July 03, 2011
Overcoming the Pitfalls of a Defending a DUI Case
As every driver knows, DUI is a serious offense that virtually any driver could at some point be arrested for. This means that young and old, people of any race or class, drinkers and non-drinkers alike, can be arrested by an officer for DUI. The reason for this is that once an officer pulls a driver over, the driver is at the mercy of the officer’s personal observations and opinions, which may even be enough to later secure a conviction for DUI before a judge and/or jury. Thus, the biases or misjudgments of an officer, the failure to properly document and retain all the pertinent information, and perhaps a lack of adequate training can all contribute to innocent persons being wrongfully charged or convicted.
In many ways, defending a DUI case is more challenging than trying a murder case. The consequences in the event of a conviction are certainly much more severe, as they should be, in a murder case. However, the fact remains that the chief eye-witness in a murder case is rarely ever a police officer. In contrast, in almost every single DUI case, the star witness for the prosecution will be the esteemed patrol officer or task force officer who takes the stand in his uniform and testifies that he personally observed the defendant violate any number of traffic laws, then observed the defendant act or perform tests in such a manner that showed him to be a less safe driver, or a driver who was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
The officer will testify that he is well trained has years of experience detecting, investigating, and arresting individuals just like the defendant. All of this can confuse a jury who must never lose sight of the fact that for a conviction, the State must prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It can often feel like after the police officer testifies, the burden is on the defendant to prove his innocence, a sentiment deplored by our country’s founding fathers. The State is often essentially setting the jury up to believe that to acquit the defendant, they as jurors must be calling the officer a liar, and after all, these officers are simply out to protect and serve our communities and keep our roads safe.
Another noteworthy complication in DUI cases is the prevalence of the damage caused by intoxicated drivers. At any given time, there is a story in the news about an innocent bystander who was callously killed by an intoxicated driver. These stories make it more difficult to keep juries in the frame of mind that it is not illegal to consume any amount of alcohol and get behind the wheel. They have effectively assisted legislatures across the country to pass laws making it easier to secure convictions in DUI cases and to enhance the sentencing for violations.
Even the best trained and most ethical officers can make mistakes. Furthermore, the standards and criteria by which officers evaluate drivers can be compromised by junk science, misapplication of scientific principles, or a host of other factors. The research and technical issues involved in the evidence and procedure surrounding the area of DUI require anyone charged with this offense to immediately seek knowledgeable counsel.