Lessons Learned From This Major Leaguer’s DUI Case
Recently, Texas Ranger Pitcher Jeremy Jeffress was arrested for driving while impaired (DWI) in Dallas Texas (driving under the influence DUI in Pennsylvania). While I’m not licensed in the State of Texas, his situation made me think about how I would defend this twenty-eight year major league pitcher if this occurred in my hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I wanted to challenge myself even more with the assumption that Mr. Jeffress wouldn’t qualify for any type of diversion program even though he probably will be eligible for something like ARD in Dallas.
The Jeffress case is just another example of how a drunk driving charge can happen to anyone, even a major league baseball player whose fastball is clocked at about 96 mph and who was the 16th overall pick in the MLB 2006 draft! While MLB isn’t going to suspend Jeffress, he is reportedly entering rehab which will no doubt assist with the resolution of the criminal charges against him.
I’m going to give you my potential criminal defense strategy if Jeffress walked into my office and wanted to fight this case. This strategy may change if I had a chance to review the discovery in the case but let’s assume that what I read on the news websites was all true. Here’s what I would do.
Pre-Trial Issue Analysis
Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause for the Stop
Normally, police need probable cause to stop a car in Pennsylvania. Probable cause is the belief that a crime is occurring, has occurred, or is about to occur, based on the police officer’s training, experience and education. Probable cause to stop a car is any violation of the traffic code like speeding or the failure to signal. In Pennsylvania, however, police don’t need probable cause to stop a person for DUI, they just need reasonable suspicion. Reasonable Suspicion is a lower form of probable cause and is just the suspicion that a crime is occurring, has occurred or is about to occur. In the Jeffress case, police stopped the car allegedly because it crossed a lane without signaling and almost struck another car. This observation gave police enough to at least stop the car.
After they stopped Jeffress’s car, police had to establish probable cause to arrest him for DUI. From defense standpoint, a motion to suppress the stop of the car wouldn’t be successful. A motion to suppress the traffic stop would ask a court to find that police didn’t have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop the car and therefore all evidence found thereafter would inadmissible at trial (Exclusionary Rule). Motions to Suppress Evidence are based on a violation of person’s 4th amendment right against illegal search and seizure. In this case, the prosecution would have a strong argument for the constitutionality of the traffic stop but perhaps have a more difficult argument for probable cause to arrest for suspicion of DUI.
Police said that they arrested Jeffress because his eyes were blood shot, smelled like alcohol, and he that failed the sobriety test. Prior to administering the test, it appeared that Jeffress told them that he had to urinate and in fact urinated on himself during the test. This sounds disgusting but this may actually help with a defense argument! Unlike the results of a chemical test, like a blood draw or breathalyzer, the results on a field sobriety test are subjective. Police claim that he failed the test but it isn’t clear whether they properly demonstrated how to perform the tests and whether they read the instructions to him. All 3 of the Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST) (walk and turn, one leg stand and Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) all require an instruction phase before a criminal suspect is given the test.
In the Jeffress case, his need to urinate would have no doubt affected his ability to properly perform a test that requires a person to perform some fairly awkward physical movements. Jeffress clearly complained about the urge to urinate prior to taking the SFST and so a judge would need to consider it during a motion to suppress the arrest. During this motion, however, a judge will look at the totality of the circumstances which means all of the police officer’s observations including the SFST results. A judge will also evaluate the officer’s credibility regarding his observation of Jeffress’s physical appearance.
If I was going to trial on Jeffress’s case I would file a motion to suppress even if the basis was weak! If you’re going to trial, the prosecution isn’t giving you anything so why make their case easier by waiving any possible violations of your 4th amendment rights. You can only assert these rights before trial where you can be charged with 9 different types of DUI in PA!
If your criminal defense lawyer is going into a DUI trial, he needs to start with a motion to suppress. While a motion to suppress focuses on a person’s constitutional right against illegal search and seizure, trial focuses on the prosecution’s ability to meet all of the elements of DUI beyond a reasonable doubt! In this case, I would attack the results of the blood test specifically the procedure used to draw a person’s blood. The results in Jeffress’s case is probably the strongest defense argument because the prosecutor will probably not have any trouble establishing (1) control (the fact that Jeffress drove the car) and (2) impairment (he appeared unfit to safely drive a car).
The defense in his case would need to examine at who drew the blood and how it was drawn. Further, we would need to look at anything that would call into question the chain of custody. An issue with the chain of custody could cause a judge or jury to find that prosecution could not establish a specific BAC level beyond a reasonable doubt. Even without the results, however, the prosecution could still meet its burden of proof for the lowest tiered DUI in Pennsylvania. Section 3802(a)(1) only requires the prosecution to prove impairment without a specific BAC reading. There is no license suspension for a first offense DUI under this section.
ARD may best option for Mr. Jeffress but I would go to trial if the prosecutor only offered him the mandatory minimum sentencing and not ARD. It would be unlikely that he would get any more than the mandatory sentence if he was convicted for the DUI. He probably has good character which would not only help at trial but also at sentencing. For more information on DUI, check out my free download section.
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