Constitutional Issues in Virginia DUI Cases

The Constitution is tremendously impactful in all DUI cases, whether it is surrounding the stop of the vehicle, duress of the defendant, or the trial and incidents thereof. Every aspect of DUI case contains constitutional undertones. Any lawyer practicing DUI law must be intimately familiar with the latest constitutional jurisprudence to be able to best help you. If you want to know more about constitutional issues in Virginia DUI cases, get in touch with a determined DUI lawyer. Your attorney can also examine the facts of your case to see what constitutional issues may exist, and how they may impact your case.

 Interpretations of the Constitution When Prosecuting DUI Charges

The most important interpretation of the Constitution is the United States Supreme Court’s; any cases that they decide apply to every court in the United States of America. They also follow very closely decisions that are made by the Virginia Supreme Court and the Virginia Court of Appeals. On day-to-day issues that come up, the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Virginia have the most impact on the vast majority of DUI cases. These courts get into tremendous detail about certain facts and circumstances surrounding the cases they are deciding. Lawyers read those opinions, look at those facts and circumstances, and determine whether or not they apply to the case that they currently have. If they do, they know the law of the land is going to be consistent with the way that the court above has rules.

How Does Virginia Treat These Constitutional Issues?

There are some folks that say that their concern was that the Fourth Amendment was not included in the copy of the Constitution that is given to judges when they first take the bench. The Fourth Amendment was eroding right before everyone’s eyes. This is not to say that judges do not treat serious constitutional issues with great integrity. It is to say that with almost every higher court opinion that comes down on the Fourth Amendment, it tends to favor the government and disfavor the defendant.

Fourth Amendment

One of the most common constitutional issues in Virginia DUI cases is Fourth Amendment related. The Fourth Amendment says they have the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. When a person is driving on the road and pulled over by a police officer, that person is seized by that police officer. Immediately the first inquiry that attorneys make in every case is, why did the police officer stop the defendant.

According to the law, the police must display or must be able to prove that they had a reasonable, articulable suspicion of some criminal activity to stop one’s vehicle. Once they get past that hurdle, attorneys stay on the Fourth Amendment to look at whether or not the police officer had probable cause to place a person under arrest. If a person’s body is seized by the police in the form of an arrest, they must show that there is probable cause to have done so. Attorneys look at all of those issues very closely in every DWI case.

Search and Seizures

The Fourth Amendment says, “A person has the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and searches without warrants.” Search and seizure are two different things but still establish constitutional issues in Virginia DUI cases. A search is searching a person’s car, home, or pockets. It is any kind of intrusion by the law enforcement because they are looking for some kind of evidence against that person. Seizure means they are taking something of that person’s into possession. Whether it is the person’s body or the person’s car, they are stopping that person and preventing that person from moving about freely

None of what is happening on the road in a DUI stop is supported by a warrant. They do not have to get one; all of their investigation is done without a warrant. They have to prove that there are exceptions to warrants. Those come in the form of whether or not they had a reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop that person’s vehicle or whether or not they had probable cause to place that person under arrest.

Unreasonable and Warrantless Search

Any search that is not supported by probable cause is considered unreasonable. There are certain searches where even if they have probable cause they still are required to get a warrant. However, generally, warrants are not required for any instances that surround a DWI case. A warrantless search is a search that is conducted without a warrant. That does not automatically mean that it is a Fourth Amendment violation. There are many different exceptions to that warrant requirement under the Fourth Amendment.

Because a search is conducted without a warrant does not mean that it is automatically unconstitutional. There are certain searches that do not require a warrant as long as the officer has probable cause to conduct that search. There are too many exceptions to the warrant requirement to list. If the search does not require a warrant, all they need is probable cause. If the search does require a warrant, then they need a warrant to do it.

Sixth Amendment Issues

The most common constitutional issues in Virginia DUI cases besides the Fourth Amendment surround the Sixth Amendment. A person has a right to confront their accuser or accusers and to cross examine anybody who has prepared or collected evidence against them. This came to light in a case decided several years ago where the government was no longer allowed to introduce certificates of analysis determining the person’s blood alcohol content without the presence and testimony of the person who conducted that test.

Before that law came into effect, the government was able to introduce a certificate to the court and the court was entitled to take that certificate at face value without any information by the government as to how that test was conducted, the methodologies that were used, or any other information. The Supreme Court several years ago said that was not proper and the Sixth Amendment afforded criminal defendants a guarantee of being able to cross examine a person who conducts any scientific test to determine the level of intoxicants in a person’s blood.