On April 18, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of a California man who had been convicted on a charge of refusal to submit to a test to determine blood alcohol content. The ruling was reversed because the man had been repeatedly informed by government officials that his refusal to submit was not a criminal act when he was taken into custody.
The case began on June 10, 2011, when a federal park ranger found the defendant alone in his car in a restricted area of Yosemite National Park. The vehicle’s lights were on, and the driver was allegedly drunk and argumentative. Reports say that he refused to submit to a field sobriety test and later rejected blood alcohol content tests. When he was taken to the police station, he was read a California admonition, suggesting that he would face additional penalties for the refusal if he was convicted of DUI. However, under federal law, a refusal is a misdemeanor violation.
Later, the defendant pleaded guilty to an open container charge and a marijuana possession charge. A DUI charge was dismissed, and the man was only tried for the refusal. He was found guilty and sentenced to 120 days in jail. However, the Ninth Circuit reversed the ruling on April 18. A senior judge wrote the opinion for a three-judge appeals panel, noting that the actions of the federal park rangers violated the due process rights of the defendant. The judge suggested that the conviction would be unfair because the defendant had been misled about the consequences of his actions when the incorrect admonition was read.
This case shows how errors made by officers conducting an arrest might invalidate the charges levied against a defendant. An individual facing allegations of DUI might work with a DUI lawyer who could determine if a similar breach of due process result in dropped charges in that client’s case.