The Constitutional Exceptions of DUI Cases



If you've been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI), you may be surprised to learn that some of your constitutional rights may not apply to your case. Unfortunately for those who like the Constitution, it seems legislators are ruling more and more in favor of suspending certain constitutional rights for those accused of DUI. For this reason, working with a DUI attorney during your DUI case can be crucial.

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The Fourth Amendment DUI Exception - DUI Checkpoints

The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable search and seizure by police. That means that police can't search you or arrest you without probable cause that you've committed a crime. But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that, in the case of DUI sobriety checkpoints (where police can stop cars with no reason, simply to check for drunk drivers), Fourth Amendment rights don't apply.

  • The Case: In Sitz v. Michigan, the Supreme Court ruled that the potential benefit to society of removing impaired drivers from the roads justified the violation of Fourth Amendment rights caused by checkpoints.
  • The Details: Some states, including Michigan, have ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision violates rights granted by their states' Constitutions, and have outlawed DUI sobriety checkpoints.
  • The Impact: If you're stopped at a DUI checkpoint and arrested for DUI (or a crime unrelated to DUI!), your arrest was probably legal. Talk to a DUI attorney for details about your state's laws.

The Miranda Rights DUI Exception - DUI Arrests

As you probably know from TV and movies, police officers are required to inform you of your Sixth Amendment rights when you're arrested. If they don't read you your so-called Miranda rights (right to an attorney, right to remain silent, etc.), anything you say is inadmissible as evidence in court. Except, as it turns out, in DUI cases.

  • The Case: In Berkemer v. McCarty, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police aren't required to read DUI suspects their rights until sometime later than they would during any other criminal arrest.
  • The Details: In its decision, the Supreme Court didn't specify when Miranda rights must be read.
  • The Impact: If you're questioned by police on the way to the station, or while in custody, the evidence you offer may be admissible even if you haven't been read your Miranda rights.

The Fifth & Sixth Amendment DUI Exception - DUI Evidence

During most criminal arrests, police inform suspects that they have the right to an attorney - that is, they are legally permitted to consult with a lawyer before answering any police questions. As mentioned above, though, DUI suspects aren't always read those rights. And, it seems, some might not apply anyway.

The Fifth Amendment protects suspects from self-incrimination. Suspects can choose not to answer questions ("I plead the fifth") rather than answer in a way that could harm their cases. Further, if a suspect refuses/withholds evidence, that refusal cannot be entered as evidence in court. The Sixth Amendment grants criminal suspects the right to an attorney - that is, the right to consult with a lawyer before proceeding with police questioning.

  • The Case: In South Dakota v. Neville, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that DUI suspects have no right to refuse a breath test. Breathalyzers can provide highly incriminating evidence in DUI cases, but, because of the Supreme Court's ruling, DUI suspects are required to submit.
  • The Details: Besides the Fifth Amendment violation, many jurisdictions refuse to allow DUI suspects to consult with a lawyer before submitting to a breath test - and this has been ruled legal. In short, Sixth Amendment rights have been denied in DUI cases.
  • Note that a few states have outlawed these practices permitted by the Supreme Court, because of conflicts with state Constitutions.

  • The Impact: Many states have "implied consent" laws that allow breath test refusals to be submitted as evidence during a DUI case. Most states even have penalties for refusing a breath test. It's a good idea to have a basic understanding of your state's DUI laws to get an idea of what you can expect.

Destruction of Evidence Exception - DUI Breath Test Results

When police officers test your breath for alcohol content, they're required to give you the "Trombetta advisement," which consists of telling you that you can submit to a blood test (and later have it analyzed by an independent lab) if you'd prefer. Unfortunately, most officers don't do this - and don't face any penalties.

Additionally, police officers are not required to save your breath sample (even though breath testing machines permit them to do so) to be analyzed by another machine.

  • The Case: In Trombetta v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that effectively destroying breath evidence by not saving it for further analysis is not illegal, despite federal laws prohibiting the destruction of evidence.
  • The Details: In most jurisdictions, the only way police might be penalized for failing to save breath evidence is if you can prove it was exculpatory (i.e. it would have proven your innocence). Naturally, without access to the destroyed evidence, that's pretty hard to do.
  • The Impact: If you believe you're not impaired, you may want to consider asking for a blood sample. Breath machines are far from perfect devices, and, depending on the facts of your case, having a more precise BAC measurement from blood could bolster your case.

The Article Three Exception - DUI Trials without Juries

Article Three of the Constitution, which outlines the judicial branch of government, calls for a trial by jury for all criminal cases. But, thanks to a decision by the Supreme Court, that right has been revoked for those charged in certain DUI cases.

  • The Case: In Blanton v. North Las Vegas, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, for DUI charges that could lead to no more than six months in jail, defendants are not guaranteed a trial in front of a jury of their peers, and may have a hearing in front of only a judge.
  • The Details: This requirement varies by state, but several states prohibit jury trials if a defendant stands to spend less than half a year behind bars.
  • The Impact: This varies on a case-by-case basis, but clearly demonstrates a negation of basic constitutional rights.

Know Your Rights!

Despite the "Constitutional exceptions" in DUI cases, DUI attorneys are still finding ways to fight DUI charges across the country. If you're facing DUI charges, contacting a DUI lawyer practicing in your area may help you fight your case. Simply fill out our free DUI case evaluation form or call 877-349-1311, and we'll connect you with a local DUI attorney as soon as possible.

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