Arrested for a DUI? Don’t plead guilty just yet! You have options!

Getting pulled over and arrested (or getting into an accident and then being arrested) for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in California can make you feel hopeless. 

What hope do you have against intimidating police officers and a huge criminal justice system, especially if you don’t speak English very well, or if you aren’t a citizen/don’t have papers? Once you’re arrested and charged, you may feel like there is nothing else you can do but wait, worry, and accept the consequences. 

But that’s actually not true! 

Under the law, even if you’ve been arrested and charged, you are INNOCENT until proven guilty. While your driver’s license may be suspended, and there may be other things that happen to you before you are actually convicted, you have the right to work with a lawyer and fight your charges. Your likelihood of success will depend on the exact circumstances of your arrest, but there are a number of DUI defenses that an experienced criminal justice attorney can use to avoid conviction or reduce penalties. 

Here are 10 DUI defenses to use if you’ve been charged*! 

*Note: The information in this blog post is purely educational, but it is NOT intended as legal advice. If you’ve been charged with a DUI, you need to contact an attorney who is familiar with DUI law in California and who can explain if any of the below information applies to your specific case!

There was a lack of probable cause; the police did not have a legal right to pull you over in the first place. 

This is one of the most common DUI defenses, for a good reason. Law enforcement has to have a reasonable suspicion that you committed a traffic violation in order to pull you over. If they didn’t, any evidence gathered during that stop is considered legally inadmissible, and your lawyer may be able to get your whole case thrown out. “Reasonable” and “probable” are somewhat open to interpretation on a case-by-case basis, but generally, if you weren’t speeding, weaving, driving with a broken tail light, driving with expired tags, ran a stop sign, impeding traffic, or otherwise driving like you were intoxicated, then they probably should not have stopped you in the first place – regardless of whether you were intoxicated or not.

The police administered your field sobriety tests incorrectly. 

A field sobriety test – like the “walk-and-turn” test, or the “one-leg stand” test, or the “horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test” – is one way that police officers determine whether or not people are driving under the influence. These tests are supposed to evaluate your balance and ability to follow instructions. However, these tests are also often inaccurate. A great deal depends on the administration of the test subjective to the police officer giving it to you, and can also be affected by many factors like your age, weight, and health.If the police officers who administered your field sobriety test didn’t follow guidelines correctly (for example, not allowing you to remove footwear, or using an uneven surface, or not demonstrating the tests), then the reliability of the test can be called into question and excluded from evidence.

The breathalyzer test wasn’t calibrated correctly.

A breathalyzer is a device that you blow into, and it registers your BAC (blood alcohol content) level. It’s not as accurate as a blood test, but it is commonly accepted as evidence for DUI conviction in California – unless your lawyer can demonstrate that the device in question wasn’t in proper working order at the time of the test. If an improperly maintained machine was used, the test results may be deemed unreliable. 

The police didn’t read you your Miranda rights before questioning you. This is a common misconception that the police have to read you your Miranda rights (“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you…” and so on) immediately when they pull you over, but this is not the case. However, they must do this before interrogating you if they place you in custody. If they fail to read you your rights, and you give them information, that information can later be suppressed as evidence/excluded as evidence. 

There were chain of custody issues with blood or urine samples.

The right people have to be handling evidence at the right times in order for it to be admissible in a California court of law. This means that blood and urine samples need to be collected following specific guidelines, transferred and stored securely, tested by a lab in a procedural manner, and all paperwork needs to be accounted for. If any person/step is questionable, you can use it to shed doubt and potentially exclude the evidence.

You weren’t actually driving the vehicle. In order to be convicted of a DUI, the prosecution needs to be able to prove you were driving while intoxicated. If you weren’t driving, or if there is any question as to who was driving, then this may be something you can use to defend against conviction. 

You were under duress.This isn’t a super common DUI defense, but if you were forced to drive while intoxicated due to circumstances that were not entirely in your control and that created an “impending, imminent, or real” danger to yourself or someone you were responsible for, then your DUI may be considered under duress. Your lawyer may be able to get your charges dismissed or reduced if this applies to you. For example, if you and your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend/partner had a lot to drink, and then got into an argument that turned violent and you feared for your safety, you may have made the choice to drive away because you didn’t feel like you had another choice. That’s an example of what could be considered duress. 

You genuinely believed you were not under the influence.As long as your DUI didn’t involve an injury, and you didn’t have an excessive BAC, then this defense may be available to you, though it may not be depending on your specific circumstances. It’s known as a “mistake-of-fact” defense, and says that if you had reason to believe that you were not under the influence, then you shouldn’t be held accountable for your DUI. Now, this is generally not applicable to voluntary intoxication; for example, you had a few drinks but you thought you could withstand a few more without getting “drunk”. That generally won’t fly. However, if you were at a party where you didn’t drink or do drugs, but something that was served had alcohol or drugs in it and you were reasonably unaware, then this is something that could get your charges reduced or dismissed.

You didn’t understand your rights or the situation because you didn’t speak English. (No entendiste tus derechos ni la situación porque no hablabas inglés.)

Perhaps you are reading this blog while trying to help a family member or friend who was pulled over for a DUI, but doesn’t understand what is happening to them or what they can do about it because they only speak Spanish, and there was not a translator at the time of their arrest or interrogation. That may be a valid defense available to them, and they should find a DUI defense team that speaks Spanish to help them understand their options!

You weren’t actually under the influence. 

The best DUI defense is innocence – you weren’t intoxicated and driving! If your charges are completely unwarranted, you still need to prove it, but may have an easier time doing so because if you are truly innocent, the prosecution’s case against you should be easier to beat. 

Call Confianza Legal! We know how to win. 

Again, depending on your case, there may be even more DUI defenses you can use. However, you are not likely to be able to use any of them on your own successfully; you need a defense attorney on your side to mount a compelling case for your acquittal (or a reduction in penalties).Contact Confianza Legal’s bilingual DUI defense team immediately to learn more about your next steps and how we can help you! We’ve spent 20 years defending the accused and we are confident that our aggressive representation can make a difference for you. Schedule a free consultation.