read Judging Traffic stories of the year.

SCOTUS says Warrants for Blood 

Back in June, the Supreme Court of the United States brought clarity to the issue of whether a warrant is required for a blood draw for motorists suspected of DUI. Police who arrest a motorist for DUI need a warrant before they can force the driver to submit to a blood draw, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 23 in a 5-3 vote in Birchfield v. North Dakota, 2016. The decision struck down Minnesota and North Dakota laws that made it illegal for motorists to refuse warrantless blood-alcohol tests after they are arrested for drunken driving, and has had implications for many states with similar legislation.

Traffic Fatalities Rise Sharply

According to a NHTSA study, the nation lost 35,092 people in traffic crashes in 2015, ending a 5-decade trend of declining fatalities with a 7.2% increase in deaths from 2014. The last single-year increase of this magnitude was in 1966, when fatalities rose 8.1% from the previous year.

Marijuana Wins Big on Election Day

Proponents of marijuana legalization had some big wins on Election Day. With five states voting on recreational use, four states (Maine, California, Massachusetts, Nevada) voted in favor, while only Arizona rejected the proposition. In addition, all four states (Arkansas, Florida, Montana, North Dakota) voting on legalizing the use of medical marijuana approved their measures. Click here for an interactive map detailing the status of marijuana legalization in states.

Biological challenges with testing drugged drivers

In a February article published by NPR, numerous experts ranging from neurobiologists to lawyers examined the challenges law enforcement and the courts face with determining impairment in drugged drivers. Specifically the article looked at challenges shared by researchers and lawmakers alike. While scientists struggle with how to draw up a biological measurement for marijuana intoxication, legislators seek ways to quickly identify and penalize people who are too high to drive.

New DWI Defense? Auto-Brewery Syndrome

The Buffalo News reported the strange case involving a 35-year-old school teacher, believed to be among the first of its kind in New York state. On the night in question, the driver’s BAC was measured at .33 percent by the Breathalyzer and .30 percent in a later blood test administered. "Essentially, her digestive system has so much yeast that it functions like a “brewery,” defense attorney Joseph J. Marusak said. “It’s also known as gut fermentation syndrome,” Marusak said. “She can register a blood alcohol content that would have you or I falling down drunk, but she can function,” Marusak said. Hamburg Police Chief Gregory G. Wickett said he is confident his officers made the right move in charging the woman with DWI. “She was highly intoxicated, as shown by the Breathalyzer. Our officers did the right thing in getting her off the road.”

Issue Brief: Admissibility of Not Wearing a Seatbelt

In light of the 2015 Texas Supreme Court ruling in Nabors Well Services, Ltd. v. Romero this Issue Brief looked at the admissibility of seatbelt non-use as evidence in car accident cases. Also of great use to readers is a state-by-state breakdown of state legislation that dictates the rules on admissibility relative to seatbelt evidence. The article also looks at the recent research and case law applicable to the topic. 

NCSC Traffic Resource Center

The Traffic Resource Center is a cooperative effort between the Department of Transportation and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to establish a resource for judges, court administrators, court clerks, and other court staff on issues related to traffic adjudication. It is an integrated clearinghouse of information as well as a training and technical assistance resource to improve court decision-making and processing of traffic cases involving impaired driving, drugged driving, distracted driving, and commercial driving. The purpose of the Traffic Resource Center website is to provide a useful, ready reference for judges new to the bench or recently assigned to traffic cases, who may need quick access to accurate and timely information until they can receive more formal, structured education.

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