DUI laws are aimed at protecting the community by reducing the numbers of people who choose to drink alcohol or use drugs and drive their cars. Penalties for DUI/DWAI convictions have increased in severity over the past 20 years in response to the numbers of deaths and serious injuries connected with drunk driving.
People who get arrested for drinking and driving are not typical “criminal types”, but instead are decent people who underestimate the amount of alcohol in their systems and the effects of alcohol or drugs on their ability to drive.
ELEMENTS OF OFFENSE
There are several types of evidence that police and prosecutors look for in determining drunk driving.
BAD DRIVING: “Vehicle” is defined as any device used to transport people or goods. This definition includes vehicles other than just motor vehicles. There are laws which forbid driving a boat, golf cart or even a bicycle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. “Operating” a vehicle means that you are in a position of control over the vehicle. There is no requirement that the vehicle actually be turned on. People who have been asleep in the driver’s seat on the side of the road have been arrested for driving under the influence even when the vehicle is off, although this uncommon.
In most DUI cases, police stop vehicles when they notice bad driving. This can include speeding, repeatedly crossing the lines between the lanes (weaving), or running stop signs or red lights. When a vehicle is especially slow to respond to an officer’s light or sirens, there is an immediate suspicioun that the driver may be intoxicated. Being involved in a traffic accident is often a reason why people get arrested for DUI. Police rely on bad driving as a reasonable suspicion that the driver may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
OBSERVATIONS: From the moment that an officer notices bad driving and chooses to stop an automobile, the officer is taking careful note of the driver’s behavior or physical signs. If a person is rude or obnoxious to the officer, if there are open containers of alcohol in the car, or if there is the obvious odor of drugs such as marijuana, the officer will note these observations as part of the probable cause for a DUI arrest.
SIGNS OF INTOXICATION: Police look for obvious signs of intoxication when contacting a driver. These can include slurred speech, the odor of alcohol, watery or red eyes, or dialated pupils, fumbling with paperwork such as a driver’s license or registration and stumbling when getting out of the car. Officers will generally ask a driver if the driver has been drinking, how much and when and where. You should be aware that you have a right not to answer any questions except those that relate to your identity and ownership of the vehicle.
ROADSIDE MANUEVERS: If an officer has a reasonable suspicion that you may be under the influence, you will probably be asked to get out of your vehicle and engage in roadside manuevers. These manueves are voluntary and you can refuse to do them, although this refusal will be noted in the police report. The roadside manuevers include moving a pen in front of your eyes to see how well you track and if there are unusual movements of your eyes which can occur with intoxication. You may be asked to walk a straight line, to stand with your hands at your side with your head tilted back, to stand on one leg, to touch your fingers to your nose, or to recite the alphabet. These tests are all designed to test your balance, memory and ability to follow instructions.
CHEMICAL TESTS: If a police officer has reason to believe that you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you may be asked to submit to a portable breath test (PBT) at the scene. These tests are often unreliable and you can refuse this test without any effect on your driver’s license (unlike the chemical test offered once you are arrested). If you are arrested for driving under the influence, you will be offered a choice of chemical tests. You can choose between a breath test or blood test unless the officer has reason to believe that you are under the influence of drugs in which case you are required to take a urine test. You can refuse to submit to any of these tests, but doing so will result in a mandatory one year suspension of your driver’s license. In addition, the prosecutor can commit upon your refusal to submit to the test at trial. The chemical tests are designed to determine the level of alcohol or drugs in your system. The tests can be challenged by showing that they were improperly conducted, that the lab results are faulty, that the machine was not working properly or that the samples were improperly preserved. If the chemical test is a good one, then you are presumed to be under the influence if your blood alcohol level is over .10.
Penalties for DUI and DWAI can be severe, especially for repeat offenders. An experienced criminal defense attorney can examine the evidence in the case and develop a defense based upon challenges to the evidence such as failure to advise the driver of Miranda rights, lack of probable cause to arrest for DUI, lack of reasonable suspicion for bad driving, or improperly conducted roadsides or chemical tests.
For more information about DUI/DWAI, see DUI/DWAI