Liss wins acquittal on reckless endangerment charge
Attorney Stephen Liss won a partial victory this month for a client charged with endangering her child by driving after drinking and getting into an accident.
On Sept. 16, a jury in Clark County District Court found his client not guilty of reckless endangerment following a one-day trial.
The jurors said they could not reach a unanimous decision on a charge of DUI. Jurors did convict the client of hit-and-run, one of the three misdemeanor charges she faced.
The acquittal on reckless endangerment was a key victory, as the client’s arrest on that charge led to a fight to keep custody of her daughter.
The charges stemmed from an incident on March 31, 2019, when the client was driving and rear-ended a truck that had been stopped at a light waiting to make a left turn. The client’s car slid under the truck’s bumper and sustained more damage than the truck.
(The truck’s owner said during a pretrial interiew it took him $40 and four hours to fix his bumper.)
The client’s 3-year-old daughter was safely strapped in a car seat. Immediately after the accident, the client and other driver went to a nearby parking lot where they inspected each other’s vehicles and attempted to exchange information. The client remained in the parking lot for more than 20 minutes, emergency dispatch logs noted.
During that time, the other driver called 911 twice. First, he was told by a dispatcher that since there were no injuries and both vehicles were operative, they should just exchange information. About 15 minutes later the other driver called 911 again to say the client did not have her purse and would not show him her driver’s license or insurance policy number. He also told the dispatcher he could smell alcohol on the client, although that statement did not come in at trial.
Officers from the Vancouver Police Department testified they arrived at the scene as the client was leaving.
During jury selection, after the assistant city attorney riled the prospective jurors by painting the client as a careless mother who drove drunk with her toddler, Liss asked them how many thought his client was guilty. Almost everyone raised a hand. Liss worked hard to try and get jurors who might have had a drink before later picking up a child at soccer practice or while out with the family for dinner. Driving after having a single drink is not illegal, Liss reminded them.
Police officers testified that the client was crying, which may have accounted for her “bloodshot and watery eyes” that officers consider a sign of intoxication. One officer said he could smell a “strong odor” while the other said “some odor” of alcohol. They acknowledged that they could not tell whether the client may have had one drink three hours earlier or four drinks just prior to the incident.
The client refused to do field sobriety tests or take a breath test at the scene.
Officers did not, as Liss pointed out, bother to get a warrant for a blood draw, which would have only taken about 20 minutes. Liss also pointed out to jurors that since Vancouver police officers don’t wear body cameras there was no footage to back up their claims that his client was slurring her words and swaying.
During closing arguments, Liss told jurors that it is legal to drink and operate a vehicle. It is not OK to drive while legally drunk, but the state did not have evidence to prove that his client had an illegally high blood-alcohol level. Officers testified the child was properly secured in her car seat and was not injured.
The six jurors deliberated three hours before returning the split verdict.