Anyone pulled over and arrested on a DUI (drunk driving) charge is certainly facing a serious offence and a marked record for ten years. Each year in the USA almost half-a-million people are injured as a result of DUI-related highway accidents. Perhaps, then, with the inevitable sequence of events running through your mind: loss of driving licence, vehicle impoundment, fines and local incarceration, you might be forgiven for thinking
Ask a DUI lawyer, though, and you'll hear less about facing up to the inevitable consequences of your action, and much more about acting to protect your rights. Never afraid to make a drama out of a crisis, you will be strongly advised that inaction is simply not a viable option. Blighted by a DUI conviction record, and with your personal life in ruins, the last thing you want to be thinking is DUI=QED. In the doom-laden scenario now presented to you, fail to hire a DUI lawyer and you'll find DUI=RIP.
Let's introduce a little more light and less heat into the proceedings, and, hopefully, arrive at some judgement about when to engage the services of a DUI lawyer. This question can be looked at in two ways. You can either be broadly supportive of the DUI process, but feel you are the victim of an injustice owing to exceptional circumstances or procedural irregularities. Or you might be less sanguine about the entire DUI process, and feel a victim of a law which criminalises “normal” people unfairly. Which of these two views you hold determines, to a great extent, if and/or when you seek the services of a DUI lawyer.
In what circumstances, then, might someone, who is broadly in favor of the DUI process but feels he's been served an injustice, take the decision to hire a DUI lawyer? It could be they believe there was no reasonable grounds for suspicion in the first place, and, accordingly, their rights were violated and the case against them invalidated. A breathalyzer test might not have been administered before an arrest was made. Even if it had been carried out at the correct time, the model, you feel, was faulty as it recorded a very high reading which did not correlate with the much smaller amount of alcohol consumed.
The breathalyzer has another potential problem, too. Even when working properly, it will fail to discriminate between medication and alcohol much as older drug-testing procedures used at international sports competitions were unable to distinguish between legal and illegal substances. Problems can arise, too, with the standardised DUI tests measuring perceptual and motor skills. The walk-and-turn, one-leg stand, and horizontal gaze nystagmus have to be scored objectively obviating the need, supposedly, for subjective assessment. What might be interpreted, though, as a failure to perform satisfactorily, might instead be the result of unfamiliarity with the test and the stressfulness of the situation.
DUI testing is, then, an inexact science. If you're looking at this charitably, you might say that everyone's fallible, and the subjective element cannot be eliminated entirely. On balance, officers get it right most of the time and act with intelligence and integrity, unlike reckless drivers who drive while way over the limit. A driver who has committed a minor offence, registering borderline blood alcohol concentrations on what is anyway a very low figure at 0.08, feels bracketed with the worst offenders and a sense of shame and embarrassment in hiring a DUI lawyer.
But, there's another school of thought: the DUI lawyer's. Conspiracy theorists are a bunch of optimists compared to these guys. Many drivers convicted for driving under the influence hold similar views, and the only charity they recognise is the one that begins at home, that is, looking to get their driving licence back as soon as possible. So what are the charges? Biased officers, acting on instructions to increase revenues, pull drivers over with no reasonable suspicion to stop them; deliberate lowering of BAC levels to boost the number of people caught up in the DUI process; inflated statistics used to justify draconian laws and bigger fines, and field tests which are designed expressly to allow officers latitude in interpreting supposedly “objective” tests.
Hiring a DUI lawyer would be the action of first resort for those drunk drivers. Demonising the system, defense strategies are readily adopted and pursued in court. Every loophole in the law is exploited in this “nuanced” approach. So, for example, the distinction is drawn between having alcohol in the body but not in the blood, the difference being accounted for by undue delays between the time of arrest and blowing into the Intoxilyzer machine. Or the arresting officer noted your slurred speech and fumbling movements, but failed to mention your ability to hold a conversation with him and step out of the car smoothly and stand up straight.
These last examples have given the DUI lawyer a bad name: “if you can't do the time, don't do the crime”, many people would argue. But the sceptical approach to the law does have its valid points. You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to make the point that protocol and due process should be followed. The law, too, is draconian and does not discriminate between minor and major offences. A revenue-chasing, “get tough” policy on drunk driving is more likely to translate into dubious police procedures and practices. Incorrect breathalyzer readings, for a number of reasons, can lead to wrongful arrest and the innocent being wrongly charged.
In the light of the above, you might feel more inclined to give yourself, and not the officer, the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps a little more healthy scepticism might serve your interests better: DUI? - it ain't necessarily so.
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© 2006 Maureen P Cook
Maureen Cook shows you how to defend your rights
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