A Message from Beyond the Grave

elizabeth sleasmanToday, I read the obituary of Elizabeth Sleasman.  What was unique about it is that she wrote most of it herself.

You can click on the link, or read the entirety of her message below (I will assume that she would have wished to see this re-posted as much as possible):

Message from Sue:

I ask that EVERY parent and grandparent show this to their teens, even if they are perfect children. I was a perfect daughter, and my parents never knew I was using and drinking for at least the first five years (age 12 to 17), then only suspected it until the last ten years of my life when I couldn’t hide it any more.

Message to the teens: If you haven’t started – don’t. If you have, quit NOW. Your drinking/drug using friends are not really friends, they will steal from you, use you, and will do anything to get another “fix” – just like me. What starts out as fun for the first year or so, ends up to be a horrible, lonely life. During the last ten years, I never knew from one day to the next where I was going to be, I ate out of garbage cans, begged, and stole. I slept in bushes, doorways, abandoned vehicles, and nearly froze to death in the winter. Most of the time I was high or coming down, and much of that time, did not know what I was saying or doing – I could remember very little of what happened the night before. While using, I thought I was invincible and nothing could ever happen to me – after all, I was the “safest” user out there. I had a little girl who, because of my drinking and drugging was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and other very serious problems. I did not believe this, I believed she was perfect and only a little slow; and of course, it was not my fault – she will need specialized care for the rest of her life – again, not my fault, or so I thought.

You will become a thief and a liar, next you will lose your family, your “real” friends, and eventually your life. I started with Marijuana, and alcohol. It did not take very long for me to be so hooked on hard drugs that I could not have quit if I wanted to. Some of my closest “friends” overdosed and died; I did not quit. The light of my life, my daughter, was taken away – even then, I could not quit.

I entered the Methadone treatment and stopped using, but unfortunately my drinking habit kept on and I started using again. More recently I was admitted to the hospital because I was vomiting blood – my stomach was raw and the lining split because of crystal meth and alcohol. The doctors glued it together, and tried to get me to go to treatment – I said I would do it myself. I have quit now, but I am dead; don’t wait as long as I did, give your life another chance.

Thanks to attorney Scott Gordon for alerting me to this obituary.

Women are catching up to men … in getting DUIs

From today’s Chicago Tribune:

Research shows that while the number of male drivers arrested for DUI has declined since 1995, the number of female drivers arrested has been rising.

In 2011, the latest year for which FBI statistics are available, DUIs by female drivers accounted for nearly 25 percent of all DUI arrests, compared with about 10 percent in the early 1980s.

My client base reflects similar percentages.  My guess for the increase is only that, a guess, and it really isn’t anything different from the guesses that are contained in the article, which are:

  • women today are more likely to go out on their own or to go to bars or restaurants and drink with their friends.  Even in the recent past, when they were going out to a bar, they were more likely to go with a male escort who was usually the driver;
  • women are working more hours which often leads to binge drinking on the one night of the week or month when they can go out and have fun;
  • more restaurants and bars that cater to or are more appealing to women;
  • the reduction in the “legal limit” from 0.10 to 0.08 may have resulted in more female DUIs, because women tend to drink less than men; and
  • the increased use of prescription medications which can affect one’s driving, either when taken alone or in combination with alcohol.

What do you think?


Woman brutalized by FL police during DUI stop charged with assault

christinewestI have embedded below a news story about Christina West, who was stopped for DUI by Tallahassee police.  After having been placed under arrest, she was seated in a squad car.  After she annoyed the officers by repeatedly asking questions, she was asked to exit the squad, and when the petite West squirmed while handcuffs were being placed on her, she was violently slammed on the roadway, resulting in the the picture you see below.

Of course, Ms. West was initially charged with assaulting a police officer, a common tactic by police to gain the upper hand and protect themselves.  The officer even put this in his police report: “West was placed on the ground where she began to thrash and kick wildly. West kicked me in the groin area and kicked officer Schmidt in the leg… West was placed in a thigh lock on the ground as I secured her hands. While handcuffing West’s hands, she continued to violently make attempts to grab for my groin area with her hands.”

The State’s attorney has dismissed the assault charge, but DUI charges are still possible, pending blood test results.

Study raises questions about accuracy of blood tests in DUI cases

Here is a link for a study entitled “The Criminal Justice System Creates Incentives for False Convictions.”

