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"Not Guilty" Vindicates Client Arrested for a DUI - Liberty Law

Seth Brenner and Attorney James Lee after their victory.
Seth Brenner and Attorney James Lee after their victory. Facebook.

Orem, UT:  Police officers may be gatekeepers of the criminal justice system, but they’re also just like us.  That means, sometimes they can be wrong, like when our client was wrongly arrested for a DUI.

Funny thing—Mr. Brenner hadn’t had anything to drink that day.  Because of medications he was taking, he couldn’t drink.  Mr. Brenner had broken his hip and ankle in a life-changing motorcycle accident 7 months earlier.  After major reconstructive surgery, he was placed on a pain management regimen of oxycodone.  He took his daily dose that morning.  Later, he picked up a friend and stopped in the local Maverick to fill up on gas and to pick up a snack.  While he was waiting in line, a deputy sheriff started chatting with Mr. Brenner, and asked if he would be drinking that night.  Mr. Brenner quickly told him “no” and that his medication prevented him from drinking any alcohol.  After a few moments, the Deputy said goodbye.

The Deputy then got into his patrol car and watched Mr. Brenner fill up on gas and drive out of the parking lot.  As soon as he did so, the Deputy flipped on his lights and pulled the young man over.  Mr. Brenner had driven only 30 yards, without swerving or any erratic driving.

Confused, Mr. Brenner turned off the car, and the Deputy conducted field sobriety tests on him.  Mr. Brenner did as well as he could—but had just had multiple plates and screws put in his hip and ankle.  Putting pressure on these areas caused him terrible pain.  He awkwardly motioned to his injured areas, telling the Deputy he wasn’t able to properly do a walk-the-line or one-legged stand.  The Deputy did not note this in his police report, but concluded Mr. Brenner had failed the field sobriety tests, and booked him for driving under the influence.

What happened?

Under Utah law, individuals can be charged with driving under the influence of prescription drugs if they (1) have the drug in their system, (2) present a “bad driving pattern”, and (3) fail field sobriety tests administered by the officer.

Looking back.  After speaking with Mr. Brenner in the checkout line, the Deputy knew Mr. Brenner had taken oxycodone that day.  During his conversation with the Deputy, Mr. Brenner was clearly not impaired.  The Deputy did not have enough to charge him with a crime then.

But the subjective guidelines for charging someone DUI might allow the Deputy to get sufficient evidence—if Mr. Brenner were driving a vehicle.  So rather than stop Mr. Brenner from driving, the Deputy waited until Mr. Brenner got back in his car to drive again.

Why would the officer do this?  If Mr. Brenner was not impaired, how could the officer arrest him?

These facts would only come out at trial, on March 26, 2014.  On cross-examination, defense attorney James Lee questioned the Deputy for over an hour, grilling him on just these points:  Had Mr. Brenner seemed under the influence in the gas station?  If so, why hadn’t the Deputy stopped Mr. Brenner before he drove?  What erratic driving had he observed?  Had the Deputy properly performed the field sobriety tests?

The Deputy admitted that he did not have enough evidence of impairment before Mr. Brenner got back in his car.  When Attorney Lee showed the Deputy his dash cam video from the traffic stop, the Deputy was unable to point out any erratic driving patterns by Mr. Brenner.  In addition, although the Deputy had failed to note Mr. Brenner’s injuries in his report, the video clearly showed Mr. Brenner pointing to his hip and ankle multiple times during the field sobriety tests; the Deputy was forced to admit Mr. Brenner had told him about these injuries.  Moreover, the Deputy said he had not taken these injuries into account when administering the field sobriety tests.

Then more surprising evidence came to light; the Deputy was in fact a Drug Recognition Expert, specially trained to evaluate drivers who are impaired by drugs, as opposed to alcohol.  Attorney Lee quickly countered with another line of questioning:  Why had he not taken the extra steps to confirm impairment due to drugs?  Why hadn’t he checked for pulse and heartbeat, asked follow-up questions, etc.?  The Deputy admitted that he ended his investigation early to catch more potential DUI suspects.  These actions by the Deputy, concluded Attorney Lee during closing arguments, violated the Drug Recognition Expert guidelines, which recommend extra measures to ensure that a driver is, in fact, impaired due to drugs.

After two and a half hours of deliberation, the jury came back with a verdict—Not Guilty.  For Mr. Brenner, who had been wrongfully accused of the crime, the jury’s decision gave him both freedom and vindication.

Liberty Law, PLLC is a Utah law firm with locations in Salt Lake City, Clinton and American Fork, specializing in Personal Injury and Criminal Defense.  The firm has represented clients in cases involving wrongful death, homicide, and various misdemeanors and felonies.  See their case results on www.utahlibertylaw.com.