Nicole died right after graduation.
"It was the worst Father’s Day present my husband has ever received. Father’s day has never and will never be the same again," said Nicole's mother, Teresa Moats.
These are words from Theresa Moats when asked how the crash that occurred on Father’s Day, June 15, 2008 in Licking County, Ohio changed their lives.
Nicole Swigert Moats, 18, was headed home with four friends from the local movie theater. This particular movie theater was a popular hangout spot, so it was not unusual for Nicole and her friends to go to the movies often.
It was a little after midnight when the drunk driver crashed into the vehicle driven by Nicole’s friend. Nicole and two of her friends were killed and the other passenger sustained serious injuries. The offender was 2X's the legal limit and sentenced to 10 years for three counts of vehicular homicide and one count of vehicular assault.
Mr. and Mrs. Moats always taught their children about drinking and driving. In fact, in 7th grade Nicole completed a project that focused on the 10 important things in life. Number three was “don’t drink and drive.”
Mr. and Mrs. Moats appreciate the support MADD has given them and the mission to eliminate drunk driving.
“Nicole had a contagious personality, was a really good kid and never got into any trouble, worked two jobs in high school, and wanted to be a veterinarian once she completed college, “ said Teresa Moats when asked to describe how she remembers Nicole. “I am against drinking and driving, always have been and always will be.”
We want to hear from you!
Sunshine. No school. BBQs and swimsuits.
With Memorial Day behind us, summer is officially here – and with it the “100 deadliest days” of the summer driving season, according to AAA, the automobile research and educational group.
In the past five years, based on data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an average of 1,022 people – or about 10 per day – died during the 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
The summer is especially dangerous for teen drivers between the ages of 16 to 19, as more of them are driving. The average number of deaths climbs 16% over other times of the year, AAA shared in a CNN article.
What creates this spike in drunk driving, a 100% preventable crime?
Well, for one, more people are on the road. Think road trips and family vacations. Additionally, at least this year, low gasoline prices make it possible for more people to hit the road than in recent years.
Finally, the 100 days includes popular drinking holidays like Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day.
Remember, if your summer includes alcohol, plan ahead. Designate a non-drinking driver, call a taxi or Uber, or take public transportation.
If you’d like to share the gift of a safe ride home, here is a designated driver coupon you can share with your loved ones to let them know you will get them home safely.
The MADD 24-hour Victim Help Line is making a difference in more victim's lives than ever before. The number of victims served through the help line increased by 21% in 2015.
Overall, MADD provides a service to a victim every three minutes. And since MADD’s founding, more than 820,000 victims have received assistance navigating through the legal system, referrals to critical and local resources, and connections to victims experiencing the same grief at no cost.
#MADDLIVE Join us to talk about our 24/7 Victim Help LinePosted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) on Thursday, June 2, 2016
“The Help Line has been a lifeline for victims and survivors who don’t know who else to turn to,” said MADD National Manager of Victim Services Heather Estudillo. “Sometimes victims need a safe place to talk about what they are going through or to find out what options they have now.”
Even though we wish we weren’t needed, MADD is proud to be here until we aren't, such as was the case with one repeat caller.
“She always calls in the middle of the night, and I’ve spoken with her many times,” Heather said. “But each time I talk to her, I can hear her progress in her own healing journey. She calls less often now, because she is doing better and doesn’t need us is the same way as she did before.” "We will always be here for victims and survivors like her."
We'd like to say thank you to all the MADD staff members and volunteers who keep the Victim Help Line running, as well as the members and donors who make the service possible every day.
Please share the Victim Help Line 1-877-MADD-HELP (877-623-3435) with any victims of drugged or drunk driving you know. We are here to help.
National tour of MADD branding with graphic designer.Posted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) on Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Drunk driving crashes recklessly into a life, senselessly and selfishly destroying families and breaking hearts before continuing down the road to dispense more tragedy. This crime kills about 10,000 and injures around 290,000 people a year, leaving hundreds of thousands to pick themselves up and continue carrying on despite the overwhelming loss.
