DWI & DUI Defense Strategies
Even if you know you’re guilty of driving while impaired, you do have options to reduce or minimize a DWI conviction. Many times, especially on a first offense, it makes sense to go to trial. There’s a saying in legal circles: if you don’t try the case, lightning can’t strike. Which basically means that you never know when a losing case will turn into a winner. The lightning could be that one piece of key evidence getting misplaced, or the officer inexplicably mixing up his facts.
There are many strategies for defending a DWI charge; many more than the average criminal defense lawyer knows about. Each of those strategies is worthy of exploring first. That’s why you need a DWI defense attorney on your side.
Common DWI Defenses
The absence of reasonable articulable suspicion.
If the arresting officer pulled you over without reasonable articulable suspicion, you could have a valid defense against your DWI charge.
Before a police officer can pull you over, or stop you, they must have a reasonable articulable suspicion that a crime has been committed. This means the officer simply can’t stop you based on a “hunch” or “gut feeling.” The officer must have a reasonable belief based on facts or circumstances that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed.
Inaccurate field sobriety tests.
There are currently three field sobriety tests that are scientifically approved by the National Highway Travel and Safety Administration, NHTSA that are often used by law enforcement to develop what’s called probable cause to arrest. These tests are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), the walk and turn test, and the one leg stand. Of course, there are other optional tests that an officer can use to establish probable cause. However, these other tests are not supported as scientifically valid according to NHTSA.
In addition, police officers need to undergo official NHTSA training to perform these field sobriety tests correctly. If the test is not conducted according to standard procedure, the scientific validity may be called into question. Our DWI defense attorneys have taken the NHTSA training for these field sobriety tests as well. So, they have first-hand knowledge about how these tests work.
Inaccurate breath test.
One of the ways an officer can measure the amount of alcohol in your system is by administering a breath test, or breathalyzer test. A breath test measures the number of ketones that your body gives off as it processes alcohol. It does not, however, measure the alcohol in your blood as a blood test would. Unfortunately, breath tests are sometimes subject to machine error. Several outside factors may affect your breath test results.
Improper administration or tampering of a blood test.
Blood tests generally follow a structured process, which means there should be less room for error. The arresting officer will take you to the hospital or EMS station where a nurse or EMT will draw your blood. They’ll usually draw two vials of blood, which allows for retesting if necessary. But, there are still ways in which blood test results can become invalid.
The most common issue with blood testing is errors in the chain of custody. After your blood is drawn, it needs to be handled and stored properly. Otherwise, the blood quality could deteriorate and even ferment. In addition, proper paperwork and documentation could fall through.
You were not actually driving the vehicle.
You may be surprised to find that the arresting officer needs to also prove you were driving the vehicle. For instance, let’s say you were sitting in the car with the key in the ignition but the car wasn’t turned on. This case would be handled differently than if you were pulled over while you were driving.
The officer violated your civil rights.
In some cases, the police officer may have not followed proper protocol when arresting you. This is potential grounds to argue for a case dismissal.
When an NC DWI Plea Bargain May Be Your Best Defense
Sometimes, the state has a solid case against you. Your DWI lawyer should have enough experience to know if that’s the case. If it is, they should be able to tell you whether there are circumstances in which you would be better off with an NC DWI plea bargain. Let’s look at some of those circumstances.
The most common reasons for pleading guilty involve cases with circumstances that, if they come out in court, would result in a stiffer sentence. These include instances when a minor was in the car while you were driving, there was property damage, or when a person was injured because of your DWI. In theory, if these circumstances exist in your case, the court should know about them already. It should all be in the paperwork in your case file. Most of the time it is, but even so, it may go unnoticed if you plead guilty. How could that be?
It’s a matter of numbers. Prosecutors have to juggle dozens of cases all the time. At the district court level, they may have to deal with 200 or more cases a day. Unless your case is particularly notorious, it is possible that the state may not know the details off the top of their heads. They may scan through your case file, but the court moves fast. Critical information can be buried or glossed over even when it’s right before their eyes. And sometimes, even if the information does come out, you might still be better off pleading guilty. How come?
