In the movies, criminal cases are won through effective cross-examination of witnesses, last-minute surprise witnesses who provide new and essential information, and brilliant closing arguments. While this is sometimes the case, many criminal cases are won or lost based on the content of effective pretrial motions. Pretrial motions may be used to challenge the legality of the evidence obtained by the government. If successful, the court will suppress the illegally gotten evidence. When the court suppresses the evidence, the case against the accused must necessarily be dismissed, as the government no longer has sufficient evidence to convict.
Whether the government has sufficient, legally obtained evidence to convict the accused in any given case is fact specific. In reviewing the facts of a driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) case, an experienced DUI attorney will keep in mind the following.
- The United States Constitution
- The Bill of Rights
- The Constitution of the state of Georgia
- Georgia statutes
- Georgia case law
- Case law from the United States Supreme Court.
Which, if any, of these legal precedents apply depends on the facts of the case and the circumstances that led to an accused's charges.
Challenging the Stop of the Car in a Pretrial Motion
There are rules that govern when the Georgia police can stop a car that is driving on a public roadway. Additionally, both the United States Supreme Court, the Georgia Supreme Court, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the Georgia Constitution guarantee that citizens have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures of the persons and their property. This means that the police cannot simply stop a car just to see if the person driving might be committing a crime without probable cause to believe that a crime is, in fact, being committed or is about to be committed.
In DUI cases, it is often driving conduct that is the cause of the stop of the vehicle. For example, if a car is observed weaving between their lane and oncoming traffic, this is considered probable cause to pull a car over. However, if a car is traveling at exactly the posted speed limit, this is not probable cause to stop the car. In each case, the stop of the car must be carefully evaluated to determine whether the police had probable cause to detain a driver in that particular case. Where there is no basis to stop a car, the judge will suppress the evidence discovered as a result of that stop. This typically leads to a dismissal of the charges.
Challenging the Cop's Extension of the Stop Beyond What is Reasonable
Once a cop has legally stopped the car, they are entitled to engage in certain conduct, while other conduct is not permissible. For example, imagine two cases where a car is pulled over for speeding, going 12 miles over the posted speed limit.
In our first example, the driver of the car has bloodshot and watery eyes, is slurring their words when speaking with police, cannot remove their driver's license from their wallet as their fingers don't appear to be working very well, and emanating a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage is coming from the person's breath alcohol. In this case, even though the cop originally pulled the car over due to speeding, the government is legally able to explore this additional evidence, which suggests the driver may be intoxicated.
In our second example, the driver of the car appears normal. They are appropriately pleasant with the officer, hand over their driver's license when asked, and can carry on a normal conversation. Without any indication of additional criminal activity (such as some or all of the details described in the example above), the police have no legal basis to inquire further. If they expand the stop beyond the scope of the original detention (in this example, to issue a speeding ticket), any evidence discovered as a part of this illegally expanded stop will be suppressed by the court. For example, they are not able to ask this driver to perform field sobriety tests, take a preliminary breath test (PBT), or go to the station to submit to a breath test.
When the police expand the stop beyond what is reasonable given the circumstances, an experienced criminal defense attorney will challenge this extension in a pretrial motion.
Challenging Evidence Discovered as the Result of an Illegal Search
Let's take the above example a step further. Imagine the police stop a car for speeding and see no additional basis to be concerned about additional criminal activity. Imagine the police still asks the driver to get out of their car and then proceeds to search the vehicle. Again, case law, Supreme Court decisions from the United States and Georgia courts, and the Fourth Amendment protect citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. Without additional information suggesting criminal activity, police cannot simply decide to randomly search a vehicle. If the police do search a vehicle without probable cause, any evidence discovered, such as the presence of illegal drugs or an open container of alcohol, cannot be used against the accused. This is litigated in a pretrial motion.
Are You Facing DUI Charges?
Filing effective pretrial motions are just one of the ways our experienced Atlanta DUI lawyers fight to protect our clients' rights. We challenge the government at every turn. Our DUI experience allows us to effectively litigate both pretrial issues and trial issues. If you are charged with a DUI, call us for a free consultation. We answer the phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Since we don't charge for an initial consultation, you have absolutely nothing to lose. Contact us today.