Is There Any Point in Fighting DUI Charges?
Driving under the influence (DUI) is considered a serious crime in every American jurisdiction. While people often think of license suspensions and ignition interlock devices (IIDs), a conviction for impaired driving can also lead to substantial fines and jail time. Unfortunately, many people think that fighting such charges is pointless. However, it’s important to know that roadside sobriety test results can be challenged in court.
This might sound crazy — particularly if you ask police and prosecutors. After all, aren’t these tests backed by science? This is certainly what authorities would have you believe, and there is some science behind field sobriety tests. However, they’re far from perfect. If you’ve been arrested after “failing” a roadside sobriety or breathalyzer test, there are some important things you should understand.
Common Challenges to Roadside Sobriety Test Results
To mount a proper DUI defense, there are a variety of strategies you and your defense attorney might take. For instance, you might bring up constitutional issues or question the arresting officer’s probable cause. If you decide to challenge field sobriety test results in court, however, there are many strategies available. The following are just a few of your options:
Field sobriety tests must be administered according to standardized procedures. When this doesn’t occur — such as by not giving proper instructions or conducting the test in a flawed environment — the results of the roadside sobriety test can be challenged in court.
If the administering officer has not been properly trained to conduct a field sobriety test, this could throw the results of the test into doubt. Even when conducted perfectly, roadside sobriety tests are not 100% accurate. Therefore, improperly conducting these tests can lead to very unreliable results.
Individuals accused of DUI can also challenge roadside sobriety test results by questioning the conditions in which the tests were conducted. For instance, the officer may have conducted the test in an area with poor lighting, uneven terrain, or distracting surroundings. This makes an accurate assessment nearly impossible.
Physical or Medical Conditions
There are medical and physical conditions that could affect how a person performed on a roadside sobriety test. Medical issues, injuries, or even nervousness could result in “false positives.”
Administering officers must properly document the administration of roadside tests. If they fail to do so — such as through inaccurate or incomplete documentation — this could significantly weaken the prosecution’s case.
Alternative Explanations for Test Results
There are many other potential defenses to a failed roadside sobriety test. Alternative explanations for poor performance could include stress, fatigue, or other non-alcohol-related factors.
Can Breathalyzer Results Be Challenged in Court?
Clearly, there are many potential defenses for a failed roadside sobriety test. However, drunk driving laws don’t merely focus on these tests. In most cases, the law relies heavily upon the results of an alcohol breath test. Also known as a breathalyzer, these tests are supposed to measure the blood alcohol content (BAC) of a person suspected of drunk driving.
These tests are often seen as infallible, but there are many ways to challenge breathalyzer results in court:
- Improper calibration: Did you know that 27,000 DUI convictions in Massachusetts were overturned due to improperly calibrated breathalyzer machines? This defense isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem.
- Operator error: The person administering the breath test needs to be trained and follow proper procedures. Otherwise, the results may be inadmissible.
- Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, acid reflux) can affect the accuracy of alcohol breath tests. Proper medical documentation can create a solid defense to DUI charges.
- Rising blood alcohol content: If an officer waits too long to administer a breathalyzer, a person’s BAC may be higher during testing than it was while they were driving. This means there may be no evidence of impaired driving.
- Failure to observe: Officers are often required to observe a suspect for a specified period of time before administering a breathalyzer. Failure to do so could be grounds for challenging the blood alcohol test results in court.
It’s important to remember that these defenses — along with challenges to field sobriety tests in court — are not “one size fits all.” If you stand in court and simply start tossing out these claims, it’s unlikely that you’ll get the result you’re hoping for. Your defense strategy should take the unique circumstances of your case into account to decide the best possible DUI defense.
A drunk driving attorney may be able to assist in this process.
Should You Refuse Drunk Driving Tests?
When people look at the potential penalties for an impaired driving conviction, it makes sense that they’d want to avoid giving the state any evidence. There’s a persistent belief among many that refusing to take field sobriety or breathalyzer tests will prevent authorities from gathering the evidence they need for a conviction. Unfortunately, countless individuals have found out the hard way that this simply isn’t true.
Prosecutors don’t need roadside sobriety or blood alcohol tests to achieve a conviction. Other types of evidence — ranging from erratic driving to officer perceptions — can be used as evidence. Refusing such tests can also result in immediate consequences — such as license suspensions and IID requirements. In many cases, the penalties for refusal are just as serious as those for a conviction.
However, this isn’t always the case. Those facing felony DUI charges or other serious allegations may benefit from not agreeing to field sobriety or breathalyzer tests. Unfortunately, there’s no single answer that’s right in every circumstance. This is why it’s important to work with a DUI defense attorney. At the Liberty Law Center, we’re here to help. Contact us today at (719) 602-7381 to schedule your free consultation.