The 7 Critical Phases to Defending a DUI Case.
Our firm is often asked, “how can you defend a DUI?” People often assume that if a driver is pulled over after drinking that the driver is guilty of DUI. Defending a DUI case is an extremely challenging task, even for lawyers who specialize in DUI Defense. As DUI lawyers, we find it easier for clients to understand how we defend their case when the client learns the 7 critical phases of defending a DUI case.
If you don't want to read on, call 770.237.3800 now and we will walk you though these 7 critical phases for Georgia DUI defense for no charge over the phone or in person at one of our three metro Atlanta locations: Downtown, Buckhead, or Lawrenceville. Alternatively, visit our website, AtlantasDuiLawyers.com, or email me now at help@AtlantasDuiLawyers.com.
Phase 1: The Investigation
Eyewitnesses form the backbone in the prosecution of the criminal case. DUI cases are different from most other criminal cases, such as theft or more serious felonies like robbery or aggravated assault, in one important way: The primary witness to the DUI is almost always a police officer. In most other criminal cases, regular people are the eyewitnesses that form the backbone of the prosecution’s case. As the key, and possibly only, witness, the arresting officer will certainly testify that our client was driving under the influence.
From the moment the police officer smells alcohol, marijuana, or detects other signs of impairment, the officer begins gathering evidence to convict a driver of DUI. The officer knows he or she will not only have to justify the arrest but serve as the key witness for the prosecution. The officer will attempt to use voluntary field sobriety tests and observations of the driver’s conduct to justify the officer’s assessment of impairment.
Following the arrest, the arresting officer writes a report that contains framework for what the arresting officer will say during trial. Most police forces have forms with checkboxes designed specifically for DUI arrests to make it easy for the officer to record the basic facts of the DUI. In the report, we search for inconsistencies, errors, and omissions that we can use to trap the officer in front of the Judge and Jury. In fact, police officers often rely directly on the report while testifying because they make so many DUI arrests that they cannot rely on their memory, and many officers make errors when flying through the checkboxes of the DUI form.
In addition to the basic reports, we will gather and review all available evidence such as the video of the arrest, maintenance records for the breath test machine, radio-dispatch logs, 911 tapes, tow-truck records, reports from ambulance personnel, and the disciplinary history of the officers involved. The smallest details can be critical. We will use all of the state’s evidence along with our client’s memory of the arrest to create the most crucial element of our representation: the Theory of Defense.
Phase 2: The Theory of the Defense
As the investigation is completed, a true-picture of the case begins to unfold. What are the strengths of the State’s case? Is there a breath test? Were field sobriety exercises performed? What mistakes did the officer make? And, very, importantly, where is the evidence inconsistent? Remember: the prosecution must prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
Our Theory of Defense is the key to winning your case. It may be that we can show that that the officer had no legal reason to stop the vehicle. In other cases we may be able to show that the breath test reading was artificially high and is inconsistent with the amount of alcohol consumed and the person’s physical manifestations. Sometimes, we may show the court that the police never observed the defendant driving.
Which Theory of Defense we adopt for a given case depends on many factors, such as the evidence of impairment, independent witnesses, breath tests, officer’s experience level, or the judge assigned to the case. We use our training and experience as DUI lawyers to develop a comprehensive Theory of Defense with the facts and evidence available to us. Fortunately, we will often have the opportunity to test this Theory of Defense two times prior to trial. The first opportunity is the sometimes the Administrative License Suspension hearing.
Phase 3: Administrative License Suspension Hearing
In addition to the criminal case in state court, many Georgia driver’s cited for DUI will face an Administrative License Suspension hearing (LINK) prior to the case ever going to trial in the criminal courts. If the arresting officer completes the proper procedure, the Georgia Department of Drivers Services will commence a separate case against the defendant. This case consists of a single hearing on the question of the suspension held before an administrative judge from the Office of State Administrative Hearings (LINK).
Our investigation is often completed and our Theory of Defense formed prior to the Administrative License Suspension hearing. We will use the Administrative License Suspension hearing to learn more about the case and test out our Theory of Defense. Most importantly, the hearing is a chance for the defense attorney to cross-examine the arresting officer prior to trial. The record of this hearing gives us one more place to look for inconsistencies in the State’s case.
Phase 4: Pre-Trial Negotiations
We are always negotiating. The majority of court cases, including DUI’s, are settled through pre-trial negotiations to the satisfaction of the client. If we are able to achieve our client’s goals through negotiations without the risk of trial, the client wins. Nonetheless, DUI trial attorneys achieve the best results through negotiations because we are always preparing the case for trial. We have developed a reputation with the prosecutors that we will take the case to trial, and the prosecutors know that we are an aggressive and capable opponent.
Most attorneys avoid the rigors and stresses of the jury trial process by convincing their clients to plead guilty. Yes, you read that right: Most attorneys avoid the rigors and stresses of the jury trial process by convincing their clients to plead guilty. When a prosecutor knows that the attorney will not go the distance to jury trial, the prosecutor will withhold the best plea deals for trial lawyers. Only an attorney who regularly takes DUI cases to a trial before a jury can offer the complete package in DUI defense.
See the rest of the guide for Defending Georgia DUI - The 7 Phases of the Case: Phases 5, 6, and 7 on my profile.