The key to any DUI defense in Florida is reliable evidence that either eliminates the prosecution's case, or provides the basis for a suitable defense. This evidence comes in two forms: physical and observational. Physical evidence is tangible, such as video footage and blood alcohol level results. Observational evidence is derived from the eyewitness accounts of the arresting officer and any witnesses, if present.
Observational Evidence: Observing Your Behavior Prior to Your DUI Arrest
If you are behind the wheel, and a police officer is in the vicinity, then consider your driving behavior to be under scrutiny. If an officer observes you driving erratically or recklessly, he or she will claim to have reasonable suspicion that you are intoxicated and pull your vehicle over. (See Why Did The Officer Pull You Over? The Visual Cues.)
Driving behaviors that can lead to reasonable suspicion of DUI include:
- swerving between lanes;
- driving too slowly;
- erratic stopping and accelerating;
- speeding; and
- any traffic violations.
Once you’ve been pulled over, the officer will make a more personal observation of your condition. The officer will analyze both your physical condition and the contents of your vehicle. Any signs of intoxicating substances in the vehicle, including containers and the scent of alcohol, will be noted and used against you during your Florida DUI defense trial.
An Officer’s Observation of Field Sobriety Tests
Aside from a portable breathalyzer, police officers often use field sobriety tests to determine if a driver is intoxicated to the point of a DUI charge. (At this point, you may need a defense lawyer's help to review the evidence against you.) Field sobriety tests are almost completely contingent on the officer’s opinion of how you perform.
It’s not uncommon to hear a defense lawyer advise clients never to submit to a field sobriety test, because they are “designed to fail” in many cases. There are several external factors, such as pavement conditions and weather, that can cause even a sober person to fail these tests.
When defending against a DUI charge the observing officer should be questioned as to whether he or she was fully trained in administering these tests. The type of test and reason that you may have failed should also come into question. When an officer assesses your condition through a field sobriety test, he or she is looking for any reason to cite probable cause as reason for your arrest.
Challenging Officer Observational Evidence in Your DUI Defense
Florida law allows for all officer accounts of the arrest of a driver on suspicion of DUI to be admissible in court as evidence. Your defense lawyer can assist you in developing a case against these observational accounts if there is doubt that the officer had probable cause for the arrest.
When choosing a lawyer make sure you ask about past case history in which unreliable observation evidence was a key factor in the DUI defense. Florida DUI penalties can be harsh and create some long-term problems for your driving future. Don’t risk losing your rights to a fair trial and sentencing; seek legal help!