The total cost of a DUI conviction, when considering both direct and indirect expenses, could be between $10,000 and $25,000. From a purely financial standpoint, DUI is by far the most serious misdemeanor in Georgia. It’s also more serious than many felonies. Some non-financial consequences include possible lost job opportunities. As far as many employers are concerned, people who drive drunk make poor decisions and cannot control their own impulses.
In most cases, higher auto insurance rates make up the bulk of these costs. First-time offenders must normally purchase high risk SR-22 insurance and keep it for at least three years. These policies usually cost two or three times more than normal auto insurance policies. Subsequent offenders might need SR-22 insurance for many years, assuming they can find auto insurance at all.
Since there is so much at stake in these cases, defendants badly need a tough Marietta criminal defense lawyer to stand up for them in court. An effective attorney can often reduce, or even eliminate, these harsh consequences, even if the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or another substance while driving.
Reasonable suspicion, which is basically an evidence-based hunch that the defendant is doing something wrong, is usually the standard of evidence at this point. If officers did not have reasonable suspicion, Cobb County judges often throw DUI cases out of court.
Nine times out of ten, a DUI arrest begins with a traffic stop. The justification could be a moving violation, like speeding, or a non-moving violation, like a license plate that’s not securely attached to the vehicle. Since officers see the violation, even though it may only be a pretext, reasonable suspicion is usually straightforward in these situations.
Anonymous tips and similar calls are more problematic for prosecutors. But since the standard of evidence is so low, most judges uphold such stops.
DUI checkpoint stops are a different breed. The reasonable suspicion rule doesn’t apply tp these stops. However, unless the roadblock meets some specific legal requirements, the stop could be illegal.
The standard of evidence is higher at this point. Officers must have probable cause to arrest suspects. Normally, the Field Sobriety Tests provide this evidence. If the defendant “failed” a test in the officer’s subjective view, that’s normally enough to establish probable cause.
However, some defendants entirely refuse to perform the FSTs. Or, they perform one and refuse to perform the others. You have a Fifth Amendment right to refuse to perform these tests.
In these situations, prosecutors must normally rely on circumstantial evidence to establish probable cause. Such evidence usually includes physical symptoms, such as:
- Slurred speech,
- Unsteady balance,
- Bloodshot eyes,
- Slow reflexes, and
- Odor of alcohol.
This evidence is quite flimsy and, in most cases, only establishes alcohol consumption. So, unless the defendant admits that they had been drinking, this proof alone might not be sufficient for probable cause.
Probable cause has a dual purpose in a DUI stop. Officers need this level of proof to arrest defendants. They also need this level of proof to demand chemical samples.
To Blow or Not to Blow
Now, we come to perhaps the most critical part of a DUI case. Because it’s so important, many Marietta criminal defense lawyers have urged courts to apply the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel to these situations, so these defendants can obtain legal advice before they agree to take a Breathalyzer test. But these requests have fallen on deaf ears.
There are two very compelling schools of thought. One is based on the aphorism that if you want to get out of a hole, you must first stop digging. According to this view, blowing into a Breathalyzer is akin to putting down the shovel. There is some legal basis as well. The defendant’s refusal is admissible in court. Most jurors assume that defendants refuse Breathalyzers because they know they will fail the tests.
The opposite view is largely based on conviction statistics. The conviction rate in test cases is almost twice as high as the conviction rate in non-test cases. In other words, if defendants provide chemical samples, they are essentially giving the state the evidence it needs to convict them. For this reason, we usually advise people not to provide these samples, unless they have not had anything to drink.
Challenging Test Results
An adverse chemical test result does not necessarily mean a guilty verdict. There are some ways to beat the Breathalyzer results. This gadget is essentially an updated version of the Drunk-o-Meter, a device which first appeared in the 1920s. Some specific flaws include:
- Mouth Alcohol: If the defendant burps or belches prior to the test, unprocessed alcohol particles from the stomach flood into the mouth. These particles usually make the test results artificially high.
- Ketone Particles: Many people, mostly smokers and diabetics, have very high ketone levels. Most Breathalyzers classify ketones as ethanol. So, once again, the Breathalyzer’s BAC estimate could be artificially high.
- Unabsorbed Alcohol: Generally, alcohol moves from the stomach to the liver to the blood stream. Because of this longer digestive process, recently consumed alcohol is probably in the liver, as opposed to in the blood. So, the BAC estimate may once again be artificially high in these situations.
Frequently, Marietta criminal defense lawyers partner with degreed chemists who point these flaws out to jurors.
Resolving the Case
Undermining the proof is the best way, and usually the only way, to arrange a plea to a lesser-included offense, such as reckless driving. This infraction is also a misdemeanor. However, it does not have nearly as many collateral consequences as a DUI, especially in terms of employment opportunities and auto insurance availability.
Sometimes, prosecutors refuse to make favorable deals. Sometimes, politics comes into play. Many jurisdictions have rules which prohibit prosecutors from offering such deals, largely due to pressure from activist groups.
In these situations, if the evidence is weak, it’s usually best to put the state to its proof. The standard of evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, is a lot higher than reasonable suspicion or even probable cause.
The FSTs are a good illustration. As mentioned, a marginally poor performance is usually enough for probable cause. But the science behind these tests is so shaky that even an epic fail might not be enough. For example, many Cobb County judges only allow prosecutors to use Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (the DUI eye test) results for probable cause purposes. Such evidence is insufficient as a matter of law to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Five critical points in a DUI case often make a big difference in the outcome. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. After-hours and virtual appointments are available.