Although it goes contrary to just about every public service announcement you’ve ever heard, having a drink before getting behind the wheel is not a crime.
Our Birmingham DUI lawyers want you to understand that there is a difference between drinking prior to driving and being impaired while you drive. The latter is a crime, the former is not.
Even if you are involved in an accident after you have had a drink, that does not mean you should automatically be slapped with a DUI charge. Unfortunately, law enforcement officers aren’t inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt.
In some cases, officers have been known to charge defendants with DUI even when breathalyzer results show a blood-alcohol content that was below the legal limit. They do this legally by alleging other signs of impairment. They know it’s tougher to prove in court, but they are banking on the fact that you won’t fight the charge.
But simply pleading guilty is generally not advantageous for you.
A recent case out of Mobile illustrates this whole phenomenon. Interestingly, it involves a criminal defense lawyer who is now on the other side of the table after being arrested for DUI following a crash one recent weekend.
The attorney says he was on his way to the grocery store, across the street from his home, when he clipped the rear of a sport utility vehicle that was passing by. The attorney told police he had consumed a few drinks several hours earlier, but denied he was intoxicated.
He claimed the SUV was speeding. He passed a field sobriety test. He said he planned to undergo a breathalyzer test. However, he said the officers at the police station seemed ignorant of how to set up the machine. He declined to take the test. That means he automatically will lose his driver’s license for three months, but it doesn’t mean he automatically receives a DUI.
Alabama Code Section 32-5A-191 holds that a person may be charged with DUI if he or she is driving a vehicle AND:
- Has a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher;
- Is “under the influence” of alcohol;
- Is under the influence of a controlled substance to a degree that renders him or her incapable of driving safely;
- Is under the influence of alcohol and a controlled substance such that he or she can’t safely drive;
- Is under the influence of ANY substance that may impair a person’s physical or mental faculties in a way that impairs safe driving.
Save for the blood alcohol measurement, the other definitions are quite subjective. That means they are highly reliant on officer testimony, which of course is subject to human error. When that is the only thing prosecutors have on which to rely, they know their case is weakened. They may be more likely to allow you to plead the charges down to a lesser offense or possibly drop them altogether.
So before you assume that you have no choice but to plead guilty, talk first with an experienced lawyer to explore your options.