This guide is intended to provide you as much information as possible if you are looking for answers on how to beat a DUI or DWI charge. If you don’t wish to read the guide in its entirety, and would just like to skip to specific sections of the guide, you may use these links below to navigate to the sections you wish.
- 10 Different Ways You Can Fight & Beat A DUI or DWI Charge
- Challenging The Legality Of A DUI Checkpoint Stop
- Disputing Suspicion You Were Under The Influence
- Questioning The Field Sobriety Tests
- Challenging BAC Results From A Breathalyzer / Breath Test
- Challenging The Results Of Blood Tests
- Showing A DUI Checkpoint Arrest Was Illegal
- Asserting An Officer’s Failure To Read Miranda Rights
- Citing A Failure To Issue Implied Consent Warning
- Alleging Racial Profiling Or Other Misconduct
- Making A “Rising Blood Alcohol Content” Argument
Facing Uncertainty After A DUI Arrest
If you have been charged with DUI or DWI, you understand well the stress and uncertainty an arrest can cause. You’re likely concerned about the penalties that could result if you’re convicted. Perhaps you also feel embarrassed among family members, friends and colleagues, worried an offense could affect relationships.
The personal, financial and professional effects of a driving under the influence conviction can be profound. Getting your life fully back to normal after a DUI offense can take years, and the full impact of a conviction may never wholly subside.
With so much on the line, it’s important to protect your rights and take the proper legal steps in the aftermath of an arrest. Critical in this is getting informed about the relevant laws and court proceedings that relate to offenses for driving under the influence of alcohol or another drug.
Confronting Potential Penalties For A DUI Conviction
State laws contain provisions detailing the legal process and potential consequences of driving under the influence. There is some variation among the specific types of charges brought against individuals as well as allowable punishments under the law. In general terms, however, all states take DUI convictions very seriously and levy harsh penalties against offenders.
Some of the types of consequences that may be brought against people who are found guilty of driving under influence include:
- Fines – All states issue fines for DUI offenses; though amounts vary, it’s common for fines (with surcharges and fees) to total thousands of dollars.
- Jail time – In addition to any time spent in jail after a DUI arrest, it’s common for people to be incarcerated for a period following a conviction. Probation and community service are also common.
- Loss of driving privileges – States typically suspend or revoke the driver’s license of any motorist who is convicted on DUI or DWI charges.
- Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) – To regain driving privileges after a DUI offense, motorists commonly must install an IID – a device that prevents a vehicle from starting if alcohol has been consumed.
- Substance abuse education/treatment – People convicted may have to attend classes or treatment programs geared toward preventing future abuse of alcohol or another drug.
The severity of DUI penalties is largely determined by whether a person has prior convictions. A person just above the legal limit who is arrested for the first time, for example, is likely to be charged with a misdemeanor and avoid significant jail time; a repeat or serious offender, on the other hand, may face felony charges and a prison sentence.
Aggravating circumstances can factor into the punishments that are ultimately handed down by a court. For example, motorists may be charged with felony-level DUI if BAC levels far exceed the legal limit of .08 percent, a license suspension is in effect at the time of an arrest or children are in the car when a person driving while intoxicated.
The Impacts Of Driving Under The Influence Cases
The potential consequences of driving under the influence extend far beyond state-mandated punishments called for under the law. Depending on a person’s profession, it’s possible to be fired from a job. Commercial drivers are routinely dismissed from their duties given the nature of their work. People working in professions and organizations valuing a high-character workforce are also fired much of the time.
Losing driving privileges can obviously have a huge impact on a person’s life, potentially making it hard to meet household responsibilities. Whenever a driver’s license is ultimately reinstated, car insurance premiums can also shoot upward in the aftermath of a DUI or DWI offense.
Barring extraordinary circumstances, a DUI will stay on a person’s record forever. Unfortunately, it can seem like the person, financial and professional fallout of a driving under the influence conviction also lasts that long.
