Man’s Drunk Driving Arrest Highlights Probable Cause in DUI Cases

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A Coatesville man is facing drunk driving charges after officers arrested him for several traffic violations, according to Chester County’s Daily Local News. On the afternoon of March 11, 2017, Downingtown police received a call from a witness who saw the man driving erratically and striking a guardrail. When they apprehended him, officers detected the odor of alcohol on the man’s breath and noted that he stumbled as he exited the vehicle. The witness report and officers’ accounts gave law enforcement ample reason to arrest the man for DUI, but there are other ways police can establish probable cause in a drunk driving incident. Some background on the legal concept of probable cause may be useful, but you should discuss the details of your case with a Pennsylvania DUI attorney if you’re facing similar charges.


Probable Cause 101 

In a criminal case such as DUI, probable cause is any sign that may lead an officer to reasonably believe that a crime has been or is being committed. In a case of suspected drunk driving, there must be some behavior that indicates impairment, such as erratic driving, violating traffic laws, or a collision. However, probable cause isn’t always as obvious as it was for the Coatesville man. Under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, there is a protection against unreasonable search and seizure, so an officer must have more than just a hunch.


Probable Cause in Pennsylvania DUI Cases

In general, probable cause requires facts that demonstrate a high probability that the driver is impaired or consumed alcohol in excess of the legal limit. Visual findings, such as a driver’s mannerisms, speech, or behavior, can be enough to meet probable cause standards. A police officer may also establish probable cause by other circumstances, including the smell of alcohol or open containers in the car.

In Pennsylvania, authorities may also use field sobriety tests to establish probable cause. The Walk-and-Turn and One-Leg-Stand tests are common. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test assesses your impairment by determining how well you can focus on a moving object, such as a pen.

After establishing probable cause, an officer can proceed to tests that provide more concrete evidence of drunk driving, including a breathalyzer or blood test. However, if police fail to identify facts that lead to probable cause to arrest you for DUI, any evidence gathered from that point on may not be admissible in court – which may lead to a dismissal in some cases.


Consult with a Chester County DUI Lawyer About Your Case

Even if you weren’t driving erratically or involved in a collision, there can still be questions about officers’ probable cause to charge you with DUI. You may be able to present defenses to fight the charges, but you need a qualified criminal defense lawyer to represent your interests and protect your civil rights. The attorneys at the Skinner Law Firm in West Chester, Pennsylvania, have the experience and legal background necessary to help you obtain the best possible result under Pennsylvania law. Please contact us with questions or to discuss your case in more detail.

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How Pennsylvania Lawyers Use Motions to Defend Criminal Charges

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There’s a lot more to a criminal trial than what you may see on TV or in the movies, which may focus first on the arrest of a character and then on the trial. The truth is that criminal defense attorneys are quite busy in the interim, reviewing case law, examining discovery materials, and using pretrial motions to defend the interests of their clients. Through successful pretrial motion practice, it may be possible to gain access to certain witnesses or documents – or even have criminal charges dismissed entirely because of procedural issues. Pretrial proceedings are critical in a Pennsylvania criminal case, and a skilled defense lawyer is essential to fight the charges against you.


Pretrial Motion Practice in Pennsylvania Criminal Cases

After your arrest, arraignment, and preliminary hearing, your case is set for trial. The time period leading up to that date is the pretrial phase. Prosecutors and your criminal defense attorney may use this time to file motions, which are applications to the court requesting that a judge makes a decision on an issue before the official trial begins. A motion may address issues of procedure, evidence, or testimony. Pretrial motion rules require a party to submit the request in writing, and the other side has time to respond in a written answer.


Types of Pretrial Motions

Criminal defense lawyers may use one or more different types of motions to defend your case:


  • Motion to Compel: This is a proceeding wherein your lawyer asks the court to force the prosecution to do something, such as turn over evidence. If the state has documents, pictures, police reports, witness testimony, or other evidence that’s that you don’t have – but which is important to your case – your attorney may also use a motion to compel to obtain it.
  • Motion to Suppress: This type of motion is essentially the opposite of a motion to compel; instead of trying to obtain information for trial, you’re requesting to keep it out of your trial. Probable cause issues are often involved with motions to suppress because any information police get in violation of your civil rights should not be admitted in court.
  • Motion to Dismiss: If there is not enough admissible evidence to support a conviction, your attorney may file a motion to dismiss to discharge and end the case. Essentially, the motion admits the facts but alleges that they do not amount to a crime.


Discuss Your Case with a Knowledgeable Criminal Defense Attorney in West Chester, Pennsylvania

No matter what crime you’ve been charged with under Pennsylvania law, you do have basic civil rights, including the right to due process under the law. Through the use of pretrial motions, an attorney will protect your interests and attack any weaknesses in the prosecution’s case against you. Unless you have a legal background, you may not be able to properly defend yourself and present motions to support your case. The experienced lawyers at the Skinner Law Firm have the detailed knowledge of state and federal law to fight for your rights. Please contact our West Chester, Pennsylvania, office with questions or to schedule a consultation.

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