Adenhart’s friend/driver was DUI too

From the O.C. Register:

An autopsy report showed Courtney Frances Stewart had a blood-alcohol content above the legal limit for someone her age when the car she was driving was struck by an alleged drunken driver on April 9, prosecutors said . . . Toxicology tests conducted by the Orange County Coroner showed Stewart had a blood-alcohol content of .06, said Deputy District Attorney Susan Price. The legal limit in California for drivers under 21 is .01, while the limit for drivers 21 or older is .08.

There’s a self-serving quote from the defendant’s lawyer, in which he says that this new information is “a big revelation.” Hardly. The fact that Stewart was over the legal limit for people under 21 only means that she could, if she were still alive, be charged with DUI. Her being under the influence, however, does not mean that she did anything to cause the crash, and for Gallo’s lawyer to push that defense would require some evidence, beyond her mere BAC, that Stewart’s driving contributed to the collision. The evidence that has been reported so far, however, suggests that the driver of the other car, Andrew Gallo, was driving at a high rate of speed and ran a red light while sporting a blood-alcohol content of at least .19 (his reading two hours after the crash). Jurors will be taking all of that into account. They won’t simply look at the BAC levels of the drivers, throw their hands up in the air and say “well, both were drunk, no harm, no foul.”

This same type of situation, you may already know, is at play in the Jim Leyritz case. There, the driver who was killed was likewise over the legal limit. Leyritz’s lawyer is apparently going to present evidence that her driving, and not Leyritz’s, is what led to the accident. The BAC levels will be relevant for that inquiry, but the matter of who ran the red light and how they were otherwise driving is going to be far more relevant.

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  1. Bill said...

    How about the fact that, as an adult in every way but this one, Stewart was “under the influence” only in the strictly legal sense of the word, while the dude was completely soused? I’m sure they can find an expert to testify that a 20 year old (or whatever she was) with a .06 isn’t impaired in any significant way.

    I think I’d probably try literally every other job in the world (not just in the legal profession; I mean, like, McDonald’s or Wal-Mart) before I took a position as a defense attorney in these types of cases. You have to either be the scum of the earth or be more than willing to come off as such, and at some point there ceases to be a difference ‘twixt the two…

  2. kendynamo said...

    i never liked it when news reports site how drunk someone was by being “twice over the legal limit” or whatever.  and its especially absurd to say that a 20 year-old’s threshold for being drunk is the legal limit, ie the no tolerance level of 0.01.

    the whole thing sucks but some of this stuff always gets distorted because of the sensitivity of the crime of drunk driving.

  3. Jeff Akston said...

    .06 is not impaired. 

    That comment is tantamount to blaming an under 21 rape victim for having a drink in her hand.  SHE WAS BREAKING THE LAW TOO!

  4. Aaron Moreno said...

    Now, I disagree with that, Bill. I’ve clerked on the prosecution side (working for the DA is the dream), and I tend to have a lot of respect for most defense attorneys. Most are good and ethical attorneys. I have also seen bad attorneys who I don’t trust. It’s true anywhere.

    I see what the defense is going for in this case. If they can show at least negligence by the victim driver, then maybe he can get a conviction on a lesser included offense. I just don’t think it’s a good idea.

  5. Mike said...

    Give the defense attorney a break, he has a job to do and he is doing it.  Its his job to make the best argument that supports his client using the facts that he is given.  He had no part in the incident and I’m sure he does not condone drunk driving.

  6. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Bill—In my experience (which I’ll grant is limited to Ohio) I have found the criminal defense bar to, generally speaking, be filled with really solid people who do a hard job as well as circumstances allow.  Defendinding these cases doesn’t make someone scum. Defending them unethically does, and I’ve rarely if ever seen that happen.  The stuff that goes on in big dollar civil cases is far, far more egregious, and I have a way easier time calling some of those guys scumbags.

    Ken: I don’t mean to diminish the severity of drunken driving because it is a serious crime, but yeah, there is a LOT of legal fiction and baggage that goes on in the land of DUI, mostly due to MADD lobbying and grandstanding politicians.  Thankfully, the crimes that accompany DUI—vehicular homicide, manslaughter, etc.—are judged with evidence and reason as opposed to the irrebutable presumptions and other silly stuff that applies to the specific crimes of DUI.

