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What You Need to Know about DUIs: It’s Not Just the Breath Test

This is an actual DUI case:  a woman was involved in a car accident in Lafayette, Louisiana.  The police officer suspected that she was driving while intoxicated and had the woman take a breathalyzer test.  The test showed that the woman’s blood alcohol level was within the legal limit of .08. The judge still convicted her of drunk driving. How could this be?  Didn’t the breath test prove that the woman was not legally drunk?  Not necessarily.

The woman had also (legally) taken prescription drugs, which was confirmed by a blood test. She appeared to be impaired on the videotape and was involved in an accident.  Additionally, while her blood alcohol level was below .08%, it was just barely below the legal limit. The judge considered all the facts – not just the breath test – and concluded that she was probably “impaired” and found her guilty of a DUI violation.

Many of my clients charged with a DUI believe that if they are stopped for drunk driving and take the breath test and under the legal limit, they will not be found guilty of drunk driving.  This is not true. When a judge is deciding whether to convict someone of drunk driving, he or she will look at a variety of factors to determine overall impairment.  Some judges place tremendous weight on the videotape. If it appears that the person is drunk on tape, this could be the deciding factor regardless of the results of the breath test.  Other judges might put more emphasis on the police report and testimony of the police officer. It depends on the judge, but in general, if there is a preponderance of other evidence suggesting that the person is impaired, this evidence could outweigh the test results.

Evidence of impairment may include:

1.       Slurred speech

2.       Inability to perform the field sobriety test

3.       Failure to perform the eye/gaze test

4.       Smelling like alcohol

5.       Blood shot eyes

6.       Being involved in an accident

7.       Driving erratically

8.       Physical evidence of drinking like beer cans or bottles in the car

9.       Blood test showing presence of prescription drugs

All of these facts are taken into account.  Any single factor does not mean that the person is drunk, but taken together, they can suggest impairment. Generally speaking, if you blow under the legal limit — but cannot walk a straight line or recite the alphabet — you will likely be convicted of a DUI or DWI regardless of the breath test. However, if you take the test and you are under the legal limit and there are no other contributing factors, you will probably be found not guilty.  Considering the complicated nature of the evidentiary issues, it is important that you hire an experienced DUI attorney to represent you.

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