Underage DUI, 0.18% BAC and Car Accident, Citizen’s Arrest

Our client from Manhattan Beach was at an afternoon party in Hermosa Beach where he drank five or six beers in a short period of time.  He was twenty years old and had a prior resisting arrest record from Arizona.

Before the sun set, at about 7:45 p.m., he left to home to Manhattan Beach, where he grew up and went to high school.  Somehow, he missed the turn to go home and kept driving north on Sepulveda, eventually going through El Segundo.  He was confused, as he then went under the runways, through the tunnels just south of LAX.

He kept driving, past the In-N-Out Burger.  At this point, he knew he was definitely lost and grabbed his I-phone to help him get home.  He got the directions he needed as he was turning from Sepulveda onto Manchester.  He was reading his cell phone and did not pay sufficient attention to his turn, swinging wide and heading onto the sidewalk.  At the last second, he realized his error and corrected hard.  But his correction was not enough and he slammed into a light pole.

The force of the collision caused his car’s airbags to inflate.  The client, luckily, was uninjured, but definitely shaken up.  He got out of the car to survey the damage to the front of his Audi.  It was totaled, he thought.

He got on his cell phone to call his parents and ask for a ride home – and advice.  For some reason, after this call, he got in the car to turn on the engine, just to see if the engine still functioned. 

At this point, he saw a hand reach over his shoulder and pull the keys out of the ignition.  It was a civilian, a person who later admitted to the police that he lived nearby and heard a loud noise.  He did not see the crash at all.  He left his house and walked down to the corner, where he saw our client getting into the car.  He then took it upon himself to put the keys in his possession and call the police to come to the scene, even telling the police that he had “detained” our client so they could come to arrest him.

The LAX Police did indeed come and arrest him at about 8:00 p.m., but not until after having him perform field sobriety tests involving balance and coordination.  Police, despite knowing the car was damaged as a result of a collision that our client was involved in, then decided to arrest our client because he failed such tests.  The client also submitted to a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test at the scene, which measured his blood alcohol content (BAC) at 0.178% and 0.185%.

Our client’s car contained two fake I.D.’s, drug paraphernalia and a baggie of marijuana.  The client was then taken to the police station, where he submitted to a blood test that measured his blood at 0.17%, but was not tested for the presence of THC.

After being bailed out, the client and his mom called Greg Hill & Associates.  Greg talked with the mom several times on the phone, eventually meeting with Greg and her son at Greg’s office.

Greg quickly got the police report and realized the citizen’s arrest was improper, as Penal Code § 837 covering such arrest requires that the citizen observe the commission of a crime or the attempted commission of a crime.
 
Greg immediately filed a motion to suppress evidence in the LAX Airport Courthouse on the basis that the evidence gathered was seized after an illegal search following an unlawful arrest.

In response to this motion, the Los Angeles City Prosecutor wrote in all capital letters in the file, “IF WE LOSE THIS MOTION, DO NOT REDUCE THE OFFER!”

The hearing on the motion strangely lasted two full day, ultimately culminating in testimony from the arresting officer that he relied upon the citizen to make his arrest and that without the citizen’s assistance, he would not have made the arrest.  The officer also candidly testified that the force of the collision affected the client’s balance and coordination and that the officer could not apportion the effects of the crash from the effects of alcohol consumption, so he did not know if the client failed the field sobriety tests due to alcohol or due to the auto accident.

The judge however, did not suppress the evidence and in fact, denied the motion, stating that the detention by the civilian was proper under a “Good Samaritan” exception to Penal Code § 837.

This of course does not exist and the judge was literally making new law on this case.

Greg urged the client and his mom to appeal the ruling, but the mom and the client instead chose closure and accepted the plea bargain offered:  36 months of summary probation, completion of the AB1353 (nine month) alcohol awareness program, twenty days of community labor, attendance at the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Victim Impact Panel, and payment of files of $390, plus penalties and assessments.

In presenting this case summary to readers of our website, we do so to show how police do make mistakes, prosecutors can be emotional, vindictive and stubborn and judges can make up the law.  Our justice system is not perfect and in fact, it is far, far from perfect.

For more information about underage DUI and DUI in general, please click on the following articles:
  1. Underage DUI Is Not Similar to a Juvenile Offense for Sentencing in a Later Drug Case
  2. What Punishment Do I Face for Underage DUI (under age 21)?
  3. Little Known Facts About Your Rights in DUI and the DMV
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