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What Law Enforcement Doesn’t Want You to Know About DUI Investigations

 

dui investigations what law enforcement doesn't want you to know

Photo: ODT on Flickr

Most people believe that pretty much everyone who gets arrested for DUI is obviously guilty, and that law enforcement has done a good thing by getting them off the road.

But did you know that not everyone arrested for a DUI is actually guilty?

That surprises a lot of people, but it’s true. In this post, I’ll explain why innocent people sometimes get arrested for DUIs and what to do if it happens to you.

How Do Innocent People Get Arrested for DUIs?

Getting arrested can be a scary and unpleasant experience, no matter what the circumstances. So how can can you be accused of a DUI when you’re not driving drunk? It happens for two basic reasons:

1. There’s no penalty for arresting an innocent person.

What law enforcement doesn’t want you to know is that police officers usually don’t know for sure whether someone is really driving under the influence. They’re usually making a semi-educated guess. Police officers suffer no consequence for arresting someone who turns out to be innocent, so they arrest them anyway.

man driving red car

2. Field sobriety tests aren’t always fair.

A while back, I wrote about why you should never take field sobriety tests. This is one of the reasons.

Every law enforcement officer in America is supposed to have been trained and updated on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) standards and manuals for DUI investigation and detection. These manuals were developed after several studies concluded that psychophysical testing for people suspected of driving under the influence needed to be standardized.

Law enforcement doesn’t want you to know that, statistically, their tests are flawed, and the vast majority of the time they do not administer or score the tests as they are supposed to, which invalidates all of the science and statistics behind them.

What’s Wrong With Field Sobriety Tests?

There are currently three standardized field sobriety tests that the NHTSA has deemed somewhat accurate indicators of a person being under the influence of alcohol:

  1. Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)driving highway
  2. Walk-and-Turn (WAT)
  3. and One-Leg Stand (OLS)

Even when administered correctly, these tests are not completely accurate. Even under ideal circumstances, innocent people can be determined as likely being under the influence.

Let’s look at the first test, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, as an example. It looks for an involuntary jerking of the eye caused by alcohol consumption. Problem is, this jerking can also be caused by over 40 other things other than alcohol, including caffeine intake, stress, and wind.

Another large problem is that according to several studies, even in ideal circumstances, this test is only 77-88% accurate at detecting someone under the influence. That means, theoretically, as many as 23% of innocent people won’t be able to pass the test. Those are not good odds. 1 out of 4 people may be deemed to be under the influence according to this test, even though they’re not.  

Worst of all, this is the most statistically accurate test of the three, the other two are even less accurate in ideal circumstances.

What Should You Do?

If you get arrested on suspicion of a DUI, and you know you’re not drunk, what should you do? First, you should know that you can’t really “fail” field sobriety tests. What I mean by that is that the tests aren’t the final end-all determination of whether you were driving under the influence or not.

I will continue to write more about these tests in future blog posts to help everyone understand why, despite law enforcement accusing you of driving under the influence, the chances that you are innocent and wrongfully accused are greater than you think.

If this happens to you, don’t panic. The best thing you can do is not answer any further questions and hire a lawyer as soon as possible.

If you have been arrested for a DUI in Montana, give us a call to discuss your case and how you can fight it.

What Happens to My Driver’s License if I’m Arrested for DUI in Montana?

Drivers License and DUI Montana

Photo: Dennis Yang on Flickr

As a lawyer in Montana, I’m frequently asked questions about how a DUI arrest or conviction can affect a person’s driver’s license. Not only is this question very common, but it’s a very misunderstood area of the law, especially among the general public.

That’s why I want to make sure you understand the facts about what can happen to your driver’s license if you’re arrested or convicted for DUI in Montana. But before I go any further, there are 2 things you should know:

1. Did You Refuse a Breath or Sobriety Test?

If you refused a breath or sobriety test when you were stopped by the police, your driver’s license will likely be suspended for 6 months. Your suspension will probably begin on the day you refused the test.

This is a civil suspension issued through the Department of Motor Vehicles. This civil suspension is a result of your refusal to take a breath or sobriety test and is completely unrelated to a suspension stemming from a criminal DUI conviction.