When someone loses a loved one to drunk or drugged driving or is injured in a crash, many people feel a common urge to offer comfort, but some words hurt more than others. Here are the top seven phrases NOT to say to a drunk or drugged driving victim.
1. They are in a better place. Although usually well-meaning, these words may resonate badly with someone who has lost a loved one in a drunk or drugged driving crash as they would rather have their loved one here with them.
2. It was just an accident. Accidents are something unforeseeable and unexpected. When someone chooses to drink and drive – that's not an accident. It’s a crash waiting to happen. Drunk and drugged driving crashes are 100% preventable.
3. Texting/speeding/any other distracted driving is just as bad as drunk driving. No doubt, other dangerous habits kill and injure people on our roads, such as speeding and distracted driving. But those two categories combined don't equal the number of deaths, not to mention injuries and property damage, caused by drunk and drugged driving. Comparing it diminishes the problem.
4. Saying nothing at all. After a drunk driving crash, friends can sometimes avoid saying the loved one's name or just simply not know what to say, so they keep their distance. But drunk or drugged driving victims want and need that support and permission to talk about their loss. Be a friend that will listen and stay close, even if you are uncomfortable. Follow the victim's cue. If they want to talk about their loss, just listen. If they don't want to talk, just be there for them.
5. You’re lucky to be alive. Drunk driving victims and survivors might not feel lucky at all. They may feel traumatized, lost, and raw with emotions. Such statements may actually do the opposite of what you intend and hurt the person you are trying to comfort.
6. You need to forgive. Every victim feels differently about the crash and about forgiveness. Some feel like they will never be able to forgive the person who caused the crash, others feel like it's very important for them to do so. There is no right answer, so don't push people to do something they may not be able or ready to do.
7. Aren’t you over it already? There is no closure following a drunk or drugged driving crash. When someone is injured or killed they don't just “get over it”. Crashes affect people in different ways throughout their lives, and they will likely never go back to where they were before the crash happened.
If you or someone you know is dealing with the devastation caused by a drunk or drugged driving crash, don't hesitate to call our 24/7 Victim Help Line at 1-877-MADD-HELP. Then, you will be connected with a victim advocate, who can help you navigate the courts, locate local resources, and connect with people experiencing a similar grief. Additionally, we have online chat available on our website during normal business hours.
Discover more about victim services today.
A Tarrant County judge sentenced him to 720 days – 180 days for each of the four people killed – as part of his adult probation, but also told the defense team they could argue for a small time period.
MADD snapped into action, writing an open letter to the judge asking him to stick to his original sentence, which, while not enough for the four lives lost and the people who were injured, at least included some jail time. Quickly, more than 2,000 people signed their agreement at www.madd.org/720NotEnough.
Less than 10 hours after sharing the letter, the judge reaffirmed the adult probation terms.
In mid-May, Couch, who has been in solitary confinement since moving to the adult jail system, was moved to a slightly-less confining jail.
Missouri drunk driving offender’s hearing pushed back
Less well-known than Ethan Couch but no less infuriating is the case of Missouri-resident Dylan Meyer, who killed a Springfield woman while drinking underage and then driving. He received five years’ probation, but he was scheduled to head back to court after allegedly violating probation 11 times in two months.
Again, MADD rallied support to draw attention to the REAL victims by asking supporters to add their voice with ours. We asked 5,233 people to sign their name to represent the 5,233 alcohol-related crashes that occurred in Missouri last year. Currently, we are at roughly 1,500.
The hearing was pushed back until June 14th from May 12th. We still need your support! Join us in support of the REAL victim and her family, who must live with the loss of a loved one.
Dear Graduating Class of 2016:
Our son, Bryce Kennedy died in a tragic car crash on October 1, 2006. He was only 19. He was a young man full of hopes and dreams. With aspirations of finishing college, starting a family with the love of his life and living a full happy life.
