Thursday, May 17, 2012

Defending a DUI in Florida

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Edward J. Chandler, P.A.

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Attorney Edward J. Chandler has successfully represented numerous clients in criminal cases throughout Broward, Dade and Palm beach Counties in the State of Florida.  Edward J. Chandler  prides himself on aggressive representation with a personal touch.

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                       Law enforcement officers ("LEOS") are notorious for stopping a vehicle on a "hunch" that the driver has been drinking. Once stopped, the tools used by LEOS to evaluate a driver's possible impairment are crude and inaccurate. Many LEOS making DUI arrests have limited or no experience in evaluating the effects of alcohol on the body. In turn the machines relied upon by LEOS to test your breath, blood, or urine for alcohol are subject to error. 

                  Additionally, these machines are tightly regulated and often are not properly maintained. Before a trial is ever held, a DUI can be challenged on constitutional, legal, or administrative grounds. A successful challenge can result in key prosecutorial evidence being thrown out by the State. The primary areas for challenging a DUI are: 

* The Stop 
* Field Sobriety Tests 
* The Breathalyzer (Blood Alcohol Measurement Tests) 
* Your Statements

                   So what does all of this mean? Simply put, the State needs all of their evidence to prevent a Court from dismissing the case due to lack of evidence or in order to present a strong case to a jury. If I challenge one link in the State's case that results in evidence being thrown out (suppressed), the State may be prohibited from proceeding or forced to negotiate a deal to a lesser charge. In DUI defense, winning one battle can result in winning the war!

Challenging The Stop

The law is very clear that a law enforcement officer may only stop you for one of two reasons: (1) If the LEO has a reasonable suspicion that your are committing a traffic infraction, or (2) if the LEO has probable cause that you are committing a crime. However, many times it can be shown that the officer was mistaken in his reason for stopping you. If this is proven, all of the evidence in your case will be thrown out and the State will be forced to dismiss your case.
A rather simple example would be if an officer stopped you for an expired license plate and subsequently arrested you for being under the influence. If I can prove that your motor vehicle license was not expired and that the officer was therefore mistaken, the Judge will find that the officer made an illegal stop and throw out all of the evidence against you.

Challenging Field Sobriety Test

In most DUI cases, law enforcement will administer Field Sobriety Tests to determine if you should be arrested. The officer's interpretation of these tests can be challenged or suppressed based on many factors. Does the officer know what your true balance and coordination is? Do you have any physical disabilities like a bad back or bad knees? Physical disabilities or injuries may affect your ability to perform the test, thereby making them unreliable and inadmissible. Is the officer qualified to perform the specific Field Sobriety Test? Some Field Sobriety tests, such as the HGN test (eyes following pen test), may only be performed and testified abut by certified alcohol recognition experts. Other tests, such as the reverse alphabet test are not deemed reliable by the courts.

Beating the Breathalyzer

As previously mentioned, the machines used by law enforcement are tightly regulated and subject to strict maintenance requirements to be deemed reliable. Additionally, the testing itself must be done in a very specific manner. The failure to either properly maintain the machines, or to conduct the tests in accordance with the standard testing procedures, can result in the breath test being thrown out altogether, no matter how high your test came back.

Did the officer observe you for a period of 20 minutes prior to taking the breath test? Did the officer tell you to "keep blowing" during the breath test? Did the officer calibrate the machine properly prior to beginning testing? Did the officer read you Florida's Implied Consent Law or did the officer incorrectly state the implied consent law to you? The failure of an officer to do any of these simple steps, or possibly other steps not mentioned, may result in the breath test results being thrown out.

Throwing Your Statements Out

One of the most well known Miranda Warnings states: "Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law." However, contrary to popular belief, an officer does not have to immediately read you your rights when stopping you for a traffic infraction. Upon initially being stopped, an officer is free to ask you common questions such as where are you coming from, where are you going, have you had anything to drink. Therefore it is important you watch what you say, especially if you have been drinking.

Nevertheless, if you do say something incriminating to law enforcement, I may still be able to suppress your incriminating statements. Generally, statements are challenged for either being obtained without informing a suspect of their right to remain silent or because the statements were made under Florida's accident report privilege.

Your Right to Remain Silent

An officer only has to read you your rights when you are under arrest, or if you are no longer free to leave. Once an officer reads you your rights you should politely decline to speak with him any further and request an attorney.
A common problem that arises in DUI arrests is when it is clear that you are no longer free to leave, the officer never reads you your rights, and continues to question you about your activities prior to being stopped. This practice is illegal and any incriminating statements gained by an officer during this time can be thrown out by a judge.

Florida's Accident Report Privilege

Many times, persons involved in an automobile accident are later accused of DUI. And in Florida, persons involved in an automobile accident are required by law to report the accident to authorities, raising the possibility that a person suspected of DUI may make incriminating statements to law enforcement regarding the accident. Fortunately, Florida law prohibits most statements given to law enforcement by drivers, owners, or occupants regarding an automobile accident from being used in a later civil or criminal trial. This is known as Florida's Accident Report Privilege and the purpose of the privilege is to encourage witnesses to cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation of automobile accidents.

However, the Accident Report Privilege is not absolute and there is one major exception. If a law enforcement officer suspects that you are were driving under the influence, or committed another crime related to the crash, he may "switch hats" and inform you that he is no longer conducting a crash or accident investigation and that he is now beginning a criminal investigation related to the accident. To continue questioning you, the officer must then read you your rights if he wishes to continue. At this point you should decline to answer anymore questions and request a lawyer.
Many times the officer fails to state that he is "switching hats" and read you your rights. If an officer fails to properly "switch hats" or to read you your rights, any statements you make to the officer may be suppressed as being privileged under Florida's Accident Report Privilege.

Spontaneous Statements

The biggest exception to your right to remain silent and the Accident Report Privilege occurs when you make a spontaneous statements. A spontaneous statement is one that is volunteered without being asked a question. Any spontaneous statements you make before or after being read your rights can be used against you, regardless if other statements are thrown out due to illegal police misconduct or the accident report privilege.


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