If you are caught driving while drunk and charged with DWI, you may wonder if there’s any reason to fight the charge if you believe you truly were impaired while driving. You might assume that the prosecution has everything they need to obtain a conviction.
No matter what the circumstances, you still have rights, including the right to put on a defense. Before agreeing to plead guilty, it is critical to examine all circumstances surrounding your DWI charge to determine if any of your rights are violated.
If so, the prosecution might choose to dismiss the charge. At a minimum, knowing your rights and asserting any potential defenses often encourages the prosecution to negotiate with you, often leading to a more favorable resolution and lower penalties.
Reasonable suspicion and probable cause are necessary for a conviction
First, examine the initial stop. An officer must have reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime before they can pull you over. Review the police report and any video or audio of the stop.
Next, determine if the police officer had probable cause to arrest you. In the context of a DWI stop, probable cause means the police officer has observed signs that you were intoxicated. This can include slurred speech, smelling alcohol, clumsiness or bloodshot eyes.
Based on that, you may have been asked to perform field sobriety tests, such as walking a straight line or reciting the alphabet backwards. You were not legally required to perform these tests but may not have realized it at the time.
If you fail the field sobriety tests, the police officer will likely use that, combined with the other signs of intoxication, to conclude there is probable cause to make an arrest.
However, there are ways to challenge a finding of probable cause. For example, the police officer may not have conducted the field sobriety tests properly or there might have been other reasons for you displaying signs of intoxication. Perhaps you were nervous and that caused you to appear uncoordinated.
You should also examine if any blood or breath tests were properly conducted. If not, the results could have been inaccurate.
Affirmative defenses that could apply
There are two affirmative defenses under Minnesota law that could be available to you: impairment caused by prescription drugs and post-driving consumption of alcohol.
An affirmative defense means that you must prove them, the same way the prosecution must prove their case. You do not have to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt. You must prove them by a preponderance of the evidence, which means this was the more likely explanation.
The impairment caused by prescription drugs defense only applies in certain situations and with certain charges. It requires you to show that you had used prescription drugs pursuant to a prescription and that use caused your impairment.
Post-driving consumption of alcohol is exactly what it sounds like; you must show that your impairment level was only above the legal limit after you were driving but was still under the limit while you were driving. As you can imagine, this defense is difficult to show and often requires the use of expert testimony.