Individuals charged with DUI in Illinois often want to understand why some individuals are found not guilty and are able to retain their driving privileges. I have defended hundreds of DUI cases over a 14 year period and I always feel I have a better chance at a not-guilty verdict when certain general factors are present.
The first factor is my client’s refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test. Illinois has a per se rule that driving with a breath alcohol content above .08 is illegal and constitutes a DUI regardless of how sober the motorist may have otherwise appeared. Once a client has blown above .08 I will check to be certain that a foundation can be laid for the admission of the breath test. Often times I will also challenge the constitutionality of the initial traffic stop and arrest. If the stop and subsequent arrest were constitutional and the breath test is admitted the last line of defense I have used is hiring an expert to challenge the validity of the breath test.
The chances of a not-guilty verdict are generally far greater where the prosecution does not have the benefit of admitting a breathalyzer result into evidence. Without the breath test the prosecutor is forced to rely on the testimony of the arresting officer. Often times the arresting officer lacks the knowledge necessary for the state to prove its case. For example the arresting officer may not know: (1) where the defendant was coming from; (2) how much the defendant had to drink; (3) over how long a period of time the defendant was drinking; (4) how long it had been since the defendant’s last drink; (5) how long it had been since the defendant had slept; (6) whether the defendant’s erratic driving could be explained by normal distractions unrelated to alcohol; and (7) whether the defendant had any physical injuries that would hinder his ability to pass field sobriety tests in the absence of alcohol consumption. This list can go on forever yet the arresting officer is usually the only witness the state has in cases where the defendant refuses to blow.
In my professional experience the chances of a not-guilty verdict are further increased when the suspect not only refuses a breath test but refuses field sobriety tests as well. Without the breath test the state is left with no subjective evidence of a motorist’s breath alcohol content. When a motorist refuses to take field sobriety tests he lessens the amount of subjective evidence that the state can use against him. The officer cannot testify that a motorist failed a test if the motorist refuses to take it.
Another factor that often weakens the prosecutions case is when a DUI suspect refuses to make statements to the investigating officer. A suspect’s statements are an integral part of all criminal investigations and DUI is no different. If a motorist does not inform the officer that he was coming from a bar or a house party the prosecution is left with one less piece of the puzzle in its quest to prove intoxication.
Generally when an officer initiates a traffic stop the only evidence of intoxication he has is the bad driving he observed. In some cases the only traffic infraction the officer observes is speeding which is not indicative of intoxication. The officer may smell alcohol but most officers will admit that the smell alone is not sufficient to ascertain how much alcohol a suspect has consumed. After making those perfunctory observations the officer is often only able to gather the evidence in which the motorist elects to give him (e.g. making statements, submitting to field sobriety tests, blowing into a breath machine etc.)
In 14 years of practice I have learned that it is easier to win a DUI case when the suspect: (1) refuses to blow; (2) refuses to take field sobriety tests; and (3) refuses to answer the officer’s questions. Whether a motorist is guilty or innocent he has rights and should always take pride in asserting them.