2. Were You Convicted of DUI or Related Offense?

If you’ve been convicted of a DUI or related offense, your driver’s license will be subject to a criminal suspension. This is unrelated to any civil suspensions caused by refusing a breath or sobriety test.

So, what’s the difference, and what can you do about them?

Suspension Due to Breath/Blood/Sobriety Test Refusal

Field Sobriety Test

Photo: ODT on Flickr

Let’s start with a suspension due to refusing a sobriety test. As I mentioned earlier, in Montana, if you refuse a breath, blood, or other sobriety test, your license may be suspended as a result of the refusal itself. This is not a criminal punishment, although several cities, including Missoula, have made refusing a breath test a separate misdemeanor crime.

This suspension is a civil administrative suspension. There is only one way to avoid this suspension. A person who has allegedly refused a sobriety test can file a petition in District Court asking the Court to return his or her driver’s license and lift the suspension.

Without an order from the District Court order you can’t get out of a refusal suspension. Once you’ve filed your petition, the burden is on you to prove that either there was not sufficient reason for the police to stop your vehicle, or that you didn’t actually refuse the breath/blood test.

The State of Montana can agree to the reinstatement of your license, or they may require a court hearing to contest your petition. Either way, filing a petition is the only way to even attempt to get your license reinstated if you’ve refused any kind of sobriety test.

It’s also worth noting that DUI defense attorneys in Missoula, Montana will frequently use such a petition as a tool to help negotiate a successful resolution to a DUI arrest for their client.

Suspension Due to DUI Conviction

If you’re convicted of DUI or a related offense, you’ll face a suspension as part of your criminal punishment. Your driver’s license won’t be suspended if you’re only arrested for DUI (unless of course, as I mentioned earlier, you refused a sobriety test). In Montana, to receive a criminal suspension of your driver’s license, you must be convicted of a DUI or a related offense.

The length of the suspension will depend on whether you have any prior DUI convictions. If it’s your first conviction, with the Judge’s approval, you’ll be eligible for a probationary driving permit or an essential driving license. This allows you to drive to work, home, the hospital, the grocery store, or to make any other trips deemed essential by the Judge.

To receive a probationary license, you’ll also need to enroll in a mandatory ACT program to be eligible for this type of license. Currently, in the state of Montana, only convictions for a first DUI offense are eligible for a probationary permit following conviction.

You should also know that there are no options for appealing a suspension of your driver’s license beyond appealing your DUI conviction after trial. In other words:

If you take a plea agreement, you won’t be able to appeal any resulting driver’s license suspension.

Avoiding DUI Conviction & Driver’s License Suspension

Judnich Firm PictureIf you don’t want your driver’s license to get suspended after a DUI arrest, you need to invest in a great DUI defense attorney. Your attorney can start by filing petitions to avoid suspension if you refused a breath or sobriety test. Your lawyer will also work towards a resolution of your case that doesn’t involve a DUI conviction and driver’s license suspension.

Your attorney will be able to navigate complex cases, like those involving multiple refusals of sobriety tests, prior instances of driving with a suspended license, and other traffic crimes that may affect your driver’s license.

Call the Judnich Law Office for a free consultation to discuss your issues in dealing with a driver’s license and DUI related charges today.

What are Your Chances of Being Convicted for DUI?

Police Car DUI

If you’re reading this and you’ve been arrested for a DUI, stay calm. These are serious charges, but panicking won’t help.

You’re probably wondering, “what’re the chances I’ll be convicted?” and “what will happen if I am convicted?” Those are tough questions to answer. Getting results after a DUI arrest depends on a number of factors, including the evidence against you, any prior convictions you might have, the prosecuting attorney, and your defense attorney.

Before I go any further, remember that no matter who you choose as your attorney, any case has the possibility of a conviction, acquittal at trial, or plea negotiation. That’s just the nature of our criminal justice system.

Your DUI Case is Unique

First, know that every single DUI case is different. I’ve watched many hundreds of videos of field sobriety tests. I’ve also reviewed the results of hundreds of breath samples and blood tests. And I’ve found that while they may have shared common elements, each DUI case is truly one-of-a-kind.

Let me tell you more about your how to improve your chances of avoiding a DUI conviction, as well as what to ask when looking for a lawyer to handle your DUI case.

