Facing a driving under the influence (DUI) charge in Washington State can be a stressful and frightening experience, but it's important to remember that there may be one or more viable defenses that can significantly impact the outcome of your case. Below, we review some of the most common DUI defenses.
Illegal Traffic Stop
Some DUI cases hinge on the legality surrounding the initial vehicle stop. The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. This constitutional right extends to the motorist, as the stopping of a vehicle by law enforcement is considered a seizure under the law.
For a traffic stop to be legal, the officer must have a reasonable suspicion that the driver is violating the law, which could range from observing a traffic infraction to a suspicion of impaired driving. If an officer pulls over a vehicle without a valid reason, the stop may be deemed considered illegal, and any evidence gathered during the stop, including the results of field sobriety tests, breathalyzer tests, and officer observations, may be suppressed.
In a DUI case, if the legality of the stop is successfully challenged, it can lead to the exclusion of significant evidence. This could significantly weaken the prosecution's case and may even result in the charges being dismissed. An experienced defense attorney can carefully scrutinize the circumstances surrounding the initial traffic stop to identify any possible Fourth Amendment violations.
Refused the Right to Speak to an Attorney
The constitutional right to counsel is a fundamental element of the United States justice system that is protected under the Sixth Amendment. Being refused the opportunity to speak with an attorney during a DUI investigation or arrest can constitute a serious violation of this right and serve as a potentially effective defense.
When an individual is detained under suspicion of driving under the influence, they have the right to consult with a legal professional before submitting to any chemical tests. This consultation is critical, as it allows the individual to understand the potential consequences of refusing or agreeing to such tests. If this right is denied, the individual's ability to make informed decisions and protect their legal interests is severely compromised.
If a driver suspected of DUI is not permitted to consult with an attorney despite their requests, any evidence gathered thereafter could be considered inadmissible in a court of law. This may include breathalyzer results, blood tests, or even admissions made by the detained individual. The court may deem this evidence as tainted because it was obtained in violation of the individual's Sixth Amendment rights.
Moreover, the refusal to allow an attorney consultation can undermine the credibility of law enforcement and their handling of the DUI investigation. It raises serious questions about the procedural integrity of the arrest and can cast doubt on other aspects of the case.
Inaccurate or Unreliable Chemical Testing
Breathalyzer tests, blood tests, and urine tests are the primary methods used by law enforcement to determine a driver's blood alcohol concentration (BAC). However, these tests are not infallible and can be subject to a wide range of errors, potentially making the results inaccurate or unreliable.
Breathalyzer tests, for instance, are commonly administered at the side of the road during a DUI arrest. These devices estimate the concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream by measuring the amount of alcohol present in one's breath. While they are a popular tool for estimating BAC, the results can be skewed by various factors. Conditions like diabetes or a low-carb diet can produce substances in the body that mimic alcohol, leading to falsely elevated BAC readings. Additionally, certain medications and mouthwashes can also cause inaccurate readings. If the device is not properly calibrated and maintained, or if the officer administering the test is not adequately trained, the results can be unreliable.
Blood tests are typically considered more accurate than breath tests in determining BAC. Still, they are not immune to error. If the blood sample is not properly stored or handled, it can ferment and produce alcohol, leading to an inflated BAC reading. Furthermore, laboratory errors or cross-contamination can also skew the results.
Similarly, urine tests, though less commonly used, are also prone to errors. They measure the amount of alcohol in the urine, which doesn't always accurately reflect the amount of alcohol in the blood. This can lead to a higher or lower BAC reading than is accurate.
Challenging the accuracy of these tests can be a powerful defense in a DUI case. Through expert testimony and scientific evidence, a defense attorney can cast doubt on the reliability of the test results, suggesting that they should not be considered as conclusive proof of intoxication.
Inaccurate or Invalid Field Sobriety Testing
Field sobriety tests are another key component of DUI investigations that may open opportunities for a strong defense. These tests, which often include tasks such as the one-leg stand, walk-and-turn, and horizontal gaze nystagmus, are generally performed at the side of the road to assess the driver's balance, attention, and eye movement – factors that can be impaired by alcohol consumption. However, it's crucial to remember that these tests are subjective, are reliant on the officer's interpretation, and can be influenced by various external and physical conditions.
Inaccurate or invalid field sobriety testing can in some cases serve as an effective DUI defense for several reasons. First, many outside factors can affect a person's performance on these tests, including age, weight, medical conditions, footwear, or even nervousness, none of which are related to alcohol or drug impairment. Second, the officer's bias or preconceived notions can affect the scoring and interpretation of the results.
The tests themselves are also not foolproof. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which standardizes these tests, acknowledges that even under ideal conditions, they are not 100% accurate in identifying impairment. If these tests were not administered correctly, or if the conditions were less than ideal, their accuracy decreases significantly.
Questioning the validity of field sobriety tests often involves challenging the officer's observations and conclusions as well as the conditions under which the tests were conducted. Expert testimony may be used to examine and critique the administration of the tests, the scoring, and the interpretation of the results.
Charged with DUI in Washington State? We Can Help!
At the Hester Law Group, our team of experienced criminal defense attorneys is ready to assist you if you've been charged with DUI. We believe in upholding your rights and are prepared to provide the results-oriented representation you deserve.
Our lawyers have an in-depth understanding of Washington’s DUI laws, investigative procedures, and defense strategies. Leveraging this knowledge, we can thoroughly review all aspects of your case, from the initial traffic stop to the administration of chemical and field sobriety tests. We will work to identify potential constitutional violations, procedural mistakes, or inaccuracies in test results that can be challenged. As negotiators and litigators with over 130 years of combined legal experience, we will fight relentlessly to achieve the best possible outcome for your case.
Schedule a free initial consultation today by calling (253) 300-3034 or contacting us online.