  7. Bill said...

    Aaron and Craig- you’re right that I was painting with way too broad of a brush there. I also know some criminal defense attorneys who are fine people, and have done some criminal defense pro bono work myself. I think by “this type of case” I specifically had in mind high-profile cases just exactly like this, a particularly despicable crime where there’s really no question about what happened or whose fault it was. It seems to always turn into looking for ways to blame the victim (kind of understandably so, since there are no other legs to stand on). And that may or may not be “ethical” depending on the circumstances, but it’s always pretty distasteful.

  8. Rob² said...

    As my father-in-law says, “Everyone is entitled to a defense.”

    That pretty much sums up the principle behind Article Three and the Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution, no?

  9. Bill said...

    Not only blame the victim, I should say, but drag the victim through the mud in a very public forum. That’s the “high-profile” part—I think there’s a certain subclass of criminal defense attorney that tends to gravitate toward those cases.

  10. Vin said...

    So, basically, she drank underage, but not that much, and got behind the wheel? The irony of this is that if she were born a year earlier, it wouldn’t even be an issue. Does anyone seriously believe that, poof, on your 21st birthday you are suddenly capable of driving of driving with a BAC of up to .08?

    I think anyone with any moral sense can see that the other guy was both hammered and flagrantly violating traffic laws. That the other driver seems to have had a drink or two in her is beyond irrelevant.

  11. Bryan said...

    According to the autopsy report I read, her BAC was .16.  That’s much different than the .08 Craig linked…

    “However, I obtained a copy of a toxicological report this morning showing that Courtney Stewart was also driving while intoxicated, with a blood alcohol content of .16 percent, twice the legal limit assuming that Stewart, who was 20, was allowed to drink. The legal limit for underage drivers is actually .01 percent, meaning that Stewart was 16 times drunker than the law allows.”

  12. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Bryan—the article I linked addresses that:

    “The OC Weekly posted on its Web site a copy of Stewart’s toxicology report showing she had a post-mortem blood alcohol content of .16.

    “Price said Stewart’s peripheral blood alcohol content of .06 is the correct measurement, as was testified to by a doctor during grand jury hearings in the case.”

    I think we’re dealing with a misprint on the report.

  13. Bob said...

    We’re also dealing with a “consider-the-source” issue with the OC Weekly.  That publication is almost as bad as the tabloids when it comes to distortion of facts and biased reporting.  It should be read for entertainment purposes only – not as a serious source of news.

  14. Ron said...

    Having lived in California, the .01 for under 21 is because the legal drinking age is 21.

    It’s not really meant to be an indication of impaired, or level of impairment.

    It’s saying, “You’re under age, and you’ve been drinking, and now you’re driving.”  Guilty!

    .01 might make her bombed, she might have passed any skills test around. But the point is she was drinking and driving underage. Not saying the other guy should walk because of that, but somehow if that is brought to bear on the case, what’s the point of the law?

    And if those laws don’t matter, how can they prosecute the other guy?

    I’m not defending anyone, I’m just curious.

  15. Craig Calcaterra said...

    The point of the law is to punish the underaged for driving after having even a bit of alcohol. While I question the purpose of such a law, it is the law, and if Adenhart’s friend had survived, I wouldn’t have much of a problem charging her with violation of that particular DUI law (if you don’t like the law, try to get it changed).

    The point of the DUI laws is not, however, to be a shortcut to establishing the responsibility for a crash.  The inquiry for a vehicular homicide case is whether the person driving caused the crash and thus the deaths.  That includes speed, obeying red lights, etc. You can be drunk (technically DUI, even) and not have caused such an accident.  As such, whether someone was drunk is, in fact, only marginally relevant to the inquiry.

    They can prosecute the other guy because, based on the reports I’ve read, he was speeding and ran a red light and crashed into Adenhart’s car which was operating within the bounds of the traffic laws.  If Gallo wants to argue that it was truly Adenhart’s driver who caused the wreck, great, let him, but he’s going to have to do more than establish that she had been drinking too. He’s going to have to establish that the totality of her acts contributed significantly—and maybe definitively—to the crash and the deaths.

    Nothing I’ve read about this accident suggests that such evidence exists.

  16. Aaron Moreno said...

    Like I said, I can see this as a mitigating defense. Just don’t think it’s a good idea. This could be a career case for the DDA, so she may want to hammer him.

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