Getting a DUI is a very stressful and emotionally draining time. Defending these types of cases is pretty straightforward and although each State and courthouse has specific rules, most of the defenses for DUI are pretty standard.
Every single police officer is trained to conduct a DUI investigation with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration guidelines. Therefore, this is a general guideline for anyone who receives a DUI in the United States. It still is a very good idea to consider hiring a DUI lawyer because most cases can come with the likelihood of jail, but it is possible to defend yourself.
That being said, let's get into how to beat a DUI charge?
1. Check Your Ticket
Confirm that the police officer filled out all the right information on the tickets and the bond-slip. Police officers can make mistakes, the first thing you want to do is to verify that your name and all the correct information is on all the documents that the police officer has given you.
Mistakes in tickets can be a great way for you to fight a case. Oftentimes, when you are facing a DUI charge, a police officer will fill out paperwork to suspend your license. You want to look at all the tickets and make sure there are no mistakes on the ticket and verify your next court date.
2. Consult an Attorney
The vast majority of DUI attorneys will offer free initial consultations. Even if you do not know if you can afford a lawyer, you can at least get a good feel for what your chances are of beating the case.
During an initial consultation, the attorney can review the documents and let you know of any mistakes. Visiting with an attorney will also let you know your options for fighting for your license and possibly getting a specialized driving permit during your license suspension period.
Finally, during the initial consultation, the attorney can tell you what the minimum and maximum penalties for your case are and what a good deal would be.
Tip: When you visit your lawyer, make sure to write down the minimum and maximum punishments for each of the charges you are facing. Also, it is important to know if there are any time restraints for filing motions to get your license back.
3. Request Police Reports and Camera footage
The best way to defend against a DUI charge is to be as prepared as possible before you head to court. Every time a client hires me for a new DUI case, I send out a subpoena to the police department requesting the police reports and any video footage.
When you send a subpoena, you need to file it with the clerk’s office at the local courthouse and you will need to give a copy of the subpoena to the prosecutor. The reason why this step is very important is that over time, evidence can be destroyed if it is not requested.
If you request the evidence and the evidence later gets destroyed then you may have a good argument to get the case thrown out.
TIP: Here is a sample subpoena that you can fill in and send to the police department.
4. How to challenge a license suspension?
If you have been charged with a DUI, then you are likely facing a license suspension as well. The length of a suspension and how to fight the suspension are all determined by whatever state you received the DUI in.
It is important to read the court rules on how to file a motion to fight the suspension and how you can challenge a suspension. You also want to see if there are any provisions in the statute that allow you to get a breathalyzer device to install in your car to be able to drive during your suspension period.
TIP: When you visit a DUI lawyer for a free consultation, you should be prepared to ask about all of these possibilities.
5) File motion to Unsuspend your Licence
After you look at the statute and the relevant laws on how to contest your license suspension, you should be ready to file a motion to get your license back. Generally, you should be able to find a blank template for the motion online on the local court’s website. You will likely file the motion with the clerk’s office at the courthouse and drop off a copy of the motion to the prosecutor’s office.
Tip: before filing the motion, search for the local courts' rules on the requirements for filing the motion. Each local court will have different rules and procedures on how to file to motion.
Remember the state law controls on what the laws are on challenging the suspension, but the local courts each have their own rules on how to file a motion to challenge the suspension.
6) File Appearance and Discovery motion
Before court or on the first court date, you want to file an appearance with the court. An appearance is a form that lets the court know that you are appearing on the case and representing yourself.
You can find an appearance form either in the local courtroom or online on the court’s website. In addition, you also want to file a motion for discovery with the court. A motion for discovery is a motion asking the judge to order the prosecutor hand over all the evidence that the prosecutor has against you.
You want to make sure that you have all the evidence that the prosecutor has in order to be able to defend yourself. Remember that you need to give the prosecutor a copy of your appearance and a copy of the motion for discovery as well.
7) Become Familiar With the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration DUI manual
When a police officer conducts a DUI investigation, they will take you through a series of tests. All of the tests that the police officer has you perform have to be done in accordance with the NHTSA guidelines.
One of the best ways to win a DUI trial is to show that the officer did not follow NHTSA guidelines and therefore, the tests that the officer is using to show you were intoxicated are not valid. Read the manual on how to conduct a DUI investigation and see if the police officers followed the manual.
8) Read the relevant DUI statute you are charged with
Whenever you are charged with a criminal or traffic misdemeanor offense, the prosecutor needs to prove you guilty of every single element beyond a reasonable doubt. In order to figure out what the elements are that you are charged with, you need to read the statute and understand how the charges work.
The typical elements in a DUI case are that you one, operated a motor vehicle and two, that you were intoxicated at the time you were driving. Write down each element for the charges and start writing down ways that the prosecutor can prove those elements and ways that you can disprove them.
Tip: look at your tickets and they will have the specific statute that the police officer charged you with.
9) Review the police reports and watch the dash camera or Body Camera
After you have reviewed the NHTSA manual and the charges against you, the next step would be to review the police reports and the dash camera. When you are reviewing the police reports take note of everything that you are doing.
Take plenty of notes of the video for both the good and bad parts. Take a look at the report and see if the report is consistent with the video. Remember the video doesn’t lie! The police officer is writing a subjective report.
By the time the police officer writes his reports, he has already arrested you for DUI and therefore he already believes you were drunk and he will write the report to reflect that.
