You don’t know what you don’t know! I was meeting with a client a few weeks back and she was telling me about her case. She was pulled over for a equipment violation. She completed the field sobriety tests and of course according to the officer, failed, she chose the breath test and she was shocked that her breath alcohol level was so high. She was resigned to just pleading guilty to what the prosecutor offered. She hadn’t read the police report. She hadn’t examined the breath machine, she hadn’t seen her scores on the field sobriety tests. After speaking with her and asking her about her medical history, she told me some things that may explain the high breath alcohol level. She explained the medicines she was on and the reasons for those medications. Now she may have a valid medical explanation for the high level of breath alcohol based on the presence of mouth alcohol.
Now there are many attorneys who will take your money, walk in with you to court and speak with the deputy district attorney on your behalf and hold your hand when you enter a plea agreement. Sometimes there are no good defenses to driving under the influence. Sometimes the case is open and shut for the prosecution. But often times you want to know before deciding whether to resolve the matter by a plea agreement.
A competent DUI attorney will investigate the facts and circumstances of your case. Examine the reason for the stop. Speeding doesn’t mean a person is under the influence of alcohol. Having a tale light out does not mean you are a drunk driver. Often times there is no bad driving. Sometimes there is an accident and even then, even with an odor of alcohol, that doesn’t mean the officer has a valid reason to arrest you.
Most officers indicate the same sensory observations of blood shot watery eyes, slurred speech and a strong odor of alcohol. Most people don’t realize there are many reasons for blood shot eyes, especially in Colorado where the dry climate can cause red eyes. Most officers have never spoken to the person prior to the conversation and alcohol by itself doesn’t smell. An odor of alcohol doesn’t tell you what you were drinking, how long ago you were drinking, the strength of what you were drinking. Those common words mean nothing.
A competent DUI attorney should understand the field sobriety tests and the faulty conclusions officers come to by those gymnastic exercises. When was the last time you walked on a balance beam without raising your hands? Most DUI clients have no idea what they are being scored on when taking the field sobriety tests. Is that a fair test?
A competent DUI attorney should understand what the officer is not putting in the report. The ease at which you open the car and exit the vehicle. The ease of walking back to the back of your car. The ease of pulling over within seconds of those lights going on. Those are all actions of a sober person. Yet the officer never tells the prosecutor about any of those good things. The first time anybody hears about the things you did right is trial. Jurors understand.
The last piece to the DUI or DUID case is the chemical test or lack of chemical test. Sometimes, the breath machine is a bad breath machine. Sometimes there are many reasons during the completion of the breath test that make the test unreliable. The competent attorney should retest your blood test. There are often valid explanations for a result that seems too high. Sometimes an expert needs to be hired to explain to a jury why the test should be disregarded.
An attorney will be able to tell you whether you have a chance. A Criminal Defense Attorney who has Defended 100 cases will not have the perspective that an attorney who has handled a 1000 cases. Experience counts. Just seeing the process, being in battle, seeing what works and what doesn’t, makes a huge difference. A prosecutor who has handled 1000’s of cases hasn’t defended 1000’s of cases. The attorney has to take into account the reason for the officers contact and whether it was valid under the Constitution. The attorney has to take into account any statements you may have made during the police contact and whether they can be prevented from coming into evidence should the case proceed to trial.
So do you really need an attorney for your DUI? Yes. Absolutely–if you want fight the case, make the government meet their burden of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt, if you want to articulate the best possible defenses that may make a difference to a prosecutor or if you want to go to trial–you need to get a lawyer. Sometimes all that is left is reaching a plea agreement and sometimes that is in your best interest. Let a criminal defense attorney advise you whether than just pleading guilty. If you get a second offense, you face mandatory jail sentencing. The first offense may be your best chance to keep a clean record.