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Drunk driving defense requires a multi-phased approach

Experienced defense attorneys employ a systematic methodology to examine the prosecution’s drunk driving case from the pre-arrest stage through trial. This post covers some of the tactics that your defense attorney can use on your behalf if you are accused of DWI.

Examining the officer’s post-stop conduct: Another aspect of the officer’s behavior to consider is how long he took to make a decision to arrest you for drunk driving. Police vehicle stops must be only as long as is reasonable under the circumstances, and the officer must be able to state why he took as long as he did. The longer the time from the stop to the arrest, the more that the reasonableness of the stop can come into question.

Examining the pre-stop motivations of the police officer: Before an officer can pull you over for drunk driving, he must have at least a reasonable suspicion that you were in fact intoxicated. The defense attorney must examine whether the officer had a basis for reasonable suspicion, or whether some other motivation was at work (for example, if the stop was a pretext for another purpose). The police officer must articulate his reasons for pulling you over to satisfy the jury that he in fact had reasonable suspicion. Your defense attorney must be able to challenge that ability.

If the officer is responding to a “citizen’s tip” about your driving, another possibility is to challenge the reliability of that information. If it can be challenged as inaccurate or unreliable, then whether that information can form the basis of the officer’s required reasonable suspicion can also be challenged.


Challenging the basis of the officer’s arrest decision: Other possible avenues to question the officer’s decisions can present themselves. Unlike the reasonable suspicion standard that applies to the decision to stop your vehicle, the arrest decision requires the higher standard probable cause.

Part of the officer’s determination that probable cause exists will be his administering of field sobriety tests. An experienced DUI defense attorney will cross-examine the officer to see if he properly instructed you before you took these tests and whether the officer properly undertook the steps necessary on his part during your performance of the tests.

In a future post on this topic of defense tactics, we will examine some of the defenses that your attorney may raise on your behalf during the conduct of the trial itself.


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Travis Noble is a graduate of the National College for DUI Defense at Harvard University, and he lectures at seminars nationwide on DWI/DUI topics. He is the lawyer whom other lawyers consult to defend their DWI clients. Most importantly, he has a track record of successfully defending some of the toughest DWI cases in Missouri and beyond.

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