In all fifty states, the penalties for DUI (driving under the influence) and DWI (driving while intoxicated) can be quite severe. If someone is arrested and charged with driving under the influence in Southern California, it’s important to know what legal defenses are admissible and what defense might work best. By mounting a viable defense with help from an experienced Orange County DUI attorney, a DUI suspect might be able to have the charges reduced or dismissed – or at least avoid having his or her driver’s license suspended.
In any DUI or DWI prosecution, the state must prove two points: that the defendant was driving a motorized vehicle, and that the defendant was unable to drive that vehicle safely because he or she was under the influence of alcohol or drugs or both. A legal defense in a DUI case attempts to prove that at least one of these allegations is wrong. A good legal defense should also be able to block the prosecution from introducing some or all of its evidence against the defendant.
The best legal defense against a driving under the influence charge in any particular case will depend on the details of that case, the defendant’s previous criminal record if any, and the jurisdiction where the charge is filed. With that in mind, here is a general introduction to the more common DUI defense strategies that an experienced DUI attorney might use on behalf of a client:
1. THE DEFENDANT WAS NOT DRIVING
You can’t be convicted of driving under the influence if you weren’t actually driving. In most cases, this issue is not in dispute, because most DUI suspects are pulled over in traffic or stopped at sobriety checkpoints. However, situations have emerged where suspects faced DUI charges even though no police officers witnessed them driving. If you are intoxicated, and a police officer approaches you while you are idling in a parking lot or a driveway, or if an officer finds you asleep in your car with your keys in the ignition and alcohol on your breath, it’s possible that you could be arrested and charged, and the fact that you were not driving might be your best defense.
2. THE TRAFFIC STOP AND/OR THE ARREST WAS IMPROPER OR ILLEGAL
Except at sobriety checkpoints, if a law enforcement officer did not have probable cause to stop a suspect in traffic, or if an officer did not adhere to standard legal procedures and rules during a traffic stop and a subsequent DUI arrest, any evidence learned or discovered during an improper stop or arrest may be considered inadmissible by the court. Conceivably, this could keep breathalyzer results and other evidence from being used against a DUI defendant. If you believe that an officer pulled you over in traffic because of your ethnicity or your race, tell your attorney.
3. MIRANDA RIGHTS WERE NOT READ
In all fifty states, whenever a suspect is taken into custody and charged with a crime, the police are obligated to read the suspect’s Miranda rights. Almost everyone knows these rights from television and the movies – the right to remain silent, the warning that anything you say may be used against you, and the right to have an attorney present during any questioning. The Miranda rights do not have to be read at the moment of the arrest, but the rights must be read before any interrogation may be conducted. If the police fail to read a suspect his or her rights as required by law, evidence might be excluded, and in some DUI cases, charges might even be dismissed.
4. DISPUTING THE ARRESTING OFFICER’S TESTIMONY
In almost every DUI case that goes to trial, the arresting officer’s testimony will be a key element of the state’s case against the defendant. The police officer may be asked to testify about the defendant’s driving behavior, his or her appearance and demeanor, and/or the defendant’s performance on a field sobriety test. Police officers are trained witnesses who know what to say in court. Nevertheless, in some DUI cases, a good DUI defense attorney may choose to challenge the arresting officer’s testimony.
A DUI attorney may offer alternate explanations for what an officer saw. Perhaps a defendant did not do well on a field sobriety test because the instructions were vague or ambiguous, or because of a physical disability, an illness, prescribed medications, or fatigue. Slurred speech could be caused by medications, a lack of sleep, or even recent dental surgery. Eyes may appear bloodshot because of allergies, medications, fatigue, or recent eye surgery.
5. THE WITNESSES TELL A DIFFERENT STORY
A DUI lawyer will introduce the testimony of witnesses if they saw the defendant during or just before the DUI arrest and if they can tell a story that’s different from the prosecution’s story. If witnesses can verify that they did not see a defendant drinking and that he or she appeared to be sober, that any erratic driving was caused by distraction rather than intoxication, or that the defendant appeared confused because of bright lights or because of fatigue, that testimony can often be enough to establish reasonable doubt, and the state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction.
6. DEFENSES DISPUTING DUI TEST RESULTS
Everywhere in the U.S., anyone who drives with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level at or above 0.08 percent can be convicted of driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated. (For drivers under age 21, most states enforce a zero tolerance policy.) Nevertheless, a DUI defense attorney may offer the “rising blood alcohol” defense, which is based on the absorption rate of alcohol into the bloodstream. The defense claims that while the suspect was below the legal limit while driving, his or her BAC level only reached 0.08 percent later, when the blood or breath test was conducted. A DUI lawyer may ask an expert witness to testify when offering this defense.
A number of factors can make DUI test results inaccurate. Most breathalyzer devices cannot distinguish between alcohol in the blood, and a number of other chemicals that are structurally similar, so certain foods, medical conditions, and medications can result in a false reading. Most states also have established procedures for the administration of DUI tests and the maintenance of breathalyzer devices. If the police did not adhere to established procedures, or if a breathalyzer device was defective, a DUI attorney may be able to have the test results deemed inadmissible.
If someone is charged with DUI in Southern California and chooses to challenge the state’s case, that defendant will need the advice and services of an experienced Orange County DUI attorney. Never attempt to act as your own lawyer or try to mount one of these defenses by yourself – far too much is at stake. Clearly, the best DUI defense strategy of all is the most basic and simplest – don’t drink and drive.