Successful Miami DUI Defense Requires Calculated Legal Strategy

Florida Statute 316.193 makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol.  However, it is actually not illegal to drive after you drink as long as your “normal faculties” are not impaired.  The most common DUI arrests are made against people who have been drinking alcohol, but you can also be arrested if you are operating a motor vehicle after using other types of drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine or Xanax if your “normal faculties” are impaired.  Under Florida law, a person will be presumed to have violated Fla. Stat. § 316.193 when a driver has a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher.  The police will typically determine your blood-alcohol by asking you to blow into a machine called a breathalyzer after they have arrested you.  alcohol

In the vast majority of Miami DUI cases, there are effective defenses that deserve exploration.  This is important to note because many people simply assume that because they were drinking, driving and subsequently arrested, they have no choice but to enter a guilty plea and hope for leniency.

This is usually NOT the best strategy.  Prosecutors and judges are not inclined to “go easy” on DUI defendants, even for a first-time offense.  In fact, a first-time offender with no prior record is facing up to six months in jail – and that’s assuming the arrest wasn’t the result of a crash in which someone was injured.  In cases where defendant has prior convictions or is accused of DUI manslaughter, penalties can be as high as 30 years in prison or more.

The specific legal defense approach will vary depending on circumstances.  However, you should know that Florida DUI arrests are successfully challenged all the time.  By contacting an experienced DUI defense lawyer early on, it may be possible to avoid the ordeal and expense of a trial.  You may eventually be able to walk away with no stain on your permanent criminal record.

Here, we discuss some of the elements we closely analyze when taking on a Miami DUI case:

Reasonable Suspicion.  This is required of officers in virtually every traffic stop (which is how most DUI cases are initiated).  There has to be some particularized, objective basis (not just a “hunch”) for suspicion of legal wrongdoing.  It is reasonable suspicion that justifies brief detentions and stops by the police.  However, a valid traffic stop typically does not justify searches.  If an officer pulled a driver over absent articulable reasonable suspicion, the stop and the arrest may be invalid.  If your case resulted from a “bad stop” your case should be dismissed.  In the cases where we suspect a stop is bad, our firm typically will file a motion to suppress all evidence that resulted from the illegal stop.  The illegal evidence should be suppressed based on a legal theory called the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine.

Probable Cause.  This is a Fourth Amendment requirement that states before police can make an arrest, conduct a search or receive a warrant, they must have a reasonable basis for believing the suspect committed a criminal offense.  The Fla. 4th DCA in the 2000 case of State v. Kliphouse defined probable cause in DUI cases this way: “[p]robable cause for a DUI arrest must be based upon more than a belief that a driver has consumed alcohol; it must arise from facts and circumstances that show a probability that a driver is impaired by alcohol or has an unlawful amount of alcohol in his system.”  In other words, it has to be based on more than a simple belief that a driver has consumed alcohol.  If your drunk driving defense lawyer can show, based on the circumstances, that investigating officers lacked probable cause to conduct a search or make an arrest, the entire case can be dismissed.

Field Sobriety Tests.  One of the key pieces of evidence used against defendants in DUI cases is field sobriety test results.  Field sobriety tests are also known as field sobriety exercises.  The three most common utilized in Florida are the walk-and-turn, the one-leg stand and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (the “eye test”).  While there is some value in these tests and they have been approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, they are not always accurate and there are some key flaws that can be exposed by an experienced DUI defense attorney.  For example, it has been proven that many people will fail these tests even when they are sober.  One’s medical condition, coordination, ability to balance, skeletal or muscular impairments and even conditions like being overweight can adversely affect one’s ability to successfully complete the tests.  So too can conditions like high winds, slick road surfaces or uneven pavement.  Sometimes these tests are used as key evidence in cases where a person’s blood-alcohol concentration is under 0.08.  Authorities can charge a driver with intoxication if he or she is “under the influence” to the extent that “normal faculties are impaired.”  Failure to pass a field sobriety test is one way prosecutors will seek to prove that someone was under the influence.  However, this determination is often based solely on witness observation, which is inherently flawed.  Officers are not always highly trained in recognizing other potential causes of failure.  Nor are they actively seeking all other possible explanations for someone not performing up to par on any particular test.  Particularly when these tests are given by inexperienced officers, there may be ample room for challenge.  In the future, I will write one of my blog postings to address these tests as there are many detailed legal arguments to be made against each one specifically.

DUI Checkpoints.  These are law enforcement traffic stops in which officers establish a set location and initiate checks of random drivers passing through the checkpoint to ensure sobriety.  In Florida, sobriety checkpoints have been affirmed as legitimate since the 1986 Florida Supreme Court decision in State v. Jones.  Interestingly enough however, the Florida Supreme Court found the checkpoint in the Jones case to be illegal.  Checkpoint situations are unique because while most officers are required to have probable cause to initiate a traffic stop, the U.S. and Florida Supreme Courts have ruled that the dangers of drunk driving outweigh the intrusion imposed by these types of checkpoints.  Nevertheless, there are a number of requirements law enforcement must follow.  For example, the location of the checkpoint has to be publicized ahead of time and the stops initiated through the checkpoint must be truly random (i.e., every fifth car).

Breathalyzer Tests.  Florida law enforcement officers typically uses a breathalyzer machine known as the Intoxilyzer to obtain a measure of blood-alcohol concentration (BAC).  Although the validity of these machines has been upheld in court, the procedure for using them has to be exact and there have been successful challenges to the results.  For example, state guidelines require the administrator of the test make “reasonably sure” that the suspect hasn’t taken anything by mouth or vomited for at least 20 minutes prior to the test.  An officer’s failure to comply with the “20 minute observation requirement” can result in the test results being thrown out as inadmissible evidence.  Administrators of these tests also have to collect at least two breath samples within 15 minutes of each other.  Keep in mind that the state bears the burden of proof in showing substantial compliance with these and other regulations.  DUI Defense lawyers can look to analyze whether the machines were properly calibrated, the tests were properly carried out and there were no other factors (i.e., diabetes symptoms and other conditions can sometimes result in false positives).  In the future, I will also be writing a blog post devoted to the Intoxilyzer as there are many technical arguments to be made against it’s use in court.

These are just some examples of the possible defenses that may be applicable to your DUI case. We can help you determine which strategy makes the most sense for your case.

Contact the Miami criminal defense lawyers at Jacobs Keeley at (305) 358-7991 for a free consultation on your pending criminal matter.

Additional Resources:

Will Florida Supreme Court Make DUI Breathalyzers Inadmissible? Feb. 4, 2013, By Eric Giunta, Sunshine State News

More Blog Entries:

Is It Illegal to Record a Phone Call in Florida? July 27, 2015, U.S. Criminal Law Blog.