From an article describing the study:

A recent analysis published in the Criminal Justice Ethics academic journal suggests when technicians perform forensic analysis of blood and other evidence for cases such as drunk driving, the results can be influenced by built-in financial incentives to produce a conviction. Syracuse University Professor Roger Koppl joined Meghan Sacks from Fairleigh Dickinson University argue that even if false conviction rates are very low, a 3 percent error rate could put 33,000 innocent individuals behind bars every year.

The primary problem, according to the paper, is that fourteen states reward crime labs with a bonus for each conviction they generate. North Carolina pays a $600 bounty “upon conviction” to the law enforcement agency whose lab “tested for the presence of alcohol.” These incentives do not necessarily encourage scientists to lie, rather they tend to create an observation bias when measuring, for example, a blood specimen for its blood alcohol content.

“We tend to see what we expect to see and what we hope to see,” Koppl and Sacks wrote. “Incentives (‘motivation’ and ‘hope’) can skew honest errors because they influence perception.”

When there is a reward for a guilty result, a lab technician will not double-check test results that are in the guilty range, though he would be more likely to double-check results that show innocence. The same effects do not work in favor of the defense, which usually depends solely on the forensic report produced by the prosecution.

“The subjectivity of forensic science matters in part because of the twofold monopoly in forensic science,” Koppl and Sacks wrote. “First, evidence is typically examined by one crime lab only. In this sense, the crime lab receiving a bit of evidence has a monopoly on examination of that evidence.”

Radley Balko, author of the new book Rise of the Warrior Cop, cites the paper as an example of the need for reform.

“They’re literally being paid to provide the analysis to win convictions,” Balko wrote. “Their findings are then presented to juries as the careful, meticulous work of an objective scientist. No wonder there have been so many scandals.”

In 2009, a crime lab in Colorado Springs, Colorado was caught certifying at least 82 DUI blood tests with falsely high readings. A whistleblower in Washington, DC revealed in 2010 that the city had been using faulty breathalyzer machines for more than a decade.

Koppl and Sacks called for more research into possible structural changes that could restore the balance. Some examples include privatizing crime labs and providing a voucher so that poor defendants could hire a private lawyer instead of depending on a public prosecutor.

Drunk Driver Confesses on Youtube; I’m not impressed

Over the weekend, I saw some stories on the internet about Matthew Cordle.  Last week, he posted a Youtube confession to driving drunk and killing Vincent Canzani.

If you read the headline, you will know that I am not impressed.  Here’s why:

1.  Starting off wearing my “lawyer’s hat,” I would never advise a client to confess to anything, at least not until a plea deal was reached or was imminent.  Why would anyone give up whatever leverage he or she may have, especially when that person is facing a decade or more in prison?

2.  If someone is going to confess, the proper way to do so is in court or in a police station.  It is a private act, not a public one.  Don’t make a slickly produced video that uses camera tricks, music and editing for dramatic emphasis.  Don’t put it up on social media.

3.  Taking off the “lawyer hat” I am still bothered by this video.  The focus of a confession should be remorse, not self-congratulation.  I agree with the victim’s daughter, who is enraged that the video appears to be making Cordle the hero of this story for not going along with “high-powered attorneys” who told him to “lie” to “beat the case.”

A confession is supposed to be where you admit that you did something wrong.   This video is all about Cordle’s willingness to publicly admit what he did; not about the actual admission itself.

If Cordle wanted to tell people not to drink and drive, he should have found a more appropriate time and place to do so.  This timing seems to me like a pathetic attempt to put himself in a better light prior to being charged and sentenced.

And, once again putting on my lawyer’s hat, I don’t think that most judges or prosecutors would be particularly impressed by this type of social media attention-getting that tries to pass itself off as a confession.  When it comes to sentencing, Cordle’s decision to glorify himself may backfire.

4.  “High-powered” lawyers told you to lie?  Really?  They were willing to violate their Codes of Professional Conduct and risk forfeiting their law license just for you?  Baloney.  This is an attempt to shift blame and make Cordle the hero and lawyers the villains.

5.  Besides which, it is not clear that Cordle did anything particularly brave.  According to news accounts, the police were getting ready to charge him anyway, so it doesn’t seem like he is admitting to something that he would otherwise have gotten away with.

