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Chris Klein: DUI Doubleshot in California

Actor Chris Klein, 31, best known for his role as “Oz” in the hit movie “American Pie,” was arrested, yet again, for DUI near Van Nuys, California. According to police, Klein had a blood alcohol level that was more than twice the legal limit. Police also claim that he failed field sobriety tests.

Klein was released on a $25,000 bond that he posted using the same bondsman Lindsay Lohan used during her recent run in with the courts.

As a criminal defense attorney who has litigated thousands of DUI cases in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I can tell you a number of things about Klein’s case. First of all, the fact that he has had a second offense reveals that he hasn’t learned one of the most fundamental lessons of adult life: take a cab.

This fact is especially onerous given his celebrity status. Someone in his position cannot afford negative press in any form. That means getting arrested for DUI carries even more negative consequences than it does for a regular Joe. The fact that he is still pushing the limit tells me that he still has some growing up to do.

Why do I mention this? It isn’t to denigrate Mr. Klein, but rather to point out the intuitive and objective type of thinking that a solid criminal defense lawyer must employ. Like a doctor, an attorney must maintain his or her objectivity, no matter how much cool aid your client tries to force feed you.

Recognizing that Klein has maturity issues or a possible alcohol problem is important because those are the thoughts his judge will be having – I guarantee it.

Second, Klein may be facing an enhanced penalty because he is a repeat offender. In Florida, a person who is convicted of a second DUI within 5 years faces a minimum of 10 days in jail or 28 days in a rehabilitation facility. California may require similar sanctions.

Third, given the fact that no one was seriously injured or killed, it is doubtful that Klein will face any kind of serious jail sentence. Again, I am no expert in California law, but in Florida, second time offenders who don’t hurt or kill anyone rarely get more than a couple weeks time in jail, if that.

Now that’s the bad news.

Insofar as a defense is concerned, Klein’s lawyers will need to determine why the police conducted a traffic stop. Under the U.S. Constitution, a police officer may only detain someone or conduct a traffic stop if they can articulate a reasonable basis as to why they thought a crime had been committed, was being committed, or was about to be committed.

This includes violations of the traffic code. In other words, if an officer caught Klein speeding, running a traffic control device, such as a stop sign, or otherwise violating the traffic code, the stop and subsequent detention may be lawful under California law.

Analyzing the traffic stop is important because if it wasn’t lawful any and all evidence procured as a result of that stop must be excluded by the judge. This may include any observations of Klein’s physiological appearance (such as red, bloodshot eyes, flushed faced, slurred speech, etc.), Klein’s performance on field sobriety exercises, and Klein’s breath test results.

Without this evidence, prosecutors would have no case. In these situations, prosecutors will usually offer a change of charge to a lesser offense in exchange for a defendant’s agreement to not pursue the illegal stop issue.

A defendant would normally agree to such an offer simply because the guaranteed win is sometimes not worth the risk of losing, even when that risk is nominal. In criminal law, much like in surgery, there are variable that are both unknown and uncontrollable. These factors give trial work an element of risk that makes settlement a viable option for defendants with a low risk threshold.

The fact that thousands of criminal cases are lost by prosecutors every year, simply because the police conducted an illegal traffic stop, makes analysis if the traffic stop an essential part of any DUI defense.

Next, a good defense team will want to analyze the field sobriety exercises. In Florida, some counties record these on video. These videos can both be a blessing and a curse. When the client is borderline or not impaired, the video will set the record straight. However, if the client looks like a sloppy drunk, it kinda seals the deal.

Simply put, seeing is believing.

These videos are so powerful, that juries have been known to acquit DUI defendants who had extremely high breath test results. At the end of the day, most jurors use their common sense and go with what they see. If the evidence isn’t consistent and the video looks good, they acquit.

Anyway, these are just some of the finer points that Klein’s defense team will need to investigate. There are many others, but some depend on the nuances of California DUI law. Regardless, I hope this experience teaches Klein a valuable lesson that his career, his safety, and the safety of others are worth a whole lot more than the cost of a cab.