Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Missouri lawyer David Shuler refuses to answer questions about my nephew's DUI case, suggesting David did a lousy job of defending a family member

Blake Shuler
Missouri lawyer David Shuler (my brother) has refused to answer questions about his handling of a case in Clever, MO, that left my nephew with a criminal record he does not deserve, under the law.

Perhaps David's reticence is understandable because the record indicates he did a piss-poor job of representing a member of his own family.

Cops pulled over Blake Shuler after allegedly observing his vehicle cross the center line a couple of times. An incident report shows that Blake failed three field-sobriety tests and was arrested on suspicion of driving while impaired. Blake agreed to take a breathalyzer test at Clever City Hall, and that came back negative for alcohol. At that point, Blake had proven to be innocent of the charge against him, and he and his passenger should have been allowed to depart, by law. But a second officer -- while Blake was at City Hall -- conducted a search of the vehicle, apparently without consent. That turned up marijuana and paraphernalia, and Blake wound up facing drug-related charges.

Probably wanting to keep the whole incident from his parents, Blake decided to plead guilty without legal representation. Somehow, David Shuler (my lawyer/brother) got involved and managed to get the guilty plea withdrawn, but Blake still wound up with a guilty plea of "peace disturbance," even though the record shows he did not disturb the peace in any way. (Blake's parents are Paul and Gaye Ann Shuler, my brother and sister-in-law, of Willard, MO; Paul is a radiology tech at Mercy Hospital Springfield, while Gaye Ann works at O'Reilly Auto Parts.)

It's undisputed that Blake proved he was innocent of driving under the influence of alcohol. As for the possibility that Blake was "driving while high," well, the cops apparently did not test for that. Perhaps their small-town department did not have ready access to the necessary tests, but it seems likely they could have arranged such testing via the Christian County Sheriff's Office. But they didn't, so alcohol was the only issue, and Blake's breath test came back negative for that.

The obvious question, then: What in the hell were the Clever cops doing searching the vehicle? The answer is: "They shouldn't have been." Here's the relevant law, from a previous post:

The United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) found in Rodriguez v. U.S. (2015) that "a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures. A seizure justified only by a police-observed traffic violation, therefore, “become[s] unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete th[e] mission” of issuing a ticket for the violation."

The Rodriguez court goes on to hold that extension of the stop beyond its traffic-violation purpose is lawful only if officers have a "reasonable suspicion" that additional criminal activity is associated with the vehicle. From the opinion: 
"We granted certiorari to resolve a division among lower courts on the question whether police routinely may extend an otherwise-completed traffic stop, absent reasonable suspicion, in order to conduct a dog sniff. . . . [W]ithout additional reasonable suspicion, the officer must allow the seized person to depart once the purpose of the stop has concluded.”

The dog sniff in Rodriguez produced more than 50 grams of methamphetamine, and the driver was charged with intent to distribute. But SCOTUS found the purpose of the stop involved an officer's observation that Rodriguez had driven on the shoulder of the road. Did the officers have reasonable suspicion of any other criminal activity, beyond the traffic violation? In other words, was there any reason to suspect there were drugs in the vehicle, justifying extension of the stop and a search of the vehicle via a dog sniff?

SCOTUS noted that the district court found "the dog sniff in this case was not independently supported by individualized suspicion" and vacated the Eight Circuit's judgment, sending the case back to lower courts for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. In essence, SCOTUS found that Rodriguez and his passenger should have been allowed to depart once the traffic warning was written.

The incident report in Blake's case shows there was no "individualized suspicion" of anything improper beyond the traffic incident. Officers apparently did not see or smell anything that made them suspect drugs might be present. In other words, they had no grounds to search the vehicle -- and that means the search was unlawful under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (Incident report is embedded at the end of this post.)

David Shuler
Why didn't Blake's lawyer challenge the search, to help ensure his client didn't walk away with a criminal record he should not have? To put it simply, why didn't David Shuler fight for his client, a member of his own family? We put that question, and others, to David and received this response:

I am sorry, but I am not able to give you any information.

Here are the questions I posed to David, via an e-mail sent on August 8:


I have a few questions about the Blake Shuler case in Clever, MO:

(1) Did you challenge the search of Blake's vehicle? I haven't yet found case law directly on point, but it seems questionable that cops would take him to city hall and administer a breath test that proved he was innocent of driving while impaired -- but they proceeded to search his vehicle anyway, while he was gone and apparently didn't give consent. (Note: This question was posed before I found information about the Rodriguez case.) Police reports indicate Blake was proving his innocence on the "suspicion" of DUI charge, while they searched his vehicle and came up with drug material to charge him with something anyway. Smells funny from here. Seems to me the second cop jumped the gun by searching the vehicle. If he had waited a few minutes for the test results, he would have learned Blake was innocent of the charge and there was no probable cause to search. Why weren't Blake and his girlfriend sent on their way, with no charges?

(2) Did you challenge the field-sobriety tests? My understanding is these often are conducted improperly and get false results. The police report says Blake failed three tests, but it doesn't say what they were or what pointed to him failing them. It's sort of "trust me" police work, but police aren't the most trustworthy people around, as perhaps you are aware.

(3) The record indicates Blake pleaded guilty to "peace disturbance." Why? I see nothing in the reports that indicate he was loud, disrespectful, or disturbed the peace in any way.

I've read the record thoroughly, and it appears Blake was proven innocent of DUI, was the victim of a dubious search, and pled guilty to something he didn't do? Is that an accurate assessment of what happened?

Yes, that is an accurate assessment of what happened, and it shows David Shuler did a lousy job of representing his client. Blake Shuler proved his innoence on the alcohol charge, and the cops' own incident report shows he did not disturb the peace. But Blake wound up with a criminal record because his lawyer failed to challenge a clearly unconstitutional vehicle search.

If I were in David's shoes, I wouldn't want to answer questions about this case either.

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