What Happens if I’m Stopped for DUI?
In most cases, you’ll be stopped for a traffic infraction. Then, if the police officer feels that you are intoxicated he may request that you take some field sobriety tests. These field sobriety tests are done by law enforcement at the scene of the traffic stop. The officer may decide to have you perform these tests if he smells alcohol on your breath, if he notices slurred speech, or for any valid reason determined by the police officer. They must detect at least two clues of intoxication.
What is the officer looking for during the initial detention at the scene?
Police officers are trained to note the following “symptoms of intoxication” on their report:
- Flushed face (How does he know your “normal” coloring?)
- Red, watery, glassy and/or bloodshot eyes (Been up 20 hours?)
- Odor of alcohol on breath
- Slurred speech (How does he know your regular speech patterns?)
- Fumbling with wallet trying to get license
- Failure to comprehend the officer’s questions
- Staggering when exiting vehicle
- Swaying/instability on feet
- Leaning on car for support
- Combative, argumentative, jovial or other “inappropriate” attitude
- Soiled, rumpled, disorderly clothing
- Stumbling while walking
- Disorientation as to time and place
- Inability to follow directions or to “divide attention.”
Do I Have to Take a Breath or Blood Test?
The short answer is yes. Pennsylvania has an implied consent law. This means that anyone who obtains a driver’s license is automatically consenting to taking breath or blood tests if requested. While you can refuse to submit to such tests, there are severe penalties for doing so. If you refuse a test of this type, your driver’s license may be suspended for a period of at least one year. The refusal can also be used as an indication that you were in fact driving while intoxicated. To avoid this situation, our BAC calculator may be helpful.
What Field Sobriety Tests Are Performed?
Field sobriety tests are simple operations that police officers use to help determine intoxication. The tests were developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The most common of these field sobriety tests (FSTs) are:
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) Test (following a light with your eyes)
- Reciting the alphabet
- Finger-to-nose test
- Standing on one leg
- Walk a straight line
What Are the Penalties for DUI?
The penalties for DUI conviction vary based on the offense. A first offense of a simple DUI may include probation, fines, suspension of driver’s license, and community service. If your BAC was over 0.10 percent, additional penalties apply. Additionally, if you are convicted of a subsequent DUI there are more severe mandatory penalties. In every case, it is always best to seek legal representation to try to reduce charges and penalties. Other penalties may include driver safety training class, use of an ignition interlock device, and/or alcohol rehabilitation.
Can I fight my loss of license?
Pennsylvania’s civil license suspension for a DUI is incorporated in the criminal process and does not go into effect until after a person is convicted, or pleads guilty. The only time a separate Department of Motor Vehicles Hearing is available is for a chemical test refusal. This raises a separate civil issue that must be addressed through an appeal, directly to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot).
Is DUI a Felony?
In Pennsylvania, DUI is considered a misdemeanor. The only time a DUI is a felony is when other criminal activity accompanies the DUI (such as vehicular homicide) or if there are other extenuating circumstances. For the majority of people, DUI is a misdemeanor charge but is still considered severe, and if convicted, comes with stiff penalties. For more information, refer to the state of Pennsylvania’s driver’s manual.
What are Potential Defenses for a DUI Charge?
There are many potential defenses in a DUI case because of the complexity of the offense. The majority can be broken down in the following areas:
Driving. Intoxication is not enough. The Prosecution must prove that the Defendant was driving. This may be difficult if, as in the case of some accidents, there are no witnesses to his being the driver of the vehicle.
Probable cause. Evidence will be suppressed if the officer did not have legal cause to (a) stop, (b) detain and (c) arrest. Sobriety roadblocks present particularly complex issues.
Miranda Warnings. Incriminating statements may be suppressed if warnings were not given at the appropriate time.
Under the Influence. The officer’s observations and opinions as to intoxication can be questioned. An attorney should attack the circumstances of the field sobriety tests and the predisposed nature of what the officer considers “failing”. Other witnesses can also testify that you appeared to be sober.
Blood-alcohol concentration (BAC). There exists a wide range of potential problems with blood, breath or urine testing. Most breath machines will register many chemical compounds found on the human breath as alcohol which can be referred to as a “non-specific” analysis. Also, breath machines assume a 2100-to-1 ratio in converting alcohol in the breath into alcohol in the blood which varies greatly from person to person (and within a person from moment to another). Radio frequency interference can result in inaccurate readings. These and other defects in analysis can be brought out in cross-examination of the state’s expert witness, and/or the defense can hire its own forensic chemist.
Testing during the absorption phase. The blood, breath or urine test will be unreliable if done while you are still actively absorbing alcohol (it takes 30 minutes to three hours to complete absorption). This can be delayed if food is present in the stomach. Thus, having one last quick drink at the bar can cause inaccurate test results.
Retrograde extrapolation. This refers to the requirement that the BAC be “related back” in time from the test to the driving. A number of complex physiological problems are involved here.
Regulation of blood-alcohol testing. The prosecution must prove that the blood, breath or urine test complied with Pennsylvania’s requirements as to calibration and maintenance.
What Is the Price for a DUI Attorney?
The cost of legal representation can vary greatly depending on many factors. Each DUI case is different. A simple DUI case may be resolved quite easily while a more complex DUI case could be longer and more involved. In every case it is best to choose a DUI attorney with experience working specifically on DUI cases. This will give you the best representation at the best price. However, it’s important to note that an attorney will be cheaper than the DUI charge itself, after factors like increased insurance prices are factored in.
If you have been arrested and charged with a DUI, contact us today for a free consultation. Our expert staff will analyze your case and recommend different legal steps to take. Call now.