You may get a lighter sentence if you plead guilty. When information about aggravating factors exists in the court record, it’s still something of an abstraction. It’s there, but it’s in the form of typed or scrawled words on a law enforcement report. It will be one of the thousands of such reports the court sees every week. Should these factors come out in trial, they’ll come alive as an officer testifies in detail about the damage to the parked car you hit or the extent of the injuries of your passenger. At this point, these aggravating factors are no longer abstract; the officer is painting the picture of what the scene looked like. The judge is getting a more vivid view of the events on that night and may very well respond with a stiffer sentence. Instead of giving you the mandatory minimum sentence, she could give you a much harsher sentence.
Under state law, if you have a prior DWI conviction within seven years, the judge has no choice but to sentence you to jail for a minimum of 7 days. It’s mandatory. If you have a prior DWI and the case is not winnable, you may be better off pleading guilty and hoping they won’t realize you have a prior DWI. If your prior DWI is in North Carolina, this is a futile hope. If it’s on your DMV record, it’s rarely missed by the state. This is not to say it never happens. Once in a blue moon, an in-state prior DWI is overlooked because of an error in the DMV’s computers.
If your prior DWI was in another state; however, the chances of the state overlooking it are better. First of all, it may be listed in your court record under the technical name of the charge used in that state. For example, in Ohio, DWI (driving while impaired) is known as DUI (driving under the influence).
There are also cases that involve, not just prior DWIs, but multiple DWIs. In these cases, a person has two DWI charges pending at the same time. This may seem farfetched, but it happens more often than you would think. Again, if there are grounds for beating the DWI in court, then go to trial. Otherwise, this is what will happen:
You’d go to court for the first DWI charge. Assuming the worst case scenario, you’re found guilty. The judge decides to issue a standard first offense sentence. This typically consists of 24 hours of community service, fines, court costs, and alcohol classes. Then your second DWI goes the court, and you’re found guilty again. This time, you get the book thrown at you, because you have a prior DWI conviction within 3 years. Suddenly, you’re hit with at least 7 days in jail, up to a $2,000 fine and your license gets revoked for four years.
You may also want to consider a guilty plea if you’re facing multiple charges. For example, a DWI and driving more than 15 mph over the speed limit, or if you’re cited for causing an accident in addition to your DWI charge. Prosecutors will sometimes reduce or dismiss these other charges in exchange for a guilty DWI plea. This is because prosecutors see the DWI charge as the one the public is most concerned about. DWI is also the most serious charge, so they may reduce the other charges to get the guilty plea. In turn, they wouldn’t need to go through all the time and effort required to try the case.
True, you’ll be saddled with a DWI on your record. But by getting, for example, a 81 mph in a 55 mph zone charge dropped, you may become eligible for limited driving privileges. On the other hand, going to trial may present a slim chance of keeping the DWI off your record, but a conviction on both charges may result in no driving privileges. It’s a tough decision that you really can’t make until you consult with an experienced DWI defense attorney.
Consult with a Dummit Fradin DWI Lawyer Today
I cannot say enough good things about my attorney. His knowledge of DWI case law is vast and his professionalism in court was unmatched. He was able to get my entire case dismissed before trial by showing that the officer who charged me did not follow proper arrest procedure. The judge called his motion to dismiss “brilliant”. I highly recommend him for any DWI-related matter.
Mike represented me on two DWI charges both were dismissed. DWI charges are hard to overcome if convicted you will lose your license, pay high fees, do community service, and your insurance will really be high. If you want to have a fighting chance call Mike he is very knowledgeable and helpful.
Mr. Dummit was a great help to me in an interlock case. He was very honest about the process and what to expect in different cases. He was very re-assuring when all the facts about my case were gathered and consulted with me numerous times before the actual case. He was always very prepared, was available at times that many attorneys would not be, and treated me with the utmost respect in all situations. His staff was very friendly and professional in all their dealings with me and I would recommend his law firm overwhelmingly to anyone that is in need. I can not express my appreciation enough to Mr. Dummit, Mr. Fradin and their whole firm.
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