When you are charged with a DUI, it may feel hopeless. It might feel as though there is nothing you can do to defend yourself, but this is NOT the case. There are defenses you can raise to protect your constitutional rights and the freedoms to which you are entitled.
Never assume that just because you are charged with a crime, that you are guilty. With the help of experienced Virginia DUI attorney Bryan J. Jones, you can raise a number of different defenses to protect your rights. The charges could potentially be reduced or even dismissed. Do not give up on hope nor your right to defend yourself.
DUI Defense Strategies
A good legal defense comes in many forms, and there are different options depending on the circumstances of your individual case. With an experienced defense attorney at your side, you can look at the unique situation you face and design a viable defense strategy to protect your rights.
The following are some of the more common defense strategies you and your attorney can use to defend your case and protect your freedoms.
Challenging Breath Tests
Breath tests are not known for their accuracy. In fact, even properly calibrated breath tests can be as much as 0.02% incorrect in either direction. The so-called legal limit for most drivers is 0.08% blood alcohol content (BAC). This means that anyone with a BAC of 0.08% or higher will be presumed to be intoxicated and will be charged with DUI. If, in fact, you were only 0.07%, you would not be presumed intoxicated so this discrepancy can be very important.
Breath tests must also be properly administered and the devices themselves must be properly maintained according to regulations and guidelines. The preliminary breath test, taken at the side of the road, is only meant to establish probable cause for an arrest and is not the final evidence to determine whether you were intoxicated.
The "official" breath test back at the station is different. Lawfully arrested drivers may not unreasonably refuse to take the official breath test. However, these can be inaccurate, even when performed correctly. Your attorney can challenge the accuracy of the test and the way in which it was administered. You should know that it will often require an expert witness to challenge a valid breath test result.
Challenging Blood Tests
Blood tests are typically administered when a breath test is not possible or available for some reason. There are specific procedures that must be followed by law enforcement when taking a blood test.
Failure to follow these specific procedures can lead to inaccurate results which may create a false indication of intoxication. Also, if the blood test comes back below the legal limit, it can defend you against a finding of intoxication and present a good argument that you were not intoxicated at all.
Challenging Officer's Testimony
The officers that were a part of your DUI arrest or subsequent DUI testing may be called at trial to testify against you. This testimony is usually based on the officer's observations of you during the arrest. Officers are commonly called to describe your:
- performance of field sobriety tests,
- refusal to take a breath test, or
- the circumstances of the initial stop and arrest.
Officers often get things wrong. They interpret signs incorrectly or miss-remember things after time has passed. Also, observations between different officers can conflict, and when they do, this can be pointed out to the jury to show reasonable doubt.
An officer can be questioned about his or her training and level of experience in handling and identifying intoxicated drivers. Many patrol officers out on the road are younger and have less experience and training. Their qualifications can be challenged to show that you were not intoxicated at the time of your arrest.
Challenging Field Sobriety Tests
Field sobriety tests are very inaccurate and often lead to false positives. These so-called "tests" are often administered incorrectly, and an officer's observations of them can be challenged like described above.
When dash cam or body cam evidence is available, inconsistencies with the officer's observations and the video can be used to show that performance of the tests was not as bad as described by the officer.
Challenging the Initial Traffic Stop
A police officer cannot pull you over simply because they think you might be intoxicated. He or she must have probable cause to initiate the stop. This is typically done through a traffic violation of some sort, including, but not limited to:
- failure to maintain lane,
- headlight violations,
- failure to stop at a stop sign or red light, or
- other traffic infraction.
When this stop is not performed correctly or for impermissible reasons, a suppression hearing may invalidate all of the evidence produced as a result of the unconstitutional traffic stop. This can lead to a reduction or complete dismissal of the charges.
Challenging Search & Seizure
Part of the evidence used in many DUI cases is other evidence found during a search of your body or your vehicle. This can include:
- open containers of alcohol,
- drug paraphernalia,
- illicit drugs,
- over-the-counter or prescription medications, or
- empty bottles.
Under the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, all American citizens are to be free of unreasonable search and seizure. The Constitution affords citizens a great many protections against unreasonable interference with your privacy rights and the right of law enforcement to search and confiscate our property.
As a result of years of case law interpreting the Constitution, there are specific procedures law enforcement must follow to perform a search. There are even different procedures for different kinds of searches, and certain things that must occur before an officer can perform that kind of search.
Officers can make mistakes in this area. When that happens, the search and seizure of evidence can be challenged in court. This could mean the exclusion of the evidence from the prosecution's case, and, thus, the prosecutor cannot rely on that evidence or use it in any fashion against you to prove a DUI offense.
This is a strategic way to defend your case and protect you from unconstitutional DUI charges.
Lack of Probable Cause
Under the Virginia and U.S. Constitutions, law enforcement has to have probable cause that a suspect is engaged in some kind of criminal activity before they can justify:
- a search,
- a stop, or
- an arrest.
The police have to be able to describe specific and detailed facts that led to the suspicion that criminal activity was occurring. A hunch or other vague description is not sufficient under the Constitution.
An experienced Virginia DUI defense attorney can challenge the probable cause put forth by the arresting officer or the officer who pulled you over. This many invalidate much if not all of the case against you.
No Miranda Warning
Under the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you have a right not to make any self-incriminating statements. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a case called Miranda v. Arizona, determined that anyone taken into custody by police must be told of these rights. We now know these as "Miranda rights."
Anyone taken into police custody must be told four things before they are questioned:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to an attorney.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
The warning does not have to be worded exactly this way but must include all these things. If an officer fails to read you your Miranda rights, any answers to questions posed by the officer after your arrest may not be admissible at trial.
This can be a major win in a DUI case, as any admissions you made while not under the warning could be kept out as evidence.
The prosecutor may use expert testimony to establish certain scientific evidence, like experts who work with, prepare, and analyze blood or drug test results. This testimony can be challenged in court. A person may not be sufficiently qualified to testify as an expert, and their testimony can be limited as a result.
A defendant may also use expert testimony to contradict the state's evidence. Using an expert can be a useful tool when done correctly by an experienced DUI attorney.
Challenging the Elements of a DUI
A Virginia prosecutor is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt each of the essential elements of a DUI charge. Failure to prove any one element beyond a reasonable doubt will result in a finding of not guilty.
Elements of a DUI that can be challenged include:
- whether the driver was intoxicated by drugs or alcohol, and
- whether the driver was in physical control or operating the vehicle.
Successfully challenging even a single element of the offense will result in a dismissal of the DUI charges against you.
Contact an Experienced Virginia DUI Defense Attorney
You have options to fight your charges. Just because you are charged with a crime does not mean you will be found guilty. To protect your constitutional rights, you need Virginia DUI attorney Bryan J. Jones to defend your case.
Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation to discuss your case.