Challenging Evidence of Impairment in a DUI Trial

In Colorado, to prove a person was driving under the influence, a prosecutor must prove that the driver was substantially incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle because of the consumption of alcohol, or drugs, or both. The DUI laws do not differentiate between alcohol or drugs, or the type of drug alleged to have been ingested. Cocaine and a prescription painkiller could both cause the same DUI charge. To convict, a jury or judge must unanimously find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant’s ability to operate a vehicle was affected by alcohol or drug consumption—not just that the accused consumed alcohol or drugs.

It is important, therefore, to look at a person’s driving in the overall fact pattern at trial. If the suspect can safely drive the vehicle without drifting, weaving, varying his or her speed, or showing any other indication of impairment, there may be reasonable doubt. This becomes even more relevant in a DUI trial when a defendant is stopped by a police officer for some technical traffic violation or an reason that is not necessarily suggestive of impaired diving, like speeding.

For example, a driver stopped for a cracked windshield or expired tags who shows no signs of impaired driving when responding to the officer’s lights and who safely stops his or her vehicle in response to the officer’s emergency lights has a better defense at trial in this aspect than a person pulled over for swerving all over the road or for causing an accident. While the person may have admitted to drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana, it may be reasonable to conclude that any prior alcohol or drug consumption did not impair the person while driving.

Colorado DUI law allows for this defense, even when a breath or blood test result is admitted by a prosecutor against the defendant. The law allows for other relevant evidence in a trial to dispute the chemical test result. Colorado’s DUI laws specifically state that a driver is “entitled to offer direct and circumstantial evidence to show that there is a disparity between what the tests show and other facts so that the trier of fact could infer that the tests were in some way defective or inaccurate.” C.R.S. § 42-4-1301(2)(b). When the actions of a driver do not correspond to the results of a chemical test, this can call the test result into question.

The varying facts of each case provide for different types of defenses. Consulting and potentially retaining the services of a DUI attorney can be the difference between a positive result and a life changing black mark on your record.

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