Drunk Driving Accidents
An overview of DUI, DWI, and Drunk Driving Law, in relation to Car Accidents, covering how to deal with Drunk Driving charges, and state criminal laws and penalties pertaining to drunk driving.
Field Sobriety Tests · Drunk Driving Charges and Process
Field Sobriety Tests
The Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) that are most commonly used by law enforcement agents include:
Horizontal gaze nystagmus test (following an object with the eyes to determine characteristic eye movement reaction)
Modified position-of-attention (feet together, head back, and eyes closed for thirty seconds; also known as the Romberg test)
Walk-and-turn (heel-to-toe in a straight line)
Stand on one leg
Finger-to-nose (head back, eyes closed, touch the tip of nose with tip of index finger)
Recite all or part of the alphabet
Count backwards from a number such as 30 or 100
Touch each finger of hand to thumb and count with each touch (1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 3, 2, 1)
Breathe into a portable or preliminary breath tester (PBT)
A different type of field sobriety test that is becoming more common involves having the individual breathe into a small, handheld breath testing device. Known as a PAS (preliminary alcohol screening) or PBT (preliminary breath test), the devices are small, inexpensive versions of their larger, more sophisticated instruments found at police stations.
Although most law enforcement agencies continue to use a variety of these Field Sobriety Tests, a 3-test battery of standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) is becoming increasingly common. These tests are recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) after studies showed that other FSTs were relatively unreliable. The NHTSA-approved battery of tests consists of the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg-stand. In some states, only standardized field sobriety tests can be admitted into evidence, provided they were properly administered and objectively scored "in substantial compliance" with NHTSA standards.
Field sobriety tests are a better determinant of the level of impairment of an individual, rather than the person's Blood Alcohol Content (BAC).
Drunk Driving Charges and Process
A drunk driving arrest may result from a police officer pulling a driver over for erratic driving, a police officer might noticing a drunk driver involved in a car accident, a police officer pulling a driver over for another traffic violation (such as running a red light), or after the driver was stopped at a sobriety checkpoint. After being pulled over, the police will observe the driver's behavior, perform a variety of field sobriety tests, ask questions, and may even give the driver a preliminary breath test (PBT). The driver is not required by law to take these tests or answer these questions, but this refusal may serve to incriminate him further. Sufficient probable cause will lead to a drunk driving arrest. The officer should read the suspect his Miranda rights and notify him of his legal obligation to take a chemical test.
Recording of a suspect’s personal information (name, physical description, etc.)
Description of or information about the crime committed
Criminal background search of the suspect
Fingerprinting, mug-shots, and full body search of person and belongings
Confiscation of personal property
Placement of the suspect in the local jail or holding cell
After a drunk driving arrest takes place, police generally process or “book” a suspect. The booking process involves the following:
DUI history and any other relevant criminal history
Seriousness of the DUI offense in terms of possible injury you may have caused to others
Your family and community ties, your employment record, and your ability to pay court fees and fines
Bail happens when an arrested DUI suspect agrees to pay money in order to be released. The suspect must agree to appear back in court for all scheduled court appearances. In many states, bail is set through a “bail schedule” or set payment amounts for specific crimes. The following criteria may be used to determine the amount of bail:
Notice: The defendant is asked to state their legal name and date of birth. They will also be asked if they understand their rights. The charges will be stated and the defendant may plead guilty or not guilty.
Conditions of release: The judge may require certain conditions for release of the defendant, such as posting bail and other requirements. The conditions of release remain until the case is resolved.
Notice of Future Court Date: The court will provide a written notice of the next court date for the defendant. Depending on the state laws and charge (misdemeanor or felony), this can be either the date of the preliminary hearing or the trial itself.
The arraignment is the first stage of the courtroom process, and it usually takes place a couple of days after the arrest. An arraignment for a DUI case is often the first and last time the person charged with a DUI appears in court because the evidence is usually strong enough for the suspect to plead guilty.
