When you decide to challenge your DUI with the help of an experienced Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer, your attorney will examine your case from top to bottom for defense options. DUI defense options begin with your traffic stop and move down to sentencing, the final moment of your case.
Help with Your DUI Case
Ideally, your DUI defense attorney will discover flaws at the very beginning when you were stopped or charged. Challenging your traffic stop or questioning the officer’s account that justified their “reasonable suspicion” can invalidate the charge, which is then dropped.
In other cases, there is no valid challenge to the stop, the arrest, the handling of evidence, or other elements. In these situations, your PA DUI lawyer will seek a plea bargain for a reduced charge, admission into ARD, or sentencing leniency.
See what options you have available after your DUI arrest during a free, no-obligation case review with Steven E. Kellis. Call (215) 940-1200 or contact us online to schedule your free appointment now.
Challenging Your DUI Stop
To justify pulling you over, a police officer must have “reasonable suspicion” that a crime is being committed or that a crime is likely to occur given driving behavior that is “less safe.”
Common reasons that an officer will justify a DUI stop include:
- Breaking an actual law, like speeding or running a stop sign
- Swerving in your lane
- Following other vehicles too closely
- Accelerating too fast from a stop or during passing
- Waiting too long at a stop, such as when a light turns green
- Music that can be heard from several car lengths away
- Other erratic behaviors, including visible driver behaviors
Officers are given a lot of leeway with their judgment when it comes to reasonable suspicion. If they suggest that you were swerving and you deny it, the court is likely to side with the officer over you.
However, if the officer makes a mistake of material fact, it can be easier to challenge the stop. For instance, if the officer claims you crossed the lane divider and subpoenaed dashcam evidence shows this wasn’t true, their justification for the stop could be invalidated.
Similarly, the justification for the stop may not be strong enough. In the 2010 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case Commonwealth v. Anthony, the officer’s justification for the stop – a rearview mirror accessory the officer claimed “obstructed the driver’s view” – was insufficient.
If your attorney can establish that the officer had no legitimate reason to stop you, then everything that happened afterward is typically thrown out by the court, including your arrest and charges.
Challenging Your DUI Arrest
Assume the DUI stop was justifiable. Next, the officer:
- Suspects the driver of committing a DUI
- Confirms the suspicion through questioning, field sobriety tests, a breathalyzer, observations, etc.
- Determines that the suspect is likely to be in the act of committing a DUI, justifying an arrest
Again, each step of this process can be examined for weaknesses.
In these situations, mistakes of material fact or flawed justifications are still the primary sources of prosecutorial weakness. If the officer says something subjective, like “your speech was slurred, your eyes were blurry, your reactions were slow,” challenging those elements can be difficult.
However, if the officer says they detected an odor of alcohol, an attorney may have grounds to challenge this assertion. Was the odor obviously coming from the defendant’s mouth? Was the odor possibly coming from outside the vehicle? Questions like these can weaken an arrest’s justification.
Challenging the questions the officer asked or the field sobriety test can provide additional opportunities. Is the officer qualified to administer a field sobriety test? Have they been recently certified? Has the test been successfully challenged in recent appeals?
If it turns out that the chain of decisions made by the officer leading to an arrest was flawed, then each flaw can weaken the prosecution’s case. In some cases, these flaws are so glaring that a judge or jury can decide that an arrest should not have been made, invalidating later charges.
Challenging the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Test
Breathalyzers and even BAC blood tests are far from perfect. The device may not have been properly calibrated. The software may have flaws causing an improper reading. The officer(s) using the equipment may not be certified or trained to use it properly.
Many DUI charges have been overturned thanks to a successful challenge of breathalyzer test results. If a DUI lawyer in Pennsylvania can get BAC test results withdrawn, then a major pillar of the prosecution’s case gets taken away.
In most situations, allows the prosecution to cast doubt on other evidence, such as the officer’s observations. The charges may be withdrawn entirely, or they may be reduced drastically because the prosecution will be unable to prove that you were under the influence, and to what degree.
Debating the Foundation of the Charge
In order to be guilty of a DUI, the driver had to have been in “actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle” (P.S. § 3802).
This is usually interpreted pretty generously to the benefit of the prosecution. For example, if the suspect claims they never turned on the vehicle and had no intention of driving, the officer can claim the suspect had the keys on their person and could have easily just recently turned off the ignition, or that they were in the process of turning on the vehicle.
But in some cases, the driver may not have been in “actual physical control.” They could not have the keys on their person or anywhere in the vehicle. The vehicle could have been disabled. They could have been locked out of their car. Someone else could have been driving at the time.
Proving that the suspected driver was not driving reduces a DUI charge to another alcohol-related charge or causes all charges to be dropped entirely.
Challenging Other Evidence, Chain of Custody
Evidence has to be handled properly by police officers and prosecutors. Otherwise, one can argue that the evidence could have been tampered with, unintentionally altered, or otherwise had flaws introduced.
Investigating whether the proper chain of custody procedures was followed allows your PA DUI lawyer to have evidence withdrawn from your case.
Plea to a Lesser Charge or Request Leniency
Not every DUI case is winnable in the sense that the defendant will be found “not guilty” or that DUI charges will be dropped.
In these situations, your DUI attorney can still provide valuable legal services in the form of negotiation. By negotiating with the prosecutor on your case, your lawyer can potentially get your charges reduced to a non-DUI offense, such as “reckless driving, alcohol-related” or just “reckless driving” in general.
Pleading to a lesser charge is a very common outcome in DUI cases. It helps you avoid the heftiest charges and it could help you avoid the harshest sentencing consequences. For example, if you are suspected of a second DUI in 10 years, you can plea to non-DUI charges to potentially avoid jail time, a license suspension, and/or an ignition interlock device.
Common charge reductions include pleading to reckless driving, a traffic infraction, or a reduced BAC tier.
Pennsylvania’s ARD program is available to first-time offenders, although they should only use this option as a last resort since it is available just once.
You can also request sentencing alternatives. For example, if you need a driver’s license to get to work, you can prove hardship and request an Occupational Limited License, or OLL.
Start Exploring Your Best Available DUI Defense Strategy with an Experienced Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyer
Every DUI case is different. An experienced attorney can investigate your arrest report, the handling of your evidence, and other mitigating factors to probe the prosecution’s case for weaknesses. They can also research the outcome of past cases and appeals to search for defenses that have brought DUI defendants success.Learn what you can do to reduce your charges, sentencing, or even have charges or evidence dropped during your free, no-obligation case review with Steven E. Kellis. Call us now at (215) 940-1200 or contact us online to start discussing the best strategy available to you.