The DUI Legal Process
An arrest for driving under the influence can be traumatic. Being processed in a police station and spending some amount of time in a holding cell – which most alleged DUI offenders go through – is often a truly harrowing ordeal.
The truth is that most people who are arrested for intoxicated or impaired driving simply haven’t before found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Coming to terms with the fact that DUI charges will be filed can only be a somber realization.
Unfortunately, of course, the hardships don’t end there. The legal process that follows an arrest for driving under in the influence is typically bewildering. No one plans, after all, on being arrested on suspicion of DUI or DWI. When the unthinkable happens, stress and uncertainty are inevitable.
Navigating A Complex Area Of The Law
While confusion and trepidation are to be expected after a DUI arrest, it’s at exactly at this time that you must stay composed and aware of what’s in your best interests. Much of the time, how well a person navigates the DUI legal process directly influences the outcome of a case. Put another way, taking the right steps now can increase the odds of a favorable outcome weeks and months in the future.
A critical prerequisite toward effectively proceeding after a driving under the influence arrest is to be informed about the legal process. Case stages may include:
- Arraignment hearing. In this hearing, the state’s charges against you may be read aloud before the court. You will then have the opportunity to enter a plea – typically guilty, not guilty or no contest. Most often people plead not guilty at this early juncture given that this plea can be changed later, whereas it may be impossible to change from a guilty plea.
- Preliminary hearing. It is in this setting that evidence from a DUI or DWI arrest will be shared by the state. This may include such elements as BAC test results, a police officer’s statements and eyewitness testimony. Fully accounting for this evidence will be a critical aspect of preparing a defense.
- Filing of pre-trial motions. At this stage in the process, it is possible to challenge whether the various items of state-collected evidence may be used against you in a trial. It may be possible to challenge the results of a BAC test, for example, on grounds that the equipment was defective or that an officer did not administer the assessment properly.
- Trial. This is typically the final stage of driving under the influence cases in which you have the opportunity to mount a defense against the charges resulting from a DUI arrest. Typically a jury will ultimately either side with the state and issue a guilty verdict or proclaim you innocent.
While this is a big-picture look at a DUI trial, each of these steps involves many detailed procedures that require diligent preparation. Given that they feel unprepared to grasp the intricacies of DUI laws court requirements, most people charged with driving under the influence hire a lawyer to guide them through the legal process.
An attorney will start by gaining a full understanding of the facts at play in the DUI arrest. This is likely to involve interviewing a client, reviewing the police report and speaking with any witnesses. This work will serve as the foundation for identifying appropriate defense strategies.
Upon settling on the legal options that are most likely to be effective in a case, a lawyer will go about the work of compiling all evidence, consulting expert witnesses and others who can be of benefit to your case. As might be expected, this involves much preparation.
Understanding The Charges Against You
The precise trajectory that a driving under the influence case takes, of course, will depend in large part upon the charges filed. Dictated by the laws of a given state, there is a wide range of potential charges that could be brought against an individual.
Some states designate driving offenses as DUI – driving under the influence – while others opt for DWI – driving while impaired. There is no uniform use of these and related offenses; for instance, some states have separate DUI and DWI charges and others designate all substance-related driving offenses under one term. Similarly, some state laws outline offenses specific to the use of illegal drugs and others don’t.
Understanding the distinguishing factors in various forms of driving offenses involving alcohol and other drugs can be difficult, which is why most people rely on the help of an attorney to navigate the legal process following an arrest.
Civil Case Proceedings Beyond A Criminal Court
In addition to criminal court proceedings, a parallel administrative process concerns driving privileges. People convicted of DUI offenses typically have a driver’s license suspended or revoked. Driving sanctions vary between states, though the process is typically administered by the department that issues licenses.
State attempts to remove driving privileges usually begin well before any final outcome in a DUI case. In fact, the clock on losing driving privileges can start almost immediately upon arrest. People alleged to have driven under the influence may have as little as 10 days to take steps to contest a suspension or revocation.
