You're Arrested for DUI; Now What?
Every driver knows that feared image of a police officer's emergency lights swirling in the rearview mirror.
In a prior article, we walked through a step-by-step account of what to expect - and how to react - in the event that those lights end up being a police stop for suspected driving under the influence.
We looked at everything from why you should roll down your car window before the officer approaches (to dispel any odor of alcohol) to not refusing to allow your blood-alcohol level to be tested (automatic one-year license suspension regardless of whether you're found guilty of DUI).
Now it's time to look at what happens should you be arrested for DUI. I'll walk you through the finer legal points of how Scaringi & Scaringi P.C. vigorously defends our clients.
But the first and most important step is up to you.
As soon as you are released after your arrest for suspected DUI, it is imperative that you talk with an experienced attorney. Don't wait to be charged. Talk to an attorney as soon as you're released, even while your blood sample is being tested for alcohol.
Waiting to get legal representation never makes these situations better.
DUI cases begin - and some end - with probable cause
Why seek out an experienced attorney so soon after your DUI arrest? Because the specific circumstances of the DUI stop are crucial to your case.
A police officer is required to have had probable cause before he flicks on those emergency lights and pulls you over. So this is where we begin examining your case for facts and circumstances that we can use to challenge the officer's assertion of probable cause. The weather, road conditions and even the curves in the highway can make a difference as they relate to the reasons the officer cites for pulling you over.
Crossing a double yellow line two times within a mile stretch of road might, indeed, establish probable cause for the officer to pull you over. But what if it was a windy, rainy night with low visibility? What if the road had sharp curves and hairpin turns? All of these specific conditions can be used to challenge probable cause.
Just how subjective is the notion of probable cause in DUI cases? I've had cases in which crossing the double yellow line twice within a mile is ruled probable cause. Yet, crossing the yellow line once and the white line once within the same stretch was not.
The difference? You guessed it. All those other facts and surrounding circumstances, such as weather and road conditions, that we begin gathering to challenge the case against you.
Ensuring there's adequate time to gather all this evidence is a main reason to seek legal representation at once. After you're charged, the clock on your case begins ticking. Typically, within a week, you'll be brought before a district judge for a preliminary hearing on the charges. If need be, we can request a continuance to delay this proceeding. But if you act promptly, we can use this formality to begin collecting even more evidence and facts about your case by seeing the prosecution's hand.
There's another important reason for contacting an attorney immediately, and it can be summed up in three letters: ARD.
Wiping the slate clean with ARD
Why do I like to see my DUI clients at the earliest opportunity? Because right out of the box, I typically recommend that they seek a drug and alcohol evaluation.
Am I assuming they are guilty? Far from it. Rather, I am proactively positioning my clients for the most favorable outcome of their cases. Absent the charges being dismissed, dropped or reduced, the most favorable outcome of a DUI charge for first-time offenders is known as Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, or ARD.
ARD is a pre-adjudicated disposition and not a conviction, meaning that if you successfully complete the requirements, you will not have a charge listed on your record.
Not only does ARD spare you a conviction, you're also spared the cost of a trial. There is usually a charge of $1,000 to $2,000 to enroll in ARD, which is a drug and alcohol curriculum that is offered during weekend or weekday classes.
In a DUI case, this option is time and money well spent.
There are certain situations in which ARD is not offered. For example, some jurisdictions might not allow ARD in cases in which a vehicular crash accompanied the DUI charge. Rest assured that we'll fully explore all the options available to you.
Another benefit of completed ARD is that if you go 10 years without another DUI arrest, you can qualify for ARD again should the necessity arise. In other words, you are treated as a first-time offender again.
The vast majority of my DUI clients take the ARD route toward wiping their records clean.
BAC tests are not ironclad
More serious DUI cases can often head to trial. Many times, these cases are tried before a judge, not a jury. Only if the defendant is facing incarceration for a period exceeding one year is he or she eligible for a jury trial.
So what is our strategy at trial? First, all the other elements of the case, beginning with the officer's assertion of probable cause, remain in play. But often, in more serious DUI cases, we focus most keenly on the blood-alcohol content level, or BAC. Many clients assume that a BAC test is totally accurate and that the blood-alcohol number it produces is ironclad. There's even a decimal point, so it seems so authoritative.
Was it your blood serum that was tested? Or your whole blood?
We have medical experts who can parse the data and argue the evidence, even the BAC level itself, based on questions of accuracy and methodology.
The BAC level produced by the test is actually a range. In Pennsylvania, the three levels of DUI charges depend on that BAC number. So we focus on challenging the test's accuracy and arguing in favor of the lowest possible end of your BAC range.
For example, for a first offense DUI, a BAC of .08 to .1 is considered general impairment, which calls for no incarceration and no license suspension. By contrast, a BAC of .161 for a first offense results in the highest charge and stiffest penalties, including a mandatory 72-hour incarceration, a one-year license suspension and fines .
If by challenging the BAC range at trial we can lower that rate to a BAC of .159, you're now looking at 48 hours in jail and a lesser fine. If we can get the range down to general impairment, there's no jail and no license suspension.
Another way we challenge the BAC is through chain of custody. We make the state prove that there are no gaps in the handling, testing and analysis of your blood and BAC test. This chain must be uninterrupted and fully accounted for from the time that the needle is in your arm to the day the prosecutor shows up in court with your BAC results.
If there's a gap, the entire BAC results can be thrown into question.
But BAC isn't the be-all and end-all of every DUI case. Your actions on the road that led to your DUI stop do matter. I've had cases in which we have successfully proven that a driver's actions did not demonstrate unsafe driving.
I've also had cases in which the arrested drivers had a BAC under the .08 legal limit. Yet, their driving was so bad that it established a level of impairment that resulted in a DUI conviction. Even driving with one's high beams on in traffic can result in you being stopped for suspected DUI. So be careful out there.
Being arrested for DUI is among the worst experiences a person can have. But the moment you consult with our firm, we begin to turn the corner toward the best, brightest possible outcome for your case.
And we'll be with you every step of the way.