A police officer must have a valid reason to pull a vehicle over during a traffic stop. If the officer stops a person unlawfully and later arrests them for driving under the influence of alcohol—or DUI—the resulting criminal case may be subject to a complete dismissal. To obtain this dismissal, the DUI defense attorney must raise the appropriate legal defense to the judge overseeing the criminal case.
A DUI conviction can result in severe penalties, including jail time, lengthy probation, and high monetary fines. You may also experience numerous collateral consequences if you have a DUI on your permanent criminal record. Obviously, the best possible way to avoid these penalties is to not incur a DUI conviction in the first place.
Your lawyer can meet with you to discuss the circumstances leading up to your DUI arrest and determine if a police officer might have violated your constitutional rights by initiating an invalid traffic stop. If you can raise this defense in court, your legal team can let you know your likelihood of success. They can also argue the appropriate defense on your behalf during your criminal court trial and work to pursue a complete dismissal of your pending DUI charge.
- When Can a Police Officer Lawfully Stop a Vehicle?
- What Is a Criminal DUI Charge?
- What Must the State Prosecutor Prove in My DUI Case?
- What Happens if a Court Ultimately Convicts Me on a Criminal DUI Charge?
- What Are Some Collateral Consequences of a Criminal DUI Conviction?
- What Is the Legal Basis for a Defense in a Criminal DUI Case?
- Call a Knowledgeable Criminal DUI Defense Attorney Right Away
When Can a Police Officer Lawfully Stop a Vehicle?
For a police officer to validly stop a vehicle and initiate a routine traffic stop, the officer must have at least some reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. Reasonable suspicion is not a very high legal standard to satisfy.
For example, an officer can stop a vehicle if:
- The driver is going less than five miles per hour over the posted speed limit.
- The driver has a tail light out or commits another minor driving infraction.
- The driver fails to switch lanes for a police officer or other stationary emergency vehicle located on the side of the road.
- The driver runs a stop sign, yield sign, or red traffic light at a traffic intersection.
Any of these common traffic law violations provide police officers with the necessary reasonable suspicion to initiate a routine traffic stop.
However, police officers may not engage in random traffic stops or pull vehicles over for no reason. If an officer performs an invalid or random traffic stop and later obtains DUI evidence to make an arrest, that evidence may be subject to suppression at a criminal court hearing or trial.
Your lawyer can determine if a police officer might have initiated an invalid traffic stop in your case. In that instance, your attorney can promptly file a motion to suppress any DUI evidence that the police officer later obtained against you. Finally, your lawyer can raise the appropriate legal defenses in court and work to recover the best possible result in your criminal DUI case.
What Is a Criminal DUI Charge?
Criminal DUI charges are severe charges that carry high penalties upon conviction. This is true even when a driver sustains a first-time DUI, as the penalties for this offense are still extremely high. One of the most important steps you can take if you are currently pending a criminal DUI charge is to seek experienced legal counsel to enter an appearance on your behalf. Generally, the earlier you retain a skilled attorney in your DUI case, the more likely you will obtain a favorable case result.
Individuals are legally intoxicated if they drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent. Minor drivers under 21 years of age may not have a BAC of 0.01 percent or higher. The same is true for individuals who are currently on probation for DUI.
Commercial vehicle drivers, including operators of tractor-trailers and big rigs, must also follow stricter DUI standards than passenger vehicle drivers. A commercial vehicle driver is legally intoxicated with a BAC of 0.04 percent or greater.
When a police officer lawfully stops a vehicle and believes that a driver might be intoxicated based upon observable symptoms—such as slurred speech or bloodshot eyes—they may administer a Breathalyzer test to the driver. The officer can administer the Breathalyzer test at the police station or while the driver is still at the scene. If the driver’s BAC meets or exceeds the legal limit, the police officer can arrest the driver for DUI on the spot.
Alternatively, the police officer may subject the driver to a battery of field sobriety tests while on the side of the road. For example, the officer may perform a horizontal gaze nystagmus test while shining a flashlight in the driver’s eyes and observing the movement of their pupils.
Alternatively, the officer might ask the driver to walk heel-to-toe in a straight line for a certain number of steps, turn around, and repeat the process. If the driver fails one or more of these tests, the officer can arrest the driver for DUI.
However, if the police officer initiates an improper or invalid traffic stop, any incriminating DUI evidence they obtain after starting the traffic stop, including field sobriety test results and Breathalyzer test results, may be subject to suppression at their criminal court trial. Therefore, the state prosecutor handling their claim will be unable to prove the necessary legal elements to obtain a conviction against them, and the court may drop the pending DUI charge in its entirety.
What Must the State Prosecutor Prove in My DUI Case?
In a criminal DUI case, the state prosecutor has to prove every legal element of the charge in order for them to sustain a conviction against the driver. If the prosecutor cannot prove even one legal element, they will be unable to secure a conviction, and the court will likely dismiss the DUI charge.
