Over 200,000 DUI arrests are made each year in California, but that does not mean that more than 200,000 drivers are convicted annually of driving under the influence. In fact, almost every day, California DUI lawyers prevail on behalf of their clients in a wide variety of ways. Of course, it is possible to win a DUI case at trial, but a good California DUI lawyer will work to have a DUI charge dismissed or reduced before a trial begins. Usually, your attorney will be able to find a flaw in the state’s case, but even if the evidence is stacked against you, an experienced DUI attorney can almost always offer something helpful on your behalf.
When a DUI case cannot be resolved by a plea bargain or by a dismissal of charges, a trial will take place. Almost all DUI trials involve scientific details that require explanation by an expert witness. An expert witness is someone with expertise that is not usually possessed by the general public. In a DUI trial, police officers qualify as experts regarding the enforcement of DUI laws, but few police officers are qualified to testify about how breathalyzer devices work or how alcohol impacts a person’s ability to drive safely. If the case involves other intoxicants such as marijuana, it is imperative for jurors to hear from an expert.
Proving a defendant’s guilt is the prosecution’s job, and if a defendant hopes to challenge the testimony of an expert prosecution witness, the defense will usually have to produce its own expert. An experienced California DUI lawyer knows and routinely works with medical authorities, accident reconstruction specialists, and toxicologists with expertise regarding breathalyzer devices and DUI testing.
WHY IS “EXPERT” TESTIMONY DIFFERENT?
Expert witnesses offer a very different type of testimony in a DUI trial. “Regular” defense witnesses help a defense only when they can persuade jurors about facts or events they directly observed. Their opinions are not pertinent, and if they are a defendant’s friends, family members, or acquaintances, jurors usually assume that their testimony is prejudiced. In contrast, the opinions offered by expert witnesses are considered important testimony in a DUI trial, and sometimes an expert’s testimony can make all the difference.
If there was no probable cause for the police to stop you in traffic, if you were falsely or illegally arrested, or if any of the evidence against you was discovered or gathered in an illegal manner, your DUI attorney may able to have that evidence suppressed so that the prosecution cannot use it against you at trial. A motion to suppress must be filed and heard before a DUI trial actually takes place. If you believe the police violated your rights in any way to obtain evidence against you, tell your DUI attorney the details during your very first consultation.
Except at a sobriety checkpoint, law enforcement officers must have a probable cause to stop you in traffic. They must reasonably believe that you are breaking the law, leaving the scene after breaking the law, or that your vehicle contains evidence of a crime. However, the claim that the police stopped a driver without probable cause is seldom successful in a DUI trial, because all that a police officer really needs to conduct a traffic stop legally is to see a broken tail light or a driver moving just a few miles per hour over the speed limit.
WHAT IF YOU FACE A SECOND DUI CHARGE?
Anyone convicted of a second or third DUI offense will face a much harsher penalty than a first-time offender. However, to win a conviction with a heavier penalty for a second or third DUI offense, the prosecution must “charge” – that is, include – your previous conviction(s). A DUI attorney may advise you to “deny” any prior conviction. That allows your attorney to challenge a previous conviction by entering a motion to “strike” it – that is, to keep it from counting against you. Having a prior conviction “stricken” means a defendant faces a less severe penalty if convicted for a second or subsequent DUI offense.
In many DUI trials, the defendant is the only available witness who can dispute the arresting officer’s narrative of the events. A defendant has a constitutional right to testify but also a right to not testify. Will a jury believe you? Jurors tend to believe police officers, and if two or more officers are testifying against you, your chances are slim-to-none of persuading a jury that they are giving an inaccurate account. When making a decision about whether or not to testify in a DUI trial, a defendant should always defer to his or her attorney’s recommendation. If you are prone to excitability or anger under stress, do not even think about taking the witness stand.
If you face a DUI charge in California, even if you retain the counsel of an experienced California DUI lawyer, it is quite a good idea to educate yourself as much as you can about driving under the influence and about DUI law in California. Attorneys use a wide variety of approaches and strategies in DUI trials that can’t all be described in this brief introduction. What is most immediately important for any defendant charged with DUI in California is to put an experienced attorney on the case as quickly as possible.
WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES OF A DUI CONVICTION?
Driving under the influence is treated as a serious crime in California. If convicted, you can be fined and jailed – even for a first offense. Your driver’s license will be suspended, your auto insurance rates will increase, and your job and family could be very negatively impacted. The real, full ramifications of a DUI conviction are something that you very much want to avoid if you can.
That’s why it is absolutely essential to have high-quality legal representation – a DUI attorney who has substantial DUI trial experience – whether or not your own DUI case actually goes to trial. Don’t try to deal with a DUI charge by yourself. If you believe that you are not guilty, or even if you simply made a poor judgment call and tried to drive after drinking one too many, don’t make a second poor call by trying to represent yourself in court. Too much is at risk.