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8 Mistakes Most Lawyers Make

DUI cases are extremely complex because there is a unique blend of both law and science involved in these cases.  Because of this complexity, many attorneys make common mistakes when it comes to defending the DUI accused.  These mistakes can profoundly harm their clients and their futures.  In order to protect your rights, I have included these most common mistakes below.

Mistake 1 - Assuming DUI cases cannot be won and the accused must plead guilty

I have practiced DUI defense in Tennessee for nearly 20 years and this is the most troubling assumption that many lawyers make in defending the DUI accused.  After they look at the police report and breath test sample, many lawyers assume that the DUI case cannot be won.  They scramble for a way to end the case quickly.  In reality, the breath test and field sobriety tests all have built in flaws that can be exploited by an experienced drunken driving attorney.  These flaws can actually be used in for your defense.  Never assume defeat in any driving under the influence case.  These cases can be won.

Mistake 2 - Assuming the Breath Test is accurate

Breath test results can be challenged for a variety of reasons.  These machines are not flawless.  They are machines that must be maintained and they are subject to error.  Many people have health conditions such as acid reflux and diabetes that cause these machines to malfunction.  Never assume that the number is correct.  Always take a deeper look into the number.

Mistake 3 - Not challenging the traffic stop

It is equally important to take a closer look at the traffic stop.  This is the most fundamental aspect of both DUI and criminal defense.  You must look to challenge the traffic stop.  The police must have legal justification for the original traffic stop.  Many lawyers simply miss the boat on this point and fail to raise issues that could potentially lead to the ultimate dismissal of their client’s case.  Sometimes the mere act of filing a suppression motion makes the prosecution reevaluate their position.  I have had many cases where the state finally made a reasonable offer after showing them that there were potential problems with the traffic stop.  I have even had Judge’s dismiss strong DUI cases because the initial traffic stop was unlawful.  These issues must be raised in a timely manner.  If not raised, this defense will be lost.  Bad traffic stops can lead to DUI cases either being dismissed or reduced to a lesser charge.  Persistence is the key and hard work is often rewarded.

Mistake 4 - A failure to explore the arrest location or arrest video

The arrest location tells a story within itself.  The location of the roadside tests should be fundamentally fair to the accused.  Often times, this is not the case.  Environmental factors can greatly influence the reliability of the field sobriety tasks.  Heavy traffic, loose impediments, extreme weather, poor lighting, and unleveled surfaces can call into the question the reliability of these coordination tests.  It is always important to put these tests into content for the jury so that they can see why someone’s performance may have been unsatisfactory.  These tests are designed to fail and any obstacles can make them even more difficult to perform.  When done right, it is not difficult to show a jury these tests are fundamentally unfair. 

Mistake 5 - Assuming the DUI officer went by “the book” on the field sobriety tests

When the arresting officer was trained in field sobriety testing, he originally learned how to administer the tests through an instructor and his training manual.  This manual lays out rigid guidelines that the police must follow when they administer these field sobriety tests.  Many lawyers know little about these tests or the rules that the police officer is supposed to follow.  This is a troubling fact.  If your lawyer does not know the training manual, how can they effectively attack the field tests in the first place?  These clients are clearly at the mercy of the court.  Make sure your lawyer has a deep understanding of field tests.

This manual should be studied at length by your lawyer.  In fact, they should own a copy.  This way they will know exactly what questions to ask when the DUI officer takes the stand.  If the tests were not properly given, then their results can be called into question.  The tests are only as good as the officer’s instructions and training.  A successful challenge to these tests will greatly weaken the prosecution’s case.  At this point, the prosecution will be more likely to discuss reasonable plea options.

Mistake 6 - Many lawyers fail to fully explain the penalties that accompany a guilty plea

A DUI conviction has long lasting effects beyond the initial jail time, loss of license, fines, and increased insurance premiums.  These penalties are severe but in most instances this only the beginning.  Under Tennessee law, a DUI conviction is a permanent criminal conviction that can never be erased from you record.  A permanent conviction could hamper future employment opportunities as well cost you your current job.  Just remember that there are many hidden penalties to a DUI conviction that are never mentioned in the law books.

Mistake 7 - Having clients testify without a clear reason

It typically is not a good decision to have the DUI accused testify at trial.  They are not experienced witnesses and their testimony usually adds little to the defense.  The primary objective of the defense attorney is show the jury that the prosecution’s case is not strong enough to convict beyond a reasonable doubt.  When the defendant testifies, the trial focus is then placed on the credibility of the defendant verses the arresting officer’s investigation.  The jury is then forced to choose sides.  The defendant will seldom win this battle.

There are few circumstances when I encourage a defendant to testify at trial.  It has to be for a clear purpose that brings real value to the defense.  Otherwise, it is not a good idea for the defendant to testify.

Mistake 8 - Attempting to Show the DUI officer lied in his testimony

This is a flawed technique that truly does a disservice to the accused’s defense.  In fact, this is exactly what prosecutors want the defense to do.  I have seen it time and time again in court.  The state wants it to be a battle of credibility.  The prosecutor will jump up and down accusing the defendant of actually lying.  This shifts the focus away from the actual flaws and defenses of the actual DUI case.  If the cop lies, the jury will see it on their own.  It doesn’t have to be pointed out by the defendant or his attorney.  Reasonable doubt can be created without showing that the arresting officer is a liar.  It is a better practice to explain to the jury that the field sobriety tests are subjective in nature and the officer made a mistake of judgment.  Most jurors do not want to believe that the cop lied.  However, they will accept a mistake has been made.  There is a distinctive difference calling a cop a liar and merely pointing out mistakes in the DUI investigation. 

I hope this information helps.  If you need assistance with a driving under the influence charge in Tennessee, give me a call at 615-345-1988.

I help good people restore their lives

-Lee Martin is a Nashville criminal defense lawyer who has gained national recognition as a DUI and criminal defense attorney.  With over a decade of experience, he knows how to get results in DUI cases.  If you are seeking an experienced DUI defense attorney, use his experiences to your advantage.  If you need help with a pending DUI charge, give him a call at 615-345-1988.

National Trial Lawyers Top 100 in the areas of DUI and criminal defense.

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