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Can Hutchinson Criminal Law Attorneys Disprove Intoxication?

by | Dec 19, 2018 | DWI, Firm News, Hutchinson

We hear this question a lot. Many people assume that if they fail the field tests and/or have a Blood Alcohol Content above the legal limit, there is no way to beat DUI charges. But that’s imply not true.

As a preliminary matter, criminal defendants need not “disprove” anything. The prosecutor has the burden of proof in criminal cases, and that burden is very high. To prevail at trial, Hutchinson criminal law attorneys need only create reasonable doubt. Minnesota law does not define this term. But generally, proof is beyond a reasonable doubt if it is so overwhelming that the defendant must be guilty.

An attorney can leverage these defenses during trial or during plea bargaining negotiations.

Procedural Questions

Minnesota courts have precise requirements for things like arrests, searches, and the preservation of evidence. If police or prosecutors violate these procedures, a McLeod County judge can throw the case out of court. So, Hutchinson criminal law attorneys pay close attention to the details.

In general, Hutchinson officers must have reasonable suspicion for the stop. The evidentiary standard is very low, and the United States Supreme Court has watered it down even further. But the rule is still in place, and it’s sometimes an issue in DUI cases. 

Many times, especially around the holidays, police departments use Selective Traffic Enforcement Programs to increase arrests. In STEP campaigns, officers sometimes take shortcuts, and they may pull over a motorist even if they only have a hunch that the driver is intoxicated.

DUI checkpoints are the main exception to the reasonable suspicion rule, and these roadblocks are legal in Minnesota. However, these checkpoints must meet specific standards. For example:

  • A supervisor must make all the decisions,
  • The department must publicize the checkpoint,
  • Motorist delay cannot be more than two or three minutes, and
  • Officers must respect individual rights at the checkpoint.

Any violation of these rules, however slight, may invalidate the stop, and therefore invalidate the arrest.

Field Sobriety Tests

If an officer sees signs of intoxication, like erratic driving or bloodshot eyes, the officer next asks the defendant to perfrom FSTs. There are a number of informal tests, like the finger-to-nose test. But these results are usually either inadmissible or only admissible for limited purposes. There are only three approved field sobriety tests, and they are all very subjective.

  • Walk and Turn: This test is also known as the walking-a-straight-line test or the heel-to-toe walk test. The defendant must walk a straight line heel to toe back and forth in each direction. Hutchinson criminal law attorneys often focus on the test conditions. For example, it’s almost impossible to walk an imaginary line heel to toe whether the person is drunk or sober.
  • One-Leg Stand: Like the WAT, and OLS is a divided attention test which measures both physical dexterity and mental acuity. The defendant must stand on one leg without swaying or losing balance. This test has some flaws as well. For example, it’s very difficult for anyone with any mobility impairment to pass this test.
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: Unlike the previous two, the HGN test is a medical test. If the pupil moves involuntarily at certain angles, the subject probably has nystagmus. This condition is also known as lazy eye. Alcohol does indeed cause nystagmus, but it’s not the only cause. In fact, it’s not even the leading cause. Childhood brain injuries and genetic conditions cause most nystagmus cases.

If the prosecutor only needs the FST results to establish probable cause, the prosecutor is usually okay. But if the state must rely on the FSTs to provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt, Hutchinson criminal law attorneys may be able to beat the DUI charges.

Chemical Tests

Admittedly, it’s very difficult to challenge chemical test results. In some jurisdictions, the conviction rate in these cases is over 85 percent. But nothing is impossible for an aggressive Hutchinson criminal law attorney. ANd that includes challenging chemical test results.

Today’s Breathalyzer has many bells and whistles. But fundamentally, it’s the same thing as the 1950s drunk-o-meter. So, Breathalyzers often have flaws, such as:

  • Mouth Alcohol: If the defendant burped, vomited, or belched in the half hour before taking the test, the mouth alcohol particles may skew the test results. Minnesota has a very lax waiting period law. So, Hutchinson criminal law attorneys can argue that the defendant might have burped and no one saw it.
  • Acetone Levels: Everyone has some acetone particles in their bodies, and the Breathalyzer registers these particles as ethanol. Normally, that’s not a big deal. But diabetics, smokers, and some other people all have abnormally high acetone levels.
  • Unabsorbed Alcohol: The body absorbs most alcohol through the liver instead of the stomach, and that’s a much slower process. So, if the defendant had been drinking in the previous hour or so, that alcohol has not yet entered the bloodstream. So, the Breathalyzer’s BAC estimate will be artificially high.

To drive home these flaws with the jury, many Hutchinson criminal law attorneys partner with chemists, chemistry graduate students, or other expert witnesses.

In blood test cases, the prosecutor must produce the sample in court. Sometimes, there are chain of custody issues. This sample must travel from the defendant’s body to a lab to a holding area and to the courthouse. If any period is unaccounted for, the evidence could be tainted.

Additionally, Hutchinson criminal law attorneys may order retests from independent labs. Many times, these independent results are different from the one obtained in a police lab.

Rely on Experienced Lawyers

There are several different ways to beat a DUI case. For a free consultation with experienced Hutchinson criminal law attorneys, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle matters in McLeod County and nearby jurisdictions.