Constitutional Issues in DC DUI Cases

In a DUI case in DC, many constitutional issues can arise that can eventually help someone with their defense. There are a variety of issues that can be encountered from the DUI stop, to the arrest, to the investigation. If you are facing DUI charges, it is important to work with a skilled DC lawyer as soon as possible to defend your case and to help understand your rights against constitutional issues in DC DUI cases.

Officer Questioning

A common constitutional issue in a DC DUI case is the justification for the officers to stop the person. A common constitutional issue in any criminal case is the officer’s probable cause for stopping a person going about their business.

In every DUI case, one of the prime issues is the reason the police pulled someone over. When there is an accident and the police respond to that accident, the issue might not be present. Most DUI cases involve the police pulling somebody over. Once the initial stop is made, why did the police make an arrest of the person? Why did they not cite them for a ticket for the alleged traffic infraction? In other words, once the police officer stops a person, why do they progress with an investigation that leads to an arrest? Those are the most common constitutional issues.

Unreasonable Searches

There is a protection against unreasonable search and seizure prescribed by the Fourth Amendment. It comes down to the protection a driver has against being arrested without probable cause for them being under the influence. The Constitution says that a person cannot be searched without a probable cause.

Miranda Rights

One issue that is prevalent in DC DUI cases has to do with an individual’s Miranda rights, the Fifth Amendment right against incrimination. In a DUI case, the investigations take place at the scene in almost every case. The courts have held that even though an individual being investigated for DUI is not free to tell the officer to have a good night and walk away, they are not considered to be detained for purposes of the Miranda inquiry.

When a police officer asks someone where they are coming from and where they are going, those kinds of questions are not considered a violation of Miranda. If an individual voluntarily answers those questions without being read their rights when they are not arrested or in handcuffs, their statements can still be used against them in a court of law. The courts have held that the investigation phase of the DUI stop does not equal detention for purposes of the Miranda doctrine. That is a constitutional issue that, in every criminal case, should be looked at when there are statements given by a person. It is important to note that the way it plays out, the DUI case differs from most other criminal cases.

Other Issues Considered

Every individual has the right to due process and equal protection of the law. There are occasions including DUI cases where the evidence shows that a person is targeted because of the color of their skin, their race, or their ethnic background. That is a constitutional issue in violation of the rights in the Fourteenth Amendment. Everyone is entitled to due process of law. They have the right to be informed of their formal charges and challenge those charges with the Sixth Amendment and have their DC DUI attorney represent them.

There are other constitutional issues in DC DUI cases that are less frequent than the Fourth Amendment issues, but those occur on a case by case basis. An experienced attorney knows to look for those issues. When someone is pulled over and there seems to be no justification for that, the person may have a Fourth Amendment issue. These are constitutional issues that an attorney looks for in any criminal case including a DUI case.

The most common constitutional issue is a Fourth Amendment issue regarding whether a police officer had probable cause to arrest somebody for a DUI. In addition, there may be Fifth Amendment issues when a person makes statements while they were being interrogated, or their functional equivalent of interrogation necessitates the statements being suppressed.

Court Treatment

Every court takes constitutional issues seriously. A judge overseeing a case pending at the trial court level looks carefully at any constitutional issues because the judge’s ruling on a constitutional issue can affect the outcome of the case. If the court rules in favor of the government and allows that evidence to be presented in the case, the person can be convicted based on that ruling.

A conviction can be appealed to the DC Court of Appeals that must follow the legal precedent in the particular case. The DC Court of Appeals, as the Supreme Court of the United States, is bound to follow that. If the trial court got it wrong, the DC Court of Appeals will reverse that decision and remand it back to the trial court.

No trial judge wants to be reversed by the DC Court of Appeals and told that they got it wrong. Every judge takes a constitutional violation seriously because it involves the liberty and future of those who have criminal cases. The cases can be some of the most important cases a trial judge handles so they treat them judiciously.