One of the ways that police officers and prosecutors obtain evidence for a criminal DUI case is by collecting breath and blood samples. In fact, if a state prosecutor uses this evidence to secure a conviction against you, you may be looking at serious legal penalties and collateral consequences that affect every aspect of your life. However, Breathalyzer and blood evidence is not infallible, and in certain situations, your attorney can raise a legal defense at trial on your behalf.
If you are currently face a criminal charge for DUI in Orange County, you need knowledgeable legal counsel on board in your case as quickly as possible. If you wait too long to retain a criminal defense attorney to represent you, you severely jeopardize your legal rights. A lawyer must have time to discuss the circumstances of your arrest with you, review the evidence against you, and determine if you can raise one or more legal defenses to your pending criminal charge.
If you show up to your criminal trial date without an attorney present to represent you, a judge is under no obligation to postpone your trial. Instead, the judge can make you go forward with your trial without having a lawyer present to defend you. Therefore, you should retain a skilled DUI defense attorney immediately following an arrest.
A lawyer will review the evidence against you and determine your eligibility to assert various defenses that may challenge Breathalyzer or chemical testing evidence. If a defense is successful in court, it can result in a complete dismissal of your pending DUI charge and your entire criminal case.
Your lawyer can also represent you at all your legal proceedings or negotiate a favorable plea deal with the state prosecutor handling your DUI case. In any event, your attorney will do everything they can to help you secure the best possible outcome in your case.
Levels of Per Se Intoxication Under DUI Laws
Police officers use several methods to determine whether a driver is legally intoxicated or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. While there is no set standard for drug intoxication, the legal limits for alcohol intoxication are very clear.
First, a passenger vehicle operator is legally intoxicated if a Breathalyzer device determines their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to be 0.08 percent or higher. However, more stringent standards apply to certain classifications of drivers. For example, when it comes to minor drivers who are under 21 years of age, a zero-tolerance policy is in effect. Therefore, if a police officer determines that a minor driver had any alcohol in their system while operating a vehicle, they may be subject to arrest for DUI.
Similarly, commercial vehicle operators, including tractor-trailer drivers, must follow strict standards. The law holds these drivers to a higher standard because they operate motor vehicles for a living. A truck driver or other commercial vehicle operator is legally intoxicated if their BAC reaches 0.04 percent or higher.
Breathalyzer and Field Sobriety Tests
One of the ways that police officers use to gauge a driver’s BAC is a breath & blood test. To perform this task, many police officers utilize portable Breathalyzer devices at the scene of a traffic stop. A driver breathes into the device, and the device submits a reading as to the driver’s BAC. If the driver’s BAC exceeds the set legal limit, the police officer will arrest the driver at the scene.
In addition to using a Breathalyzer device, a police officer may subject a driver to one or more field sobriety tests if they suspect the driver is intoxicated.
The three most common field sobriety tests include:
- The heel-to-toe walking test.
- The horizontal gaze nystagmus test.
- The one-leg standing test.
The purpose of these tests is to see if the driver has difficulty with their balance or with walking in a straight line, either of which may indicate that the driver is under the illegal influence of alcohol or drugs.
While Breathalyzer and field sobriety tests are common indicators of alcohol intoxication, they are not always accurate. A DUI defense lawyer can review the Breathalyzer or field sobriety test evidence in your case and determine its accuracy. If your lawyer believes the test to be inaccurate, they can raise the appropriate legal defense on your behalf at your criminal jury trial.
In addition to Breathalyzer evidence, many police officers use blood tests and other chemical testing as a way to determine whether a driver was likely intoxicated while they operated a vehicle.
Unlike a Breathalyzer test, a police officer must ordinarily obtain a blood sample at the police station or at a medical facility. After obtaining this sample, the officer will submit the test for a toxicology screening. This screening will then show whether the driver has any traces of intoxicating drugs or alcohol in their bloodstream.
Your lawyer will help you determine if you have a basis for challenging breath or blood tests that a police officer ordered in your case. If so, your lawyer can raise an appropriate legal defense on your behalf in court.
Legal Burden of Proof in a Criminal DUI Case
In any criminal case, including one that involves DUI, the state prosecutor must satisfy their legal burden of proof to obtain a conviction against the driver. Specifically, the state prosecutor must show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the driver was illegally under the influence of intoxicating drugs or alcohol at the time they operated a motor vehicle.
To establish their legal burden of proof, the prosecutor will attempt to introduce various pieces of evidence into the case, including results from breath or blood tests. If the prosecutor fails to establish even one legal element of the offense, they should not obtain a conviction against the driver. Consequently, the driver will not face any criminal penalties.
