Amendment Protections in DC DUI Cases

There are certain protections that individuals are afforded in DUI cases in DC, such as constitutional rights to an attorney and being freed from being nonconsensually searched and seized without probable cause in their case.

It is important to understand the amendment protections that you are allotted when you are involved in a DUI case in DC, and it is important to work with a DUI attorney who can protect your rights during the case.

Fourth Amendment

According to the Fourth Amendment, an individual has the right to be free from being stopped and searched and seized without probable cause. The police cannot randomly or for unlawful reasons stop somebody, search them, arrest them, seize them, and search through their belongings in DC. The Constitution protects against that through the Fourth Amendment.

The issue in a DUI case is the officer’s reason for stopping the person or initially coming into contact with the person. Thereafter, the issue is the reason the officer ordered the person to get out of the car to search the car and to make an arrest.

Those things come into play with the Fourth Amendment because it has to do with a stop, search and seizure. A search and seizure is taking an individual and/or their property, and a search of an individual’s person and/or their property. The Fourth Amendment applies to those types of police actions. The Constitution and related laws do not allow police officers to stop someone without probable cause. There must be a legally justified reason to do so. Law enforcement must have a legally justified reason to conduct a search of that person and/or their belongings. In a DC DUI case, typically that means of their vehicle.

Warrants

Police officers often obtain a warrant for a person’s arrest or a search warrant having to do with the person’s property when they are doing an investigation. Almost by definition, in a typical DUI case, the officer does not have a warrant. A DUI case is usually a situation where the police suddenly come upon the person driving, recently driving, or is in physical control of the vehicle. That could be a person sitting in a car, which happens all the time in a city like DC.

In that situation, one would not expect law enforcement to have a search warrant. They are not conducting an ongoing investigation or have a team of officers showing up at someone’s house. They are not searching for a person to execute an arrest warrant, find them driving, pull them over, and realize that the person is under the influence of alcohol and cite them for that too.

In almost every DUI case, there is no search premised on a warrant so the officers must show probable cause. No warrant was issued and signed by a court, so they must justify the reason for the stop, search, and seizure, and typically a person’s Amendment rights in their DC DUI case will come into effect.

Impact on Cases

A violation of a person’s constitutional rights in a DC DUI case can have serious consequences on the government’s ability to proceed with the case against the person. Most often, the violation is an issue of probable cause for stop and search and seizure where the police officers cannot justify that initial contact with the person.

Under constitutional doctrines and case law, the defense can seek and successfully have the evidence that came after the stop suppressed. The evidence is not allowed in the case.

Working with an Attorney

In a DC DUI case, if the defense attorney can establish that the police officers do not have legal justification for pulling over and investigating the person, any evidence gathered after that moment cannot be used against the person in the case. They no longer have answers to questions, results of any search of the car, field sobriety test results, or breathalyzer results. The prosecutor is back to square one if they cannot justify pulling the person over due to their Amendment rights in their case. They cannot justify and use any evidence gathered.

That is huge in any criminal case, particularly in a DUI case where in almost every circumstance, all of the evidence flows from what happens after the initial police contact with the individual.