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Constitutional Issues in Fairfax DUI Cases

With regards to DUI cases in Fairfax there are a variety of constitutional issues that may arise. The following is information on these issues and how they can have an impact on your DUI case. To learn more about your case specifically or to employ a constitutional defense, call and schedule a consultation with a Fairfax DUI lawyer today.

Most Common Constitutional Issues

There are two constitutional areas that are most common in DUI cases:

  • Whether there was probable cause to arrest the person, and
  • Whether there was a basis to stop the car.

The most common constitutional issue is whether there was probable cause to arrest an individual. Police cannot arrest you on a hunch that you might be drunk. They need to have probable cause to believe that you are drunk; that’s the reason for the field sobriety test. I’d say that’s the most commonly litigated constitutional issue.

How Can This Be Used As a Defense

A defense attorney is often going to say that police simply didn’t have probable cause to arrest the defendant. This is particularly true in DUI third offenses because someone on his or her third offense has been through the process twice before and probably knows that it’s not in his or her best interest to submit to a field sobriety test. If there was no field sobriety test, the officer will have a much harder time articulating in court why he or she concluded that there was probable cause for the arrest.

An officer might claim that he or she observed the smell of alcohol on you, bloodshot and watery eyes and a slight imbalance on your feet, but that might not be enough to be probable cause for an arrest. And if there’s no probable cause for the arrest, then the arrest itself isn’t valid and your case can likely be kicked from court.

Stopping The Vehicle

Another common area of constitutional concern in DUI cases is reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle. An officer has to have reasonable suspicion to believe that you’ve committed either a traffic offense or a criminal offense in order to pull your vehicle over. If an officer can’t articulate that—for instance, if he or she just saw you touch a line once or twice—that might not be enough to justify stopping your vehicle. And if the officer didn’t have grounds to stop your vehicle, any evidence obtained subsequent to the stop cannot be used in court and therefore you cannot be convicted of DUI.

Fourth Amendment in DUI Cases

The Fourth Amendment grants protections to anyone arrested of any crime because it governs searches and seizures. A seizure is when your car is stopped. In any DUI case, you will have been seized if you were ultimately arrested because you would have been told you were not free to go. To seize a vehicle, the Constitution provides that an officer must have reasonable, articulable suspicion to believe that a criminal or traffic infraction has occurred. So if the police cannot articulate that there was some kind of suspicion that you committed a traffic or criminal offense, then the Constitution demands that that evidence cannot be used against you.

Additionally, the Constitution officially protects against unlawful arrest. So in order to arrest somebody constitutionally, an officer must have probable cause to arrest that person, and that probable cause must be conveyed to the person being arrested. So if the police cannot articulate that they had probable cause and believed that someone committed a crime, then the arrest is constitutionally invalid and all evidence is excluded from trial.

What is meant by “articulating” is that the police officer can’t just have a hunch that you’re drunk or intoxicated. The officer must be able to provide actual reasons that any reasonable officer would agree with, and that’s hard to do sometimes. So that’s how the Constitution, particularly the Fourth Amendment, really provides protection to individuals who are arrested for DUI.

Other Constitutional Issues

Other constitutional issues that you might see in DUI cases deal with the Fifth Amendment, cross-examination and the right to counsel. If the police have you in their custody and are interrogating you, they must read you your Miranda Rights. If you request an attorney or express your intent to remain silent after those rights have been read, then the police must stop all questioning of you immediately and, if requested, obtain an attorney for you. So that is another common area of constitutional law that comes up in DUI arrests.

Constitutional Interpretation in DUI Cases

Ultimately, the constitutional interpretation comes down to the judge who hears the case. So let’s say that the commonwealth wants to enter evidence from a search, seizure or interrogation and alleges that the action was appropriate. However, the defense attorney is alleging that the evidence is not valid and is filing a motion to suppress. At that point, it comes down to the judge to determine whether the search, seizure or interrogation was constitutionally valid. The judge will use all sorts of information to make that determination, including any decisions made by the Supreme Court of the United States about how to apply the protections of the 14th amendment.

If there no controlling Supreme Court law available, the judge will of course turn to the state level courts: Supreme Court of Virginia and the Court of Appeals of Virginia for guidance on how the court has decided similar cases before. The judge will also look at statutes that may govern the issue at hand as well as how other states would handle it. If there is absolutely nothing from the Supreme Court, Virginia or any other states, it will come down to the judge comparing the cases to other cases that he or she has heard, and the decision will depend on the feeling of the judge regarding what is legal.

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