The night before Bryce died we spoke to Bryce about hopes and his dreams. We reminded him that life is short and that we have to be careful with the choices that we make. And as Bryce usually did he said, “Mom relax, nothing is going to happen to me.”
On the night that Bryce died, he had gone out with friends. He made the choice to get into the vehicle with someone who had been drinking. I remember the phone ringing late in the night. It was one of Bryce’s friends saying that he had been in an accident and that he was at the hospital. My immediate thought is it couldn’t be that bad, the hospital had not called. But Bryce had not called either.
I immediately called the emergency room at the hospital, as a former employee I talked to a former co-worker who stated you need to come on and please be careful. As we got up and started dressing I recall calling our parents to let them know where we were headed, not knowing what was going on. I recall waking our daughter and telling her and the blood curdling scream that she let out, it will be forever etched in my mind. Your entire body starts to shake the uncontrollable shake as your imagination starts to wander with unthinkable thoughts and your heart races. The drive to the hospital was eerily quiet and as we flew down the freeway to get to the hospital. On the way we passed a scene with police, fire crews and ambulances. Big lights all around the crash scene. We just kept going knowing that our son was at the hospital only to find out later that we were passing the scene where it all started.
They took us straight in to see Bryce. There he was intubated with a nurse squeezing a bag for every breath he took. One nurse holding pressure on his head because of the severe open head trauma that he had. IV’s everywhere with fluids and blood hanging. This could not possibly be our son, the son who the night before said, “Mom relax, nothing is going to happen to me.” But it was him. Doctors, nurses and trauma surgeons all around us telling us there was nothing more to be done, the facts were that it was getting harder and harder to get a breath in and that his brain injury was severe but he was probably not in any pain. We were left with one of the hardest decision as parents, really as a human that we have ever made. With our numb bodies, feeling empty and completely alone, we made the decision to take Bryce off of life support and let him go. It has to be the single worst feeling that we have ever experienced in our lives.
We share our story because Bryce could be any of you, if you choose to drink or if you choose to get into the car with someone who has been drinking. We talk about choices because you make that choice, nobody else. Remember the choices that you make not only affect you they affect those around you.
Bryce is forever 19. The impact that Bryce has on other’s lives is not how he wanted to make an impact. Bryce had dreams, dreams that will always be just that, dreams. You, you have the opportunity to carry out your dreams, you have the chance to choose the perfect path, make good decisions, choose not to participate in underage drinking or impaired driving. If you take the time for just a brief moment to think about the choice that Bryce made that night and how Bryce’s family and friends feel about Bryce’s death on a daily basis, then you could understand what underage drinking and impaired driving can cost you and your family. Please stay safe.
The Kennedy Family
Bryce graduated from Cooper High School in 2005. He had been attending Weatherford Junior College. He would turn 29 this year. Bryce loved his family and friends, sports, the great outdoors and The Lord. His friends have all graduated from college, married and started families now. We are the grieving parents that never attended college graduation, that never attended that wedding or meet those amazing grandchildren that could have been. We are the sister who will always mourn the death of the big brother that was always looked up to. For us this is reality, reality of how underage drinking and impaired driving changed our lives, forever.
Please share this~ if it helps only one~
Today, we continue to celebrate National Police Week by highlighting Corporal Jeremy Potocki.
“My dad was caught by angels that day” said Corporal Potocki’s son after a near-death crash almost took the boy’s father.
Normally, towards the end of May, Corporal Potocki and his wife would plan to celebrate their wedding anniversary. However, on May 25, 2014, he stopped a vehicle that was driving 38 miles over the speed limit. As he approached the car, he smelled alcohol from inside of the vehicle. When asked, the driver and passenger informed Corporal Potocki they had been drinking the night before. He asked the driver to exit his vehicle, and, in order to ensure safety, Corporal Potocki asked the driver to move to the right side of his patrol car to avoid being hit by oncoming traffic.
Seconds later, a drunk driver crashed into Corporal Potocki’s patrol vehicle.
