Attorney Marc Pelletier from the Law Offices of Russo & Russo takes a keen interest in local DUI checkpoints. In late 2012 he convinced a panel of three Pinellas Circuit Court Judges to declare a St. Pete Beach DUI checkpoint illegal. As a result, the stop of his client’s vehicle, temporary detention and subsequent gathering of evidence by the police was deemed to be in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Because the DUI checkpoint was fatally flawed, the evidence gathered became “tainted” and inadmissible in court. The DUI charge against Pelletier’s client had to be dropped by the prosecutor. See: Appellate Case Number 11-00076APANO
Pelletier has been successful again. On August 25th, 2014 Marc argued that a multi-jurisdictional checkpoint administered by the St. Petersburg Police Department on August 30th and August 31st of 2013 did not conform with the strict requirements of Florida law that governed police conduct at checkpoints. In particular, testimony at the hearing revealed that police officers failed to follow their own “Operational Guidelines” that were drafted in advance for the roadblock. The United States Supreme Court (Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz) and the Florida Supreme Court (State v. Jones) have both held that a detailed written “plan” is an essential pre-requisite to commencing a lawful DUI checkpoint. Likewise, law enforcement officers are thereafter required to strictly abide by the written guidelines in place.
An Attention to Details
In the latest case, Pelletier argued that under certain conditions, the guidelines required law enforcement to only stop every fifth vehicle entering the checkpoint. This “vehicle selection criteria” had to be used if a traffic backup or delay to motorists exceeded seven minutes. To insure compliance, the plan provided that a member of the checkpoint team periodically time vehicles using a stop watch from the entrance of the checkpoint to the exit. These times were recorded on a “checkpoint scribe log.” After some resistance by law enforcement to turn over a copy of the log, Pelletier secured a court order that forced disclosure. Upon a review of the “scribe log,” Pelletier discovered that on one occasion the delay by motorists was eight minutes and 50 seconds long. Yet, law enforcement had failed to implement the stop of “every fifth vehicle” that was called for by the written guidelines.
No Other Lawyer Contested the Validity of the Checkpoint Stop
Marc filed a motion to exclude all evidence in his client’s case. Five St. Petersburg Police officers subsequently testified at a hearing on that motion. All law enforcement officials were forced to admit that there was non-compliance with the “Operational Guidelines.” As a result, the court granted the motion and excluded all the evidence in his client’s DUI case. This evidence included:
- A breath test reading in excess of three times the legal limit;
- Observations of impairment made by law enforcement personnel;
- The video recording of field sobriety testing;
- An admission to consuming an excessive quantity of alcohol
It is interesting to note that numerous other individuals were impacted by being stopped at this same checkpoint. In this regard, the St. Petersburg Police:
- Issued 50 traffic tickets;
- Arrested 2 other drivers for DUI;
- Arrested 16 drivers for misdemeanor offenses, and;
- Arrested 3 other drivers for felony offenses.
All of these cases were tainted in the same fashion and highly vulnerable to being dismissed. Yet, our research has revealed that in no other case was a challenge to the DUI checkpoint ever raised.
How this Lawyer has Been Successful in Challenging Checkpoints
Marc’s intensive study of the law surrounding DUI Checkpoints started over a decade ago when he was an Assistant State Attorney. Not only did he prosecute cases that arose out of DUI checkpoints, he also acted as an “on-site advisor” to the police at DUI checkpoint locations. It was during this time that Marc received the State Attorney’s Agency Service award for his “Outstanding Performance and Service” to the prosecutor’s office.
After becoming a criminal defense lawyer, Marc attended the National College of DUI Defense held at Harvard Law School. He also went on to obtain independent training of a nature normally acquired only by law enforcement officers. Marc received certification in the administration of Standardized NHTSA Field Sobriety Exercises and certification in the proper operation of the Intoxilyzer 8000 breath testing machine. In a nutshell, Marc made it his business to know law enforcement’s business.
A Recognized Passion for Defending Those Facing a DUI
In 2010, Marc was elected by his peers to serve as the President of the “Pinellas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.” He was also honored to be one of only four local lawyers chosen to serve on the “NHTSA DUI Gold Standards Committee.” Marc’s passion for DUI defense is perhaps best exemplified by the vintage breath testing museum that has been assembled in his office. His collection contains instruments used by law enforcement that date back to 1937. It represents the largest known private collection of breath testing instruments in Florida. He has also been interviewed on DUI topics by members of the local television and newspaper media.
We Take Our Job and Your DUI Charge Very Seriously
Simply assuming that the police have lawfully conducted an investigation is never a good idea. Seeking the intervention of an experienced and highly qualified attorney can at times, make a big difference in the ultimate final outcome of your case.
When our law office represents a client facing a DUI charge, we do far more than a cursory review of the evidence. We take your case and our reputation seriously. Sometimes the “devil is in the details.” In a DUI case, that translates into a careful review of every aspect of the police investigation. This often includes:
- Reviewing the lawfulness of the stop of your motor vehicle;
- Carefully critiquing the field sobriety testing;
- Being on the look-out for Miranda violations,
- Questioning the accuracy of breath testing results;
- Examining the Intoxilyzer maintenance and calibration;
- Verifying the breath testing operators’ permit and mandatory continuing education;
- Filing “public record requests” for the personnel files of the police officers who are case connected;
- Scrutinize the narrative police offense reports, alcohol influence forms, Field Sobriety Worksheets, breath test affidavits;
- Ordering security footage from the Pinellas County Jail to independently evaluate our client’s appearance from that of the roadside video;
- Securing medical records that might demonstrate that our client’s “impaired” appearance was caused by a medical condition or physical disability;
- Photographing the area where field sobriety testing took place to demonstrate that it was not level, well lit or free of obstructions that could have interfered with our client’s performance;
- Utilizing DUI Pro software to evaluate whether our client’s breath alcohol level was lower at the time of driving due to retrograde extrapolation;
- Reviewing the “Mutual Aid Agreement” in cases where an officer makes an arrest outside of his jurisdiction to ascertain compliance;
- Search for signs of “copying and pasting” in police generated documents that suggest shortcuts by law enforcement and the falsification of details associated with the investigation.
We are skilled in effectively dealing with the DHSMV administrative ramifications that will arise if you provided a breath test sample in excess of a .08 or refused to submit to Intoxilyer or urine testing. Our office regularly assists clients in making application for a hardship license in an effort to avoid having their DUI arrest interfere with their employment or educational pursuits. If you were charged with Driving under the Influence in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, or other cities within Pinellas County, we can help.
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