Being pulled over after an evening of drinking can be a humbling – and sobering – experience. And being arrested and charged with driving under the influence can quickly transform a night of fun into an expensive slog through the legal system. Can hiring a DUI attorney help you avoid a conviction or reduce the penalties you’ll be facing? Learn more about how a DUI lawyer can help you dismiss or otherwise reduce the criminal charges filed against you.
When and Why You Need a DUI Lawyer
When you’re arrested for DUI, it’s important to consult a DUI attorney to see what potential defenses and legal protections you may have. The earlier you request a DUI lawyer, the more protection your lawyer can offer. For example, investigating police officers are often quite friendly and solicitous when questioning someone who was arrested for DUI. Their attempts to elicit a confession can appeal to those who are sorry for their actions and are looking to do the right thing. But these officers don’t seek a confession to help the defendant-their interest lies entirely in helping the prosecution secure a conviction. The less you can say at this stage, the better.
A DUI attorney can work with you to evaluate defenses, to secure the return of your driver’s license while charges are pending and, in some cases, to have your case dismissed.
Potential Defenses Your DUI Attorney May Raise
Washington’s DUI laws don’t just criminalize operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of more than 0.08%. Drivers who operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of any illicit drugs, alcohol, or marijuana may be charged with DUI. Drivers who operate a motor vehicle with a THC concentration of five or more nanograms per milliliter of blood can also be arrested and charged.
In practice, this means that anyone who is pulled over for driving erratically could face DUI charges if they have recently consumed alcohol, marijuana, or any illicit drug, even if their BAC is well under the legal limit. Because DUI convictions can carry hefty penalties, including jail time and the loss of your driver’s license, it’s important to explore your legal options to ensure you can fight for the best possible outcome.
Below are three of the defenses that may be available to you.
Invalid Traffic Stop
Every traffic stop must be premised on the officer’s “reasonable suspicion” a crime or traffic violation occurred. An officer can’t pull you over because they don’t like the color of your vehicle or because you happen to be leaving a bar on Saturday night, so long as you’re obeying all traffic laws and don’t have an active warrant for your arrest. Under the “fruit of the poisonous vine” doctrine, any incriminating evidence that is obtained following an improper traffic stop isn’t admissible in subsequent criminal proceedings. If your DUI attorney can invalidate the reasons for the traffic stop, any evidence the police have obtained beyond that point – breathalyzer results, blood test results, or even a confession – can’t be used against you. In most cases, successfully
challenging the initial stop will be enough to have the charges against you dropped.
Field Sobriety or Chemical Test Challenges
Officers will often arrest a DUI defendant after the defendant fails either the field sobriety test or the chemical test (usually a breathalyzer). But while failing one of these tests may be enough evidence for an arrest, it can’t always support a conviction.
There are many reasons people may fail field sobriety tests, from the condition of the pavement, the type of shoes the driver was wearing, or even an officer’s failure to properly explain the test instructions. Many medical conditions and medication side effects can create involuntary eye movements that mimic intoxication.
Because field tests can be so unreliable, many prosecutors insist on a blood or breath BAC test to further establish a driver’s level of intoxication. But chemical tests aren’t foolproof either. Errors in using or calibrating the breathalyzer can lead to inaccurate results, while blood tests can be mislabeled, contaminated, or improperly stored. In order to use these test results against you, the prosecution must show that they are accurate, and viable challenges to this accuracy can mean these test results never see the inside of a courtroom.
Driver Identity Challenges
Some DUI arrests occur when an officer pulls over a vehicle with one occupant. In these cases, the question of who was driving the car is a foregone conclusion.
But what about situations when someone is sleeping off a boozy night in a parking lot or allowing a friend to drive them home? What if someone is involved in a one-car accident with no witnesses but the vehicle’s occupants? If no one will “give up” the driver and admit that they were operating the vehicle, it can be all but impossible to prove that the defendant, and no one else, was operating a motor vehicle while under the influence. Depending on the circumstances of your arrest, a driver identity challenge may make good sense.
Whether you need a DUI lawyer or just want to know more about your rights under Washington law, look no further than Wood Sims Law. Our experienced attorneys know the ins and outs of Washington’s DUI laws and can help you achieve an outcome you’re satisfied with.