Witnesses indicated the drunk driver had been driving on the shoulder for about 1/10 of a mile. When the rear of the patrol vehicle was struck, the front right fender struck Corporal Potocki’s right hip, and he was thrown over the hood of the vehicle. He landed in a ditch about 20 feet away. The drunk driver’s BAC was 0.26, well over the .08% federally-mandated limit. The offender was convicted and sentenced to two years in jail for injuring the passenger in the vehicle and five years of probation for injuring Corporal Potocki.
Corporal Potocki says that the crash changed his and his family’s lives forever. He suffered a mild traumatic brain injury, fractured L5 vertebrae and C4 vertebrae, and was told by physicians that he could not return back to being a state trooper. Being a trooper was a dream he had worked for since high school. Recovery was extremely difficult, the medication he was given had side effects that impacted his entire family. His healing process is still ongoing.
In a split second, the drunk driver changed his life, and he may not be able to return to the work he loved. Since volunteering with MADD, he has become involved in Victim Impact Panels, which he says has been therapeutic and provides an opportunity to share his story. Corporal Potocki is thankful for his family and their dedication. They are what keep him going every single day.
Today, we honor Corporal Jeremy Potocki for his service as an officer upholding the law and working to keep the public safe.
Velocity's Chris Jacobs is lacing up his walking shoes for Houston Walk Like MADD.
MADD Southeast Texas wants Chris to have the largest team at this Saturday's fundraiser. Chris has created Team #OverhaulinMADD, so sign up to walk and join his team by registering at madd.org/overhaulinMADD. Chris will walk, chat, and visit with his team. Just imagine your selfie with Chris!
As of now, the largest team has 43 people. Does he think he can hit his goal?
"Absolutely," said Chris. "We are up to the challenge. Join Team #OverhaulinMADD."
The event is Saturday, May 21st at Oyster Creek Park in Sugar Land, Texas from 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Victims, survivors and supporters will line up for this non-competitive 5K run/walk to remember lost loved ones, inspire change and commit to a nation with No More Victims®.
"I'm proud to walk with my colleagues at Velocity to support a cause that benefits everyone," said Chris. "There is an easy solution to ending drunk driving – just don't do it!"
This walk is especially important because Texas led the nation in drunk driving fatalities in 2014 with 1,446 tragic and preventable deaths. Harris County had the highest number of drunk driving fatalities with 203.
"The best motivation for staying safe is to consider the consequences...It's not just your own safety you're putting at risk. It's everyone's safety," said Chris.
He added that when he does celebrate with alcohol, it is typically near his neighborhood. "I stay close to home a lot, so walking is my favorite alternative to get home after a drink. Beyond that, Uber is always the choice for me. It's easy and much cheaper than making a bad decision."
Funds raised through Walk Like MADD help further MADD’s lifesaving mission in the Houston area by supporting its Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving, which calls for high-visibility law enforcement, ignition interlocks or “in-car breathalyzers” for all convicted drunk drivers and support for the development of advanced technology. Jacobs also serves as a national spokesperson for Velocity’s “Drive Smart,” an advocacy campaign created by Velocity with the help of MADD to encourage and raise awareness for safe driving practices on America’s roadways. Velocity is also the national media sponsor for Walk Like MADD.
"As part of Velocity’s Drive Smart program, I’m honored to walk alongside so many who want to support MADD’s efforts to end drunk driving. I encourage everyone in the Houston community to come join all of us on May 21,” said Chris.
Don't miss out on this great event! Join Chris Saturday for Houston Walk Like MADD.
As part of our recognition of National Police Week, we'd like to highlight a fallen hero.
Scott grew up dreaming of serving as a police officer.
At the age of 14, he joined the Police Explorer Post with the Bridgeton Police Department. After graduating high school, he enlisted in the Navy and was stationed in Oak Harbor Washington. Then, he went through the police academy in Washington and started working as a police officer. Scott wanted to move back home to be closer to family and friends and, he, eventually, became a police officer in Missouri.
