The stakes are sky-high when you are charged with driving under the influence. With Pennsylvania’s tough DUI laws, you can lose your license, be compelled to pay hefty fines, and may even be at risk of going to jail.
Even though it may feel as if prosecutors have all the advantages, there are several defenses an experienced Pittsburgh DUI lawyer can use to defend you successfully depending on the circumstances of your case.
The police did not have probable cause to stop you. Your attorney will investigate all the facts of your case to determine whether or not the police stop of your car was legal. If it wasn’t, then the evidence gathered during the stop is inadmissible and can’t be used in court. The police must have probable cause to pull you over for a DUI stop. For example, they would need to have observed your car weaving between lanes or nearly hitting another vehicle. If they did not, then the stop should not have been made and any evidence obtained during the stop will not be admissible. Police stops are strictly governed by federal laws put into place to safeguard your basic rights. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects you from unreasonable government searches and seizures. Under this protection, police are limited to three kinds of contact with citizens:
- Mere Encounter — These interactions are similar to those you would have with other people, where you may be asked questions but you are under no obligation to comply with any requests.
- Investigative Intention — This gives law enforcement the authority to stop your vehicle if they have a reasonable suspicion that you are in the act of violating, or have violated, a law.
- Custodial Detention or Arrest — An arrest must be supported by probable cause that a crime is taking place or did take place.
A Pittsburgh DUI lawyer will analyze every aspect of your interaction with the police to see if all steps followed the law.
The vehicle was not being driven on a public roadway. Pennsylvania DUI law stipulates that a vehicle has to have been operated on a public roadway or in a location open to the public for vehicular traffic. If, for example, you were driving your car only on private property that is not open to public traffic, your DUI charges will not hold up in court.
There is insufficient evidence you were intoxicated. During a stop, the police will look you over for signs of intoxication, such as alcohol on your breath, mumbled speech or glassy eyes. They intend to use what they observe to establish probable cause for DUI charges. However, if they make you take a field sobriety test when they don’t find a concrete sign you are over the limit, or they mistake a sign like bloodshot eyes for intoxication (when it really signifies allergies) — the cause for your arrest can be challenged.
The DUI checkpoint did not comply with standards. A DUI checkpoint can’t be set up haphazardly — it has to comply with very specific rules. For example, the checkpoint has to be clearly marked and the police need to choose the vehicles they stop in an objective, non-discriminatory manner. If these rules aren’t followed, an attorney can challenge the charges against you.
The test results were unreliable. Any tests on your breath, blood and urine used to determine your BAC have to be administered correctly, using reliable equipment, to accurately measure your blood alcohol content. If the devices used were not properly maintained or they are malfunctioning, or if there was a flaw in the way the test was taken, the results may not be admissible.
The breathalyzer used was inaccurate. Although police throughout the country frequently use breathalyzers to test for blood alcohol levels, their accuracy is increasingly being disputed. Many scientists have concluded that breath testing is not an accurate way to measure BAC and their expert studies, quoted by the National Motorists Association, show a margin of error of as much as 50 percent compared to actual blood alcohol content. Additionally, if a breathalyzer isn’t calibrated regularly or operated properly, it can produce incorrect readings. Factors such as acid reflux disease (GERD) can also affect results. A recent Pennsylvania court decision further highlights the inaccuracy of breathalyzer testing. In a 2013 case in Dauphin County, a judge ruled that Intoxilyzer 5000 breathalyzers, devices law enforcement uses frequently throughout the Commonwealth, can’t be proven accurate beyond .15 BAC. In light of this ruling, breath testing results are being challenged even more successfully by Pittsburgh DUI lawyers.
There are many more DUI defenses that can be used, depending on the nature of your legal circumstances and the evidence involved in the case.