To prove their case, the prosecutor will need to demonstrate, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the driver was operating a vehicle while they were under the illegal influence of alcohol.
To prove their case, the prosecutor can move to enter various pieces of evidence, including Breathalyzer test results and field sobriety test results that the police obtained after pulling the driver over. The prosecutor can also subpoena the police officer to testify in court and authenticate these test results while they are on the witness stand.
However, if the police officer initiates a random or otherwise invalid traffic stop, the court can suppress any incriminating evidence they later obtain. As a result, the prosecutor cannot legally prove their case.
A skilled DUI defense lawyer can determine your likelihood of obtaining a DUI charge dismissal in your criminal case. If you are eligible to raise one or more legal defenses at your criminal court hearing or trial, we can do so on your behalf and submit the necessary objections and arguments in court.
What Happens if a Court Ultimately Convicts Me on a Criminal DUI Charge?
When a state prosecutor establishes every legal element of their DUI claim beyond a reasonable doubt, they may sustain a conviction against the driver. When that happens, the matter will proceed to a sentencing judge who will assess the penalties in the case. In some instances, sentencing happens the same day the trial concludes. At other times, however, the criminal sentencing hearing will occur on a different date.
Sentencing judges assess penalties in a DUI matter based on statutory guidelines. The penalties that an individual receives for DUI will depend upon the amount of alcohol in the driver’s system, the number of prior DUI convictions the driver has on their criminal record, whether the driver is currently on probation for DUI, and whether or not the driver caused an accident which led to someone else’s injuries or premature death.
In the latter instance, the drunk driver, as well as their insurance company, may be liable to the accident victim or wrongful death claimant via a civil claim for damages. This civil claim will proceed separately from the criminal court case.
As far as criminal penalties are concerned, a judge can impose any one of the following against the defendant driver:
- High monetary fines
- Jail time
- Community service
- Court-ordered alcohol and drug rehabilitation
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) may also assess administrative penalties, including a period of license suspension. Under certain circumstances, however, the driver can petition the DMV for limited driving privileges, such as for driving to and from work.
Finally, a judge may order a defendant driver to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on their vehicle for a set period. This is a portable Breathalyzer device that the driver must breathe into upon entering their vehicle. If the device detects any amount of alcohol on the driver’s breath, it will not allow the car to start. The defendant driver will have to pay for the IID installation costs, as well as for any ongoing maintenance that the device might require.
If you ultimately sustain a DUI conviction, your lawyer will attend your sentencing hearing with you and make compelling arguments on your behalf. For example, your attorney can argue for the least possible penalty in an attempt to get you the fairest possible result available under your circumstances.
What Are Some Collateral Consequences of a Criminal DUI Conviction?
In addition to potential legal penalties upon conviction for DUI, an individual may also face numerous life consequences due to their criminal conviction. For example, if the individual is a student at a college or university, they may lose their financial aid or scholarship funds.
Moreover, if they apply for admission to an educational institution or program, it may deny their application because of the DUI conviction. In addition, a DUI conviction may bring harm to an individual’s reputation in the community—or to their professional reputation, depending upon the circumstances. Finally, if an employer finds out that an individual has a DUI conviction on their record, the employer can fire them.
A knowledgeable DUI defense lawyer can represent you at your sentencing hearing and work to minimize all of these potential collateral consequences.
What Is the Legal Basis for a Defense in a Criminal DUI Case?
In a criminal case, including a DUI matter, the defendant driver does not need to testify in their own defense. This is because the driver has a Fifth Amendment constitutional right against self-incrimination. Therefore, the driver does not even need to take the witness stand at their bench or jury trial. However, raising one or more legal defenses in court might prevent the state prosecutor from satisfying their own legal burden.
In response to a criminal DUI charge, the driver can raise any of the following legal defenses, which can lead to suppression of various evidence—and a complete charge dismissal:
- That the police officer initiated a random or invalid traffic stop in violation of the driver’s Fourth Amendment constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures
- That the police officer continued questioning the driver while they were in police custody and after the driver had already asserted their legal right to the presence of counsel
- That the police officer committed a mistake during the arrest process
A skilled criminal defense attorney can determine if you are eligible to raise any one of these legal defenses in court at your criminal bench or jury trial.
Call a Knowledgeable Criminal DUI Defense Attorney Right Away
If you are currently pending a criminal DUI charge, you should involve a skilled DUI defense attorney in your case as quickly as you can. Waiting too long to hire legal counsel for help can be highly detrimental to your case.
Even an experienced lawyer needs sufficient time to review the available evidence, meet with you to discuss your case, and prepare a legal defense for your bench or jury trial. If you show up to court without a lawyer by your side, the presiding judge might require that you go forward with your case without legal representation.
A skilled criminal defense attorney will advocate at every stage of the criminal proceedings and argue for the fairest possible result for you.