In a DUI case, the state prosecutor has the only legal burden of proof. The defendant facing DUI charges does not need to prove anything in the case. The driver does not need to take the witness stand and testify in their own defense at trial since they have a Fifth Amendment constitutional right against self-incrimination.
Although the driver does not have to satisfy a legal burden of proof in the criminal case, they can raise one or more legal defenses at a jury trial. These defenses may work to negate the elements of DUI and subsequently prevent a prosecutor from obtaining a conviction against the driver. A skilled DUI defense attorney will determine if you can raise a defense to your charge and will aggressively represent you at your criminal jury trial by raising the appropriate legal defense(s) on your behalf.
Common Penalties for a DUI Conviction
If a state prosecutor satisfies their legal burden of proof and they obtain a conviction against the driver, the court will set a sentencing hearing in their case. During that hearing, a judge has the discretion to impose various penalties against the driver within certain statutory minimums and maximums.
The ultimate penalties that a driver sustains in a criminal DUI case will depend upon various factors, including their BAC level, as determined through blood or breath testing, as well as other circumstances surrounding the occurrence. Drunk drivers are susceptible to higher penalties if they cause a traffic accident that leads to personal injuries and damages.
Common penalties that a judge may impose upon a convicted DUI offender include:
- High monetary fines
- Jail time
- Required attendance at drug and alcohol education classes
- Required drug and alcohol rehabilitation
In addition, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in California may suspend a driver’s license for a significant amount of time. In some instances, your attorney will attend a DMV hearing and challenge that license suspension for you.
In addition, a judge may require an offending driver to participate in the Ignition Interlock Device (IID) program. As part of this program, the driver must pay for the installation of an IID on their vehicle and also pay for routine maintenance costs. To operate the IID, a driver must first blow into it before starting their vehicle. If the device determines that the driver has any trace of alcohol on their breath, it will not allow the vehicle to start.
Obviously, the best way to avoid any of these penalties is to avoid a criminal DUI conviction from the onset. A DUI defense attorney will represent you during every stage of your case and work to secure a complete charge dismissal. If you ultimately sustain a DUI conviction, however, your lawyer will represent you at your sentencing hearing and work to minimize or eliminate these consequences.
Common DUI Collateral Consequences
In addition to the potential legal penalties that a drunk driver incurs upon conviction, drivers may also face numerous collateral consequences.
Common collateral consequences of a DUI conviction may include:
- Loss of a job, especially if the job involved operating a motor vehicle in a professional capacity
- Loss of financial aid or scholarship money, if the driver is currently a student at a college or university
- Denial of an admission decision from an educational program
- Difficulty finding a job if a prospective employer performs a criminal background check that shows a prior DUI conviction on the applicant’s record. This is especially common for jobs involving driving.
A DUI defense lawyer will represent you at your criminal sentencing hearing and work to minimize the legal penalties for a conviction and the potential collateral consequences.
Challenging a Breathalyzer or Blood Test in Court
In some situations, a driver with a pending DUI charge may challenge a Breathalyzer reading or blood test result. First, Breathalyzer machines and blood testing equipment sometimes malfunction and provide inaccurate readings. If a driver has reason to believe their test result is inaccurate, they should speak with an experienced DUI defense attorney immediately.
A driver may also allege that the police officer did not have sufficient cause to warrant the Breathalyzer or blood test in the first place.
Additionally, the driver can argue that the police officer waited too long to obtain the blood or breath sample after they were behind the wheel of a car. It often takes a significant amount of time for alcohol to become fully absorbed into a driver’s bloodstream.
Therefore, although a test may come back with a positive reading, it does not necessarily mean that the driver was intoxicated when they were actually behind the wheel of a vehicle. This is especially true if a significant amount of time elapses between when the driver operates their vehicle and when a police officer obtains the blood or breath sample.
In some instances, a criminal defense attorney can retain a toxicology expert who can testify in your case to support these legal defenses. Again, if your defense succeeds at trial, the court may dismiss your pending DUI charge along with your entire criminal case.
Contact a DUI Defense Attorney Today
If you are currently pending a DUI charge, you must retain the right defense attorney to represent you in your case as quickly as possible. A DUI defense lawyer can be present with you at every stage of your case, from initial police questioning all the way through a possible jury trial.
Many DUI defense lawyers also have strong working relationships with state prosecutors. Therefore, having experienced legal counsel on your side increases your chances of potentially obtaining a favorable plea deal in your case. As part of that plea deal, the prosecutor might be willing to reduce your DUI charge down to reckless driving, decreasing the possibility of severe penalties in your case.
Finally, a criminal defense Law Firm in Orange County can aggressively represent you at a criminal jury trial, introduce favorable evidence on your behalf, and help you obtain the best possible result in your case.
Never assume a breath or blood test will make a DUI conviction inevitable. Seek an Orange County criminal defense lawyer now.