|DUI charges are some of the most common cases on the docket of criminal courts across this state. Often times an individual facing such a charge will feel that there is no hope or that the case is too difficult to defend. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. In reality, DUI charges are highly technical crimes and require many steps to be completed correctly by the arresting officers. Additionally, proving in court that an individual was driving under the influence to the extent that their "normal faculties" were impaired is more burdensome than one might think.
A skilled and experienced criminal defense DUI attorney can help spot those problem areas with the Commonwealth's case and look for ways to challenge the Commonwealth's evidence in court. This is especially true in light of the issues with teh breathalyzer machines in Philadelphia County which has caused a major shift in the methods the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office is prosecuting these offenses.
Typically, when preparing a defense to your DUI charge, we will concentrate on four distinct areas. They are: the initial stop of your vehicle; the DUI investigation by the officer; the breathalyzer test and results; and any statements you may have made. Again, the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, and the applicable Vehicle Laws of Pennsylvania all require the arresting officers and prosecuting authorities to follow precise procedures and rules. When these are not followed, the Commonwealth's case against you may be deficient.
1. THE INITIAL STOP:
Many times the issue of "drunk driving" is not really the true issue in a DUI case. Many cases are won or lost simply by looking at the officer's reasons for stopping your vehicle. Simply put, if the Officer did not have a valid reason for stopping your car, then there is no valid charge for DUI. If the stop is illegal, all evidence obtained after the stop is suppressed and inadmissible in court.
If an officer believes, based on his personal observation, that you have committed a traffic infraction, Pennsylvania Law gives him or her every right to stop your vehicle. Although the possibilities are endless, it does not mean that your case is over right then and there. Each traffic violation has its own statute and requirements for conviction. Many times these "reasons" for the stop of your vehicle do not match the circumstances on the roadway and do not correspond with witness testimony. Our attorneys have vast experiences in attacking these "violations" to see if the officer truly did have probable cause to believe an infraction has occurred.
2. DUI INVESTIGATION:
Just because an officer stops your car for a traffic violation, or is responding to a crash, does not always mean that they can continue to detain you for a DUI investigation. After the initial stop, the officer cannot detain you to investigate a DUI unless he has a well-founded suspicion that you are actually driving under the influence. We know the law, and know how to break a case down to see if the officer's observations are enough to detain you for a DUI investigation.
Most commonly, officers are looking for a flush face, slurred or mumbled speech, red/bloodshot/water eyes, or an odor of alcohol. Many times, after a careful review of a case, we find that the Officer's observations do not match what other officers saw or observed, or that the Officer was not in a position to actual observe the things he/she is claiming. Many inexperienced attorneys will skip this step of the analysis of your case, and the results could be devastating. Our attorneys know what to look for, and know how to make these arguments in court. If it can be demonstrated to the court that the Officer did not have a well-founded suspicion of criminal activity, then the results and observations may be suppressed and deemed inadmissible at trial.
3. FIELD SOBRIETY EXERCISES:
Many cases are lost due to the inexperience of an attorney and their inability to spot problems with the Field Sobriety Exercises (FSE's). FSE's are a series of tests/exercises that were developed by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). However, Police Officers in Philadelphia do not receive the approrpiate training in these techniques! Developers of these tests claim that they accurately show if a driver's normal faculties are impaired in some way. This point is obviously debatable. The tests are supposed to test normal faculties, meaning, test how people would normally walk, talk, or respond to instructions. The actual tests themselves, however, put individuals through a battery of tests that are completely foreign to the way people normally move and walk.
Many times, individuals have other factors that could affect their performance, and many times these things are construed by the officer as "clues of impairment". The most common factor we see is physical limitation. Many people have physical ailments or old injuries that make it extremely difficult to walk heel to toe or stand on one foot for extended periods of time. And many times, the officers forget to inquire as to whether such injuries exist. These issues can be spotted by our attorneys and incorporated into the defense of your case.
It is also important to remember that these tests are completely subjective in nature. Although there are guidelines on how to administer them, interpreting the results are strictly up to the arresting officer. An officer's decision to arrest an individual after performing FSE's is based on his interpretation of the results. We know how to get this evidence before a jury so they can see the tests for what they are, and reach their own conclusions without taking the officer's word for it.
4. BREATHALYZER RESULTS:
Many people assume that if a breath sample is given and the results are over a .08 then there is no hope for their case. This is simply not true. The breath tests machine results can be attacked just as any other part of the Commonealth's case.
The most common issues we look for are listed below:
A. A machine is a machine. They breakdown, they fail, they often become un-calibrated, and they are not always properly maintained. (This is what led to the issues recently reported in the news in Philadelphia County.) Maintenance records can be obtained and reviewed by our attorneys and experts to see if the machine and its results are truly accurate. Pennsylvania Law requires that these machines meet certain standards and many times it is discovered that the machines have a history of errors or haven't been properly maintained. These deficiencies can lead to the suppression of the breath test results.
Additionally, even if the machine is working properly, many times the results can be skewed by the sample that has been given, or by operator error. A high body temperature, foreign substances in the mouth, an improper breath sample; all these things can lead to higher results and may not accurately reflect the amount of alcohol in your system.
B. Implied Consent: Often a "refusal" to blow will be used against you in court and argued by the prosecutors that it shows "consciousness of guilt". A "refusal" is something that needs to be examined closely by a seasoned attorney. Failure to properly advise an individual of these things can lead to a suppression of the "refusal" and keep the Commonwealth from arguing the issue at trial.
C. The .08 Presumption: Many people do not realize that a .08 is simple a presumption, and not the "end-all" in a DUI case. Under Florida Law, if an individual blows a .08 or higher, then the jury may presume that the individual was illegally intoxicated. The presumption however, is just that: a presumption. By definition, a presumption is something that can be rebutted by proper evidence. Many times an individual could have a .08 or higher blow and still be able to legally drive. Again, people are all different and many react differently to alcohol. Some have higher tolerance levels than others, and may be able to operate a car without their faculties being impaired; even with a .08 breath content.
DUI cases are extremely complex and have many areas that need to be properly examined before making the decision to enter a plea. Our attorneys have handled thousands of cases and know how to spot these trouble areas. We also have the trial court experience necessary to litigate these issues properly in front of a judge or jury. If you have been charged with a DUI and are looking for ways to defend your case, please contact our office and speak to one of our attorneys. A simple phone call could be the difference in your case.
The information contained herein is not meant be legal advice and does not substitute a meeting with an attorney. Reading this information is for general use and does not form an attorney-client relationship between Laguzzi Law, P.C. or any of its attorneys. Specific advice will be given and tailored based on the facts and circumstances of each individual client.
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