Common Defenses to Drunk Driving Charges
A stop at a DUI checkpoint didn’t go well. A police officer pulled you over for speeding when you’d had too much to drink. Or maybe you caused a drunk driving accident. However it happened, if you find yourself facing Pennsylvania DUI charges, you need to know what your options are. Here are some of the most common defenses to drunk driving charges.
What’s On the Line When You are Facing Drunk Driving Charges
If you are stopped by the police for driving under the influence (DUI), you could be facing misdemeanor charges. The consequences of a DUI conviction depend on your history with alcohol and the law. If you have no prior DUI offenses, you could face:
- An upgraded misdemeanor conviction
- 48 hours to 6 months in prison
- $500 to $5,000 in fines
- 12 month license suspension
- Alcohol highway safety school
- Alcohol substance abuse treatment
As your drunk driving charges start to pile up, so do the consequences. By the time you reach your fourth or higher DUI offense, you could face:
- A 1st degree misdemeanor conviction
- 1 to 5 years in prison
- $1,500 to $10,000 in fines
- 18 month license suspension
- 1 year ignition interlock on your vehicle
- Alcohol substance abuse treatment
The consequences of a DUI conviction also increase if you are especially intoxicated at the time of your stop (more than twice the legal limit), injured someone in an alcohol related accident, or possibly when you had a child in your car with you.
Together, these consequences can be life-changing. Losing your freedom and your ability to drive can put your job on the line. Misdemeanor convictions can affect your housing, employment, and your reputation. The criminal defense attorneys at Berman law can help you fight back against those consequences using these common defenses to drunk driving charges:
Problems With the Traffic Stop
Most drunk driving charges start with a traffic stop -- either at a DUI checkpoint or when the police have pulled you over for some other traffic violation. Police officers have to follow specific rules when they stop a vehicle. The U.S. Constitution protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. If the police did not have “probable cause” to stop your car, or follow the rules when they set up the DUI checkpoint, everything they learned at that traffic stop could be excluded from your case. Most of the time that means the entire DUI case will be dismissed if there was an illegal traffic stop.
You Weren’t Actually Driving the Vehicle
It seems obvious, but the police and prosecutors have to be able to prove that you were actually driving a vehicle on a public road to convict you of drunk driving. In a surprising number of cases, the prosecutors will charge defendants found sleeping in their parked vehicle, or who were passengers in the car. They may also try to press charges when you are found driving a vehicle on your own private property. In these cases, your criminal defense attorney can poke a hole in the prosecution’s case by showing they have no proof you were driving.
Misreading Signs of Impairment
For a traffic stop to turn into drunk driving charges the police will need to determine and document that you were showing “signs of impairment”. That usually includes:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Slurred speech
- Flushed cheeks
But there are many other reasons for these physical symptoms. What if you had a cold or were suffering from allergies? If the police misinterpreted the “signs of impairment” it could become a defense to your drunk driving charges.
False-Positive Field Sobriety Tests
Once a police officer suspects that you have been driving drunk, they will almost always use some form of field sobriety test or portable breath test to establish your level of intoxication. (The legal limit for your blood alcohol content is 0.08%). Field sobriety tests are the physical activities the police have you perform, such as following a pen with your eye, walking a line, or reciting the alphabet backwards. Several of these field sobriety tests have been proven ineffective, or can result in false positives when, for example, a person has bad balance even while sober, or have dyslexia. If you had another reason to fail a field sobriety test, that could be a defense to your case.
Problems with Breathalyzers and PBTs
Even when the police break out the scientific equipment, there can still be many problems with how Breathalyzers and other preliminary breath tests (PBTs) are used that can create defenses in your case. In 2013, a Pennsylvania court ruled that the way a breathalyzer device is used can often create inaccurate results. The devices themselves are also often improperly calibrated. If your BAC is close to the legal limit, these calibration errors can create reasonable doubt over whether you were breaking the law.
Police Interviews and Inadmissible Admissions
On top of all the challenges specific to drunk driving investigations, criminal defense attorneys also have all the standard tools connected to police investigations and interviews. Famously, police must notify you of your right to remain silent and speak to an attorney before asking you questions about your case (once you have been arrested). When they violate these rules, or other restrictions on police interviews, it can make the answers to their questions inadmissible in court. Even if you admitted to drinking an entire bottle of wine while sitting in your car, if that admission was obtained illegally, they can’t use it against you in court.
Depending on the specific details of your case, your criminal defense attorney can use any of these, or several other defenses to help you avoid a misdemeanor DUI conviction. If you are facing drunk driving charges it’s important to talk to an attorney as soon as you are able so that we can gather evidence and review everything to find the defenses that will come between you and a conviction.
At Berman & Associates, our experienced DUI defense attorneys know how to find the holes in the prosecutor’s drunk driving case. We will help build a defense and fight against a DUI conviction. We welcome you to contact us to speak with us about how we can help with your criminal case.