Drunk Driving Defense

Statutes in each state criminalize the act of driving under the influence of alcohol. In the United States, drivers are presumed drunk if they have a blood alcohol concentration at or above the level set by the state. Most states have set their limits to the federally-recommended level of 0.08 percent, although many have lower limits for certain classes of drivers.

When law enforcement officers pull over drivers and suspect they are drunk, they will ask to administer sobriety tests. If the motorists fail the tests and fail chemical testing, then they will generally be charged with drunk driving. While it may seem that these cases are straightforward, there may be an available drunk driving defense to such charges.

Potential Penalties for Drunk Driving

When people are charged with drunk driving, the penalties they will potentially face if convicted vary depending upon a variety of factors including their BAC levels, the number of prior DUI convictions and whether or not their driving while under the influence resulted in an injury accident. Generally, people may expect the consequences of a conviction to be one or more of the following:

  • Loss of driving privileges
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device
  • Mandatory alcohol treatment and counseling
  • Incarceration or house arrest
  • Fines
  • Community service requirements

The Fourth Amendment and Drunk Driving Stops

The Fourth Amendment provides protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. This right extends to a person's vehicle and body. In order to stop a car in the first place, police must have a reasonable suspicion that the motorist has committed some sort of an offense although there is an exception if the stop is made at a sobriety checkpoint. These have been declared to be constitutional and involve officers stopping vehicles according to a predetermined order, such as every other vehicle passing through.

If it appears an officer stopped a vehicle without reasonable suspicion of a traffic or other offense, a DUI defense attorney may ask the court to suppress (throw out) any evidence gained from the traffic stop.

Another Fourth Amendment issue that comes up is when the police draw blood of a motorist for testing without probable cause or a warrant. If that happens, an attorney may challenge the blood test and move to have the results suppressed.

Problems With Testing

A DUI attorney normally reviews any testing that was performed in a client's case. This review includes how roadside sobriety tests were administered as well as how any chemical testing was obtained, performed and analyzed. These tests have been standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Chemical tests involve the testing of a person's deep lung air using a breath test machine or testing the person's blood for the presence of alcohol. If a blood test was taken without a warrant, an attorney is likely to challenge its admission. There are also many ways an operator may incorrectly administer a breath test as well as potential issues with the machine itself.

A DUI/DWI Attorney Can Help

In addition to asserting defenses to the charges, there are several ways DUI defense attorneys may help their clients. They can in some cases be able to negotiate a plea agreement with the prosecutor in order to get the charges and subsequent penalties reduced. By asserting constitutional challenges, legal counsel may also be able to get the case dismissed. In addition to criminal proceedings, attorneys may help their clients by advocating on their behalf at DMV hearings regarding the suspension or revocation of driving privileges.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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