As a law firm, we know just how devastating interactions with law enforcement can be. A charge for a DUI or DWI can forever change a person’s life. It can break their bank account, terminate their employment, lead to jail time, and result in a criminal charge that stains their record for life.
Many times the system is just not fair.
So when we’re able to successfully help a client, we have cause to celebrate. Today we successfully defended a client charged with a DWI in Orleans Parish and convinced the judge to reduce the charge to a traffic ticket.
Here’s how the case unfolded:
The Traffic Incident
Our client was pulled over by NOPD near the intersection of Claiborne and Esplanade Avenues. The officer alleged our client was improperly using the lane by swerving across the lines marked for traffic.
When the officer pulled our client over, the officer immediately asked him to step out of the vehicle, produce his license, registration and insurance. Our client complied with all of these requests peacefully and respectfully.
The officer suspected our client was intoxicated and performed a Standardized Field Sobriety Test called the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test on the side of the road. According to the officer, our client failed the HGN, so he was placed under arrest for suspected DWI. He was taken to the New Orleans Police Department’s DWI-Substation located in a warehouse adjacent to the Walmart on Tchoupitoulas Street, where further evidence was gathered from him and he even submitted to a breathalyzer.
He blew over the legal limit and he was arrested for DWI. Later, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office filed formal charges for DWI (1st offense) and a traffic ticket for careless operation.
What did these charges mean for our client?
If our client received the maximum penalties for the charges against him, the charges could have been devastating. A first offense DWI carries a maximum fine of up to $1000.00 and up to 6 months in parish prison. A traffic ticket for careless operation does not have a sentence written in the law. The judge is able to punish the person as they see fit. Generally, the court will impose a fine of approximately $50-100.00, plus court costs of about $175.00.
How were we able to eliminate the DWI charge?
Our client had a really strong argument based on several factors (explained below) that were in his favor.
The officer who arrested the client was using a dashboard camera at the time of the arrest.
Sometimes the camera can really help and sometimes it can really hurt a case.
In this case, the video did not show the client committing the improper lane usage traffic violation. In fact, he was driving perfectly straight. This gave us (as his lawyers) the right to challenge the validity of the entire traffic stop and fight to suppress all all of the evidence obtained after the invalid traffic stop.
The police officer did not tell our client he was under investigation
After our client was pulled over and complied with the police officers request for his license, registration, and insurance, our client did not have an obligation to do anything else. The law recognizes there is a difference between a routine traffic stop and an investigation for a more serious criminal violation.
The law requires the police officer to inform a driver when the investigation transitions from a traffic stop to an investigation. In our client’s case, the officer transitioned almost immediately from the traffic stop to the DWI investigation. The officer did not inform client that he was now being detained because officer suspected client was driving under the influence. Police officers are supposed to tell a person they are being investigated so they are warned that evidence is about to be collected against them. At this point, the officer is also supposed to read the client his Miranda Rights, but in this case the officer did not do so.
Our client was not required participate in the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) for the HGN. Had he been read his Miranda Rights, he might have said, “No.”
Further law enforcement errors in procedure
The HGN test was not performed properly, as required by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the officer did not mirandize our client until 45 minutes after he had been under investigation. Law enforcement is supposed to read Miranda Rights as soon as a person is placed under investigation by an officer.
How Crescent City Law handled the case?
With so many inconsistencies and violations of procedure by the arresting officer, we filed a motion to suppress evidence on behalf our client. We argued that no evidence collected before our client was read his Miranda Rights was inadmissible to the court.
Within two hours of filing the motion, the District Attorney’s office called Crescent City Law to say they were willing to dismiss the DWI in exchange for a plea to the traffic ticket.
We accepted the offer; our client plans to pay his fine, and plans to have the entire record expunged from public disclosure. Our client pleaded to careless operation ticket, and the judge sentenced him to Credit for Time served plus $255.50 in court costs and fees under Article 894. This means he could have his record expunged in the future.
If you have been charged unfairly with a DWI, and you believe evidence supports your case, you may be able to challenge the traffic stop and reduce your fine. Contact Crescent City Law to learn about your options.