So you think your high-blow alcohol DUI or marijuana DUI is bad? Did the cops who stopped you call a DRE (Drug Recognition Expert? Was there a BLOOD DRAW?
Important Disclaimer: Derrick Coleman clearly has, like we all do, the constitutional right to be presumed innocent, etc. The Bellevue police report states that Coleman's blood draw was clean – no Spice was present, we are told, and apparently the Bellevue cops are saying that there is not enough evidence to charge Mr. Coleman with DUI, but they now are asking that King County Prosecutors charge Coleman with Vehicular Assault and Hit and Run.
Look at these articles about Seattle Seahawk football player Derrick Coleman, who allegedly smoked “spice” (synthetic marijuana”) before driving and ran into a Bellevue man, allegedly causing allegedly serious alleged injuries, then being found about 2 blocks away from the accident scene:
“Bellevue man hit by Seahawks' Derrick Coleman says he has no hard feelings but may sue” Jan. 28, 2016. http://mynorthwest.com/292/2902221/Bellevue-man-hit-by-Seahawks-Derrick-Coleman-says-he-has-no-hard-feelings-but-may-sue.
“Charges recommended for Derrick Coleman; Seahawks RB admits to smoking synthetic marijuana.” Jan. 25, 2016. http://mynorthwest.com/292/2899940/Charges-recommended-for-Seahawks-Derrick-Coleman.
“Police say Seahawk Derrick Coleman smoked synthetic marijuana before crash.” Jan. 25, 2016. http://www.seattletimes.com/sports/seahawks/police-recommend-felony-charges-against-seahawks-derrick-coleman/
“Seahawks' RB Derrick Coleman could face criminal charges for hit-and-run incident.” Jan. 26, 2016. http://www.oregonlive.com/nfl/index.ssf/2016/01/seahawks_rb_coleman_could_face.html
This case is about more than a famous guy, a talented, legally deaf 26-year old Seattle Seahawk. Coleman is now represented by a fellow Bellevue, Washington DUI/criminal defense and trial lawyer. It is also about DUI and/or Vehicular Assault Blood Draws. As a defense attorney with my own cases involving blood draws, which take several months to come back for some mysterious budgetary reason, I often am stunned by how most prosecutors are always happy to use and emphasize them when they come back from the State Toxicology Lab showing the defendant (my client) had high levels of alcohol and/or drugs (street or prescription drugs – “any drug”), BUT the they so readily ignore or discount the blood draw results, which their police have to get pursuant to calling a judge usually late at night to get a search warrant to seize the suspect's blood, if it shows nothing or very low levels, such as low levels of prescription med's that may even be below the therapeutic level. It could be spice, Valium, heroin or aspirin – if the level is high they love the blood test and say it proves the defendant guilty, but if it's low, the test is not that important.
The Bellevue cops say Mr. Coleman's blood draw results came back negative – clean; yet they are claiming that they have a “rock solid” case against him, and that he should be charged with Vehicular Assault and Hit & Run-Attended (respectively a felony and a gross misdemeanor). Last week, on Monday 01/25/2016, the Bellevue Police Department, released a 101-page report, which his attorney rightly objected to as follows:
Coleman's attorney […] of Bellevue, said Monday that Coleman passed all field sobriety tests and that the substance his client reportedly said he took is “not an illegal substance and from all indications that we have heard it didn't have an influence on his ability to drive. I don't know what that has to do with it. It is an over-the-counter substance. I have seen the test results and I can be absolutely confident that there was nothing in his blood that would have impaired his ability to drive. … Our position is that he wasn't driving recklessly and that he didn't commit either of these offenses.''
[Coleman's attorney] said he was stunned that the department released its full report before charges had been filed.
“I've never seen a police department issue what amounts to a manifesto of why they are filing their case before charges have ever been filed,'' [his attorney] said. “In my opinion it is an attempt to save face by tarring Derrick with as many infractions as they could possibly divine from this incident.''
There was also recently some mention in the media that Coleman, the third legally deaf professional football player in US history, had his hearing aids fall out and was thus disoriented causing the crash, or he may have accidentally dozed off for a moment from being tired or who knows why. This may ultimately be decided by a jury. The defense lawyer is very capable – even legendary among the criminal defense bar, but so is the experienced Senior Deputy King County Felony Vehicular Assault and Vehicular Homicide Prosecutor, Amy Freedheim, who is very fair but very tough.
