Question: Can you talk about some of your recent DUI case wins around Savannah?
Answer: I had a client that came in. He was a college student, he had a perfectly clean record, never had anything wrong, anything happen. And he was involved in the accident out going on the interstate here in Savannah. And as soon as the officer approached, it was late at night, they assumed he was DUI. They, as they always say, “smelled the odor of alcohol.” And my client admitted that he’d had one or two beers. It’s not against the law in Georgia to have a drink and then drive. But what they did to this poor college student was immediately assume that he was DUI. They used the fact that he had wrecked to try to charge him and show that that was probable cause that he was less safe to drive. They put him through a series of field sobriety tests, which they said that he failed, and slapped him with a DUI charge. So what I was able to do was, first of all show that he was coming from work, it was late, he was tired. And was able to explain not only that but also the reason, other possible reasons for their subjective clues. They said he had bloodshot eyes, they said that he had problems focusing. But what they forgot to ask him was whether or not he had contacts or glasses and whether or not he was using them. What we did with that case, I took that to a preliminary hearing. And at that hearing I cross examined the officer on everything to try to see what got my client, the poor college student, if it was a legitimate accident or if he had jumped the gun and tried to find a DUI. And I got him to admit that when he pulled up on the scene, the first thing he did was start investigating him for DUI. Didn’t care if it was an accident, didn’t care the causes for it. That was his first thing. Got him to admit that on the stand, poked holes in all of the subjective tests, the judge threw it out. It was dismissed, he went back to college with a completely clean record.
I had a client who was a commercial truck driver here in town and in order to drive a truck you have to have a commercial drivers license, which is a specialized license. And any mention of a DUI on your record whatsoever is going to make you lose the license. So in effect, the stakes were extremely high for him. If he had a DUI, his career was over. And this is all he had done, this is all he had done for years, it was all he knew how to do. He was a great truck driver; we had to keep his license. So what I did, the evidence against him was pretty overwhelming: he had failed the field sobriety tests, according to police; he had blown into the Intoxilyzer, he had a blood alcohol level that was high, over the legal limit. What I was able to do with him at a preliminary hearing was show that sure they had some evidence that they had been DUI, but they didn’t have a lot of other stuff—they didn’t have everything. They didn’t handle everything correctly. Actually for this case, I had the officer try to demonstrate to me how to properly do some of the field sobriety tests, and he couldn’t do them. The officer could not do those in a courtroom in uniform. And my argument was if the officer can’t do those on carpet in a courtroom, then how can my client be expected to do those on the side of the interstate, late at night with a police officer glaring a flashlight in his face? And in that case, what we did was blow enough holes in it, the prosecution was willing to significantly reduce it even below a reckless driving down to an undisclosed violation. And ultimately, my client pled to that, it stayed off his record completely. The commercial drivers license authority, the Georgia Department of Driver Services, never knew anything about it and he kept his job.
Most of the cases that I’m able to win at the preliminary hearing, we do that by showing that there was a lack of probable cause. And one in particular, I had a college student from Georgia Southern who had a completely clean record, had never done anything incorrect in his life and was a great student on scholarship there. And the stakes with him for a DUI were great because anytime as a college student, not only do you have to worry about the legal aspect, you also have the college student affairs aspect. He could have lost his scholarship, he could have been suspended and lost his scholarship. But what I was able to do with his case, we took it to a preliminary hearing and just challenged it for probable cause. And the basis for that were these field sobriety tests. The only field sobriety test that the officer claimed that my client had done very poorly on was the horizontal gaze nystagmus test or the follow-the-finger test with your eyes. And what we were able to show is that on the other tests, my client was fine: he didn’t lose his balance when he was doing a one-legged stand; he was able to do the heel-to-toe fine and completely steady on his feet. But the only thing the officer tried to say probable cause was there for was he failed this horizontal gaze nystagmus, which is one of the weaker, more bogus tests that they do. And so what I did was to get the officer to admit that he wasn’t sure exactly how the test was supposed to be administered, the exact angle that the test should have been done at. He wasn’t sure whether or not there were lights in the background, whether or not his police lights were off on his car. And we got that thrown out. That case was absolutely dismissed by the judge at the municipal court level based on there not being probable cause, based on that one test being the only real evidence the officer had to arrest.