The three matters that are addressed at the time of arraignment are:
5. Preliminary Hearing
The purpose of a DUI preliminary hearing is for the judge to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to convince a jury that the defendant committed the crimes that he or she is charged with. At a preliminary hearing, the prosecution presents evidence of and witnesses to the crime. The defense is also allowed to present evidence and may cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses. The goal of the prosecution is to get the case to move to trial. The defense tries to get the case dismissed or work toward lessening the severity of the charges.
Most DUI cases never reach the preliminary hearing stage because the defendant will pled guilty during his or her arraignment. Some states do not allow preliminary hearings for DUI cases unless it involves a felony charge, while other states use the “grand jury indictment” process.
6. Pre-trial Motions
Motion to Suppress
Motion to Strike Prior DUI Convictions
Pre-trial motions are used to set boundaries for the trial before the trial begins. The defense attorney submits pre-trial motions on behalf of his client. Acceptable pre-trial motions for DUI cases vary by state. The following motions are among the possibilities:
If these pre-trial motions are successful, the drunk driving case may be dismissed before it goes to trial.
7. Plea Bargains
A plea bargain is a deal that takes place before the preliminary hearing in which the defendant negotiates with the prosecutor to plead guilty to a lesser charge. In some states, plea bargaining for DUI cases is not allowed. In states where plea bargains are allowed for DUI cases, it is usually only an option for those with a clean record. A defense attorney may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to have the DUI charge or recommended sentence reduced.
The trial is the final step in the court process. The drunk driving trial process begins with jury selection. Both sides will want to avoid selecting jurors with a bias toward their side. At a drunk driving trial, the prosecution makes arguments in order to get the jury to return a guilty verdict. The defense, on the other hand, seeks to make arguments to aid in receiving a "not guilty" verdict from the jury. After a verdict of "not guilty," the defendant is released and his case is dismissed. Following a "guilty," verdict, the judge sentences the defendant with possible fines and jail time. The judge may or may not go along with the sentence recommended by the jury. Some states do not permit the defendant to have a jury in a drunk driving trial. In instances of a hung or split jury, another trial date will be set.
The defendant's BAC is very high, such as above .20 percent.
The defendant refuses to submit to chemical testing.
The defendant greatly exceeds the speed limit or drives recklessly while drunk.
A child under the age of 14 is in the car when the defendant is driving drunk.
Drunk driving is accompanied with an accident or injury to another person.
If an individual charged with drunk driving goes to trial and is deemed guilty, either by the jury, or in some states, the judge, he faces sentencing. The sentencing component to the drunk driving legal process is when the judge states the penalties that must be faced by the person convicted of drunk driving. Punishment for drunk driving may come in one or more of the following forms: jail time, a fine, loss of driving privileges (such as suspension or revocation of a driver's license), temporary impoundment of the defendant's vehicle (or in extreme cases, forfeiture of a vehicle), probation, or required completion of a course in alcoholism or drunk driving. Recently, some states have used an ignition-interlock device that can read the BAC of the driver when he breathes into it. It will only allow the driver to start the car if his BAC is well below the legal limit.
Legal penalties for drunk driving vary by state. First time offenders will usually receive probation—the most common penalty in drunk driving cases. The harshness of the punishment in a drunk driving case increases with the number of past offenses. Depending on the state, these events may also affect a drunk driving sentence:
An appeal is a reexamination of the trial by a higher court in order to make sure the trial was conducted fairly and is free from legal error. An appeal for a drunk driving conviction may serve to lessen the sentence or strike the conviction from the record. An appeal should be submitted as soon as possible following a conviction and sentencing. The amount of time a person has to submit a notice of appeal varies by state but is usually between 10 and 30 days. Appeals are only possible for those cases that went to trial.
The appeal process starts when the defendant, now called the appellant, requests that the case should be re-tried or re-sentenced because of legal error. Instead, a higher court, or appellate court, looks at a record of the court proceedings for the drunk driving case. It does not consider new evidence. The prosecution and the defense submit written briefs to the appellate court. The prosecution argues why the conviction and/or sentence should be upheld. The defense's brief should explain why the conviction and/or sentence is erroneous. The defense usually has an opportunity to respond to the prosecution's brief through a second brief. The appellate court may also listen to oral arguments from both sides. The entire appeal process may take many months.
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