I have yet to meet a person who has spent their night intending to drive drunk. At the same time, I've handled more DUI cases than I care to count, both as a prosecutor and defense attorney. As DUI is one of the most common criminal offenses in the United States while also being one of the least likely crimes for a person to intend to commit, it's worth thinking a bit about what's behind that paradox. Over the years I've found that there are three main variations of people arrested and charged for DUI. 1. The driver who breaks from their usual drinking practices, makes an out of character mistake and gets caught; 2. The driver who doesn't realize that when they follow their usual drinking practices, they're actually over the legal limit when they drive; and 3. The non-impaired driver who is wrongly arrested and charged.
The common theme in all DUI arrests is human mistakes. As drivers and as people, we all make mistakes all of the time. The good news is, cops make the same types of mistakes as the rest of us. If you're facing a DUI arrest, whether it is your first time or your tenth one, a successful defense strategy requires time, experience and attention to detail.
Did the cop have a legitimate reason to stop you? More often than you think, the answer to that question is, "no." Cops make a lot more traffic stops than they make arrests. Around major holidays, sporting events, festivals and such, many departments will even obtain additional grant funding to step up DUI enforcement. That puts extra pressure on the cops out on the road, either implicitly or explicitly, to make sure they come away with DUI arrests for the night to justify those patrols. That means more "fishing" type stops where nearly everyone on the road is liable to get pulled over for something and then immediately released unless something more catches the cop's eye or nose.
Just like the rest of us who may break from our typical routine to celebrate a holiday, or not realize that our typical routine is problematic, cops can talk themselves into making stops they otherwise wouldn't when the pressure is on, or not realize they've gotten complacent over time and have started making bad stops on a routine basis. Any way you cut it, a badge, gun and sirens don't make cops any less human and prone to errors than the rest of us.
Here at Spitzer Law, we've had success in challenging traffic stops that sounded great on paper, but after watching the dash camera footage, checking out the scene ourselves and questioning the officer, the only evidence left in the case is of an illegal stop by the cop. If the stop was illegal, any evidence that the cop collects after the stop like your name, your field sobriety tests and your breath or blood sample go straight out the window.
Even if the initial traffic stop turns out to be legal, the rest of the DUI investigation process can be a minefield for an officer that's not paying attention or up on their skills. Did they ask the right questions before starting your field sobriety tests? Did they administer the tests in the "standardized" way that they've been trained or did they go off script? Did they follow proper procedures in administering your breath or blood test?
As with the initial stop, more often than you think, cops make mistakes throughout the DUI investigation process from start to finish. In some cases, we've been able to get breath tests thrown out. In other cases, we've been able to leverage a series of small mistakes by the officer into reduced or amended charges. The examples are endless and every case presents a different set of facts. But the consistency of human mistakes in the DUI investigation process always leaves the door open to some measure of hope.
Through our years of experience, Kathy and I have learned how to break down a DUI case from start to finish, review all of the weak points and utilize the mistakes made by the cops to get our clients the best possible outcome. Everyone makes mistakes and being held accountable for those mistakes is a part of life. But under our system of laws, the burden is on the government to prove that they respected your rights, followed accepted procedures designed to ensure the reliability of the evidence they collected and can convince a reasonable jury beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed a crime. Hiring an experienced, detail-oriented professional who can dedicate the time your case needs is one way to ensure that the government is held accountable to their burden before you're held accountable for any mistakes you may have made.