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Constitutional Issues in Loudoun DUI Cases

The most common constitutional issues in DUI cases are Fourth Amendment violations. The Fourth Amendment guarantees your freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. In the DUI context, this comes up in two different areas. If you believe your rights may have been violated or you would like to begin building a defense for your case, call and schedule a consultation with a Loudoun County DUI lawyer today.

Fourth Amendment Protections & Violations in DUIs

First, your Fourth Amendment protections are there whether or not there is reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop your vehicle for a DUI. Such suspicion can arise from driving behavior, checkpoints, or accidents.

The Fourth Amendment can also be invoked whether or not there was probable cause to stop you and make the arrest. Fourth Amendment protections also arise around questions regarding whether police can seize you in person during the stop, whether an officer can ask you certain questions or ask you to do certain things, or whether you were detained by the officer.

Clearly, there are many questions that can come up in a DUI prosecution which involve Fourth Amendment constitutional issues. A violation of your Fourth Amendment rights may lead to the suppression of certain evidence, and potentially result in the dismissal of your case.

(Un)Reasonable Searches & Seizures

Legally, a seizure is any time that a law enforcement officer stops you, whether in your vehicle or in person, from going on your way or doing what you otherwise would be doing.  A search is whenever a law enforcement officer actively looks for something, like opening a bag or a glove compartment.

Any persons in the United States are protected only from unreasonable searches and seizures. The standard for whether or not the search or seizure is reasonable is whether or not the officer who performs the search or seizure has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that a law, whether traffic or criminal, or that some type of criminal activity has occurred.

In a DUI case, this means that the officer has to have more than just a hunch that the driver may be impaired. Reasonable, articulable suspicion to pull you over can be accomplished in many ways in a DUI case. It may be as simple as someone driving without a headlight or with a tag or registration error. Sometimes a person may be observed violating a traffic code such as the speed limit, crossing over a solid, yellow line or failing to obey a highway sign, notably stop signs, yield signs or no turn signs.

Seizure issues, i.e., whether there is a reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop the vehicle, most often arise when the driving behavior is an equipment violation, like an expired license plate, not violation of a traffic law. Thus, driving behaviors such as weaving within lanes or making abrupt movements towards a parking spot or driving below the speed limit may provide sufficient suspicion to pull you over even though they might not be traffic infractions. If the seizure is not reasonable, your lawyer would file a motion to suppress in order to assert your Fourth Amendment rights.

Warrantless Searches & Valid Search Warrants

To understand what a warrantless search is, you must first understand what a warranted search is. A valid search warrant is necessary for law enforcement officials to legally search someone’s premises, objects, or person.  To obtain a valid search warrant, the officials must present themselves before a local magistrate with an affidavit of probable cause and asks the magistrate to grant a warrant for the search of a person or premises. The magistrate may then choose to issue the search warrant if there is legally sufficient probable cause, making the search legal. Conversely, when an individual or his property is searched without a valid warrant, he may, because of his constitutional right to be free of warrantless searches, receive special protections from the court, such as suppression of evidence.

However, just because a search is conducted without a warrant does not necessarily make it unreasonable, or illegal. In the context of DUI cases, while an officer cannot stop your vehicle and immediately search it, he may be able to conduct a search if he finds probable cause to make that search absent a warrant. Whether probable cause exists at the time of the search depends upon the entire totality of the circumstances, meaning the information available to the officer at the time of the search based on his or her training, experience and other information.

In context of a DUI case, if you are pulled over by a police officer, that search will undoubtedly be warrantless.  In such contexts, a “search” will likely be the search of your person for items indicating impairment, such as drug paraphernalia or alcohol containers; search of your vehicle; or a search of your body, such as the search of your breath for presence of alcoholic beverage ore eventually search of your blood pursuant to the Implied Consent Law.

Virginia Implied Consent Law exists as an exception to the prohibition of warrantless searches. It allows law enforcement officers to search your person for your blood or breath given certain circumstances. If there is probable cause for an arrest for a DUI in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Implied Consent Law may apply to permit an otherwise a warrantless search.

In the recent years there have been new laws that have modified the warrantless search requirement and certain exceptions such as the explicit circumstances exception. For more information on whether or not these recent changes to law apply to the defenses and circumstances of your case, contact a Loudoun DUI attorney.

Constitutional Searches

What an officer needs to demonstrate regarding a search depends on the circumstances of the search. Typically officers must show that there was probable cause at the time of the search of the person, their vehicle, or their property. However, the probable cause standard may be modified under a variety of different circumstances. One of those circumstances where the probable cause for a warrantless search does not apply is the doctrine of “search incident to the arrest,” which means that once someone is arrested, he or his vehicle may be searched even without his consent. Sometimes this is also referred to as an inventory search when the officer searches the person’s vehicle after they are arrested for a DUI but without their consent. Although done without consent and without a warrant, these types of searches are typically constitutional. If you have a question on the constitutionality of your search, contact Virginia DUI attorney right away.

Confrontation Clause Issues

In DUI cases, you sometimes come across issues regarding the Confrontation Clause, which is your ability to confront your accuser at trial. Two very important United States Supreme Court cases that involve the Confrontational Clause are Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts and Crawford v. Washington. The cases discuss what evidence the state must present in order to proceed on a blood alcohol certificate. Prior to the Melendez-Diaz decision, the blood alcohol certificate was often submitted through an affidavit or a certificate of analysis without any person having to testify as to how that certificate of analysis was created or how the test was performed. Melendez-Diaz determined that the certificate is testimonial, not administrative, in nature, and therefore a person must certify as to how it was created. However, if the state issues a form known as a 19.2-187, that requirement may be waived.

Fifth Amendment  & Miranda Rights

Another type of constitutional issue that may arise in DUI cases is one regarding the Fifth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment outlines your right to remain silent, and was further expanded in Miranda v. Arizona in what are known as your Miranda Rights. Although it may arise, Fifth Amendment issues are uncommon in DUI cases because the DUI stop and investigation generally falls outside the scope of the Fifth Amendment and Miranda, in that you are not considered “in custody” when the officer pulls you over to talk to you.  That being said, when you make a statement when interrogated, either prior to the breath test or even after the DUI arrest, Miranda Right issues may apply.

Constitutional Issues in Loudoun County Courts

The judges in Loudoun County must follow the law of both the Supreme Court and those made by the Court of Appeals in Virginia. By sheer amount of case law, the Court of Appeals in Virginia creates a lot of the criminal procedures that are argued before the General District and Circuit Courts throughout the commonwealth of Virginia, including Loudoun County. Judges generally play safe to requirements and the interpretations are generally sound. However, there is certainly common issues arise as to whose evidence should be given more credibility – that of the defendant or that of the law enforcement officers.

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