Charged with DWI? Know Your Rights
There is nothing like a DWI charge to put you off your game. Many people who face such charges believe that the arresting officer must be right and that simply going along with the charge is the best policy. The fact is, however, that you have legal rights; the police do not have the final say in the matter (the law does), and your legal rights are well worth protecting. A DWI conviction not only comes with exorbitant fines and considerable penalties but can also – because they are a matter of public record – have significant social consequences. If you are facing a DWI charge, knowing your rights and fighting for them from the outset is important to your future.
RELATED READINGS: 3 Important Considerations if You Are Stopped for DWI
If You Have Been Charged with DWI
If you have been arrested and charged with DWI, the time to act is now. The fact is that your case is likely to move quickly, and the best way to protect your rights from the get-go is with professional legal counsel backing you up. By consulting with an experienced criminal lawyer early in the process, you improve your ability to defend your driver’s license, employ potentially beneficial legal strategies, and minimize the effects that the DWI charge will ultimately have in your life.
No Refusal Weekends
Texas counties sometimes implement what is known as No Refusal Weekends, and many people take this to mean that they do not have the right to refuse submission to a breath or blood test, but this is not the case. This legal right to refuse remains intact – the police need to obtain a warrant from a judge who finds that the officer has probable cause for believing you were driving under the influence.
The thing that is unique to no refusal weekends is that more judges and more medical professionals are on duty and ready to expedite the process (of getting warrants in order and performing the blood tests). The facts are that the police do not always proceed in accordance with the laws, and their evidence is not necessarily unassailable. In other words, you can and should fight a DWI charge.
Blowing Over 0.08 Is Not Necessarily the End of the Story
Many people believe that if they blow over the legal limit of 0.08 percent BAC (blood alcohol concentration) that there is no possible defense, but again, this is not the end of the story. Many factors play a role in whether or not someone is over the legal limit for alcohol and whether or not any forthcoming charges will stick, including all the following:
How the traffic stop was initiated (did the officer have probable cause for pulling you over?)
The questions that the officer asked you when he or she pulled you over
The amount of time that had elapsed since you had your last drink and the time that the sample was taken
Many variables will go into building your strongest defense, and this task is best left in the very capable hands of your criminal lawyer.
You Can Be Charged with DWI without a Blood or Breath Test
In Texas, you can be convicted of DWI (driving while intoxicated) simply due to an officer determining that you did not have normal use of your mental and physical facilities as a result of alcohol or another foreign substance, such as a drug. As such, the state can prove its DWI case against you with evidence of your intoxication (separate from a blood or breath test). Examples of such evidence can include any of the following:
The results of a field sobriety test
Audio footage of your allegedly slurred speech
Your own admission of intoxication (which is never advised)
This is why it is called building a case. Just because you are arrested for DWI, however, does not mean that the prosecution has the evidence to convict you – or that all the evidence they do have will ultimately be admissible in your case. While the prosecution builds its case, you are well-advised to build your own strongest defense and to proceed from a position of strength.
Synthetic Weed Purchased at the Gas Station
If money can be made on a product, you can expect to find it in circulation, and synthetic weed is one such product. Many people believe that if it is sold right along with Marlboros and Diet Coke, it is legal, but this does not capture the essence of the matter. The fact is that some synthetic weed products may be legal while others are decidedly not – but determining which is which can be exceptionally difficult.
Further, if the effects of the synthetic weed product leave you impaired, the point is moot. Alcohol in and of itself is not illegal, but getting behind the wheel while intoxicated is. The same is true for synthetic weed products.
Sleeping It Off
Many people are charged with DWI when they are parked – or are even sleeping it off in their cars. The fact is that the element of operating a vehicle, which is essential to a DWI conviction, is far broader than you may realize.
Ultimately, if you are in control of your vehicle while intoxicated, the charge can stand. For example, if you are found over the legal limit while sleeping in your car at a gas station parking lot with your keys in your pocket, you are considered in control of your vehicle because all you would need to do in order to drive is slip the key in the ignition. In other words, DWI laws can get you coming and going, and if you find yourself so charged, you should seek legal counsel.
You Will Not Necessarily Automatically Lose Your License
The laws that apply to whether or not your license will automatically be suspended if you are charged with DWI are incredibly complicated, and addressing the matter head-on from the outset is well advised. There are legal tactics that can help you successfully navigate the labyrinth of rules, regulations, and procedures. If your license is suspended, you may be able to file for an occupational license with the court. Working closely with an experienced criminal lawyer is the best way to protect your driving privileges.
