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A DUI defense attorney takes notes at his desk.Many attorneys who practice criminal law will also handle DUI cases, however there are very few attorneys who focus their criminal practice on DUI cases and there is a huge difference between those who primarily handle DUIs and those who also handle DUIs.

One of the biggest differences is the Motion practice needed in DUI cases.

Motions to Suppress

A Motion to Suppress alleges that the law enforcement officers violated a defendant’s constitutional rights.  When a Motion to Suppress is filed, the Defendant must show that an arrest was made without a warrant, that there are no search warrants in the case, and that he or she has the legal prerequisites to challenge the unconstitutional action.  For example, if a purse is searched without a warrant, and without permission, a defendant charged with possession of marijuana found in the purse can challenge the illegal warrantless search by filing a Motion to Suppress the illegally found marijuana.  However, if the person charged with the crime denies that the purse is theirs, they cannot challenge the search, since they are saying that it was not their property.

Motions to Suppress in DUI cases

In any case, a Motion to Suppress can be a great tool in the hands of a skillful attorney.  Further, it is important to remember that the State of Florida bears the burden of justifying all of the actions of law enforcement and showing that at all times law enforcement acted legally in their encounters with a citizen accused of a crime.  This is particularly difficult in DUI cases where there are several legal standards which must be met at various stages in the officer’s investigation.  If the State cannot meet the evidentiary burden at any stage, the evidence gathered after that stage is suppressed.

Motion to Suppress the Stop

A DUI case usually begins when the officer puts on his or her overhead emergency (take down) lights.  This signals to the driver that they are required to pull over and stop their car.  This is also the first place that a Motion to Suppress can help.  As an example, we have had clients stopped for spinning out his tires when leaving a gas station and entering the roadway.  Unfortunately for the State, the case law says that this alone is not enough for a law enforcement officer to make a stop.

In Donaldson v. State, 803 So. 2d 856 (Fla 4th DCA 2002), The defendant was driving a pick-up truck and pulled our of a hotel parking lot with the tires squealing.  Fearing that the driver was either impaired or fleeing from the scene of a crime, the officer pulled in behind the truck and initiated a traffic stop. The Fourth District Court of Appeals wrote, “There is no indication that squealing tires alone constitutes a traffic infraction.  We are at a loss to understand how squealing tires without more constitutes a danger to public safety.  Therefore, the officer did not have probable cause to believe that Appellant committed a traffic infraction, rendering a stop on that basis illegal.” Donaldson v. State, 803 So. 2d 856 (Fla 4th DCA 2002).

Remember that if the stop is illegal, everything the officer observes afterwords is considered illegally seized or in legal terms, fruit of the poisonous tree, meaning that it is inadmissible in the case against the driver.  With no evidence available to it, the State of Florida would have to drop the charges against the driver.

Motion to Suppress the Investigation

Assuming that the stop of the vehicle is found to be a lawful stop, what then?  Is all hope lost? Absolutely not.  A skilled DUI defense attorney will file Motions to Suppress aimed at each critical point of the investigation.  In order to conduct a DUI investigation after a traffic stop, the officer must have reasonable suspicion to believe that the driver is driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled or chemical substance.  Further, a traffic infraction and the odor of alcohol is not typically considered enough to conduct a DUI investigation.  So, for example, a driver is speeding down I4 in central Florida.  Traveling 70 miles an hour through the Winter Park area where the speed limit is 50 miles an hour.  An officer drives behind them and makes a lawful stop for speeding.  When they approach the window, the officer smells the odor of alcohol and immediately begins a DUI investigation without any further evidence that a crime has been committed.  This might be ruled an illegal investigation if a Motion to Suppress was filed.

In State v. Kliphouse, the defendant was charged with DUI.  The only evidence presented by the State at his Motion to Suppress hearing was that he had been in an accident and the officer smelled the odor of alcohol on his breath.  The Fourth District Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that the mere odor of alcohol was insufficient for reasonable cause to believe that appellee was under the influence of alcohol. See State v. Kliphouse, 771 So. 2d 16 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000).

