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A police officer’s first interaction with a defendant is also a defense lawyer’s first opportunity to secure a positive result in the case.
If the stop was improper in any way, then any subsequent item is fruit from a poisonous tree and therefore inadmissible. That would include evidence like a Breathalyzer test result or a blood alcohol content (BAC) blood test. If a lawyer can get this evidence excluded, or even if a lawyer can weaken it, then the defendant is not guilty of DUI almost as a matter of law.
Immediately before the stop
To pull over a vehicle outside of an approved DUI checkpoint, officers must have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Although the United States Supreme Court has relaxed the rules somewhat in the last few years, the underlying principles remain in place. To establish this element, the arresting officer must:
- Personally observe a crime: The “crime” can be literally anything in the traffic code, such as a non-working tail light or an illegal lane change. Motive is irrelevant, so even if the stop was only a pretext for a DUI arrest, the stop is still legal.
- Receive a tip: These cases are a little easier to challenge, because courts will consider the overall reliability of the tip, including the source, content, and time, before allowing the stop.
Under current law, “reasonable suspicion” is basically a combination of specific facts and the officer’s interpretation of those facts.
Immediately after the stop
Officers must have a lawful basis before they request breath or blood samples. To satisfy this element, officers usually rely on the suspect’s behavior right around the time of the stop, such as:
- Erratic driving,
- Odor of alcohol,
- Bloodshot eyes, and
- Slurred speech.
Individually, these behaviors usually do not indicate possible intoxication or even probable alcohol consumption. For example, officers nearly always testify that they detected an odor of alcohol and concluded that the suspect was probably intoxicated. But if the odor emanated from the suspect’s breath, then that only proves that the suspect had been drinking. And, if the odor emanates from somewhere inside the car, then that only proves that the suspect had recently been in contact with someone who had been drinking.
For a free consultation with an aggressive and experienced criminal defense attorney in New York, contact Merchant Law Group, LLP. Call us today at 212-658-1455. We are available twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week.