He was a very easygoing guy and quite the prankster. You would never see him without a smile. He spent his free time just hanging out with family and friends, and he was the happiest when he was jet skiing at the Lake of the Ozarks. When Scott wasn’t on his jet ski, you could find him running, working out, or watching WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). The sparkle in Scott’s eye was his son, Tyler. Tyler was 8 years old when Scott was killed.
Officer Scott Armstrong was on a routine patrol in early morning hours of January 12, 2005. Calls were coming into 911dispatch about a wrong-way driver. The dispatcher was trying to provide the information to Officer Armstrong over the police radio, but he was unable to respond. The driver had already hit him. The drunk driver, traveling in the wrong direction, collided with his patrol car. Officer Armstrong died at the scene.
Today, we honor Officer Scott Armstrong for his service as an officer upholding the law and working to keep the public safe.
On May 14, 1988, a school bus carrying 67 people, nearly all of them children, was returning to Radcliff, Ky. from a church youth group field trip to an amusement park. While they were driving through Carroll County, Ky., a drunk driver driving on the wrong side of the road crashed into the bus head-on, killing 24 children, the bus driver and two adult chaperones, and injuring 34 others.
As a part of the crash anniversary, MADD is partnering with the filmmakers behind a feature documentary film, IMPACT: AFTER THE CRASH, which tells some of the powerful stories of loss and healing through interviews with many of the crash survivors and victims’ family members. As part of our recognition of the victims - both those that died and the survivors - MADD is proud to offer an exclusive, one-day ONLY viewing of the movie. MADD viewers can watch the movie from 10 a.m. - when the bus roughly left the church, headed for the amusement park - until 10:55 p.m. - about the time of the crash. Enter promo code "MADD" to watch the film here. The documentary can be accessed through Vimeo.com or Apple TV.
Additionally, we are dedicating our Twitter feed to the victims of the crash Saturday. Every 23 minutes, we will tweet out one victim name. We do this as a way of saying, "You are not forgotten."
On Mother's Day weekend, 1996, Phaedra, age 22, a preschool teacher who had also done some modeling on the side, was enjoying a concert with some friends not far from her hometown. The two car loads of youth who were completely sober were driving home in Morgan County, Missouri, as a misty rain began to fall. Unbeknownst to them, a drunk driver with a .08 BAC was heading their way as he crossed the center line of Highway 5. Phaedra's friends in the car in front managed to see him in time to swerve. The drunk driver clipped them and headed straight for Phaedra's car. As he topped the hill around a curve, she had no warning and he hit her nearly head-on.
Phaedra's injuries were numerous and life-threatening. At the hospital, doctors discovered that the impact of the crash had ripped her aortic valve from her heart. Most people would have died within minutes, but Phaedra had not. In an emergency surgery to repair it, surgeons struggled to stop the bleeding. They quickly realized that she would bleed to death on the operating table if something wasn't done immediately. So, to save her life, they cut off the blood flow to her lower extremities to slow the bleeding enough to make the repairs to her heart.
She spent 3 weeks in a coma and 5 1/2 weeks on life support before waking to learn that the decision to save her life had cost her the ability to walk. In addition, she also had plates in her arm and both legs due to both ankles, a left femur, and a right forearm being broken. Her pelvis had been broken on both sides as well as 4 ribs. Both lungs had collapsed and her liver had been lacerated. Her gallbladder, appendix, and spleen were damaged and all had to be removed.
Phaedra's son was 4 years old at the time of the crash. She missed his first day of kindergarten because she was still in the hospital. As he grew up, someone else taught him to ride a bike, played in the ocean waves with him, and rode roller coasters with him while she sat on the sidelines and cheered, quietly wishing she could be the one beside him.