Study shows dramatic changes when police are equipped with body cameras

Here is a link to an article by Ronald Bailey on Reason.com, highlighting a Cambridge University showing dramatic changes once police are equipped with body cameras.

Here is the key part:

Who will watch the watchers? What if all watchers were required to wear a video camera that would record their every interaction with citizens? In her ruling in a recent civil suit challenging the New York City police department’s notorious stop-and-frisk rousting of residents, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the Federal District Court in Manhattan imposed an experiment in which the police in the city’s precincts with the highest reported rates of stop-and-frisk activity would be required to wear video cameras for one year.

This is a really good idea. Earlier this year, a 12-month study by Cambridge University researchers revealed that when the city of Rialto, California, required its cops to wear cameras, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent and the use of force by officers dropped by almost 60 percent. Watched cops are polite cops.

And, while there is no way to prove it, but experience tells me it that there is a similar dip in “testa-lying” when cops know their interactions are being recorded.

Tip of the hat to Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish, where I first noticed this story.

Research muddled at best about 0.05 BAC change

Over the weekend, the Chicago Tribune ran a front page story about the proposed change to reduce the “legal limit” blood alcohol level to drive to 0.05 (from the current 0.08).  As you can see from the article, not even MADD supports the change.

From the article:

Research suggests that lowering the legal limit of intoxication to 0.05 could save 500 to 1,000 lives a year.

But many safe-driving advocates are conspicuously silent on the issue of whether 0.05 is high enough impairment to merit criminal charges. Mothers Against Drunk Driving is standing down, as is Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. The venerable Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which notes that it never takes formal positions on policy, said police will have trouble enforcing 0.05.

At the core of concerns about 0.05 is the tricky issue of when alcohol impairment becomes criminally negligent. How does slight alcohol impairment differ from impairment caused by drowsiness, cellphone use, medication, aging or other conditions? Is it reckless to get behind the wheel after two glasses of wine at a dinner party? A large beer at a Blackhawks game? A couple of cocktails at a reception?

Research on the topic is voluminous — and resembles a weaving car.

The National Sleep Foundation states that drowsiness is very similar to alcohol impairment and “can impair driving performance as much or more so than alcohol,” according to a report on the topic. Being sleepy can slow reaction times, limit vision and create lapses in judgment and delays in processing information, the foundation states.

“In other words,” the foundation reports, “driving sleepy is like driving drunk.”

A 2003 study by University of Utah showed that motorists who talk on cellphones — hands-free or not — are as impaired as drivers at a 0.08 BAC. Study participants drove slower and hit the brakes and accelerated later than those driving undistracted. Drunken drivers drove slower than cellphone users and undistracted drivers but more aggressively. They also followed more closely and hit their brakes more erratically, the research showed.

As to whether such a thing as responsible drinking and driving exists, some research shows that lane deviations and attention lapses occur at a BAC as low as 0.001. MADD and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommend no one drive after drinking.

But the American Beverage Institute, which represents restaurant and bar owners, calls the 0.05 recommendation an effort to “criminalize perfectly responsible behavior,” saying that less than 1 percent of traffic fatalities in the U.S. are caused by drivers with a BAC from 0.05 to 0.08. The organization points to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data showing that 70 percent of drunken driving deaths involve a driver with a BAC of 0.15 or higher

Wider use of ignition interlocks is central to MADD’s efforts, too. J.T. Griffin, the organization’s senior vice president of public policy, said MADD supports 0.08 as the limit of legal intoxication in large part because research over 50 years shows definitively that everyone is seriously impaired at that level. Impairment below 0.08 becomes a little more uncertain.

Griffin said pushing to make 0.08 the law “was such a tough battle to fight. We sort of established it as the across-the-board level.”

MADD is taking a more practical approach — including recommending that ignition interlocks be mandatory for all DUI offenders — in continuing its fight against drunken driving. Twenty-one states and four counties in California require interlocks for all drunken driving offenders. In Illinois, first-time DUI offenders must obtain one if they want to drive.

“We’re doing a lot of really positive things,” Griffin said, “and we feel like we’ve got a lot of momentum. To shift to 0.05 really goes against what we’re doing.”

Like many, Griffin said impairment happens below 0.08, but “what that level is, I don’t really know.”

Read the full story here: http://my.chicagotribune.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-77226096/