Criminal Defense Attorney Columbia, South Carolina

Police Mistakes That Can Help You Fight DUI Charges

A police officer standing by his police car after stopping a vehicle for a violation.

If your rights were violated during the traffic stop or arrest, an attorney can help

Driving under the influence is a serious crime that carries significant penalties if you're convicted. That's why the police have to follow protocol and respect each suspect's rights under the Fourth Amendment and other state and federal protections.

Unfortunately, that's not always the case in practice. The police make mistakes, and the right attorney can take advantage of those errors to strengthen your defense. Here are three of the most common errors police make and how they can affect your DUI defense.

Not showing reasonable suspicion or probable cause

In order to pull you over, the police officer needs "reasonable suspicion" that a crime or infraction has been committed; that is, an actual, articulable reason, more than a mere hunch. For example, weaving within a marked lane is generally not enough to establish reasonable suspicion. Neither is driving under the speed limit. If the police officer can't give an articulable reason why they suspected a violation, then any evidence discovered during the traffic stop can be thrown out — which, in most DUI cases, means there will be no evidence left for the prosecution to use to convict you.

To search your vehicle without your consent, the police officer needs "probable cause" to believe that your vehicle contains contraband or evidence of a crime. This is a higher standard than reasonable suspicion and requires that the officer has enough reliable evidence to believe that something is probably true. Probable cause isn't needed for the officer to notice something that is open and obvious, but it is necessary to search the trunk, look under the seats, open the glove compartment, etc. If the officer didn't have probable cause or your consent for a search (which is why you should never consent to a search), then any evidence discovered during the search can be suppressed and not used against you in court.

To actually arrest you for DUI, the officer again needs probable cause to believe that you were driving under the influence. Probable cause is also required to detain you for more than a brief period of time. Again, if the police violated your rights, then any evidence they discovered through the violation can be suppressed.

Errors during field sobriety tests

The standard field sobriety tests (walk and turn, one-leg stand, and horizontal gaze nystagmus) are supposed to be performed and scored the same way every time. Even when they are performed correctly, field sobriety tests aren't particularly reliable indicators of impairment, so your attorney can question them no matter what. But if the police made errors in conducting or scoring the test, then your attorney can intervene to prevent the test results from being used against you.

Errors during chemical tests

Like any measuring device, breathalyzers need to be properly calibrated to get an accurate measurement. If the police failed to calibrate the breath test machine (or failed to document that it was calibrated), that weakens the prosecution's case against you. Breath tests also need to be administered according to protocol by police who are trained and certified to do so.

Blood tests for blood alcohol content can also be called into question due to police mistakes, including contamination of the sample, chain-of-custody issues, and laboratory errors. An experienced attorney who understands blood testing can raise these concerns and protect your rights.

You need an experienced DUI defense attorney to protect your rights

While these police mistakes can help your DUI case, that only works if you have the right lawyer defending you in court. An attorney who understands DUI investigations and the rules the police have to follow can build a strong defense to get your charges reduced or dropped, or to fight for a Not Guilty verdict at trial.

As a former prosecutor, attorney Matt Bodman has the experience and insight you need to build a strong defense against a DUI charge. If you've been arrested and charged with DUI, give us a call or contact us online for a free consultation.

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