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Driving While Impaired – Defined

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Most of the time, when someone is facing a driving while impaired charge, they face two counts – one is based upon a test result above the legal limit of .08 and the other is based upon demonstrated impairment. In order to prove the latter, the State relies upon the driver’s behavior and driving conduct. Let us explain what this means, after we understand the definition of this crime.

Some may think impairment is obvious – i.e. they know it when they see it. But, remember, at trial, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt impairment based upon the legal definition and the standard the jury will hear. This is the definition of driving while impaired that the State must prove: the driver is “so affected by an alcoholic beverage that he did not possess the clearness of intellect and control of himself as he otherwise would have.” If the State cannot prove that the driver lacked intellect or control, it can’t prove this count.

Typically, the State points to any alleged indicator of impairment to prove this count. To do this, the State runs through scripted testimony with the arresting officer, who will detail that he or she noticed the following symptoms of impairment: bloodshot, watery, and/or red eyes; slurred speech; odor of alcohol detected from the driver; admission to drinking; and then any noted confusion. Once out the vehicle, the driver will be subjected to standardized field sobriety tests. These are voluntary and any driver being investigated for a DWI should never submit to these tests because it is literally handing the State more evidence to be used against you.

It’s important to keep in mind that it only takes one indicator or more in order for the State to survive a probable cause challenge. That means the odor of alcohol with an admission to drinking is sufficient to get to a trial. But, that, alone, doesn’t mean the driver “lacks clearness of intellect or control of themselves.” Even a few more indicators doesn’t necessarily mean the driver lacks intellect or control. For instance, when a person is pulled over just for speeding and then has watery eyes, an odor of alcohol, and fails the field sobriety test for their eyes, but passes the rest, a strategic and creative closing can successfully argue that the person did not lack intellect or control, as the jury instruction demands.

It can be easy to assume the worst when you are facing DWI charges. But, with the right team and approach, there may be a better defense than you ever expected. This definition for the driving while impaired count leaves room for argument. And can lead a jury to find that the State did not prove impairment beyond a reasonable doubt. This is why it is so important to get a DWI attorney that knows how to best fight for you.



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