Those who incur criminal convictions for driving under the influence, or DUI, may face serious penalties and collateral consequences. Those potential penalties may include jail time, high monetary fines, and administrative penalties. Of course, the best way to avoid these penalties is to avoid a criminal DUI conviction in the first place.
When arresting for DUI, many police officers might consider the results of various field sobriety tests. However, officers sometimes make mistakes and fail to administer these tests properly. In those situations, your attorney may successfully challenge a field sobriety test result and obtain a complete dismissal of your DUI charge.
If you are currently facing a criminal DUI charge, you must have skilled legal representation in your case as quickly as possible. A DUI defense attorney can represent you at every stage of criminal proceedings, from initial questioning to jury trial.
If your DUI case must go to court, your lawyer can move to admit evidence on your behalf or raise one or more legal defenses to your DUI charge. One of these defenses may be that the police officer made a mistake while administering a field sobriety test. Your lawyer will do everything they can to help you achieve the best possible result in your criminal case, such as a complete dismissal of your DUI charge or a reduced penalty upon conviction.
Legal Standard for a Criminal DUI
A police officer can arrest an individual for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs based on breathalyzer evidence or field sobriety test results. First, most drivers who operate a passenger vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher are legally intoxicated. Similarly, commercial vehicle operators, like tractor-trailer drivers, are legally intoxicated if their BAC is at least 0.04 percent. A zero-tolerance policy applies to minor drivers under 21 years of age.
In addition to arresting an intoxicated driver whose BAC exceeds the legal limit, typically based on a breathalyzer or chemical testing, a police officer might arrest a driver for DUI if their faculties appear impaired. To make this determination, many police officers rely upon field sobriety test results. If the officer determines that the driver cannot operate a vehicle safely, they can initiate an arrest for DUI while at the scene.
In some instances, inexperienced police officers make mistakes while administering these field sobriety tests. If you believe that happened in your case, a DUI attorney can raise the appropriate defense on your behalf at trial and work to obtain a complete dismissal of your pending DUI charge.
Who Has the Burden of Proof in a Criminal DUI Case?
The state prosecutor has the legal burden of proof in any criminal case, including a DUI case. The individual facing the criminal DUI charge or the defendant does not need to prove anything in the case or even testify as a witness in court. Rather, the entire legal burden rests with the state prosecutor handling the case.
Moreover, to obtain a conviction for DUI against the defendant, the state prosecutor must establish their legal burden beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest legal burden of proof to satisfy in a case, and if the prosecutor cannot satisfy it, the case may be subject to a complete dismissal.
A skilled lawyer for DUI can help you raise appropriate legal defenses in response to your criminal DUI charge. Although you do not need to prove anything, your lawyer may raise one or more legal defenses at trial to negate various elements of the prosecution’s case. If a particular defense is successful, your DUI charge may be subject to a complete dismissal, and you will not sustain a conviction or incur any penalties.
Common Types of Field Sobriety Tests
Alcohol and drugs significantly affect a driver’s ability to drive carefully and safely. Alcohol, in particular, may slow down a driver’s central nervous system, limit their vision and concentration, or delay their reaction time, preventing them from stopping their vehicle in an emergency situation on the road.
When a police officer suspects a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they may initiate a traffic stop by pulling the vehicle over. While at the scene, the police officer might ask the driver to complete one or more field sobriety tests to determine if the driver is under the influence of alcohol.
Some of the most common tests that police officers administer include:
- Heel-to-toe walking tests, or walk-and-turn tests. When administering this test, a police officer asks the driver to walk in a straight line taking approximately ten steps, heel-to-toe. After walking the required number of steps, the driver must pivot on their heel and return to the starting place. If the driver cannot walk in a straight line or otherwise staggers or falls over, this is a good indication that they are under the influence of alcohol, and a police officer can arrest them at the scene.
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus test. With this type of test, a police officer observes the involuntary movements of the driver’s eyeballs when exposed to light. This movement becomes more visible—and pronounced—when a driver is under the influence of alcohol.
- One-leg stand test. With this type of test, a police officer may ask the driver to stand on one leg. If the driver cannot do so, staggers, or falls over, this may indicate that they are under the illegal influence of alcohol at the time.
These field sobriety tests all have national standards by which police officers should comply. They should provide the right instructions and ensure the driver has an appropriate chance of success when performing the tests.
Note that unlike chemical tests, you have the right to refuse a field sobriety test without facing legal penalties. However, an officer might still arrest you based on other observations or a breath test.
How Police Officers Make Mistakes When Administering Field Sobriety Tests to Drivers?
