October 19th, 2011

100 DUI Cases Involving Intoxilyzer 8000 Dropped

Prosecutors have decided not to use alcohol breath-test results in about 100 current DUI cases in Sarasota and Manatee counties after learning about problematic Intoxilyzer 8000 breath-test machines.

The 12th Circuit State Attorney’s Office reviewed DUI cases this week and will send letters notifying defendants who were tested on five Intoxilyzer 8000s that the machines were not working properly and therefore the breath-test results will not be used as evidence against them.

Prosecutors will still pursue DUI charges in those cases where there is other evidence the driver was impaired.

But the lack of breath-test results could mean dropped charges and better plea deals for some drunk driving suspects.

“It doesn’t mean this is the end of those cases, just we’ll be prosecuting them without the breath tests,” said Assistant State Attorney Spencer Rasnake, supervisor of the division that prosecutes most DUI cases.

The flawed breath-test results play a role in about one of every three pending DUI cases in Sarasota County, and just a handful of cases in Manatee County.

The state attorney’s office started reviewing cases the day after the Herald-Tribune reported this week that drivers across Florida have been arrested and convicted of DUI charges based on flawed Intoxilyzer 8000s that reported impossible results.

For instance, the machine at Sarasota County’s South County jail in Venice had reported that some drivers — who have a maximum lung capacity of about five liters — blew 10, 11 or even 12 liters of breath into the machine. That improper sample size can taint the results, experts say.

The problematic machines stayed in service, unquestioned, possibly for as long as five years because state officials never tested a key component or performed mandatory reviews of every breath test.

Inspectors in the process of checking every machine in the state this year have found that about 40 percent of 231 machines checked so far were incorrectly measuring the flow of breath into the Intoxilyzer 8000.

In July, inspectors found four of the six machines in Sarasota County and one of the four machines in Manatee County were incorrectly measuring the flow of breath into the Intoxilyzer 8000.

Prosecutors will no longer use breath-test results in about 50 of the 230 pending DUI cases from the worst machine, at the South County Jail in Venice. A Sarasota County judge has ruled the results from the Venice machine are unreliable.
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September 23rd, 2011

Was Brain Trauma The Cause of Marine’s Deadly Wreck?

It seemed like an open-and-shut DUI manslaughter case. Officers said Scott S. drove the wrong way down a Tampa interstate in April of 2010 and plowed head-on into another car, killing the other driver. According to court records, Scott’s blood-alcohol level was more than three times Florida’s legal limit.

But as the case unfolded, so did the unusual circumstances of Scott’s life. He was a Marine captain who had earned three Purple Hearts for injuries and the Bronze Star for heroism in Afghanistan and Iraq. He had nearly died from blood loss, suffered severe head trauma and once dug a mass grave for Iraqi civilians.

It’s these mental scars of combat, his lawyer says, that are to blame for the accident. Brain damage and post-traumatic stress disorder caused Scott to blackout in a dissociative episode the night of the crash, said Scott’s defense attorney. Scott has pleaded not guilty, and his attorney will offer an insanity defense at trial.

The other driver, Pedro R., left behind a wife, two children and three stepchildren. His widow is broken-hearted and believes the military deserves some blame for the accident for not treating the Scott’s disorder.

Remarkably, those sentiments are echoed by Marine Corps investigators who examined the case and wrote an 860-page report with recommendations for top brass. The report says the corps should be more thorough in evaluating and treating post-traumatic stress disorder, especially in Marines with brain injuries.

“This investigation reveals a disturbing vulnerability in the support we provide our combat veterans suffering the invisible wounds of PTSD,” wrote Col. John P. Crook of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, in a Sept. 26, 2010 letter. “It is folly to expect a wounded mind to diagnose itself, yet our Marines still depend on an anemic system of self-diagnosis and self-reporting.”

Prosecutors won’t comment about the case. Scott is in a Tampa jail’s psychiatric ward awaiting trial.

In a call to his father after the crash, he said he wished he’d died in combat.

“I don’t know why I wasn’t killed any of the times I was wounded,” Sam Scott quoted his son as saying. “I wish I had been.

“At least it would have been honorable. And an innocent man wouldn’t be dead.”

Scott Scott was born and raised near Mobile, Ala. His desire was to be a fighter pilot, but he discovered during officer candidate school that he couldn’t fly planes because of a blood pressure problem.

