DUI Myths in Ventura
There are many myths and misconceptions when it comes to charges of Driving Under the Influence. To give our clients a helpful overview, we have assembled the most common myths for your review.
For more information about how some of these myths may have affected you, contact us today to discuss the unique facts and circumstances of your case.
Myth #1: Driving Under the Influence Requires “Drunk” Driving
There are two charges involved in a charge of Driving Under the Influence:
- Vehicle Code 23152(a) Driving while your ability to drive is impaired
- Vehicle Code 23152(b) Driving with .08% or higher blood alcohol content
In the case of Vehicle Code 23152(b), you don’t have to exhibit any bad driving; it is merely a question of whether you are driving with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. To give you the best defense possible, we partner with an experienced forensic toxicology specialist to analyze all the scientific issues involved in your case.
In the area of your test result, depending on the specific facts of your case, there are a number of issues which could affect the accuracy of your test result, from margin for error, to potential sample contamination, to testing and preservation issues, to potential problems with the machine itself. There are also separate issues involving a client’s “drinking pattern”, or the number and kind of drinks consumed over a specified timeframe, and how they affect the reliability of a given test result as an indicator of “blood alcohol content” at the time the client was driving.
Myth #2: A DUI Stop Begins When an Officer Notices “Bad Driving”
An officer can stop you for any legal purpose, for example for something as minor as a traffic infraction for failing to signal, then make observations which act as a springboard into a DUI investigation. At the Law Office of Jennifer Zide, our first “stop” in reviewing your DUI case is an examination of the basis for the stop. In the case of a DUI investigation, an officer must have what is termed “reasonable suspicion” based on specific, articulable facts to believe that you are driving while impaired.
Often, this takes the form of:
- observed weaving
- driving very slowly
- crossing over lines
- a similar driving pattern indicating possible impairment
This requires something more than one passing weave; it requires a pattern that would support the officer’s good faith belief that he is looking at a driver who is driving impaired. In the alternative, though, there may be absolutely no sign of bad driving and an officer may stop a client for a small traffic infraction, then make observations (usually alleged “red watery eyes”, “odor of alcohol”, or “slurred speech”) that lead the officer to conduct an “investigative interview” and subject a client to roadside exercises, known as “field sobriety tests”.
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Myth #3: Field Sobriety Tests Can Tell You Whether a Driver is Impaired or at a BAC Above the Legal Limit
Although law enforcement officers term these roadside exercises “tests”, these exercises are plagued by a number of issues that call into question their reliability as indicators of impairment or blood alcohol content. One main issue in “field sobriety tests” is the fact that everyone has a different ability to perform these tests with no alcohol in their system. This is known as a client’s “baseline performance” level. In addition, these tests are usually given under the worst of circumstances, often by the side of the road, late at night, and under other less than ideal conditions.
One of the tests, the “nystagmus” test, is especially susceptible to errors in administration by the officer giving the tests and the other standard tests, approved by the National Highway Safety Administration, and widely used by law enforcement agencies, have a very high error rate in identifying drivers as being above the legal limit. Even though these “tests”, exercises such as the “One Legged Stand” and the “Rhomberg”, are known to incorrectly identify one out of every three drivers as being at a blood alcohol level over the legal limit, they are still used by law enforcement agencies investigating DUI cases.
Myth #4: There Is No Disputing the Test Result
It is true that the test result is generally viewed as the one “hard” piece of evidence the prosecution has in your DUI case, whether the test result is from a breath test or a blood test. However, to evaluate the reliability of that test result, it is necessary to explore all the issues that might potentially affect whether it is a true reflection of a person’s blood alcohol content at the time of driving. These issues include potential problems with the machine, sample contamination, margin for error, drinking pattern, and other issues, depending on the facts of your case.
Myth #5: The Arresting Officer Is Infallible
Although officers are presented as law enforcement “authorities”, they can make mistakes, just like anyone, without necessarily any bad intention. Often, there are internal inconsistencies in a report that can call into question an officer’s ability to clearly recall the important facts relating to an arrest. Often, the officers do not take notes in the field and are attempting to recall details later, potentially amidst the confusion of other intervening arrests. When they do get to court many months later and testify, officers often rely not on a true recollection of events, but on the contents of their reports, so that we potentially face multiple levels of either mistake or inability to clearly recall.
Further, the “field sobriety tests” in themselves, as addressed above, are rife with potential areas of error, both in test administration and “scoring”, as officers attempt to both properly administer the tests in the field and to look for what are known as “clues” that allegedly correlate with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. For example, the “nystagmus” test calls for an officer both to make precisely timed and coordinated “passes” (administration) and (in scoring or evaluating the “test” results) to make an important distinction between every day “nystagmus”, which everyone naturally has, and what the officer is looking for, something called “distinct and sustained” nystagmus. This is just one area in which the officer can have difficulty, despite even his best, good faith efforts.
Myth #6: Because an Officer Arrests Someone, They Are Guilty.
Often, there is confusion between that level of evidence required for an arrest and that level required for a person to be convicted of an offense in court. In short, this is the difference between an arrest, which is based on the lower “probable cause” standard, and the high level of proof required as our justice system strives to protect the individual in court. Because of the emphasis we place on individual liberty and the value of every person, as reflected in our court system, we require a very high level of proof before any conviction can be sustained. This level of proof is known as “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”. This standard gives voice to our belief that, when all the weight of government authority is brought to bear against the individual in our system, all “reasonable doubt” must be resolved in favor of the individual, in finding him “not guilty” under the law. For example, jurors evaluating evidence in a case are specifically instructed that, when the evidence is open to two reasonable interpretations, one that points to guilt and one that points to innocence, they must adopt that interpretation that points to innocence. This view can literally be called giving the person charged the “benefit of the doubt”.
This “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” requires not just a suspicion, not just a feeling, not even the belief that someone probably committed an offense; it requires a level of belief that will last, not just today or tomorrow, but many years from now when jurors look back on their decision – the sincere, deeply held belief that, on that one day and time, they did right by their fellow citizen. This is true justice. This “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” standard reflects our belief that it is more important that 100 guilty people go free, than that 1 innocent person be convicted and unjustly restricted by the government. Through critically examining every aspect of your case, we can reveal how the level of evidence may fail to rise to that “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” required in court, even in a case where the officer has done nothing wrong.
If you have been arrested for DUI in Ventura, we can help. Contact the Law Office of Jennifer Zide online or by calling (805) 669-9744.
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