Motion to Suppress Field Sobriety Exercises

If the officer does have the requisite reasonable suspicion to conduct a DUI investigation, the next question is, “can the State meet the evidentiary burden to show that the officer has a right to ask for or compel field sobriety exercises from the driver?”  In many cases, officers will ask a driver if they would agree to consent to field sobriety exercises, but in other cases officers tell drivers that they are going to have them perform these roadside tests.  This can make all the difference in the world.  In State v. Goodson a case out of Lake County argued by founding partner David S. Katz, the Officer testified that he noticed slurred speech and open beer cans in the boat he stopped.  He further testified that the Defendant stumbled around the boat during the safety inspection he conducted.  Upon completion of the safety inspection, the Officer testified that he did not yet have probable cause to arrest the defendant for Boating Under the Influence, but that he took the Defendant to land and told him he was going to conduct field sobriety exercises.  Following the exercises, the Defendant was arrested for Boating under the influence.  The court found that, “If Officer Beard had reasonable suspicion that the Defendant was boating under the influence, he could request the Defendant perform the field sobriety exercises, but the State must prove voluntary consent.  If Officer Beard had probable cause that the Defendant was boating under the influence, then he could order the Defendant to perform the field sobriety exercises…[therefore] the burden is on the State to prove the Defendant’s consent was voluntary and the State failed to meet its burden.” State v. Goodson, 18 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 1165c (Cty Crt 5th Jud. Cir. 2011).

Motion to Suppress the Arrest

Remember that at whatever stage the Motion to Suppress is granted, all evidence that follows the suppression is typically suppressed (kept out of the trial).  Therefore, if all other Motions to Suppress are denied, but the Motion to Suppress the arrest is granted, the State may have some evidence to present to a jury if it chooses to proceed to trial.  However, in Florida a breath test is only valid if it is requested after a lawful arrest.  If the court finds the arrest illegal, then everything that happens after the arrest is suppressed including the results of any test to determine the alcohol content of the driver’s blood or breath.  Additionally, any refusal to take a test would also be suppressed.

In a recent Orange County case, our client was involved in an accident.  After waiting in her car at the scene of the accident for a few minutes, the client decided to walk the ½ mile to her apartment and call the police from there.  An officer arrived as she was walking up the ramp to exit the highway and after another driver pointed her out, immediately got back in his car, drove up the exit ramp, stopped behind her and arrested her for leaving the scene of an accident.  The problem for the State is that the item our client hit was a streetlight, or put differently, it was unattended property.  Before she left, our client attached her name and identification to the streetlight she hit, complying with Florida law.  The officer never looked to see if there was anything attached to the damaged light pole which was lying on the ground before racing up to our client and arresting her for leaving the scene of an accident.  He handcuffed her, locked her in the back of his police car and drove her back to the scene of the accident.  After finishing his paperwork at the scene, he then drove her to a motel parking lot to conduct field sobriety exercises.  Upon completing the exercises, he arrested her for DUI in addition to the previous charge of leaving the scene of an accident.  In this case, the arrest was illegal.  At the moment the officer originally arrested our client, he did not have reasonable suspicion of a crime and no crime had been committed.

Florida Statute § 316.063 controls a driver’s conduct when they damage unattended property.  In the case where an accident occurs and the owner of the damaged property is not with the property, the driver causing the damage must either located the owner and provide their information, or securely attach a written notice giving the driver’s name and address and the registration number of the vehicle they were driving, then without unnecessary delay notify the nearest police authority.  Having attached her information, our client was walking back to her nearby apartment where she could call the police.  Further, she left her car and all her information at the scene, so no crime was committed, and she could not lawfully be arrested.  In this case, the court never got a chance to rule on our Motion to Suppress as both the arresting officer and a civilian witness both misidentified one of the firm’s attorneys who was sitting as cocounsel (Christine Vazquez) as the defendant, even though they looked nothing alike, and the State was forced to drop all charges.

Expert DUI Defense Attorneys at Katz & Phillips, P.A.

The experienced Expert DUI Defense attorneys at Katz & Phillips, P.A. make sure they are current on all the case law so that they know each and every argument that can be made to help your DUI case go away completely.  Though not every case gets dropped, our attorneys do everything they can to minimize the penalties that you must complete and to ensure your ability to drive if you get arrested for DUI.  Motions to Suppress are just one of the tools in our tool belt.  Read our article on Motions in Limine to learn more about other methods of reducing the evidence the State can present against you at trial and to ensure a better outcome for you in your DUI case.