There is an urgent need to act quickly to contest the loss of driving privilege. It’s critical to act immediately in the aftermath of a DUI arrest to get an administrative hearing scheduled. In this setting, it may be possible to have a suspension or revocation eliminated or at least shortened.
10 Effective DUI Defense Options
If you have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it’s natural to have a lot of worry about what’s going to happen to you. Some people believe that successfully fighting the charges against them is impossible, that it’s best to simply plead guilty or no contest to driving under the influence and move on.
Making things easy for court officials, however, will not protect you against severe state-mandated penalties. Only mounting a sound DUI defense will give you the opportunity to avoid serious punishment. Fortunately, there are many possible grounds on which to do that.
Law enforcement officials, while well meaning, are not perfect. Rather, they make mistakes all the time during DUI and DWI investigations – errors that open the way for you to successfully contest charges and avoid penalties. Following are some of the most effective methods commonly utilized in DUI cases.
1. Challenging The Legality Of The DUI Stop Outside of a DUI checkpoint
Police cannot pull you over without reason. Rather, law enforcement must have “reasonable suspicion” that criminal activity has occurred. If this standard is met, an officer has the right to briefly detain you to complete a limited investigation. In the case of suspected DUI, this may include administering field sobriety tests and other attempts to determine whether there is probable cause to make an arrest.
Most DUI charges are the direct result of common legal infractions like:
- Traveling above the posted speed limit
- Weaving in and out of lanes of traffic
- Following another motorist too closely
- Driving with a burned out headlight or turn signal
- Using the shoulder of a road as a lane
- Failing to observe a traffic light
- Making a wrong turn
- Driving very slowly or idling alongside the roadThere are many additional legitimate reasons for police officers to make traffic stops, of course. What is critical to remember is that an officer must articulate a clear, reasonable cause for making a traffic stop in order for it to be legal. This reason must also be included in the incident report for an arrest.
If the stop that resulted in a driving under the influence arrest was not legal, the evidence collected during the course of the DUI investigation is not admissible in court. With all of the evidence thrown out, the state cannot make an effective case against you, and charges are likely to be dismissed by the court.
2. Disputing Suspicion You Were Under The Influence
During the course of a DUI investigation, a police officer will be very attuned to the appearance and behavior of the person who has been pulled over. An official might note the smell of drugs or alcohol, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and poor motor functioning. These are elements that an officer is likely to note in a report of the DUI arrest.
These and other traits, however, needn’t necessarily be related to ingestion of alcohol. Additional factors that can lead to what might seem alcohol use include:
- A medical condition
- Side effects of a medication that you have been prescribed
- Use of over-the-counter person care products, including mouthwashIt’s could be possible to show that factors unrelated to alcohol contributed to perceived signs of intoxication. It may also be possible to dispute that such signs were present at all, discrediting an officer’s arrest account. For example, footage from a dashboard camera may not match up with what’s in a report. Video from a police holding area may help also help in a case, as could testimony from a medical professional who administered a BAC test.
3. Questioning The Efficacy Of Field Sobriety Tests
Law enforcement officials commonly use field sobriety tests as a means to identify people who may be intoxicated. The problem, however, is that these assessments have been shown poor indicators of intoxication.
Many field sobriety assessments, including tests of a person’s ability to recite the alphabet backwards or touch one’s nose, have been shown to be wholly unreliable. Even so-called standardized tests – the one-leg stand, the walk-and-turn and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus assessments – have been demonstrated to be flawed.
Many potential factors can lead to people performing poorly on field sobriety tests, including:
- Being overweight or having a physical ailment
- Poor footing or weather conditions
- Restrictive clothing or unstable footwear
- Poor coordination
Many additional factors can hurt a person’s performance in field sobriety tests. Given that these assessments are so unreliable as indicators of intoxication, it may be possible to discredit evidence collected during their administration. This may not necessarily result in a case being dismissed, but it can reduce the overall amount of evidence against you and cause credibility issues for the prosecution.