TIP: When looking at the video, remember to take notes and make sure to write down specific time frames you would like to show the judge. For example: (1:52 got out of car with no issue).
10) Cross Reference the NHTSA manual, the DUI statute, and the police reports
Once you have viewed the police reports and taken some notes it is time to put everything together. You should get a legal pad and cross-reference the NHTSA manual with the video.
Remember all of the tests that the police officer had you do will be in the NHSTA manual and you can use that information to show that you performed well on the test or that the officer did not instruct you correctly.
At the same time, you also want to look at the police report and the statute to see how you can attack the charges. One of the best ways that you can take notes is to first write down each of the charges that you are facing and then write down each element for each charge.
After you write that down, take notes on how the prosecutor would prove each element and then how you can disprove each element.
After you have reviewed all the evidence, it is now time for you to challenge your license suspension.
Typically, when you challenge the license suspension, you need to testify to the judge that you weren’t drunk and that the police officer should not have asked you to perform the field sobriety tests in the first place.
Remember that before you take the license suspension hearing to hearing, you should have researched the local law on what grounds you can challenge the suspension. A hearing will require testimony by you and you should introduce the video for the judge to see.
TIP: For a license suspension hearing, it will be your burden to prove it to the judge. It is a good idea to talk to an attorney about how to do this beforehand.
12) Research what the minimum punishments are for a DUI in your jurisdiction
Before you take any case to trial, you should know what the minimum and maximum punishment are for the charges you are facing.
You should take a look at your finances and talk to your family about these risks. Make sure you know how the DUI can impact your license getting revoked and how the DUI will impact your work situation.
TIP: knowing what the minimum and maximum penalties for the charges will help you later on with negotiating a fair deal with a prosecutor.
13) Prepare for Trial
By now, most of your preparation should be done by viewing all of the discovery and the reports. You want to have a copy of the NHTSA manual, the reports, the video, and statute with you for trial.
In addition, you also want to talk to any other witnesses and have them prepared to testify. There may be multiple people who have witnessed what happened and you want to make sure those witnesses can testify on your behalf. You should go over what their testimony would be before trial in order to make sure you guys are on the same page.
The last thing you want to do is to introduce testimony to the court that can hurt you. Know what your witness will say!!! You want to have all the information readily available and organized for trial. Remember that the police officer will testify first. The prosecutor will have the police officer testify about how he thinks you were drunk.
After the prosecutor is done with the police officers’ testimony, then you will have the opportunity to ask the police officer questions. Make sure you are organized or the trial will be a mess.
14) Negotiate with the prosecutor on a plea deal or Set Case for trial
You never want to take a case to trial without talking to the prosecutor and at least hearing what the offer is. Remember that you may be charged with multiple charges and the prosecutor may agree to dismiss most of the charges against you.
It is always possible to be found guilty of the charges and you could face harsh penalties. Sometimes you can negotiate to get the DUI charges reduced or amended to reckless driving.
Another thing that you can try to negotiate is to get your license back if you plead guilty to the DUI. Remember that you are the only one who can plead guilty, asking the prosecutor for an offer does not mean that you cannot still take the case to trial.
15) Conduct Trial
If you have prepared for trial and you know that you do not want to take the offer that the prosecutor gave you, then it is time to take the case to trial. Remember that it is your responsibility to make sure that your witnesses show up.
The prosecutor will only make sure that the police officer and his witnesses are there. You need to send a subpoena to your witnesses to make sure they show up. You can get a subpoena from the local clerk’s office website.
Fill out the subpoena and make sure you send it certified mail to the person you want to show up to court. A trial will typically have three main components.
During opening statements, the prosecutor will tell the judge what he expects the evidence will show. After the prosecutor gives his opening statement you will have an opportunity to give your statement.
Remember an opening statement is a story to the judge of what you believe happened that night and what you expect the evidence will show. Opening statements are not evidenced! An opening statement is a way for you to outline what you think the trial will go like.
After opening statements, the prosecutor will call the police officer to testify about what happened. The police officer will talk about how he pulled you over and how he reached the conclusion that you were drunk.
After the police officer testifies, you will have the opportunity to ask the police officer questions about the incident. Remember that you should already have your notes ready on how to point out parts of the night that show you were not drunk.
After the police officer is done testifying, the prosecutor will play the whole video for the judge to watch. When the prosecutor is done presenting all the evidence to the judge, you can then have any of your own witnesses testify or you can choose to testify yourself.
Remember you want to be consistent with your testimony and clearly explain to the judge what happened. You don’t want one of your witnesses to say one thing and you say something completely different.
After all the testimony is over, the prosecutor will tell the judge how he thinks all the evidence proves you were guilty of all the charges. When the prosecutor is done, you have the chance to explain to the judge that based on the evidence that he heard and the law, that you are not guilty of the charges.
Remember at this point, you are not introducing evidence, you are only explaining why your evidence is good and the prosecutor’s evidence is bad.
There are many steps to properly handle a DUI trial. This is a general guide on how to defend against a DUI on your own. Most attorneys and judges will always recommend hiring a top attorney to defend you. Remember that you will be going up against a prosecutor who likely handles hundreds of DUI cases a week and has spent years of practicing and studying the law.
Although this guide is helpful, there are a lot of different pieces that go into defending any case and having a hearing. A DUI charge can come with some serious lifelong penalties.