If you are charged with a DUI, the police report will be the most important document used against you by the prosecution. When putting on a DUI defense, it is important to understand what the evidence against you is because there are often errors in the police report. Although an individual error in a report may not be enough to have DUI charges dropped completely, it may be enough to reduce the potential penalties significantly.
See related post: How to get a DUI dismissed
What Goes into a Police Report?
A police report consists of their observations, interaction with you and the officer’s reason for pulling you over.
The first part will contain the reasons why the police officer chose to initiate contact with you. Signs of suspected drunk driving they look for can include:
- Headlights are turned off
- Nearly hitting other cars
- Not being able to stay in your lane
- Drifting, swerving, or weaving
- Responding slowly to traffic signals – for example, waiting too long after the light turns green
- Making wide turns
- Tailgating, and
- Hugging the centerline.
The police report will then detail the officer’s initial impressions and interactions with you during the traffic stop. This will include:
- If there are any open containers of alcohol in the car
- The quality of your speech – are you speaking clearly and articulately, or are your words slurred and lacking coherence?
- If they smelled alcohol on you or in the car
- Watery or bloodshot eyes
- Fumbling or dexterity issues in the retrieving of requested documentation
- Observations and results made during any field sobriety tests
Finally, the police report will contain the test results from any chemical or lab tests conducted either during the traffic stop or at the police station, such as:
- Breathalyzer (breath) tests
- Blood analysis
- Urine tests
The police report may feel particularly condemning, but it is important to be aware of the evidence mounted against you in order to present a proper defense.
Finding Errors in Eyewitness Evidence
If your DUI case goes to trial, the arresting officer’s testimony will likely mirror what is in the report – if it does not, then your DUI attorney will be able to use the conflicting report and testimony to poke serious holes in his or her credibility.
Even if the officer’s testimony mirrors the police report on the stand, it is still possible to challenge his or her credibility with the judge and jury. For example, your attorney may look at the rate of DUI arrests for this officer compared to the county or state levels. If the officer has an unusually high rate for arrests, especially if there is a low conviction rate, it could point to overzealous policing, rather than actual wrongdoing on your part.
Even if the testimony mirrors the report, an experienced DUI attorney will poke holes in the police witness testimony.
Your attorney can subpoena recordings from businesses with security cameras that reflect that your driving was not as erratic as the officer claimed. Photographs can be presented showing the road was full of potholes, accompanied by videos that every driver weaves along that stretch. You can show that it is your habit to use mouthwash after eating dinner, which made the officer think he or she smelled alcohol on your breath.
Finally, your attorney can, and should, question the legality of the stop as well. If the police report and the officers do not have a clearly articulable reason why they pulled you over, the traffic stop itself might be ruled unconstitutional.
See related post: 4 ways to fight a DUI in Arizona
Challenging Test Administration Results
In addition to questioning the police actions and eyewitness report, your attorney should examine the way each of the tests was administered and the results of each test.
Field sobriety tests can be challenged by questioning the officer’s training and administering of the tests. An improperly trained officer may not know how to interpret test results on the scene, and someone with poor balance may appear intoxicated when they are not.
Additionally, the officer’s credibility can be challenged by looking at his or her attitude and description of the traffic stop as a whole, as relayed in the police report or on the stand. If an officer’s description of your driving is shown to be an exaggeration through security camera footage, a skilled defense attorney will question if the officer’s interpretation of the field sobriety test results is also exaggerated.
Breathalyzer tests, or breath tests, must be calibrated correctly in order to produce accurate results. Improper calibration can lead to false positives.
See related post: DUI without a breathalyzer or blood test
Lab tests, such as blood and urine tests, should be questioned. The lab should be examined to determine how accurate the results typically are, and to look at the possibility of cross-contaminated samples. The workers conducting the tests should have their credentials examined as well.
Your attorney should also question the constitutionality of any administered lab tests. In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that warrantless blood tests are unconstitutional, but warrantless breathalyzer tests are not.
Avoiding a DUI Charge
The best way to avoid a DUI charge is to avoid getting behind the wheel after you have been drinking. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that more than 10,000 people die every year in crashes where the driver is under the influence.
If you get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle when you are intoxicated, you risk your life and the lives of other people on the road. In Arizona, DUI charges carry heavy criminal penalties, as well as large fines, the potential to lose your driver’s license and other professional licenses, and the possibility that the conviction will show up on employment checks in the future. Rather than risk these penalties, it’s far better to call a taxi or Uber, or designate a driver before you start drinking.
This article does not provide legal advice and is for informational purposes only. Our law firm has helped many people navigate Arizona’s DUI laws. If you have been charged with a DUI and believe there were errors in the police report, contact our experienced DUI lawyers today for a consultation.