In some cases, police officers make serious mistakes when administering a field sobriety test to a driver during a traffic stop. Sometimes, an officer might fail to account for a driver’s medical conditions or environmental factors.
First, a police officer may simply administer the test incorrectly, leading to an inaccurate result.
Alternatively, a police officer might fail to account for poor lighting or weather conditions in the area, preventing a driver from performing the requested task correctly.
The officer might also fail to account for balance issues or other medical conditions that may prevent the driver from standing on one leg or walking in a straight line without losing their balance.
If you believe that a police officer may have performed a field sobriety test improperly, you can raise that legal defense at trial and pursue a complete dismissal of your criminal DUI charge.
A DUI defense attorney can determine if you may be eligible to raise one or more of these legal defenses at your court date and can assist you with raising the appropriate defense(s) on your behalf in court.
Other Defenses You Could Raise in Response to a Criminal DUI Charge
In addition to challenging a field sobriety test result, a driver facing a DUI charge may assert other legal defenses in court. First, if the police officer used a portable breathalyzer device to record the driver’s BAC, the driver might contend that the breathalyzer device was somehow defective.
Alternatively, the driver may allege that the police officer initiated an invalid or improper traffic stop. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures.
If a police officer did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to pull a vehicle over—such as a reasonable suspicion that the driver violated a traffic law—the traffic stop might have been improper from the onset. In that situation, any incriminating evidence, including field sobriety test results, may be subject to suppression at trial.
A DUI defense lawyer can determine if you should raise one of these additional legal defenses in response to your criminal DUI charge. If you are eligible to raise a complete defense in court, your attorney can present it at the appropriate time and pursue a complete dismissal of your pending charge.
Potential Penalties for a DUI Conviction in California
Individuals who sustain a conviction on a DUI charge may face numerous penalties. If the state prosecutor satisfies their legal burden and obtains a conviction against you, a sentencing judge will be the person to impose the appropriate penalties according to state statute.
The penalties that an individual receives for a DUI conviction will depend upon various factors, including the number of prior DUI convictions on the driver’s record (if any), the circumstances surrounding the incident, and the driver’s BAC level at the time the police officer made their arrest.
Potential penalties for a DUI conviction may include:
- Sizable monetary fines
- Jail time
- Restitution to the accident victim, if the driver caused an accident that led to physical injuries
- Court-imposed alcohol and rehabilitation treatment or education
- Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) on the driver’s vehicle
The main purpose of an IID is to prevent drivers from continuing to drive while intoxicated. First, the driver must pay to install the device on their vehicle. Then, to drive, they must blow into the device. If the device detects any amount of alcohol on the driver’s breath, no matter how small, the vehicle will not start. In addition to paying the initial installation costs, a driver must pay for regular maintenance on the IID.
In addition to these legal penalties, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) may impose administrative penalties, including losing a driver’s license for a significant amount of time.
An experienced DUI defense attorney in your area can represent you at your sentencing hearing and argue for a reduced penalty on your behalf.
Collateral Consequences of a Criminal DUI Conviction
In addition to the legal penalties that often come with DUI convictions, drivers may also face collateral consequences that affect their entire life. First, they may have difficulty obtaining admission to a university, college, or another educational program due to their DUI conviction.
Admissions officers frequently perform criminal background checks on applicants, and if they uncover a DUI conviction, they may think less of the applicant and deny their application for admission.
In addition, a college or university may cut off a student’s financial aid or scholarship funds if they become aware of a DUI conviction.
DUI convictions on a person’s record might also make finding or keeping a job difficult. If they operate a motor vehicle for a living, they can lose their job following a DUI conviction.
A knowledgeable DUI defense attorney can represent you at your sentencing hearing and work to minimize or totally eliminate all of the potential legal and collateral consequences you may face.
Talk with an Experienced DUI Defense Attorney Right Away
If you are currently pending a criminal DUI charge, you should retain the skilled legal representation you need in your case right away. Waiting too long to retain a lawyer to represent you may have devastating consequences.
A criminal defense Law Firm in Orange County needs time to speak with you about your arrest, review evidence, and prepare your case for trial. In fact, if you delay too long in seeking a lawyer to represent you and you show up to court without a lawyer present, the court does not have to postpone your case. Rather, the presiding judge can make you stand trial by yourself without the assistance of legal counsel. Given these potential consequences, the sooner you retain an attorney to represent you, the better off you will be.
The right DUI defense lawyer can advocate for you at every stage of the legal proceedings. Your attorney can help you explore potential legal defenses to your DUI charge, negotiate a favorable plea deal with a state prosecutor, or aggressively fight for your legal rights at a jury trial or other legal proceeding in court.