4. Challenging BAC Results From A Breathalyzer
Officers administer field sobriety tests to check if motorists demonstrate signs of impairment. If an official deems that the case, a roadside breath test is typically administered to evaluate a person’s blood alcohol level (BAC). Just as field sobriety assessments are flawed, however, so too can be the breath tests administered by law enforcement officials.
This comes as a surprise to many people. Breath tests are thought to be scientific – a trustable gauge of a person’s BAC level. However, while more reliable than the very subjective field sobriety assessments, breath tests often do deliver readings that don’t reflect actual amounts of consumed alcohol.
There are many potential reasons a breathalyzer device may provide heightened BAC readings. These include:
- Improper maintenance – Breath test equipment must be properly calibrated in order to deliver accurate results. Without careful, regular maintenance, a device can show that a person has an artificially inflated BAC level.
- Equipment malfunction – Even if a device is impeccably maintained at appropriate intervals, there is the potential for breath test equipment to simply fail. Studies have shown that devices can return fluctuating readings.
- User error – Clearly, it’s important that a BAC test is performed properly if BAC readings are to be accurate. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, whether user inexperience, carelessness or some other factor plays a role.
- Health conditions – Some breath test tests are wrong when devices mistake naturally occurring bodily substances with ingested alcohol. People with certain health conditions and body traits could be affected by such errors.
- Use of over-the-counter products – Mouthwash and other health and hygiene products can also result in heightened BAC readings. Often this is due to a breath test’s inability to distinguish between different types of alcohol.
These are some of the most common DUI defense strategies that can be used to undermine the results of BAC testing, though there are others. Effectively calling into question breath tests may be done with the use of expert witnesses who are familiar with how the devices operate and their potential for delivering inaccurate results.
5. Challenging The Results Of Blood Tests
Blood tests to evaluate a person’s BAC are typically performed after a person has been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or another drug. Tests are usually conducted at a medical facility, in a particular section of the police station or in specialized law enforcement vehicles that may be present at DUI checkpoints.
Blood tests are widely regarded as the most reliable form of BAC testing that is available to law enforcement officials. A sample of blood is taken from an alleged DUI offender and tested in a lab setting. While more scientific than any other evaluative methods in DUI cases, it is possible for errors during tests to cause false positives.
Potential issues that can skew the results of blood tests include:
- Unqualified or inexperienced testers – It requires knowledge and skill to properly draw and analyze a person’s blood. In states around the country, people who do this work must get proper training and obtain a license. Failure to complete required courses or a lapse in licensure can open the way to contesting BAC results.
- Outdated or poorly maintained equipment – Blood work, obviously, requires precision. No matter how qualified a professional might be, old or ill-kept equipment can result in artificially elevated BAC readings that force a person to face DUI charges.
- Chain-of-custody issues – Blood testing is a multi-stage process, and it’s critically important samples are collected, stored and transferred according to best practices. Expert witnesses may be able to show that a breakdown in chain-of-custody protocols compromised the testing process.
Blood tests are the most reliable form of evaluating blood alcohol concentration as well as the most technical. Given that so much can go wrong in tests, it’s important to explore every option for questioning the results of testing and undermining the credibility of results.
Successfully challenging blood tests can be a critical moment in DUI cases. These BAC results are typically the strongest evidence that the prosecution has, and demonstrating that it’s not reliable can make the state’s entire case crumble. Often DUI charges are simply dismissed.
6. Showing A DUI Checkpoint Arrest Was Illegal
DUI checkpoints are very controversial in the United States. Many cases contesting the constitutionality of these roadway stops have made their way through the courts over the years with legal officials trying to determine whether checkpoints infringe on Fourth Amendment rights. As it stands, these roadblocks are utilized in more than 30 states.
While the legality of DUI checkpoints has been upheld by the Supreme Court, the circumstances under which law enforcement set up roadblocks are very prescribed. If these protocols are not observed in the course of a stop, it may be possible to have it deemed illegal. Requirements concerning DUI checkpoints include:
- Motorists must be chosen to be stopped in accordance with a uniform procedure – for example, pulling over every other car – that applies the full duration of the roadblock.