Still, after the Sept. 11 attacks, he decided to continue in the Marines. What followed was a battle-scarred career, as detailed in the Marines’ investigative report.
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September 16th, 2011

Labor Day DUI Crackdown Nets 70 DUI Arrests

Area sheriff’s deputies arrested 70 people on drunken driving charges during a 15-day operation leading up to Labor Day.

The enforcement wave ran from Aug. 19 to Sept. 5, and more than 10,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide conducted the operation, according to sheriff’s department statements Friday.

Sarasota deputies arrested 40 people for driving under the influence, and Manatee deputies nabbed the another 30 people for the same charge.

The push in Manatee County also led to 273 speeding violations, 61 seat belt violations, 34 suspended license violations, 16 uninsured motorist violations and two child restraint violations.

Manatee deputies also looked beyond traffic infractions, resulting in 13 felony arrests, 28 other arrests, three drug arrests and one fugitive apprehended.

If you are one of the 70 people charged with DUI, or you were charged in another matter, the Sarasota DUI attorneys at Musca Law can help you. Contact us today to discuss your legal options.


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September 7th, 2011

Prosecutors Lose Key Breath-Test Witness

Prosecutors spent years creating a way to overcome legal challenges to the Intoxilyzer 8000 — and their plan fizzled out in a single weekend over a few thousand dollars in bills.

As a result, prosecutors are banking on an unvetted, virtually all-or-nothing approach in DUI trials that will play out in several courtrooms starting today.

A dispute over the state’s only alcohol breath-test machine has left prosecutors in a pinch, only able to use the results in court if they have an expert testify to its accuracy.

For years, prosecutors felt their only option was Matthew Malhiot, a former Florida Department of Law Enforcement employee who charged them $1,200 a day to appear in court. The plan was costly, but he was an independent expert and it had worked the only time it was tried.

And Malhiot, who says he gave prosecutors a $30 per hour price break and bent over backwards to accommodate Sarasota and Manatee’s prosecutors during their crisis, was scheduled to come to town today and Friday for some more trials.

But late last week, the state attorney’s office refused to pay some of Malhiot’s invoices: $240 for each case where they used his name as an expert and the defendant pleaded to the charge before Malhiot had to testify.

Much to the surprise of DUI defense attorneys and judges, prosecutors entered court Monday and told them they had cut ties with Malhiot over the bills.

Instead, prosecutors say they will simply have current FDLE employees testify about the machine — a plan defense attorneys say will not work because the expert is supposed to be independent and impartial.

“You’ve got the fox guarding the henhouse,” said a Venice defense attorney. “They are testifying that their own procedures are scientifically valid.”
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August 29th, 2011

Herald: Costs of Sarasota DUI Trials Could Mount

If this week is any indication, prosecutors in Sarasota and Manatee counties could spend upwards of $150,000 extra per year to prosecute DUI cases because of a dispute over a $6,000 machine.

Suspected drunken drivers blow into the Intoxilyzer 8000, and the machine prints out a report about their blood-alcohol content that is powerful evidence in court. Because of that, the drivers have a right to know how the machine works, area judges have ruled.

But so far the machine’s manufacturer, CMI Inc. in Kentucky, has ignored subpoenas for the computer code inside the machine. That means prosecutors can only use the breath-test results in court if they have an expert testify to its accuracy.

So this week, prosecutors again will dip into a state fund and spend around $3,000 — the cost of the expert’s flight from Georgia, hotel and two days of testimony. They hope to get verdicts on four or five cases — less than one weekend’s worth of DUI arrests.

If the situation stays the same, the expense could become almost a weekly ritual, totaling as much as $156,000 a year.

While not every DUI case requires the expert testimony, two or three judges are scheduled to hear drunk driving trials every week at the Sarasota, Bradenton and Venice courthouses.

The five-year battle over the Intoxilyzer 8000 has put prosecutors in a pinch that has caused them to offer pleas to lesser charges and drop DUI cases, including one against a woman on her 11th drunk driving arrest.

Prosecutors must schedule the expert to be in court or risk having to go to trial with weaker cases that depend on evidence other than a breath test, such as a video of roadside sobriety tests.
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August 19th, 2011

Sarasota Police On Special Alert for DUI This Weekend

If you intend to drink alcohol before getting behind the wheel this weekend, be warned that law enforcement throughout Sarasota, Charlotte and Manatee counties are on special alert to nab impaired drivers.

From today through Sept. 5, Sarasota sheriff’s deputies say they will be engaged in enhanced DUI enforcement – especially at night and on weekends.