In 2000, Phaedra began working for MADD Missouri. She became a Victim Specialist helping other victims by providing emotional support and guidance through court proceedings. In 2010, she was crowned Ms. Wheelchair USA, again bringing awareness to the dangers of drunk driving by choosing it as her official platform. In 2012, she moved to Tennessee as the Underage Drinking Specialist for the MADD Tennessee state office. She built the program up from a presence that was non-existent to the top program in the country, talking to thousands of teens annually about the dangers of underage drinking and sharing her story with kids, parents, and DUI offenders.
Phaedra's original scars may have healed, but the impact of a DUI crash lasts for a lifetime. With no spleen, Phaedra is more susceptible to illness and her immune system is unable to fight simple infections. An ear infection can end up in a hospital stay. Independent and resolute, Phaedra drives, works full time, and is now the mother to an 8 year old daughter, as well as her grown son and step-daughter. People are amazed at how she lifts her wheelchair overhead, in and out of her car, and is not deterred from anything she sets her mind to doing. However, her determination takes its toll on her body. She recently had to have surgery on her arm because a problem with one of the plates had caused a fracture in her arm. Because she is constantly lifting her chair and transferring herself in and out of it, the injury to her arm caused a significant hardship on her ability to proceed with life as normal. And because of her immunity problem, the healing process was also complicated.
But those who know Phaedra, know that despite the lifelong affect drunk driving has had on her life, the thing that stands out most about her is her positive attitude. She never waivers. For years, she has fought to serve others who have been impacted by the crimes of drunk and drugged driving and underage drinking and to spread awareness about their dangers by sharing her story. She is an inspiration to all! And she will continue to fight until MADD fulfills it's vision of No More Victims!
By Dr. Gloria Horsley, an internationally known grief expert and author. Gloria is the founder of the Open to Hope foundation.
Mother’s Day is a great time to honor our own mothers, as well as ourselves as mothers. However, for those who have suffered a loss this day can be bitter sweet.
The death of a mother can make one feel a sense of abandonment, while a bereaved parent may feel a sense of failure because they were not able to protect their children. As a society, we have always put heavy expectations on mothers. One of my favorite writers was the late Erma Bombeck, whose brand humor was spot on regarding motherhood. Below is a quote from her book, When God Created Mothers.
“And God said, Have you read the specs on this order? She has to be completely washable, but not plastic. Have 180 moveable parts...all replaceable. Run on black coffee and leftovers. Have a lap that disappears when she stands up. A kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair. And six pairs of hands."
If you identify with these overwhelming expectations and Mother’s Day is a down-day for you, a day that brings sadness rather than joy or hope, I suggest you follow the advice of my friend Byron Katie, creator of The Work, and take the opportunity this Mother’s Day to “Mother Yourself.”
Start the day by looking in the mirror and saying, “I am a special person, one of a kind, and today is my day.” Then, do something that brings you joy or just helps you get through the day.
Below are a few things to get you started.
1. Have a bubble bath – I like the balls that fizz in the hot water.
2. Read a good book or magazine – I like to curl up with Vanity Fair.
3. Listen to some music that is uplifting – Elvis makes me smile.
4. Cut yourself some slack- Remind yourself that you did the best you could at the time.
5. Don’t buy into the idea that there is or ever was a “perfect mother.”
6. Let others serve you on this day – No cooking for yourself.
7. Get some light exercise – Go for a walk or take a restorative yoga class.
8. Spend time in nature or attending church services.
9. Do accept the appreciation of family members especially your children.
Remember that Mother’s Day is only one day. Be prepared that the days leading up to any anniversary or holiday can be more stressful than the actual day. Let others know if it is a dreaded day for you so they can help out.
Open to Hope
Wow! MADD supporters make for great photographers!
The early submissions to our Destinations Reached 2017 Calendar Contest highlight beaches, deserts, puppies, and more! Voting is now open, and we can't wait to see how next year's calendar is coming together.
At MADD, we often face the tragic and senseless in our efforts to support victims and end drunk driving. This is our mission, and we are committed to success. However, sometimes you need to focus on the positive. So, the calendar contest is one way to focus on the trips, vacations, and staycations were everyone arrived alive and happy. We use the calendars throughout the year to support our Campaign to Elliminate Drunk Driving®.