Pulled Over? You Have Rights
If you are pulled over, you have the right to know why. You also have the right to refuse a search of your vehicle. While the police can require you to step outside of your vehicle, they need probable cause that a crime was committed in order to search either your person (including your bag) or your vehicle.
The police do not get to dig around for evidence to use against you without having probable cause for doing so, and this is an important point to keep at the forefront during any exchange with the police (regardless of the charge involved). In order to search your vehicle, the police must not only have probable cause that a crime is being committed but also that this crime extends to the vehicle (in other words, the bar is high).
More about Probable Cause
Probable cause can play a very significant role in your DWI case, which makes having a better understanding of what it means critical. Without probable cause, the police have no right to make a DWI arrest or to search your car in the first place, and doing so without probable cause can invalidate their efforts, which can lead to evidence being thrown out – and without evidence, the prosecution will have no case (or a weaker case) against you.
According to the Law
The Fourth Amendment, which protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures on the part of the government, states that the right of the people to be secure in their persons, homes, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated. Further, the Fourth Amendment declares that no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized.
Because the Fourth Amendment does not expound on what probable cause actually is, the courts were required to make the determination, and the Supreme Court found that probable cause refers to situations in which the facts and circumstances within the officers’ knowledge, and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information, are sufficient in themselves to warrant a belief by a man of reasonable caution that a crime is being committed. Put more plainly; probable cause means that the officer has a reasonable belief – after taking all the relevant facts and circumstances into consideration – that a criminal act was committed. The operative word here is reasonable – probable cause cannot be based on an officer’s hunch, suspicion, or gut feeling.
Your DWI Case
In order for the police in Texas to pull you over, administer a breath or blood test, search your vehicle, or arrest you for DWI in the first place, they must have probable cause – or a reasonable belief – for doing so. Violating your fundamental constitutional rights without requisite cause can negate the charge levied against you.
With a Warrant
If the officer in question had a warrant for searching your car or testing your blood or breath, the search and arrest are more likely to be upheld. When the police do not have the time necessary to do so, however, legal issues can arise in relation to the search or arrest and whether or not probable cause was established. There are also what is known as exigent circumstances that can necessitate an immediate search or arrest (without a warrant or proof of probable cause).
Exigent circumstances refer to an immediate need to conduct a search and/or arrest in order to protect the public, to protect the police, or to prevent evidence from being destroyed. Exigent circumstances, in other words, can only be claimed in relation to protecting the public interest.
Unwarranted Searches and Your Blood
The police can only engage in unwarranted searches in relation to DWI stops within certain parameters. Importantly, a 2014 Texas court held that the state’s law related to implied consent was unconstitutional (in relation to the Fourth Amendment). Under implied consent, drivers were deemed to have tacitly agreed to chemical testing if pulled over under suspicion of DWI.
In other words, the police basically had carte blanche to force drivers to consent to a breath and/or blood test in order to gather the evidence necessary to make their DWI cases. A driver’s refusal had little bearing – getting behind the wheel was enough to trigger consent. This implied consent was later deemed unconstitutional, and now an officer needs a warrant – for which he or she needs probable cause – in order to require you to consent to a blood test.
RELATED READINGS: Does the Officer Have Probable Cause for Your DWI Arrest?
What Constitutes Probable Cause?
While you recognize that the police need probable cause to stop you, test your blood, and arrest you for DWI, you may have no idea what probable cause means in this context. There are two prime examples that tend to get the job done.
Violation of a Traffic Law
Motorists who are not impaired are deemed capable of following all the necessary traffic laws, and motorists who fail to do so can be pulled over. Any of the following infractions will suffice:
Exceeding the speed limit
Rolling through a stop sign
Failing to dim one’s high beams
The misstep does not have to be huge in order to warrant being pulled over. However, an arrest for DWI or search of your vehicle will likely require more.
Reckless driving takes dangerous driving to a higher level – including blasting through a stoplight intersection, driving the wrong way, or weaving in and out of one’s lane – and reckless driving alone may be probable cause enough to charge you with DWI.
Do Not Delay Consulting with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Lawyer
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – is a practiced criminal lawyer who is both well-positioned and well equipped to help. Your case matters, so please do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 for more information today.