While I was a prosecutor in Broward County, Florida, I tried misdemeanor DUI cases for 1.5 years. In my opinion, many of the top DUI defense attorneys are in Broward, and since there are a lot of DUI arrests there, the trial schedule is crazy. I was in trial at least once a week, and oftentimes back-to-back. I probably tried about 65 or 70 DUI cases in that 1.5 years. The purpose of my post today is to pass along some important insider information that seasoned DUI defense attorneys may know, but others may not. Some things to consider when deciding to plea out your DUI or take it to trial include:
1.) In which county were you arrested? Typically, the more north the county, the more conservative the Judges and juries. That means that people in counties north of Palm Beach may be more likely to be found guilty by a jury than people who are in Miami Dade or Broward. Also, people in counties north of Palm Beach may receive stiffer sentences than people in Miami Dade or Broward. This is so because Judges and juries north of Palm Beach may be less tolerant of even minor crimes than people in Miami Dade or Broward.
2.) Who arrested you? Some officers are highly trained for DUI cases. They often make good witnesses because they are knowledgeable and can explain in specific details why they thought you should have been arrested for DUI. If you have been arrested by one of these specially trained officers, it might be smart to take a plea. But, if the officer who arrested you is not specially trained, you might want to take it to trial. Some officers who don’t arrest for DUI very often have a hard time explaining to the jury exactly why they thought you should have been arrested, and that can make a jury feel uncomfortable. It’s one thing to get arrested, but it’s another thing to actually convict someone, especially where the evidence is not so clear.
3.) Was your arrest recorded on video? Some (not all) officers who are assigned to DUI cases have video cameras mounted on the dashboard. As soon as they think they need to investigate a possible DUI, they turn on the camera. That means they may have recorded your driving pattern and all of the time you spent at the side of the road when you got pulled over. If your video is “good” (meaning that there is no damaging information there, or very little), then you may want to take your case to trial. If the jury doesn’t think you look drunk, you may not get convicted.
4.) Did you take a breath test, urine test, or blood test? Most DUI’s involve breath tests. If yours did, and you blew very near the .08 limit, you may want to take your case to trial. Juries may tend to sympathize with someone who was only a “little” over the limit. Also, if you had a blood test or urine test, and your test results came back positive only for alcohol and no other drugs, then the jury might sympathize with you (especially if your level was near the .08 limit). However, blood or urine test results which come back positive for other drugs may make the jury feel less sympathetic toward you.
5.) Did your arrest involve alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication? Juries can be very sympathetic to people who drank “just a little” over the limit, or who took prescription medication, or who smoked a little marijuana. Juries tend to be less sympathetic to people who take harder drugs, like cocaine.
6.) Did you perform roadside exercises? If you did, and you did really well, a jury may have a hard time convicting you. If you have a video showing how terrible you were, you might want to plea your case out.
7.) Did you refuse to take a breath test and perform roadside exercises? If you refused, and you did so politely, the jury might have a hard time convicting you. But if you were nasty to the officer, and the officer was being polite, the jury might think that you were an angry drunk.
8.) How sympathetic is your case? Lots of factors come to play when deciding how sympathetic your case can be. Were you arrested after drinking at a bar all night? Or were you arrested after taking prescription medication? Are you an older person or younger person? Were you nice to the police officer? Was the officer a jerk? The most important thing to remember for DUI cases is that juries have a hard time convicting someone they identify with. Almost everyone, at one time or another, has gotten behind the wheel after drinking too much. Most people don’t get caught. When the people who were lucky enough not to get arrested get picked for jury service, they may remember their luck, and pass some on to you.