DUI Defenses: Fighting for your Rights

Facing a DUI charge can be a life-changing, stressful, and especially confusing experience. Fortunately, with a good defense strategy, your defense attorney might be able to persuade the prosecution to drop or reduce the charges, keep your driver’s license, or even win at trial. A DUI charge does not have to be the end of the world, and in fact, there are a number of strategies to challenge the evidence being used against you. The following list, though not exhaustive, illustrates some of the issues that can be attacked in order to defend a DUI charge.

Lack of Cause to Stop:

The Constitution requires that law enforcement have a certain amount of information that a person committed a crime before that person can, at a minimum, be stopped by law enforcement. If an officer believes that a driver is under the influence, the officer cannot just stop the driver based on that hunch. There must be some facts that would lead an officer to reasonably believe that the driver is under the influence, such as poor driving patterns. Or, in most instances, an officer will observe a driver commit some other traffic violation, such as speeding or running a red light, as the basis for the stop. In any event, an officer cannot merely stop a driver based on a hunch.

Lack of Probable Cause to Arrest:

If you are arrested for a DUI, one of the first places to start is to question whether the officer had probable cause to make arrest. Having probable cause means that the officer had reasonable and trustworthy facts that the driver was intoxicated. The probable cause for a DUI arrest usually comes from the officer’s observations after the initial traffic stop (sometimes before if poor driving patterns were observed prior to the stop). Probable cause can, but not always, be satisfied by a showing of pre-arrest blood alcohol results, officer testimony about the driver’s symptoms of intoxication (blood shot eyes, slurred speech, smell on breath), poor driving patterns, and poor performance on field sobriety tests. Both forms of evidence can be difficult to challenge, but not impossible. If the officer did not obtain reasonable and trustworthy facts that the driver was intoxicated after having stopped them, then the officer cannot arrest a person for a DUI.

Reasonable Doubt at Trial:

While bad driving gives a cop enough cause to pull a driver over, absent any other indications that a driver was under the influence, i.e., BAC results or physical indications such as red eyes or slurred speech, poor driving alone is unlikely to satisfy the probable cause requirement for an actual arrest. However, if an officer observes poor driving and observes other indications of intoxication such as red eyes or slurred speech, they’ll probably have the reasonable suspicion to stop a driver and even may have the probable cause to arrest a driver. However, if a person is stopped and arrested on suspicion of a DUI, it does not mean that they committed a DUI nor does it mean that they will be convicted of a DUI. At trial, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a driver was above a 0.08 BAC (0.05 in Utah) or that a driver was under the influence while driving.

One way to create reasonable doubt that a person was under the influence is to emphasize facts that would indicate that the driver was sober, such as good driving habits. Some DUI defense attorneys might ask the officer whether the driver engaged in good driving habits. If available, a passenger can testify as a witness that the driver was operating their vehicle as a sober person would have. Because prosecutors will use poor driving patterns as one consideration in trying to prove that the driver was intoxicated, DUI defense attorneys can raise reasonable doubt by showing that even sober drivers make the same or similar mistakes.

Similarly, officers, as stated, sometimes rely on physical tells such as red eyes, slurred speech, unsteadiness, a flushed face, as well as countless others. There are many reasons, apart from alcohol or drug consumption, that can explain why a person might have these physical symptoms. For example, allergies or other irritants can sometimes cause bloodshot or watery eyes and a flushed face. Additionally, fatigue and physical disabilities can lead to poor field sobriety test performance. Other explanations could include a cold, fatigue, and eyestrain or irritation. Reasonable doubt can exist if the driver can demonstrate reasons, other than intoxication, for the physical symptoms.

It should be emphasized that driving patterns and physical symptoms are only a few things a prosecutor can introduce to try to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a driver was intoxicated. Facts which might give rise to a reasonable doubt should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis by a skilled DUI defense attorney.

Unreliable Field Sobriety Tests:

Field Sobriety Tests have faced criticism for their accuracy. If an officer conducts a field sobriety test and uses it as the basis for determining that the driver was intoxicated, there are many ways to overcome the test results. For instance, one of the main things that officers evaluate during a field sobriety test is the driver’s coordination. Several things can affect a driver’s balance and coordination, including shoes, natural athletic ability, clothing, fatigue, and nervousness. Many people, even when sober, can become extremely anxious when subjected to a field sobriety test. Anxiety can make it very difficult to perform the test well. See  Failing the Field Sobriety Tests Without being Drunk for a further discussion on field sobriety tests.

Incorrect Administration and Inaccurate Results of the Breathalyzer or Blood Tests:

One of the most useful pieces of evidence that an officer can use to make an arrest or that a prosecutor can use to try an prove a DUI beyond a reasonable doubt is the blood alcohol content of the driver. A driver’s BAC reading can be obtained through a pre-arrest breathalyzer, a post-arrest breathalyzer, or a post-arrest blood test. There are, however, a number of reasons why these tests might be less than accurate.

If an attorney can prove that the officer or test administrator did not comply with test requirements, that the breathalyzer machine was faulty, or that the phlebotomy technician was not competent, it is possible to get the test results thrown out. In some jurisdictions, like California, a specified period of time must pass before administering a breath test to make sure the driver hasn’t ingested or regurgitated anything which might affect the results.

Breathalyzer machines require strict and frequent calibration. Attorneys can generally request the calibration records for the machine that was used during your breath test to challenge the breathalyzer results. If the machine was not calibrated properly, the reading may not be admitted against you.

Sometimes, medical conditions like hypoglycemia, low-carb diets like paleo or Atkins, and diabetes can even inflate a blood alcohol content reading.

As you can see, we are only just scratching the surface of the possible DUI defenses that can be raised. More importantly, as you can see, those few defenses mentioned here should be enough for you to realize that trying to defense a DUI on your own is never a good idea. If you happen to find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to defend a DUI, contact a skilled DUI defense attorney to explore all possible defenses.


« Police Misconduct in DUI Cases Ignition Interlock Devices and Unlawful DUI Stops »