What Are Common Defenses for Drunk Driving Charges?
While being charged with driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol in Georgia is a serious offense, cases are not all clear-cut. A DUI charge can dramatically affect a person’s life and reputation, even their employment. That is why anyone arrested for a DUI in Georgia should know that there are ways to beat the charge or get it reduced. A lawyer is the first line of defense after a DUI charge.
A skilled lawyer understands both the nuances of criminal law and the strict processes and procedures that must be followed for a DUI charge to stick. Many different things can happen in a DUI case, beginning with the minute a law enforcement officer stops a suspected drunk driver.
A person who has been charged with DUI has only 30 days from the time of their arrest to request an administrative license hearing or ignition interlock device. Otherwise, their license or privilege to drive in Georgia will be suspended without question. You should contact a lawyer immediately after a DUI arrest. They can begin preparing a case that could include challenging one or more of the following arguments.
DUI cases generally begin with a traffic stop. There are many ways an experienced lawyer can challenge the violation itself and the probable cause for stopping a vehicle. Without probable cause, there is no case.
Improper Lane Change
This is a common citation and is issued when a driver does not use a turn signal. However, in Georgia, a turn signal is required only when another car is approaching from the front or rear or whenever turning left or right. A turn signal may not have been required under the law.
Failure to Maintain Lane
A common offense in DUI situations, failure to maintain lane can be cited even if a driver barely touches a lane marker. This does not mean a person is impaired by drugs or alcohol. They could have been distracted by a passenger or some other reason.
Scope of the Traffic Stop
An officer cannot detain a person after a traffic stop or interrogate them or seek consent to search their vehicle without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. If they do, they have legally exceeded the scope of the traffic stop, and this is unlawful. Anything they might have found while illegally expanding the scope cannot be used as evidence.
Reasonable Suspicion to Stop
Law enforcement can only stop a vehicle when there is reasonable suspicion to stop them, and the officer must articulate the exact reason. A hunch or other unreasonable suspicions can easily be challenged in the courtroom.
Sometimes, a driver will call 911 to report someone whom they feel is driving while impaired. An officer cannot stop a vehicle based only on a tip. They must substantiate the information before stopping the car. The same holds true for a concerned citizen’s report.
High Crime Area
Police will sometimes stop people in an area known for crimes, such as drug dealing. However, they cannot stop someone on this basis alone; they must have evidence of criminal activity before they can stop someone.
There are strict protocols and procedures law enforcement officers must follow when running a roadblock. All vehicles must be stopped without discretion, and prolonged detention of a vehicle must be based on specific, articulable reasons. In addition, some officers may pull over a driver whom they believe is trying to avoid a roadblock. The stop may or may not be valid, depending on the suspicion causing the stop.
Probable Cause to Arrest
In Georgia, there must be reasonable belief that a driver is less safe due to alcohol or drug impairment to be a probable cause for arrest. Probable cause must be supported by observations and interaction, not by an officer’s hunch or belief.
Officers will sometimes pull drivers over for expired registration, a broken taillight, or other reasons that do not involve vehicle operation. In these cases, an officer must have credible evidence that the person is under the influence of drugs and alcohol to arrest the person without seeing how they are driving. This type of arrest can be challenged in court.
Who Was Driving
In a Georgia DUI case, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant was in actual physical control of a moving vehicle while under the influence. This might be difficult if the first encounter was not a direct traffic stop observable by the officer.
Physical Issues After an Accident
An officer may use slurred speech, confusion, bloodshot eyes, or other physical manifestations after a vehicle accident as a basis for a DUI arrest. However, these same symptoms can often be caused by the accident itself. A good lawyer can challenge this evidence.
Field Sobriety Tests
Substantial evidence can come from the results of field sobriety tests. However, sometimes, these tests are not administered correctly, rendering the results inadmissible as evidence. A lawyer can thoroughly investigate how these tests were conducted and whether the officer was fully trained.
Other challenges to field sobriety tests could include unreliable or unreasonable testing conditions, pressure by the officer to perform these voluntary tests, failure to read the Miranda warning, and medical conditions, age, or weight issues that could negatively influence test results.
Georgia officers use an alco-sensor device to determine the person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) level at the traffic stop. The numerical results cannot be used as evidence. The officer can only say whether the result was positive or negative. Challenges to the alco-sensor test include the design and use of an approved device.
An officer can only pat down a driver if they have a reasonable belief that the person is armed and presents a danger to themselves or other people. Pat-downs cannot be conducted as routine or as part of a policy. An illegal substance found after an unlawful pat-down may be exempt as evidence with the help of a skilled lawyer.
Federal and Georgia state governments both prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures. Officers must have probable cause or reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to search or seize a vehicle. Evidence obtained illegally cannot be used in court. People should know that consent for any search is voluntary, despite an officer’s pressure or intimidation. It is always advisable for a person not to consent to a vehicle search.
Implied Consent Notice
Anyone arrested for DUI in Georgia must submit to chemical testing of their urine, blood, and breath. The arresting officer must read Georgia’s implied consent notice at the time of the arrest to request the test. If an officer misleads a person, reads the wrong consent notice, does not read the notice at the time of arrest, or does not follow strict protocols, test results may be inadmissible in court.
There are many challenges to chemical testing a skilled lawyer can present. From medical conditions to the actual testing room or equipment, results of urine, blood, and breath tests can be challenged by a skilled lawyer on many levels.
The above is not an exhaustive list of defenses to a DUI charge in Georgia. Every traffic stop is different.
What Is Considered Driving While Impaired in Georgia?
Under Georgia DUI laws, a person cannot drive or be in actual physical control of a vehicle:
- With a BAC level of 0.08 percent or greater. For those driving a commercial vehicle, the BAC limit is 0.04 percent or greater. Drivers under 21 years old have a BAC limit of 0.02 percent or greater.
- While under the influence of any alcohol, drug, or controlled substance. Under the influence means that a person is considered less safe to drive.
- With any amount of marijuana or illegal drugs in their blood or urine.
Effingham County DUI Lawyers at Kicklighter Law Defend Unlawful DUI Arrests in Georgia
Not every DUI case is clear-cut. There are extenuating circumstances that our Effingham County DUI lawyers at Kicklighter Law can scrutinize to get charges thrown out or reduced. If you need help after a DUI arrest, call us at 912-754-6003 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Springfield, Georgia, we serve clients throughout Effingham County, Savannah, and the surrounding areas.