Derrick Coleman allegedly admitted smoking “Spice” going 60 MPH in a 35 MPH speed zone in Bellevue, Washington, and had some over-the-counter, legal spice and smoking paraphernalia for the spice in his car. Coleman allegedly rear-ended a Bellevue computer support guy who was driving a smaller car (Honda Civic) and the victim's car was forced up onto an embankment. It flipped over and landed on its hood. See the photo in the above-referenced article, at: http://mynorthwest.com/292/2902221/Bellevue-man-hit-by-Seahawks-Derrick-Coleman-says-he-has-no-hard-feelings-but-may-sue. That picture might look better to a plaintiffs' personal injury practitioner than any Monet, Rembrandt, Picasso or the Mona Lisa. Kris Fine, the 57-year old Bellevue, WA victim, or I should say alleged victim, allegedly sustained an alleged broken collarbone and an alleged head injury, with allegedly continuing pain, so he reportedly is alleging.
Derrick Coleman would seem to be in real serious trouble if the charges the Bellevue cops want the King County Prosecuting Attorney's office to file are in fact filed, which I am guessing they will be, under our State's Hit-and-Run statute, RCW 46.52.020 and/or RCW 46.61.522 (our Vehicular Assault statute), which references and incorporates the Washington DUI statute, RCW 46.61.502, for Vehicular Assaults committed by drunk or drug-impaired driving). Here, in relevant part, are these three statutes:
Duty in case of personal injury or death or damage to attended vehicle or other property—Penalties.
(1) A driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in the injury to or death of any person or involving striking the body of a deceased person shall immediately stop such vehicle at the scene of such accident or as close thereto as possible but shall then forthwith return to, and in every event remain at, the scene of such accident until he or she has fulfilled the requirements of subsection (3) of this section; every such stop shall be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary.
Driving under the influence.
(1) A person is guilty of driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug if the person drives a vehicle within this state:
(a) And the person has, within two hours after driving, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher as shown by analysis of the person's breath or blood made under RCW 46.61.506; or
(b) The person has, within two hours after driving, a THC concentration of 5.00 or higher as shown by analysis of the person's blood made under RCW 46.61.506; or
(c) While the person is under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug; or
That's a gross misdemeanor, but this young sports figure allegedly hit and injured (a 57-year-old Bellevue man going 60 in a 35 MPH zone in his Dodge Ram truck. Like I said, the man has alleged personal injuries from this incident. Vehicular Assault is a Class C felony under:
(1) A person is guilty of vehicular assault if he or she operates or drives any vehicle:
(a) In a reckless manner and causes substantial bodily harm to another; or
(b) While under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug, as defined by RCW 46.61.502, and
causes substantial bodily harm to another; or
(c) With disregard for the safety of others and causes substantial bodily harm to another.
(2) Vehicular assault is a class B felony punishable under chapter 9A.20 RCW.
(3) As used in this section, "substantial bodily harm" has the same meaning as in RCW 9A.04.110.
So what about this drug, Spice? The synthetic dope that our star, Coleman, allegedly admitted he allegedly smoked? Is it cool or not? Decidedly Not. It's synthetic, fake marijuana. Or, as Wikipedia defines it: “Synthetic cannabis, or technically synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists are designer drugs that mimic the effects of cannabis sprayed onto an herbal base material.” That Wikipedia article, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_cannabis#Safety, states:
Compared to cannabis and its active cannabinoid THC, the adverse effects are often much more severe and can include hypertension, tachycardia, myocardial infarction, agitation, vomiting, hallucinations, psychoses, seizures, convulsions and panic attacks. Among individuals who need emergency treatment after using synthetic cannabis, the most common symptoms are accelerated heartbeat, high blood pressure, nausea, blurred vision, hallucination and agitation. Other symptoms included epileptic seizures, acute psychosis, and heart attacks.
At least one death has been linked to overdose of synthetic cannabinoid and in Colorado three deaths in September 2013 have been investigated for being linked to synthetic cannabinoids.
The moral of this story?
If you use a substance that's not yet written into the law, you may avoid getting a DUI, but you may still be held responsible for what happens; and worse - the prosecution may be extra tough, in order to make an example out of you. If you are doing something that may impair your driving, from 'Bath Salts' and 'Spice' to spinning like Wonder Woman until you fall down, don't drive until you've fully recovered; have someone else drive if you need to get somewhere.
Mr. Coleman admitted his substance use to the police, which as on every cop show: “Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law.” The blood tests came back clean, so without his admission, it may not have caught the special attention of the prosecution and been treated as an ordinary accident.
Blood draws in this state are a gold standard weapon for the prosecutor when they are incriminating, but merely an almost irrelevant matter if they come back clean or low, as that would tend to show innocence (i.e., when they are exculpatory blood test results). It looks like the state only likes blood tests if the results will help them to convict. Do you think that's fair? Perhaps the 12-person jury will have a “twelfth man” or two on it and will acquit our young friend, the amazing Seahawk running back via what is called “jury nullification,” which I will discuss in my next blog. It'll be a good one, I promise, so Stay Tuned.