In the past month we have finished two cases in which our clients were charged with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and in both cases, prosecutors ultimately dismissed the charge of DUI and accepted pleas of guilty to inattentive driving. Not a big deal? Oh yes it is. Inattentive driving does not carry the consequences of a DUI conviction, and the difference between the charges may save you thousands of dollars and time in jail.
In a county just north of us, our client was charged with DUI as he headed home after dinner at a local restaurant and bar. He admitted he had a couple drinks. He had been stopped because he reportedly did not stop fully before exiting a private parking lot onto the street. Seriously. In fact, the local cop had simply been parked nearby "fishing" for folks to stop coming out from the club. On video our client looked great. He spoke freely with the officers, did not slur his words, and passed the field sobriety tests - except, they said, the gaze nystagmus. Serious voodoo in that one! Anyway - we called their bluff and got ready to try the case. The breathalyzer result was just over .08% and showed the level was increasing with time. So when he took the test, roughly 45 minutes after he was driving, it was going up. A smart prosecutor ultimately decided their case did not look good and he offered a plea to inattentive driving and a couple hundred dollar fine.
In a county a ways east of us, a retired professor over-corrected on the highway, rolled his car, hit his head on the steering wheel, and had to be cut from his wrecked rig. An officer at the scene told a supervisor that the driver had "seemed confused" when questioned. And then they found some prescription medication bottles in the car. Confusion plus pill bottles must mean driving under the influence - right? That was the charge. DUI. They had NO proof of any quantified amount of any drug. They had no expert to say that the pills affected the driving pattern. And importantly, the officers had not considered whether any "confusion" was the result of his injuries or some other cause. What the state had was a weak case. We filed a motion to suppress the results of the search of the car (no probable cause) and to suppress the results of the search of our client's blood (although not quantified, there was proof that one of the medications was in his bloodstream, but it had been so for every day of the five years he had taken it). The prosecutors did not respond to the motion. Instead, they offered a plea to DUI and no jail. Our client said "no way!" But before trial, when it seemed clear even to them that they were about to lose, they folded and dismissed the DUI.
Here's the lesson I learned from both cases: anyone charged with DUI has to be willing to fight. The State can't always win, and a prosecutor may eventually see what you see from the beginning - the evidence may not prove that you were guilty of any crime.
DUI is a serious charge. Make sure you get a fighter to review your case before you plead guilty.
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