Over the past ten years I have spent a lot of time in the DUI courtrooms of the Los Angeles Superior Court; and I have heard people make the same statements to their friends, family, attorneys, and the judge. These statements are often misconceptions based on lack of information. When someone has been arrested and accused of a DUI they are under a lot of stress, and they do not have the time to investigate and fully understand everything that is happening.
The following are ten common misconceptions:
1. “My test is over the legal limit, I’m guilty.”
False. A chemical test, like breath or blood, must be supported with good science or it is worthless. The evidence must be trustworthy for the judge to allow it into court. Until the records are reviewed and all the supporting documentation is accounted for, the machine cannot be relied upon. Any break in the chain of good science brings into question the validity of the test. Even one break, whether it is in the field, with the officers qualifications, or at the crime lab, means there is reasonable doubt as to the accuracy of the number and a reasonable doubt as to guilt.
2. “I got a driving under the influence ticket.”
False. A DUI in California is not a “ticket”. A “ticket” is an infraction, and reserved for the least serious offenses possible. On a ticket you don’t face jail, and you don’t have the right to a jury. If you were arrested in Los Angeles County for a DUI, you are facing either a misdemeanor or felony. That means you are looking at the possibility of county jail or even state prison. On a typical first time DUI in Los Angeles, you are looking at up to six months in county jail. The court and the prosecutor will not be lenient on you because it is a first offense, or because you don’t have an attorney. They will treat you the same as if you had an attorney helping you. Treating a DUI as a ticket will cause you big problems.
3. “I will just plead guilty and move on.”
False. You can go into court and tell the judge you are guilty, but that will not be the end of your case. If you are not careful, you could be ordered to do extra years of probation, jail time, thousands of dollars in extra costs, and extra classes. If you miss one thing, the judge could send you to jail and suspend your driver’s license. The prosecutor and the judge, neither of whom are looking out for YOUR best interest, will work out all of these terms of your deal. It is the fox watching the hen house. You need a zealous advocate on your side to help reduce or eliminate these penalties.
4. “I will talk to the judge myself.”
Many people think that they will talk to the judge themselves…which is fine if you know what to say. People get into trouble with judges because they try to explain what happened…but the judge does not have the time to listen, and cannot be of help even if he does. People admit they did wrong, thinking that the judge will take it easy on them. But, in reality the prosecutor is listening; and admitting that you did wrong can get you into more trouble. People unwittingly talk themselves into jail, suspended licenses and probations violations every day. A experienced and skilled Los Angeles DUI attorney will know when to have you talk, and when to have you remain silent. Every case is different, and every judge is different. You should have help from someone who knows the judges, prosecutors and your case.
5. “The DMV will understand, I have to drive for work.”
False. The Los Angeles County Department of Motor Vehicle Driver Safety Office, Hearing Officers are going to try to suspend your drivers’ licenses like their jobs depend on it, because it does. The DMV does not care about your job…they care about their own. Hearing Officers are not judges or lawyers, they are DMV employees. Your need to drive is not a legal objection that will keep out the chemical test results. If the proper objections are not made, and the proper legal and factual arguments are not made, the DMV will suspend your license.
6. “They didn’t read me my Miranda rights. The case will get dismissed.”
False. There is basically an exception carved out of the Constitution for DUI’s. The cops don’t have to advise you of your Miranda rights if you are not interrogated when in custody. Most of the DUI investigation takes place before the handcuffs are on, so they don’t have to advise you of your rights. However, a skilled DUI defense attorney may still be able to get a court to throw out evidence because of a Miranda violation or other legal grounds.
7. “I passed the field sobriety tests.”
Maybe. People taking the tests cannot score themselves. Even if you did everything the cop told you to do, there are other things the cop was grading you on that he did not tell you about. More important than how well you did on the tests is how well the cop gave the tests. There are two basic types of field sobriety tests. First, standardized field sobriety tests, and second non-standardized tests. Both types are used in Los Angeles County, but only standardized tests (Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Walk and Turn, and the One Leg Stand) have any real scientific validity. In order for the standardized field sobriety tests to be a valuable tool, they must be given or administered correctly. If they are not, they are of little value in evaluating a DUI case.
8. “Nobody goes to jail on a DUI.”
False. We have had some very famous people in Los Angeles go to jail because of a DUI. In some cases, jail time is required by law. If you did not take a chemical test, or if you were driving fast and dangerously, you may be facing mandatory jail time. Even if you are charged with one of the aggravating factors that require jail time, the right Los Angeles County DUI defense attorney can still present you options and keep you out of county jail.
9. “I was not drunk”
Maybe not, but that is not the law. Once upon a time, the crime was “drunk driving”, but over time politics has pushed the “legal limit” down to where most people are not drunk at all. You may be able to walk and talk and even drive fine; but if you are scientifically over the legal limit, you face a full-blown DUI case. This is why it is so important to understand the science of alcohol in the human body, and to be able to find out what your alcohol level was; not at the time of the test, but at the time of driving.
10. “Can I afford a good DUI defense attorney?”
Yes. It may take some work, but there are very good DUI defense attorneys in Los Angeles that will fight for you, and still charge a reasonable fee. Furthermore, a good lawyer will likely be able to save you more than his or her fees, and still protect your rights. Hiring the right attorney can literally save you thousands of dollars.
Many people have misconceptions about criminal law, and DUI’s in particular. Don’t let rumors and MADD politics mislead you into a guilty plea. DUI’s are successfully fought and won every day in Los Angeles. Contact a good DUI attorney, and find out about the strengths of your case.