Plea Agreements and Reduced Charges

Why are some people offered plea agreements to offenses that are not DUI’s, while others don’t?

It depends heavily upon your choice of lawyer.

Judnich Firm PictureExperienced DUI defense attorneys like those at the Judnich Law Office know how use their expertise and the tools available to them to persuade prosecutors to dismiss cases or reach an acceptable plea agreement for a lesser offense. This only occurs after years of trying cases against those prosecutors and achieving results.

There’s No Such Thing as a Cut & Dry DUI

As I mentioned earlier, all DUI cases are unique. Don’t believe people who say that you’re either guilty or you’re not. The law isn’t black and white. There are plenty of grey areas and anyone who says otherwise isn’t worth listening to. In almost any case, you could be convicted if represented by one attorney, yet acquitted in the very same case with a more experienced DUI defense attorney. The difference is the attorney.

And There’s No Such Thing as Magic

Additionally, be wary of any attorney who claims to have a magic formula to winning a DUI case or getting a good result from any case, for that matter.

However, there is such a thing as hard work and sometimes that can seem like magic. The truth is, the more hard work that an attorney puts into a case the more likely he or she is to achieve great results.

Your DUI Attorney is an Investment

Most people realize that experienced attorneys with a good track record when it comes to DUI defenses can cost a lot of money. But this is an investment in your personal future, not an unrecoverable sunk cost.

A positive outcome in your DUI case can save you from missing out on thousands of dollars down the road when it comes to future employment opportunities, not to mention the upfront costs of a DUI conviction. Investing significant amounts of money into a top-tier DUI defense attorney increases the amount of time they can devote to your case.

Do you want your attorney giving your case the bare minimum attention it requires or do you want them to research and explore every reasonable option? Do you want evidence, including police dashcam footage, reviewed for hours or just a few minutes?

Do you expect your attorney to interview the arresting officer? Do you expect your attorney to be able to identify and understand the officer’s training and any biases that may have caused mistakes in your investigation?

An attorney who devotes extra time to your case costs more money than one who isn’t as thorough. Think about it. You wouldn’t want to work extra hard for extra long hours for no money at your job would you?

The Judnich Law Office Difference: Pretrial Dedication

We’ll spend a minimum of 2-3 hours simply dissecting the videotape of our client’s encounter with law enforcement officers. This is the main evidence that prosecutors use at trial, so that is what must be scrutinized.

Our DUI defense attorneys look at everything from the reason an officer pulls a person over, to how they conduct and evaluate field sobriety tests and breath tests. A single viewing isn’t enough. We watch videos over and over, devoting massive amounts of time to extracting the evidence that benefits our clients.

An interview with the arresting officer is almost always necessary. This helps determine exactly what the officer did and did not do. This is important because every law enforcement officer in the United States is supposed to conduct every DUI investigation in exactly the same way.

However, very few officers follow the DUI stop protocols as closely as they are required. Only experienced DUI defense attorneys with access to law enforcement training methods and experience with similar cases can identify and use those facts to their client’s advantage.

When searching for a DUI defense attorney, here are two questions you must ask:

  1. First, do they have the training manuals officers use and are trained on?
  2. Next, ask to see them.

If a prospective attorney says no to either question, move on. A thorough understanding of and access to these training manuals are vital to winning a DUI case.

Our Advantage in the Courtroom

courtroom

Photo: Clyde Robinson on Flickr

Too many attorneys take DUI cases, then plead them out to whatever deal they can get, and never see a trial. This isn’t the best way to get great results for clients. Only attorneys who are willing to take cases all the way to trial receive the best deals from prosecutors.

Do you think a prosecutor is intimidated by an attorney that pleads all of his/her clients out and never goes to trial? Or does intimidation come from attorneys who never accept a bad offer, who are willing to go trial, and who win once they are in the courtroom?

At Judnich Law Office, our attorneys fight for you in the courtroom and we typically obtain great results for our clients.

Choosing the wrong attorney can mean the difference between being convicted of DUI and acquittal.
Do your research, and get in touch to see if experienced DUI defense attorneys like those we have at the Judnich Law Office are the right choice for you.

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Judnich Law Office | 2419 Mullan Road Missoula, MT 59808 | Phone: (406) 721-3354
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