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Criminal Blog Week Day 4: “No Refusal” DUI Roadblocks

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

“No Refusal” DUI Roadblocks

The Bill of Rights and the Florida Constitution are commonly quoted to guarantee each person freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.  Over the years, American jurisprudence has focused much more on the word “unreasonable” rather than “freedom.”  Traditionally, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided what is “reasonable” by balancing government interests with personal liberty.  A close examination of that balancing process would require a significant (i.e., long and boring) analysis.  Here, it is sufficient to say that the importance of the government interest is balanced against the degree of intrusion upon the individual.

With regard to standard DUI roadblocks, the Florida Supreme Court held that they can be implemented without violating the U.S. or Florida constitutions.  Noting that stopping a car is “unquestionably” a seizure under the Constitution, the Court used the Balancing Test to compare the government’s interests against the individual driver’s constitutional rights.  The Court held that, “The state’s compelling interest in protecting the public from drunk drivers outweighs any minimal intrusion into their privacy which a proper roadblock might cause.”  State v. Jones, 483 So. 2d 433 (Fla. 1986).

The government’s typical public relations justification for DUI roadblocks is, “We must protect you.”  The government avoids talking about the “minimal intrusion” part of the equation.

The Matthews Law Firm, along with criminal defense attorneys in Bartow and throughout central Florida, are now confronted with a new challenge to personal freedom and liberty.  Building on the Supreme Court’s approval of DUI roadblocks, police forces in central Florida are joining other states in implementing “no refusal” DUI roadblocks.

The “refusal” typically refers to the driver “refusing” to help police convict him.  It apparently has confounded police forces when a person, in this case not stopped for any wrong-doing, chooses to stand on his rights to be free from unreasonable searches, be free from unreasonable seizures, be free from self incrimination, have advice of an attorney, or have Due Process in his interaction with the government.

In Florida, if a person arrested for DUI refuses to submit to a breath test, there are already penalties set out by law.  In Florida, the law also sets out when and how the government may obtain a blood sample in a DUI case.

The “no refusal” DUI roadblock initiative seeks to get around these laws.

At a “no refusal” roadblock, police seek to force a person to submit to a breath test by threatening to forcibly take blood upon refusal of a breath examination.  In case of a refusal, police have a judge standing by, ready and waiting to sign a pre-printed fill-in-the-blank search warrant to draw blood.

Many are alarmed at the idea of judges simply rubber-stamping police investigations based on no individual suspicion, much less probable cause.  After all, police “hunches” have long been rejected as legitimate grounds for a warrant.  However, a much more sinister danger posed by this doctrine is the idea that demanding one’s constitutional liberty is, all by itself, probable cause to pierce those very rights.

Piercing a person’s body is not a “minimal intrusion” or a “minor inconvenience.”  Coercing a person to forfeit their rights is unconstitutional, whether done at the point of a needle or the barrel of a gun.  The coercion itself is the evil.  A police force unrestrained by law and exempt from constitutional limitations does not make anyone safer.



The Aftermath of NGRI in Florida

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Most people are familiar with the phrase “not guilty by reason of insanity” (NGRI).  In the legal system, NGRI occurs when criminal defendants admit the criminal act, but claim they were so mentally disturbed at the time of the crime that they lacked the mental capacity necessary to commit a crime.  The legal standard for insanity varies from state to state.  (For the Florida standard, go here.)


Notable cases

Famous cases where defendants raised NGRI are:

John Hinckley, Jr. (attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan)—More info

Steven Burky (the celebrity stalker of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner)—More info

Andrea Yates (who drowned her five children in a bathtub)—More info

Daniel Gonzalez (serial killer)—More info


The Aftermath

While many people are familiar with the concept of NGRI, few understand what actually happens in an NGRI proceeding.  NGRI is an affirmative trial defense, meaning that it is a defense that the defendant must prove to the jury.  If a defendant successfully convinces a jury that he committed a criminal act while insane, the jury may find the defendant Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.

In Florida, the statutory framework controlling NGRI is rather broad and imprecise.  Basically, it provides that the defendant has the burden of proving he had a mental deficiency, and that the deficiency caused the defendant not to appreciate his criminal actions or its consequences, or that his criminal acts were wrong.  Neither a legal standard to gauge mental deficiency nor factual criteria to evaluate the defendant’s understanding is specified by statute.

If a defendant successfully convinces a jury that his mental deficiency relieves him of culpability for a criminal act, it necessarily implies that, at the time of the offense, the mental deficiency made him a danger to himself or others because it led to that criminal act.  Thus, evidence adduced at trial tends to prove that, because of the illness, the defendant is manifestly dangerous to himself or others.

In practice, Florida law gives the presiding judge wide latitude to exercise discretion in disposing of an NGRI verdict.  Based upon judicial findings regarding whether a defendant has a mental deficiency and is a danger to himself or others, a judge may commit the defendant to a treatment facility, release him upon certain conditions, or discharge him to freedom and close the case.

The court maintains authority over the matter until the defendant is discharged to freedom or dies.  Pursuant to information periodically provided to the court, a judge may respond to changing circumstances by involuntarily committing the defendant, conditionally releasing the defendant, or discharging the case.


Florida References for NGRI

References to NGRI can be found in both statutes and rules.  Here are some links to Florida law:

Fla. Stat. 775.027

Fla. Stat. 916.15

Fla. Stat. 916.16

Fla. Stat. 916.17

Fla. R. Crim. Pro. 3.216-3.219