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Constitutional Issues in DC DUI Cases

Below is an excerpt of a transcript of an interview with DC DUI attorney Shawn Sukumar.

What Constitutional Issues Can Come Into Play In DUI Cases?

Reasonable Articulable Suspicion

A constitutional issue that comes up a lot is the reasonable basis for someone to be pulled over on the street. For a police officer to pull you over, they need to be able to provide reasonable, articulable suspicion that a traffic infraction has been committed. That doesn’t mean that they need to have reasonable, articulable suspicion that you are under the influence, they just need to suspect that a traffic infraction is being committed, for example if you are speeding, going the wrong way down a one-way street, or swerving across lane lines. The issue comes up in some cases where the officers have the burden of showing that not only was there a reason to pull you over, but they can actually articulate that reason and establish that reason in court. If they cannot do that, then that is a constitutional violation and can result in charges being completely dismissed.

Miranda Rights

Another constitutional issue that sometimes comes up is regarding the statements that you make once you have been arrested. It is not uncommon for police officers to interrogate you once you have been taken back to the police station. Once you are no longer free to leave the scene or you’ve been placed in handcuffs, you are then in custody. Once you’re in custody, if a police officer wants to ask you any questions relating to your case and use your answers as evidence against you at your trial, then they must inform you prior to asking you those interrogation questions that you have no legal obligation to answer. Informing you of those rights is what’s referred to as giving your Miranda warning, which is the officer’s statement that you have the right to remain silent, etc. You can refuse to answer the questions altogether or you can refuse to answer them until you have a lawyer present. This comes up a lot because people tell me that when the police arrested them they didn’t read the Miranda rights, and they want to know if that means their case will be dismissed. The answer is typically “no.”

The police do not have to read you your Miranda warning when they arrest you–they need to read your rights if they want to interrogate you once you’ve been placed in custody and use your responses as evidence against you. For example, if they placed you in handcuffs and then ask you how much you had to drink that night, you say that you had six drinks, and then they put in the police report that you said you had six drinks that night. Your lawyer can make arguments that that is a violation of your constitutional right to remain silent because you were not informed of your Miranda rights once you were placed in custody. That statement could then be taken out of evidence and not be used against you. That is a constitutional issue that sometimes comes up, but it is not a catchall that applies in every situation.

Washington, DC DUI Checkpoints

DC does not frequently use DUI checkpoints because judges sometimes have constitutional problems with them. Typically, DC has very heavy police presence in areas where there are a lot of bars, such as Adams Morgan, U Street, H Street, and other areas where there is a lot of nightlife. They have very heavy police presence in those areas every night, but especially Thursday through Saturday night. They look for anyone who might be committing a small traffic violation, even something as simple as having an air freshener hanging from your rearview mirror, because that’s actually considered to be a traffic violation in DC. They will look for any traffic violation they can find as an excuse to pull you over and try to get you for DUI.

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