DUI Arrest Demonstrates How “Civil” Penalties May Result from Criminal Cases

450px-Alcosensor3.JPGA seemingly unusual arrest for suspected driving under the influence, or “DUI,” in Arizona did not result in an actual criminal charge. Despite this, a court reportedly still suspended the suspect’s driver’s license and ordered him to attend some form of alcohol intervention. The story demonstrates the increasing encroachment of civil legal processes, often known as “administrative law,” into the criminal justice system. Because these procedures, such as license suspension, are officially civil in nature, they are not seen as “punishments” under the criminal justice system. They are therefore not subject to the same scrutiny as might be constitutionally required in the criminal system.

According to the local ABC affiliate, police in Surprise, Arizona pulled over a man on suspicion of DUI. The man claimed that he had been swimming at a nearby gym, and that his eyes were therefore bloodshot due to the chlorinated water. The officer, however, suspected that this was evidence of intoxication, and took the man into custody. Police administered a breath test, or breathalyzer, at the station, and the man’s blood alcohol content (BAC) tested as 0.000 percent. A drug recognition expert who reportedly evaluated the man told him that he showed no signs of intoxication, and that he never would have arrested him based on the available evidence.

The man is now planning to sue the police department, alleging that police officers racially profiled him in this and nine other incidents. No criminal charges resulted from this arrest, but the man’s car was still impounded, and his license was suspended. He claims that he was also ordered to take “some sort of drinking class,” even though police concluded that he was not in any way intoxicated.

Most state DUI laws do not require a specific level of intoxication, but rather require proof that a driver was substantially impaired. Most states set a “legal limit” of 0.08 percent BAC, but law enforcement can arrest and charge someone with DUI even if they test below that amount, if the arresting officer has other evidence that the driver is impaired due to drugs or alcohol. This may also apply if the driver refuses to submit to a breath or blood test, or if the driver either fails or refuses to do a field sobriety test.

Texas law allows for a process known as Administrative License Revocation (ALR), which is separate from any criminal proceeding. A person whose BAC tests at 0.08 percent or higher after an arrest for driving while intoxicated (DWI), or who refuses to submit to a blood or breath test, may have their driver’s license suspended. Courts are constantly reviewing the question of whether the Fifth Amendment allows a DWI suspect to refuse a blood or breath test. The ALR system, however, claims to be separate from any criminal proceeding, and therefore not hindered by any right against self-incrimination. A driver has a right to request a hearing regarding a suspension before the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH), which can reinstate the license or set limits on driving privileges.

Board-certified criminal defense attorney Michael J. Brown has practiced criminal defense in west Texas for more than two decades. He draws on his experiences as an FBI agent and a federal prosecutor in his tireless fight for the constitutional and procedural rights of Texas defendants. To schedule a consultation to learn more about how we can assist you in your legal matter, contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157.

More Blog Posts:

Miranda Warnings at the Forefront of the Criminal Investigation in Boston, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, April 24, 2013
Warrantless Blood Tests in DWI Investigations Under Review by U.S. Supreme Court, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, January 11, 2013

Photo credit: By J. Pelkonen (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.