Driving is a necessary part of everyday life for most Americans, and the more a person is on the road, the greater the likelihood he/she will be stopped by law enforcement for the violation of some law or suspicion of illegal activity. Driving Under the Influence, or DUI, is one of the more common reasons police stop a person and conduct an extended investigation into whether he/she is intoxicated. In fact, DUIs are so prioritized in some areas that checkpoints are set up, particularly around major holidays, where police will stop cars in a pre-established pattern to ascertain if a driver is drunk or under the influence of drugs. The penalties for DUI convictions are quite severe, with substantial fines, possible jail time, and driver’s license suspension being just a few of the consequences typically imposed from the first offense.
Further, a DUI conviction stays on a person’s record for the rest of his/her life, which could affect job prospects, qualification for certain professional licenses, and approval for housing. Consequently, fighting these charges and presenting all possible defenses is crucial to overcoming, or at least mitigating a DUI conviction. To understand what an individual charged with DUI is facing, an overview of what the state must prove to convict a person of this crime, and most importantly, some common defenses that can defeat these cases, will follow below.
Elements of a Georgia DUI Offense
In order for the state to convict a person of any crime, it must prove certain facts or elements beyond a reasonable doubt. The purpose of this standard is help ensure that a person is not sentenced for a crime he/she did not commit, and evidence supporting the existence of the elements of a crime must be presented to establish a conviction is appropriate. For DUI cases, the prosecution must prove two issues:
- Operating a vehicle;
- While under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Note that under Georgia law, operating a vehicle is expanded beyond driving on roadways, and also includes merely having the key in the ignition and operating a car in a parking lot. Examples of evidence the prosecution routinely presents to prove these elements are:
- How the accused was driving;
- Ability to follow direction from law enforcement;
- Physical appearance, i.e., disheveled, glassy or red eyes, etc.;
- Field sobriety tests; and
- Chemical tests or the refusal to submit to one.
Common Defenses in Georgia
From the accused’s point of view, it can seem almost impossible to effectively challenge a DUI charge, but there are a number of potential issues that can overcome these charges. Starting with the stop itself, the police must have probable cause or a legitimate reason to stop a driver. This means the officer must observe the driver violating a law, with failure to maintain the lane or improper lane change being the most common. Without this underlying justification, any stop and detention by law enforcement is unlawful and can be used to convince a judge to dismiss the charges. In addition, police must actually observe the accused operating the vehicle, and in single-car accidents without witnesses, proving this element is often difficult for the state.
Another possible defense can be to object to the validity of the field sobriety or portable breath tests administered during the stop. Performing poorly on field sobriety does not automatically mean a person is intoxicated, and many other issues can contribute to difficulty in executing the tasks, such as certain medication, age, terrain, and weather conditions. The results of a portable breath test cannot be used in court, though law enforcement can testify whether alcohol was detected. However, only approved devices may be used, and in some cases, the apparatus can be shown to be invalid or administered improperly.
Call a Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney
Your freedom and rights as a person accused of a crime need to be fully protected. The criminal defense attorneys at Moffitt Law, LLC know how daunting the criminal justice system can be, and will fight to get you the best possible outcome. Contact the LaGrange criminal defense law firm at (762) 212-3846 for a free consultation.