DEFENSES IN DUI CASES
An experienced criminal defense attorney knows there are numerous defenses available in a DUI case. Here are just a few examples:
• Were the machines used by police to test your blood alcohol level properly calibrated and maintained?
Sometimes people charged with a DUI think that those machines are foolproof—they aren’t. Machines break and malfunction. DUI machines rely on humans to keep them maintained properly (just like we have to do regular maintenance to our cars) and the machines only give accurate results if the person using them has followed instructions properly in running them (in the same way that a car can have problems if being operated by a person who doesn’t drive correctly).
• When was your blood drawn and is that an accurate number?
It’s important to examine when the blood was drawn from you in relation to when you were driving. An experienced DUI lawyer will always consider having the blood re-tested by a different lab and then possibly using services of a hematologist or blood technician to evaluate whether the blood-alcohol level that the police have assigned to you is accurate. Blood-alcohol levels rise and then fall, and it’s important to understand the factors that can affect when and how that occurs (e.g. your age, height and weight, gender, alcohol tolerance). In addition, the timing of the testing by the police lab is important because it’s possible that the blood-alcohol level determined by the police lab is higher than it was when you were driving (because your level was rising over time) and that you were actually under the legal limit when you drove.
• What was the reason given by police that they stopped your vehicle and was it a proper stop and detaining of you under the law?
This is a complex subject under Pennsylvania law, as it deals with search and seizure law under the 4th Amendment to the Constitution. It is complex for lawyers and judges to understand, even after they study it for many years. In addition, search and seizure law is constantly changing. In my experience, most police officers do not even understand the law because it is so complex, and so they stop cars, detain people, and often conduct searches or make arrests based on “hunches,” rather than proper legal standards. An experienced criminal defense attorney will always be examining for whether the police overstepped the boundaries of what they are allowed to do, and if the attorney believes this has happened in a case, he or she will usually file a motion to suppress evidence. This results in a hearing well before any trial later, and if the judge agrees with the defense argument, then the evidence can be suppressed, which means the prosecutor may not use it in a trial against you. This can result in a dismissal of the charges if there is no other evidence against you in the case.
• Did the police conduct field sobriety tests on you and was it done fairly?
Field sobriety tests can help a police officer develop probable cause to make an arrest for a DUI. Police are trained at police academies on how to conduct these tests, which are usually done on the side of the road, often at night. In my experience, what police are not well-trained in is determining whether there are other factors that may make a person do poorly on these tests. For example, a person who has never been arrested before and has been stopped by police, especially at night, may exhibit extreme signs of nervousness, which can affect the person’s ability to perform the tests and also influence the officer to mistakenly believe the person is under the influence (or think the person is more intoxicated than he or she is). Moreover, there are many other factors that can affect someone’s ability to do these tests. I have had disabled clients and elderly clients who failed such tests given to them on the side of the road, but who were completely sober. Drivers who are overly fatigued, but not intoxicated, can also easily fail these tests. Police officers sometimes simply disregard how nerve-wracking it could be to someone to try to walk backwards (for example) on the side of the road, at night, with trucks racing by, with a police officer shining his flashlight in their face. An experienced DUI attorney will always consult with the client about how these tests were given and then whether the results affect the overall case, and if so, how.