Oklahoma’s 5 Most Important DUI Cases
Oklahoma’s DUI laws may seem fairly straightforward—you are considered drunk if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is over a .08, right? However, many cases have created caveats for evidence and changed the circumstances under which you can be charged with a more severe crime.
This means you must follow both the statutes and the explanatory cases in order to properly understand the consequences of being charged with a DUI. Below we have summarized the most important DUI cases in Oklahoma, listed in no particular order.
When you are pulled over for a DUI, you expect to be offered a field sobriety test as well as the “State’s test.” The State’s test is the official test of intoxication that determines your BAC through either a breathalyzer or blood draw, and is generally accurate. However, there is an additional test that you may be offered, and that is the preliminary breath test (PBT).
The PBT is not as accurate as the State’s test, and many people don’t realize they can refuse it because they are not shown a refusal form like with the State’s test. While a PBT is not intended to hold as much weight as the State’s test because it does not show a specific number related to your BAC, it is admissible at trial. A PBT is considered an additional test within your field sobriety test and helps to show that you were intoxicated.
In Cardenas-Moreno, the Defendant won an argument preventing the PBT test results from being admitted at trial. The State appealed this decision, and won, because while it does not definitively establish a BAC, the jury is able to consider it when determining if the driver appeared to be under the influence.
While Cardenas-Moreno v. State is important because it made the PBT test admissible for purposes of showing intoxication, it didn’t change the consent element of the test. This means you are well within your rights to refuse to take the PBT test if you are concerned you may not pass it.
When you are pulled over for a DUI, you have the right to refuse the State’s test (which is performed through a breathalyzer or blood draw). This is because you have the right to refuse unlawful searches and seizures, and this includes searches of your internal body, such as your blood or your breath.
Stewart v. State established your constitutional rights to your blood. In Stewart, the defendant was driving and caused a car wreck that resulted in the victim’s death. The defendant was then taken to the hospital for treatment, and his blood was drawn while he was unconscious. The State proved the defendant was intoxicated at trial by admitting the blood test, which showed the presence of drugs.
The court found that it was unconstitutional for the police to have taken the blood without consent or a warrant. You have the right to refuse the State’s test, whether it is a blood draw or breathalyzer, and the defendant was not given that opportunity because he was unconscious. Even though the officer found drugs in the defendant’s vehicle and had probable cause to believe he was driving under the influence, and also knew the evidence of those drugs would likely be gone by the time the defendant regained consciousness, the officer still needed a warrant or permission from the defendant to obtain a blood sample.
This is an extremely important case. Oklahoma law has long established that you must consent to the State’s test, and Stewart provided a different element that reinforced the mandatory nature of that consent.
Haworth is a landmark case for Oklahoma because it expands the State’s ability to charge you with manslaughter. When you think of manslaughter arising out of a car accident, you probably think the driver had to be drunk. However, that is not necessarily the case. Despite most car accidents being just that, an accident, any traffic violation can result in a charge for manslaughter, not just a DUI. In Haworth, the Defendant was charged with manslaughter for passing a vehicle in a no passing zone and causing a car crash that resulted in the victim’s death. The court found that any traffic violation is sufficient to constitute a misdemeanor and result in a manslaughter charge.
This may sound like a benign addition to the DUI law until you consider that it includes any state as well as any city municipal traffic violations. For example, the City of Tulsa municipality has a law that you cannot have anything hanging from your rear-view mirror. If you have an air freshener hanging from your rear-view mirror and are involved in a car accident that leads to a death, you could technically be charged with manslaughter.
However, this case went on to limit the rule they previously discussed. While a manslaughter charge can be based upon any traffic violation, there must be a causal link between the violation and the traffic accident/death. This means your air freshener would NOT be a basis for a manslaughter charge, unless it was the direct cause of the accident. If, for example, you didn’t see the car because your air freshener obstructed your view, and the accident resulted in a death, you could be charged with manslaughter.
The air freshener is an extreme example to illustrate the point; the type of case you will commonly see relating to this interpretation of law is a failure to yield. If a car fails to yield, and the impending accident results in a death, the driver of the vehicle may be charged with manslaughter. This expands vehicular manslaughter from just DUI related accidents, to all accidents that lead to a death if there is an underlying traffic violation.
In Oklahoma, your first DUI is always a misdemeanor. Subsequent DUIs can be filed as felonies, and your minimum and maximum sentences increase. This is because a DUI is what we call a predicate offense, which means that your punishment gets more severe with each conviction.
Salathiel addresses what type of cases can be used as a predicate offense to enhance punishment. Specifically, the defendant pleaded to a deferred sentence on his first DUI, and argued that his deferred sentence should not be used against him for his new case since he was successful on his probation and the case was dismissed. He argued this should not count as a conviction for purposes of a predicate offense. The court disagreed with this argument, and found that deferred sentences do count as a conviction for the purpose of a predicate offense.
While there are many benefits to a deferred sentence, including the partial automatic expungement, it can still act as a predicate offense, therefore enhancing subsequent charges for the same crime.
The reasoning behind this lies within the language of the statute, which states that your second DUI charge within 10 years should be a felony. Most people are offered a deferred sentence on their first DUI. They would then have to be charged with a second DUI and plead guilty to either a suspended sentence or jail time before it counted as a conviction, effectively requiring a person to get three DUIs within 10 years—instead of two—to be charged with a felony. The court doesn’t have the power to change the meaning of the statute in this manner, and therefore a deferred sentence is considered a conviction for the sole purpose of a predicate offense.
The police must have probable cause to pull you over. However, the police don’t have to see the probable cause themselves—it can be observed by a passerby who makes a call to the local authorities. That is exactly what happened in State v. Alba when a woman called the police to report what she suspected to be a drunk driver. The court ruled that a call from any witness about a possible drunk driver is sufficient probable cause to pull someone over.
This has significant implications. This means an officer doesn’t have to observe you committing the traffic violation themselves, and any person on the street observing unlawful behavior is sufficient to constitute a traffic stop. Additionally, false accusations, as long as the officer doesn’t realize they are false, can be used to stop your vehicle.
For example, if someone gets road rage because you cut them off in traffic, they can report to the police that they believe you are a drunk driver. Even though you haven’t displayed any signs of intoxication, the officer now has the ability to stop your vehicle, as well as ask you to perform the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests and take the State’s test.
The Bottom Line
While the Oklahoma DUI statute doesn’t change very often, new cases emerge all the time that can affect future DUI cases. For the average person, it is almost impossible to keep up with all of these legal distinctions. This is why we recommend hiring an expert with years of DUI case experience who is up to date on all of the legal intricacies. If you have questions about a DUI, contact us for a free consultation.