News sources report that LaMar Odom, husband to reality star Khloe Kardashian, was recently charged with driving under the influence of alcohol [DUI] in California. According to one report, the police pulled the car driven by Odom over because he was driving it was driving too slowly. Apparently, field sobriety tests were administered which the unlucky basketball star failed, in the officer’s opinion of course, and he was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.
In Massachusetts a “DUI” if also often referred to as an “OUI” or “operating under the influence of alcohol. Although all of the specific facts are not known in this case, a good place to start for a defense here would be to attack the initial stop and exit order from the car. The paper indicates that the car was pulled over because it was traveling too slowly. It would be important to determine exactly how slowly the car was going-after all driving slowly is usually a good thing–not a bad thing. If the only problem that the police officer had with the driving was that he was driving i too slowly and there was no other indications of impairment i.e., crossing over the lines or swerving, there may be limited evidence to prove impairment or to justify the pulling over of the car.
In Massachusetts, in order to attack the stop of the car a motion to suppress the stop, exit order and evidence should be filed. The grounds for the stop would be that the police had no reason to pull the car over. If the stop, exit order and/or search is found to be unconstitutional then the evidence, i.e., the field sobriety tests and the officer’s observations, will be ordered suppressed as “fruit of the poisonous tree.” When this happens the case is usually dismissed unless the Commonwealth can prove its case by other evidence that was not suppressed.
If the case does proceed to trial then the Commonwealth must prove that the defendant was driving the car, that the defendant was on a public way and that he or she was under the influence of alcohol beyond a reasonable doubt. The most contested area is usually the “under the influence” element of the crime. Often, the police officer testifies that a defendant has “slurred speech,” was “unsteady on his or her feet” and/or was swaying. Relative to the speech, it is important to keep in mind that in most cases the arresting officer has never spoken to the defendant before therefore, would not know what his or her usual speech pattern was like. Similarly, describing someone as “unsteady on his feet” is very vague and if the police officer had not seen the person’s gait before that evening, how can this be used as a factor to determine sobriety? Another piece of evidence that officer’s often say at trial is that there was a “strong odor of alcohol” coming from the interior of the car and/or from the defendant. However, keep in mind that alcohol is actually odorless. Furthermore, it is impossible to tell how much alcohol a person consumed based on order and it is also impossible to determine at what time a person consumed alcohol based on an odor.
Whether the defendant was “operating” the vehicle is also an element that is often contested at trial. It is important to realize that simply having the keys in the ignition is enough to establish operation in Massachusetts. Finally, a public way is a “way” that is operated and maintained by the city and the public has a right to access it. Thus, if a defendant is driving in a parking lot that is a public lot accessible from a highway, the area is public way.