When someone is charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) in Washington D.C., it may seem like there is no way to defend the charges. However, nothing could be further from the truth. There are any number of lines of attack when it comes to challenging a DUI charge. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side can make all the difference.
Of course, not every defense applies to every case. While this blog post discusses various options a defense attorney will consider when examining a criminal case, each case is different. Each case presents its own set of facts from which the attorney works, finding the defense that is right for each individual case. Below are some of the most common DUI defenses.
Challenging the Basis of the Stop in DC
The police cannot just stop a car at random to see if the person driving the car has been drinking or is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Instead, they must have a legal basis to stop someone who is driving. If, for example, a person is speeding, weaving over the center line, or stopped at a green light, these are all reasons police may legally pull someone over.
However, it is not enough to just review the police reports, looking for a legal basis. Many times, in this day and age, the squad car is equipped with a dash camera. In those cases, a qualified criminal defense attorney will also review the dash camera footage to confirm the alleged driver misconduct actually occurred. If the stop of the car was illegal, any evidence obtained after the stop must be suppressed.
Challenging the Length of a Traffic Stop
Once a car is legally pulled over, the police are required to issue any ticket and let the driver get back on the road. They are not allowed to poke around, looking for additional things to ticket someone for. If someone is pulled over for speeding, for example, the police can't ask a driver to get out of the car and perform field sobriety tests, unless, upon stopping the car and having contact with the driver, they discover some legal basis to ask for the driver to perform such tests.
In each case, a criminal defense attorney will evaluate the information the police had at each step of the encounter. If there is not a legal basis to detain someone beyond the original basis of the stop, all evidence discovered beyond the legal detention must be suppressed.
Challenging the Chain of Custody
For breath tests, a person is taken to the police station and asked to blow into a machine. However, when police collect blood or urine and send it off for testing, the chain of custody of the sample can be challenged. From the time the fluid leaves the body until the time the test result is obtained and interpreted, the government must be able to establish the identity of each and every person who handled the sample.
In addition, the government must establish the integrity of the sample. In other words, police may not, for example, collect a tube of blood and keep it in the glove box for a few days before bringing the blood tube to a lab for testing. Failure to establish a complete and proper chain of custody can call into question the legitimacy of the sample, and may lead to suppression of the evidence.
Challenging the Test Results - Collection
Additionally, the collection process itself is subject to legal challenge. Did the person collecting the blood have the necessary legal qualifications to take blood in this type of situation? Did they use the proper blood tube when collecting the sample? What is the expiration date on the blood tube? Was an alcohol wipe used to clean the skin prior to taking the blood? How was the blood stored between the time of collection and the time of testing?
All of these questions can expose potential problems with sample handling that could result in questions about the integrity of the sample. Without a legally sufficient test result, the government's DUI case may be compromised to the extent a dismissal is the only legal solution.
Challenging the Test Results – Instrumentation
When someone is charged with DUI, most often there is a test, either of blood, breath, or urine, indicating a blood alcohol concentration. This blood alcohol concentration, (BAC) is used by the government to establish how intoxicated a person was, under the legal standard, where 0.08 is the “legal limit.”
However, the instruments measuring the BAC of blood, breath, or urine, are not magical. Instead, they are instruments that must be properly cared for. They must be maintained within certain standards. For example, the instruments must be calibrated at certain intervals to make certain they are working properly. If the instruments are not properly maintained, the results may not be reliable. In the right case, challenging the test results can lead to a dismissal of the charges.
Challenging the Test Results – Margin of Error
In every measurement, there is “measurement error” that must be accounted for. All instruments are subject to measurement error, meaning there is a predictable margin of error for each measurement. For example, a blood alcohol test may be accurate, plus or minus 0.01. If a blood alcohol concentration is 0.08, and the margin of error is 0.01, then the test result is more accurately 0.07 – 0.09. Understanding and challenging measurement error can make a difference in certain DUI cases.
Every DC DUI Case is Different
Because every case is different, it is essential that an attorney experienced in DUI cases carefully review the facts and circumstances of each individual case to determine what errors might be present. At S.L. England, PLLC, we know the intricacies of DUI law and we know how to challenge DUI evidence. Contact us today to discuss your needs for legal representation. We are ready to fight for you.