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DUI conviction reversed because wrong law was read to arrestee

Did you know that if you are arrested for drunk driving in a national park then you are subject to federal and not state law? If you didn’t, then you’re not the only one because not only did a man accused of drunk driving not know this, but neither did the park rangers who arrested him in 2011.

On June 10, 2011, in a nonpublic area of Yosemite National Park, rangers claim to have discovered a parked vehicle that was running. Inside they found the man who appeared to be inebriated. But when he was asked to submit to a field sobriety test, rangers said he refused. Under California law, refusal to submit to a breath test or alcohol testing can result in legal consequences if a person is convicted of a DUI. Even though rangers claimed to have told the man this several times, he continued to refuse to submit to testing.

It’s because of this that he was arraigned on a six-count misdemeanor charge for drunk driving.

But as the 9th Circuit Court pointed out in a decision that was filed this month, the rangers had explained the wrong law to the man when arresting him for drunk driving.  Because he had been arrested in a national park, the court explained, the man should have been read the applicable federal law which states that a person who fails to submit to testing or fails to complete a test, will be charged with an additional offense, which includes jail time and/or a fine, regardless of the outcome of a conviction later on.

As the three-judge appeals panel clarified, California law only makes a refusal a misdemeanor if a conviction is made while federal law holds a refusal as a misdemeanor regardless of a conviction.  By not properly notifying the man about this distinction, the rangers may have misled the man in to believing that he would only face the misdemeanor charge if he was convicted of a DUI.  Had he known differently, he might not have refused.   It’s because of this that the 9th Circuit reversed the DUI conviction.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Conviction Tossed for Refused Sobriety Test,” Deshayla Strachan, April 22, 2014

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