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DUI/DWI Accidents

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In car accidents involving suspicion of DWI/DUI, it is often assumed the allegedly impaired driver caused the accident. Yet many accidents are caused by factors other than impaired driving — in fact, as many as 80 percent of all car crashes are attributable to “driving while distracted” behaviors such as eating, texting and talking on the phone which can be viable DUI defenses.

DWI/DUI accident cases are complicated — there has to be proof the driver was legally impaired and that the impaired driver was the cause of the accident. In addition, if the defendant's rights were violated during the arrest process, a DWI/DUI attorney may be able to get the evidence thrown out and, in some cases, have the charges reduced or dismissed. Since DWI/DUI consequences can be severe, up to and including jail time for DWI, large financial penalties, civil lawsuits and long-term employment difficulties, it is advisable to contact an attorney as soon as possible to make sure your rights and interests are protected.

Proving DWI/DUI Accident Charge

In criminal court, a first-time DWI offense is often charged as a misdemeanor. However, if someone is injured or killed, if there is property damage, or if the driver is a repeat offender, he/she is likely to be charged with a DUI felony such as aggravated DWI/ DUI with injury; manslaughter; or vehicular homicide. There are several questions a DWI/DUI attorney will consider when preparing your defense strategy, including whether you were impaired, whether your rights were violated during the DWI/DUI search and arrest process and whether your actions caused the accident. If the answer is no to any of those questions, the criminal charges will likely be reduced to a lesser offense or even dismissed.

The prosecution may try to use a breath analyzer, blood, urine or other test to show your blood-alcohol content (BAC) was above the legal limit of .08 or that you were under the influence of drugs. However, if the police did not have probable cause (meaning a reasonable belief you were impaired while driving) for the test, they cannot use the results as evidence against you. Even if the police did have probable cause to conduct the tests, there are many reasons the test results can be disqualified, including:

  • The person who performed the test was not qualified
  • The machine was not maintained, calibrated or otherwise fit to perform the test and/or
  • There was a break in the sample's chain of custody


Car Crash Tips

The National Safety Council offers the following tips for persons involved in an accident:

  • Stop your vehicle if it is clear, safe and legal
  • Move the vehicle out of the traveled roadway, if it is clear, safe and legal. (In some states it is against the law to move the vehicle from the place where the crash occurred. Know the ordinance in your area.)
  • Turn off the ignitions of the cars involved
  • Make a first aid check of all persons involved in the crash
  • Call the police and, if necessary, emergency medical services
  • Mark the scene of the crash with retro-reflective triangles
  • Gather the names of all persons in the motor vehicles and people who witnessed the crash
  • Make a quick diagram of where the vehicle occupants were seated and indicate the vehicles' direction of travel and lane. Also note the date, time and weather conditions
  • Ask to see the other driver's license and write down the number
  • Exchange insurance company information. Do not discuss "fault" or make statements about the crash to anyone but the police
  • Get a copy of the police report of the crash from the local precinct

If you have been in an accident, consult an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

If BAC results are inadmissible, the prosecution may try to introduce other evidence to prove you were impaired, including:

Field Sobriety Tests. The police may conduct field sobriety tests (physical and psychological tests) at the scene of the accident for evidence of impairment. DUI lawyers have successfully challenged field sobriety tests on the basis of bad weather, language barriers, officer prejudice, medical conditions, lack of certification to perform the tests, and other arguments.

Statements Made During Interrogation. If the police arrested you for DWI/DUI but did not advise you of your Miranda rights (including the right to remain silent and the right to counsel), any admission of guilt or other statements you made to the police after your arrest cannot be used against you.

Witness Testimony. The prosecution may call witnesses to testify that you were drinking or that you ingested a controlled substance. A defense attorney may challenge the testimony if the witnesses had reason to lie, if their memory was faulty or if there is any other reason to doubt the reliability of the testimony. Additionally, any witness who can truthfully give evidence of your sobriety should be called to testify on your behalf.

Even if there is evidence you were impaired, it does not mean you caused the accident. An experienced DWI/DUI attorney will enlist the help of accident experts to help determine the cause of the accident. There are many factors that can cause a motor vehicle accident, including:

  • Speeding
  • Driving while talking
  • Driving while texting
  • Faulty highway or roadway designs
  • Motor vehicle malfunctions (e.g., bad tire)
  • Weather
  • Poor signage
  • Lighting
  • Eating
  • Attending to children
  • Personal grooming (applying lipstick, combing hair)

Accident Investigators

Accident investigators take photographs of the vehicles and the accident scene and preserve any evidence that may help the defendant. Experts can reconstruct the scene and analyze the many possible factors involved in the accident. Common accident experts include:

  1. Accident investigation expert
  2. Accident reconstruction expert
  3. Highway design & traffic expert
  4. Vehicular engineer
  5. Toxicologist
  6. Expert on perception & other human behavioral factors

If you have been in a DWI/DUI accident, an experienced attorney will likely hire accident experts to help prepare your defense.

It is well documented that DWI/DUI accident cases are extremely complex. Therefore, it is best to speak to an experienced attorney in your area to make sure your rights are protected.

DWI/DUI Lawyers

If you were in a car accident involving suspicion of DWI/DUI, you also may be sued by a person(s) who was injured and/or suffered property damage as a result of the accident. Possible plaintiffs include the driver and passengers in other involved vehicles as well as passengers in your vehicle. Potential damages may include compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and property damage. Laws vary by state, but if the injured plaintiff was partly responsible for his/her injuries your lawyer will likely be able to reduce or eliminate an award for damages.

DWI/DUI cases involve scientific and medical questions, witness testimony, constitutional rights, negotiations with insurance companies and other third parties, felony charges, and much more. With so much at stake, it is important to speak to an attorney as soon as possible.

* Virginia Tech Transportation Institute