The Washington Post reported that actor Michael Madsen was released from the hospital following an arrest on suspicion of drunken driving in Malibu, California.
Madsen’s attorney contended that, prior to the arrest, Madsen was taking prescription drugs that may have resulted in a faulty sobriety test. The case is a good reminder that in California there are numerous ways in which an experienced attorney can challenge charges of drunk driving. The following are some common defenses to DUI charges.
1. Challenging the Traffic Stop and/or Arrest
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits law enforcement from conducting “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Any time a police officer stops a vehicle, the driver is considered to have been “seized” under the law, and the government is required to prove that the officer had a reasonable suspicion that the driver was engaging in criminal activity so as to warrant the stop. Further, if the driver is arrested, the government must demonstrate that there was “probable cause” to support the arrest.
An experienced DUI attorney will be able to recognize a defective stop or arrest as well as the grounds upon which the stop/arrest could potentially be challenged. For example, if an individual is stopped by a police officer, but the officer did not observe a traffic violation, there would be grounds to challenge the stop.
Assuming, however, that the stop itself was valid, i.e. the person was speeding, weaving, etc., the individual may still have grounds to challenge his or her arrest. Generally, in the context of arrests for DUI, one indicator of intoxication alone, such as the smell of alcohol or bloodshot eyes, will be insufficient to establish probable cause to arrest.
2. Challenging an Interrogation
Once a person is place under arrest, law enforcement officials are required to read the arrestee his or her Miranda Rights. Miranda warnings have to convey the following: the person has the right to remain silent, anything said can be used again the person in court, and the person is entitled to legal representation.
If an arrested person is not advised of his or her Miranda Rights and the police question that person, any statements made by the person during that interrogation could not be used against that person by the government to prove the charges.
3. Challenging Blood Alcohol and/or Breathalyzer Tests
One of the most common ways of contesting DUI charges is to challenge blood, urine, or tests performed by law enforcement. There are many problems with blood, urine, and breath testing. Challenging these types of tests often requires intimate knowledge of statutory requirements and procedural issues.
For instance, California law requires that law enforcement and medical personnel comply with certain conditions to ensure the accuracy of blood test results. These conditions are outlined in California Code of Regulations Title 17, and include: that the blood draw site be sterilized with a non-alcohol-based product, that the drawer maintain certain levels of anticoagulants and preservatives in the sample, and properly storage of any sample. The failure to comply with any of these, and other conditions, may result in the invalidation of any blood test.
4. Plea Bargaining
Sometimes the most effective way an experienced DUI attorney can help a defendant is to negotiate with the prosecuting attorney to reduce the charge and/or penalties. Successful plea bargaining usually results in the defendant entering a guilty plea to a lesser traffic offense, such as reckless operation, which carry substantially lesser penalties and the added benefit of not having a DUI conviction.
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