Drunk driving is one of the most common offenses committed, but offenders aren’t caught every time. In fact, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reports that the average offender drives under the influence over 80 times before an arrest. However, if you’ve been pulled over and charged with driving under the influence (DUI), it’s important you understand the defenses a lawyer can use in your case and the possible penalties you face.
You Can Challenge Your DUI/DWI Charges
Virginia comes down hard on those who choose to drive drunk, and if you’ve been arrested, you may be worried about your future. Although the consequences of a DUI/DWI conviction are serious, an experienced lawyer can challenge the charges—potentially minimizing the penalties. Possible defenses an attorney can use include:
- Challenging blood, urine, and breath tests. The police officer conducts these field tests to determine sobriety. However, some officers don’t follow proper test administration protocol, their machines may not be calibrated correctly, or the results of a test may not be accurate. This can be due to the food you’ve eaten, medications you take, and how recently you’ve had an alcoholic beverage.
- Challenging the officer’s reasonable suspicion. The officer’s description of suspicious behaviors is a large portion of the evidence against a person charged with a DUI. For example, if the officer says you were swerving, speeding, or reacting slowly, you can find witnesses to testify that you were driving defensively, following the rules, or didn’t drink at all before driving. This could potentially render that portion of the evidence irrelevant.
- Challenging the administration and submission of field sobriety tests. Police use field sobriety tests (FSTs) to determine whether probable cause exists for an arrest. However, officers must carefully follow specific protocols to meet the testing standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It’s possible to argue that an officer didn’t take the correct steps or perform the test accurately. Additionally, one unreliable FST is called the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, in which an officer asks the suspect to follow the horizontal movements of an object with her eyes. If the suspect’s eyes jump suddenly, it’s supposed to be evidence of drunkenness. However, because an officer is not a medical professional and cannot reliably establish baseline eye movements, it’s improper for him to interpret the results as evidence.
- Challenging the location of the stop. The prosecution must be able to show with solid evidence that the county or city in which you were stopped is the same government entity bringing the charges against you. If they cannot do this, the charges are irrelevant.
- Challenging the suspect’s involvement. If an officer did not actually pull you over but arrived at the scene of an accident after you’d already exited the vehicle, the officer and prosecution must show evidence that you were actually driving before he arrived. If they cannot supply evidence to show this, the charges may be dropped.
- Offering alternative explanations for your behavior. What police consider to be tell-tale signs of drunkenness can often be explained by other causes. For example, you may have failed to walk in a straight line because of a twisted ankle; your eyes may have been bloodshot because of your contacts; you may have slurred your speech because of a medication you take; or you may have been confused by the officer’s instructions. Explaining the correct cause of your behaviors can help poke holes in the case against you.
Virginia Is Strict on DUI/DWI Offenses
Virginia law is tough on DUIs, even for a first offense, for which the penalties could include license suspension or revocation, fines, and a recorded DUI on your criminal record. However, if you’re arrested on a second, third, or fourth offense, the penalties increase. Fines could double or triple, you could face mandatory jail time, and you could lose your license permanently.
If You’ve Been Charged With a DUI
Since Virginia is harsh on DUI/DWI offenders, it’s crucial you don’t attempt to handle your case on your own or simply accept penalties without a defense. An experienced lawyer can help answer your questions and walk you through the process of eliminating or downgrading your DUI conviction. The legal team at Kearney, Freeman, Fogarty & Joshi can do just that. Call us at 877-652-1553.