Prosecution of Columbia DUI Cases
Because of the potential threat of a drunk driver to others in society, Columbia DUI charges are taken very seriously in court, and are prosecuted vigorously. Defendants need to be adequately prepared to stand up for themselves, and knowledgeable enough about their case to serve as an asset to their DUI lawyer. The best assist you can provide to your defense attorney is to be prepared for your case.
Experienced Columbia DUI lawyers work with clients as a team to best present the most robust defense possible against DUI charges. Contact our firm today to begin taking steps toward securing a positive outcome.
Elements That Need to Be Proven
The prosecutor must prove that the driver was under the influence when operating the vehicle. Usually, the prosecutor will introduce the results of the client’s chemical test to prove intoxication. If the prosecutor does not have such results, the prosecutor will have the arresting officer testify to the clues that he or she observed – including the driver’s appearance, behavior, driving, and results of the field sobriety tests.
Additionally, the prosecutor will need to prove that the defendant had control of the vehicle. However, the defendant does not have to be actually driving the vehicle for this element to be met. Furthermore, the prosecutor must prove that the car was in a public area – more so depending on whether they posed a danger to the community. Each element must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction.
Evidence in a DUI Case
The evidence that is typically presented in Columbia DUI cases includes evidence of an individual’s driving behavior – the reason as to why the officer pulled them over, such as weaving or erratic driving. Additionally, there will be evidence of the individual’s appearance and behavior, including whether there is an odor of alcohol, bloodshot or watery eyes, slurred speech, unsteady stance, or difficulty following directions.
Furthermore, results of the field sobriety tests will be presented. Any incriminating statements that may have been made to the officers before the person was in custody will also be included – such as how many drinks were had prior to operating the vehicle. Lastly, the results of the chemical test that the driver submitted to will be presented.
Impact of Constitutional Issues
A constitutional issue that may come up in a DUI case includes an illegal stop. An officer must have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity in order to pull you over. This reasonable suspicion is likely to be based on the officer’s observations of your driving behavior. If the officer observes you committing a moving violation, such as speeding, the officer has the ability to stop your vehicle. However, if you were driving legally at the time of the stop, you may be able to successfully challenge the stop in court and get your charges completely dismissed.
Additionally, a constitutional issue may include your Miranda rights. Until you are in custody, officers are not required to read you the Miranda warnings. However, you may be able to suppress any incriminating statements made to the officers if you were placed in custody and not told of your right to remain silent.
Common Constitutional Issues
The most common constitutional issue in DUI cases in Columbia is illegal stops. An officer must have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity has occurred in order to pull someone’s vehicle over. The officer’s suspicion is usually based on his or her observations of the driver’s behavior behind the wheel. If the officer sees someone commit a moving violation such as speeding, the officer has grounds to stop them. However, if the officer is not able to specify the reason for the traffic stop, this is a constitutional violation and may result in a case being dismissed.
There may also be an issue with statements that motorists make once they have been arrested for a DUI. Once the motorist is in custody and the officers want to ask some questions relating to his or her case, the officers are required to inform the motorist of his or her Miranda Rights. These rights include the right to remain silent or refuse to answer until the person has a lawyer present. If a motorist was not read his or her Miranda Rights once he or she were placed in custody, his or her statements can be excluded from evidence and not used against them.
Fourth Amendment Protections
The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. With regards to a DUI, a search and seizure will take place if the officer wants to search the individual’s person, vehicle, and containers, purses, or bags located in the vehicle. Once these locations are searched, the officers may take the items found and present them as evidence against the driver.
However, a search may be considered legitimate if the individual consents once the officer asks permission. For a search to be constitutional, the officers need to show that it was permissible and reasonable and that there was probable cause to conduct the search.
Important Things to Know About DUI Cases
One of the things everyone should know is that individuals facing DUI charges will be required to go to court. A DUI charge is a must appear citation, and as such it is in a person’s best interest to hire an attorney who is familiar with the Howard County District Court. Defendants will have the choice of either pleading guilty, pleading not guilty and having a bench trial, or having a jury trial, which will result in the case being transferred to the Howard County Circuit Court. Depending on the results of a criminal case, the defendant may be incarcerated and required to pay a substantial fine.
Another thing everyone should know is that they will have to undergo an alcohol assessment and participate in an alcohol education program. Attending classes may be a burden, but if a DUI offender enrolls in a program immediately after they are arrested for a DUI, it lets the judge know that the person is taking their arrest seriously and wants to rectify the situation.
Lastly, everyone should know that their driver’s license may be suspended. If convicted for DUI, the MVA will assess 12 points to a person’s driver’s record. This suspension may have a severe impact on their livelihood as they will not be permitted to drive to work or school. Additionally, a driver’s insurance company is likely to drastically increase their rates or drop them altogether. As such, someone may be prolonged from obtaining another license once the suspension period is complete.
Role of Expert Witnesses
Expert witnesses will be used to provide evidence to the judge or jury that the accused motorist was driving under the influence, based on their specialized knowledge. In the prosecution’s DUI case, some expert witnesses will be called to testify regarding the calibration of the breathalyzer machine and the administration of the HGN field sobriety test. A DUI lawyer can challenge the claims of the government experts by requesting all of the records used or produced by the expert, making sure the experts are qualified, and ensuring that there were no errors in the process.
The defense may call expert witnesses that can refute the opinions given by the government’s experts. For example, the defense may call an expert that would testify to medical conditions that may explain why the individual exhibited signs of intoxication, even though the individual did not consume any alcohol.
It is important for an attorney to know good experts because expert testimony can be crucial in terms of gaining evidence regarding the individual’s actual blood-to-breath ratio by looking at the facts, attacking the chemical test performed, and explaining the deficiencies in the field sobriety test performed. At the trial, the weight given to such expert opinions will depend on several factors, including the specialized knowledge of the expert, the expert’s education and employment history, and the method in which the opinion was rendered.