DUI Law - DWI Law - Drunk Driving Law

What is DUI / DWI Law?

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) law, also referred to as Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) law, refers to state statutes and municipal ordinances that make it illegal to operate a motor vehicle after consuming a specified amount of alcohol. These cases are criminal in nature, although they can involve civil penalties, such as a suspension of driving privileges. DUI laws often include prohibitions against driving under the influence of controlled substances as well.

Most states prosecute drunk driving in three ways. First, a conviction can be based on the amount of alcohol in the defendant’s blood, as measured immediately following the arrest. The legal limit in all states is currently .08%, with lower limits for commercial drivers and minors. This type of prosecution is called a “per se” DUI. It requires only that the state prove that a blood alcohol content test was administered, and that the result exceeded the legal limit.

The second type of DUI prosecution occurs when the defendant’s blood alcohol content is not available, or does not exceed the legal limit. In such cases the state must prove that the driver consumed alcohol to a degree that rendered him or her unsafe behind the wheel. This is a more difficult burden for the state to meet. At trial, the state will try to prove its case using officer testimony, witness statements, field sobriety test results, and audio/video recordings.

A third, less common method of prosecution requires the state to show the defendant was in “actual physical control” of the vehicle. This can be proven with blood alcohol readings or other evidence, but unlike other prosecutions, the defendant need not have driven. A conviction can result based only on the fact that the defendant exercised control over the vehicle. Usually, this means sitting in the driver’s seat with possession of the keys.

In addition to jail time, fines, alcohol classes, and other penalties, those arrested for DUI or DWI also face suspension of their driver’s license. In most jurisdictions, a suspension will result either from a conviction, or for failing a blood alcohol test (even if the defendant is acquitted or charges are reduced). The same constitutional protections that exist in criminal court do not apply here, making it especially important to hire an attorney to handle the matter.

Avoiding a Drunk Driving Conviction

Criminal defense attorneys use a number of tactics to defeat DUI or DWI charges. In fact, from the prosecutor’s standpoint, the case becomes much more difficult the moment the defendant retains counsel. A motion for “discovery” will be filed immediately, requiring the state to turn over all evidence in its possession. Then, based on the information obtained, the attorney will prepare a defense by systematically poking holes in the state’s case.

To begin with, there may be issues surrounding the traffic stop. It is unconstitutional for an officer to stop a vehicle to investigate for DUI without reasonable suspicion that a crime or traffic violation is taking place. If the officer cannot articulate the reasons for the stop in a way that meets this legal standard, an attorney may be able to suppress all evidence collected as a result of the stop, effectively making the state’s case impossible to prove.

DUI lawyers are also trained to find deviations from protocol made by the arresting officer while conducting the field sobriety tests. These roadside maneuvers were developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to detect intoxication. They are standardized, meaning they must be administered in precisely the same manner every time. Even slight irregularities by the officer can be used to discredit the prosecution’s case.

Blood alcohol testing is also fertile ground for an attorney to find weak spots in a seemingly solid DUI case against the defendant. Law enforcement can test the alcohol content of a driver’s blood several ways, but the most common evidence used in court is the results of a breath test given at the police station. While more reliable than handheld units, these breath testing machines can be inaccurate, especially if improperly operated, maintained, or calibrated.

Driver’s accused of DUI or DWI will also find the services of an attorney invaluable when it comes to plea bargaining. Prosecutors know that going up against a talented defense attorney will require significant resources, and they may be willing to offer a lenient sentence to avoid trial. And if a trial is necessary, a DUI lawyer will understand how to persuade the jury that each little problem with the state’s case, considered together, adds up to “reasonable doubt.”

If you have been arrested for DUI, the time to hire an attorney is now. Action must be taken right away to avoid a suspension of your license, and to protect your constitutional rights. Consultations are usually free and without obligation.

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