by Tim Baldwin
A DUI conviction can disrupt your life in more than one way, not the least of which is the stress is causes you and your family. Most people do not realize the number of issues that arise in a DUI case. For example, there are stop, search and seizure, consent, and breath test issues. And in many cases, the issues can work favorably for you. That is why you should contact an attorney who practices in criminal law and particularly in DUI cases.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are ever stopped and arrested for a DUI:
- Consent. When you consent to giving evidence (i.e. making statements, performing field sobriety exercises, giving breath samples) to the officer, you waive your rights to suppress that evidence had you not consented. Keep in mind, Montana law gives the officer the right to ask for your name, driver license, registration and proof of insurance upon a lawful stop. From there, if the officer observes indicators of impairment, he will begin his DUI investigation by asking you usual questions (i.e. have you been drinking? Where are you coming from? etc.). He is seeking evidence to build a DUI case. Eventually, if the officer believes he has obtained enough facts of impairment, he will ask you to exit the vehicle and perform field sobriety exercises. And then he will ask you to give a breath sample (see below). If you decide you to do not consent to answering questions, performing FSEs, or giving a breath sample, you must inform the officer at that time that you do not consent. If the officer asks you to sign a rights waiver, do not sign if you want to reserve your right not to consent.
- Breath Test Before Arrest. Montana law states that every driver who drives on the public ways implicitly consents to giving an officer a preliminary breath test (PBT) where the officer has particularized suspicion that the driver is driving while impaired by alcohol. If you refuse to give a breath sample, your license will be automatically suspended according to the law (with the right of appeal, of course). Keep in mind that the PBT can be used to form probable cause for your arrest but in most cases cannot be introduced as evidence at trial.
- Breath Test After Arrest. Montana law also states that every driver implicitly consents to giving a breath test after arrest to determine the blood alcohol content. If you refuse, your driver license will be suspended automatically (with the right of appeal, of course). If you consent to the breath test, the results can and will be used as evidence against you, unless the consent was obtained illegally.
- Inference of Impairment. If you refuse to give a breath test after arrest and your case goes to trial, the court will instruct the jury that they may infer from your refusal that you were under the influence. However, the inference is rebuttable; that is, you can rebut that inference.
- Actual Control of Vehicle. Montana law does not require that you be actually driving to be convicted of DUI. Rather, you only have to be in “actual physical control” of the vehicle while you were impaired. Thus, if you are in the driver’s seat while impaired with the keys near you for access, you could be arrested and perhaps found guilty.
- Evidence. The main evidence the prosecutor uses to convict a defendant of DUI are: (a) the officer’s observations of the driver (i.e. smell of alcohol, watery eyes, slurred speech, FSE, etc.), (b) video and audio of the stop and investigation, and (c) results from the breath test. The less you are exposed to each of those categories, the weaker the DUI case is and the more likely the chances of getting the charge reduced, dismissed or acquitted.
If you have been arrested for DUI, email Tim Baldwin at firstname.lastname@example.org.