In Manatee, sheriff’s deputies, Bradenton Police and the Florida Highway Patrol will have special patrols from 5:30 p.m. today until 3 a.m. in areas with a history of DUI-related accidents.

Charlotte County sheriff’s deputies and Punta Gorda Police say, today through the Labor Day weekend, they also will step up DUI enforcement.

Don’t give police a reason to charge you with DUI this weekend. However, if you are charged with DUI, don’t assume your own guilt. Instead, contact a Sarasota DUI attorney at Musca Law. We can help you in regard to your driver’s license and your criminal case.


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August 15th, 2011

Longboat Key Man Charged With DUI and Felony Child Neglect

The Florida Highway Patrol on Friday arrested a Longboat Key man on Florida’s Turnpike in Fort Pierce after finding him so incoherent “and unaware of his surroundings” that he could barely identify his 6-year old daughter, who was in the vehicle with him, according to arrest reports.

Ryan C., 25, of Longboat Key, faces charges of DUI and third-degree felony child neglect.

Ryan and his daughter were discovered inside a disabled truck that troopers said was blocking the southbound lanes of traffic.

Authorities found a prescription bottle of the anti-anxiety drug Larazepam inside the car, which he claimed were prescribed to him Aug. 8.

Ryan was transported to Lawnwood Medical Center & Heart Institute for medical treatment. When troopers asked him to identify the girl in his truck, Ryan “acted as if he didn’t remember for a brief period and then stated her name” and indicated she was his daughter.

Ryan was transferred to the St. Lucie County jail, where he was being held Sunday night under a bond of $15,350.

If you’ve too been charged with DUI in Longboat Key or surrounding area, such as Venice or Sarasota, contact a Longboat Key DUI attorney at Musca Law right now. We can go over your legal options, free of charge.


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August 12th, 2011

Ex-News Anchor Gets Probation in DUI Case

Lisa H., 40, the former South Florida television news anchor for WSFL Morning Show was arrested for DUI in July 2010 when she crashed her car into a tree in Pompano Beach.

Lisa pleaded no contest on Thursday to the drunk-driving charge and was sentenced to six months’ probation, a six-month driver’s license suspension, a $1,000 fine and DUI school, according to the Sun Sentinel.

At the time of the car crash, Lisa’s blood alcohol was measured at 0.17, which is over two times the legal limit of 0.08.

County Court Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren reigned over the case.

If you’ve been charged with DUI in Sarasota or a surrounding area, contact Musca Law at 941-916-3627 for a free legal consultation. We’ve helped many people in your situation avoid being convicted of DUI. Contact us right now.


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August 7th, 2011

Sarasota DUI Case Involving Inoperable Vehicle Dropped

Michael V. admitted at his DUI trial that he had been too drunk to drive as he sat behind the wheel of his truck in February.

Admittedly, he was too drunk to even walk properly.

When sheriff’s deputies approached him, Michael was eating a salad and had a cold, half-empty Icehouse beer in the front cup holder. When he got out of the truck he had to lean on it for support.

In some ways, it seems like a clear-cut drunken driving case, and yet the jury acquitted Michael of the drunk driving charge in a matter of minutes last week.

They did so due to one key detail: the truck was broken down and unable to even start.

“It is not against the law to sit in an inoperable car to eat a salad drunk,” said Michael’s defense attorney.

The deputy arrested Michael, 45, under a little-known element in Florida drunken driving laws that say someone can be guilty of driving under the influence even if the officer never saw them drive.

Prosecutors just need to prove someone had “physical control of the car,” that is, had the capability to drive the car to or from that spot. That usually comes into play when an officer shows up at a DUI crash and the drivers have already exited the cars.

But that also requires prosecutors to prove the vehicle was operable at the time.

At the trial, Michael and a friend told the jury that the truck had been stuck in a Walmart parking lot in Englewood since the starter gave out about 12 hours earlier.
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July 25th, 2011

DUI Case Forces Sarasota and Manatee to Redraw University Parkway Patrol Lines

The Manatee and Sarasota sheriff’s offices have settled the question of which agency will patrol which section of University Parkway for drunken drivers or respond to any emergency or crime calls.

A botched DUI arrest last month exposed that the agencies had conflicting policies about some patrol zones on the busy six-lane road. University, formerly known as county line road, has long been believed to be the county line, but actually weaves back and forth between the two counties.

The DUI case was dropped by a judge after a defense attorney pointed out that a Manatee deputy had improperly arrested the driver in Sarasota County.
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