Sometimes people will go to extreme lengths and incur substantial expenses in the name of “proving” their innocence. Case in point: a man in Florida was cited for speeding through a 15-mile-per-hour school zone and given a ticket that carried a $404 fine. Rather than pay the fine, the man embarked on a mission to prove his innocence and demonstrate that the school zone lights were not engaged and flashing at the time he was ticketed. After considerable expense of time and effort, the man’s quest was ultimately unsuccessful. The court hearing his case found him guilty of speeding and ordered him to pay the fine. This was despite video evidence suggesting that the school-zone lights were malfunctioning at the time the individual was pulled over and cited.
Examples of “Do-It-Yourself” DUI Defenses
The effort this individual from Florida undertook in combating his speeding ticket may be appealing to others charged with DUI in California. Following an unjust, unlawful, or baseless DUI arrest, a person may be as committed to proving their innocence as was this individual. As a result, the person may try to:
- Video-record themselves performing field sobriety tests sober to demonstrate that they could not perform these tests correctly even if they did not drink
- Record statements from others at a bar or restaurant from which the person left, saying that the person was not drunk or did not appear to be impaired
- If stopped for an equipment violation, take photographs of your vehicle to show the allegedly-faulty equipment was actually working properly
- Investigate the officer and obtain copies of the arresting officer’s certifications, disciplinary reports, and personnel records
- Hire experts or forensic scientists to cast doubt on the testing methods or the manner in which the person’s blood or breath sample was analyzed
- Find inconsistencies or errors, no matter how miniscule, in the officer’s report or affidavit
Exploring these and other potential defenses can easily consume a significant amount of time and require the investment of considerable financial resources. Those who choose to take this “do-it-yourself” approach to handling their DUI case may choose to forego legal counsel, believing that these potential avenues of defense will be more effective than any assistance an attorney could provide. And while some of these DIY methods may, in fact, produce exculpatory evidence, it may still nonetheless be inadmissible for a number of reasons.
Troubles with “Do-It-Yourself” DUI Defenses
As understandable as a person’s desire to represent themselves and handle their own DUI defense may be, such efforts are fraught with peril. Most significantly, much of the “evidence” the person spends so much time and effort in securing may ultimately not be helpful at a hearing or trial because:
- The evidence is deemed irrelevant or immaterial to the central issues of the case
- Experts are not properly qualified in order to give an opinion in court
- Subpoenas for records and documents are not properly drafted and timely served on the right individuals
- Cross-examination of the officer and the prosecution’s witnesses is not conducted in a helpful or persuasive way
- Helpful witnesses are not brought to court to testify, and their out-of-court statements become inadmissible hearsay
- Video recordings are not properly authenticated and shown to be reliable representations of the stop or investigation
Needless to say, evidence which may help prove innocence, may not be admissible in court unless a person knows the legal intricacies of admitting evidence.
Drivers who attempt to “prove their innocence” also tend to miss opportunities to attack the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses and evidence. For example, while searching for a witness who can testify that the driver was not drunk when they left the bar, the driver may fail to move to suppress an incriminating breath or blood test results in a timely manner. Or, while the driver is busy attempting to “reconstruct” their performance on the field sobriety tests, they may forget to request the officer’s certifications or maintenance records of the breath testing machine. Or, quite simply, they may not know what to ask and how to ask it during cross examination of the prosecutor’s witnesses.
The Alternative to “Do-It-Yourself” DUI Defense – Hire an Attorney
Not only is an attorney able to help drivers facing a DUI charge decide on an appropriate path forward in a person’s case, but an attorney can also ensure the evidence needed to support those strategies is available for use in court. This is critical, because even the most well-considered defense strategy is of no use if it does not work in the courtroom.
For these reasons, it is vital that individuals charged with driving under the influence in California seek out and hire an experienced DUI defense attorney as soon as possible. A lawyer can work with an individual charged with DUI to evaluate the various defenses available to the person and pursue those strategies that have the greatest chance for success. These may include strategies to present exculpatory information in the proper manner, attacking the admissibility or credibility of the prosecution’s evidence, or a combination of the two.
A Driver’s Rights are Also at Risk When Representing One’s Self
Another significant danger that drivers who choose to handle their own DUI cases may risk is waiving (giving up) constitutional and statutory protections often overlooked by the “pro se” (in one’s own behalf) defendant. These include rights to confront and cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses, the right to not be compelled to testify against one’s own interests, and the right to a speedy trial before a jury. When these rights are violated or infringed upon by the prosecution, the individual must take prompt and appropriate action to assert these rights or risk losing the ability to do so.
Choose Experienced, Reputable Legal Representation
When it comes to choosing whether to represent yourself in a DUI case or whether to obtain a lawyer’s help, there really is no choice: an attorney’s assistance can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case as well as how swiftly your case may resolve. No matter how strongly a person may feel that their charges are unjust or unfounded, or how confident one is in their own advocacy skills, a lawyer’s advice and skill is necessary to ensure one’s rights are protected and charges are subjected to the toughest scrutiny.