Unnecessary DUI Investigation
By: Attorney Tristan Hinriksson
In the Fall of 2021 a client hired Driver Defense Team to represent her in a case where she was charged with Driving Under the Influence, speeding, transportation of open alcohol and improper lane usage.
In the early hours of Sunday morning our client was driving her vehicle with a friend riding in the passenger seat. They were coming back from a concert near the Illinois & Wisconsin border. Our client’s friend was overtly intoxicated and had an open beer she had snuck out of the concert. Not the best idea … but not our client’s beer. Something to note: our client was driving her friend’s SUV which was a much larger vehicle compared to her own compact car.
While driving on the expressway approaching Chicago our client was stopped by an Illinois State Police officer for speeding and improper lane usage. During the course of the traffic stop the officer noticed what appeared to be an open beer in the passenger’s lap. The office also noted a strong smell of alcohol emanating from the vehicle.
Despite the passenger stating she was drunk and taking full responsibility for the beer, the officer instructed our client to exit the vehicle and began a DUI investigation. Our client was asked to take field sobriety tests, to which she complied, taking all three tests. Our client was then asked to give a breath sample which she refused.
Right off the bat this case had many red flags. First, the police report only mentioned the smell of alcohol from the vehicle, not our client. It seems reasonable that the vehicle would smell like alcohol, there was an intoxicated passenger with an open beer. Second, the video of the traffic stop did not clearly show our client speeding. It did show her weaving within her lane but it did not show her vehicle crossing over the white lane dividers. This was not sufficient to show improper lane usage.
Based on the lack of clear speeding and the lack of improper lane usage we could have filed a Motion to Suppress the traffic stop as improper. If granted, such a motion would have effectively ended the case as any evidence collected as a result of an improper traffic stop cannot be used in court. However, knowing the judge in this case disliked such motions – because they denied the court the chance to review the facts of the case – we decided instead to incorporate an improper stop argument into our trial argument.
At trial we first argued that the officer did not have a valid reason to stop the vehicle. Second, we argued that once he stopped the vehicle he had no reason to investigate our client for driving under the influence. Demonstrating that she had a passenger who admitted to being intoxicated and admitted to having an open beer – which the officer saw only in the passenger’s control.
We then argued our client’s proficiency at the field sobriety tests. During these tests our client spoke normally and politely to the officer at all times, she answered all his questions and participated fully in the field testing: she followed his pen with her eyes, she walked back and forth in a straight line and she stood on one leg and counted. During these tests she never fell, stumbled or had any problems moving, walking or talking. The officer testified that our client “failed” the tests “proving” she was intoxicated. We asked the officer how many people passed the tests, his answer: no one. The judge ruled in our favor finding our client innocent of DUI, and giving her back her driving privileges.
Our client was very grateful for the result and we were grateful to her for allowing us to assist in her case. Hopefully this outcome can show this officer that he should not frivolously take the significant step of arresting someone for DUI in the future.