- The safety of drivers must be accounted for, including in the form of appropriate lighting and adequate notice of the roadblock ahead.
- A person’s constitutional privacy rights must be maintained throughout the entirety of a stop.
If any of the above provisions is violated during at a checkpoint, establishing the illegality of a stop may be a viable DUI defense. In these situations, DUI charges are typically dismissed given that all the evidence collected against an individual becomes inadmissible in court.
7. Asserting An Officer’s Failure To Mirandize
Every American is afforded Miranda rights under the law. People who are in custody must be informed that they are not required to make incriminating statements, that what they do say can be used against them and that they have a right to an attorney. It is the legal obligation of law enforcement to inform detained persons of these rights prior to questioning.
If, in the course of making a driving under the influence arrest, a police officer fails to Mirandize a driver, all evidence collected in the DUI investigation may be ruled inadmissible. With no evidence to make a case against the accused, the state is likely to drop the charges against a person.
8. Citing A Failure To Issue Implied Consent Warning
Implied consent laws in the U.S. require that motorists suspected of DUI consent to a chemical BAC test or risk a driver’s license suspension. A police officer may request this assessment if he or she deems that there is probable cause a driver is intoxicated. The important word here is request; an officer may not demand that an individual takes a BAC, employ coercive techniques or issue threats of any kind.
If an officer has acted inappropriately in the course of a DUI arrest, failing to properly issue the implied consent warning, any BAC results from the breath test are likely to deemed inadmissible in legal proceedings related to an alleged offense. A chemical BAC test is usually among the most reliable forms of evidence; a ruling forbidding test results from being entered into evidence can be a huge boon to the defense of the accused.
9. Alleging Racial Profiling Or Other Misconduct
It is illegal for law enforcement to single out minorities for arrest, including when it comes to making DUI stops. Despite law enforcement claims of fairness, unfortunately, profiling behaviors occur on an everyday basis in police departments in urban and rural areas throughout the United States.
People who believe they have been arrested on the basis of race may have an opportunity to avoid the harsh potential punishments associated with driving under the influence of alcohol or another drug. Demonstrating in a court that a stop was race-based opens up the possibility t0 question a police officer’s motives in all aspects of a case. Report information on “intoxicated” behaviors, for example, may be been exaggerated.
10. Making A “Rising Blood Alcohol Content” Argument
Many people do not realize how long it takes for alcohol to be absorbed into the body. Every person’s body is different, of course, but peak BAC concentration is not typically reached until between 30 and 90 minutes after an alcoholic drink is consumed. This is because alcohol is absorbed into the body primarily through the small intestines, and it takes time for the blood stream to carry the alcohol through the body.
This fact can have important implications in DUI arrests. If a person was arrested on suspicion of DUI after a chemical test showed a BAC of .08 percent or greater, it’s possible to show that – while a BAC was over the legal limit at the time of an arrest – it may not have been at the time of driving. Rather, alcohol from the last ingested drink may not have yet been in the blood stream. The argument may help your lawyer beat your DUI charge.
Getting The Legal Assistance You Need After A DUI
Given the seriousness of penalties that can result from a DUI conviction, the stakes are high in driving under the influence cases. Fortunately, there are viable opportunities to mount a sound defense against DUI charges. Building a strong case is not easy, however, and most people obtain the services of an experienced DUI attorney.
Beating DUI charges requires intensive knowledge of the law, access to critical investigative resources and acumen for presenting arguments before legal officials. Most people who are not in the legal profession, simply lack the information needed to do this. A lawyer, however, will understand right away the best strategy based on the specific circumstances of a DUI arrest.
There is no reason not to take every possible measure to avoid a conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol or another drug – not when sound help is so close at hand. Complete the form below to get a free case review from a local DUI / DWI lawyer.