DUI vs DWAI
In order to win a conviction for Driving Under the Influence (DUI), the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver was operating a vehicle while impaired to such a degree that they could not safely drive. It is very common in Colorado for first time offenders to be offered a plea deal, which often includes a requirement that the accused enter a plea of guilty to a lesser offense, such as Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI). That lesser charge only requires that the prosecution prove that the driver was impaired to the slightest degree. It is easy to see that if a person has been drinking and then violates a traffic law, it seems easy for the prosecution to convict for at least DWAI.
Evidence of Impairment
Breath or blood test results can create a presumption of impairment that may make the prosecution’s burden of proof easier to meet. Further, tests like roadside sobriety or field sobriety tests are often offered by police to further solidify their case against a driver.
However, all along the way in this process, there is room for error. Recent allegations of misconduct by various Colorado agencies responsible for overseeing the inspection and administration of those blood and breath tests have cast doubt on the reliability of the test results used in thousands of previous convictions in our state.
Field sobriety tests can be difficult for many drivers who are completely sober to accomplish to the satisfaction of a police officer. Police officers often misread so-called “clues” of impairment observed during these tests. What’s worse, if an officer suspects a driver of impairment, every observation and test from that point forward may be viewed with a bias toward evidence of impairment. The result is often exaggerated indications that a driver is impaired, which is crucial to conviction later. It would be important to know how often a particular officer has a reputation for concluding that a driver is intoxicated, only to later have the driver blow zeroes on a breathalyzer. In this situation, you may very well have an officer claiming a driver had several physical indicators of intoxication or general impairment, the officer may also claim that a driver did not complete a roadside test “as a sober person would”. Then the driver proves to not be impaired at all. If this has happened many times, wouldn’t you want your jury to hear about it? How many times has this particular officer given the roadside test to a sober person in real roadside conditions? What is the basis for any testimony regarding how a sober person would or would not complete a roadside test?
With all the errors and untrustworthiness evident in both roadside testing and breath testing, why should a driver even agree to any testing? The answer is that the law requires consent of all drivers in advance of even being pulled over. Meaning as a condition of being a licensed driver, Colorado drivers essentially agree to take part in tests to determine their impairment levels. If a driver refuses to actually take the test, they may face longer suspensions of driving privileges, and/or other sanctions. Blood tests are routinely conducted on drivers who are not conscious and able to express consent based on this implied consent doctrine.
Of course, establishing a level of impairment, whether for drugs (DUID) or alcohol (DUI), is not a precise science, and the impact of alcohol and various drugs will vary from person to person. However, the DUI laws in Colorado do establish presumptions that the courts are allowed to use for purposes of obtaining a conviction. So although a .08 blood alcohol content may not mean the same level of impairment for two different people, it will justify a juror’s presumption that a driver was impaired.
Reasonableness of a Traffic Stop
Police sometimes violate individual rights guaranteed by our Constitution by targeting drivers for unacceptable reasons. In most cases the law requires that a police officer have reasonable suspicion that a law is being broken before making a traffic stop. If an officer is unable to explain the reason for the stop, all evidence arising after the stop may be subject to being suppressed, meaning it cannot be used later at trial. An entire case can come apart due to lack of evidence if a police officer can be shown to have violated the rights of the accused at the time of the initial stop. There are good reasons for this, which connect mainly to courts not wanting to encourage police to, or reward police for, unlawfully harassing citizens, or even for acting on racial bias, gender bias, economic bias, and so on.
We Can Help
For all these reasons and many others, representation in a DUI case is very important, and only becomes more important as penalties become more serious for those accused of second or third DUI offenses. If you have been charged with DUI, you will face the possibility of losing driving privileges, probation, alcohol classes, and fines. You may face jail time and/or loss of a job. You need an attorney with experience defending DUI cases. You need someone who can help you examine every aspect of the prosecution’s case against you, from issues like actual physical control of the vehicle, all the way through defining impairment and a careful evaluation of the prosecution’s ability to prove their case in front of a jury.
Attorney Vernon Ready has successfully defended many DUI cases with a very wide range of defensible issues. Ready Law can help you identify, prepare, and present your best defense, and fully educate you regarding the risks and potential rewards of any plea offer, all while preparing you for a jury trial. Call our office today for a free consultation based upon the facts of your specific case.