Being charged with a DUI can definitely seem like the end of the road for you as a driver. DUIs carry serious penalties, including not just fines and possible jail time, but also the loss of your license, at least temporarily, and increased insurance costs when you do have your driving privileges reinstated. But don't give up just yet. It's worth trying to fight the charges – you may be able to get them dismissed or get the penalties reduced if you have the right legal strategy. One legal strategy that your attorney will definitely want to explore is determining whether the police made any mistakes during your DUI stop. Police mistakes are more common than you might think, and if the police made a mistake during your stop, the court may dismiss the charges against you. Take a look at a few of the most common police mistakes.
Lack Of Reasonable Suspicion
For the most part, an officer can't pull you over without some sort of reasonable suspicion that you've committed a crime. The only exception is if you go through a DUI checkpoint (and even checkpoints are controversial in their own right). Outside of a checkpoint, an officer can't just pull you over for no reason.
The officer has a lot of options when it comes to reasonable suspicion. Common observations that could give an officer reasonable suspicion to stop you include speeding, driving too slowly, driving erratically, drifting out of your lane or off the road, making an illegal turn, or coming close to hitting another car. Reasonable suspicion isn't limited to these observations – anything that could possibly be interpreted as a sign of impaired driving can be grounds to pull you over. Therefore, it's tough to prove that an officer did not have reasonable suspicion. However, it is a question worth exploring. If the officer claims your driving was erratic, but there are witnesses who will testify that it was not, for example, or if there's video evidence that you were driving normally at the time, then you could call the officer's claim of reasonable suspicion into question, and you may have grounds to have the charges dismissed.
DUI Checkpoint Misconduct
A DUI checkpoint, or sobriety checkpoint, is when the police set up roadblocks in order to check drivers coming through that area for possible criminal activity, like driving under the influence. At a checkpoint, an officer does not need reasonable suspicion to stop you. These checkpoints remain controversial, because many people believe that they violate drivers' Fourth Amendment rights to protection from unwarranted search and seizure. However, the Supreme Court has upheld such checkpoints as constitutional, so whatever your opinion of them, they remain a legal law enforcement tactic.
However, just because the checkpoints themselves are constitutional does not mean that there are no rules that officers have to follow. They are still not allowed to stop people in a way that's discriminatory – for example, they can't stop only African American drivers. Usually, there will be some rule to ensure that checkpoints are fair. They may just stop every driver that comes through, but more commonly, they'll stop one in every so many cars – for example, they may stop every third car, or every fifth car. Once the rule for that particular checkpoint is set, the officers have to follow it. If they abandon the rule at any point, that could be considered misconduct. For instance, if the rule is every fifth car, but the police check three cars in a row, then they aren't sticking to the rule.
Today, many police wear body cameras, and there may be other cameras recording at a DUI checkpoint. Because checkpoints tend to slow down traffic, there may also be witnesses that can testify to how the police were conducting the checkpoint. If the police made errors in the way that they conducted the checkpoint, it could invalidate your stop.
Breath Test Errors
Police have a variety of tools they use to test for sobriety, but one commonly used tool is a breathalyzer test. However, this breath test also comes with common errors. Don't assume that a breath test that shows that your blood alcohol content is over the legal limit is irrefutable proof.
Breathalyzer machines have to be calibrated frequently in order to maintain their accuracy. If you're being charged with a DUI on the basis of a breath test, your lawyer could call into question whether or not the machine was calibrated on schedule, or whether the officer who did the calibration was properly trained to do so.
Your state may also require police to adhere to a short observation period before administering the test – for example, in California, police are supposed to observe you for at least 15 continuous minutes before administering the breath test. This is because if you were to eat, drink something, vomit, use breath freshener, or anything else that could throw off the test results, then the test might not be accurate. If police failed to observe you for 15 minutes, your lawyer could challenge the accuracy of the test. This may not get your charges thrown out, but if the breathalyzer is a major piece of evidence against you, and you can call it into question, it may help you win or settle your case.
The average citizen can't be expected to know every mistake that a police officer might make during a DUI stop, but an experienced DUI attorney will know them and be on the lookout for them. If you've been charged with a DUI, retaining the services of a good DUI attorney in your area should be your first move.