Proving You Were Driving Under the Influence
In California, you can be convicted of a DUI for driving while under the influence of alcohol or by having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher. The prosecutor does not have to prove both of these elements to convict you, but in most cases, they are able to. This is because most DUI defendants are required to take a BAC test either at the time of arrest or once in custody. In some instances, however, if a defendant has not taken a BAC test within a few hours of driving, the prosecutor must draw on other pieces of evidence to build a case. This makes his or her job more difficult but not impossible. Let's take a look at what elements must be proven and what pieces of evidence will be important in a DUI case that does not involve a BAC test result.
A Sworn Report
In absence of a BAC chemical test result, the sworn report from the arresting officer will be a crucial piece of evidence. In the report, the officer will typically include the reason for stopping you (his or her probable cause), his or her observations, and the results of any field sobriety tests you took. Now, the officer's observations may not seem like a fair piece of evidence to be used in a DUI case. Many people feel that because an officer can make up anything he or she wishes, it is pointless to fight a DUI charge even without a BAC test result. This is often a mistake. Although the courts will take what information is included in the police report as fact, a skilled attorney may be able to challenge those facts successfully.
Building a Defense
DUI defenses are not limited to issues involving the BAC test. They can also be raised against an officer's report. When police initially identify drunk drivers, they do so by observing the way they were driving. Swerving between lanes, delayed reactions, speeding, driving too slow, failing to use turn signals, and failing to stop are all indicators of driving under the influence. This means you can be stopped for one of these traffic violations and be arrested for a DUI, even without a BAC test. But, many other things could have caused you to swerve, for example, or drive too slow. You certainly don't need to be drunk to violate the rules of the road, so one of these indicators alone is not enough to convict you.
This is where a skilled DUI defense attorney can undermine the prosecutor's argument. An attorney could argue you had other reasons for violating a traffic rule. For example, he or she can argue you were distracted by something and not intoxicated when you swerved into another lane or failed to completely stop at a stop sign because you were in a rush.
Along with the cause for the stop, the officer's report will include observations regarding the contents of your car, your appearance, behavior, conduct, and demeanor. As the officer asks you questions, he or she will be noting whether you display any other signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech or poor coordination. Again, these indicators in and of themselves are not enough to prove you were driving under the influence. And, again, a skilled attorney with enough experience in DUI defense can argue that there were other reasons why you appeared intoxicated.
In these types of cases, the police report is the key piece of evidence. If you are facing DUI charges but did not take a BAC test, you need to obtain a copy of the officer's report before you make any decisions in your case.
An attorney can typically obtain a police report before the defendant can, so now is a good time to contact an attorney. A skilled DUI defense attorney can request a copy of the police report, even while you are still in custody, examine the facts therein, and build a strategic defense based on what information is available.
Do you have questions about DUI charges? California attorney Christopher Martens knows California DUI defense and will work hard to help you fight your charges. With over ten years of criminal defense experience, Mr. Martens has handled thousands of cases and has helped many Californians move on from their conviction. Serving the Visalia and Fresno areas, The Law Offices of Christopher Martens can provide expert criminal defense counsel. Call our office at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.