Before you check out these incredible submissions, don't forget to submit your own! Then, ask your friends and family to vote for your picture. The top 12 will be selected for the 2017 MADD calendar.
|Our very first submission was a bird's eye view.|
|Not sure where this was taken, but that's where our next vacation needs to take place! Beautiful!|
|A nighttime view makes every city look peaceful.|
|This pictures just says it all about the vacation - driving down a desert highway on a powerful machine!|
|Any city with architecture/art like this joins the list of must-see locations.|
|Who can relax and enjoy time off better than dogs? Well, cats, of course, but these two are adorable.|
|Not sure this counts as relaxing or vacation, but it's an amazing image.|
On March 17, 2012, an impaired driver recklessly driving 70 mph crashed into a car at a stop light, claiming the life of Tracey’s 10-year-old son, Tyler Biggins, and his best friend, Vincent,and Vincent's mother. His father also was seriously injured.
Like so many others, Tyler’s life ended too soon. Tyler enjoyed all sports, he was very well known in the community, and he touched a lot of lives at the age of ten.
Tracey Biggins, team captain of Tyler's Allstar Team, is continuing the push to keep her son's memory alive through awareness and participating in the Tallahassee Walk Like MADD.
Tyler’s Allstar Team walked in the Tallahassee Walk Like MADD event on Saturday, April 16 for the second year in a row with 41 team members, who helped raise more than $3,035 that will stay local to provide programs and services to victims at no cost.
Drunk driving threatens all of us. More than 10,000 people die and 300,000 people are injured each year in drunk driving crashes.
Help us create a world where #DrunkDrivingEndsHere and there are #NoMoreVictims. Walk with us by finding an event near you at www.walklikemadd.org.
by Adam Vanek, MADD General Counsel
Last week, I had the honor and privilege to represent MADD in Washington, D.C. attending oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court in Birchfield v. North Dakota, et. al. MADD filed an Amicus Curiae Brief, or Friend of the Court, in this matter supporting law enforcement and the States’ fight against drunk driving.
In front of a packed courtroom, the Justices addressed whether States, without a warrant, may impose minor criminal sanctions — usually misdemeanors — against a suspected drunk driver who withdraws his or her implied consent and refuses to submit to a blood alcohol concentration test after arrest. North Dakota, Minnesota and at least 10 other states make it a criminal offense for a driver who has been arrested on probable cause for driving while impaired to refuse a BAC or chemical test.
The genesis of these criminal penalties, arises out of pure frustration by legislators and law enforcement that administrative sanctions, such as license revocation, no longer serve as a deterrent because offenders will continue to drive.
The Supreme Court considered three cases: Birchfield v. North Dakota, Bernard v. Minnesota, and Beylund v. North Dakota, in which the offenders argue that imposing minor criminal penalties for withdrawing their implied consent — refusing a warrantless BAC test after arrest — violates their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. Make no mistake, the evidences shows that all three offenders were drunk and behind the wheel. No one denies that much.
The offenders’ argument is two-fold: (1) a BAC test is a search that intrudes one’s bodily integrity, and therefore unreasonable; and (2) the threat of minor criminal sanctions is a punitive form of coercion that disqualifies an offender’s consent. In fact, the offenders argue that all BAC tests require a warrant regardless of circumstance.
Most Supreme Court journalists agree that counsel for both sides of the argument — the offenders and conversely, counsel for North Dakota and Minnesota — struggled to articulate their arguments. In all fairness, unless you're the Deputy Solicitor General, this was probably the first time counsel for both sides argued in the hallowed halls of justice — the Holiest of Holies for lawyers — in front of living legends such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sam Alito, Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas. It was truly an awe inspiring experience.
Since I was a mere observer sitting “bench” and just like any football fan on Monday, I am playing a little arm chair quarterback regarding some “plays” that were not called on fourth and one.
