DWI Defense: How We Do Our Job

After we gather all the evidence, we examine it to insure the officer stopped you properly, followed all procedures when arresting you, including the administration of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) and breathalyzer or blood testing. Our Attorneys Aaron Lee has been awarded certificates by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) after completing the same training police receive in “DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing.”

Traffic Stop or DWI Checkpoints

To properly make a traffic stop, a police officer must be able to articulate “reasonable suspicion” or first hand knowledge that the driver has either committed a traffic offense or may be driving “impaired.” Common traffic offenses can include speeding, not stopping a traffic sign or signal, or improper registration or tag issues. Suspicion of “impairment” typically involves one or more “clues” including swerving within a lane, crossing lines, erratic driving, almost striking an object or another vehicle, and even driving too slowly below the posted speed limit. There are 24 standardized criteria under NHTSA training.

DWI checkpoints present a different set of challenges and is a detailed area of NC DWI laws. The State or prosecution must prove the checkpoint was Constitutional and does not violate the Defendant’s rights. If your case involves a checkpoint, we will pay special attention to ensure that the required procedural requirements were followed and that you were stopped properly.

Pre-Arrest Investigation

From the moment an officer suspects a driver may be impaired, he/she is required to follow certain prescribed procedures. There will be a detailed report showing articulated reasons and observed behaviors from the original traffic stop to arrest. Under NHTSA guidelines, specific “clues” are recorded from Vehicle in Motion, Personal Contact, and Pre-Arrest Screening. Officers must be thorough and accurate in their reports as they will have to rely only on what is recorded at that time for later use at trial. If it can be demonstrated that the officer did not follow those required procedures or if the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) were administered incorrectly, we can argue that the stop and/or subsequent arrest was improper and that the charges must be dismissed. If not dismissed on legal motion, we can use inconsistencies or errors in procedures to argue “reasonable doubt” to juries when asking for a verdict of “not guilty.”

Video Recording Evidence

Video evidence at the scene is changing the nature of DWI prosecution and defense. Without video, it is the “officer’s word” against the Defendant. In those cases, the Defendant might have to waive their right to remain silent at trial and testify just to have “their side of the story” heard. With the advent of video, all has changed. Now, what is said at trial is effectively rendered irrelevant. Judges and juries can see what really happened in “real time.” Any testimony by the officer, or defendant if they take the stand, is redundant and possibly even self-serving.

Breathalyzer Testing

Despite descriptions of being an “instrument,” all breathalyzers are “machines” which are subject to mechanical error. Different jurisdictions use different models and makes, but the basic procedure is the same. A subject provides a “breath sample” which is somehow tested and given a “reading.” What is surprising is that few, if any, officers can actually describe just how the “instrument” actually works. The State may take the reading on faith, but juries should be challenged to not blindly accept a number produced. Fortunately, there are ways to challenge the machine through inquiries about age, usage, testing and certification updates which can hopefully cause juries to pause. When shown readings that do not comport with behavior shown on video, juries, as fact finders, can rely on what they actually see and not the “ghost in the machine.”

Blood or Body Fluid Testing

Blood or other body fluid sample cases are very complex by nature. Testing is done at a centralized crime lab, and a complete and uninterrupted “chain of custody” must be shown by the State to ensure that any results obtained are, in fact, the sample taken from the Defendant. It does not matter whether the crime charged is DWI or first-degree murder. The sample must be carefully handled and documented to prevent error. If it can be demonstrated that the “chain has been broken,” any lab results can be suppressed and not allowed to be used in court. In many cases, this may be the best evidence and can result in a dismissal or acquittal.