Strict DUI Laws Not Needed in Arrest of Intoxicated Officer

An officer with the Utah Department of Public Safety was arrested for driving intoxicated and Utah’s strict DUI laws were not needed in this case.

Concerned fellow drivers

Photo by: Ken Lund

Photo by: Ken Lund

A Utah High Patrol trooper pulled over a vehicle north of Panguitch Utah after numerous calls from concerned drivers all reported the vehicle driving erratically. The driver of the car was 35 year old Jason James Whitehead, an armed public safety officer who was more than halfway through his journey from Ogden Utah to Lake Powell for training. Local county officers called to assist noted a bottle of Vodka on the front passenger seat that was halfway empty.

Failed field sobriety tests

Whitehead was arrested for DUI, open container, and carrying a weapon while intoxicated.  Whitehead not only failed his field sobriety tests prior to his arrest, he was barely able to carry on a conversation or walk around on his own. Police reports do not indicate whether a breathalyzer was used to check if Whitehead was legally considered driving intoxicated. From the sound of the situation however, Whitehead was far from being a possible victim of Utah’s new strict DUI laws .

Strict DUI laws of Utah

Strict DUI Laws

(Edited) Photo by: Mark Goebel

The State of Utah has been receiving considerable backlash lately for its strict DUI laws that many deem unfair compared to the rest of the nation. This public outcry comes on the heels of a bill passed to lower the BAC limit in Utah to.05% which is .03% less than everywhere else in the nation who stand at .08%. This lowered BAC limit is set to become law in Utah at the end of 2018. Numerous residents of Utah are opposed to Utah’s strict DUI laws, accusing lawmakers of making money off the social (non-religious) drinker and preying on those visiting from other states who are oblivious to the strict DUI laws. Business owners in Utah such as restaurants and bars are also lamenting the lowered BAC limit as they are likely to be hit financially with the lack of revenue from lowered alcohol sales.

Go for the big fish

While the general public is grateful when a dangerously intoxicated driver such as Officer Whitehead is removed from the road, few residents want or expect every individual who enjoyed a drink with lunch to end up facing criminal charges. This does not strike the majority of people as an appropriate way to spend taxpayer dollars or how an officer should “discharge the duties of [their] office with fidelity”. For more information on Utah’s strict DUI laws or for legal counsel regarding criminal charges, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Open Container One of Charges for Man who Head-butts Patrol Car

open container for head-butting man

Photo: SimplyElke

A man was arrested in Davis County on Wednesday, March 11, after allegedly smashing a window in a patrol car with his head and threatening law enforcement, among other things. While the man received a laundry list of potential charges which aren’t as common—both felonies and misdemeanors—the charge of having an open container in the vehicle is one that occurs a little more frequently.

A Perfect Example of “Disorderly Conduct”

According to a report in KSL News, at approximately 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday night, a Clinton patrol officer stopped Randy Duane Ochsner, 54, and was soon assisted by a Davis County Sheriff’s Office deputy. Believing Ochsner to be driving impaired—but not yet having discovered the open container… or other things in the vehicle which would get Ochsner in trouble—a field sobriety test was conducted during which Ochsner became agitated. After being cuffed against the passenger side of the patrol car, things just got worse.

According to Sgt. DeeAnn Servey, “He became very upset and decided to bash his forehead into the passenger rear window of the Davis County Sheriff’s patrol car, which led to the window completely shattering and several injuries to his face.”

When medical personnel responded, Ochsner was still reportedly belligerent, attempting to kick one of the EMTs and spit on both health care workers and responding officers, the latter of which landed him a “propelling a bodily substance” assault charge.

In addition, while traveling to a local hospital, Ochsner allegedly threatened to shoot one of the deputies in the head. After treatment for his injuries, Ochsner was transported to the David County Jail. A search of his vehicle turned up drug paraphernalia and controlled substances, which lead to possession charges for both.

In addition to those charges and propelling a bodily substance, Ochsner was arrested on suspicion of assaulting an officer, interference with an arresting officer, making terroristic threats, criminal mischief, failure to install an ignition interlock device, being an alcohol restricted driver, driving under the influence with two or more prior convictions within 10 years, and having an open container in the vehicle.

Understanding the Open Container Law

While the least serious of Ochsner’s charges, having an open container is a charge many people come face-to-face with, sometimes simply for not understanding the law. According to 41-6a-526 of the Utah Motor Vehicles Traffic Code, “a person may not drink any alcoholic beverage while operating a motor vehicle or while a passenger in a motor vehicle, whether the vehicle is moving, stopped, or parked on any highway or waters of the state.”

This section of the open container code also states that a person may not have a container with a seal that has been broken or contents partially consumed in the passenger compartment, including a utility of glove compartment, even if they aren’t driving impaired.

Exceptions for both the drinking and possession of an open container are made for passengers in the living quarters of a motor home or camper, a limousine or chartered bus, or in a motorboat. While drinking in a taxicab or bus is still prohibited, possession of an open container in those vehicles is legal.

Breaking this section of the traffic code is a class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine. Even though class C is the least serious of the misdemeanors, it’s still not something to gamble with. If you or someone you know has been charged with being in possession of an open container, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.