Being charged with drunk driving is a serious criminal matter. Defendants will be looking at mandatory jail time, fines, loss of license, and a permanent conviction on their record and a mugshot online that will be hard to delete. Because of these consequences it is important to review the facts for any weaknesses in the state’s case. The following are some ways in which a DUI arrest can be challenged.
The stop: All drunk driving cases begin with a vehicle stop. In order to make this stop, the police must have reasonable suspicion that the driver committed a violation of the law. This has nothing to do with drunk driving; it is usually based on a minor traffic offense such as speeding, weaving, or rolling through a stop sign. While the officer may suspect driving under the influence and will use the stop as a way to talk to and observe the driver, he or she must have a reason to pull a driver over based on a specific traffic violation. If not, the evidence may be inadmissible and the case dismissed. Particular attention should be paid to cases where the arresting officer received an anonymous tip about a driver.
The arrest: In order to make an arrest for driving under the influence, the officer must have probable cause. Probable cause in a DUI case is generally developed from the officer’s observations of the driver, and may include slurred speech, bloodshot, watery eyes, and an odor of alcohol. The officer may also claim that the driver performed poorly in standardized field sobriety tests. In challenging a DUI arrest, the police reports should be scrutinized to see how exactly probable cause for the arrest was developed. Also, if field sobriety tests were administered and recorded, the video should be watched. If the driver does not appear intoxicated in the video, and performs the tests well, this could be used to refute intoxication.
The element of “under the influence”: In order to convict, the state must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver was operating the motor vehicle while under the influence. This usually amounts to just the arresting officer’s observations of the defendant, along with chemical test results if available. Because much of the state’s case could be simply an opinion, this proof should be scrutinized carefully and challenged for any weaknesses. For instance, if a video of the standardized field sobriety tests shows the driver standing and appearing normally, without any effects of intoxication, that raises doubt as to whether the driver was under the influence. Additionally, if the driver submitted to a breathalyzer test, the results should be scrutinized to see if the test was improperly administered or if the machine was not calibrated correctly.
An individual charged with driving under the influence should not simply plead guilty without looking into the case. An experienced DUI defense lawyer should be retained to review all the facts and circumstances. The lawyer should look into how the stop was made, how probable cause to arrest was developed, and whether the state can prove the element of under the influence. If there are weaknesses or potential illegalities in any of these areas, the DUI charge may be successfully fought.