Appreciable Impairment in NC DWI Arrests
If you have been arrested and charged with a Charlotte DUI, the State of North Carolina must prove “appreciable impairment” in order to convict you. In cases where there is a “blood alcohol concentration” (BAC) level (either by breath or blood), the burden of proof is more easily satisfied. However, in situations where a suspect “willfully refused” breath testing or the machine did not register a sample despite the defendant’s best efforts, the State must establish the more nebulous “appreciable impairment” concept. So how is this term defined and what does it really mean?
We all know that alcohol is an “impairing substance.” But to show “appreciable impairment,” the government has to prove that a defendant “has taken or consumed a sufficient quantity of (an) impairing substance to cause (the person charged) to lose the normal control of his/her bodily or mental faculties, or both, to such an extent that there is an appreciable impairment of either or both of these faculties.” In other words, it is what the State says it is.
Appreciable impairment has no clear definition. Rather, this circular logic pronouncement creates as many questions as it is supposed to answer. What is a “sufficient quantity?” What is “normal control of bodily or mental faculties?” Police officers and prosecutors routinely claim that alcohol affects individuals differently. Some people can supposedly have a substantially high BAC level and seem “just fine.” Others with a BAC reading below the magical 0.08 current limit are prosecuted and portrayed as being impaired. If each defendant is supposed to react differently to varying degrees of alcohol, how does the State simultaneously claim to hold that same person to a “normal control of bodily or mental faculties” definition.
By keeping the definition of this all important legal term vague and ambiguous, the State maintains its clear advantage in proving its case. Under this “definition,” the term “appreciable impairment” can really mean whatever the government needs it to mean no matter what the circumstances. Each case is different, and the entity that writes the rules and makes the laws wants to keep its tactical edge. Juries need to be reminded of the incredible power and advantage held by the State in every criminal case. It is only the high “burden of proof” and “beyond a reasonable doubt” standards that even attempt to make it fair.
As I argued in a recent DUI trial, the State makes the laws and the rules. If a person refuses breath testing or if the machine “times out” during the process, the State can then proceed to get a definitive blood sample. A blood sample, if properly drawn and tested, is the most clinically precise BAC level as of the time it is collected. DWI defense lawyers have less to argue other than the time gap between testing and when a suspect was actually driving on the road. With these options at its disposal, there really is no excuse to ever enter the nebulous zone of “appreciable impairment.”
The State should never have to rely on circumstantial evidence, including roadside “field sobriety” testing, in a DUI trial. When they do not exercise every available option, they effectively elect to not be able to meet their required burden of proof and should be held accountable. Cases should be dismissed where the State does not collect and then present its best case against an individual. If there are truly exigent circumstances that prevent breath testing or blood draws, then the jury should be subjected to the “appreciable impairment” maze. Otherwise, accused defendants should be acquitted and cleared of charges.
Every case is truly different. It takes training and experience to review the details of a DUI case and what evidence the State of North Carolina has to prove a person guilty. Aaron Lee takes the critical time necessary to thoroughly prepare each case so that he can give his clients the options they need to make the best decision for their particular situation. He makes himself personally available to answer questions and review strategies. Once you have all of your potential options, you can then make the right choice for you and your family. Mr. Lee would be honored to sit down with you and see what can be done to help in your case.