1. The Fourth Amendment protects a citizen from unreasonable search and seizure, not from every search.
In all three cases, the offenders were arrested for suspicion of drunk driving. The arresting officers performed field sobriety tests on the offenders, observed the smell of alcohol, bloodshot eyes, inability to walk a straight lines and in some cases failed the field breath test. The officers had more than probable cause to conduct a search and request a BAC test. The Justices asked why North Dakota or Minnesota could not obtain an “insta-warrant” over the telephone, similar to Wyoming which can obtain a warrant within five minutes.
Practically speaking, at what point does an “insta-warrant” just become a perfunctory exercise? If an officer can call a magistrate and get a warrant in less than five minutes, then obviously the magistrate has full faith and credit that the officer had probable cause and is merely making sure that the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. The idea that the magistrate serves a neutral body, especially when a warrant can be obtained over the telephone in less than five minutes, is an antiquated model that does not practically translate in today's on-demand world. In other words, the “insta-warrant” has merely become a superficial hoop that law enforcement is obliged to jump through for show.
2. The State’s compelling interest to protect the safety of its citizens far outweighs any minimal right to privacy of the offender.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court acknowledged that drunk driving is a serious public safety threat. Challenge after challenge, the Supreme Court reminds the public, “The increasing slaughter on our highways [caused by drunk driving], most of which should be avoidable, now reaches the astounding figures only heard of on the battlefield.” Counsel for the offenders did not dispute the tragedy of drunk driving fatalities, but argued that individual privacy was more important than saving lives.
Justice Kennedy responded, “Innocent lives are at stake, why can't we just say that this falls within the special-needs exception.” It should be undisputed that States and the Federal government have a moral obligation to stop the “slaughter on our highways,” and that this serves as a special needs exception to the general warrant requirement. Justice Alito broke it down to brass tax by stating the minor privacy inconvenience is not what’s being disputed but rather, “The real gripe with the test is that they just don't want their blood-alcohol levels tested.”
3. In the history of jurisprudence, the Supreme Court has never drawn an absolute line in the sand regarding the Fourth Amendment and should not do so now.
MADD argues in its Amicus that the Supreme Court has never required a per se ban on all criminal penalties when it comes to the Fourth Amendment. In fact the Supreme Court has uniformly rejected such categorical rules in favor of a case-by-case analysis based on the totality of the circumstances. And although neither the offenders’ nor the States’ briefs address the distinction between a breath test and a blood draw, the Justices spent a considerable amount of time asking counsel on both sides about the practical difference.
Justice Breyer asked, “And I don’t find this very much in the briefs, and it surprises me… Why isn’t there a big difference between a blood test and a Breathalyzer?”
Justice Kagan added, “This [breath test] is about as uninvasive as a search can possibly be.” While this may seem a promising line of questioning regarding breath tests, the opposite holds true for a blood draw. Justice Kagan continued, “There’s something very different in the level of invasion [between a breath test and a blood draw], and certainly it’s appropriate to look at the invasiveness of a search when deciding whether to do a search incident to arrest.” Unfortunately, counsel for both States’ response to such distinction fell short.
The Deputy Solicitor General tried to save this argument by emphasizing the importance of a blood draw when it comes to drugged driving, but was cut off by Justice Breyer saying that a warrant could be obtained in the time it takes to transfer the offender to the hospital for testing.
While I am not Carnac the Magnificent, I predict the Supreme Court will determine that a warrantless breath test survives constitutional muster as a search incident to arrest. However, and in light of the Missouri v. McNeely opinion two years ago and the statements made by the Justices, a warrantless blood draw may be another matter.
With the recent passing of Justice Scalia, a 4-4 decision would uphold the lower State Supreme Courts’ rulings and serve as a temporary victory. Therefore, MADD’s fight to eliminate drunk driving is far from over. We must continue to wage our Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving in the courts, in the Capitol buildings and in the hearts and minds of every American.