Defense is Not for Amateurs
Skilled DUI attorneys sit next to their clients in the back of the courtroom and watch one person after another accepting the first offer presented to them by the prosecutor. Unrepresented defendants routinely suffer license loss and financial penalties far more severe than people represented by an experienced DUI lawyer. They often accept those consequences to avoid paying for an effective DWI lawyer. It is not until months later, sometimes years, that they begin to fully appreciate their decision to forgo a great DUI lawyer. Going unrepresented, or bargain shopping for your DUI/DWI defense, can have devastating impacts on the length of drivers license loss and can result in substantial career consequences from a criminal record. Attorney Sweeney, a former DUI prosecutor, has seen this process unfold from both sides of the courtroom for many years. The only bargain is the best DUI defense lawyer you can get.
BREATHALYZER IS EVIDENCE
From the first moment an officer approaches someone suspected of DWI, the officer is gathering evidence. A breath test occurs at the police station after the suspect has already been arrested for DWI. A breath test can be very persuasive evidence if admitted at trial. By the time a breathalyzer or blood test is requested by law enforcement, the officer has already formed the opinion that the driver is intoxicated. An improperly administered breath test can be inaccurate.
Prior to administering the breathalyzer, the officer will review a form with the driver. That form implies that refusal to agree to the breath test will result in a 6 month loss of license. An experienced DWI lawyer can examine the police reports, the circumstances of the arrest, the procedure for requesting the breath test, and determine whether a challenge to the 6 month license loss is appropriate. That challenge has to be filed within time limits. If the driver waits too long to challenge the breath test or refusal, the DMV will may not even grant a hearing. It is best to contact a DUI lawyer as soon as possible to avoid a preventable loss of license from missing time limits. Time is of the essence when it comes to retaining an excellent DUI lawyer.
THE LENS OF GUILT
The investigation begins when the Officer has some reason to suspect that the person in the driver’s seat is impaired, to any degree, by alcohol or drugs.
The officer approaches the vehicle and has a brief conversation with the person in the driver’s seat. During this initial conversation, the Officer makes some observations. Those observations will later appear in police reports as evidence against the driver.
- The Officer will likely report that he smelled a strong odor of alcohol (unless the driver has had nothing to drink and no blood sugar issues),
- The Officer will likely report that noticed that the driver had bloodshot and/or watery eyes (unless the driver has no tear ducts and exceptionally clear eyes even after a very long day),
- The Officer will likely report that slurred or slow speech (unless the driver speaks exceptionally clearly at a sufficiently quick rate [not too fast]),
- Finally, The Officer will likely report some difficulty producing a driver’s license and registration (unless the driver is exceptionally organized and continuously anticipating a traffic stop).
As the driver steps out of the car, the lens of guilt is applied to every motion the driver makes. Using any part of the car to assist the driver is climbing out of the car is viewed as an indicator of impairment. Any misstep or stumble, a hand against the car, moving too far left or right, all get noted for the report. Then the field sobriety tests begin:
- The pen test is the starting point. Police call the test horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) to make it sound more scientific than “pen test”. HGN has several causes (including flashing police lights) and the observations are entirely subjective, but the result shows up in the report seeming like a scientifically proven fact. The officer may also conduct a vertical gaze nystagmus (VGN) if drug use is suspected. If there is any swaying while the officer moves a pen around in front of the driver’s face, it will be notes as an indicator of impairment.
- The next step in gathering incriminating evidence against the driver is what police refer to as a “9 step walk and turn”. The officer gives a long series of instructions while the driver is standing in what the officer calls “the instructional position”. Next the driver will walk “heel-toe” along a line that is often imaginary. “Heel-toe” is a military term that civilian drivers are expected to adopt and perform roadside. A proper military turn is expected at the turn around. Although counterintuitive, the driver’s hands are expected to remain at her sides as she walks the imaginary line. Any deviation from proper military form will be noted as an indication of drunkenness.
- Next comes the “one leg stand”. If the driver starts with excellent physical health and no injuries or disabilities in either leg, there is a chance that this test will go well. If the driver raises her leg too far, put her foot down, or sways during the thirty seconds of standing on one leg, another note goes in the report. If not, there will be a note about the driver’s possible inability to precisely estimate thirty seconds. Any deviation from perfection will be seen through the lens of guilt.
Sometimes an officer will add in other “tests”. Those are not “standardized field sobriety tests” and are typically discounted by courts and administrative agencies. The driver will be arrested and taken to the police department for fingerprints and photos.